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2 Senators Push to Renew Ban on Assault Weapons

Feinstein, Boxer urge Bush to lobby Congress to extend the curbs, now set to expire Sept. 13.

June 30, 2004|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer made a last-ditch appeal Tuesday for reauthorization of the federal assault-weapons ban crafted in the wake of an office massacre in this city's financial district 11 years ago.

"Every one of the weapons we banned the manufacture and sale of are military-style weapons designed to kill large numbers of people," Feinstein said in a news conference, calling on President Bush to aggressively lobby Congress for reauthorization. "It's going to be 'Open Sesame' " on the sale of the guns if the ban expires, she warned.

Accompanied by the surviving spouses of two of the murder victims, as well as San Francisco's mayor and police chief, the senators made it clear that reauthorization was a long shot.

The landmark ban, sponsored by Feinstein in 1994, will expire Sept. 13. An effort to hitch the reauthorization to a bill to protect the gun industry from lawsuits failed in the U.S. Senate in March when the bill's sponsor called for its defeat in a rare move just before a vote. The sponsor, National Rifle Assn. board member and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), said the amendments "would have severely violated" the right to keep and bear arms.

The two California senators said Tuesday that they would seek another bill to which they could attach the renewal in the few remaining legislative days before the expiration. Feinstein said that the Senate would probably approve reauthorization 52 to 48 but that such a measure likely wouldn't pass the House.

More likely, advocates will introduce a new bill next year, in what both senators hope is a Democratic administration that would back the effort more aggressively than Bush. The president has said he would sign a reauthorization bill, but he has done "nothing" to advocate for one, Feinstein said.

NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said his group was "confident that this law will be allowed to sunset. The firearms banned under this law were rarely used in crime before the ban, and were rarely used in crime after the ban."

The ban's efficacy is disputed. The legislation blocked the manufacture, import and sale of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as ammunition clips of more than 10 rounds. Cox said it also banned "hundreds more" weapons based on certain cosmetic features. "The law has proven to be ineffective, so why would Congress reauthorize bad policy?" he said.

The proportion of banned weapons among guns traced for law enforcement by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives fell from 4.8% to 1.8% -- a 63% drop -- in the five years after the ban was enacted, Boxer said.

But Cox said tracing data don't exclusively track guns used in crimes, so the effect on the streets could not be determined.

Even gun control backers dispute the ban's effectiveness.

Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center said the industry had easily found its way around the ban. Modified "copycat" weapons have filled the gap, as have weapons that did not exist in 1994. The center backs tougher legislation modeled on California's more restrictive ban.

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