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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
A recent evaluation of the short-term effects of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence outcomes (Koper and Roth, 2001b). Using state-level Uniform Crime Reports data on gun homicides, the authors of this study suggest that the potential impact of the law on gun violence was limited by the continuing availability of assault weapons through the ban’s grandfathering provision and the relative rarity with which the banned guns were used in crime before the ban. Indeed, as the authors concede and other critics suggest (e.g., Kleck, 2001), given the nature of the intervention, the maximum potential effect of the ban on gun violence outcomes would be very small and, if there were any observable effects, very difficult to disentangle from chance yearly variation and other state and local gun violence initiatives that took place simultaneously. In a subsequent paper on the effects of the assault weapons ban on gun markets, Koper and Roth (2001a) found that, in the short term, the prices of assault weapons in both primary and legal secondary markets rose substantially at the time of the ban, and this may have reduced the availability of the assault weapons to criminals. However, this increase in price was short-lived as a surge in assault weapon production in the months prior to the ban and the availability of legal substitutes caused prices to fall back to nearly preban levels. The ban is also weakened by the ease with which legally available guns and magazines can be altered to evade the intent of the ban. The results of these two studies should be interpreted with caution, since any trends observed in the relatively short study time period (24-month follow-up period) are unlikely to predict long-term trends accurately.
District of Columbia Handgun Ban
Bans on the ownership, possession, or purchase of guns are the most direct means available to policy makers for reducing the prevalence of guns. The District of Columbia’s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 is the most carefully analyzed example of a handgun ban. This law prohibited the purchase, sale, transfer, and possession of handguns by D.C. residents other than law enforcement officers or members of the military. Note, however, that individuals who had previously registered handguns prior to the passage of this law were allowed to keep them under this law. Long guns were not covered by the ban.6
One would expect the passage of the District’s handgun ban to have little impact on the existing stock of legally held handguns but to greatly reduce the flow of new handguns to law-abiding citizens. Over time, the number of legally held handguns will decline. It is less clear how the illegal
For a more detailed discussion of the law and the politics surrounding its passage, see Jones (1981).