Argument: Expiration of the assault weapons ban could enable better gun control laws

Issue Report: Assault weapons ban in the United States


  • Clark A. Wohlferd. “Much Ado About Not very much: The Expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban as an Cact of Legislative Responsibility.” May 19th, 2005 – “The common storyline is that election-year politics prevented the AWB’s renewal.82 One September 2004 poll showed that sixty-eight percent of the public supported its renewal.83 In March, the Senate voted fifty-three to forty-six for renewal of the AWB before the bill to which it was attached was abandoned.84 Despite this popular support, this article argues that the expiration of the AWB was responsible legLegislative inaction. Gun rights supporters obviously benefit from the expiration of the ban, but those favoring greater gun controls can also benefit from the opportunity to move forward on less-polarizing gun control legislation. This complex outcome means that the expiration of the AWB was not a matter of Congress simply ignoring public will in favor of rewarding special interests. Rather, Congress’s inaction removed a failing law and may end gridlock on other pressing and more effective gun control measures.
Not a Gun Control Defeat In addition, the AWB’s expiration is not a complete loss for those seeking greater gun controls. If the purposes of gun control are reducing crime and removing dangerous guns from the public, it is not clear that the AWB was effective.92 With the AWB off the table, it may be possible to make progress toward other legislative goals that will not be viewed by gun rights supporters as a step toward confiscation.93 The unfortunate result of the assault weapons debate was the provocation and galvanization of the NRA, a powerful lobbying organization, into an entrenched position.94 Since the passage of the AWB, no other significant federal gun control legislation has passed.95 “More than any other gun control topic, the ‘assault weapon’ controversy has made more difficult the formation of any kind of unifying consensus on national gun policy.”96 This gridlock prevents more important issues, which may offer the possibility of cooperation, from being addressed by Congress. As Gary Kleck points out: [T]he legislative process is warped by inducing lawmakers to focus on highly publicized but substantively trivial side-show issues, suchas bans on “assault weapons,” plastic guns, “cop killer” bullets, and “Saturday Night Specials,” rather than addressing more serious, but perhaps less exciting, control measures like gun buyer background checks or improved enforcement of existing bans on criminal possession and unlawful carrying of guns.97 By alienating gun owners and hardening their powerful interest groups through the AWB, little compromise was possible. The dearth of enacted legislation over the last decade, despite gun control’s public popularity, indicates this stalemate.”