Federal Assault Weapons Ban Expires
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JIM LEHRER: Now, the assault weapons ban. The ten-year-old law expires at midnight tonight. It outlaws 19 types of military- style semiautomatic assault weapons, as well as ammunition clips holding more than ten rounds.
Republican congressional leaders declined to bring reauthorizing legislation to the floor for debate or vote, saying there were not enough votes to pass it.
We get reaction to the end of the ban now from two very different perspectives. Gil Kerlikowske is chief of the Seattle Police Department. Wayne LaPierre is executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association. Chief Kerlikowske, first, what is your reading of what the impact of the failure to extend this ban is going to be?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think it sends a terrible signal to America’s law enforcement officers. This was a ban that ten years ago was put into place because of chiefs and sheriffs and the legitimate organizations that represent line officers and deputies.
I think it also sends a terrible message to America’s communities. The last thing we need are more military-style assault weapons on the streets of this country.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any question in your mind, Chief, that the lifting of the ban will in fact cause that to happen? There will be more of these weapons going on the streets?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: There’s no question that there will be more weapons on the streets. Right now, the companies are taking orders in advance of the sunset provision.
We know that people will buy them and that unfortunately they will get stolen from their homes and out of their cars. And they are going to proliferate on our streets.
JIM LEHRER: And the end result of that proliferation would be what in your opinion?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: A couple of things: One is that our law enforcement officers, my officers in Seattle, the others around this country, face enough danger right now.
They do not need to face the additional danger of additional weapons. We also know that when the family gun becomes an assault weapon, then that’s the gun that’s going to be stolen and will get out on our streets.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. LaPierre, do you challenge what the chief just said?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Well, I do. I mean we strongly support America’s police. NRA is one of the largest police organizations in the country. We have tens of thousands of members.
We have 11,000 law enforcement instructors but from what I hear from both our law enforcement constituency and our gun-owning constituency is this ban was misrepresented from the very start back in ’94.
People were told that this involved firearms with rapid fire. That’s not true. It made bigger holes. That’s not true. They were weapons of war. That’s not true. The truth is the firearms on this ban list shoot no different than any other gun that they didn’t ban. All those rapid-fire guns and everything like that are under the 1934 machine gun law.
JIM LEHRER: People who don’t know guns — a semiautomatic weapon you have to pull the trigger each time to make it go.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: That’s correct.
JIM LEHRER: But if it’s a… one of these assault weapons if it has enough rounds you can go, go, go, go almost like it’s automatic, right?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Well, you have to pull the trigger each time to make it shoot.
JIM LEHRER: Depending on how many rounds you have in the magazine. Go ahead. Just make the distinction between: The machine gun you hold your finger and pull the trigger and it keeps shooting.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: That’s what our soldiers use. That’s the type of guns. I mean, what happened on this is when they tried to draft the definition in ’94, there was no way they could define the gun based on way it shoots because we weren’t talking about machine guns, and the guns they wanted to get at are no different from the guns they didn’t in terms of how they shoot.
So they came up with this crazy definition that said, well, if a gun has more than two cosmetic features on it, then we’re going to ban it.
JIM LEHRER: Such as what?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Such as a flask suppressor, a handle a certain way, a bayonet mount or lug or something like that, that has nothing to do with the performance characteristic of the firearm. It’s simply a cosmetic accessory like a hood ornament on a car.
And it means nothing in the real world. The same guns have been marketed the last ten years just without the cosmetic accessories. All you’re going to be able to buy tomorrow is a cosmetic accessory. The same guns have been there for the last ten years.
JIM LEHRER: So you challenge what the chief said, that this is going to proliferate the use of these weapons, the buying and selling of these weapons and putting them on the streets of America?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Completely. I mean tomorrow morning there’s not one firearm that’s going to be available that’s more powerful, makes bigger holes, rapid fire, that shoots any different than any gun that was available a week ago in terms of the performance characteristics of the gun.
JIM LEHRER: Chief, what’s your response to that, sir?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Well, Wayne and I have very different opinions of what cosmetic is. Let me tell you what a flash suppressor does.
If a police officer is under fire from an assault weapon and that weapon has a flash suppressor, he or she can’t tell where that round is coming from. You know, yesterday….
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Because no fire is coming out of the barrel, right? You can’t see it?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Exactly. It helps to conceal the muzzle flash and so yesterday when a Miami/Dade police officer was assaulted and wounded, shot twice, her car riddled with bullets from an assault weapon, it would be difficult to see– it was 2:30 in the morning — where that fire could be coming from.
A pistol grip helps to stabilize a military-style weapon when it is being fired rapidly. I completely agree that these are not fully automatic weapons. And you did a very good job of explaining that. But a folding stock is not a cosmetic effect.
A folding stock is something that can be used to help conceal that, make that weapon shorter and put it under a coat. So I can’t buy the cosmetic effect at all.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. LaPierre, what could be the sports use of a flash suppressor? Why is that a problem for you all?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: It’s just an accessory that some people put on the gun.
JIM LEHRER: You heard what the chief said. The chief said….
