Bill Schneider Column March 15, 2009

Obama, get real on 'assault weapons,’ put a cork in AG Eric Holder

I went to my first gun show a couple of weeks ago, but when I wrote about it, I left out the buzz concerning the proposed reauthorization of the federal assault weapons ban. I have a lot to say about it, so I saved it for this column.

For starters, with all the massive messes the Obama administration has to unravel, why is our new president allowing his Attorney General Eric Holder to embark on a meaningless mission to nowhere? And in conflict with his campaign commitments and his party’s plans to stay in power?

Of all the press releases I’ve received from the gun lobby on this issue, I thought the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for firearms manufacturers, had the most reasonable summation. The foundation reminded Congress that “such a ban would cause jobs to be lost in a difficult economy, have no effect on reducing crime and would deprive millions of law-abiding sportsmen and gun owners of their Constitutional right to own the firearm of their choice.”

That sums it up, but I can add one more. It’s a political folly with no chance of passing.

When announcing his plan, Eric Holder justified it by saying we needed to stop American criminals from supplying illegal guns to drug dealers in Mexico.

Wouldn’t that be a laughter to brighten your day during these dismal times, if the attorney general of the United States didn’t actually, apparently, believe it. Be real.

The proposed ban has nothing to do with Mexico.

“The problem of criminals breaking the law to acquire firearms and illegally smuggling them across the border is not remedied by legislation that would violate the rights of Americans to own semi-automatic firearms,” agrees Steve Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation president. “We can only conclude that certain officials (translate: Eric Holder) are waiting for any politically advantageous excuse to announce the intention to seek a new ban on sporting rifles, a ban that would break the president’s campaign promise to gun owners that ‘I’m not going to take away your guns.’ ”

Here’s my summation. Any attempts to reauthorize the assault weapons ban is an impossible mission with no chance of achieving the intended results (i.e. stopping crime) and counterproductive to efforts by politicians, mostly Democrats, to get re-elected.

So why do it? The only answer can be political pay back. All those gun-shy urbanites voted for Obama, and they think the AWB might keep crazies from shooting up schools and malls. Now,
through his attorney general, Obama has to give them something in return.

No matter that we saw no decrease in school or mall shootings or any other gun-related crime
during the ten years (1994-2004) the ban was in effect. And there has been no increase in the five years since it expired.

Is there anything else we need to know about the proposed ban?

As I’ve proved several times in this column, I’m not a gun expert, but I’ve learned one thing. It’s impossible to define an “assault weapon,” ballistically or physically, and when you try, you sweep up commonly used sporting firearms like semiautomatic hunting rifles and pump-action shotguns used for bird hunting and trap shooting, firearms perfectly acceptable to most people, even many serious anti-gunners.

And even if you could define an “assault weapon” in legalese, the manufacturers could and would instantly make subtle design adjustments to land outside of the ban.

(Don’t, incidentally, confuse Holder’s push for the ban with legislation already in Congress, House Resolution 45, ironically sponsored by Bobby Rush, D-Ill, the guy who whopped Obama in his first election. This bill, which requires firearm registration and photographing, fingerprinting and testing for anybody who tries to buy a gun, is another unneeded gun bill that deserves a quick and decisive death.)

Holder’s ban might have a chance of getting a hearing in the House of Representatives. The House could conceivably pass it, but it faces certain death in the Senate, even as a rider on a must-pass spending bill.

So, President Obama, I suggest checking which way the political winds are blowing and then cut your losses before letting fruitless efforts to control gun owners go any further.

As I’ve asserted in the past, we’ve essentially won the war for guns and the Second Amendment. Politicians, including many Democrats, are simply sick of the gun issue and refuse to be put in the politically risky position of having to vote either for or against gun control, knowing they’d suffer the wrath of one side of the issue.

Hence, the extreme unlikelihood of even having a committee vote on the AWB or H.R. 45.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., commonly considered anti-gun, has backed away from prospect of new gun legislation. “On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now,” she announced, surprisingly taking the same position of pro-gun groups.

Witness the recent vote on the new Washington, D.C., gun regulations. In an act of defiance after the Supreme Court overturned the ultra-strict D.C. firearms ordinances in the landmark Heller vs. D.C. case last year, the City Council passed regulations almost as restrictive.

But last week, the U.S. Senate voted 62-36 to overturn those new regs — and with a bipartisan vote.

Twenty-two Democratic senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Dem. Nev.), joined Republicans in sending the big message to the D.C. City Council.

Backers of such sure-to-fail legislative efforts such as an assault weapons ban should consider how counterproductive it can be. With gun sales already through the ceiling even in a bad economy, the threat of new gun-control laws only further boast sales, putting even more guns into circulation.

When and if it gets introduced, perhaps anti-gun groups should title the ban bill the Gun Sales Promotion Act of 2009.

We probably don’t need another reason to spike the ban, but here’s one more. How many segments of our economy are doing well nowadays? Not many, right? One is the firearms industry. So, should Congress pass legislation such as the assault weapons ban to purposely send even more thousands of American workers to the unemployment lines?

“A ban on sporting firearms also would have a severe effect on jobs and the economy,” says the National Shooting Sports Federation. “Sales of semiautomatic rifles have been strong over the last several months — overall sales of firearms have increased as much as 42 percent — and have allowed the firearms industry to withstand, to some extent, the downturn in the economy.”

“These semiautomatic rifles are the most popular rifle in America today and they are largely behind the recent increase in firearms sales,” adds Sanetti. “This is a bright spot in our economy and has helped save jobs in our industry.”

So, Congress, do you really want to slap down one of the few industries still running close to full employment?

I only hope Holder’s pronouncement was merely a token political balloon put out there to appease the gun-hating constituency with no intention to push hard for it. If not, well, I see it as a serious broken promise by Obama who came to the West several times during his campaign and promised hunters and gun owners that they had nothing to fear from him.

President Obama, you have plenty of reasons to not-so-quietly tell Congress to forget about the assault weapons ban and H.R. 45 and put a cork in Eric Holder.

This column originally appeared March 5 on the online NewWest.Net, where Bill Schneider writes a weekly “Wild Bill” column.


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