The Assault Weapons Ban: Did It Curtail Mass Shootings?

Blog Post by: Thérèse Postel , on January 11, 2013

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post Fact Checker took Bill Clinton to task on gun-control statistics today.  On January 9, Clinton gave a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where he claimed, “Half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005, half of all of them in the history of the country.” Kessler and the Fact Checker column come down on this with “Three Pinocchios”—the statement is false and Clinton, apparently, refused to comment on where he got his facts.

Putting the veracity aside for the moment, Kessler is missing the big picture here. It has been only eight years and three months since the Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 14, 2004. In those eight years, we have seen 28 mass shooting events.

If we look from September 2004 all the way back to 1900 (104 years), as the Washington Post lays out, there were 118 mass shootings. That breaks down to 1.13 mass shooting incidents per year, on average, from 1900 to 2004. In the eight years since the Assault Weapons Ban has expired, there have been 28 mass shooting events. That equals an average of 3.5 a year—an increase of over 200 percent. That is a startling jump, by any measure.

If we further break down the years both Mother Jones and the Washington Post use, the statistics remain similar. From 1982 to 1994 (12 years), there were 19 shootings, an average of 1.5 shootings a year.

From September 1994 to September 2004—the duration of the Assault Weapons Ban—there were 15 mass shootings over 10 years; again, an average of 1.5 a year. While some will point out that the ban did not reduce the number of shootings, on average, it is important to bear in mind that the ten-year period of the ban is a small sample size. There were five incidents in 1999 alone; the Columbine Massacre occurred in April 1999, and four other mass shooting incidents followed soon after. There is evidence that events like Columbine can inspire other mass shootings, so without Columbine and the following “copy-cat” events, the number of shooting incidents during the Assault Weapons Ban would have been significantly lower.

What is an undeniable truth is that we have seen an incredible uptick of mass shootings since the ban expired on September 14, 2004. To be fair, it also is a small sample size, and 2012 was an exceptionally tragic year, but the fact remains that the number of shootings has gone up over 200 percent since the ban expired.

So, was Clinton accurate? Have half of the nation’s mass shootings occurred since the Assault Weapons Ban expired? No, it’s more like a quarter.

The Washington Post, however, is splitting hairs where they don’t need to be split. The facts are that since the Assault Weapons Ban there have been 28 mass shooting events in eight short years. Seven of these shootings took place in 2012; at Sandy Hook, 20 students and 6 faculty members lost their lives.

Do we have to nitpick on an embellishment by President Clinton in which he makes an important point? President Clinton is essentially correct—since the Assault Weapons Ban expired, mass shootings have grown rapidly in frequency and fatalities. Shouldn’t we focus on ensuring the frequency of these tragic incidences falls, rather than cavil over the smaller stuff?

Tags: guns,

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