What Happened to the Ban on Assault Weapons?
By JIMMY CARTER
Published: April 26, 2009
THE evolution in public policy concerning the manufacture, sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons like AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis has been very disturbing. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and I all supported a ban on these formidable firearms, and one was finally passed in 1994.
When the 10-year ban was set to expire, many police organizations — including 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs from around the nation — called on Congress and President George W. Bush to renew and strengthen it. But with a wink from the White House, the gun lobby prevailed and the ban expired.
I have used weapons since I was big enough to carry one, and now own two handguns, four shotguns and three rifles, two with scopes. I use them carefully, for hunting game from our family woods and fields, and occasionally for hunting with my family and friends in other places. We cherish the right to own a gun and some of my hunting companions like to collect rare weapons. One of them is a superb craftsman who makes muzzle-loading rifles, one of which I displayed for four years in my private White House office.
But none of us wants to own an assault weapon, because we have no desire to kill policemen or go to a school or workplace to see how many victims we can accumulate before we are finally shot or take our own lives. That’s why the White House and Congress must not give up on trying to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, even if it may be politically difficult.
An overwhelming majority of Americans, including me and my hunting companions, believe in the right to own weapons, but surveys show that they also support modest restraints like background checks, mandatory registration and brief waiting periods before purchase.
A majority of Americans also support banning assault weapons. Many of us who hunt are dismayed by some of the more extreme policies of the National Rifle Association, the most prominent voice in opposition to a ban, and by the timidity of public officials who yield to the group’s unreasonable demands.
Heavily influenced and supported by the firearms industry, N.R.A. leaders have misled many gullible people into believing that our weapons are going to be taken away from us, and that homeowners will be deprived of the right to protect ourselves and our families. The N.R.A. would be justified in its efforts if there was a real threat to our constitutional right to bear arms. But that is not the case.
Instead, the N.R.A. is defending criminals’ access to assault weapons and use of ammunition that can penetrate protective clothing worn by police officers on duty. In addition, while the N.R.A. seems to have reluctantly accepted current law restricting sales by licensed gun dealers to convicted felons, it claims that only “law-abiding people” obey such restrictions — and it opposes applying them to private gun dealers or those who sell all kinds of weapons from the back of a van or pickup truck at gun shows.
What are the results of this profligate ownership and use of guns designed to kill people? In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 30,000 people died from firearms, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all injury deaths. In 2005, every nine hours a child or teenager in the United States was killed in a firearm-related accident or suicide.
Across our border, Mexican drug cartels are being armed with advanced weaponry imported from the United States — a reality only the N.R.A. seems to dispute.
The gun lobby and the firearms industry should reassess their policies concerning safety and accountability — at least on assault weapons — and ease their pressure on acquiescent politicians who fear N.R.A. disapproval at election time. We can’t let the N.R.A.’s political blackmail prevent the banning of assault weapons — designed only to kill police officers and the people they defend.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.