Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), one of the leading opponents of extending the ban, said this year during Senate debate: "Some people stand on the [Senate] floor and say, 'Oh, you have to stop this because this is the weapon of choice of criminals and they are using it all the time.' That simply is not true."
Craig contended that the kinds of weapons covered by the ban were used in only a small percentage of crimes.
Some experts said the loopholes in the ban were so great that small modifications in banned weapons made them legal.
"Nothing of substance will change in the gun industry after the sunset," said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates gun control. "The difference between the post-ban versions of assault weapons such as the AR-15 and their banned counterparts is entirely trivia." She added that many assault weapons had been developed since 1994 and fall outside the ban's restrictions.
Nonetheless, many gun owners are so eager for the measure to die that one group has a website counting down the minutes until the law is wiped from the books. Some gun enthusiasts report that manufacturers are ready to start shipping kits for converting legal guns to pre-ban configurations as early as Tuesday.
Robert Ricker, a former NRA official who consults with gun control groups, foresees a "buying frenzy" for the previously banned military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
"Gun owners are thinking, 'If John Kerry gets elected, chances are that a stiffer ban, or a reauthorization, will eventually happen, so I had better get my assault weapon now.' ... I think the industry's mantra is going to be, 'Buy your wife a high-capacity magazine for Christmas while you can.' "
A University of Pennsylvania study conducted this year concluded that gun manufacturers might introduce assault weapon models and large-capacity magazines, "perhaps in substantial numbers."
"Pre-ban assault weapons may lose value and novelty, prompting some of their owners to sell them in undocumented second-hand markets where they can more easily reach high-risk users, such as criminals, terrorists and other potential mass murderers," the study warned.
The Consumer Federation of America, which conducted a survey of gun industry plans, predicted that once the law expired, assault weapon manufacturers, "fueled by gun buyer nostalgia," will "blitz the market" with new models of guns banned under the 1994 law.
Robert J. Spitzer, a political scientist at State University of New York at Cortland and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," said the lapsing of the ban would lead to greater firepower on the streets as banned weapons returned to circulation. He said large-capacity magazines would become more available.
"These have no hunting or sporting purpose, but are very appealing to criminals because they mean less reloading," Spitzer said. "Some of the most horrific mass shootings in recent years were halted only when the perpetrators stopped to reload."
Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry's trade group, said target shooters would use magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds.
"Reports of police officers needing to fire numerous rounds before being able to stop an assailant prompted the demand for higher-capacity semiautomatic pistols in the 1980s," said Jeff Reh, Beretta general counsel. "Business owners or homeowners who use a pistol for self-defense have the same need."
One gun industry executive scoffed at suggestions that once the ban expires, previously banned weapons and ammunition would suddenly be in great demand.
"Our sense is that when we wake up on the morning of the 14th, there is not going to be any monumental change," said Keane. "The sun-setting of the law is a media event, not a major sales event."
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States and assault weapons bans Even though the 1994 federal assault weapons ban is scheduled to expire next week, seven states have their own restrictions. These state laws vary in what weapons are banned and some, including California, are more restrictive than the federal act.
How California compares to the federal ban:
Restriction California Federal Models, weapon types banned 75 19 Other restrictions Department of None Justice may inspect storage Penalties (for manufacture/ possession/transfer) Up to eight Up to five years prison years prison
Source: Legal Community Against Violence, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Tom Reinken