JAMA Viewpoint On “Assault Weapons”

I was sent an embargoed article that appears in the September 27th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article is by Philip Cook of Duke University and John Donohoe of Stanford University. It is entitled “Regulating Assault Weapons and Large-Capacity Magazines for Ammunition.” I have embedded the full two-page article below.

Both Cook and Donohoe have a history of research that supports gun control. Their op-ed proposes the regulation of certain semi-automatic firearms with features that they deem objectionable as well as a ban on large capacity magazines (sic). Their premise is that enacting such laws will decrease mass murders and the lethality of them.

They note that while the House of Representatives has passed such a ban that it probably would not pass the Senate. Thus, they are calling upon states to take the initiative to enact new assault weapons bans along with magazine bans.

They rely upon three major sources to back up their claims that such bans would be effective. First, they refer to a RAND Corporation study examining previous studies on the effectiveness of the Clinton AWB. While acknowledging that RAND found these studies “inconclusive”, Cook and Donohoe say “logic” would say the bans had a positive impact. Second, the authors then look at Australia which banned possession of all semi-automatic weapons and forced a “buyback” (sic). They say there has been only one mass shooting in Australia post-ban. What this ignores when applied to the United States is that Australia has over ten times the land area of Texas while having about four million less residents. Finally, they look at a study of “32 experts” conducted in 2016 and published in the New York Times in 2017. The “experts” deemed a new AWB as the most effective policy to prevent future mass murders. Looking over the list of “experts”, only four names stand out as not being anti-gun: David Kopel, John Lott, Gary Kleck, and Eugene Volokh. The rest were the usual suspects including Daniel Webster and David Hemenway.

While this article is being published after the Bruen decision, it seems to ignore the realities of it. For example, concurrent with the Bruen decision, the Supreme Court vacated the 9th Circuit’s ruling in Duncan v. Bonta and remanded it back for rehearing consistent with the new standards. Just this week, the 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Judge Roger Benitez and the District Court for “proceedings consistent with” the Bruen decision. This case was a challenge to California’s magazine ban. Similarly, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded a Maryland case on an assault weapons ban back to the 4th Circuit.

Based upon text, history, and tradition, I would find it very (!) hard to find any justification that would support the proposed bans of Cook and Donohoe in a way that would be consistent with the Bruen decision. Whether the intended audience of physicians or even the physician editors comprehend this is unknown. That said, you have to believe that a retired professor of public policy and a professor of law understand the implications of Bruen and choose to ignore it.