Gun Control Strategy: Terrorism, Children and 'Scary Looking' Guns

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Phoenix ( - Gun rights activists have noticed a change in tactics on the part of their opponents since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Groups such as the Brady Campaign and the Violence Policy Center are invoking the threat of terrorism, the potential harm to children, and the image of big, fierce-looking guns to sell their gun-control agenda.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the other side has been "making a pathetic, opportunistic attempt to put their failed agenda on the back of this national tragedy," National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told several hundred gun rights activists gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 28 to strategize on gun policy.

A former Clinton administration Justice Department official, Eric Holder, has even "tried to conjure up the image of Osama bin Laden walking around American gun shows," LaPierre reported. And the Brady Campaign has said that terrorists in are exploiting lax firearms laws in the U.S. to stockpile weapons, according to LaPierre.

Some congressional Democrats are on board with the new strategy, says LaPierre, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the judiciary committee, and Senate Democrats Charles (Chuck) Schumer (N.Y.), Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.).

"Gun control as crime control has pretty much been debunked," said Sporting Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute spokesman Jack Adkins, explaining part of the reason for the switch in gun control tactics.

In addition to invoking the threat of terrorism, Adkins said, "Opponents of firearms ownership have now hit on gun control as a so-called safety or child protection issue, re-framing the issue from one of crime to one of 'we need more gun control for the sake of the children.'"

Adkins pointed to recent bills with titles such as the Childproof Handgun Act of 2001, the Child and Safety Act of 2001, the Gun Safety Lock Act, the Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act, and the Children's Firearm Access Prevention Act.

"These bills all deal ... in federal mandates requiring that all new firearms be equipped with integrated locking devices, or they grant Consumer Product Safety Commission powers to ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), or they open the door for gun owners to be held liable when an unauthorized person gains access to an unsecured firearm and subsequently injures someone," Adkins explained.

"No matter how they package it, the ultimate goal is the same: to obstruct, impede, inhibit and eventually prohibit the manufacturing, sale and private ownership of firearms in America," Adkins declared.

In addition to using children as a sales tool, the gun control lobby is also trying to win over public opinion by targeting big, fierce-looking guns, says John Burtt, chairman of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Policy Institute.

The Violence Policy Center "set their sites on the .50 caliber because it's big and scary looking and easy to demonize," said Burtt. "Never mind that the gun has never been used in terrorist activity. Never mind ... that law abiding Americans have been using the .50 caliber for competition and hunting purposes for two decades."

Some worry that other gun owners won't feel a need to rally behind the cause of .50 caliber owners. But Burtt believes it's crucial that they do.

"Our members are...a niche group in the gun community overall, but our fight is on the front lines of gun rights," Burtt told conference attendees.

"The Violence Policy Center effort to ban .50 calibers is just part of the broader effort to go after all of our guns," Burtt warned.

The VPC scored a victory in Los Angeles recently by getting a county council ordinance to ban the .50 caliber BMG. Now the author of that ordinance is running a race he's likely to win for a seat in the state legislature.

In Congress, bills introduced by Feinstein and Illinois Democrat Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich would impose additional restrictions on .50 caliber rifles, treating them like machine guns.

According to Wayne LaPierre, Feinstein has said that "'the only people that would fight for .50 caliber rifles are doomsday cultists, cooks and criminals."

"If they accomplish their agenda to ban the .50 caliber, next timeit will be the 338 or the 30-06 [rifles]," Burtt predicted.

But there are also pro-gun bills pending in Congress, gun rights activists say. The Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act may pass before Congress adjourns in October. Less likely to pass this session is the Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act (S 2268 and HR 2037).

The second set of bills, which are controversial among constitutional scholars, would have the federal government preempt state tort law by prohibiting frivolous lawsuits filed against gun manufacturers by several municipalities across the country.

The lawsuits have alleged that gun manufacturers should be held legally liable for gun violence perpetrated by criminals.