Bush backs renewing
ban on assault weapons
By Shannon McCaffrey
Knight Ridder Newspapers
- The Bush administration is bucking the National Rifle
Association and supporting a renewal of the assault-weapons
ban, set to expire just before the presidential election.
supports the current law, and he supports reauthorization
of the current law," White House spokesman Scott McClellan
told Knight Ridder.
the ban on semiautomatic weapons is a top priority for the
NRA. President Bush said during his presidential campaign
that he supported the current ban, but it was less clear
whether he would support an extension.
The White House
comment comes just before the NRA's annual convention and
as the gun debate overall shows signs of fresh life after
several years of near hibernation. Republicans now control
the House and the Senate and are using their newfound power
to breathe life into the stalled pro-gun rights agenda.
This week, they pushed through a bill in the House to give
gun makers and dealers sweeping immunity from lawsuits.
ban is considered a crown jewel by the gun-control movement,
and even though its expiration is more than a year away
it is already being watched closely.
John Ashcroft, who like Bush is a staunch gun-rights supporter,
muddied the waters in a recent appearance before the Senate
Judiciary Committee when he refused to say whether the administration
supports an extension. Ashcroft cited a 1999 Justice Department
report that said the ban's impact on deadly gun violence
been pushing a pro-gun rights agenda at the Justice Department,
seeking to have federal background checks on gun sales destroyed
after 24 hours and embracing an expansive interpretation
of the Second Amendment's guarantee of gun ownership rights.
The White House
comment surprised those on both sides of the gun issue.
lousy politics," said Grover Norquist, an NRA board
member who leads the conservative pro-Bush group Americans
for Tax Reform.
of the Violence Policy Center said it "creates a huge
problem for Bush with the NRA."
said they would be working out of the Oval Office when Bush
was elected. This creates an interesting situation for them,"
of Americans for Gun Safety applauded Bush's stance but
urged the president to use his political clout to push for
Congress to act. If Congress does nothing, the ban could
executive vice president of the NRA, said Bush's support
was somewhat irrelevant.
I think this issue is going to be decided by the Congress,"
If it is, the
NRA has reason to be optimistic.
action on the immunity legislation for dealers and gun makers
reflects the interest of Republicans to resurrect the pro-gun
been poised to act on the bill last fall, but the deadly
sniper attacks in the Washington area prompted a delay.
The measure has enough co-sponsors in the Senate to pass
that chamber unless Democrats dig in their heels and filibuster.
of the immunity bill say it shields gun makers from bankruptcy
because of frivolous lawsuits that became popular during
the Clinton administration. Lawsuits filed by cities against
gun manufacturers - modeled on similar litigation against
the tobacco industry - have so far been unsuccessful but
have kept gun makers tied up in court.
advocates say the immunity bill will keep innocent victims
of gun violence from getting their day in court.
The gun industry
would become the first to receive blanket immunity protections
if the bill succeeds.
on Capitol Hill coincides with another attempt in court
to sue manufacturers, this one by the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People. Filed in New York,
the NAACP contends that weapons disproportionately harm
minorities. While a number of cities have sued the gun industry
with little success in order to collect damages for gun
violence, the NAACP lawsuit seeks to impose new restrictions
on handgun marketing and distribution.
at the case was Robert Ricker, the former head of the American
Shooting Sports Council, the main gun industry trade association.
Ricker is the gun industry's first whistleblower. He says
weapons manufacturers have known for some time that dealers
were selling firearms to juveniles and criminals but remained
silent for fear of being held liable.
gun debate stands in contrast to several years of inaction.
abandoned the gun issue in the 2002 midterm election after
some determined that it had been an albatross for Democratic
presidential hopeful Al Gore in 2000.
McCarthy, D-N.Y., elected to Congress on a gun-control platform
after her husband was killed and her son wounded by a deranged
gunman on a Long Island commuter train in 1993, acknowledged
that some Democrats are nervous about the gun issue nowadays.
coming back. I think you're going to see it popping up a
lot this session with the Republicans in control,"
She said soccer
moms in the suburbs so crucial to election success draw
the line at assault-style weapons such as AK-47s and Uzis,
which can quickly fire multiple shots.
The 1994 bill
made it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess certain
semiautomatic weapons that discharge one shot for each pull
of the trigger and automatically load a round of ammunition
without being cocked. The prohibition is due to expire in
But the NRA's
LaPierre noted that the political climate on guns has changed
dramatically in the last few years. The GOP has a lock on
the White House and Congress, and he said that even a number
of Democrats are campaigning on a pro-gun platform.
One who has
not is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who will introduce
a bill to reauthorize the assault weapons ban in the coming
A new report
due out later this year as a follow up to the 1999 report
cited by Ashcroft could provide her with some fresh evidence.
One of its authors, Jeffrey Roth, said preliminary findings
showed that high-capacity magazines for ammunition, banned
as part of the 1994 bill, were being linked increasingly
to violent crimes.
could end up emerging as even more important than the banned
weapons," said Roth, who works at the University of
Pennsylvania's Jerry Lee Center of Criminology.
is an "assault weapon"?
"An assault weapon is a
rifle, shotgun or pistol designed to spray large numbers
of bullets as rapidly as possible. Military armies around
the world have designed various weapons with this capability
for use in close combat. Their purpose is to kill as many
people as possible." Sen.
Diane Feinstein Web Site
Vice President Cheney
The world's latest assault weaponry,
and the changing missions of those weapons in military and
law enforcement applications, are discussed in detail throughout,
to include numerous field-tests.
This book is about true assault weapons... fully automatic,
selective-fire or equipped with mission-specific features
designed only for military and law enforcement application.