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Constable's Notebook - April 2004

In 1994 at the urging of state and local law enforcement officials, Congress banned the manufacture of a number of military style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Assault weapons were designed solely for military use, but because they are capable of spraying dozens of bullets across a wide area in seconds, they became the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers. Local police officers were simply out gunned. In order for sponsors of this legislation to secure enough votes to pass the ban, they had to accept a 10-year sunset provision that will expire this September unless Congress acts to renew the ban.

Opponents of the assault weapons ban argue that the ban violates the Second Amendment because it infringes on the rights of gun owners to purchase any weapon they choose. The federal courts and even Attorney General Ashcroft have affirmed the ban’s constitutionality. President Bush is also on record supporting renewing the ban.

Supporters of the ban have argued that while shootings with assault weapons have dropped, according to an analysis of FBI data between 1998 and 2002, one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty were killed with an assault weapon. Assault weapons are still available because weapons manufactured before ban were exempted, and gun makers have exploited loopholes in the law enabling them to continue to make weapons that will still fire dozens of bullets just as fast. For example, The Hi-Point 9mm Carbine used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School is a knock off of a banned assault weapon and is 7th on the top 10 list of weapons traced to crime scenes. The Bushmaster XM15 used in last fall’s sniper attacks, is a “post-ban” version of the AR15 assault rifle, which is banned under current law.

Nearly every national law enforcement association and most major city mayors have called on Congress to renew and strengthen the assault weapons ban. National polls consistently report that most Americans – including a majority of gun owners – favor continuing the ban on assault weapons. Last month a majority of the U. S. Senate voted to renew the ban in the form of an amendment to another bill. But House Majority Leader Tom Delay has said that he will not even allow the House to vote on this issue.

If Congress fails to act by September, all previously banned assault weapons and magazines that hold 30+ rounds will once again be readily available for sale at gun shows, on the internet and through newspaper sales – mostly with no background checks. One should ask whether society is made safer by supporting even the banning of nail clippers on commercial flights while allowing any deranged person, drive by shooter – or terrorist to gain access to any manner of weapons that are intended for war zones and not city streets.

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