(CNSNews.com) - Two Senate Democrats are urging President Bush to take an active role in ensuring that the federal "assault weapons" ban is renewed.
Signed by then-President Bill Clinton on Sept. 13, 1994, the legislation banned the sale and importation of semi-automatic weapons with certain military-style cosmetic features such as flash suppressors, bayonet lugs, and adjustable-length stocks.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, the legislation signed by Clinton limited semi-automatic firearms to no more than one "military-style" cosmetic feature, which did not affect the operation of the firearm.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored the 1994 legislation, said she hopes the president and Congress "find the courage to stand up to" the National Rifle Association, which calls the Clinton gun ban "ineffective."
On the campaign trail in 2000, President Bush said he would sign an extension of the gun ban if it landed on his desk. But gun control groups have criticized the president for making no effort to push the legislation through Congress, which is reluctant to take up the issue.
Without imminent congressional action, the gun ban is set to expire on Sept. 13, 2004, "and these guns will come back and flood the streets of America," Feinstein said. She urged President Bush to "help stop that from happening."
"If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up everyone of them -- Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in -- I would have done it, " Feinstein said in a Dec. 5, 1995 interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes." Her "gun grab" comments outraged Second Amendment supporters.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), another outspoken advocate of renewing the "assault weapons" ban, said the NRA "controls" the president's gun policy.
"The president is throwing water on the effort to renew the assault weapons ban and breaking a promise he made in his 2000 campaign, proof positive that the NRA controls his gun policy," Schumer said.
Schumer is among those who insist there is no "legitimate use" for these firearms. Moreover, he claims that letting the ban expire would be "a major setback in the crime reductions we've had over the last decade."
But the National Rifle Association and other groups point to studies showing that the guns in question are used in only a small percentage of crime. The NRA also says that semi-automatic firearms "are used millions of Americans for hunting, self-defense, recreational target shooting and in formal marksmanship competitions such as the Olympics."
Eric Howard, associate director of communications with the Brady Campaign gun control group, says assault weapons "have no place in America's communities." He says that nearly 80 percent of the public supports extending the ban.
Howard also claims that assault weapons "are used disproportionately in crime" and are "often a weapon of choice by criminals and also terrorists."
But NRA spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs said the Clinton gun ban restricts the rights of lawful gun owners. "This ban has absolutely nothing to do with reducing crime," she said.
Instead of renewing the ban, Hobbs said lawmakers should turn their attention to enforcing "laws that affect the criminal misuse of guns" and "not pass laws that only affect law-abiding citizens."
She added that the Second Amendment protects the right to use a firearm "for any lawful purpose" and that the NRA will never "support a ban on law-abiding gun owners."
Gun control advocates claim that the ban has resulted in a reduction in crime, yet two government studies and other surveys indicate it has had little effect.
A Congressionally mandated study, conducted by the Urban Institute in March 1997, said, "At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.
"We were unable to detect any reduction to date in two types of gun murders that are thought to be closely associated with assault weapons, those with multiple victims in a single incident and those producing multiple bullet wounds per victim," the study added.
"The absence of stronger ban effects may be attributable to the relative rarity with which the banned weapons are used in violent crimes," the study concludes.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey conducted in November 2001 also cast doubt on the effectiveness of the ban.
Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck, a lifelong Democrat, surveyed 48 metropolitan police departments in his book Targeting Guns, which also questions the prevalence of violent crimes involving assault weapons.
In the book, Kleck discovered that 0.25% of all violent crimes involved assault weapons in the areas he surveyed.
Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Feinstein, Schumer and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) would extend the current ban on the manufacture and importation of certain types of semi-automaatic weapons by an additional 10 years.
The issue has taken on new urgency, now that Congress has less than two weeks to act before adjourning for its summer recess.
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