Congress is poised to launch into a contentious debate next year over reinstating the assault-weapons ban.
In the wake of the Connecticut elementary school massacre, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., already has vowed to introduce such a bill at the start of the session. President Obama is voicing support.
But crime trends over the past few decades offer a mixed verdict on whether renewing the ban would reduce the kinds of mass shootings that have spurred calls for its re-enactment in the first place.
Data published earlier this year showed that while the ban was in place, from 1994 to 2004, the number of mass shootings actually rose slightly during that period.
Add to that the fact that most gun crimes in America are committed with handguns, and the gun lobby enters this debate with some potent statistics.
"You had that for 10 years when Dianne Feinstein passed that ban in '94. It was on the books. Columbine occurred right in the middle of it. It didn't make any difference," NRA chief Wayne LaPierre argued in an interview Sunday. "I think that is a phony piece of legislation, and I do not believe it will pass for this reason."
At the same time, gun control advocates note that modest decreases in assault-weapon crimes were recorded during the ban. A revived version won't stop gun crime in America, but, advocates argue, it could spare some lives from the violence on America's streets, in its schools and in its homes.
"You see the enormous killing power that's out there on the streets for virtually anybody to buy or obtain," Feinstein said last week.
A look exclusively at mass shootings -- the acts that typically prompt calls for more gun control -- shows a negligible impact from the Clinton-era ban.
Crime stats compiled by a Northeastern University professor, the Census Bureau and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show the number of mass shootings since the 1980s has fluctuated annually, but without any major upward or downward trend.
From 1985-1994, there were 173 mass shootings and 766 victims. From 1995-2004 (starting with 1995 because it was the first full year the law was in effect), there were 182 mass shootings and 830 victims.
After the ban expired, the average number of mass shootings every year continued to tick up slightly. The numbers were published over the summer in the Journal Sentinel, and counted a mass shooting as any murder where four or more people were killed at once.
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