WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, newly formed political action groups made a big push to institute an assault weapons ban after finding how relatively easy it is in some states to obtain military style weapons. Now facing a gun control uphill battle that seems to grow steeper every day, those same groups are downgrading the assault weapons ban from their top priorities list.
Take for example Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which is led by Shannon Watts, a mother of five. Since the events in Newtown, the organization has changed its strategy from working to pass a ban to focusing on public safety measures, Propublica reports.
According to Watts, the reason for the change is twofold.
First, the assault weapons ban has proved to be a political “nonstarter.” Although polls suggest a majority of U.S. citizens support it, getting Congress to pass such legislation proved to be an impossible feat. It gained fewer votes in the Senate following the Sandy Hook shootings than the background check legislation that also failed to pass.
Second, Watts says public safety is a more direct line of defense against gun violence.
Watts cites a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study done for the Department of Justice that found there was no clear evidence to prove that the previous decade-long ban on assault weapons had saved any lives. Additionally, data showed that only 2 percent of the gun crimes that occurred before the ban were from those military style weapons.
“Ultimately,” Watts told ProPublica, “what’s going to save the most lives are background checks.”
Another sign of the shifting priorities of gun safety advocates? One of, if not the biggest player in the game, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, now supports background check legislation over an assault weapons ban as the best method to curb violence.
“When you look at this issue in terms of the greatest opportunity to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prevent gun violence, background checks are a bigger opportunity to do that,” Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ProPublica.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has similarly downplayed its efforts on an assault weapons ban.
Nevertheless, Americans continue to show their support for a ban. A Rasmussen poll from January this year found that 59 percent of likely voters still favor an assaults weapons ban, even following the measure that failed in the Senate last year.
The Propublica findings come at an interesting time. Only two weeks ago a 9-year-old fatally shot her instructor at a shooting range when she was firing an Uzi submachine gun. Despite outrage, recent reports have found that most gun ranges have little to no age limits for using assault weapons within their walls.
And it doesn’t look like there will be any federal legislation limiting them anytime soon.