Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban ^ | Ryan VanOrden

Posted on 01/04/2003 7:39:01 PM PST by Jed Eckert

A Public Opinion Nightmare

Ryan VanOrden

On September 13th 1994, HR4296, the so-called Assault Weapon's Ban, was signed into law. Under the guise of reducing crime, it outlawed future manufacture and importation of several specific firearms, and arbitrarily limited choice features of all future firearms eligible for sale in the United States. Proponents of the bill touted military look-alike rifles as "dangerous weapons of mass destruction" in an effort to win public support for an outright ban on such "evil" features as bayonet lugs, folding stocks, and curved magazines.

While they may have succeeded in convincing a narrow majority of legislators to vote in favor of the ban, they did not succeed in convincing the American public, especially not those who even pretended to know anything about firearms.

The resulting public outcry among the gun-owning community of the United States galvanized the gun lobby, and has contributed to the outcomes of every subsequent election. Ironically, this law may prove to be the beginning of a marked trend that unifies gun owners as a more homogenous voting block than ever before.

In a somewhat twisted display of constitutional irony, the Assault Weapons Ban contains a ten-year sunset clause. Unless renewed by a subsequent act of Congress, the law will simply disappear on September 14th of 2004. Weapons and accessories that have been illegal for the last ten years will once again appear new on shelves around the country.

In this essay we will examine the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, its effects on public opinion and the following elections, and demonstrate that a renewal of the ban in September of 2004 would be political suicide for many candidates hoping for reelection in November.

Anatomy of a Ban

In order to fully understand the effects of the Assault Weapon's Ban and how they relate to public opinion, we must first examine the law itself and its implications. According to information garnered from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence(tm), "the federal assault weapons ban, was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. President Clinton signed it into law on September 13, 1994." [1] It is also known as " The 1994 Public Safety and recreational Firearms Use Protection Act" (though it has little or nothing to do with protecting any firearms use) or simply as "The Crime Bill". [2]

The law specifically names 19 different firearms as patently illegal, and specifies that three or more of the following features present on a single firearm constitutes an assault weapon.

* A folding or telescoping stock

* A pistol grip

* A bayonet mount

* A flash suppressor, or threads to attach one (a flash suppressor reduces the amount of flash that the rifle shot makes. It is the small birdcage-like item on the muzzle of the rifle)

* Muzzle capable of acting as a grenade launcher.

* Magazine capacity over 10 rounds

Weapons manufactured, imported, or configured in such a manner prior to the passage of the 1994 Act were "grandfathered" as having a "pre-ban" status. This had a two-pronged effect on the gun market. One was a steady and almost immediate inflation in prices of pre-ban weapons and high capacity magazines, their now limited availability causing an artificial stratification in price structure. Second, was the introduction of various "post-ban" weapons designed to circumvent the particulars of the law, while providing a similar function or appearance to their pre-ban counterparts, albeit minus the full cosmetic effect or hefty price tag.

The price of these pre-ban weapons skyrocketed in the months prior to the ban and has been rising slowly but steadily over the last ten years. Manufacturers, fearing the worst, stepped up production of these banned items in order to insure that profitable amounts were on hand once the Bill was inevitably passed. For example, the cost of the AR-15 series of rifles has more than doubled since the Ban first was introduced into Congress in April of 1994. [3]

Post-ban look-alike rifles, though lacking some or all of the banned features, are often functionally identical to their pre-ban predecessors, and fill a market vacuum created by the passage of an ineffective, bean-counting law that a only a tax-collector could be proud of. Indeed the term "assault weapons" is a misnomer. Gun Digest defines true assault weapons as "...fully automatic, selective-fire, or equipped with mission-specific features designed only for military and law enforcement application." [4] (Emphasis added.)

Regardless of one's position on gun control, it is evident that the so-called Assault Weapon's Ban did nothing to curb violent crime. Indeed, in many ways it was a solution to a non-existent problem. The ban did not help to eliminate crime, it did not get weapons currently on the open market out of the hands of any criminals, nor did it even target the types of firearms most commonly favored by miscreants and lowlifes. In a study done by the Florida Assault Weapons Commission, it was found that between 1986 and 1989 assault weapons were used in only 17 or .0023% of the 7,500 gun crimes committed. [5]

Public Support

Initially, the idea of a law to ban assault weapons seemed to enjoy widespread support among both the American people and members of Congress; but later, after the ban was already passed, the American people began to wake up to the fact that the promises of safer streets had been empty and impotent.

