Shootings With Semiautomatic Rifles Twice as Deadly, New Study Finds

Gunmen with semiautomatic rifles are almost twice as deadly, and shoot nearly twice as many people, as those using nonautomatic weapons, a new analysis has shown.

The new findings come from a landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday. It draws on FBI data of all active-shooter incidents since 2000 and delivers one of the most comprehensive assessments of how harmful different types of firearms are.

Since 2000, there have been 248 active shooter incidents, resulting in a total of 898 wounded and 718 dead. Semiautomatic rifles, which automatically load new bullets after firing, were involved in a quarter of these incidents. However, they were linked to a disproportionate number of casualties.

On average, a gunman with at least one semiautomatic rifle left 4.25 people killed and 5.48 wounded, as opposed to a gunman without one, who left 2.5 people killed and three people wounded.

An "active shooting incident" is defined by the Department for Homeland Security as one in which an individual is "actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area." Recent examples involving a semiautomatic weapon include the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The study excluded the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and the 2015 Bernardino attack, despite both involving semiautomatic weapons. The former was excluded from the analysis because of its high casualty count—489 people wounded and 58 killed—which, the study's authors maintained, would warp the comparison. The latter involved two shooters.

The new findings are likely to reignite the debate over semiautomatic rifles and the laws that cover them. Certain semiautomatic weapons, such as the one used during the Parkland shooting, were banned in 1994 under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

The legislation was introduced by Bill Clinton's Administration with bipartisan support, but it carried a clause: The ban would expire in 10 years unless reauthorized by Congress. It never was, and in 2004 all semiautomatic firearms were legal again.

Multiple surveys suggest that there is majority support for such a ban to return. But with President Donald Trump reluctant to regulate on gun control, and with the National Rifle Association one of Trump's key donors, an imitation of the 1994 legislation looks unlikely.

Trump's latest Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, was another blow for gun-control advocates. Kavanaugh, who has also received strong backing from the NRA, forcefully argued in 2011 that any ban on semiautomatic rifles would be unconstitutional. The Senate's confirmation of Kavanaugh is expected imminently.