Tags: Gun Rights | assault rifles | handguns | crime | poverty | violence

NYT Op-Ed: Assault Rifle Ban Did Little to Stem Gun Violence

By    |   Tuesday, 25 November 2014 06:35 AM

The battle to end gun violence in America has been erroneously focused on banning assault weapons — though more citizens are killed with handguns — and should be on eliminating the conditions that lead to such activity, according to an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

"We spent a whole bunch of time and a whole bunch of political capital yelling and screaming about assault weapons," New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu told Lois Beckett, a ProPublica reporter who writes about gun violence, for the piece.

It turned out to be a "zero-sum political fight about a symbolic weapon," Landrieu said.

"This is not just a gun issue, this is an unemployment issue, it’s a poverty issue, it’s a family issue, it’s a culture of violence issue," Landrieu said.

He joined with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to create Cities United, an organization that seeks to prevent deaths of young African-American men.

In the op-ed, Beckett contended that the "the law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference.

"It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do," Beckett said.

According to FBI data, only 322 people were murdered with any kind of rifle in 2012 — and the continued focus on assault weapons stems from heavy media coverage of "mass shootings, which disproportionately involve weapons like the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16 rifle," she said.

"This, in turn, obscures some grim truths about who is really dying from gunshots.

"Most Americans do not know that gun homicides have decreased by 49 percent since 1993 as violent crime also fell, though rates of gun homicide in the United States are still much higher than those in other developed nations," Beckett said.

Examining statistics from several years leading up to when President Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban in 1994, she argued that a huge spike in gun violence led Democrats to push for it because the guns were portrayed by the media "as the gun of choice for drug dealers and criminals, and which many in law enforcement wanted to get off the streets."

However, "this politically defined category of guns — a selection of rifles, shotguns and handguns with 'military-style' features — only figured in about 2 percent of gun crimes nationwide before the ban," Beckett said.

"Handguns were used in more than 80 percent of murders each year, but gun-control advocates had failed to interest enough of the public in a handgun ban. Handguns were the weapons most likely to kill you, but they were associated by the public with self-defense.

"Banning sales of military-style weapons resonated with both legislators and the public: Civilians did not need to own guns designed for use in war zones," Beckett said.

Clinton later attributed heavy Democratic losses on Capitol Hill in 1994 to the weapons ban.

"Crime fell, but when the ban expired, a detailed study found no proof that it had contributed to the decline," she said. "The ban did reduce the number of assault weapons recovered by local police, to 1 percent from roughly 2 percent."

The piece quoted a study on the effectiveness of the weapons ban financed by the Justice Department: "Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."

Therefore, because difficult economic conditions that lead to gun violence — including high unemployment and low educational achievement — these conditions must be changed, Beckett argued.

"More than 20 years of research funded by the Justice Department has found that programs to target high-risk people or places, rather than targeting certain kinds of guns, can reduce gun violence."

She noted how New Orleans, under Landrieu's leadership, was now identifying young men most at-risk and working to help them find employment.

"How well this strategy will work in the long term remains to be seen," Beckett concluded. "But it’s an approach based on an honest assessment of the real numbers."

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Efforts to end gun violence in America has erroneously focused on banning assault weapons - though more people are killed with handguns - and should be on eliminating the conditions that lead to such activity, according to a New York Times op-ed piece.
assault rifles, handguns, crime, poverty, violence
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 06:35 AM
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