"In January 1995, ABC News/Washington Post interviewers found that 77 percent wanted Congress to keep in place "a law making it illegal to sell assault weapons." In April and in June, roughly identical numbers in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said Congress should keep the ban. Only two in ten disagreed.

A Yankelovich Partners poll in April 1995 approached the issue differently. Yankelovich asked whether it should be illegal for people to own handguns or, separately, to own semiautomatic assault guns. Forty percent favored making it illegal to own handguns; 55 percent did not. Forty-eight percent supported making it illegal for citizens to own semi-automatic assault guns; 50 percent dissented.

The public is dubious about the effects of a ban on assault weapons. In the Yankelovich poll, 46 percent said making the sale or possession of semiautomatic weapons illegal would reduce the amount of violent crime; 51 percent said it would not." [6]

Since that time, the trend of public apathy or outright hostility towards the effectiveness of the Assault Weapons ban has been slowly and quietly continuing to grow. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had the unforeseen consequence of re-exposing millions of Americans to the longstanding ideals of self-protection in the face of danger. Gun permit applications in Oakland County Michigan skyrocketed from an average of 2,200 per year to over 8,000 following the September 11th terrorism attacks on the world trade center. [7] The tides of gun ownership appear to be shifting.

Effective Lobbying Efforts and the NRA

It is patently obvious that, like most gun control legislation, the Assault Weapons ban of 1994 was not popular among many members of the National Rifle Association. With the first news of the impending bill, groups like the NRA and the more grassroots GOA (Gun Owners of America) launched a lobbying move to block it. Members were encouraged to contact their representatives and let them know that voting against this bill was important to their reelection.

The result was the bill passing by the narrowest of margins, with a vote count of 216 for the bill, 214 against and with 3 abstaining; it was numbered as one of the narrowest victories in legislative history. [8] Gun owners, divided by political infighting between weekend hunters (who see no need for assault weapons) and strict constitutionalists (who obviously do) were unable to effectively rally together for a common cause.

Those gun owners who felt disenfranchised by the ban took up the torch once more to stir up public support against the legislators who favored the ban. By painstakingly comparing the lists provided by the Office of the Clerk to the U.S. House of Representatives concerning who voted for and against the 1994 ban and the lists of winners in the 1994 and 1996 elections, we can get a minimal idea of those who were defeated as a direct result or at least partly because of the ban. Among those who sought reelection, 33 were summarily defeated in 1994 and six more in 1996. [9]

In 1996, due to successful lobbying by gun owners nationwide, the house voted 239 to 173 to repeal the Assault Weapons Ban as ineffective. [10] The bill was then allowed to die in the Democrat controlled Senate and the Assault Weapons Ban stood.

While there is no accurate way to measure the effects of gun control legislation in each individual race, and this evidence can be considered consequential at best, it should be noted that many members of the Democratic Party consider gun control to be an issue to be avoided as harmful to their campaigns.

Clinton-Gore strategist James Carville said, "I don't think there is a Second Amendment right to own a gun. But I think it's a loser political issue." [11]

By the 2000 elections, the NRA had rallied a greater measure of support and unity throughout the gun owning community. The monthly magazines distributed to all dues-paying NRA members contained report cards for individual candidates in races nationwide, ranking them solely on their stances on gun control. This had a unifying effect on gun owners and allowed them to see the candidates voting records in black and white and as they compared to others.

Indeed it was claimed by former President Bill Clinton that the lobbying efforts of the NRA and other pro-gun groups that were directly responsible for the Democratic loss of the House of Representatives in the 2000 election and partially responsible for Al Gore's loss of the Presidency to George W. Bush. In an interview with CBS News on December 18th 2001, "You've got to give it to them, they've done a good job. They've probably had more to do than anyone else in the fact that we didn't win the house this time. And they hurt Al Gore." [12]

USA Today quipped, "Guns played a key role in Gore's loss of Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia, any one of which could have delivered him the presidency." [13]

In the recent 2002 elections, of the 246 candidates endorsed by the NRA for the House of Representatives, 232 seats were won. This clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the NRA's Get out the Vote programs and gun lobby report cards.

