Upfront Home
In This Issue
News and Trends
Times Past
The Ethicist
Teen Voices
Upfront Topics
Magazine Info
Should assault weapons be banned?

A 10-year ban was allowed to expire in 2004. President Obama wants Congress to pass a new one.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and I all supported a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons like AK-47s and Uzis, and such a ban was finally passed in 1994.

When the 10-year ban was set to expire, many police groups called on Congress and President George W. Bush to renew and strengthen it. But instead, it was allowed to expire in 2004.

I have used weapons since I was big enough to carry one, and I now own two handguns, four shotguns, and three rifles, two with scopes. I use them carefully, for hunting with my family and friends. We cherish the right to own a gun.

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.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, including me and my hunting companions, believe in the right to own weapons. But surveys show that most Americans also support modest restraints like background checks, mandatory registration, brief waiting periods before gun purchases—and banning assault weapons. In opposing such a ban, the National Rifle Association is defending criminals' access to assault weapons and use of ammunition that can penetrate protective clothing worn by police officers on duty.

In 2006, more than 30,000 people died from firearms—nearly 20 percent of all injury deaths. It is time to ban assault weapons, which are designed only to kill police officers and the people they defend.

President Jimmy Carter (1977-81)

The reinstatement of a ban on so-called "assault" weapons runs counter to the Second Amendment, which protects the right to lawfully keep and bear arms.

The first question is whether the previous assault-weapons ban was effective in its stated goal: a reduction in violent crime. During the time it was in effect, from 1994 to 2004, there was no measurable reduction in violent crime that could be attributed specifically to the ban.

A government study required by the 1994 legislation that enacted the ban "found no statistical evidence of post-ban decreases in either the number of victims per gun-homicide incident, the number of gunshot wounds per victim, or the proportion of gunshot victims with multiple wounds."

Besides ineffectiveness, the ban was problematic because it included weapons largely due to their appearance. The words "assault weapons" conjure images of fully automatic machine guns, but many weapons outlawed by the ban mechanically function the same way as a legal semi-automatic hunting rifle or shotgun.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms primarily for self-defense. In affirming the right to own a particular class of firearms for personal safety—in Heller's case, a handgun—the Court sent a clear message that incremental steps to erode the Second Amendment are unacceptable.

Considering its ineffectiveness and, I believe, incompatibility with the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment, the assault-weapons ban is better left expired.

Congressman Dan Boren
Democrat of Oklahoma