Opinion Columns & Blogs

Did the assault weapons ban actually work? Here’s what the numbers say

Twenty years ago, Georgia experienced one of its darkest days. On July 29, 1999, Mark O. Barton, a day trader who had fallen on hard times, killed his wife and two kids, and then chose to go through the All-Tech Investment Group as well as Momentum Securities, gunning down everyone he could before he was cornered and committed suicide. The death toll in Atlanta from that killing spree was 12, with another 20 seriously wounded.

Since it occurred following an assault weapons ban, almost five years after the crime bill that contained that legislation was passed, it’s led some Georgians, and others across the country, to conclude that the ban didn’t work. After all, there was the Columbine High School slaughter in Colorado as well earlier that year.

As we are debating whether or not to revive the assault weapons ban in the wake of shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, I thought it would be worth looking at whether the ban worked or not. While a TownHall.com columnist chose to simply list any shooting in the 10 years that occurred during the ban going into effect, and when it was allowed to lapse, I took the additional step of comparing what happened before the ban, as well as afterward.

In Time magazine, data has been collected on 37 years worth of mass shooting in the United States. I looked at the number of shootings in this data set, divided by the number of years in the study. I also looked at the number of deaths, and divided them by the number of years in the study as well. I did the same for wounded individuals as well.

So in other words, I took the number of mass shootings from Jan. 1, 1982-Sept. 13, 1994, and divided the result by 13, because there were 13 years before the ban in the study. I also looked at the data from the 10 years of the ban (Sept. 13, 1994-Sept. 13, 2004), as well as the 15 years after the ban expired (Sept. 13, 2004-Aug. 14, 2019). And here’s what I found.

Though there were 19 mass shootings from 1982-1994 and 15 during the ban, there were more years counted before the ban. So the rate of mass shootings was slightly higher during the assault weapons ban (1.5 vs. 1.4615).

But there were 149 deaths in those mass shootings before the ban, and 92 during the ban. There were 187 wounded in mass shootings before the ban, and 108 during the ban. So the death rate is slightly higher for the years before the ban (11.46) than during the ban (9.2). It’s the same for wounded: the pre-ban wounded rate is 14.38 and only 10.8 during the ban. Perhaps that’s why studies that came out in 2004 and 2005 didn’t claim that the ban strongly reduced mass shootings or casualties. The numbers were relatively close to each other.

But it’s a completely different story after the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. There were 81 shootings in the 15 years after the ban, for a rate of 5.4 (compared to 1.5 during the ban). Since Sept. 13, 2004, 655 people have been killed in mass shootings, for a rate of 43.67 deaths per year, more than three times as many as during the ban. We’ve also seen 981 wounded in mass shootings from Sept. 13, 2004-Aug. 14, 2019, for a rate of 65.4 per year, far higher than the 10.8 wounded rate during the ban.

The two years with the most mass shootings in the data set were 2018 and 2017, with 2019 already tied for the third most cases, with mass shooting casualties exceeding 1999 numbers by almost 1.5 times as many deaths and wounded. The day trader shooting in Atlanta was tragic, but far more likely to occur today, with greater numbers of fatalities and injuries.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.