News - Bye-bye bogus ban

Facts prove assault weapon' ban unnecessary"

Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I was approached quietly by several members of Congress — liberals who were well-known advocates of gun control.

They asked me something like this: "Bob, you're a member of the National Rifle Association board and a well-known Second Amendment advocate. Even though we're members of Congress, we feel we can't protect ourselves because the District of Columbia doesn't allow private possession of handguns. Can you help us change the law so we can obtain handguns and protect ourselves?"

Such discussions expose a major reason that gun control advocates — despite 10 years within which to make their case — were unable to convince enough members in Congress earlier this week that the 1994 law outlawing certain types of so-called "assault weapons" should be reauthorized. Times have changed, yet the timeworn, emotion-based arguments of gun control advocates have not.

Gun control advocates never have been able to refute that outlawing firearms based on their appearance does nothing to reduce the causes or the frequency of violent crime. While their arguments continue to enjoy the type of surface appeal that simplistic claims using catchy, emotive phrases always engender, the Congress of the United States, by refusing to reauthorize the 1994 gun ban, has put common sense center stage in the debate over gun policy. At least temporarily, the demagoguery that had been the gun control advocates' stock-in-trade has been relegated to minority status.

The debate over "assault weapons" was largely unheard of prior to the late 1980s. It was in 1988 that gun ban advocate Josh Sugarman told gun control advocates they needed a new issue around which to rally public support for their efforts to restrict handgun possession. The new issue became "assault weapons."

Actual "assault weapons" were long defined to be military-style weapons capable of fully automatic firing — guns already heavily regulated and illegal in the hands of all but a miniscule portion of the civilian population since the 1930s. Despite that, Sugarman and his followers began throwing the term around to describe all sorts of firearms that were not capable of automatic firing.

The ploy worked. Members of both houses of Congress jumped on board, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and then-House member (now Sen.) Charles Schumer of New York. They used the term so often — and so disingenuously — that the public largely bought into the argument that so-called "assault weapons" were flooding our streets, and that AK-47s and Uzi submachine guns were killing innocent Americans day in and day out in communities all across America. (Of course, this wasn't happening, but that didn't slow the propaganda.)

This was the climate in which, with President Clinton's leadership, the 1994 gun ban was passed. But it contained a caveat: It would have to be re-examined and reauthorized in 10 years. And those 10 years expired at midnight, Mon., Sept. 13.

Emotion-filled misnomers aside, the true facts of the gun debate are rarely, if ever, acknowledged by supporters of the ban. Congress, however, in this one instance, based its decision not to reauthorize the legislation, on facts not emotion. Consider the following facts:

- True "assault weapons," long-defined as firearms that are capable of fully automatic fire (in other words, machine guns), have been severely restricted for civilian ownership since the 1930s and weren't affected by the 1994 law.

- AK-47s and Uzis (frequently cited by gun control advocates as reasons why the 1994 ban should remain in effect) and other, similar weapons, such as machine pistols and "street sweeper" shotguns, are illegal under other federal legislation, and aren't affected by the sun-setting of the 1994 law.

- Firearms banned by the 1994 law, the "assault weapons" defined by how they look as opposed to how they function, have never (before or after 1994) been shown to have been used in but a small fraction of violent crimes; somewhere between 2 percent and one-fourth of 1 percent.

- America continues to enjoy a drop in violent crime, now at a nearly 30-year low — a trend that began three years before the ban.

- During that period of reduced violent crime, the number of firearms possessed by Americans, including millions of semi-automatic firearms that gun control advocates still seek to outlaw, has risen by more than 60 million.

Such facts illustrate why gun control advocates weren't able to marshal sufficient congressional support to gain a vote on reauthorization of the 1994 gun ban, much less a winning vote — this, despite President Bush's statements earlier in his administration that he would sign such a law if Congress passed it.

Perhaps the president and Congress now understand that especially in today's world, a population able to defend itself isn't such a bad thing. And perhaps they'll now work to focus the government's attention where it ought to be focused — on keeping any guns out of the hands of criminals and putting criminals who get their hands on guns in jail for as long as possible.

It sure would be nice if the gun control advocates would join in this effort. But somehow, given the shrillness of their arguments in favor of extending the just-expired ban, I doubt that will happen.

Bob Barr, a former U.S. attorney, represented parts of Cobb County and northwest Georgia in Congress, 1995-2003.

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