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On the one hand, it’s easy to understand why, as the Associated Press just put it, “When President Joe Biden speaks about the ‘scourge’ of gun violence, his go-to answer is to zero in on so-called assault weapons.”

After all, a ban on these arms is a much more limited goal than most other gun control proposals. Therefore, in theory, it should be much easier to get Congress behind than broader measures. Indeed, such a ban was in effect from 1995 to 2004. And – again in theory – because assault weapons (however they’re defined) are such efficient killing machines, banning them should be an equally efficient way at least to reduce the fatalities caused by firearms.

On the other hand, some evidence has just appeared that an assault weapons ban would be a virtually empty gesture. And strangely, it came in a piece in the Washington Post that recommended the outlawing of these “weapons of war.”

But as author Robert Gebelhoff himself acknowledged, “mass shootings account for a small fraction of gun deaths, so any ban on these weapons and magazines would result in marginal improvements, at best….” Further, he reports, the best scholarly research shows that the previous ban played an “inconclusive” role in the dip in mass shooting casualties that did take place during those years.

And in what looks like a clincher, despite Gebelhoff’s claim that “banning so-called assault weapons was never meant to reduce overall gun deaths. It was meant to make America’s frustratingly common mass shootings less deadly,” his article reveals that even that contention looks weak.

That conclusion clearly stems from this graph he presents.


It didn’t reproduce here as completely as I’d like, but it’s titled “Three Decades of Mass Shooting Victims,” the first year on the far left is 1982, the last one on the far right is this year, the shaded area depicts the ban years, the dark bars are numbers of fatalities, and the lighter bars are numbers of wounded.

What you see is that mass shooting deaths this year so far have indeed been higher than they tended to be during the ban years. But the overall U.S. population is, too – by a little more than 15 percent. So has the problem even gotten worse at all?

Moreover, these deaths (and wounded) are way down from their peak in 2017 – when they were driven way up by the appalling Las Vegas nightclub shooting. And they’ve been falling considerably and consistently (except for the peak CCP Virus year 2020) even though the assault weapons legal regime hasn’t changed one iota.

I can’t be too harsh on Mr. Biden for wanting to “do something” about gun violence in the United States. Everyone of good will does. But he’s the President. So maybe he could show some leadership by identifying “something” that would actually make a meaningful difference.