[Homestead] Disarming victims mania dissipating
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 9 13:57:56 EDT 2004
The New York Times
September 9, 2004
Effort to Renew Weapons Ban Falters on Hill
*By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG*
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - Despite widespread popular support, the federal
law banning the sale of 19 kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons is
almost certain to expire on Monday, the result of intense lobbying by
the National Rifle Association and the complicated election-year
politics of Washington.
While President Bush
has expressed support for legislation extending the ban and has said he
would sign it into law, he has not pressured lawmakers to act, leading
critics to accuse him of trying to have it both ways.
Efforts to renew the ban, which polls show is supported by at least
two-thirds of Americans, have faltered this year on Capitol Hill.
Democrats are well aware that they lost control of the House of
Representatives in 1994, the year President Bill Clinton signed the
original legislation, and have shied away from the issue of gun control,
while Republican leaders have opposed the ban.
"I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it
expire, so it will expire," Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the
majority leader, said on Wednesday.
The House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, dismissed
the ban as "a feel-good piece of legislation" and said flatly that it
would expire Monday, even if Mr. Bush made an effort to renew it.
"If the president asked me, it would still be no," Mr. DeLay said. "He
knows, because we don't have the votes to pass the assault weapons ban.
It will expire Monday, and that's that."
Democrats decried the influence of the rifle association and said the
ban could be renewed if the president wanted it to.
"If you support something, you have a responsibility to advocate for
it,'' said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and chief
sponsor of the ban's renewal.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was a lead sponsor
of the ban 10 years ago when he was in the House, blamed "a dysfunction
of our politics'' for what he called "this Alice in Wonderland situation
of repealing a law that everyone agrees has been overwhelmingly
The act prohibits, by name, the sale of 19 specific weapons that have
the features of guns used by the military, and also outlaws magazines
that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. While backers
acknowledge that the law is riddled with loopholes, they cite federal
statistics showing crimes traceable to assault weapons have declined by
two-thirds since the law went into effect.
But the N.R.A., which has made overturning the ban its top legislative
priority, says the law bans only "cosmetic accessories" on guns, and
does little other than place a burden on gun manufacturers. "We felt
from the very start it was bogus legislation," Wayne LaPierre, the
association's chief executive, said.
On Wednesday, in a last-ditch effort to persuade lawmakers to renew the
law, supporters of the ban - including police chiefs from around the
country and victims of gun violence and their relatives - converged on
Washington for a news conference.
Tom Mauser, whose 15-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the 1999
massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, arrived wearing his son's
sneakers and took them off while addressing reporters, a pointed
physical reminder of his loss.
James S. Brady, the former White House press secretary who suffered
brain damage after being shot in the head by a handgun during the 1981
assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, sat, mostly silent, in
"The assault weapons are coming, they're coming next week," warned Mr.
Brady's wife, Sarah, who has been a vocal advocate for restrictions on
gun ownership for the past two decades.
Noting that Mr. Reagan had supported the weapons ban in 1994, Mrs. Brady
said she felt deserted by the party she and her husband had worked so
hard for. "I am angry," she said. "I am angry at our president. I'm so
The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, repeated on Wednesday
that ''the president supports the reauthorization of the current law.''
But when asked by reporters what, if anything, Mr. Bush was doing to
make that happen, Mr. McClellan replied: "The president doesn't set the
Congressional timetable. Congress sets the timetable. And the
president's views are very clear.''
Democrats hit hard at Mr. Bush. "We cry out for leadership,'' said
Senator Schumer, adding that, "The president talks about flip-flops.
Well, flip: I'm for it. Flop: House, don't do anything, don't pass it.''
The Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry
of Massachusetts, supports renewing the ban, and took a break from
campaigning earlier this year to return to the Senate when it came up
for a vote as part of a broader piece of gun legislation. Fifty-two
senators voted in favor of renewing the ban, but the underlying measure
On Wednesday, a senior adviser to Mr. Kerry, Joe Lockhart, signaled that
the ban would become a campaign issue. He said that Mr. Kerry planned to
discuss the ban Monday, at an event timed to coincide with its
expiration. Mr. Kerry, he said, "believes the cynical deal between the
president and the House Republican leadership, hiding behind procedure,
is completely unacceptable.''
A poll released this week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the
University of Pennsylvania found that 68 percent of Americans - and 32
percent of N.R.A. members - support renewing the ban. The findings,
drawn from interviews with 4,959 adults, had a margin of sampling error
of plus or minus one percentage point.
A separate national survey, conducted by Doug Schoen, a Democratic
pollster, on behalf of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, found
that 74 percent of voters support renewing the ban, but that support is
highest - 79 percent - among independent voters who are being courted by
President Bush and Mr. Kerry. That survey of 800 voters had a margin of
error of three percentage points.
Mr. Schoen, who is not advising the Kerry campaign, also surveyed voters
in the swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania and concluded that
support for the ban was high enough to make it a significant issue. "If
Kerry wants to distinguish his position from Bush, this provides a very
convenient vehicle,'' he said.
But over all, Democrats have not talked much about the weapons ban.
Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is in a tough
re-election fight, said voters, unaware that the ban was set to expire,
had not made it an issue, and that neither had she.
"There are so many issues, education and health care and jobs and the
economy in my state right now,'' Ms. Murray said. "People are really
focused on that.''
And over the years the ban has been a losing issue for Democrats. After
Republicans took control of the House in 1994, President Clinton
remarked that the ban might have cost Democrats 20 seats. Some believe
that former Vice President Al Gore lost crucial states, including his
home state, Tennessee, in the 2000 election because he came out too
strongly for gun control.
Even the ban's chief Democratic backers in Congress, Senator Feinstein
and Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, acknowledged that
Democrats were afraid to be too vocal in their support. "In the small
states in particular, and the rural states, the control of the N.R.A. is
much greater,'' said Ms. Feinstein, adding, They will specifically
target a member, including a House member, and go after them.''
The N.R.A. has also said it will not endorse a candidate for president
until after Congress recesses for the fall election, a pronouncement
that the ban's backers say is tantamount to a threat not to endorse Mr.
Bush until the ban expires. Mr. LaPierre said the claim was "100 percent
untrue.'' But he blamed Democrats for the bill's undoing, saying they
had tried, unwisely, to use it to gain political advantage when Mr.
Clinton was president.
"I guess you could say politics is what enacted it in the first place,''
he said. "Politics is going to be the undoing of it.''
On Wednesday, as the police chiefs and victims' relatives fanned out
across Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers, a chief target was the House
speaker, Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. In recent weeks,
advocates for the ban have been approaching Mr. Hastert at bookstores
around the country, where he has been signing copies of his new
Several, including Mr. Mauser, said that Mr. Hastert seemed supportive.
"He said yes, I support that,'' said Penny Okamoto, who said she saw Mr.
Hastert on Aug. 16 at a Barnes & Noble store in Beaverton, Ore. "I was
so surprised, I actually asked him twice.''
But on Wednesday, the speaker was noncommittal, saying that if the
Senate was to adopt the bill, "then we'll take a look at it.''
Mr. Mauser said he was not satisfied with that, and would knock on Mr.
Hastert's door on Thursday. He said that he had already spoken with an
aide to his own congressman, Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican
who opposes the ban, and that the meeting did not go well.
"It ended on a pretty bad note,'' Mr. Mauser said. "Not even a shake of
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