In 2004 the Federal Assault Rifle Ban (part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) was allowed to expire. (Its original enactment in 1994, supported by Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan among others, included a sunset provision effective in 10 years.) The bill was in response, at least in part, to the shooting of 34 children in Stockton, California, in 1989.
When in 2004 a bill to shield gun manufacturers from liability was amended to allow the assault rifle ban to be reimposed, the bill was defeated in the Senate 90-8. The vote came after a direct order texted by Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, to the Senators he had bought and paid for. (Many Senators needed the instruction being unaware which their masters wanted more: limitation of liability or ability to sell military weapons on the open market.) He chortled about his victory to the Times; you can easily imagine him snorting with delight as he detailed the DNC chair’s defeat on the issue. See Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, “Senate Leaders Scuttle Gun Bill Over Changes,” New York Times, March 3, 2004, p. A1, A20. The arms makers got their special immunity from liability claims the next year in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. But the assault rifle ban has never been re-enacted.
In the meanwhile, the following massacres have been among those in which a AR-15 style rifle was employed:
The Aurora, Colorado movie shooting: 12 killed; 58 wounded.
The shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2013: 26 killed; 2 injured.
And again, yesterday in Orlando: 50 killed; 53 wounded.
According to Christopher Ingraham in today’s Boston Globe: “In the past 10 years, assault-style rifles have been used in 14 public mass shootings. Half of those shootings have occurred since last June.”
Why does the NRA (and its full time employees who moonlight as representatives in Congress) so vigorously defend the assault rifle? Not because it’s needed in quail hunting. Nor is it particularly useful (because hard to handle in close quarters) in defending against a burglar. The only use for a weapon designed for military assaults is military assaults. So why are civilians allowed to buy them with nary a question asked? The fact is: it is the largest and fastest growing segment of gun sales. In other words, Death Makes a Profit. And Profits Buy our Congress.
Unless Congress is capable of prohibiting military weapons from being part of normal commerce in this country (indeed, as it now stands, with less regulation than automobile or home ownership), then this country is no longer a rational, representative democracy. It will be nothing more than a cynical, naked plutocracy. And our public servants will have as their only function to express their prayers and thoughts for the victims’ families, because they are too craven to do a simple thing, one that had been done before, to prevent the carnage.