NBC Claims Semi-Automatic Rifles Are Twice as Deadly – Are They Really?

Authored by: Matt Palumbo

Most conservatives have had to explain at least once that “semi-automatic” doesn’t mean “automatic,” that “AR” doesn’t stand for assault rifle, or that there are no mechanical differences between “assault” and ordinary rifles (the only differences are cosmetic). It seems like liberals are more concerned with banning “scary” guns above anything else. But are the scariest guns also the most dangerous? NBC would like you to believe that. “Semi-automatic rifles kill twice as many as other guns, study finds,” reads their headline.

Unlike the traditional debunking I do, this is more a case of correcting “misleading”reporting – as I get the impression from NBC’s actual article that they’d hoped nobody read past the headline (much like when CNN reports that there have been dozens of school shootings this year, and then you read the fine print and find out that a school window being shot by a pellet gun is counted as a “school shooting”).

The math behind the claim couldn’t be any more fuzzy. While the headline doesn’t mention it, the study from which NBC is quoting is looking at mass public shootings, not ordinary shootings in making the claim. The study tracked 248 active shooter events (classified as such by the FBI) since 2000.

According to NBC’s report, “the average number of people wounded in semi-automatic attacks totaled nearly six, versus about three in attacks with a non-automatic weapon. Roughly four people were killed on average in semi-automatic attacks, compared with about two in other attacks, the study found.” Yet, the rest of the study they’re quoting from also found that “gunmen with semi-automatic rifles wound and kill twice as many people as those using non-automatic weapons, although the chances of dying if shot with either type of weapon are the same.” Given that no weapons are automatic, presumably the NBC writer meant to distinguish between rifles and non-rifles. “Overall, 44 percent of people hit in such attacks involving semi-automatic weapons died, the same as those wounded in attacks with non-automatic weapons [non-rifles?],” the study found. So, doesn’t that disprove the entire premise of NBC’s argument?

The study also found that semi-automatic rifles are rarely the weapon of choice in mass shootings. “Researchers examined FBI data on nearly 250 “active shooter” incidents in the United States since 2000. Almost 900 people were wounded and 718 were killed. One in four of these attacks involved semi-automatic rifles.” Furthermore, most of those with semi-automatic rifles also carried other weapons, such as a handgun or shotgun. But the study made no effort to differentiate between the damage done with each weapon. If a shooter carried out a massacre with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, the rifle gets the blame, regardless of if people were killed by their other weapons.

That’s probably how it’s simultaneously the case that this study claims twice as many people die in shootings with rifles, but also found that rifles are no more likely to kill people. The supposed paradox can be reconciled by the fact that those shooters with rifles also carried many other weapons too, which lead to more deaths.

But enough of NBC, what do the statistics overall say? If we were to hypothetically suppose that gun control policies actually did reduce gun violence, leftists should be directing their attention to handguns, which kill 8,300-9,600 per year, as opposed to all rifles, which kill around 250-300. And by all rifles, that figure includes bolt action rifles, non-assault rifles, and all others which aren’t “scary” AR-15s.

It’s also noteworthy that knifes kill 5-7 times as many people every year as rifles, and even blunt objects such as clubs and hammers kill more. Shotguns, which some gun control advocates (most famously, Joe Biden) have proposed as using for home self defense instead of an assault rifle, kill more than all rifles.

Note: I didn’t use FBI statistics from 2016 as there was incomplete data from Alabama, and the 2017 report is only preliminary so far.

And that too illustrates a fatal flaw in NBC’s report – that the study they were reporting on only captured a sliver of gun murders in the U.S. For some perspective on what they missed, a friend put together a helpful chart….

The semi-automatic rifle murders the NBC report is talking about includes 241 deaths over a period where there were 160,000+ total gun murders, the overwhelming majority of which were committed with handguns.

If NBC’s headline were accurate, it would’ve read something along the lines of “Semi-automatic weapons more deadly in 0.2% of shootings.”

Meanwhile, despite their fear of automatic weapons, we have lost a grand total of zero Americans at the hands of automatic weapons since the year 2000.

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