The Future of the Assault Weapons Ban

Guns are and will continue to be a major issue in American politics. The passage of the nefarious Assault Weapons Ban and its inability to effectively fight real crime gave rise to an increasingly unified movement of gun owners who simply won't stand for any more useless legislation that only serves to limit the rights of honest law abiding citizens.

The 1994 ban, as written, includes a sunset period of ten years from its passage into law. Unless renewed by an act of Congress and again signed into law by President George W. Bush, firearms that have been demonized as illegal "weapons of mass destruction" will once again suddenly be legal to manufacture and import. Artificially inflated values of so-called pre-ban weapons will drop dramatically, as brand-new weapons roll off the factory milling machines and the cosmetically castrated weapons of the ten-year prohibitionary period will be legally modified by their owners to include all of those features once declared "too evil" to be on a modern civilian's rifle.

Make no mistake, anti-gun activists and legislators will make every attempt to reinstate an even more restrictive and permanent ban, but given the current political climate and Congressional representation, coupled with the growing tendency of gun owners to vote as a group, you will most likely see a massive successful campaign by grassroots activists to soundly defeat the ban once and for all.

In a survey of gun owners conducted by the Author on the internet-based web forum, 78.95% of 114 responding gun owners claimed that the 1994 ban had influenced their voting practices and would continue to influence them in the 2004 election.

Did the '94 Assault Weapons ban affect your vote? Will it affect your vote in 2004?

Yes it did affect my vote and WILL affect my vote in '04 90 78.75%

Yes it did affect my vote but WILL NOT in '04 1 0.88%

No it did not affect my vote but it WILL in '04 3 2.63%

No it did not affect my vote and it WILL NOT in '04 3 2.63%

I was ineligible to vote in '94 but it WILL affect my vote in '04 17 14.91%

I was ineligible to vote in '94 and it WILL NOT affect my vote in '04 0 0%

Approx 6.5% Margin for error Total: 114 votes 100%  

Additionally, 14.91% of those responding were ineligible to vote in the 1994 election, but stated that an act of Congress in regards to the Assault Weapons Ban would affect their votes in the 2004 election. These are individuals who were presumably too young to vote, and interestingly enough also too young to own a gun when the Assault Weapons Ban was passed, and have had to live under its restrictions the entire time they have owned a firearm.


Gun ownership is becoming increasingly salient in the minds of American voters. The failure of the Assault Weapons Ban to deter violent crime and the resulting lack of public support will be its death knell in 2004. In order for the gun owners to insure its quiet sunset into oblivion they will need to band together once more and ensure that each representative knows that a renewal of the ban will result in their electoral defeat in November of that year.  

1 "The Assault Weapons Ban," Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Aug. 2002

2 Adams, Les The Second Amendment Primer, Birmingham: Palladium Press, 1996: 142

3 Roth, JA, Koper, CS, "Impacts of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban: 1994-96," National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, (U.S. Department of Justice, March 1999).

4 Lewis, Jack and David E. Steele, Assault Weapons, Wisconsin: Krause, 2000: back cover.

5 Mack, Richard I. From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns, Utah: MC Printing, 2000: 82

6 Bowman, Karlyn H. Assault Weapons Ban: The Voters Want It, or Maybe They Don't, Roll Call Apr. 1, 1996.

7 Gray, Kathleen "Attacks add to demand for metro gun permits" The Detroit Free Press Oct. 16 2001.

8 Office of The Clerk, US House of Representatives Final Vote Results for Roll Call 156 5/5/1994

9 Research by Author, comparing lists located at the Office of the Clerk Website (links follow) '94 Ban 94 Election Results '96 Election Results

10 Office of The Clerk, US House of Representatives Final Vote Results for Roll Call 92 3/22/96

11 Cox, Chris "Don't Be fooled, the Fight Continues" America's First Freedom Oct. 2002: pg 23

12 "Freedom's Faithful Retake the Field" America's First Freedom Aug 2001: pg 35

13 "Freedom's Faithful Retake the Field" America's First Freedom Aug 2001: pg 34  

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 2ndamendment; assaultweapons; awb; bang; banglist; crime; goa; guncontrol; guns; nra; rkba
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-92 next last
It should be interesting to watch some RINOs squirm since the ban sunsets just before the November '04 elections.

