ON CAPITOL HILL
Will House take up renewal
of gun ban?
GOP's Hastert 'not ready' to support, oppose 'assault weapons' bill
Posted: May 19, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern
The second-highest ranking Republican in the House believes renewal of a decade-old ban on so-called "assault weapons" is in doubt, primarily because he doesn't think the votes are there to extend it.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who doesn't support a reauthorization of the 1994 weapons ban and voted in 1995 to repeal it, has been one of the law's staunchest critics, saying it has done little to reduce crime and has instead robbed law-abiding Americans of their right to keep and bear arms.
"It is very simple. The votes to expand it aren't in the House," DeLay said during his weekly briefing Tuesday, in response to a question about the ban's renewal.
DeLay said, however, he hadn't discussed the issue with President Bush. And, as WorldNetDaily previously reported, Bush has come out in favor of renewing the ban, to the chagrin of some gun-rights groups and supporters.
Also ambiguous regarding the fate of the ban is House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who dodged questions from reporters Thursday about the ban's renewal.
"I had a discussion with Mr. DeLay [about] what he actually said to the press. I think he was trying to put his old whip's hat on and trying to figure out whether there are the votes or not," Hastert said when asked if he agreed with DeLay that a new bill reauthorizing the ban should not even go to the House floor.
"The bill has not been discussed by the leadership yet, and I have not had a discussion with the president yet. I am not ready to make that decision," he said.
The weapons law, which was part of a larger anti-crime bill passed early in the first Clinton administration, bans the importation or manufacture of more than a dozen military look-alike weapons, and limits ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
Critics of the law but supporters of the ban say weapons manufacturers, by slightly altering some cosmetic features, have largely skirted the law and are continuing to produce and sell military-style copycat weapons. They also say such weapons are a danger to society and to police, and have no purpose other than to kill large numbers of people.
But supporters of allowing the ban to sunset in September 2004 say other than the appearance of such weapons, they are no different than scores of other semi-automatic rifles that were not affected by the original ban, in terms of functionality. Also, sunset supporters say the type of guns banned by the law are rarely used in crime.
Stuart Roy, a spokesman for DeLay, said two "schools of thought" were emerging within the GOP leadership regarding the ban. Opponents of reauthorizing it are divided in that some want to bring a bill to the floor so it can be defeated, while others say since there aren't enough votes to pass reauthorization legislation there is no point to even introducing one.
Roy also said his boss isn't personally interested in renewing the ban.
"The majority leader is not supportive of gun bans," Roy said. "He feels it's been very ineffective and he's skeptical of it."
Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have introduced legislation in the Senate to renew the ban. But for the House to take it up, Hastert would have to schedule it for debate.
Some Democrats not only want to renew the ban, they want to expand it to include other look-alike weapons. But Roy said a new ban wouldn't be dependent on Democrats, many of whom, he explained, opposed the 1994 ban anyway.
"The speaker is the highest-ranking Republican in the House," Roy said, "and he will have final say as to whether it gets scheduled or not."
Hastert remained non-committal regarding whether or not he would support a renewal of the ban.
"I need to have some discussions with the president and leadership before I make that decision," he said Thursday. "I am reserving my personal opinion."
The "Coalition to End the Federal 'Assault Weapons' Ban" was formed shortly after Bush said he'd back an extension of the current law.
"We are proud to be the only political party so recognized and wish to thank the KABA for allowing us to participate in its strong stand in favor of the Bill of Rights," said party Chairman Dan Charles. "Allowing the ban on certain types of firearms to expire serves part of our larger goal of restoring the Second Amendment rights of all our citizens. …"
"A firearm, be it single shot or semi-automatic, is protected equally by the Constitution. A free people do not need permission to own guns," added Frank Hackl, Wisconsin America First Party chairman.
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Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter and columnist for WorldNetDaily.
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