While Sandy Hook Elementary gives the Obama administration emotional fuel to promote a gun ban, government data show that civilian rifle ownership and murders with rifles have little in common.
The following graphs resulted from collating data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, and Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms. Between 1991 and 2011, civilian rifle ownership increased from an estimated 74 million to 112 million (51% growth). During that same period, the number of rifle homicide victims declined 57% (see graph below).
(Spearman’s rho equals -0.87, a strong negative correlation: more rifles, less homicide with rifles.)
Examining rates better compares growth in both gun ownership and population. The following graph compares the rate of victims shot with rifles (per 100,000 population) versus the rate of civilian rifle ownership (per 1,000 population for a more usable number). The rifle ownership rate increased 22% between 1991 and 2011, while the rifle homicide rate decreased 65%.
(Spearman’s rho equals -0.89, a strong negative correlation: higher rifle ownership, lower rifle homicide rate.)
In terms of crime data, the effective years for the Clinton “assault weapons” ban (banning scary-looking semi-automatic rifles) were 1995 through 2004. (September 13, 1994, was the enactment date, including over two-thirds of the FBI’s 1994 crime data; same for the sunset year, September 13, 2004.)
Focusing only on the three years following the ban’s sunset — and ignoring two spikes during the ban plus the increased rate right before the ban’s end — might make a case to low-information voters that the gun ban worked. But the longer the trend, the more reliable the result. Looking at time periods before, during, and after the Clinton ban show its questionable impact on murderers using rifles: While rifle homicide rates declined 45% during the 10-year ban period, they continued declining 31% during the 7-year post-ban period (see table below).
There’s no evidence gun bans work. The National Gang Crime Research Center concluded: “Gang members were significantly more likely to report it has been easier since the Brady Bill went into effect to acquire illegal guns.” There’s no evidence a gun ban stymied them, either. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences found no evidence that the Clinton ban impacted crime.
Why, then, the sudden push to ban semi-automatic rifles?