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The Ugly Sunset of the Weapons Ban

Postcard from Washington

By Michael B. Broukhim

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pointing to my bulging biceps, I jawed on the sidelines Wednesday about how the Assault Weapons Ban was keeping “these guns” off the field of the Feinstein vs. Schumer Senate staff softball game. But come September 13, not even the overstocked lineup of the “Never Say Di” squad will be able to bar these manly-man arms from the diamond. On that day, my biceps, and less lethal assault weapons like the AK-47 and TEC-DC9 are set to be legally manufactured and sold for the first time in ten years.

If Washington, D.C. has a good, a bad and an ugly, the unfolding political drama of the Assault Weapons Ban steals the show for ugly.

Originally enacted in 1994 for a period of 10 years, the ban prohibits the manufacture or import of military-style semi-automatic assault weapons. Between 1988 and 1991, when these guns were legal, assault weapons were eight times more likely to be used in crimes than other types of guns. By 2002, crimes attributed to assault weapons declined 66 percent since the ban’s inception. The legislation has been a success. Should the sun set on the ban on Sept. 13, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge ’67 may have to pull out another orange M&M to ensure our population’s vigilance against terrorists, now armed with Uzis—purchased in the United States.

Why, despite its effectiveness, is it looking increasingly unlikely that the ban will be renewed? Certainly not for lack of public support. The University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey, interviewing nearly 30,000 people, found that 71 percent of households without guns support extending the ban, as do 64 percent of households with guns.

The legislation also has presidential support. Lots of it. The late President Ronald Reagan, honored in 1983 as a Life Member of the National Rifle Association (NRA)—one of only 19 individuals to earn that honor in the NRA’s 133-year history—was instrumental in lobbying members of congress to pass the original ban in 1994. On June 14, 2004, Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton sent a letter to George W. Bush urging him to renew the ban. Add in the tacit support of President George H.W. Bush who took the initial steps in protecting Americans from these weapons by banning the importation of certain assault rifles in 1989, and we have every U.S. president of the last three decades casting their vote in favor extending this ban.

And the kicker? So would the current president, ostensibly.

Five years ago yesterday, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush said, “It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society,” but despite that and more recent comments indicating his support for the ban, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that President Bush will let the ban on those very weapons expire one month from today. Because, though this president has said that he would sign a renewal should the bill reach his desk, he has enlisted his congressional posse—House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.—to make sure the bill never does. In turn, these men, responsible for bringing the bill to a vote, say they will do so only if the President asks them to. And with the NRA’s gun to his head, he will not be asking anytime soon.

In the last six elections, the Republican candidate has only attained victory on the wings of an NRA endorsement. When the NRA stood silent in 1992 and 1996, the Democrats won handily. The man who won those elections, Bill Clinton, maintains that on the pecking order of determining factors in the 2000 Bush victory, the NRA stands next to Ralph Nader, behind only the Supreme Court, potentially costing Gore critical states such as Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and New Hampshire.

So far that essential NRA endorsement is on hold for our incumbent. When might it come around? “I think Sept. 14 would make a good date,” says Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.

So in the midst of a War on Terror and escalating threat levels, and despite proven effectiveness and widespread support, the assault weapons is going to need the work of many bulging biceps to find new life and breakthrough the ugly side of Washington.

Michael B. Broukhim, a social studies concentrator in Dunster House, is an editorial editor of The Crimson. He is working his biceps—and his social conscience—in Washington, D.C. this summer.

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