Ban on assault weapons allowed to expire quietly
September 24, 2004
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The federal ban on assault weapons expired Sept. 13 with little fanfare. President George W. Bush had promised during his 2000 campaign to sign a renewal bill if it came to his desk, but such legislation never went up for a vote.
The ban has been controversial ever since former President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1994. The ban’s supporters, including members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and several Democratic senators, claim that it has reduced violent crime and gun deaths, and that its expiration could lead to an increase in such incidents.
The law’s opponents, particularly members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), continue to hold that the law was pointless, and that most of the guns it banned were not true assault weapons.
The ban targeted semi-automatic, not fully automatic rifles. Automatic rifles are strictly regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and are not available for civilian purchase. However, many of the rifles formerly covered under the ban can be converted to fully automatic rifles with a kit, although some rifles, such as the AR-15, have internal parts that prevent conversion.
The primary targets of the ban were weapons that bore cosmetic and feature similarities to military assault rifles. Folding stocks, which make the weapon easier to conceal, were prohibited. The inclusion of a mount at the end of the barrel for a flash suppressor, which conceals most of the flash at the end of the rifle barrel, was forbidden by the ban. Magazines containing more than 10 rounds for such rifles were also targeted.
According to The Denver Post, the ban was originally introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D – Ca.), partly as a response to a shooting at the San Francisco law firm of Pettit & Martin in 1993, which left eight dead and six wounded.
The gunman in the shooting, a 55-year-old real estate developer with alleged grudges against members of the law firm, used two high capacity TEC-9 semi-automatic assault rifles to shoot his victims before ending his own life with a .45 caliber pistol.
“It was the ultimate shock,” Feinstein said in an interview just after the law’s passage. “That building is one of the great economic citadels in the city … and then – boom. Someone comes in, aggravated, and goes right through the place.”
Feinstein won a brief victory in March when the Senate voted to amend a renewal of the ban onto a law that would have protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits. The liability “shield,” the top legislative priority for the NRA this year, would have prevented legal challenges like the one levied against the Navegar firearms corporation following the San Francisco shooting.
The California Supreme Court dismissed that case in late 2001, but the public outcry over the verdict prompted then – Governor Gray Davis to repeal a state law that shielded manufacturers from such prosecutions.
After the addition of the Feinstein amendment, the NRA scuttled the entire bill, rather than see the ban renewed.
The NRA has been attempting to repeal the ban since it was first enacted, and did succeed in getting a repeal measure passed through the House in 1996. The threat of filibuster by Feinstein and an almost – guaranteed presidential veto by Clinton stopped the effort in the Senate.
The NRA’s chief lobbyist and the executive director of its legislative branch, Chris Cox, participated in a Washington Post online Q&A Sept. 17.
“At the bottom line, the gun ban was a bad law and bad politics,” Cox said. “Study after study show that the ban targeted guns rarely used in crime, and that they are not different from other guns in terms of how they operate or the ammunition they use.”
The immediate local effects of the gun ban are difficult to gauge, as it will take months for dealers and shop owners to begin stocking the newly legal guns and parts in large quantities.
“We’ve had more calls for (high-capacity handgun) magazines, but that’s about it,” said Brian Talley, an employee with Southern Firearms and Police Equipment, a local gun