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NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Misrepresents Study on Effectiveness of Assault Weapons Ban

Obfuscation and outright lies are his game plan.
US News • Views: 23,507

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the NRA and Wayne LaPierre in particular are lying about facts or statistics, and flip-flopping on what should otherwise be agreement to get universal background checks.

LaPierre’s a shill for the firearms industry, so anything that cuts to the bottom line would not pass muster. So that means lying and obfuscating information and in particular mischaracterizing a study that assesses the federal assault weapons ban and its impacts on gun markets and gun violence from 1994 to 2003 (and yes, that’s the link to the actual study for you to read through). His claims, along with those of law professor David Kopel, are at odds with the results of criminologist Christopher Koper, the lead investigator who carried out the study for the University of Pennsylvania.

LaPierre and Kopel went on at length about how the study proved that the assault weapons ban (AWB) was a total failure.

The fact is that the study reached no such conclusion. The biggest problem with the study was that it was inconclusive in several areas. But even then, key parts refute LaPierre and Kopel:

If you listened to the testimony today of Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, or David Kopel, a law professor and researcher at the libertarian Cato Institute, the study’s findings were unequivocal.

‘Independent studies, including a study from the Clinton Justice Department, proved that ban had no impact on lowering crime,’ LaPierre said. A footnote in his prepared testimony indicated he was referring to the Koper study.

Cato’s Kopel dwelled on the study at length, spending several minutes discussing its history and findings. ‘We do not have to speculate about whether ‘assault weapon’ bans do any good. A Department of Justice study commissioned by the Clinton administration found that they do not,’ he explained. ‘The study found the [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein ban to be a complete failure.’

So is that what the study said? No, according to the author of the study himself. I emailed Koper, now at George Mason University, after the hearing to note that I had a fairly different reading of his paper from that of LaPierre and Koper, and asked if he could sort it out.

‘I agree with your reading of our 2004 study,’ Koper replied. You can read the full study for yourself here and see that while it was not a ringing endorsement of the assault weapons ban, as many gun control advocates had hoped, it hardly ‘proved’ the law to be a failure, as LaPierre claims. To the contrary, it found some encouraging signs, like an average 40 percent drop in the number of assault weapons used in crimes (some cities saw a drop of over 70 percent) and some benefit from the ban on high-capacity magazines.

But mostly, the study was inconclusive. Not enough time had passed for the ban’s effect to be fully felt and there were too many loopholes to get a good read on its effect. For instance, the number of high-capacity magazines in the country actually increased during time of the ban because it was still legal to import magazines made in other countries before the law went into effect. Meanwhile, numerous other variables contributed to the drop in crime during that decade, including better policing and the end of the crack epidemic.

In his testimony, Cato’s Kopel zeroed in on this passage from the study: ‘We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.’

By the same token, the study didn’t rule out the ban as a contributor to the drop in crime. Just because something can’t be proven does not mean that the opposite is automatically true.

Inconclusive is not the same as a failure. It means that there’s need for follow up and additional study, as well as addressing issues that have occurred since the AWB sunset.

There are so few studies on firearms precisely because the NRA has done a tremendous disservice to the American public and public health in general by cutting off funding for the very kinds of studies that could delve in to the subject of firearms safety, health harms from firearms, mental health and firearms, and any number of related issues.

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