A coalition of “no compromise” gun-rights groups are drawing a line in the sand and putting federal politicians on notice: Any lawmaker who votes to reauthorize the current ban against so-called “assault weapons” risks losing gun owners’ votes forever.
“The result of the fight to sunset the gun ban could set the tone for the next decade, if not century, and we intend to win it,” says a statement issued by the coalition. “We are putting every politician on notice: Vote for reauthorization, and you lose gun owners’ votes forever. This vote is, indeed, the line in the sand.”
The current ban, passed as part of a major crime bill early in the first Clinton administration, came with a 10-year sunset provision, meaning it will expire in September 2004 – just weeks before the next general election. Earlier this month, President Bush, through White House spokesman Scott McClellan, said he not only supported the current ban but backed reauthorization of it.
In doing so, the president has touched off a firestorm of protest from gun owners and gun-rights organizations, many of whom believe they helped tip the balance for Bush in his close election against former Vice President Al Gore in 2000. And without their support, gun owners believe Bush may suffer next year, especially if the contest is close once more.
The alliance, which bills itself as the Coalition Against the Semi-Auto Ban and is a project of the National Association for Gun Rights, says it is comprised of “no-compromise firearms-rights organizations representing gun owners from every state in the union.” It’s mission “is to defeat the reauthorization of the unconstitutional ‘assault weapons ban’ in Congress.”
“No political career is more important than the rights for which our forefathers fought and died,” the statement said. “We will win, and we will remember those who vote against us – and repay them in kind.”
Angel Shamaya, founder and head of KeepAndBearArms.com, a pro-gun website organizing the assembly of gun groups, says while small now the coalition is sure to grow.
“The current list of members of our coalition is actually much smaller than it will be once many groups come back from meetings with their boards,” he told WorldNetDaily. “Philosophically and technically, the group is three times as big as our roster shows – and the list of members will reflect that fact very soon.”
But there is support for a continuation of the ban in some congressional and law-enforcement quarters. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. – the two lawmakers primarily responsible for pushing the original ban through Congress a decade ago – have praised Bush for his stance and say they will introduce new legislation to extend the ban.
Also, Steve Lenkart, spokesman for the Virginia-based International Brotherhood of Police Officers – the largest police union in the AFL-CIO – told the Times-Picayune newspaper that a recent shooting at a New Orleans high school proves the ban should remain in effect. A semi-automatic AK-47-type rifle manufactured in China in 1991 was used April 14 to kill a McDonogh Senior High School student. Though a handgun was also used in the shooting, in which three other students were wounded, the rifle has garnered more attention. It was legal to import the rifle in 1991, but isn’t today.
The recent school shooting is “clear evidence that these military-style weapons have no place in a peaceful community and especially not within the halls and gymnasiums of our public schools,” said Lenkart.
“Schools should be safe havens,” said Judy McAlister, a New Orleans mom and a volunteer with the anti-gun group Million Mom March. “It is horrifying that assault weapons are killing American children in our schools. But it’s also shocking that extremist gun supporters are lobbying to allow more of these weapons onto our streets.”
Reports said the McDonogh shooting was gang-related.
“As a former U.S. Marine,” added Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “I have fired assault weapons – and there is no legitimate civilian use for these weapons.
“There is no good reason – no defensible reason – to turn back the clock and allow assault weapons to be on the streets,” Barnes said.
Gun-rights groups say they agree such weapons should not be misused, adding they don’t support the criminal abuse of any firearm. And, they point out, federal and state laws were on the books prior to 1994 to punish such armed criminal actions. Also, they note that the FBI’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that such weapons are used in less than 1 percent of all gun crimes.
Pro-gun groups have said repealing the ban is a legal issue as important as all other constitutional questions.
Kevin Starrett, director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, a coalition member, said, “Few attacks on the rights of Americans have been more onerous and blatantly unconstitutional than the 1994 ban on modern rifles and ammunition magazines.”
“The most cursory reading of the Second Amendment and [relevant Supreme Court decisions] shows that it is, in fact, military firearms that are protected by the Constitution and common sense,” Starrett said. “President Bush’s recent indication that he supports extending this dangerous, pointless and unconstitutional law is a very serious concern to our group.”
Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado’s largest gun-rights group, agrees, saying the issue “is important to gun owners because it is the first real ban on a class of firearms.”
“Regulations on firearms are bad enough, but an outright ban goes even further – and it hasn’t reduced crime one bit,” he told WorldNetDaily.
Brown also said the alliance wasn’t going to waste its efforts.
“The coalition is not going to target politicians whose vote we have no chance of changing,” he said. “We’re going to use grass-roots pressure against vulnerable politicians who really should be voting pro-gun but have had no pressure by the institutional gun lobbies.
“Our message to them is simple as well: Vote for this ban, or a compromise on it, and you lose gun owners’ votes forever. There will be no ‘kissing and making up,'” Brown said.
“At its best, the 1994 ban on certain semi-automatic firearms and magazines has been ineffective,” said F. Paul Valone, chairman of Grass Roots North Carolina, another coalition member. “At its worst, the ban undermines both the ability of citizens to protect themselves against post-9-11 threats, and the deterrent effect of gun ownership on small-scale terrorist threats such as shootings or suicide bombings.”
Shamaya extended an invitation to all gun groups to join the coalition, but with conditions.
“We’re inviting gun-rights organizations to join us if, and only if, they are willing to go after any politician who sells us out by supporting this Clinton/Feinstein gun ban,” said Shamaya.
“Furthermore, any gun-rights group that sells out on this issue is going to be treated like an enemy thereafter – even if they think we’re ‘mostly’ allies,” he said. “We aren’t engaged in a popularity contest here. We’re engaged in a battle for freedom, and we’re playing to win and to cause lots of political pain for any who oppose us.”
In a statement released yesterday, the Libertarian Party, the nation’s third-largest political party, said Bush’s desire to reauthorize the weapons ban was a blow to national security.
“Politicians who want to disarm vulnerable Americans at a time like this are a threat to homeland security,” said Geoffrey Neale, Libertarian Party chairman. “The government simply can’t protect every one, all the time, but at least it can allow Americans to protect themselves.”
LP officials say banning guns sends the wrong message to potential terrorists: that Americans are more vulnerable and less secure.
“Of course, an assault weapon may never be used to thwart a terrorist assault,” Neale said. “But if overturning this gun ban saves just one life, it will have been worthwhile.”
Supporters of the ban disagree.
“President Bush needs to show leadership in reauthorizing the assault-weapons ban nationwide, and Congress needs to do the right thing for our families,” said Million Mom March founder Donna Dees-Thomases.
The White House has yet to comment further on the reauthorization of the ban.