Barring any unexpected legislative scrambling, the federal ban on semiautomatic assault weapons will expire today. Passed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, the ban mainly prohibits the sale of 19 weapons – including AK-47s, Uzi submachine guns and AR-15s (essentially civilian M-16 rifles).
Recent studies conflict over whether the ban actually had a positive effect. Some claim the law prevented the use of assault weapons in crimes, while others found the difference was offset by crimes committed by other legal weapons.
Obviously, the National Rifle Association opposes the ban, claiming it is ineffective and places burdens on gun manufacturers. Perhaps they are right; banning only 19 semiautomatic weapons out of hundreds and containing countless loopholes, the ban might well have been futile. But that is all the more reason for legislators to write and pass a more effective law.
A recent Annenberg Public Policy Center poll showed 68 percent of U.S. citizens and 32 percent of NRA members support the current ban’s renewal, yet legislators have ignored this.
A new ban – however unrealistic for the near future, considering politicians’ fear of the issue – would make the United States a safer place. Assault weapons are used disproportionately in police officer killings and were also the offending weapons in the Columbine and Washington sniper murders.
A more effective ban needs to cover more weapons and copycat versions – based on the guns’ features rather than names – as well as imported guns, and must freeze sales on those already in circulation.
Clearly, the nation’s lawmakers are ignoring their constituents when it comes to controlling assault weapons – it is their responsibility to protect us, not put us at greater risk of becoming the next gun-violence victims.