Washington Post, March 2021
“We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again. I got that done when I was a senator. It passed. It was the law for the longest time. And it brought down these mass killings. We should do it again.”
— President Biden, in remarks on the shootings in Boulder, Colo., March 23, 2021
Whether the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons, pushed through the Senate by Biden, was effective has long been a subject of interest for politicians and researchers — and The Fact Checker. Every few years, usually after a mass shooting, we find ourselves digging into the research to see whether there is fresh evidence to bolster the claims of Democrats that the ban was effective.
Over time, as more research has been published, the Pinocchio count has decreased. It also makes a difference how a politician frames the issue. Biden did not claim a “big drop” in deaths, as former president Bill Clinton did in 2019; Biden more modestly said the law resulted in fewer mass killings.
Part of the problem is that the assault weapons ban existed for only 10 years, and there are relatively few mass shootings per year, making it difficult to fully assess its impact. Adding to the complexity, researchers use different definitions for a “mass shooting,” which can vary from at least three to six people killed. There is not even an settled definition of “assault weapons,” though most people would include the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which is implicated in many mass shootings.
Let’s review the latest evidence.