The Assault Weapons Ban: How Silly Was It? (Part One)

These rifles are identical in every regard except that the rifle on the top has a small bit of metal under the front sight to which a bayonet could attach, and a small vented tube on the end of the barrel that redirects unburned gases.

Both are AR-15-pattern rifles that came off the same assembly line, fire the exact same ammunition, and use the same magazines.

The former was criminalized for ultimately absurd reasons, so that lawmakers could claim they were doing something about gun violence. Both were legal to sell, buy, and possess during the life of the ban.

The story was the same for almost every weapon impacted by the law. The offending cosmetics were removed, and the same weapon was sold under a different model number for the duration of the ban -- while the “pre-ban” versions became items of interest and demand merely because of the additional features.

Instead of having having an impact on the reduction of gun crime, the “assault weapon ban” instead became a near-comical example of the law of unintended consequences. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, demand for the firearms that became the subject of the ban was relatively light. The public’s interest was piqued, and sales skyrocketed, directly as a result of the law. These firearms had almost no statistical representation in crimes (which the National Institute of Justice admitted two years later), and interest in them grew both before the ban and after it was enacted. One of the unintended consequences of the law was that these firearms that had had a small role at the fringes of the marketplace were suddenly desired by millions.

The assault weapons ban didn’t reduce the number of military-style semi-automatic firearms. It greatly increased their numbers, their public acceptance, and had the effect of mainstreaming them, “pre-ban” rifles and cosmetically de-enhanced “post-ban” rifles alike. Thanks to the “ban,” AR-15 pattern rifles are now among the most popular rifles in America, and have been mainstreamed even among the change-resistant hunting fraternity as “modern sporting rifles.”

So if the ten-year ban period did not see a substantial reduction in gun crimes committed with the kind of firearms banned, and the expiration of the law in 2004 did not result in a massive upswing in violence even after these firearms achieved mainstream popularity and acceptance, why would the Obama administration be so strongly in favor of advocating for a renewal of the ban?

That is something we hope to resolve in Part 2.

ALSO READ: The Future of Obama's Stealth Gun Control.