With the expiration Monday night of a ban on certain types of weapons styled as “assault weapons,” a few politicians and gun-control activists have been shedding crocodile tears, but ordinary Americans can save their tears.
Just as the ban had little or no impact on crime or violence, the reintroduction of these guns into the marketplace will have little impact except to restore a tiny semblance of personal freedom.
How did all this come about? Back in 1994, in the early years of the Clinton administration, the administration and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress thought it would be popular to ban certain semiautomatic weapons whose cosmetic features made them look “more military.” So they outlawed 19 models of semiautomatic rifles.
They miscalculated. Outrage from gun owners was a significant factor in Republicans' achievement of congressional majorities in the 1994 election. President Clinton himself estimated that the “assault weapons” ban cost 20 members of Congress their seats.
It is important to remember that the ban was based on strictly appearances. Ownership of fully automatic machine guns by private citizens was severely restricted already and still is.
The guns outlawed in 1994 were no more powerful than semiautomatic deer rifles, nor did they function differently. They were not the choice of criminals, who prefer other weapons, both legal and illegal. Surveys of weapons seized during arrests in California, for example, found these scary-looking “assault weapons” were only used in about 2 percent of crimes.
Fortunately, the 1994 law called for the ban to remain in effect for 10 years unless Congress voted to renew it. Congress has decided not to do so.
Gun control advocates can commission or cite polls showing Americans in general would prefer that these guns be banned. But members of Congress know they’re more likely to face opposition if they vote to renew the ban. Most of them have chosen to represent their home districts rather than the national intelligentsia on this issue.
That’s fine. The “assault weapons” ban, like the “assault weapons” label, was a fraud from the beginning. Good riddance.