At the Albuquerque Journal: AR- or AK-style rifles for civilian market are different from military weapons

Jan 19, 2024 | Assault Weapon Ban, op-ed

Dr. John Lott has a piece in the Albuquerque Journal responding to a piece that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had earlier this week. Part of Lott’s piece was cut out by the newspaper and is included at the end below.

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The term “assault weapon” is nonsensical. In 2022, the Associated Press’s highly influential “Stylebook,” followed by the news media, recognized that fact. As the AP now acknowledges, the term conveys “little meaning” and is “highly politicized.”

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Politicians continue calling AR-15s “assault weapons” and “weapons of war,” as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did in a recent opinion piece in the Journal. But at least some of the media are now recognizing that AR- or AK-style rifles designed for the civilian market are fundamentally different than military weapons.

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“The preferred term for a rifle that fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled, and automatically reloads for a subsequent shot, is a semi-automatic rifle,” according to the AP Stylebook. “An automatic rifle continuously fires rounds if the trigger is depressed and until its ammunition is exhausted. Avoid assault rifle and assault weapon, which are highly politicized terms that generally refer to AR- or AK-style rifles designed for the civilian market, but convey little meaning about the actual functions of the weapon.”

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The AR-15 and AK-47 are frequently called “military-style weapons.” But the key word is “style” — they are similar to military guns in their cosmetics, not how they operate. The guns aren’t the fully automatic machine guns used by the military, but rather semi-automatic versions of those guns. About 85% of  handguns sold in the U.S. are semi-automatics.

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The civilian AR-15 uses the same bullets as small game-hunting rifles. It also fires at the same rapidity — one bullet per pull of the trigger — and does the same damage. Military weapons have machine gun modes whereby the gun will continue firing bullets as long as the trigger is pressed. The civilian version of the AK-47 is similar, though it fires a much larger bullet – .30 inches in diameter, as opposed to the .223-inch rounds used by the Bushmaster. Still, no self-respecting military would use the civilian versions of either of these guns.

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The AR-15 is nothing more than a hunting rifle, and its .223-inch rounds are actually smaller than those usually used to hunt deer. Many states prohibit using .223-inch bullets out of concern that the animal will suffer slow, painful deaths.

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But hunting isn’t the important issue here. Semi-automatic weapons are needed to protect people and save lives. Single-shot rifles that require manual reloading after every round may not do people a lot of good. The first shot may miss, or there may be multiple attackers.

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Most mass public shootings aren’t carried out with semi-automatic rifles. Since 1998, 53% involve only handguns, and only 16.8% solely involve rifles of any variety. Indeed, the deadliest attacks are with multiple different types of guns, not with only rifles.

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It should be little wonder that banning “assault” rifles did very little. Under the 1994-2004 ban, there was no drop in the number of attacks with “assault weapons,” and virtually no change in total mass shootings. Even studies paid for by the Clinton administration couldn’t find statistically significant changes in the number of attacks.

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But Lujan Grisham would have people believe otherwise.

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Grisham’s claim that there was “a staggering 70% reduction in mass shooting fatalities” during the federal assault weapons ban relies on one researcher’s unique definition. This definition inconsistently includes fights between drug gangs over turf. But even with that definition, there is no statistically significant change in the number of attacks or fatalities of mass public shootings with assault weapons.

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The researcher looks at total mass public shootings and not just those with assault weapons. Instead, it’s the increase in non-assault weapon shootings that drives the growth in attacks. The percentage of attacks with assault weapons fell once the ban became obsolete — just the opposite of what proponents of the ban would expect.

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It’s good that The Associated Press chose to be more precise and less alarmist in its language. Let’s hope that gun control advocates like Lujan Grisham take note and learn something about the guns they seek to ban.

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John R. Lott, Jr., “AR- or AK-style rifles for civilian market are different from military weapons,” Albuquerque Journal, January 18, 2023.

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This part at the end of Lott’s piece was cut out by the newspaper.

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Gun control advocates claim that California’s 1990 assault weapon ban is responsible for its 55% drop in firearm mortality from 1993 to 2017. But California’s murder rate peaked in 1993 at 13.1 per 100,000 people, rising from 10.9 in 1989, the year before the state enacted its assault weapons ban. So why did the murder rate fall by 10% in 1994 and not in 1990 and continue falling by 53% by 2000? California’s tough three-strikes criminal punishment law started on March 7, 1994.

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