As of today, semi-automatic assault weapons are once again legal in the United States—and all Americans are less secure as a result.
Ten years after President Clinton signed the assault weapons ban, which had extensive bipartisan support, the bill has met a quiet and bitter end under a new president and a new Congress. The bill had applied to weapons including the AK-47, Kalashnikov and Uzi rifles, as well as guns with certain combinations of features such as a pistol grip, folding or telescoping stock, and others. The weapons may be available for purchase—and back on the streets—by the end of the week.
The ban is ending, not because it is unpopular or unnecessary, but because of a failure of the democratic process, because of the influence of a hugely powerful special interest group on national politics. Despite significant popular support (a July study by the Consumer Federation of America and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence found that 72 percent of Midwestern voters, as well as 81 percent of likely voters in Florida, support the ban), despite support from notable police chiefs nationwide, and despite President Bush’s own public backing for the ban, the Republican Congress has refused to allow a vote on a bill which would extend the law.
Lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, who insist that the public is not in fact in favor of the ban, have argued that the law has huge loopholes. Indeed, some gun manufacturers have been producing weapons with slight cosmetic changes to sidestep the intent of the law. Senate Majority Leader Tom Delay, R.-Texas, has derided the ban as an ineffective “feel-good piece of legislation.” To be sure, whatever ambiguity existing in the current legislation is problematic. But the existence of loopholes is not an argument for throwing out the ban altogether; it is an argument for strengthening the law to close the loopholes.
Still, the most shameful aspect of this entire ordeal is the way in which President Bush has attempted to reap political benefits from both sides of the issue. While publicly calling for an extension to the popular ban, with a wink and a nod to the gun lobby Bush has refused to lift a finger to persuade Congress. He prefers to blame Congress for their inaction, but the true blame lies with his own insincerity.
Earlier this month, at the Republican National Convention, the GOP tried to portray this president as a strong and steady leader, but such a leader would stand by his or her words. Such a leader would match rhetoric with action. Such a leader would defy the special interests and do what is needed to ensure public safety.
Perhaps in November, America will elect such a leader.