WASHINGTON – More than two-thirds of Americans support it, according to a recent poll. Major law enforcement organizations back it. A majority in the U.S. Senate and, some say, in the House of Representatives would vote for it. President Bush and his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, both favor it.
But despite the wide spread support, the 10-year-old federal ban on the manufacture and importation of semiautomatic assault weapons appears certain to expire at midnight Monday. Gun-control advocates, including the ban’s main sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., say there’s one reason why – the National Rifle Association.
The powerful gun owners lobbying group, with 4 million members, calls the ban ineffective. Ending the assault weapons ban is the NRA’s top priority this year and the organization is waiting until after it expires to announce if it will endorse Bush for re-election. The group showed its power after the ban first passed in 1994, helping to oust several lawmakers who supported it.
Wednesday, Feinstein joined more than two dozen police officials, assault weapon victims and gun control advocates like James Brady – the former press secretary to President Reagan who was paralyzed by a gunshot – to make a last-ditch appeal to Bush to force Republican Congressional leaders to bring the reauthorization of the ban up for a vote.
“By what right does Congress and the President of the United States put at risk the lives of the young men and women who put on those uniforms and those badges?” Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said. “President Bush, the buck stops on your desk on this issue. Get it onto your desk. Don’t wait to have it delivered.”
Bush has said since the 2000 campaign that he would sign a bill if it reached his desk.
Wednesday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, declared the ban dead and said even Bush can’t change that.
“If the president asked me it would still be ‘no.’ ” He knows because we don’t have the votes to pass an assault weapons ban,” DeLay told reporters.
DeLay controls what bills come up for a vote and strongly opposes the ban.
“It is a feel-good piece of legislation that has nothing to do with keeping guns out of criminals hands, and all it does is make it tougher on manufacturers and gun owners for no benefit,” he said.
Gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association each point to studies backing their position. Wednesday, police officials from around the country, including chiefs from Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Seattle, said the law has helped reduce violent crime.
“Weapons of this nature serve no legitimate sporting or hunting purposes and have no place in our community,” said Joe Polisar, police chief for Garden Grove in Orange County, Calif., and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which has called for the extension of the ban. “Unless Congress acts, the firearms of choice for terrorists, drug dealers, gang members and thugs will be back on our streets, where once again our officers will be outgunned by criminals.”
Former presidents Bill Clinton, who signed the original law, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford wrote to Bush earlier this year warning it would be “a grave mistake” if the ban expired.
A poll released Monday by the non-partisan National Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania found that 68 percent of Americans and 57 percent of people with a gun in their household support extending the ban.
But NRA spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs said many people are being misled on the issue, including police officials.
“Why keep bad policy on the books?” she said. “This law has affected law-abiding gun owners. That’s the only group it’s impacted.”