BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The expiration Monday of a 10-year federal ban on assault
weapons means firearms like AK-47s, Uzis and TEC-9s can now be legally bought
- a development that has critics upset and gun owners pleased.
The 1994 ban, signed by former President Bill Clinton, outlawed 19 types of
military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless
Congress specifically reauthorized it, which it did not.
Studies done by pro- and antigun groups as well as the Justice Department show
conflicting results on whether the ban helped reduce crime. Loopholes allowed
manufacturers to keep many weapons on the market simply by changing their names
or altering some of their features or accessories.
Gun shop owners said the expiration of the ban will have little effect on the
types of guns and accessories that are typically sold and traded across their
counters every day.
At the Boise Gun Co., gunsmith Justin Davis last week grabbed up a black plastic
rifle resembling the U.S. military's standard issue M-16 from a row of more
than a dozen similar weapons stacked against a wall.
The civilian version of the gun, a Colt AR-15 manufactured before 1994, could
be sold last week just as easily as it can be sold this week. "It shoots
exactly the same ammo at exactly the same rate of fire," said Davis.
Many states - including California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii - have
passed their own laws curbing the use of assault weapons. Some of those are
more stringent than the federal ban.
U.S. Representative Butch Otter, an Idaho Republican, trumpeted the end of
the federal law.
"President Clinton's so-called 'assault weapons' ban was nothing more
than a sop to antigun liberals," Otter said Friday in a written statement.
"It provided only the illusion of reducing gun violence, but it did real
damage to our liberties."
But advocates for the ban, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence,
point to some particularly vicious shootings in which military-style weapons
were used - including the 10 killings in the sniper shooting spree that terrorized
residents in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in 2002.
National police organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs
of Police, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and the Fraternal
Order of Police all support the renewal of the ban. President Bush has said
he would sign such a bill if Congress passed it.
Idaho State Police spokesman Rick Ohnsman said troopers have had no significant
problems with assault style weapons and his agency has not taken a position
for or against the federal legislation.
"Of course, the legitimate owners of guns register them. Unfortunately,
whether there is a ban or not, some individuals will find ways to get weapons
that are illegal."
The expiration of the assault weapons ban does not mean the end of federal
background checks. The 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act is separate
legislation from the assault weapons ban, said Daniel Wells, chief of the FBI
unit charged with overseeing the background checks system.
"The change in law relating to assault weapons has no impact on the Brady
Law," Wells said.
Davis predicted the biggest change in his business will be the ability of manufacturers
and importers to market higher capacity ammunition magazines - the removable
"clip" that holds and feeds bullets through guns.
Under the 1994 ban, the maximum capacity of a magazine was set at 10 rounds.
That sent the price of high-capacity magazines through the roof, Davis said,
even though magazines manufactured before the ban were protected by a "grandfather"
provision and could still be sold.
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Now, some gun manufacturers are planning to give away high-capacity magazines
as bonuses for buying their weapons. Sales of formerly banned gun accessories,
such as flash suppressors and folding stocks, are also expected to take off.