- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

President Bush's advisers should know something's wrong when liberal Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are praising their boss. In a statement released this month, the Democrats congratulated Mr. Bush for supporting reauthorization of the Assault Weapons Ban. The law was signed by Bill Clinton in 1994 and expires next year. Two weeks ago, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan stated that, "The president supports the current law, and he supports reauthorization of the current law." Since then, the White House has been mum on the topic. Because the president's position doesn't seem set in stone yet, now is an opportune time to revisit the issue.
Make no mistake about it: Gun control, including the so-called Assault Weapons Ban, is bad policy and bad politics. First off, gun control simply doesn't work. Last week, it was reported that the District of Columbia won back the dubious honor of being the murder capital of America, narrowly beating out Detroit. The District has some of the strictest gun-control laws, but its murder rate of 45.8 homicides per 100,000 residents was the highest in 2002. On the other hand, crime has been proven to drop by 5 percent to 8 percent in states that have instituted laws making it easy for law-abiding citizens to get concealed-carry permits.
The Assault Weapons Ban is even sillier. According to the FBI, rifles of any kind are used in only 3 percent of homicides. Before the 1994 crime bill, so-called assault weapons were involved in less than 1 percent of violent crimes. These low numbers are despite the fact that Americans own more than 30 million semiautomatic weapons. The Assault Weapons Ban would more rightly be called Clinton's Gun Grab, or the Bill to Prohibit Anything Sen. Feinstein Thinks Is Scary. The quips are justified because nothing technically makes so-called assault rifles more dangerous than any other semiautomatic weapon other than their looks. They use the same ammunition and operate in the same way as other legal guns.
As for politics, even leftists like Al Gore avoid supporting gun control on the national stump because of its unpopularity with voters. Approximately 65 million Americans own guns, and 45 percent of all Americans live in households with guns. The historic Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was in no small part because Bill Clinton's big-brother style of government especially the Assault Weapons Ban scared the electorate. It's simply a losing issue politically.
This month's letter to President Bush had an air of deja vu about it. Back in 1995, then-Rep. Schumer praised the first President Bush for resigning his life membership in the NRA in protest over a fund-raising letter that called some federal agents "jackbooted government thugs." In his resignation letter, George H.W. Bush said the NRA, "deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor, and it offends my concept of service to country." At the time, gun-rights supporters thought this was a retaliation against the lobby group, which backed Mr. Bush in 1988 but did not endorse him in 1992 because he supported a ban on imported semiautomatic weapons.
We hope this is where the comparison ends. George W. Bush is a more conservative president than his father. Yet, the past does offer helpful lessons for the future particularly, that it's important to avoid ticking off one's base before an election. Reauthorization of the Assault Weapons Ban is due next summer, a few months before voters go to the polls. On this issue, the president would be wise to consider a policy flip-flop.

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