This wasn't supposed to happen. When the federal assault weapons ban ended on Sept. 13, 2004, gun crimes and police killings were predicted to surge. Instead, they have declined.
For a decade, the ban was a cornerstone of the gun control movement. Sarah Brady, one of the nation's leading gun control advocates, warned that "our streets are going to be filled with AK-47s and Uzis." Life without the ban would mean rampant murder and bloodshed.
Well, more than nine months have passed and the first crime numbers are in. Last week, the FBI announced that the number of murders nationwide fell by 3.6% last year, the first drop since 1999. The trend was consistent; murders kept on declining after the assault weapons ban ended.
Even more interesting, the seven states that have their own assault weapons bans saw a smaller drop in murders than the 43 states without such laws, suggesting that doing away with the ban actually reduced crime. (States with bans averaged a 2.4% decline in murders; in three states with bans, the number of murders rose. States without bans saw murders fall by more than 4%.)
And the drop was not just limited to murder. Overall, violent crime also declined last year, according to the FBI, and the complete statistics carry another surprise for gun control advocates. Guns are used in murder and robbery more frequently then in rapes and aggravated assaults, but after the assault weapons ban ended, the number of murders and robberies fell more than the number of rapes and aggravated assaults.
It's instructive to remember just how passionately the media hyped the dangers of "sunsetting" the ban. Associated Press headlines warned "Gun shops and police officers brace for end of assault weapons ban." It was even part of the presidential campaign: "Kerry blasts lapse of assault weapons ban." An Internet search turned up more than 560 news stories in the first two weeks of September that expressed fear about ending the ban. Yet the news that murder and other violent crime declined last year produced just one very brief paragraph in an insider political newsletter, the Hotline.
The fact that the end of the assault weapons ban didn't create a crime wave should not have surprised anyone. After all, there is not a single published academic study showing that these bans have reduced any type of violent crime.
Research funded by the Justice Department under the Clinton administration concluded only that the effect of the assault weapons ban on gun violence "has been uncertain." The authors of that report released their updated findings last August, looking at crime data from 1982 through 2000 (which covered the first six years of the federal law). The latest version stated: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence."
Such a finding was only logical. Though the words "assault weapons" conjure up rapid-fire military machine guns, in fact the weapons outlawed by the ban function the same as any semiautomatic -- and legal -- hunting rifle. They fire the same bullets at the same speed and produce the same damage. They are simply regular deer rifles that look on the outside like AK-47s.
For gun control advocates, even a meaningless ban counts. These are the same folks who have never been bashful about scare tactics, predicting doom and gloom when they don't get what they want. They hysterically claimed that blood would flow in the streets after states passed right-to-carry laws letting citizens carry concealed handguns, but that never occurred. Thirty-seven states now have right-to-carry laws -- and no one is seriously talking about rescinding them or citing statistics about the laws causing crime.
Gun controllers' fears that the end of the assault weapons ban would mean the sky would fall were simply not true. How much longer can the media take such hysteria seriously when it is so at odds with the facts?