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Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994: Final Report

NCJ Number
Jeffrey A. Roth; Christopher S. Koper
Date Published
March 1997
128 pages

This is the first report on the impact of the Federal Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994, which was conducted within 30 months following the date the law went into effect.


Title XI of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 took effect on September 13, 1994. Subtitle A banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of designated semiautomatic assault weapons. It also banned "large-capacity" magazines, which were defined as ammunition-feeding devices designed to hold more than 10 rounds. Finally, it required a study of the effects of these bans. This report contains the findings from the first study of the legislation's impact. The analysis considered potential ban effects on gun markets, on assault weapon use in crime, and on the lethal consequences of assault weapon use. Even though the expected quick profits for the sale of the targeted weapons failed to materialize prior to the act's taking effect, there was no strong evidence to date that licensed dealers have increased "off the books" sales of assault weapons in secondary markets and concealed them with false stolen gun reports. Stolen gun reports for assault weapons did increase slightly after the ban took effect, but by less than reported thefts of unbanned large-capacity semiautomatic handguns, which began increasing well before the ban. The lack of an increase in stolen gun reports suggests that so far, the large stock of grandfathered assault weapons has remained largely in dealers' and collectors' inventories instead of leaking into the secondary markets through which criminals tend to obtain guns. Between 1994 and 1995, the criminal use of assault weapons, as measured by law enforcement agency requests for BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) traces of guns associated with crimes, decreased by 20 percent, compared to an 11-percent decrease for all guns. There were similar trends in data on all guns recovered in crime in two cities. Similar decreases were found in trace requests concerning guns associated with violent and drug crimes. At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders. The best estimate is that the ban contributed to a 6.7-percent decrease in total gun murders between 1994 and 1995, beyond what would have been expected in view of ongoing crime, demographic, and economic trends. Limitations of the study are discussed, along with recommendations for future research to update and refine results at this early post-ban stage. 30 tables, 34 figures, appended data on assault weapons and mass murder, and 58 references