For Release: Tuesday, December 9, 1998
New VPC Report Documents Shift in Party Line on Deadly Military-Style Guns
Report Debunks “Myths” NRA Circulating as New Fight Looms on Assault Ban
Trying to head off growing pressure to close loopholes in the 1994 assault weapons ban, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun industry have changed their tune on these deadly military-style guns, a report released today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reveals.
The report, “That Was Then, This Is Now: The NRA and the Gun Industry Talk About Assault Weapons From Both Sides of Their Mouths,” documents how the NRA and the gun industry have gone from enthusiastically praising the merits of civilian semi-automatic “assault weapons” in the 1980s to denying that such things even exist in the 1990s.
VPC Senior Policy Analyst and study author Tom Diaz states, “The issue is hot again because pressure has built to close loopholes in the 1994 assault weapons ban. Afraid of next year in Congress, the propaganda mill of the NRA and the gun industry has been working overtime, cranking out myths about civilian assault guns. This report destroys those myths with words from the NRA’s own publications and the gun press.”
“Throughout the 1980s, the NRA, the firearms industry, and the gun press talked enthusiastically about ‘assault rifles’ and ‘assault pistols’ and openly acknowledged the guns’ differences from traditional sporting weapons,” according to the report, which is based on extensive research into gun publications, including the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine.
But, the study found, “This changed in 1989 when legislative efforts to restrict assault weapons began in the wake of Patrick Purdy’s Stockton, California schoolyard massacre.” Purdy, armed with a semi-automatic AK-47 assault rifle, killed five schoolchildren and wounded 29 others, including a schoolteacher.
“The NRA’s gun experts and others of their ilk loved assault weapons for what they are – deadly knock-offs of military killing machines,” notes Diaz, “but they changed their tune when the American public demanded a ban on these guns.”
The report cites examples of how pro-gun experts “who had proudly pointed to the guns’ military heritage and applications…reversed themselves and began portraying these weapons of war as misunderstood ugly ducklings.”
The report lists four myths that the NRA and the gun industry are currently circulating – such as “gun experts say there is no such thing as a civilian assault weapon” and quotes early gun press articles that flatly contradict these myths.
“Assault weapons constitute a specific class of firearm incorporating design characteristics intended to enhance their utility as killing machines,” the report concludes, “Nothing about the weapons has changed, only the politics.”