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Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban on Gun Markets: An Assessment of Short-Term Primary and Secondary Market Effects

NCJ Number
Journal of Quantitative Criminology Volume: 18 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2002 Pages: 239-266
Date Published
September 2002
28 pages

This study used a variety of national and local data sources to assess the short-term (1994-96) impact of the Federal assault weapons ban on gun markets, with attention to trends in prices and production of the banned weapons in legal markets and to the availability of the banned weapons in illicit markets as measured by criminal use.


The Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 bans a group of military-style semiautomatic firearms (assault weapons). Features of such weapons include flash hiders, folding rifle stocks, threaded barrels for attaching silencers, and the ability to accept ammunition magazines that hold large numbers of bullets. Exact copies of such weapons are banned, regardless of their manufacturer. In addition, the ban contains a generic "features test" provision that generally prohibits other semiautomatic firearms that have two or more military-style features. Such weapons manufactured before the effective date of the ban, however, are "grandfathered," and thus legal to own and transfer. This study of the effectiveness of this legislation used pre-ban and post-ban primary market price and production data on assault weapons to measure trends in primary market availability and indirectly approximate trends in secondary market availability. The study then examined the impact of these trends on the criminal use of assault weapons, using data on gun seizures by police to approximate trends in the criminal use of assault weapons. The study found that the prices of assault weapons increased substantially about the time of the ban's enactment, reducing the availability of assault weapons to criminal users in the short run; however, a surge in assault weapon production just before the ban caused prices to fall in the months following the ban. The major lesson of this study is that the expectations of gun manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers regarding gun-control policies can have substantial effects on demand and supply for affected weapons, both before and after a law's implementation. These factors will, in turn, affect the timing and form of a law's impact on the availability of affected weapons to criminals. 4 tables, 3 figures, and 26 references

Date Published: September 1, 2002