1994 Assault Weapons Ban – What is It and Did it Work?

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In the late 80s and early 90s, the rise of “mass shootings” led to gun control groups looking to restrict civilian firearm ownership.

It started on January 17th, 1989.  Patrick Purdy, a mentally disturbed alcoholic with an extended criminal history, stormed into a California elementary school with an AK-47.

He fired a total of 100 rounds at children on a playground, killing 5 and wounding 32 others. 

Young Asian girl, wounded in chest during shooting at Cleveland School by Patrick Purdy, being attended to by medical personnel. (Photo by Michael Chow//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Patrick, a known criminal, was able to acquire the AK-47 rifle legally from an Oregon gun shop, thanks to poor interstate communications regarding background checks. 

Stockton Police Captain J.T. Marnoch holds up a Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifle during a press conference that authorities said was used by a heavily armed gunman to kill five school children and injure 30 others at an elementary school, Jan. 18, 1989, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A 1991 mass shooting in Texas furthered gun control cries, though they were buffeted by Suzanna Hupp, a CCW holder who was unable to carry her weapon in a gun free zone.  Had she been able to carry, she may have been able to engage the shooter and end the attack sooner.

Yet another California shooting in 1993 where 9 people were killed and 6 injured led California Senator Dianne Feinstein to work with President Bill Clinton to sign the…

1994 Assault Weapons Ban law

When the federal Assault Weapons Ban law was signed, it instantly instituted a 10-year ban on certain semi-automatic firearms (that were considered “assault weapons”) and ammunition magazines exceeding 10 rounds.

You might be wondering…

What Is Defined As An “Assault Weapon”?

There are two different types of magazine-fed gas-operated firearms:

  1. Fully automatic weapons which fire continuously when the trigger is held down.  An M249 belt-fed machine gun and M4 U.S. infantry rifle are examples of this.
  2. Semi-automatic weapons which fire one bullet at a time. An AR-10 rifle is an example of this. (If you own a AR-10, check out this AR-10 scope guide).

The difference? 

Fully automatics have been strictly regulated since 1934 while semi-automatic weapons have been legal for as long as we can remember. 

In the lawmakers’ eyes, there were specific semi-automatic weapons more prone to damage like the AR-15 or the AK-47. So certain models of the AK-47s and AR-15s were banned. 

That’s not all. They also banned specific firearms with two or more military-type features like a pistol grip, folding stock, and a flash hider. 

For example: If a semi-automatic was equipped with a bayonet mount and a pistol grip, it would be considered an “assault weapon” (resulting in a ban). However, a semi-automatic with just a pistol grip would be legal.

How Gun Manufacturers Complied With The Ban

All gun manufacturers had to do to comply with the AWB was follow two rules:

  1. Sell firearms that didn’t have two or more military-type features. This included folding/collapsible stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash hiders, and grenade launchers (the last of which is already more difficult for civilians to own legally than regular firearms). 
  2. Avoid selling the 18 firearm models that were explicitly banned

One example: The Colt AR-15 that James Holmes used in the Colorado movie theater shooting:

James Holmes AR-15 rifle used in shooting on July 20, 2012*

This specific rifle was banned under the assault weapon ban. However, Holmes could have easily bought a similar Colt Match Target rifle, causing the same amount of carnage.

While gun control loves to complain about magazine size, Holmes used a 100-rd drum magazine with known high failure rates.  Holmes’ rifle jammed during the incident (likely due to this magazine) and he was unable to clear it.*

Had he been forced to use 10-rd magazines, he likely could have caused additional carnage.

Do you see where this is going? The AWB was simply ineffective, which brings us to…

Did the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban Reduce Mass Shootings?

I’ll let the facts speak for themselves:

In 2004, Christopher S. Koper (hired by the U.S. Department of Justice) studied the impact of the 1994 AWB. Here’s what he concluded:

We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.

But, let’s not limit our view to only one study. Let’s look at a few others…

Recently, a gun control study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and concluded with this:

We found no statistically significant relationship between assault weapon or large-capacity magazine bans and homicide rates.

Last year in 2018, RAND Corporation performed an extensive case study on the assault weapons ban and mass shootings. Here’s what they concluded with:

Based on an assessment of these findings and the relative strengths of these studies, we find inconclusive evidence for the effect of assault weapon bans on mass shootings.

Now that we’ve laid out a couple of case studies, let’s answer the underlying question…

Can Gun Control Solve Mass Shootings?

Based on the studies and data conducted by scholars, passing an assault weapons ban or buybacks will have practically NO effect on gun violence and mass shootings.

Guns Rights 2nd Amendment

There’s simply no correlation or evidence between any Assault Weapons Ban and reductions in mass shootings or homicide. 

That said…

It’s Now Your Turn

What are your thoughts on the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban?

Do you think it was useless? Or do you think there are better solutions?

Let me know by leaving a comment!

Author Bio:

Richard Douglas is a strong 2nd amendment advocate and believes in science-backed gun solutions to our nation’s biggest problems. In his spare time, he reviews various optics on his blog, Scopes Field.


*Editor’s note: It is presumed that when Holmes was unable to clear the jam from his 100-rd magazine, he attempted and failed to load a 30-rd magazine, which is pictured in the photo.  According to Wikipedia, the drum magazine was found on the floor inside the movie theater, and the rifle itself was found outside the theater as pictured.