New Study On Gun Carry Laws and Violent Crime with John Donohue

Pam and Joe welcome John Donohue, Stanford Law Professor, who talks about his new research looking at concealed carry gun laws and the Assault Weapons Ban.

Originally aired November 23, 2019

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John J. Donohue III

New Study On Gun Carry Laws and Violent Crime

As gun violence tragically continues to plague the United States, courts around the country are faced with the question of whether a ban on assault weapons would be effective and whether it would be constitutional.

From 1994 to 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was in effect in the U.S., limiting the most dangerous long rifles and the size of magazines to be inserted into any gun. John Donohue, the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford, recently released a study on these 10 years. Donohue, a leading empirical researcher, has studied gun violence throughout his career.

In a recent conversation for Stanford Legal, co-hosted by Professors Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman, Donohue reflects on his research and his work. “For 10 years in this country, the nation prohibited an array of assault weapons as well as had a restriction on magazine size to no more than 10 bullets,” Donohue says. “When we looked at the number and death rate from the most serious gun massacres, those involving six or more deaths, we found there was essentially a noticeable drop in the number of such deaths or number of such gun massacres, and a 40 percent drop in the total number of deaths from these gun massacres during the 10 years of the Federal Assault Weapon Ban.”

Donohue reflects on what has happened after these 10 years, now that gun manufacturers are free to sell any sort of weaponry. “We’ve seen an enormous increase in these episodes of gun massacres and the use of both assault weapons and/or high capacity magazines,” Donohue says. “In the last five years, we’ve had more than five times the number of deaths that we experienced during the entire 10 year period of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Every gun massacre of six or more deaths has either involved an assault weapon or a gun with a high capacity magazine or both.”

Professor Karlan comments that some individual states have attempted to work towards some sort of limitation on assault rifles, whether a ban similar to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, or a restriction on the magazine size. Donohue says, “California has adopted both, and as a result, the states that have adopted these have been sued by the NRA or its affiliates to try to overturn these laws on Second Amendment grounds.”

Donohue has served as an expert in a number of these lawsuits, especially those in California. Professor Bankman commends Donohue for the long hours he spends outside of his regular roles at SLS working on these cases. Donohue responds, saying, “The reason that I am so active in it right now is, if you look at the public opinion data, it really is an amazing moment in American history because the public is gradually, but persistently moving in the direction of favoring greater restrictions on guns in the United States, yet the Supreme Court is moving to a potential moment that will strike down every gun restriction in the United States on Second Amendment grounds. It’s a very pivotal moment, and if the Supreme Court renders a strong Second Amendment decision that wipes out, for example, assault weapon ban, restrictions, and restrictions on gun carrying, etc., that will define the law for potentially 30 or 40 years. So, it’s a moment where I think the best evidence needs to be brought to the courts, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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