AW Ban Sunset Congressional Dream Team?

by Mike Caswell

So, now that the post-election dust has settled, how are things looking for us in the House, Senate, and White House? Let's start with the President.

WHITE HOUSE

Though President Bush did voice support for the "current ban" during his campaign, he appears to be backing away from this stance now. During recent Senate testimony, Attorney General John Ashcroft would not give a firm answer to the relentless ban renewal questioning from Sens. Feinstein (D-CA) and Schumer (D-NY), instead saying the White House intended to study the issue further (in Washington, "study" generally means "it's dead"). Feinstein was flabbergasted, but Ashcroft rightfully cited the NIJ report released in 1999 that indicates the ban has had an "uncertain" effect on crime ("uncertain" is a very charitable way to put this... "nonexistent" is closer to reality).

This could provide a very convenient and plausible way out for the President. After all, he reportedly said he supported the "current ban". This legislation, passed in 1994, included a sunset provision and mandated that a study be performed to determine its effect on crime. The reason for this is obvious... to provide a mechanism to automatically remove this restrictive infringement on Americans' rights if not proven to have a significant public safety benefit. Though somewhat reminiscent of something the previous administration would pull, it is certainly within the realm of possibilities that Bush could "refine" his position, clarifying that he supports ALL aspects of the ban, including the expiration provision and "burden of proof" of effectiveness. Because the ban has not had a significant impact on crime, it should not be renewed.

However, we cannot count on the President to veto a renewal bill. At best, we should consider him a passive asset to our efforts, because it is highly unlikely that he would twist arms in Congress to get a renewal to his desk. While this may not be a perfect situation (a promised veto would be ideal!), things would be much worse if Al Gore had won the election.

SENATE

Moving on to the Senate, where we have a slight pro-gun majority, a renewal MIGHT pass if it made it to the floor. But the key phrase here is "if it made it to the floor". When a new ban is introduced, it will then be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will undergo intense scrutiny and debate. Both sides of the issue will have an opportunity to testify during hearings. After these proceedings, a vote is taken to determine the fate of the bill. It can be sent back to the full Senate (where it would likely be scheduled for a vote on final passage).

Thankfully, since the Senate is now under Republican leadership, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Hatch voted against adding the "Feinstein Assault Weapons Amendment" to the Senate Crime Bill in 1993, and also voted against final passage of this bill. In addition, he voted against a 1999 amendment by Feinstein to ban the importation of full-capacity magazines. While he controls the agenda of the committee, this does not necessarily mean he would, could, or should singlehandedly kill a renewal. But, being firmly on our side, we can at least be assured that we'd be given a fair shake. A Judiciary Committee run by an anti-gun Democrat would almost guarantee a rubber-stamp approval of Feinstein's bill, ignoring the vast array of facts that point to the ban's ineffectiveness.

The makeup of this committee is very interesting. Republican members include reliably pro-gun faces such as Kyl (R-AZ), Craig (R-ID), Chambliss (R-GA), and Cornyn (R-TX), pitted against rabid gun haters Feinstein (D-CA) and Schumer (D-NY) (the mother and father of the current ban), as well other gun grabbers such as Durbin (D-IL), Kennedy (D-MA), and Feingold (D-WI).

Sparks are definitely going to fly during that hearing!

The only potential fly in the ointment here is Mike DeWine (R-OH), whose voting record shows him to be disappointingly anti-gun (though not nearly as bad as Schumer and Feinstein). He could theoretically join with the Democrats on the committee, giving them enough votes to send the bill back to the full Senate with a favorable report. All of the remaining Republican members have solid pro-gun voting records, almost all of them having cast votes against the "assault weapons" ban.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is somewhat pro-gun, but Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, who is responsible for coordinating Republican votes and strategy in the Senate, is solidly on our side, having a good pro-gun record and voting against the ban in 1993.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Things look much better for us in the House of Representatives. Not only do we have a decent pro-gun majority, we also have a fantastic leadership situation. The Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert (R-IL) voted against the ban in 1994, and for the repeal in 1996, as did House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) was not in office then, but also is very pro-gun. In short, if a ban renewal were to make it to the floor for a vote, it would likely fail.

In the House Judiciary Committee, we have what is probably the closest thing to a perfect makeup as could be expected. The committee is chaired by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a reliable supporter of Second Amendment rights. Like Speaker Hastert, Chairman Sensenbrenner voted on our side in 1994 and 1996. Every Republican on the committee, except for Henry Hyde (R-IL) is strongly pro-gun. Of those, the members who were in office for the 1994 vote on the ban, or 1996 repeal (about half the Republican members) all voted on our side. And as if that weren't enough, one of the Democrats on the committee, Frederick Boucher (D-VA), is also pro-gun and voted our way in '94 and '96.

This puts the House Judiciary Committee with a solid 21-15 pro-gun majority. Though we do not want to sound over-confident, it would be a miracle if a ban renewal made it out of this committee alive.

SUMMARY

We should keep in mind that a repeal, passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, is not necessary for the ban to sunset. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as the burden is on advocates of the ban to successfully navigate their proposed legislation through a Congress that is not at all warm to the idea of passing any gun control measures. A renewal has to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee (where it quite possibly could be killed), be passed by the full Senate (which might happen), survive the House Judiciary Committee (which almost certainly will not happen), and be passed by the full House (also highly unlikely) before reaching the President's desk for his possible signature.

All it takes is for the bill to be stopped at ANY one of those stages for us to be victorious. This is in stark contrast to the drive to repeal the ban in 1996. The repeal passed comfortably in the House, but was never voted on in the Senate, and would have been vetoed by President Clinton anyway.

It is critical that all gun owners in America be made aware of our current situation. While a ban renewal is thankfully looking highly improbable at this time, we still need to mobilize as many of our Second Amendment troops as possible to ensure success. Political apathy runs rampant among gun owners, largely due to the fact that pro-gun legislation over the past 8-10 years never seemed to get anywhere, but this is one fight that we can, and WILL, win.

Sunset the Assault Weapon Ban

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