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President Bush’s stated support for the renewal of a controversial “assault weapons” law passed during the Clinton administration has caused anxiety and consternation among a spate of gun groups, gun owners and fellow Republicans.

“I was surprised and disappointed to learn of the report of the president’s support for continuing the ban on homeland security rifles, aka semi-auto rifles,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. “I am also puzzled. Why would George Bush want to help Democrats? The issue, when it was opposed by most Republicans, cost Democrats the House in 1994 and the White House in 2000.

“Banning the homeland-security rifle is pure Washington, but anti-Constitution and anti-homeland security,” Pratt said.

White House officials did not immediately respond to requests from WorldNetDaily to clarify the president’s position. According to administration spokesman Scott McClellan, Bush “supports the current law, and he supports reauthorization of the current law,” Knight-Ridder newspapers reported Saturday.

Legal analysts say gun groups may end up on the positive end of things. Congress – dominated by pro-gun-rights Republicans – may simply fail to reauthorize the law, which is set to expire in September 2004 just weeks before the November elections.

Jeff Deist, a spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, typified that position. He said his boss does not support the 1994 law and would not support a reauthorization of it.

National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre hinted White House support may be unnecessary.

“Ultimately, I think this issue is going to be decided by the Congress,” LaPierre said.

But gun-rights groups do worry about Bush’s position should Congress vote on a new bill to extend the current law. One such measure, reports said, will be introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., an original Senate sponsor of the 1994 legislation that banned importation and manufacture of certain types of semi-automatic rifles and limited magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

Then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., led the effort to pass the bill in the House; Schumer is now a U.S. senator from New York.

During his 2000 campaign, Bush said he supported the current ban but was not clear on whether he would back an extension of the law. And in recent testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General John Ashcroft – traditionally a gun-rights supporter – would not say whether the administration supported an extension. Instead, he quoted from a 1999 Justice Department report that found the ban’s impact on violent crime wasn’t clear.

Despite the potential setback, gun rights groups got a reprieve last week when the House overwhelmingly passed legislation protecting gun manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits. As WorldNetDaily reported, lawmakers passed the measure 285-140, with most Republicans backing it, while Democrats were split.

“We shouldn’t use the judicial process to bankrupt an industry that makes a legal product,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, upon the bill’s passage.

“I am happy with the strong bipartisan support of this vote,” said the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox. “This common-sense measure has the support of the White House and the support of the majority of members in both chambers. The United States House of Representatives sent a clear message to gun-ban groups that they cannot circumvent the legislative process in their efforts to advance their political agenda.”

Current events could also shape the political aspects of the gun debate, according to Independent Institute research fellow and FoxNews.com columnist Wendy McElroy. In a column today, she wrote that considering more women were serving in today’s military, “an unprecedented number of Gen-Next women have overcome their mothers’ aversion to guns.”

“The underlying facts of the gun debate remain much the same as before Sept. 11 and the war. The award-winning criminologist professor Gary Kleck states that firearms are used defensively 2.5 million times a year,” McElroy said. “Forty-eight percent of those incidents involve women defending themselves; most of the time a shot is not fired. The conclusion: Women benefit from gun ownership.”

Related story:

House passes gun suit immunity bill

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