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February 9, 2009

An Interesting Age

In 1936, Sir Austin Chamberlain, brother of the British prime minister, wrote to a friend: "Many years ago, I learned from one of our diplomats in China that one of the principal Chinese curses heaped upon an enemy is, 'May you live in an interesting age.'"

Given the severity and depth of the economic crisis in which our country is enmeshed, it is safe to say that we are living in an interesting age. Our great depression is already having an impact on the crime rate in the nation. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) reports that certain crimes are up across the nation due to the financial crisis. At the same time, our state and local law enforcement agencies are facing severe budget cuts and hiring freezes. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has pointed out to the Washington Post that “cities may have to curtail successful programs that have flooded crime ‘hot spots’ with officers.”

An added factor is the recent upturn in gun sales. As one Forth Worth firearms dealer described it: “The volume is 10 times what we ever expected. It started with assault rifles, but at this point, people are buying ammunition, high capacity magazines, Glocks—it’s all flying off the shelf. With the economy the way it is, people are worried about instability. They are scared of civil unrest.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA), of course, is exacerbating these fears by telling gun owners that the Obama Administration plans to ban all firearms. In a recent editorial, NRA Board Member Ted Nugent described President Barack Obama as a “gun control zealot—typical of the loony, anti-freedom wing of the Democratic Party” and new Attorney General Eric Holder as a “Fedzilla ratfink” (no, I’m not making this up). In Nugent’s words, “they know the first thing that needs to be done to turn us from citizens to subjects is to disarm us.”

The Administration’s actual gun violence prevention plans are far more modest, and have been laid out publicly in their recent Urban Policy Agenda statement. The only ban being contemplated is a renewal of the widely popular 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons. The Administration will also undoubtedly be watching Congressional debate over a proposal to use a portion of Homeland Security grants to help state and local law enforcement agencies.

Reflecting back on Sir Austin Chamberlain’s words, let us pray that that the interesting days ahead turn out to be a blessing and not a curse. I have great confidence that the current crisis will provide our country’s leaders with tremendous opportunities to move forward and better the lives of all Americans.


  1. So, let's see if I understand this right.

    Crime is going up.

    Police presence is going down or staying the same.

    Most cities are experiencing population growth, making the ratio citizen to police ratio increase.

    So the thing to do is re-implement a ban that name cosmetic features on firearms and a few firearms by name?

    Tell me how does keeping a bayonet lug off rifles stop the proliferation of crime? Especially when most most crime has not been committed with firearms, much less rifles equipped with bayonets?

  2. Thankfully, an "assault weapons" ban will be unconstitutional thanks to the Heller decision. So called "assault weapons" are in such common use that they cannot be banned. Same thing goes for high capacity magazines.

    If the "assault weapons" ban is so "widely popular" why are people buy them as fast as they can.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Bob S. As noted in this blog, augmenting local police forces is a priority for the Administration. Their Urban Policy Agenda contains the following initiative:

    Support Local Law Enforcement: President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to fully funding the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street...

    As for the Administration's plan to reduce gun violence, it contains several initiatives and is described as follows:

    Address Gun Violence in Cities: Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.

    Assault weapons are certainly a concern for law enforcement. Police departments across the country have begun arming their patrol officers with assault weapons because they are increasingly seeing these dangerous weapons in the hands of criminals. Charleston, South Carolina, recently became the latest police department to arm up in this fashion.

    America's weak gun laws, unfortunately, have created an arms race between criminals and law enforcement. The Obama Administration's agenda contains several important initiatives that would make it harder for criminals to get guns and easier for law enforcement to investigate illegal firearms trafficking rings. - CSGV

  4. Thanks for your comment, Rudy. The Supreme Court didn't specifically address the issue of assault weapons in the District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Justice Scalia did write the following in the opinion, however:

    "We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those 'in common use at the time.' 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.'"

    Time will tell if future courts deem assault weapons "dangerous and unusual weapons." What is certain now is that police departments across the country are finding these firearms to be dangerous (as have the thousands of other victims across our country who have been injured or killed with assault weapons).

    As for high-capacity magazines, there was no indication by the Court that magazines containing more than ten rounds are necessary for self-defense in the home.

    Regarding gun sales during the past six months, we have seen no data to indicate that assault weapons have become popular among the wider American public. Much of the anecdotal evidence we have seen suggests that these weapons are being purchased by repeat buyers who already own several firearms. - CSGV

  5. If "assault weapons" are such a threat to the public, why are they used in only a small percentage of crimes?


    This shows that ALL rifles and shotguns are used in 5.1% of all murders, meaning the percentage of murders with guns considered "assault weapons" is even lower.

    And if such weapons are such a major threat to the police, then why have police gunfire fatalities declined since the AWB expired in 2004?


    "Gunfire deaths dropped to 41 officers this year, compared to 68 in 2007. The 2008 number represented the lowest total since 1956 - when there were 35 - and was far below the peak of 156 officers killed by gunfire in 1973."

