Professor publishes article in Tennessee Law Review about the lethality of assault weapons

Photo of Law Professor Greg Wallace

RALEIGH — Campbell Law School Professor Greg Wallace has written an article for the Tennessee Law Review entitled, ‘Assault Weapons’ Lethality, for publication this fall.

“I think a lot of the debate over assault weapons is driven by ignorance and emotion and I am trying to change that,” Wallace said in recent an interview with Jake Charles as part of the Duke Center’s Scholarship Highlight interview series hosted by the Duke Center for Firearms Law. Watch the entire interview here.

Following is the abstract for Wallace’s article, ‘Assault Weapon’ Lethality in the 88 Tennessee Law Review (forthcoming Fall 2020). The article is available at this link on SSRN.

“‘Assault weapons’ long have been portrayed as exceptionally powerful firearms designed for killing large numbers of people. While handguns are the overwhelming weapon of choice for mass shooters and rifles of every kind are used in only 3-4% of murders nationwide, gun-control advocates nevertheless single out ‘assault weapons’ as uniquely deserving of prohibition. The reason, they say, is that ‘assault weapons’ are far more dangerous than other modern firearms and thus ill-suited for lawful activities like self-defense.

“Five federal circuit courts have relied on the lethality rationale in upholding ‘assault weapon’ bans against Second Amendment challenges. They have declared that ‘assault weapons’ have ‘a capability for lethality—more wounds, more serious, in more victims—far beyond that of other firearms in general, including other semiautomatic guns’ For these courts, ‘assault weapon’ lethality is the driving factor in their constitutional interest balancing.

“Are ‘assault weapons’ more lethal or dangerous than handguns, shotguns, and non-banned rifles? Ban advocates and federal courts say they are and have offered two arguments to support their claims. The first draws an analogy to military weapons by labeling ‘assault weapons’ as extremely dangerous weapons of war. The second uses metrics based on weapons’ rate of fire and wounding capability.

“Given the magnitude of disinformation about ‘assault weapons,’ judges must carefully assess whether there is reliable evidence to support these arguments. If ‘assault weapons’ are not more lethal than non-banned firearms and are equally useful for self-defense, then courts must find other justifications for upholding laws that keep such firearms out of the hands of ordinary citizens.

“This Article provides an evidence-based analysis of AR-15’s lethality as justifying bans on these rifles. Part I considers whether the AR-15 is like a combat weapon, and thus too lethal for civilian use. Part II examines claims that the AR-15 is exceptionally lethal because it fires much faster and causes far more serious wounds than non-banned firearms. Part III answers two related questions: first, why have mass shootings with ‘assault weapons’ resulted in much higher casualties? And second, do the same features that make ‘assault weapons’ useful for self-defense also make them the most deadly choice for mass shooters?”

 Wallace, who is celebrating 25 years at Campbell Law, teaches constitutional law with an emphasis on criminal procedure, the right to arms, free speech and religious freedom. He was recently appointed to the North Carolina House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice, which will examine North Carolina’s criminal justice systems to propose methods for improving police training and relations between law enforcement and its communities. His writings have been published in several other law reviews, including the Florida State Law Review and Penn State Law Review.


Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law has developed lawyers who possess moral conviction, social compassion, and professional competence, and who view the law as a calling to serve others. Among its accolades, the school has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as having the nation’s top Professionalism Program and by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers for having the nation’s best Trial Advocacy Program. Campbell Law boasts more than 4,300 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2019, Campbell Law celebrated 40 years of graduating legal leaders and 10 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.