Shooting Numbers

Is Banning Assault Rifles the Answer?

Not long ago I had a debate with a Chicago resident who was very much anti-gun.  I learned through that debate that our personal experiences greatly affect our perspectives on the subject of gun control.  I also learned that two individuals can have drastically different interpretations of the same statistics. 

The definition of an Assault Rifle and the weight given to Mass Shootings vary between individuals.  Where the focus of the problem is can change with each person.  The comparison of the United States to other countries, such as Australia, can point towards different conclusions depending on how one acknowledges the facts.

I will present facts and my interpretations of those facts.  Most likely this essay will not change your opinion, but I hope it will give you something new to think about.  Throughout this article all the statistics I use will have an embed link; I encourage all who read this to do their own research to determine their own educated opinions. 

During the aforementioned debate, I was criticized for using sites such as The Daily Wire as a source while my opponent used Wikipedia.  When looking for information on gun control it is hard to find non-bias articles; I use sources that may be viewed as ‘right’ or ‘left’.  The information I take from the sources are facts that are cited by that source.  I try to be diligent with my research and I do not post lies. I do not use sources like Wikipedia where anyone can edit them. 

Perspective

My father grew up in a time when it was not uncommon for a kid to bring their new shotgun to show-and-tell.  Besides fishing, his childhood past time was hunting squirrel and rabbit, both of which he would eat.  I grew up in a home where not only the firearms were loaded, but they were displayed and unlocked.  I have always been very comfortable around firearms and that affects my view on Gun Control. 

Black Americans are almost 13 times more likely to be shot than a white American; this fact will certainly affect a person’s view on Gun Control.  Also, it must be very frustrating to live in an area, like Chicago, where homicide is so common, and only see a very specific violent crime, like a school shooting in another state, receive so much focus in the media. 

Our experiences through life can easily determine our perspectives on any given issue.  As you read through this essay/article please do so with an open mind.  Ignore the media and personal prejudices for just a few moments.

Assault Rifles

The first thing to look at when debating gun control is Assault Rifles. One idea is that a ban on assault rifles will significantly reduce gun violence.  This type of legislation was passed in 1994.  Defining what an assault rifle is can be difficult since the term is not widely used as an official descriptor.  In fact, finding an official military definition is incredibly difficult. 

Here are a few definitions:

Army Intelligence: Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges…Assault rifles have mild recoil characteristics and, because of this, are capable of delivering effective full-automatic fire at ranges up to 300 meters.

Merriam-Webster: any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire; also: a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semiautomatic fire.

Encyclopedia Britannica: a military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.

The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994): Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following: Folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one, grenade launcher mount.  Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:  Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip, threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor, barrel shroud safety feature that prevents burns to the operator, unloaded weight of 50 oz. (1.4 kg) or more, a semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm.  Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:  Folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, detachable magazine.

The purpose of this article is not to debate what an Assault Rifle is.  I did, however, want to point out that words sometimes can be perceived differently than originally intended.  I have been taught that assault is a verb, not a noun.  I default with the military’s distinction that an assault rifle has full automatic firing capabilities.  For the purposes of this article when I use the term assault rifle I will be referring to the Merriam-Webster definition since it is more in line with this debate. 

Mass Shootings

The further away you live from Chicago the less likely you will be familiar with their (2017) statistics: 2,802 people shot, 518 killed.  Unfortunately, Chicago does not get the nationwide coverage that mass shootings do, particularly shootings at a school.  Mass shootings get disproportionate attention from the media and are leveraged by politicians to push gun control measures.  Those gun control measures tend to focus on banning assault rifles.  The statistics do not justify the extra emphasis on mass shootings and assault rifles.

Between January 1989 and February 2018 there have been 16 school mass shootings of those 5 involved assault rifles.  Only 1 of those incidents involved a single semiautomatic rifle exclusively, the other 4 included multiple firearms. The total fatalities from all 16 shootings were 162.  School shootings have actually been declining since the 90’s.  Broadening the statistics to include all mass shootings in the same time period of 27 years and two months show there were 99 mass shootings resulting in 819 fatalities.  In one year (2016) 1,930 people were murdered in California.

To put mass shootings in another perspective examine the homicides of 2014.  8,124 murders were committed with firearms (5,562 by handguns, 262 by shotguns).  Other homicides in 2014 include 1,567 by knife, 660 by hands, fists, or feet, 435 with blunt objects, 23 during rape, 18 in a mass shooting.  Mass shootings are so rare that it makes it difficult to debate the effectiveness gun control may have on it.  Murder represented 1.4% of all violent crime in 2016.  60% of the homicides in 2016 were from firearms; 70% of those involved handguns.

The statistics make it clear that Mass Shooting and Assault Rifles are comparably insignificant.  The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban had no significant effect on reducing mass murder.  I can’t help but question the true motives of those who support/promote assault rifle bans.

“If we focus on mass shootings as a means of understanding how to reduce the number of people killed by guns in this country, we’re likely to implement laws that don’t do what we want them to do — and miss opportunities to make changes that really work. Gun violence isn’t one problem, it’s many. And it probably won’t have a single solution, either.”  (Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.com)

Focus

In 2013 33,636 people died from a firearm of those 11,208 were homicides; major cardiovascular diseases caused 796,494 deaths, of those 370,213 were ischemic heart diseases.  Heart disease is a major problem in the US, but our major focus seems to be on assault rifles.  In 2016 15,070 murders were committed with a firearm, 2.4 percent of those were with rifles.  A rifle ban would do very little to eliminate crime, but what about expanding the ban to include all firearms?

