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The gun ban.

THE 10-YEAR-OLD FEDERAL assault weapons ban expired last week and quite naturally became a political issue between gun rights groups that claim the law was never anything more than cosmetic and gun control advocates who say the law was essential for public safety.

There's plenty of hype--and biased statistics--coming from both sides. As with most issues, the answer probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes.

The gun rights advocates rightly say the ban that Congress allowed to expire was applied to guns that were no more dangerous than legal guns--they only looked more fearsome. And that's one reason those who had been in the military and trained with those weapons liked to buy them for hunting and for target shooting.

Local gun dealers said the sales of so-called assault weapons have never made up more than 2-3 percent of gun sales, nor are they expected to in the future.

Gun control advocates say the lapse in the ban now means weapons are available that can shoot more bullets faster. Yes, the ban limited the number of bullets that could be held in an ammo clip to 10 rounds, but the weapons are of the same caliber and fire at the same rate as any other semiautomatic rifle on the market. (Fully automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the 1934.)

Despite the hype, there simply isn't that great a demand for assault weapons, which leads us to conclude the pro-gun side is closer to the truth.

The 1994 ban, signed by then-President Clinton, outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. But these kinds of weapons were still readily available throughout the past decade since only the production or importation of new weapons was banned. Assault weapons and ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds produced before Sept. 13, 1994, were "grandfathered" in under the law and could still be possessed and sold.

The gun control folks say there was a 66 percent drop in the use of these military-style weapons in crimes during the ban. But a 66 percent drop from what? Less than 4 percent of homicides in the U.S involve any type of rifle. And no more than 0.8 percent of homicides are with rifles using military calibers.

The National Institute of Justice reported in 1999 that it couldn't determine the effect of the ban because "the banned weapons and magazines were rarely used to commit murders in this country."

Yes, there have been highly publicized incidents where assault-type weapons were used to kill--the Washington, D.C., area and the Columbus, Ohio, snipers, for instance. Both could just as easily have been done with any other type of rifle--and considering what we know about the suspects, it is easy to believe that they would have been.

What it comes down to is a debate between whether there is good reason to make assault weapons available to the consumer (not much) and whether there is good reason to ban them (not much).

There will always be some who get weapons illegally and there will always be some who use them illegally. Fortunately, the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which requires federal background checks, will still be around. That has nothing to do with the assault weapons ban.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Sep 20, 2004
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