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Jewish World Review August 12, 2004 / 25 Menachem-Av 5764

Jill "J.R." Labbe

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The gun-law sky is falling? | Chicken Little arrives every four years in a feather-ruffled flurry squawking about some kind of impending doom. This year she is incited to a level of hen-ish hysteria by the encroaching expiration of the federal "assault weapons" ban.

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is all for extending the ban on 19 military-style firearms, coos Chicken Little. He suspended his campaign back in March so he could go to Washington and cast one of the few Senate votes he found time to make in the past year. No one should read anything political into that.

But that bad ol' President Bush, clucks the harried hen, he said he'd sign an extension of the ban, but he isn't doing anything to force those nasty, gun-loving, NRA-co-opted Republicans to bring it to a vote.

Chickie needs to pipe down and revisit what the president did say about the ban, adopted by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1994. Bush said he'd sign the extension if it made it to his desk. He never promised to pressure lawmakers into getting it to that point.

This is just one more example of how hysteria and ignorance can warp understanding of an issue.

The uninformed make audacious claims: "If the ban expires, it will become legal to buy dangerous, rapid-fire guns most commonly seen in action movies."

First, all firearms are dangerous, which is why it is so important to teach children never to think they are toys. But this line from a Statesman Journal editorial, which ran last month in the Salem, Ore., newspaper, equates the firearms covered by the ban with machine guns.

Even if the ban is lifted, John Q. Schnutz still will not be able to purchase fully automatic machine guns, which are highly regulated.

"A tidal wave of assault weapons will soon legally flood the country unless Congress acts quickly to renew expiring federal legislation," screamed the editorial page of Utah's Deseret Sun last month. "Just what we don't need - more opportunities for deadlier weapons to fall into the hands of criminals - and more `play toys' to attract our children's attention."

Gracious. Dilute that rhetoric with some facts, and you find that the guns banned under the Federal Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 are no deadlier than my .22-250 deer rifle.

Chickadees, let's take a breath and do some fact-checking on what the "assault weapons" ban did and did not do.

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The 1994 crime bill forbade the manufacture and import of certain guns that Congress defined as "assault weapons."

These firearms were classified by how they looked and not by how they operate. Cosmetic and ergonomic features like telescoping stocks, bayonet lugs, pistol grips and flash suppressors that give the firearms a military-style appearance were banned even though they are mechanically indistinguishable from traditional sporting rifles.

The provision that banned "high-capacity" ammunition magazines is also scheduled to expire Sept. 13, although the House bill calling for the ban's extension does not mention high-capacity magazines.

The ban did NOT outlaw ownership of semi-automatic guns. Banned "assault weapons" have always been available on the secondary market, and owners of those guns don't break any law by reselling them.

The fact that you don't have to wear body armor and take your kids to school behind a bulletproof shield proves that the preponderance of America's gun owners are responsible, law-abiding people with no interest in committing crime.

Calling these guns the "weapons of choice for criminals" and "weapons whose only purpose is to kill people" reveals deliberate denial of reality. A National Institute of Justice study released in 1999 - gee, who was president then? - said exactly the opposite. "Assault weapons" were rarely used to commit murder in this country.

As to the emotion-laden "kill people" assertion: Shooting enthusiasts use military-style firearms to "kill" nothing more than pieces of paper or metal targets. Easy to operate, reliable and accurate, they make sport and competitive shooting fun.

Of course, the anti-gunners cite those same characteristics as something purely evil.

It is interesting to note that Kerry is not as vocal as his more enthusiastic supporters on this issue.

Rural voters in those all-important swing states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania own guns. Some of them view extending the ban as a step toward more restrictive gun laws that might next target that trusty ol' deer rifle - which operates exactly like those dreaded "assault weapons."

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JWR contributor Jill "J.R." Labbe is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Star-Telegram . Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Jill "J.R." Labbe