They Keep Missing the POINT

The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony yesterday on a proposed state “assault weapon” ban.

Leading the BAN ‘EM ALL! charge was testimony that “One in five law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty is killed with an assault weapon.” The piece reports:

There’s just one problem with the ratio, according to gun rights advocates: It isn’t true.

Dozens of them testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday, and a hundred more crammed an antechamber while committee members considered a bill that would give Maryland one of the nation’s strictest bans on semiautomatic firearms by banning 45 named weapons and any subsequent copycats. Though 70 state senators and delegates back the bill, gun shop owners, hunting groups, and assorted police organizations rejected the ban and the statistic.

Lt. Col. Steven. T. Moyer of the Maryland State Police — which opposes prohibiting the sale, transfer and ownership of semi-automatic weapons — told committee members that of the 50 rifle-related deaths in the state over the past decade, none of them were officers.

“The statistics are not here and [don’t] support this legislation,” he said.

That’s a surprising thing to hear from a high official of any law-enforcement department. Usually these people are politically savvy and anti-gun. In Maryland it’s especially refreshing. However:

Roots of the 20-percent figure lie in the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that works to curtail gun violence through research, advocacy, education and litigation. The group analyzed unpublished FBI data on fatal police shootings from Jan. 1, 1998, through Dec. 31, 2001. During the period, 211 officers nationwide were killed in the line of duty, 41 of them with weapons the group determined to be assault weapons, such as M1 Carbines, AK-47s, Tec 9s and AR-15s.

“They classified all rifles as assault weapons,” Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, wearing a button with the words “MARYLAND GUNOWNERS VOTE,” complained during the marathon hearing.

Not so, said Kristen Rand, the Violence Policy Center’s legislative director, in a telephone interview.

“All we did was we called the FBI, we asked them if we could get a list of guns used to kill police officers,” Rand said. “We took those instances where we knew for sure that it was an assault weapon and put them together. I think the confusion comes in that this data is not routinely released.”

The data, summarized in the organization’s “Officer Down” report, includes the model number and bullet caliber used in police shootings from Alaska to New York. Among the fatalities is the Oct. 20, 2000, death of Baltimore County Police Officer John Stem, the last Maryland officer to die of wounds inflicted by an assault weapon. Stem suffered the wounds during a barricade shooting in 1977 that left him paralyzed and killed a fellow officer.

One quibble – “research, advocacy, education and litigation”? The VPC is unabashedly in favor of banning handguns. If they can get “assault weapons” banned first, they’re all for it. Here’s where I get to insert my favorite VPC quote:

Although handguns claim more than 20,000 lives a year, the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. The reasons for this vary: the power of the gun lobby; the tendency of both sides of the issue to resort to sloganeering and pre-packaged arguments when discussing the issue; the fact that until an individual is affected by handgun violence he or she is unlikely to work for handgun restrictions; the view that handgun violence is an “unsolvable” problem; the inability of the handgun restriction movement to organize itself into an effective electoral threat; and the fact that until someone famous is shot, or something truly horrible happens, handgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons – just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms – are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons – anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.

Yeah, they’re really dedicated to honesty and full disclosure. People are confused about the difference between semi-autos and machine guns? Great! Works for us! Plastic firearms? Don’t exist, but boy, what a fear-inspiring soundbite! Armor piercing ammo? Who cares if any rifle round will penetrate a police vest, we can use that to slip in a backdoor ban! Spin, twist, mislead, obfuscate, exaggerate, lie! It’s for a righteous cause!

Ok, what we’ve got here is both sides offering “sloganeering and pre-packaged arguments” for the purpose of influencing lawmakers. (Big surprise.)

I covered the VPC’s report back in May when the Atlanta Urinal Constipation Journal Constitution ran a story on it. What I found was that the report said that of the 211 officers killed with firearms, 41 were killed with “assault weapons.” The accuracy of this statement depends on the definition of “is” how you define “assault weapon.” Unsurprisingly, the VPC defines it as broadly as possible. Of the 41 deaths, four (4) were with M1 Carbines, eight (8) with SKS rifles, two (2) with Mini-14’s, three (3) M-11’s, and two (2) TEC-9’s. Problem is, the M1 Carbine, the SKS and the Mini-14 don’t qualify under the current Federal ban as “assault weapons,” and neither the M-11 nor the TEC-9 is a rifle. The table indicates that in 2000 a Maryland officer was killed with an M1 Carbine, so somebody is obviously in error.

But the point everybody misses is the one I made in that May piece: The underlying implication is that the “assault weapon ban” would result in officer’s lives saved, but the statistics show that’s a conclusion you can’t draw. According to this table provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there is no evidence that the proliferation of “assault weapons” has caused any increase in officer deaths. In other words, you cannot honestly conclude that banning these guns would save anybody. If someone’s willing to shoot a cop, they’re willing to shoot a cop. Choice of weapon is apparently immaterial. And an “assault weapon ban” is a useless exercise, as Lt. Col. Moyer correctly stated.

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