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Tom Harbold: Law won't reduce gun violence

On Oct. 1, just under a month away, SB281, passed by both houses of the Maryland legislature and signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, will become law. This bill reinstates the so-called assault weapons ban, makes it even more stringent and adds other measures restricting the purchase, ownership and transportation of covered firearms in Maryland.

While there are significant Second Amendment issues with this bill, such limitations might be at least somewhat justified if there were clear evidence that they would result in a significant drop in firearms-related crime. The problem is, there is no such evidence. In fact, most of the association between what have been dubbed "assault" weapons and violent crime is a mirage, or perhaps an extrapolation from TV and movie drama.

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In fact, according to a comprehensive Congressional Research Service report on the subject, conducted in 2012, of 203,300 state and federal prisoners who were armed during the crime for which they were incarcerated, "fewer than 1 in 50, or less than 2 percent, used, carried, or possessed a semiautomatic assault weapon." In other words, less than 2 percent of crimes involve the dreaded "black guns."

The report also reveals that "Per capita, the civilian gun stock has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons to one gun per person." Nonetheless, over approximately the last two decades from 1993 to 2011, the rate of firearms-related murders has been cut in half.

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In light of these figures alone, it is difficult to understand how O'Malley or anyone else can make the argument that limiting access by law-abiding citizens to certain types of firearms, including semi-automatic military-style ones, will make us any safer. Instead, it looks like either a nefarious plot to disarm citizens for reasons as yet unrevealed, or else foolish error based on ignorance and irrational fear.

This view appears to be backed up by a comprehensive survey of police officers' views on gun control and related subjects, conducted by the policeone.com online community. This study of 15,000 law enforcement professionals, 70 percent of whom are sworn patrol officers "who are face-to-face in the fight against violent crime on a daily basis," revealed some interesting perspectives, including the following:

Virtually all, 95 percent, of respondents say that a federal ban on manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds would not reduce violent crime. One would presume that would also apply to a state ban, as in the O'Malley bill, which makes 10 rounds the maximum capacity of any firearm's magazine in Maryland.

Seventy percent say that a ban on certain types of semiautomatic firearms, the so-called "assault weapons" covered in SB281, would have no effect on reducing violent crime. Furthermore, an additional 20 percent say that such a ban would actually have a negative effect on reducing violent crime.

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More than 28 percent of the respondents say having more permissive concealed carry policies for civilians would help most in preventing large-scale shootings in public, followed by more aggressive institutionalization for mentally ill persons (about 19 percent) and more armed guards/paid security personnel (about 15 percent). A vast majority - 90 percent - believe that casualties would be decreased if armed citizens were present at the onset of an active-shooter incident.

In other words, both actual statistics and the professional opinions of street-level law enforcement officers indicate that the O'Malley bill, about to become law, is a bunch of bunk. It will do nothing to prevent or reduce crime, it will only make life more difficult for law-abiding citizens who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights. Let's keep this in mind the next time elections come around.

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