Assault Weapons Ban

Bush's support for assault weapons ban sends wrong message to terrorists, Libertarians say

WASHINGTON, DC -- President Bush's support for renewing a Clinton administration ban on so-called assault rifles sends the wrong message to terrorists and other criminals, Libertarians say.

"Politicians who want to disarm vulnerable Americans at a time like this are a threat to homeland security," said Geoffrey Neale, Libertarian Party chairman. "The government simply can't protect every one, all the time, but at least it can allow Americans to protect themselves."

The 1994 assault weapons law, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-NY, banned the manufacture and importation of certain types of semi-automatic rifles and prohibited magazines of more than 10 rounds. Bush administration spokesman Scott McClellan set off a public furor recently when he said the president "supports reauthorization of the current law," which is set to expire in September 2004 because of a 10-year sunset provision.

But banning guns sends terrorists and other criminals the message that Americans are even more vulnerable than before, Libertarians point out.

"Fortunately, terrorists carrying semi-automatic rifles haven't yet stormed a shopping mall, an office park or a busy urban area, but they could," Neale said. "If that happens, shouldn't their victims be able to shoot back with the same weapons the terrorists are using?

"Of course, an assault weapon may never be used to thwart a terrorist assault. But if overturning this gun ban saves just one life, it will have been worthwhile."

The main justification for the gun ban -- that assault weapons are a favorite choice for criminals -- doesn't stand up to logical scrutiny, Neale pointed out.

"According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, assault weapons are used in less than 1 percent of violent crimes, and the FBI admits that far more people are killed every year by knives and blunt objects than by any kind of rifle, including an 'assault rifle,' " he said. "So banning assault weapons to protect public safety makes as much sense as banning knives and baseball bats."

The threat posed by assault weapons is so exaggerated that Joseph Constance, a deputy police chief in Trenton, NJ, once told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "My officers are more likely to confront an escaped tiger from the local zoo than to confront an assault rifle in the hands of a drug-crazed killer on the streets."

The bigger threat is that Bush will follow through on his promise to sign the renewed assault weapons ban, Neale said.

"When it comes to supporting crime-victim disarmament laws, Bush is a recidivist," he said. "Just eight months after terrorists commandeered four airlines on September 11, Bush opposed a House bill that would have allowed armed pilots in the cockpit. Fortunately, the president reversed himself in response to public pressure -- and the legislation was approved."

Now Bush seems to be repeating his mistake -- and that's bad news for homeland security, Libertarians say.

"Let's urge Bush to flip-flop in the direction of freedom again and let this gun ban quietly expire," he said. "It's time to stop the government's assault on public safety."

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For release: April 23, 2003

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