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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004
 

Kerry ducks and covers on assault weapons


The Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum's piece today, In Swing States, Kerry Reaches for the Gun Votes, does not mention them.

There are two elements to the assault weapons issue:

Firstly, and most immediate, the existing ban expires on September 13 - and Congress (the Senate, at least) only reconvenes on September 7 [1].

Kerry is on record many times as supporting the renewal of the ban; it was part of his attack on Howard Dean back in the primaries [2]: there was an exchange of fire with Cheney in April.

But it seems that the ban will expire: apparently Speaker Dennis Hastert blamed the lack of movement in the House on the fact that the Senate had opposed the renewal. Which ain't necessarily so. Manque de sérieux or what!

And what will be left is the blame game: and, the suggestion is, gun control has less salience now than in 1994, with reduced crime levels, and terrorism and war fears to cope with. Plus some Dems, like Rep Chris John (LA Senate candidate) take the NRA line.

But - and this is the second element - the assault weapons ban is apparently not as effective as it might be:
"Our position on the current law is that it has been ineffective because the industry immediately found ways around the ban," said Kristin Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based gun-control advocacy group.

"We don't support a simple renewal of the ban, because what has happened in the assault-weapon marketplace is that virtually every gun banned in the '94 law has come back in the market in so-called post-ban configuration," she said.


Thus Frank Lautenberg sponsored - and John Kerry co-sponsored - S 1431 which would not only have continued the assault weapons ban but made it smarter. The bill has, needless to say, sunk without trace.

Kerry, it seems, is not going further than supporting a renewal of the existing ban. The Platform (p22a) says
We will protect Americans' Second Amendment right to own firearms, and we will keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists by fighting gun crime, reauthorizing the assault weapons ban, and closing the gun show loophole, as President Bush proposed and failed to do.
Our Plan for America does not mention assault weapons.

From what I can see, Kerry has rowed back from S 1431, and is generally keeping his head down on the assault weapons issue, preferring NRA-friendly photo ops holding more mainstream ordnance.

All very sensible: the DEWDROPs aren't going to put him under any pressure, if they've got any sense. (One or two Deaniacs, perhaps, with long memories about Kerry's charging their man with being an NRA stooge.) And the media, for the moment, is not inclined to be picky about Kerry flip-flops, at least, if the Vaughn Ververs hypothesis is correct (August 6).

You can't help wondering what a President Kerry would actually do about gun-control; if the Dems win the trifecta, would Kerry be pressing House and Senate leaderships for an early vote on a new S1431? Or would he even prioritise a fresh ban under the old terms?

  1. The last time (so far as I'm aware) the matter came before the Senate, on March 3, the Feinstein Amendment to S 1805 was passed (Kerry and Edwards voted for the amendment), but, as explained here, the bill was subsequently scuttled - the roll call invites parsing.

  2. I note by the way Kerry supposedly in November:
    discussed the need to revamp the country's strategy in dealing with the drug problem, focusing more on treatment and prevention.

    "We do not have a legitimate war on drugs in America," he said.


MORE

For neophytes like me to the weird and wonderful world of US gun law, the assault weapons ban is PL 103-322 (HR 3355) §110101ff, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, codified as 18 USC 922 (v). The whole act was entitled the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

From this should be distinguished what is commonly called PL 103-159 (HR 1025), the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, codified as 18 USC 922 (s).

Just in case I need refer to either again.

A 16,000 word 1994 paper on the history of gun control laws in the US looks promising.


STILL MORE (August 13)

A KR piece provides some colour, in confirmation of Kerry's throttling back on gun control.

In fact, according to KR, gun control is no longer in the Dem lexicon: it's the NRA-friendly gun safety.

And John Breaux is - well, I'd say crowing, though a wise crow would stay clear of Kerry campaigning with a piece in his hands. Which he's been doing a good deal, apparently - about how the candidate had come round to his way of thinking on the issue.

Breaux says
Democrats understand that in many places 'gun control' means 'steady aim.'

A touch of the old Kingfish sense of humour, perhaps?


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