When, in 2004, the “assault-weapons” ban was up for renewal, a report issued by the Department of Justice submitted that “should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Congress let it lapse, and, since then, the evidence has become no stronger. In their 2014 work, The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know, Stanford University’s Philip J. Cook and Kristin A. Goss concluded that “there is no compelling evidence that [the ban] saved lives,” while, in a research review that was updated in April of 2020, the RAND Corporation found the evidence that “assault-weapons” bans reduce homicides in general and mass shootings in particular to be “inconclusive.” The AR-15 is the most commonly owned rifle in the United States, and, as such, is almost certainly protected under the Supreme Court’s “in common use” standard. In Congress and in the courts, “inconclusive” ain’t gonna cut it.
“This is not a partisan issue,” President Biden said on Monday, “it’s an American issue.” And, indeed, it is. And yet Biden’s rhetoric suggests that he believes this dispute is between a set of people that has all the right answers and a set that simply refuses to accept that they’re wrong — a conviction that could not be further from the truth. Only one in four Americans believes that “stricter gun control” would “help a lot” to prevent gun violence, while more than half believe that universal background checks would make either a “small difference” or “no difference at all.” Over time, gun-control advocates such as Biden have simply tuned out this fact, to the point at which they are now unable to conceive of their critics as anything other than corrupt, bloodthirsty wreckers. Even now, with the National Rifle Association as weak as it has been in decades, gun-controllers assume that Congress’s continued hesitance must be the result of something nefarious. It’s not. Americans just aren’t sold on the agenda.