Associated Press Documents Gun Control’s Irrelevance

The Associated Press cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered pro-gun or the propaganda arm of the "gun lobby." For example, in 2006 the AP implied that the NRA was responsible for the increase in violent crime begun in 2004.1

In a recent article, the AP once again to insinuated that machinations by the "gun lobby" to sunset the Clinton gun ban may have resulted in an increased criminal use of "assault weapons"; particularly in their "discussion" of a criminal homicide which occurred last fall:

The Sept. 15 killing was remarkable in that it took place in the most innocent of settings - the fifth birthday of twin boys. But it was unremarkable in that one of the guns brandished was an AK-47-type rifle - a powerful, rapid-fire weapon that has long been used in Third World conflicts but is increasingly being used in American street fights.2

Associate Press based this article on firearm trace data:

Figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests, show a marked increase in the number of AK-type weapons traced and entered into the agency's computer database because they had been seized or connected to a crime.3

This is a curious admission by AP, because it runs counter to propaganda from anti-gun organizations. When Congress renewed the Tiahrt Amendment--which restricts gun trace data to police investigations--in 2007, the Brady Campaign declared this would stymie police investigations:

Police leaders from across the nation joined the Brady Campaign in urging Congress to repeal legislation that prevents police and local governments from having access to crime gun trace data that would help cities fight illegal gun trafficking in their communities.4

Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence chided Congress for apparently kowtowing to the NRA:

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is deeply disappointed by the action of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on the "Tiahrt Amendments" to the FY 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. These amendments, which have been added to the appropriations bill by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) every year since 2003 at the behest of the National Rifle Association, block access to comprehensive information on firearms traced to crime scenes at a time when violent gun crime is on the rise in the United States. Law enforcement can only obtain crime gun trace data in their geographic jurisdiction, and requests must be connected to a specific criminal investigation. This makes it extremely difficult for police to identify broader patterns of firearms trafficking.5

However, Michael J. Sullivan, then acting director of the ATF, had this to say about these allegations:

Let me be clear: neither the congressional language nor ATF rules prohibit the sharing of trace data with law enforcement conducting criminal investigations, or place any restrictions on the sharing of trace data with other jurisdictions once it is in the hands of state or local law enforcement. In fact, multi-jurisdictional trace data is also utilized by ATF and shared with fellow law-enforcement agencies to identify firearm-trafficking trends and leads. Additionally, nothing prohibits ATF from releasing our own reports that analyze trace-data trends that could be used by law enforcement.6

In 2006--under the Tiahrt Amendment--police departments across the country requested 230,760 firearm traces. The ATF notes that these traces fall under two broad criteria:

  • 1. "Law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, and those reasons are not necessarily reported to the Federal Government."
  • 2. "Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes."

In keeping with these criteria, about 10,000 LEO trace requests in 2006 cited no specific reason for the request, and about 20,000 ATF traces were requested simply because the firearm was listed as "found" by law enforcement.7 Considering these broadly inclusive criteria under which the ATF will release trace data, it is hard to see how the Tiahrt Amendment inhibits police investigations.

Having addressed the issue of firearm trace data, the AP then took on trends in certain gun traces during and after the Clinton gun ban years:

Since 1993, the year before the ban took affect, ATF has recorded a more than sevenfold increase in 7.62x39mm guns - which includes the original Russian-made AK-47 and a variety of copycats from around the world. The number of AK-type guns rose from 1,140 in 1993 to 8,547 last year.

Since 2005, the first full year after the ban's expiration, ATF has recorded an 11 percent increase in such tracings.

ATF says the increases in the first half of the 1990s are partly the result of wider usage of its weapons database by local law enforcement agencies. But after that point, the numbers reflect a real increase in tracings of AK-type guns, the agency acknowledged.8 [Emphasis added]

The AK-47 is a fully automatic firearm, capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute.9 These firearms have been virtually banned from private commerce by the National Firearms Act of 1934. A law-abiding citizen might be able to purchase this type of firearm, but they must go through a lengthy licensing process with the ATF.10 Since there were only 509 machineguns traced in 2006, it is reasonable to assume the AP is mixing machine guns with semi-automatic rifles and/or intends to confuse the reader into thinking that the "assault weapons banned under the Clinton administration are machineguns.

 Using the reported AP numbers, there was a 650% increase in traces for the abovementioned firearms between 1993 and 2007; 575% of that occurred during the Clinton ban, with an additional 11% growth 2005-2007. Using AP's trace data as an indicator of the prevalence of such firearms, about 575% of the increase in these traces occurred before the end of the ban. Taking the early 1990s reporting changes into account by cutting the 575% in half, this leaves an estimated 287.5% increase in traces prior to the end of the Clinton ban--an average annual increase of about 32% for the years 1996-2004--while the annual increase averaged less than 4% for the post-ban years of 2005-2007. While this might indicate that smuggling of these firearms slowed down since the ban ended, it assuredly rebuts any claims that renewing the ban will reduce the use of these guns by criminals.

The Associate Press may have started out trying to generate interest in a new ban by blurring the difference between the Clinton ban's cosmetic "assault weapons" and automatic weapons of war, but ends up proving what those who don't subscribe to the illogic touted by the gun banners have been saying all along: Gun control does not deter criminals; it disenfranchises law-abiding citizens.

About the Author

Howard Nemerov is a contributor to the Texas State Rifle Association's TSRA Sportsman and "unofficial" investigative analyst for NRA News. He can be reached at HNemerov [at sign]


[1] Howard Nemerov, Gun Control: AP Blames NRA for Violent Crime, News Busters, July 1, 2006.

2 Associated Press, AK-47-Type Guns Are Turning Up in U.S. More Often, Fox News, March 26, 2008.,2933,341988,00.html

3 Associated Press, AK-47-Type Guns Are Turning Up in U.S. More Often.

4 Repealing the Tiahrt Restrictions, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

5 Josh Horwitz, Reaction to Congressional Action on Tiahrt Amendment, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, July 13, 2007.

6 Michael J. Sullivan, Setting the record straight about firearms trace data, Scripps News, April 30, 2007.

7 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Firearms Trace Data. This page offers selection for aggregate trace data by state. Since these reports show only the most common reasons a state requested a trace, more "no reason" and "found firearm" requests may exist under "other", of which the ATF reports a total of 35,335.

8 Associated Press, AK-47-Type Guns Are Turning Up in U.S. More Often.

9 AK-47 Assault Rifle, Kalashnikov Guns Russian web site.

10 National Firearms Act of 1934, Prentice Hall Documents Library.

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