FOREWARD: Welcome to the "mixed signal" Gazette - where both sides of this unfolding story will be hammered to death until the truth is laid before us. Which watering hole will the 'holes' be discussing this subject tonight?
Gun Control Special Report: GOP Will Let Gun Ban Expire
House Won't Act on Assault Weapons
By Jim VandeHei - Washington Post
The Republican-controlled House will not renew the federal ban on Uzis and other semiautomatic weapons, a key leader said yesterday, dealing a significant blow to the campaign to clamp down on gun sales nationwide.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said most House members are willing to let the ban expire next year. "The votes in the House are not there" to continue the ban, he told reporters.
His spokesman, Stuart Roy, said, "We have no intention of bringing it up" for a vote.
As majority leader, DeLay decides which bills are voted on in the House. Because the 1994 assault weapons ban expires next year, the House and Senate must pass legislation to renew it by Sept. 13, 2004. If Congress does not act, the AK-47 and 18 other types of semiautomatic weapons that were outlawed a decade ago by President Clinton and a Democratic-controlled Congress would be legal again, handing a major victory to the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.
Past votes and an NRA survey of lawmakers before the 2002 elections suggest that a majority of House members oppose renewing the ban, GOP officials said. But several Republicans, who requested anonymity, said some pro-gun GOP leaders worry that if members are forced to into a roll call vote, they might switch under pressure from gun control advocates.
President Bush, whose support of the assault weapons ban dates to his 2000 campaign, has drawn rebukes from NRA members and some GOP lawmakers. But several Republicans close to the White House said Bush has no plans to lobby lawmakers aggressively to extend the ban. That would allow him to officially oppose the NRA without completely turning against the powerful gun lobby by fighting to maintain a ban on semiautomatic weapons.
"The White House seems to think that the bill will never reach the President's desk," said a recent alert sent to members of the Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group with close ties to Republicans. "At least that is what top officials are counting on. In pursuing this strategy, they are trying to please both sides and are playing a very
Congressional Republicans said Congress will renew the ban only if Bush publicly and firmly insists. "If the president demands we pass it, that would change the dynamics considerably," a House GOP leadership aide said. "The White House does not want us" to vote.
In a letter to Bush, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) said: "It is now time for us to stand up against the unconstitutional gun-grabbing and help our nation in this time of great need by allowing law-abiding citizens to use the weapon of their choice."
It is unclear how much pressure Bush and congressional Republicans will be under to bring up the volatile gun issue, especially in the 2004 election year. While many leading Senate and House Democrats are pushing legislation to renew the ban, the issue is not sharply partisan.
Many rural and southern Democrats, including a few who voted for the ban in 1994, oppose its renewal and reflect a notable shift in the politics of guns over the past decade. An aide to a Senate Democrat who voted for the ban in 1994 and faces reelection next year said many Democrats "hope it never comes up."
The reason for the turnabout is rooted, in part, in the fallout of the 1994 vote and Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign loss.
In 1994, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate narrowly passed the ban on the sale and possession of 19 semiautomatic rapid-fire guns and ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds. Proponents of the ban said those weapons and copycat versions that do not fall under the ban are frequently used in violent crimes, including the deaths of scores of law enforcement officials. Opponents said the ban violates the constitutional right to bear arms.
In May 1994, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Clinton-backed gun ban by two votes. A few months later, House Speaker Thomas Foley (Wash.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (Tex.) and several other Democrats who supported the ban were voted out of office after the NRA and other gun activists targeted them in a political campaign.
The NRA's power ebbed and flowed throughout the rest of the 1990s, hitting a high-water mark after Gore's narrow loss in 2000. Gore lost gun rights bastions such as Arkansas, West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee, in part, some Democratic analysts believe, because he was seen as hostile to gun owners. In this year's first debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, only Al Sharpton vigorously endorsed
the registration and licensing of handguns.
Most congressional Democratic leaders and presidential candidates strongly support the assault weapons ban and appear ready to wage a public fight over an issue they believe may pack a political punch with independents and women, in particular. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently introduced legislation that would extend the Clinton gun ban with only minor modifications. If the House rejects the renewal, however, Senate action will not matter.
In the House, Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced a tougher bill last week that would ban a larger number of guns. "I don't want to put my members in any trouble. But if we actually face this, the American people [will support] keeping assault weapons from going back on the street," McCarthy said.
Source: Washington Post