If Looks Could Kill-A Reasonable Discussion on the Assault Weapons Ban

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The U.S. Congress in September of 1994 under 18 USC Section 922 (v) 91 made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” The measure narrowly passed in the House by a vote of 216 to 214 and in the Senate by 56 to 43 only because a “sunset” provision was applied that allows the ban to expire in ten years which will occur in 2004. The gun ban had full support of the then Democratic majority and Bill Clinton, whose contempt for the 2nd Amendment is well documented, enthusiastically signed it into law. The political allure of this resolution is very understandable. Keeping military style weapons of extraordinary lethal capabilities off the streets and out of the hands of criminals and unstable people seems to be a perfectly “sensible” measure to reduce gun violence. So sensible in fact, that even candidate George Bush pledged to renew the ban if he were elected president. This spring, he reiterated that promise. In a post 9-11 America, it would be well to re-examine the claims that prompted this bill and its effectiveness in curbing gun crime.

Just what distinguishes an “assault semiautomatic weapon” from any other semiautomatic firearm use for target shooting or hunting? According to rather vague descriptions, a weapon that constitutes a particularly high threat to the safety of the American people, is any long arm that has a detachable magazine capacity of greater than 10 rounds and has at least two of the following features, bayonet mounts, folding stocks, pistol grips, and barrel shrouds. The differences are so slight that immediately after the ban went into effect, firearm manufacturers made minor cosmetic changes to existing models and qualified the products again as legal weapons. When pressed at what exactly they object to about these guns, proponents of the bill admit that it’s the military “sinister” appearance that disturbs them. If looks could kill, I would be inclined to agree with them; but looks have nothing to do with lethality. Their arguments are anything but sensible, but spurious, revealing an ulterior motive that is indeed sinister by nature.


The term “assault semiautomatic weapon” is in itself a self-contradictory expression. Our deployed troops would be caught dead going into a combat situation if armed with “assault” weapons as described above. One shot per one trigger pull would be suicidal against attacking Iraqi gorilla fighters or Afghan al-Qaeda terrorists. A true assault rifle has the capability of automatic fire. Such a weapon is commonly called a “machine gun” and is already illegal to own in the United States except with a special license. There are some 30 million semi-automatic guns including shotguns as well as rifles already in this country. How is it that some are legal and some are not when they function the same and use the same ammunition?

Have the last nine years shown a decrease in crime as a result of the current restriction? Before the ban became law, FBI records show that less than 1 per cent of the now banned assault weapons were involved in violent crime. In the 80’s in Los Angeles, only one out of 583 cases of drive by shootings involved an assault rifle. All guns and magazines made before the ban were not confiscated and are still in circulation. The evidence is that this law has had no effect whatsoever. A congressional mandated study, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994” by the Urban Institute found that these guns “were never used in more than a fraction of all gun murders.” This ban never should have been passed in the first place. Criminals rarely use assault weapons. Rifles of any sort have only been used in 3 per cent of homicides. And obviously just banning a gun does not prevent it from being used in a criminal fashion by someone who has no respect for any law. Where has maximizing gun control on law-abiding citizens worked to reduce gun violence in the country (Washington D.C.) or the world (Canada, Britain, Australia)?

Why then is there such interest, particularly on the Democratic side, to continue the ban on what Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of American refers to as the “homeland security rifle”? The left’s relentless desire to strip the people of their right to self-defense is plainly obvious. They contend that the war against terror is being used to stifle civil liberties, yet they simultaneously use that fear to obliterate the 2nd Amendment. They intend to not only extend the ban, but also to expand it. The arbitrary nature of the criteria used to determine legality makes this legislation more dangerous than the weapon itself. Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y) has introduced H.R. 2038, which bans many more types of guns and is a first step toward gun registration, which always leads to confiscation. Furthermore, there is no ten-year limit to the new bill. According to NRA interpretation, it will ban many popular semi-automatic shotguns commonly used in skeet-shooting and hunting, practically all detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifles, certain competition target shooting rifles, guns that are determined to be “not-sporting”, fixed-magazine pistols of over 10 round capacity, the selling of legally owned assault weapons, and the importation of magazines exempted by the Clinton ban.

Meanwhile in the Senate, authors of the 1994 law, Charles Schummer (D-N.Y.) and Senator “Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in.” Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) have proposed S. 1034, which though less radical than the House bill seeks to permanently ban millions more of popular guns and magazines. How long will it be before my replica of a military issue 1853 Enfield muzzle-loading “assault” weapon of the American Civil War complete with bayonet is deemed to be illegal? Are only cops and criminals to have guns? If the people’s choices in their right to bear arms can be so easily dictated on the basis of aesthetics does this not serve “to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation” as Charles Krauthammer believes.

The Republican administration position on this bill is perplexing. George Bush’s election can be credited largely to support from many pro-gun organizations and gun owners. Bill Clinton, himself, concluded that the NRA “probably had more to do than anyone else in the fact we didn’t win the House this time. And they hurt Al Gore.” Ironically, he also believed that it was the passage of the 1994 ban that cost him control of Congress. The senior President Bush (41) withdrew his membership from the NRA after hearing of offensive remarks made about some federal agents. The NRA did not endorse him in 1992 because he supported a ban on (note this) imported semiautomatic firearms. President Bush failed to win his bid for re-election. Some say it was because he lost touch with the interests of the people. Let’s hope that his son does not make the same mistake. One thing is deadly certain; the Democrat Party cannot be trusted with our national security or our individual rights.

There are some 65 million firearms in the country. Over 45% percent of households have guns. There are over 23,000 gun laws currently on the books. Two words for the Republican Party, “It’s the 2nd Amendment, stupid!” and “Read my lips, no new gun laws!” Though President Bush did promise to renew the ban during his campaign, a lot has changed since the deaths of 3,000 of our fellow citizens and two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why should he jeopardize the loyalty of his core constituency over a purely symbolic political gesture? The wisest thing for him to do is to withdraw his support for this worthless and dangerous experiment in trifling with the Constitution. The 2nd Amendment was not written to protect sporting, but life and liberty. At a time when the country is at war and its citizenry are truly on the front lines, what possible reason could there be to remove a single tool from the people’s defense of their homes and communities?

”’Chuck Busch can be reached via email at:”’ mailto:chuck.busch@dana.com ”’His article is reprinted from The Quill Pen Ten, a weekly update of the most-popular and often most-controversial op-eds. It also contains important submission and contest info. The site is sponsored by Frontiers of Freedom, a Washington D.C. based conservative think tank.”’