WAYNE LA PIERRE: But I don’t see that in the real world. I mean, it’s a way in my opinion to argue about firearms as opposed to argue about prosecuting violent felons, enforcing existing gun laws, taking them off the streets, building the prisons, all the things that I hear from rank-and-file police officers are what really has brought the crime rates down in this country for the last ten years.
I mean, we can argue about guns all day. I don’t think it gets you anywhere.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s reverse the question then. What harm was the ban doing?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: It’s not a question of harm. It’s a question of it was a meaningless ban. It involved only cosmetics.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean if it only meant cosmetics, then what was the problem in keeping it on — if the police chiefs of America thought it was a good idea?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Well, because I think it’s just a meaningless, cosmetic nonsense law. I mean it was lied into law in the first place by giving the people the impression you were talking about machine guns and when a lie is discovered, it doesn’t get renewed.
And I believe that’s what happened in Congress. There’s a clear majority of Democrats and Republicans in the House that have come to believe this is not only bad law but it’s bad politics.
JIM LEHRER: Chief, what is your reading of why this law did not get extended?
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Well, one is it’s been off the radar screen. We’ve had the law in effect for ten years. It requires Congress do nothing in order for this law to pass on that sunset provision. That’s one reason in particular. Two is that in a post 9/11 environment, we have been absolutely consumed with terrorism.
Let me just mention that in an al-Qaida training manual that was seized, they talk about being able to use America’s lax gun laws to obtain a weapon here such as– and I quote from that– an AK-47 style weapon so there’s been a lot going on in this world, in this country, and I think that people just didn’t recognize that this thing was going to come to pass. Sadly it is.
JIM LEHRER: Chief, what do you say to Mr. LaPierre’s basic thing, that this was a meaningless law, anyhow? I mean it was a lie in effect because it didn’t really accomplish what a lot of people thought it did –
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Let’s talk about that for just a second. One is that in 1994 when President Reagan, President Carter, President Ford wrote to the House of Representatives and urged them to do something, which is what should be done right now, in fact, by our president, urged them to pass this, they said that this law will not stop all crime.
They said, listen to America’s law enforcement and listen to the American people. That’s an important point.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. LaPierre, how do you respond to that? I mean, all these former presidents — many of them, you know, hardly gun-control freaks did urge this law to be passed.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: There was so much misinformation talking about machine guns, weapons of war, rapid fire. I mean, they probably thought that that’s the type of gun they were talking about and they weren’t. I mean, we really talk to rank-and-file officers every day. I don’t hear this.
I view that with all due respect to the chief that coalition of big city police chiefs has been in favor of every gun control bill for the last ten years. I’ve come to believe that they’ll go all the way to a European-style gun law where honest people basically have lost their right to own a firearm.
And there’s a profound disagreement between, I believe, the attitude of the big city chiefs on a lot of this, that gun control, gun control, gun control and the rank-and-file that go prosecute, confront the criminals, build the prisons, use the gun laws on the books to 100 percent prosecute a felon when you catch a gun and really take the hard step measures at solving the crime problem.
JIM LEHRER: Chief, you were shaking your head when Mr. LaPierre–
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: I am shaking my head. Number one, the International Association of Chiefs of Police represents something like 16,000 police chiefs.
When we were at the Dirksen Senate Office Building last week to talk about this, let me tell you, there were police chiefs and elected sheriffs from very, very small police departments across this country. You know, I have a mother in Florida that is 80 years old. You know what? She has a handgun.
Banning guns, taking guns away, it is not on anyone’s radar screen. This is not a slippery slope issue. Machine guns have been banned since the 1930s. Nothing has changed. We haven’t made any attempt to remove guns. This weapon ban has been in effect for ten years. I have not heard one thing from any of my colleagues, big city or small, that says, look, we need to do something more about handguns.
This is a narrow and specific law to deal with military-style weapons that are not only used to assault police officers, used by gang bangers but also used to assault people in our communities. And, you know, we’re the ones sworn to protect those communities.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. LaPierre.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Let me give you the next step. The chief will be there with the same coalition and the same rhetoric supporting it.
Sen. Kerry held up that Remington 1187 shotgun the other day in West Virginia, proud to be a sportsman, proud to be owning the gun, trying to convince people he’s a big gun owner. He is a co-sponsor of the next step which is Sen. Lautenberg’s bill which gives the government the authority to ban any firearm that the police or military have owned and….
JIM LEHRER: But just to the specific….
WAYNE LA PIERRE: He’s calling it an assault weapon bill – the same way they’re calling this. He’s using the same rhetoric to describe it as this.
What it bans is the 1187 pump shotgun that he was holding up in West Virginia.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean you just disregard or do not put credence in what the chief and he says 16,000 other police chiefs say about this elected sheriffs.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: I talk to rank-and-file police everyday. I’m just telling you, I had three of them stop me yesterday and they pulled me aside and said, Wayne, you guys keep going because those guys don’t speak for us.
The same guns, there’s no difference in the performance characteristics of the ones that they ban, this ones they didn’t. There’s not a gun going on the market tomorrow that’s more powerful than what was there a week ago.
JIM LEHRER: All right, Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Thank you.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you.