Myth No. 12: Automatic rifles and so-called assault weapons are too dangerous to be left in private hands.

On "Miami Vice," the weapons of choice among drug dealers are Uzi machine guns and M-16 military automatic fire weapons. Don Johnson, amazingly, manages to prevail week after week using only a handgun. Of course in real life, Don Johnson wouldn't stand a chance against such superior fire power. Fortunately, in real life criminals don't carry machine guns.

Criminals overwhelmingly choose handguns for their concealability and small size.74 Guns that are rare in the nonfelon population are also rare in the criminal population. If a weapon is useful for crime, it is also useful for legitimate purposes. Even drive-by shootings involve mostly handguns and shotguns. And, despite television and the movies, most Florida police agencies have not come across a single "assault weapon."

Automatic Rifles.

Since 1934 it has been unlawful for civilians to possess automatic-fire weapons without special permission of the U.S. Department of Treasury, and since 1986 all importation and manufacture of these weapons for private use have been prohibited. Furthermore, no semiautomatic weapons sold to civilians are readily convertible to automatic fire. Nonetheless, it is fairly easy for a law-abiding civilian to get permission to own one of these weapons as a "collector" and about 103,000 are in private hands.

"Over the past 50 years, no civilian has ever used a legally owned machine gun in a violent crime."

The existence of guns that are legally in private hands has posed no threat to the rest of us, however. Over the past 50 years, no civilian has ever used a legally owned machine gun in a violent crime. Even the illegal use of machine guns by drug dealers and other violent criminals is close to nonexistent. Since 1980, when the first Uzi was imported into the United States, not one police officer has been killed with an Uzi machine gun.

Assault weapons.

The official Department of Defense definition of an assault rifle is one capable of "selective fire," that is, of both automatic fire (many shots per trigger pull) and semiautomatic (one shot per trigger pull). The media, however, have broadened the term "assault rifle" to include any semiautomatic rifle with a military appearance (e.g., plastic stock instead of wood stock, loop for a lanyard and dull instead of shiny surface). There is no mechanical difference between these weapons and those with different styling used for hunting and target shooting. The only difference is cosmetic.

"Despite �Miami Vice, - not a single police officer has been killed with an Uzi machine gun."

Semiautomatic weapons are rarely used in crime. When they have been used " as in Stockton, Calif. " they caused no more damage than easily could have been caused by a garden-variety weapon.75 In fact, the death toll from a shotgun or full-power hunting rifle probably would have been higher. Overall:

The total number of felonious deaths of police officers has been declining since 1980 and the maximum number killed by an "assault rifle" was 11 during 1987. Even a spokesperson for Handgun Control, Inc., the primary gun control lobby, conceded that assault weapons "play a small role in overall violent crime."77

Cop-Killer Bullets.

The political debate changes periodically to focus on other specific weapons, such as "cop-killer" bullets and plastic guns. To the best of our knowledge, teflon-coated bullets " which were developed by and for the police " have never been used in a crime. Nor are they the only danger faced by police officers. An ice pick will also pierce a bulletproof vest and kill the wearer.

In general, the piecemeal approach to weapons control is ineffective because it overlooks substitute weapons. Success in getting rid of one type of weapon would encourage criminals to use another. For example, it is highly unlikely that even extensive reductions in handguns would reduce homicides because offenders would substitute long guns, often sawed-off, which are as much as three times deadlier than handguns. The circumstances of most homicides imply that a long gun could easily have been used.

© 1996 NCPA