Real story on assault weapon ban
September 14, 2004
I wasn’t too happy to see the assault-weapons ban expire, and most everything I had seen tended to blame its lapse on George W. Bush.
But at the suggestion of Eric Robinson, I went back to factcheck.org, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, to see the real story.
As usual, most of what you’ve seen and heard is political spin. Some of it, like an ad from Moveon, is blatantly false.
So I feel an obligation to try to sort it out. Eric asked that the Nevada Appeal find a way to publish all the fact-checking done by fact-check.org, which is a good idea. I don’t know if we’ll get everything, but I can try to hit the highlights.
The assault-weapons ban is one of them. The ad from Moveon “is about as misleading as it can be,” says factcheck.org.
The ad refers to machine guns that can fire “up to 300 rounds per minute,” which have been illegal without federal clearance since the days of Chicago gangsters during Prohibition and will remain so.
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More to the point of the election, however, is the contention that it’s Bush’s fault the assault-weapons law expired.
You can make up your own mind about it, once you understand the circumstances. Here is an exchange from a press conference from May 2003 when a reporter questioned Bush’s press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer.
Reporter: Let me ask you something about the assault weapons ban. I realize the president was for the reauthorization back in 2000. Why does he support that?
Fleischer : Well, the president thought, and said so at the time in 2000, that the assault weapon ban was a reasonable step. The assault weapon ban was crafted with the thought that it would deter crime. There are still studies under way of its crime deterring abilities, but the president thought that was reasonable, and that’s why he supported it. And that’s why he supports the reauthorization of the current ban …. Often the president will agree, of course, with the National Rifle Association. On this issue he does not …. In this instance, you know what he said, as you pointed out, in 2000. He continues to believe it today.
Now the scene shifts to another press conference, on Sept. 13, when a reporter tries to nail down White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on whether the president had actually done anything about reauthorizing the law.
Reporter: Isn’t it kind of disingenuous for the president to say that ‘I’m for the assault weapons ban,’ but then not spend a nickel of his political capital to fight for it?
McClellan: I disagree. His position has always been well-known, and it’s been clear going back to his first campaign for president.
Reporter: That he was for the ban?
McClellan: For a reauthorization of the current ban.
Reporter: … so if he’s for the ban, and he doesn’t do a thing —
McClellan: Well, keep in mind that the Congress is the one that sets the legislative timetable, and Congress has made clear that it’s not going to be coming up ….
Reporter: He was happy to let the authorization lapse, wasn’t he?
McClellan: Oh, you know that’s a ridiculous assertion.
Reporter: Name one thing, one step that the president took to have the assault weapons ban reauthorized.
McClellan: That’s why I said, Ron, his position has been very well-known. We’ve restated that position. It remains unchanged. But he does not set the legislative timetable. Members of Congress set the legislative timetable. And Congress has stated — congressional leaders have stated that it’s not going to come up for a vote.
Reporter: Is there one congressman, one congressional leader who he has called in Congress, and said, please put it on the timetable?
McClellan: Let’s debate the real issue here …
Reporter: Name one person who he called to lobby on behalf of legislation.
McClellan: His position has been made well-known.
Reporter: So there’s nothing more he could have done to get the ban extended?
McClellan: Well, I think members of Congress have stated — congressional leaders have stated that it’s not going to be coming up for a vote ….
Reporter: Can you name one person who he’s called on the Hill on behalf of this legislation?
McClellan: Look, members of Congress know his position very well, Ron.
Reporter: So has he made a call to any of them?
McClellan: His position is very well-known, Ron, and members have known his position. And it’s been discussed with members, too.
So you can blame Bush for doing nothing. Or you can blame Congress for doing nothing. Or you can blame the National Rifle Association for lobbying against reauthorization of the law. Or you can say the assault-weapons ban is unconstitutional.
What you can’t say is that it’s now legal to buy machine guns.
Why do people try to spin you into believing something instead of simply providing facts so you can make up your own mind? Well, that’s how some people live their lives. They think that’s how the world works.
They’re wrong about that, too.
Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1221.