Assault Weapons Return

Assault Weapons Return

Public apathy on display at Market Square.

Terrorists, gangs and criminals have access to more firepower today than they did when the week began. And, the U.S. Congress gave them their blessing.

That was the message delivered at Alexandria's Market Square Monday by a group, led by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8), who assembled to condemn the sunsetting of the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) that had been supported by four previous U.S. Presidents. It lapsed as of midnight Monday.

"We are here to express concern that legislation designed to keep assault weapons out of the hands of gangs and terrorists is about to lapse tonight. This has been one the most important pieces of legislation to reduce violence and crime," Moran said.

"Others have argued that it has loopholes. I don't know of any legislation that does not have loopholes. That's particularly true of the Internal Revenue Code. But, we haven't thrown that out," he said.

"President Bush has not lifted a finger to extent the ban. In fact, Tom DeLay [Republican majority leader, U.S. House of Representatives], declared the bill dead back in May. There ought to be much more public opposition to the U.S. Congress' refusal to extend the assault weapons ban," Moran said.

"Statistics show that 77 percent of the public believe this to be a common sense issue and support the extension," he said. However, the rally drew only a few citizens. Most of those in attendance were members of the media.

Enacted in 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the ban prevented the legal sale of 19 different semiautomatic assault weapons such as the AK-47. The Act made it unlawful to "manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic" firearm that can accept a detachable magazine and has more than one specific military feature. The AWB exempted 661 sporting rifles and shotguns traditionally used for hunting, according to Moran's office.

JOINING MORAN for the rally were Del. Albert Eisenberg (D-47); Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille; Alexandria Councilman Rob Krupicka; Robert A. Ricker, former lobbyist for the firearms industry and former assistant general counsel to the NRA; Clarence Edwards, Black Police Officers Association; David Baker, Alexandria Deputy Police Chief; and representatives of Virginians Against Handgun Violence and the Million Mom March.

"I am a gun owner. But, I believe in responsible gun ownership. When this ban expires it will only make it easier for criminals to acquire these weapons and cause more meaningless deaths in America," Eisenberg said.

"In the next session of the Virginia General Assembly, I will introduce the Anti-Terrorist, Anti-Gang, Anti-Criminal Weapons Public Safety Act. This legislation will prevent the sale or ownership of assault type weapons in the state of Virginia, particularly the 50 caliber, semi-automatic rifle, which is now on the market at bargain basement prices," he said.

"This ban is not an infringement on the second amendment. Even Dodge City in the 1880s required you to check your weapons at the city's borders," Eisenberg said.

"These weapons pose a clear and present danger. The FBI Violence Center found that of 211 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty from 1998 to 2001, 41 were killed with military-style assault weapons. To make it easier to get such weapons only emboldens terrorist, criminals and gang members," he said.

Euille noted that crime in Alexandria is down 19 percent so far this year. "Alexandria is a very safe city. This [AWB] is not a political issue. It's the right thing to do," Euille said.

"Since 9/11 we have learned to live with a variety of restrictions on our civil liberties. Yet, here we stand watching the assault weapons ban expire. Have we really learned from 9/11," Krupicka said.

Ricker, a former assistant general counsel to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and from 1990 to 1999 served as the top lobbyist for the firearms industry.

"These claims by the NRA that the ban has not been effective is just a bunch of hype. From a political standpoint this argument, as of tomorrow, will move from the federal to the state level of government," Ricker said.

"The failure to extend the ban is more fear in the minds of the moderate politicians than anything else. This law initially got enacted because of the moderate politicians on both sides of the aisle," he said.

"When Bill Clinton said that one of the reasons Gore lost the election was because he came out in favor of gun control and lost some states like West Virginia, it had a chilling effect in an election year. They [the politicians] just want the issue to die for this year," Ricker said.

"What's missing is the public outcry. When the next Columbine occurs you’re going to see a much more draconian ban enacted than the one that's expiring. The political dynamic will change," he said.

He noted that the NRA only has four million members out of the 70 million gun owners in the United States. "But, the NRA is very well organized both in terms of lobbying Congress and in fund raising. Many gun owners also view themselves as modern day minutemen ready to defend the nation," Ricker said.

Moran is an original cosponsor of the initial AWB legislation as well as an original cosponsor of the legislation to reauthorize the ban. "After midnight tonight our streets will be less safe and the gun dealers will get an early Christmas. But, the NRA should know, this issue will not go away," Moran said.