Gun Control Advocates Urge Politicians to 'Rethink' Gun Policies

By Roch Hammond | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - As time runs out for Congress to renew the federal "assault weapons" ban, gun control advocates on Thursday urged politicians to "rethink" how they view American attitudes toward gun issues.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence claims that advocating gun control did not cost the Democrats in the 2000 presidential election, as some pundits say it did, and the group argues that most Americans favor renewing the gun ban.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence commissioned a series of surveys in ten states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota) between April and July 2004.

The surveys measured public opinion about renewing and strengthening the federal ban on sales and importation of "assault weapons" - semiautomatic weapon with certain military-style cosmetic features -- which is set to expire on Sept. 13 unless Congress passes legislation extending the ban.

Notably, the surveys focused not only on voters in general, but also on groups including union members, gun owners, NASCAR fans, and members of the National Rifle Association -- all perceived as being overwhelmingly opposed to gun-control measures.

Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates conducted the surveys for the Consumer Federation of America and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

Those surveys found that on the whole, more than 60 percent of respondents in each of the ten states supported renewing the "assault weapons" ban; and more than 64 percent strongly favored renewal in nine of the ten states.

In seven of the ten states, more than half of NRA members favored renewing the ban, the surveys said. At least six in ten union households favored renewal. Over 60 percent of military families also supported renewing the ban.

At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, Joshua Horowitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said he hoped the finding would encourage policy makers to "rethink" their views on how America views the gun issue.

Horowitz also said that it is time to move forward from 2000 and ensure that the assault weapons ban is renewed. "Two months from now, the ban on [assault weapons] will expire. That means that new AR-15s, Tec 9s and Mac 11s will be back on America's streets," he warned.

Horowitz also accused President Bush of reneging on his word to uphold the ban and not living up to the label of "compassionate conservatism" he touted in 2000.

After quoting Bush's statement from the campaign trail - that "assault weapons have no place around our society" -- Horowitz said, "We've seen the hard-right conservatism, we're still waiting for the passion."

At the same press conference, former NRA strategist Robert Ricker claimed that in opposing the "assault weapons" ban, the "800-pound gorilla" NRA has tried to "steamroll" legislators who support the ban, and other gun control measures.

Ricker, who resigned from the NRA in 1999, has drawn the ire of his former colleagues, who consider him a turncoat for his recent testimony against gun manufacturers.

It was pointed out to Ricker that though gun control advocates claim that assault weapons are used disproportionately in violent crime and that their prohibition has reduced crime, two Bureau of Justice Statistics studies, and a great deal of additional studies indicate the ban has had virtually no effect on crime.

In response Ricker said, "...If you take [assault weapons] out of the mix, and compare them to [other guns] see a far greater number of crimes committed with these guns."

The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2001 found that just two percent of violent felons in federal prisons used a "shotgun" in committing their crimes, and the same goes for just 2.4 percent of those detained in state prisons.

"Shotgun" includes military-style semi-automatics covered by the federal ban.

By contrast, 15.3 percent of those in state prisons, and 12.8 percent of violent offenders in federal prisons committed crimes with "handguns."

Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Frankel (D), a politician in a state that has the third-most members of the National Rifle Association, said Pennsylvania is proof positive that gun owners hold more discriminating attitudes toward firearms.

"Quite frankly, gun owners are not the caricature that both sides of the gun debate sometimes frame them as," Frankel said.

Frankel added, "You'd be hard pressed to find any Pennsylvania family on the hunt for deer or turkey with an Uzi in hand."

Frankel, who represents a district in Western Pennsylvania that has traditionally favored Republicans and has many hunters and gun owners, said Pennsylvanians want to see a "balance" between gun rights and gun safety.

He also pointed to Ed Rendell's victory as governor of Pennsylvania, despite his expressed position during the 2002 campaign to limit handgun purchases to one a month. Additionally, Frankel announced a plan to introduce state legislation similar to the federal "assault weapons" ban.

When asked what the Second Amendment meant and what its purpose was, Frankel and the others at Thursday's press conference evaded the question. Instead, they claimed the ban was constitutional and they highlighted Attorney General Ashcroft's testimony on January 17, 2001, when he expressed support for the ban.

"...I would be pleased to move forward [President Bush's expressed position on the ban], and to support that as a policy of this president and as a policy of the Justice Department," Ashcroft stated.

Erich Pratt, the director of communications at Gun Owners of America, believes the ban is unconstitutional. "The Second Amendment says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed and this certainly does that."

Pratt also points to the term "assault weapons," saying it is intended to invoke fear. He called the term a "big farce" sold by the "antis" to get the ban passed.

NRA Spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs says the ban on semiautomatic weapons with certain cosmetic features is ineffective: "We've seen, not only in the U.S. but in other countries, gun bans do nothing to reduce crime."

Enacted ten years ago, on Sept. 13, 1994, the federal semi-automatic weapons ban required domestic gun manufacturers to stop the production of weapons with certain "military-style" characteristics, such as flash suppressors and bayonet mounts, as well as ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds (except for military or police use).

Bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), would extend the current ban on the manufacture and importation of those weapons for an additional 10 years.

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