Hill Democrats Renew Push for “Assault Weapons” Ban

“1. We must do something. 2. This is something. 3. Therefore, we must do this.” That’s not just a famous line from the BBC’s old comedy Yes, Minister, it might serve as a philosophy of government for about 90 Democrats on Capitol Hill led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who are seeking to revive a failed Clinton-era ban on so-called assault weapons that Congress let lapse a decade ago. (Gun homicide rates have plunged since the Clinton era.) 

The lawmakers’ timing could hardly be worse, with both the New York Times/CBS and ABC News/Washington Post polls showing American public opinion has turned against such bans, which once drew support at levels of 80% or higher. In the latest ABC poll, a 53-45 percent majority of Americans are opposed to such a ban.

That trend in opinion has been in progress for years, since well before this year’s shocking round of mass shootings in Charleston, San Bernardino, and elsewhere. And it owes much to the steady accumulation of evidence on such laws and their effect. Cato has long made gun control one of its topics of interest, with at least three recent publications shedding light on the assault-weapons controversy: David Kopel’s magisterial overview (summary) of the poor track record of supposed common-sense reforms, Jonathan Blanks’s distinction between the actual incidents that dominate gun crime statistics and the outlier episodes that are seized on as symbolic, and Trevor Burrus’s response to the New York Times’s recent overwrought front-page editorial. 

At the Volokh Conspiracy blog, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has been doing a series of posts (first, second, third, fourth so far) on why even a liberal gun-control advocate like Prof. Adam Winkler has come to see assault weapons bans as “largely ineffectual…bad policy and bad politics,” and why gun rights advocates are not unreasonable to see such bans as strengthening (desirably, for some proponents) the likelihood of future bans on conventional handguns. I’ve also covered the topic a couple of times at my Cato blog Overlawyered, including here (noting columnist Steve Chapman’s description of the ban as part of a “Potemkin Village” array of reforms with no discernible effect) and more recently here (noting false claims in circulation about mass shootings).