- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The assault-weapons ban expired at midnight with no congressional action to renew it, and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry blamed President Bush, saying he was aiding terrorists.

“Today, George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier, and the job of police officers harder,” Mr. Kerry said.

“In a secret deal, he chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over police officers and families that he promised to protect. The president made the wrong choice for Americans, and the American people are going to pay the price for his choice,” he said.

Mr. Kerry is taking a clear stand against Mr. Bush on an issue of immense political significance. Polls show the senator in line with a majority of Americans, about 70 percent of whom support the assault-weapons ban. But gun-rights advocates generally are opposed, and are much more likely to vote on this single issue than gun-control supporters.

Researchers have found that the ban had little effect on crime — one recent study said the effect probably was “too small for reliable measurement” — and even some gun-control activists said the ban was ineffective.

Several Washington-area politicians, including D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, joined Mr. Kerry and gun-control advocates yesterday in calling for renewal of the ban, signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton.

The ban, which applies to specific firearms and “copies” or “duplicates” of the weapons, could be restored later.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush supports renewing the ban, but has focused efforts on prosecuting gun crimes. Mr. McClellan said prosecutions are up 68 percent compared with the Clinton administration.

“I think it’s a false attack from Senator Kerry,” he said. “The best way to deter and combat violence committed with guns is to vigorously enforce our laws. And this administration has a strong record of vigorously and strictly enforcing our laws, and stepping up prosecutions of crimes committed with guns.”

Asked whether Mr. Bush was happy that the ban had lapsed, Mr. McClellan called that a “ridiculous assertion.”

But he would not say whether the administration thought the assault-weapons ban was effective: “I think that’s a question that other people are looking at still.”

The National Rifle Association is a strong supporter of Mr. Bush, and the powerful lobby pushed for the expiration of the ban. Mr. Bush is counting on the backing of gun-rights supporters in November. They had helped him defeat Democrat Al Gore in 2000, delivering votes in key states such as West Virginia.

Mr. Kerry, aware of the risks, went to great lengths yesterday to stress his support for the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

“Let me be very clear. I support the Second Amendment. I am a gun owner. I am a hunter. I’ve been a hunter since I was a kid. But I’m also, forever, a law-enforcement officer. And I know as a gun owner, as a hunter, I never thought about going hunting with a military assault rifle,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry also said Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans are playing games by blaming each other for the ban lapse.

“The House says, through Tom DeLay, [the measure] isn’t going to get sent to [the president], but if he asks for it we’ll send it to him. Well, why didn’t you ask?” Mr. Kerry said.

But Mr. DeLay said the opposite last week. There aren’t enough votes to pass the bill, the House majority leader said, so even if the president asked for it, Mr. DeLay wouldn’t bring it up for a vote.

“The president has made his position very clear, but it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the votes are not there in the House to pass the bill,” said DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy yesterday.

Asked about the president’s lobbying efforts on the bill, Mr. McClellan simply said Mr. Bush’s support for renewing the ban was known. But he would not tell whether Mr. Bush had lobbied to extend the ban, as he has done for tax cuts, the Medicare prescription drug bill and other legislation.

A recent study by the National Institute of Justice found that “there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence” after the ban.

“It is thus premature to make definitive assessments of the ban’s impact on gun violence. Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement,” said the report by Christopher Koper, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Even some gun-control advocates said renewal of the ban would have been useless.

Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said that soon after the ban was enacted manufacturers began making weapons with “only slight, cosmetic differences” from banned arms.

“The sad truth is that mere renewal would have done little to stop this flood of assault weapons. Conversely, the end of the ban only makes official what was already known: Assault weapons are readily available in America,” she said in calling for a new, more effective ban.

Mr. Kerry himself told a story yesterday illustrating the easy availability of the weapons despite the federal ban.

He recalled pheasant hunting with a sheriff in Iowa recently. As they were walking through a field, the senator said, the sheriff pointed to a house nearby and said, “We did a drug bust in that house about a week ago. And we came in early in the morning. And the person that they were arresting was asleep, lying in bed. And lying right on the floor, right beside that drug dealer, was an AK-47.”

Gun dealers in the Washington area say they do not expect major changes in the type of guns they will sell.

“I don’t expect a whole lot of anything,” said Frank Krasner, owner of Silverado Promotions, which will host a gun show at the Howard County Fairgrounds this weekend. “I don’t see any great rush.

The expiration of the federal ban will have little effect in Maryland, where the state’s ban on assault weapons — even more strict than the national law — will remain intact.

Some gun dealers said the biggest change will be the availability of previously banned “high capacity” magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest in the magazine,” said Aaron McKinney, a salesman at Loudoun Guns in Leesburg.

Gun-control advocates and local politicians yesterday vowed to make an election-year issue of the weapons-ban lapse.

“The president of the United States decided to go with the gun lobby, instead of the police,” said Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which plans to run ads in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

Mr. Williams pointed to a recent series of bank robberies in the nation’s capital and neighboring Prince George’s County in which, he said, the suspects equipped themselves with a “staggering array” of weapons, including AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

“The bottom line is we don’t need to get into an arms race with criminals,” the D.C. mayor said.

• Tim Lemke contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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