Sunday, April 19, 2009

A top National Rifle Association official said the Obama administration is using the increased publicity surrounding drug cartels in Mexico as an opportunity to push for reinstating the ban on semi-assault weapons.

“They’re trying to piggyback this whole phony issue on the back of the tragedy in Mexico,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the gun-rights group, on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

In a speech in Mexico last week, President Obama — who on the campaign trail called for the ban, which expired in 2004, to be reinstated — said the prohibition made sense but the country should focus on enforcing existing laws for now.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the administration will “monitor” the issue, which is complicated by opposition from dozens of moderate Democrats.

“If there’s a consensus, we’ll move on it,” Mr. Axelrod said on the program. “We’re faced with an enormous array of challenges, and we need to make some choices as to which to pursue first.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, called on Congress to reinstate the prohibition after three Pittsburgh policemen recently were killed by a man with an AK-47. He said he understands Mr. Obama’s decision not to raise the matter now, with other major issues such as the economy and health care on the table.

“But I think it has to be brought up in the near future, because every police organization in this country supports — virtually everyone supports banning assault weapons,” he said, appearling alongside Mr. LaPierre.

Mr. LaPierre said that assault weapons are “functionally no different than any other gun” and that Mr. Rendell and other supporters of the ban are distorting the facts.

“It was enacted … on the basis of saying these were machine guns. That’s a lie. They were rapid fire. That’s a lie. They made bigger holes. That’s a lie. They were more powerful. That’s a lie. It was lie after lie after lie,” he said. “Congress found it out. That’s why they let it expire, and lies that are found out don’t get re-enacted.”

Mr. LaPierre also accused administration officials of mistating the percentage of guns that are smuggled into Mexico from the United States, challenging a popularly cited figure of 90 percent that Mr. Obama used in his speech. He said there is no proof for the figure, which also has been referenced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A recent Fox News analysis of the issue noted that the statistic covers only guns that were submitted by Mexico to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Of those 11,000 guns, 6,000 could be traced, and 5,100 of those were linked to the United States. The 90 percent figure excludes the 5,000 guns that could not be traced, and also leaves out the 18,000 guns from Mexican crime scenes that were not sent to the United States because it was obvious the weapons came from somewhere else.

“I challenge the president of the United States and the media to prove that 90 percent of the guns used by the drug cartels are being smuggled,” Mr. LaPierre said.

Mr. Rendell did not address the statistic.

In the often tense debate, both men echoed traditional arguments for and against increased gun control.

“There’s absolutely no reason under the sun, no rational reason that we should allow people to legally possess these types of semi-automatic assault weapons. They’re made for one purpose. They’re not used in a duck line for hunting. They’re not used in the Olympics for target shooting. They’re used to kill and maim people, and most often it’s police officers,” Mr. Rendell said.

Mr. LaPierre argued that increased gun-control limits won’t deter murderers and other criminals.

“Don’t you get it? They’re criminals. They violate all your laws,” he said.

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