Criminals Choose Assault Handguns

Nearly every police department has seized thousands of handguns designed to look like military weapons. A new study just out now suggests these handguns are the first choice among criminals.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports researchers in California have traced 5,000 young handgun purchasers who bought guns even though they had a violent misdemeanor on their record. They found those who had a prior record were twice as likely to buy one of nine assault handguns as opposed to an ordinary looking handgun and three times as likely to later commit new, violent crimes.

Criminals like the weapons because of their appearance, says Dr. Garen Wintemute.

"Think of it in common sense terms. If I am going to do a robbery with it, I want that gun to scare the bejesus out of the people I intend to rob. I don't want to have to shoot `em, I want them to fork their money over," said Wintemute.

Mass murderers also like such guns, which has prompted a wave of lawsuits from survivors. One manufacturer that's been targeted, for example Intratec of Miami, had even bragged in advertisements that its TEC-9 assault pistol has "excellent resistance to fingerprints."

Intratec declined CBS News requests for an interview. Richard Feldman of the American Shooting Sports Council called the ad a poor choice of words but defended the product.

"They put that advertising where people like me would see it, in gun publications. I don't think criminals read gun publications more than anyone else," Feldman said.

The study is significant because it suggests that banning certain types of weapons might cut down on crime. The irony is that many of these weapons actually were banned in 1994, but the manufacturers got around that by just making a few cosmetic changes and put them right back on the market.

Reported by Jim Stewart