Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on “The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013”
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Madame Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing. The tragedy at Newtown has forever changed our society. We were all shocked and horrified by the murder of innocent children. We all sympathize with the victims and their families.
Mr. Heslin, I express personally my deep sympathy for your loss and that of your neighbors. We all share their pain. We do not want anything like this to happen again. We are determined to take effective, constitutional action to prevent future catastrophes.
And we can make the world safer. Safer for people on the street. Safer for children in school.
Society in recent decades has become less civil. Violent video games that encourage the killing of innocent people for sport are of deep concern. Mental health services are not always up to par.
Some states are not adequately supplying records of prohibited persons to the NICS instant check system. We have heard testimony that the records of hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people in Arizona – people who are not legally allowed to own weapons – have not been provided for inclusion in the NICS database. A search of an incomplete database that fails to conform to existing law does not provide all the safety that the American people have a right to expect.
Existing prohibitions on gun possession are not enforced as much as they should be. So there is much that can be done to enhance safety now that is not being done.
I respect your deep convictions on this issue, Madam Chairman. I know that your sincere interest in a federal ban on assault weapons dates back twenty years. But I oppose this bill.
S. 150 bans guns based solely on their appearance. Some of those cosmetic features are useful for self-defense. Others have nothing to do with the functioning of the weapon. As a result, the bill would ban some guns that are less powerful, dangerous, and that inflict less severe wounds than others that it exempts.
Those arbitrary distinctions and the fact that these weapons are commonly used for self-defense raise constitutional questions under the Second Amendment. And the same questions of self-defense arise concerning magazines that enable firing of more than ten rounds.
There are occasions when people think Congress should pass a new law.
The idea is a particular fix hasn’t been tried before and supporters might think they have a solution to a problem. That is not the case with the assault weapons ban. Congress passed a law very much like S. 150 in 1994. It was on the books for ten years.
At the end of those ten years, in 2004, University of Pennsylvania researchers under contract to the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice concluded that they “cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.”
A study for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Research Council also could not demonstrate the effectiveness of the ban.
And just last month, the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice wrote that “a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.”
By the way, this same NIJ official wrote in the same document that because theft and straw purchases are the largest sources of crime guns, universal background checks would likely shift offenders even more to theft and straw purchases. And he concluded that an effective universal background check system depends on “requiring gun registration.”
The assault weapons ban did not prevent the earlier school shooting at Columbine.
And Madame Chairman, I ask consent to include in the record an article by Officer Rob Young, “The Fallacy of Gun Free School Zones.”
Officer Young as a child survived a school shooting in Stockton, California, in which five young students were shot and 26 others were injured. He sets out his reasons for opposing gun bans, as a victim himself.
Madame Chairman, when something has been tried and not found to work, we should try different approaches rather than reenacting that which failed.
There are vast numbers of gun control laws in our country. Criminals do not obey them but law-abiding citizens do. That tilts the scales in favor of criminals who use guns. If gun control laws were effective in reducing crime, they would have produced lower crime by now.
We should be skeptical about giving the Justice Department more gun laws to enforce when the Department is poorly enforcing existing laws. The Department’s own data show that under the Obama Administration, federal weapons prosecutions have fallen to the lowest levels in over a decade.
In fact, the United States Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Illinois brought among the lowest levels of firearms prosecutions despite a surge in gun crimes in Chicago. Only 25 federal firearms cases were brought by that office in 2011.
Nationally, only about one percent of people – 62 out of 4,732 -- who were denied guns based on background checks were prosecuted for illegally attempting to acquire a firearm.
That is much too low a rate. Let’s see what can be accomplished by enforcing laws on the books before adding new ones of questionable effectiveness.
Madame Chairman, I look forward to today’s hearing.