Despite their overwhelming popularity, assault weapons like the rifle used by the Sandy Hook Elementary killer are very rarely used in crimes, according to a comprehensive Congressional Research Service report on guns and gun control legislation.
Citing a survey 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," said the report.
The weapons, however, are at the center of President Obama's bid to put in place new gun control rules following the Connecticut killings last week. His effort, backed by gun-control Democrats, is expected to lead to a new proposal to ban the weapons and also crack down on gun sales throughout the nation.
While the emotionally-charged anti-gun bid is accepted by many Americans and congressional lawmakers still coming to grips with the Sandy Hook killings, the CRS report makes the case that even without the tougher weapons rules, gun deaths are plummeting as gun sales are surging, including those of semiautomatic pistols and rifles. Gun advocates are seizing on the report to help brake new gun-control legislation which they claim would do nothing to stop crime.
Consider gun ownership. "Per capita," said CRS, "the civilian gun stock has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons to one gun per person."
Then look at gun deaths. CRS found that in the last decade, from 1993 to 2011, gun-related murders have been cut in half. In 1993, there were 17,073 gun killings, for a rate of 6.6 per 100,000 people. Last year that was cut to 9,903 murders for a rate of 3.2 per 100,000. Over the past decade, suicides by guns have far outnumbered murders.
And the drop in youth killings by guns has been even greater, from a 1993 high of 1,975 to 887 in 2009, said CRS.