Warning that we need to “get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets,” in his State of the Union, Obama kept repeating congress must vote on the three types of gun bills he supports.
The most obvious thing that was left out of the talk was that none of the laws now being proposed would have done anything to stop the various attacks that Obama cited as justifying the laws. Nor does the evidence show that the previous Assault Weapon Ban from 1994 to 2004 reduced crime.
Were some of the killers mentally ill? Undoubtedly, “yes,” but none of these individuals had previously been involuntarily committed as a threat to themselves or to others.
Connecticut already had a strict assault weapon ban. But there is no proposed federal or state ban that would have mattered. Replacing a Bushmaster with a semi-automatic hunting rifle that fired the same small caliber .223 caliber bullets would have made absolutely no difference. The two guns would have fired the bullets with the same rapidity and would have done exactly the same damage.
Nor would it have made any difference to ban magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Someone who is specifically planning an attack can take many magazines with them. Some of the killers have even worn vests with special pockets that allowed them to conveniently carry multiple magazines. A single large magazine is more of a convenience.
Actually large magazines pose a greater problem for those who want to kill many people because such magazines more easily jam. In a large magazine that holds many bullets, a very strong spring is required to be able to feed the last few bullets into the chamber. The problem is that springs weaken over time and springs in magazines that hold a large number of bullets lose some of their ability to push those last few bullets, thus causing the gun to jam. Guns jammed for this very reason during the Aurora and Tucson shootings.
In the infamous 2011 attack in Norway, the killer murdered 69 people and injured another 110 with his semi-automatic pistol and semi-automatic hunting rifle. He had nothing that would be classified as an assault weapon.
Most of these attacks, such as the Aurora movie theater attack, are planned many months or over a year in advance. Even if the killers were somehow convinced that they needed these large magazines, one must understand that a magazine is simply a metal box with a spring. It is trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining.
Yet despite being at the center of the gun-control debate for decades, neither President Obama nor Ms. Feinstein (the author of the 1994 legislation) seems to understand the leading research on the effects of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
Senator Feinstein’s website points to two studies by criminology professors Chris Koper and Jeff Roth for the National Institute of Justice to back up her contention that the ban reduced crime. She claims that their first study in 1997 showed that the ban decreased “total gun murders.” That is not the case. In fact, the authors wrote: “the evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect (i.e., that the effect was different from zero).”
Messrs. Koper and Roth suggested that after the ban had been in effect for more years it might be possible to find a benefit. Seven years later, in 2004, they published a follow-up study for the National Institute of Justice with fellow criminologist Dan Woods that concluded, “we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”
My own research also found no increases in any type of violent crime after the federal Assault Weapon Ban sunset in 2004. Nor did the number of civilians or police officers killed with assault weapons increase after the federal Assault Weapon Ban ended in 2004. In fact, they both have fallen.
There has been plenty of research by criminologists and economists on background checks and they have found to be no more effective.
About the best that can be said of Obama’s discussion on guns during his State of the Union speech is that he didn’t spend the time that he normally does demonizing his opponents. For example, when he presented his proposals on Jan. 16, he claimed that people who opposed his gun control regulations did so “because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.” That they will do “everything they can to block any commonsense reform” that is necessary “to protect our communities and our kids.”
If we finally want to deal seriously with multiple-victim public shootings, it’s time that we acknowledge a common feature of these attacks: With just two exceptions, the Giffords attack in Tucson and another at an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada, every public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has occurred in a place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms. Had some citizens been armed, they might have been able to stop the killings before the police got to the scene. In the Newtown attack, it took police 20 minutes to arrive at the school after the first calls for help.
Presumably, if Obama thought that he had a stronger case, he wouldn’t have to be so deceptive in his arguments. But simply chanting the names of horrible events and demanding that we vote on gun control laws that would have done nothing to stop those attacks fails to add anything to the debate.
John Lott is a former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission and the author of “At the Brink” (Regnery) to be released next week.