FactCheck.org recently examined a proposition put forward by Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy who, according to some of his gun-toting critics, will not rest content until he has repealed the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolished the National Rifle Association (NRA), and confiscated every "assault weapon" – assault guns, assault knives and, especially prominent just now in Europe, assault vans – from sea to shining sea.
“What we know, Murphy said, "is that states that have tougher gun laws, that keep criminals from getting guns, that keep those dangerous weapons like AR-15s out of the hands of civilians, have dramatically lower rates of gun violence."
FactCheck found that while Murphy was entitled to make up his own mind on assault weapons, he was not entitled to make up his own facts, and the senator was given three Pinocchios.
Let’s deal first with Murphy’s AR-15 claim, Fact Check began. In support of Murphy’s claim that tough gun laws in such places as Connecticut and Chicago that “keep criminals from getting guns, that keep those dangerous weapons like AR-15s out of the hands of civilians, have dramatically lower rates of gun violence," a Murphy spokesperson pointed to “several studies” that backed Murphy’s assertion.
Fact Check examined the studies, the bedrock upon which Murphy’s claims rest, and found: “None of the studies [cited by the spokesperson] address bans on assault weapons such as the AR-15, but the effectiveness of an assault weapons ban was widely studied after Congress imposed a nationwide 10-year ban in 1994.”
Pointing to one such study undertaken by Christopher Koper, of George Mason University, and his colleagues, FactCheck summarizes the finding of that study: “The effectiveness of the ban was inconclusive. Gun violence declined nationwide into the 2000s, but the researchers ‘cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence.' The researchers estimated that the effects of the ban 'may not be fully felt for several years into the future,’ and ‘'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.’ The ban was not renewed.” Murphy’s claim is not supported by the study.
FactCheck notes the deficiencies of the ban itself: The 1994 ban “may not have covered all forms of assault weapons because it did not ban all semiautomatic weapons. Instead, it banned semiautomatic weapons with large-capacity magazines and weapons that ‘appear useful in military and criminal applications but unnecessary in shooting sports or self-defense.’"
The observation raises the ticklish question: What weapons would an effective ban exclude? And the honest answer to the question is all "assault weapons" -- possibly including the recently favored weapons of terrorists, such as knives, vans and exploding pressure cookers -- not to mention a repeal of the Second Amendment supported by former Hartford Courant columnist Bob Engelhart, and the confiscation of all guns in the United States, the Australia solution to gun violence.
The problem with partial bans is that they are “not comprehensive,” a favorite expression of the anti-Second Amendment left. Englehart is right: We should learn to speak of partial weapons bans with the same smiling contempt used by people who speak of partial pregnancies, partial round circles and partial square holes. The ban enacted into law in Connecticut, if nationally replicated, would not substantially drive down murder rates in Chicago or Hartford.
A recent 2016 study published in Criminal Justice Review, FactCheck notes, addressed “the connection between 19 different gun-control laws and violent crime in roughly 1,000 U.S. cities. Kleck [co-author of the study] found that ‘gun control laws generally show no evidence of effects on crime rates, possibly because gun levels do not have a net positive effect on violence rates.’ But there were a few exceptions. Requiring a license to possess a gun and bans on gun purchases by alcoholics appeared to reduce the homicide and robbery rate.” And, of course, the licensing of guns is as common as table salt. The gun violence figures recently used by Murphy as emotional props to acquire campaign funds include suicides, which account for nearly 60 percent of gun crimes.
On this latter point, Murphy defended himself from the Pinocchio assault by pointing out that suicide was also a violent crime. True enough, but it is a different kind of violent crime, entailing much different consequences, and the General Assembly in Connecticut doubtless would not have successfully passed laws banning the AR-15, a weapon not useful in suicides, had it been forced to argue that the ban would reduce the incidence of suicide alone. The shooter in Sandy Hook first murdered 27 innocent people, 20 of them children, and then turned a pistol on himself, committing suicide.
In a cooler movement, Murphy should ask himself whether the tears poured out in Connecticut and Las Vegas would have flowed so copiously if both shooters had committed suicide before they pulled the trigger on their many victims.
Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.