Gun control measures will certainly restrict honest folks in what firearms they own, but what about criminals?  For a variety of reasons, it is hard to find exact numbers of how many homicides involve illegally obtained firearms.  As I have written in previous essays it is also important to understand that studies do not always display the full truth.  Still, I think it is worth looking at some statistics.  Justfacts.com writes that a 2004 study on inmates revealed that 40% obtained their firearms illegally and 2008 a study of crimes committed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania showed the number to be 79%.  In 2015 the University of Chicago examined 99 inmates at the Cook County Jail and determined that 97 percent obtained a firearm from a source other than a gun store.  (Click here for further reading on how criminals obtain guns.  Would a firearm ban stop crime?

There are many theories as to why a person decided to commit a crime which makes it difficult to identify a single cause or a single solution.  Studies point toward an association with poverty and crime). Poverty may be an indirect cause but it is associated with other factors that trend with an individual’s reasons to commit a crime such as unemployment, depression, mental illness, and fewer opportunities like higher education.  Poverty, segregation, and inequality all go hand in hand with violence and can affect entire neighborhoods.  Crime is also much higher in cities.  Would a firearm ban change this dynamic?  Perhaps, the focus needs to be changed.

Australia

During gun control debates other countries are often cited for comparison.  Keep in mind that it is not apples-to-apples comparisons.  Each country has its own distinct culture and diverse history that guides its direction.  Other factors such as population, geological location, demographics, GDP, and politics must be considered too.  I plan on writing a more detailed essay on gun control throughout the world, but for this essay I will briefly hit on some points concerning Australia since it is most often brought up during a Gun Control debate.

In 1996 a semiautomatic rifle was used in an event known as the Port Arthur massacre; it resulted in the deaths of 35 people.  Soon after Australia enacted the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and Buyback Program.  Each state and territory has its own Firearm Acts as well.  In 2002 the laws were further restricted to include firearms “used for sport shooting and those held as part of an historical collection”. 

Between the years 1989 and 2014 Australia has seen a 22 percent decrease in homicides; homicides involving firearms has decreased by 57 percent leading to a 63 percent decrease in death from gunshot wounds.  These statistics seem promising and when not considering any other factors point towards the success of the strict gun laws.  Not surprisingly firearm-related homicides are not the leading cause of murders in Australia.  In that 25 year time, the most common weapon used for homicide was a knife (or other sharp object) except for two years when ‘hands and feet’ took the lead.  There has been a 36 percent decrease in deaths from stabbings and a 24 percent decrease from beatings.  In 1996 there were 64 firearm related homicides compared to 108 from knives.

It cannot be denied that there is a significant decrease in gun violence in Australia, but to claim that there are no mass shootings is false.

            2002 Monash University: 2 dead and five wounded

            2005 Oakhampton Heights Shooting: 4 dead 

            2011 Hectorville Siege: 3 dead, 3 wounded

            2014 Hunt Family Murders: 5 dead

            2014 Wedderburn Shooting:  3 dead

            2014 Sydney Hostage Crisis:  3 dead, 1 wounded

Besides the above mass shootings, non-firearm related mass murders continue in Australia.

            2000 Palace Backpackers Hostel (arson): 15 dead

            2009 Churchill Fire (arson): 10 dead

            2009 Lin Family Murders (blunt instruments): 5 dead

2011 Quaker’s Hill Nursing Home (arson):  11 dead

2017 Melbourne Car Attack (vehicular homicide):  6 dead, 30 wounded

There are more mass murder incidents than the ones listed above; I only listed a few as a way to emphasize the point of disproportionate focus on firearms.  Using the 1996 logic shouldn’t Australia also ban fire and knives?  Homicides may have decreased, but assault, sexual assault, and robbery have all increased between 1996 and 2006.  Using more recent statistics (2012-2016) reveal that there has been little change in homicides (2 to 1.9 per 100,000).  There has been a significant rise in sexual assault (85.6 to 95.5 per 100,000) and a decrease in robbery (57.9 to 38.8 per 100,000).  Over a five year period (2011 to 2016) sexual assault has increased by 24%.

Overall there has been a decrease in violent crime in Australia, but do the strict laws deserve all the credit and is it a significant decrease?  Between 1997 and 2016 America has had a 23 percent decrease in violent crime, a 5 percent decrease in homicide, 22 percent decrease in assault, and a 33 percent decrease in robbery.  America has also had a significant increase in gun ownership, the Washington Post claims there are more firearms than people in the United States.  There has been a 176 percent increase in firearm background checks since 1999 to 2017.  Does the lack of a law similar to Australia’s deserve all the credit for America’s decrease in violent crime?  Does the increase in gun ownership play a role in the declining crime statistics?

I would encourage you to look into the United Kingdom and Sweden for more comparisons.  Also, consider comparing our Bill of Rights to the laws in other countries; pay special attention to the 1st Amendment.  Giving up our 2nd Amendment rights could lead to surrendering all of our rights covered under the Constitution.

Conclusion

I believe to have an effective gun debate we need to broaden our perspective.  Focusing on assault rifles and mass shootings only distract from other problems.  The focus needs to be on the criminals and how to stop them before they act.