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Federal Assault Weapon Ban About to Expire

Controversial legislation would extend, strengthen the law 

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Passed ten years ago, the federal ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons is set to expire on Sept. 13, 2004. Two bills intended to extend and strengthen the ban are currently pending in Congress. According to the pro-gun control Violence Policy Center (VPC), the failure of the Congress and President Bush fail to act on this legislation, will put "the safety of America's police and public at extreme risk."

The 10-year ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons, signed by President Clinton in 1994, also banned the manufacture of 19 different weapons.

The two bills now before Congress (S. 1431 and H.R. 2038) would amend Federal firearms provisions to revise the definition of "semiautomatic assault weapon" (SAW) to include conversion kits (for converting a firearm to a SAW) and any semiautomatic rifle or pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and that has any one of the following characteristics, respectively: (1) a folding or telescoping stock, a threaded barrel, a pistol grip, a forward grip, or a barrel shroud; or (2) a second pistol grip, a threaded barrel, a barrel shroud, or the capacity to accept a detachable magazine at a location outside of the pistol grip.

In a recent press release, Kristen Rand, VPC legislative director, states, "America's burgeoning assault weapons industry poses a clear and present danger to all Americans. Congress must act now to pass an assault weapons ban that truly bans assault weapons."

The VPC press release goes on to state:

"The gun industry has successfully evaded the current ban by making insignificant, mostly cosmetic, changes in the design of banned assault weapons -- such as AK-47s, AR-15s, MAC-10s, and UZIs -- and then marketing them as "post-ban" guns. The changes can be as slight as simply removing a flash suppressor from the end of the barrel of an assault rifle and replacing it with a muzzle brake (these two components look almost identical, but perform different functions) or adding a fixed stock. The Washington, DC-area snipers used a Bushmaster "post-ban" AR-15-style assault rifle in a killing spree that left 10 dead and three wounded in 2002. At the same time, new assault weapons have come onto the marketplace, such as the Hi-Point Carbine used in the 1999 Columbine massacre. Pre- and post-ban guns continue to pose an unprecedented threat to the police and public:

  • Assault weapons were used to kill one out of five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty from 1998 through 2001, according to FBI data.

  • Assault weapons have been used in some of the most notorious mass shootings since the ban was enacted in 1994, including: the 1997 shooting at the Caltrans Maintenance Yard in Orange, California, where four were killed and two were wounded (AK-47 assault rifle), the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 that left 13 dead and 23 wounded (TEC-DC9 assault pistol and Hi-Point Carbine), the 2000 shooting at the Edgewater Technology office in Wakefield, Massachusetts, that left seven dead (AK-47 assault rifle) and, the 2001 shooting at Navistar International Corporation that took four lives and wounded four (SKS assault rifle)."

    Adds Rand, "The gun industry has eviscerated the assault weapons ban. The time for Congress and President Bush to act is now."

    NRA: "It's about banning guns."

    The National Rifle Association calls reauthorization of the federal assault weapons ban "the top priority for anti-gun activists and politicians."

    NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox writes: "The debate is not really about so-called "assault weapons." It's about banning guns. It's about gun prohibitionists searching for the easiest target of opportunity." (See the NRA's The Clinton Gun Ban Website.)

    Both the House and Senate versions of the Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2003 have been referred to subcommittees. No floor consideration of the bills has been scheduled by either body.

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