    And if that's not enough, a new FBI study makes it clear that handguns are the main threat to police, not "assault weapons". Not legal handguns owned by lawful citizens, but handguns that are illegally obtained by those with no regard for the law:


    "Predominately handguns were used in the assaults on officers and all but one were obtained illegally, usually in street transactions or in thefts. In contrast to media myth, none of the firearms in the study was obtained from gun shows. What was available "was the overriding factor in weapon choice," the report says. Only 1 offender hand-picked a particular gun "because he felt it would do the most damage to a human being."

    Researcher Davis, in a presentation and discussion for the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, noted that none of the attackers interviewed was "hindered by any law--federal, state or local--that has ever been established to prevent gun ownership. They just laughed at gun laws."

    So while the CSGV claims just want to "make it harder for criminals to get gun", it is clear that a renewal of the 1994 AWB would do no such thing. It would only keep guns out of the hands of those least likely to misuse them.

    In fact, one must wonder why Mike is concerned with the recent increase in firearms purchases at all. He was referring to lawful transactions by legal buyers. If all you care about is preventing criminals from getting guns, why would an increase in legal gun purchases be an issue?

    Finally, do you have any evidence that limiting the amount of rounds legally allowed in a magazine to ANY number (let alone the arbitrary number of 10) has any effect on crime rates?

  6. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. You are correct that handguns are overwhelmingly the weapon choice for America’s criminals. That makes sense given their concealability. Handguns, of course, are also highly lethal and can accommodate high-capacity magazines.

    That said, traces of assault weapons are steadily increasing. Since 1993, the year before the federal Assault Weapons Ban took effect, ATF has recorded a more than sevenfold increase in 7.62x39mm guns—which includes the original Russian-made AK-47 and a variety of copycat rifles from around the world. The number of AK-type guns rose from 1,140 in 1993 to 8,547 in 2007. Since 2005, the first full year after the ban's expiration, ATF has recorded an 11% increase in such tracings.

    Regarding the declining number of law enforcement officer deaths in 2008, that was great news. However, in acknowledging the decline, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd had the following to say: “2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in our country, and law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers clearly heeded the call, with a renewed emphasis on officer safety training, equipment and procedures. The reduction in firearms-related deaths is especially stunning, given the tremendous firepower possessed by so many criminals today.” Floyd then noted that one reason for the decline is “more officers wearing bullet-resistant vests over the past 20 years—vests have saved more than 3,000 law enforcement lives.”

    Of course, many police departments have begun arming their patrol officers with assault weapons in recent years, such as the District of Columbia, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Erie, Charleston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. We don’t view this as a promising trend. As Police Chief Scott Knight of Chaska, Minnesota, and Chairman of the Firearms Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, recently stated, "We're in an arms race."

    As for the stoppingpower.net article you linked, we went to the original source report, “Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers.” The study examined 40 incidents of felonious assault against law enforcement officers involving 43 offenders and 50 officers. The offenders used 38 firearms (33 handguns, 4 rifles and 1 shotgun) in the study sample. 19 were purchased or traded from other individuals; 6 were obtained during burglaries; 2 were stolen during larcenies; 2 were stolen/acquired during a homicide; 2 were legally purchased from licensed firearms dealer stores; 1 was obtained through a straw purchase through a licensed firearms dealer in a store; and 4 were taken from the victim officers during the assaults in question. That’s a total of 32 firearms that the offenders in question obtained through unregulated private sales/transfers, straw purchases, and theft. And while none of the offenders directly acquired their firearm from a gun show, the firearms in the study were not traced to determine their original point of purchase and subsequent chain of possession. The offenders in the study confirmed that guns frequently change hands several times before and after the commission of crimes. It is possible that several of these firearms had been trafficked through a gun show at some point. It is possible that even the stolen firearms in the study had been trafficked to criminals at some point.

    The ATF’s “Following the Gun” study, which examined in detail 1,530 firearms trafficking investigations involving 84,128 firearms, found the top two sources of illegally trafficked firearms in the U.S. to be federally licensed firearm dealers and gun shows.

    The data from both these studies confirms how easily guns move from the legal market to the illegal “secondary” market where they are funneled to criminals. In both studies, straw purchases and unregulated private sales are implicated directly. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s has worked for years to reform loose gun laws that allow criminals to easily obtain firearms, so Mike’s concern about increasing assault weapon sales is perfectly natural. The fear is that these weapons could easily fall into the hands of criminals and other prohibited purchasers and pose a direct threat to law enforcement and the American public.

    As for high-capacity magazines, the Coalition has never argued that such magazines increase crime. They do make gun crimes more lethal, however, by allowing shooters to continue to fire without reloading. This has been witnessed in high profile shootings across the country at places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, and Moscow, Idaho. - CSGV

  7. Why should citizen's be forced to defend themselves with firearms that are less powerful or hold less ammo than criminals who already don't care what kind of firearms are illegal/banned as well as "high" capacity magazines. Would you really like to run out of ammo before the criminal does? I know I wouldn't.