Originally enacted in 1994 for a period of 10 years, the assault gun ban prohibits the manufacture or import of military-style semi-automatic assault weapons. Between 1988 and 1991, when these guns were legal, assault weapons were eight times more likely to be used in crimes than other types of guns. By 2002, crimes attributed to assault weapons declined 66 percent since the ban’s inception. The legislation has been a success. Should the sun set on the ban on Sept. 13, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge ’67 may have to pull out another orange M&M to ensure our population’s vigilance against terrorists, now armed with Uzis—purchased in the United States.
Why, despite its effectiveness, is it looking increasingly unlikely that the ban will be renewed? Certainly not for lack of public support. The University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey, interviewing nearly 30,000 people, found that 71 percent of households without guns support extending the ban, as do 64 percent of households with guns.
The legislation also has presidential support. Lots of it. The late President Ronald Reagan, honored in 1983 as a Life Member of the National Rifle Association (NRA)—one of only 19 individuals to earn that honor in the NRA’s 133-year history—was instrumental in lobbying members of congress to pass the original ban in 1994. On June 14, 2004, Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton sent a letter to George W. Bush urging him to renew the ban. Add in the tacit support of President George H.W. Bush who took the initial steps in protecting Americans from these weapons by banning the importation of certain assault rifles in 1989, and we have every U.S. president of the last three decades casting their vote in favor extending this ban.
And the kicker? So would the current president, ostensibly.
Five years ago yesterday, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush said, “It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society,” but despite that and more recent comments indicating his support for the ban, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that President Bush will let the ban on those very weapons expire one month from today. Because, though this president has said that he would sign a renewal should the bill reach his desk, he has enlisted his congressional posse—House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.—to make sure the bill never does. In turn, these men, responsible for bringing the bill to a vote, say they will do so only if the President asks them to. And with the NRA’s gun to his head, he will not be asking anytime soon.