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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rangel’s Assault Weapons Whopper

Rep. Charlie Rangel falsely claimed there are “millions of kids dying, being shot down by assault weapons.” In fact, fewer than 100,000 persons younger than 20 years old died of gun violence, including suicide, over a 30-year period through 2010, government data show. About two-thirds of those deaths — or nearly 65,000 — were homicides.

That’s for all guns, not just assault weapons. We don’t know how many of them were killed by assault weapons, but federally funded studies have shown that such weapons are used in a small percentage of crimes.

Rangel, a New York Democrat, discussed the prospect of the proposed assault weapons ban on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Co.” The host, Chris Jansing, asked Rangel why the Senate bill, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, did not have the support it needed for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to post the bill for a vote. Rangel blamed politics and money, particularly the lobbying of the National Rifle Association. He called it a “moral issue.”

Rangel, March 21: We’re talking about millions of kids dying, being shot down by assault weapons. We’re talking about handguns where it’s easier in the inner cities to get these guns and to get computers. This is not just a political issue. It’s a moral issue.

Millions? That’s simply not supported by the facts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control database shows that over a 30-year period — from 1981 to 2010 — there were about 939,782 violence-related firearm deaths. That includes all ages, not just children, and all types of violence-related deaths, including suicides and legal interventions, such as justifiable deaths caused by police action. (The CDC provides its data over two time periods: 1981 to 1998 and 1999 to 2010.)

Of those nearly 1 million firearm deaths, 99,622 — or about 11 percent — involved those 19 years old or younger. About two thirds of those — or nearly 64,899 — were homicides. That’s an average of not quite 2,200 a year.

We also looked at violence-related nonfatal gunshot injuries. CDC data show that over an 11-year period, from 2001 to 2011, there were 130,697 people younger than 20 who had such injuries. That includes all guns and all nonfatal gunshot injuries, including those that were self-inflicted. Of those, there were 126,470 firearm assault injuries or nearly 11,500 a year.

So, the number of kids who were injured or killed by gun violence is in the thousands, not in the millions. And that’s by all guns, not just assault weapons.

Christopher Koper, a gun violence expert who teaches criminology at George Mason University, told us “there isn’t a good estimate as to the number of people killed each year by assault weapons.” He said the national databases used to track murders “don’t have detailed information on the particular gun models that are used in homicides.”

Koper coauthored a 2004 study, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003.” It was the final of three studies of the ban, which was enacted in 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and expired in 2004.

In that report, Koper wrote that assault weapons (AWs) and large-capacity magazines (LCMs) “were used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban, and AWs were used in a particularly small percentage of gun crimes.”

Koper, 2004: The most common AWs prohibited by the 1994 federal ban accounted for between 1 percent and 6 percent of guns used in crime according to most of several national and local data sources examined for this and our prior study.

The study includes a chart that shows, for example, that only 2 percent of all the guns recovered by Baltimore police in 1992 and 1993 were assault weapons.

Koper said he’s unaware of any systematic data and analysis since then on the use of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in crimes nationwide.

We have no intention of minimizing the impact of gun violence on America’s youth. Having said that, though, Rangel adds little to the overheated debate on gun control by grossly inflating the number of children who are killed and injured by assault weapons.

— Eugene Kiely