In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, President Obama has called upon Congress to enact a ban on so-called “assault weapons.” Such a ban, we are told, will “save and protect lives, while reducing crime.”


The United States tried this once before. After 10 years as the law of the land, the effects of the 1994 ban on “assault weapons” were so indeterminate that a 2004 study funded by the Justice Department concluded: “Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Congress permitted the ban to expire in 2004.

Those who want to reintroduce the ban point out that the number of people killed by firearms during the ban declined an average of 3.93 percent per year. But firearms murders were already declining before the ban was enacted, and in fact had declined at an even greater rate—4.17 percent—the year before it went into effect.