Good numbers are hard to come by in the debate over semiautomatic assault weapons.
Gun-rights advocates say statistics prove guns such as the MAK-90 rifle, which Dean Mellberg used in his rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base last year, aren’t the problem. They cite FBI crime figures showing rifles of all types are used in less than 4 percent of the nation’s murders. Handguns are used in 56 percent.
But gun-control sponsors say that’s misleading because the FBI doesn’t have a separate category for assault weapons. Some murders committed by the recently banned guns are listed under the rifle category; others are included under handguns.
They say that the number of assault weapons found at crime scenes or confiscated from criminals has doubled in the last two years.
That’s because law enforcement officials are more likely to be looking for those controversial weapons, gun-rights advocates reply. The number of those guns actually used in crimes is insignificant, said Duncan Long, an author of some 30 books on firearms.
Not so, said Joe Vince, head of the National Gun Tracing Center. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which runs the center, is seeing an increase in firepower among criminals.
The bureau doesn’t have a special category for assault weapons; it traces guns by make and model. Some models are banned outright, while others are illegal only if they have certain features.
The number of banned assault weapons being traced definitely is increasing, Vince said.
The MAK-90, the model of assault rifle Mellberg used, “is now in the top 10 rank of weapons being traced from crimes,” Vince said.