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Posted: 5/21/2003 4:36:44 PM EDT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 5/21/03 No reason to extend meaningless ban on assault weapons By RICH LOWRY http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/0503/21equal.html Only in Washington would it be considered imperative to extend legislation precisely because it's been so ineffectual. Such is the logic behind a Democratic push to prevent the assault weapons ban from expiring next year, and even to broaden it. It was obvious when the ban was passed in 1994 that it couldn't possibly have any effect on crime as advertised, which it hasn't. The ban nonetheless is such a nice-sounding idea -- who wouldn't want to ban "assault weapons"? -- that even President Bush has endorsed its reauthorization. If the ban is indeed preserved and broadened, it will be just as worthless as the original version. By the reasoning of its supporters, that failure will, in turn, make necessary an even more sweeping ban. The assault weapons ban was a product of the manufactured label "assault weapons." The term became popular just as a crack-induced urban crime wave was reaching its crest, conjuring images of gang members doing battle with AK-47s. The image was a boogeyman. Criminologist Gary Kleck recounts that the head of the biggest gang detail in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s had never confiscated any assault weapons. A study of drive-by shootings in Los Angeles found that an assault weapon had figured in only one of 583 cases. When it came time for Congress to ban assault weapons, the difficulty was that no one knew exactly what they were. They were commonly taken to be semiautomatics that accept a large magazine and -- the crucial part -- have a "military-style" appearance. Congress cut through the amorphousness by arbitrarily picking 19 nasty-looking models to ban. Congress also enumerated characteristics, including bayonet mounts and pistol grips, that would be verboten on certain semiautomatics. None of these characteristics has anything to do with the lethality of the guns. And if you think there is danger of criminals with assault weapons charging with their bayonets fixed, you have probably seen "Lethal Weapon 4" one too many times. If gun controllers were to be consistent, they would drop the fuzzy "assault weapons" label and seek to ban all semiautomatic long arms. This would constitute a clean category of guns for prohibition. It also would require honesty about the real target of the ban: not street criminals, but people who own such guns to hunt and protect their homes. That would be politically fatal. So gun-control forces try to extend the assault weapons ban instead, a salami-slice strategy toward an ultimate, much broader gun prohibition. A whiff of their dishonesty can be detected in the senselessness of their argument: If the ban hasn't worked, why end it now? Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.
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