Will the Republicans throw it all away again in 2004?


1 posted on 01/04/2003 7:39:01 PM PST by Jed Eckert
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: *bang_list
2 posted on 01/04/2003 7:42:01 PM PST by Mulder
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: *bang_list
3 posted on 01/04/2003 7:42:29 PM PST by Travis McGee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
Will the Republicans throw it all away again in 2004?

If the past is any indicator, yes.

4 posted on 01/04/2003 8:01:39 PM PST by ActionNewsBill
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Travis McGee
Bang yourself.

And yeah, Socialist Party R will no doubt keep the ban in place.

How's your book, TM? I don't visit these digs much these days, so I have no idea if you ever got it finished.
5 posted on 01/04/2003 8:10:40 PM PST by Jefferson Adams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Jefferson Adams
I finished the manuscript last fall and now I am smoothing it and putting it into Word.

The title is "Enemies Foreign And Domestic."

6 posted on 01/04/2003 8:14:49 PM PST by Travis McGee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
decimal point correction... 17 of 7500 is 0.23%, not 0.0023%
7 posted on 01/04/2003 8:20:06 PM PST by Teacher317
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Travis McGee
Cool :)

Hope I'll have some way to know when it's out and available.

Take care!
8 posted on 01/04/2003 8:24:38 PM PST by Jefferson Adams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Jefferson Adams
What's up? Haven't "seen" you around here in awhile. I hope all is well.
9 posted on 01/04/2003 8:25:51 PM PST by Mulder
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Mulder
Hi Mulder, thanks :)

I tend to hang out on LF (doing my best to ignore and/or tweak all the Jew Haters).

Good to hear from you!
10 posted on 01/04/2003 8:28:22 PM PST by Jefferson Adams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
The demonization of so-called "assault weapons" has already begun. For the last month the Brady Bunch and the VPC have made it a point to dig out any police report where an "assault weapon" or anything the looks like one was either used or found or even MIGHT have been used in a crime.
11 posted on 01/04/2003 8:28:50 PM PST by Blood of Tyrants
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert

You will not write a letter to your Congressman and to your Senators; whereas the soccer moms will.
The law will be renewed in 2004.
The President will sign it.
You will vote for the Republican candidate anyway.

12 posted on 01/04/2003 8:29:46 PM PST by FreedomCalls
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
The resulting public outcry among the gun-owning community of the United States galvanized the gun lobby, and has contributed to the outcomes of every subsequent election. Ironically, this law may prove to be the beginning of a marked trend that unifies gun owners as a more homogenous voting block than ever before.

Unintended consequences.

Looking at the crime figures, it would apear that almost no one except the law abiding own, or ever have owned, 'assault weapons'.

13 posted on 01/04/2003 8:31:53 PM PST by templar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
It's up to us. When the proponents to arm the pilots became vocal, no one expected it to ever happen. At the moment, the pilots are going through a "trial stage" to see if it works but it is a baby step in the right direction.

If the gunowners sit and wait until 2004 to see how their representatives vote on the bill, we already lost. We have to start now and we have to get all the gun groups working together.
14 posted on 01/04/2003 8:32:49 PM PST by Shooter 2.5
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Mulder
LOL - I just realized we're getting remarkably close to that time of the year when I write "The More or Less Annual Rape of the Union Address Report," which is what got me invited to LF in the first place when Jim deleted the thread last year in under 5 minutes < g >

I suspect that this year's Report will be a good one - mosey on over to LF maybe an hour or two after Herr Prezident makes his speech, it should be up there by then.
15 posted on 01/04/2003 8:33:05 PM PST by Jefferson Adams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: FreedomCalls
You will vote for the Republican candidate anyway.

Of course. The other side is so unspeakably evil that it would be unthinkable to do otherwise.

16 posted on 01/04/2003 8:35:10 PM PST by templar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
Our best bet is with the House. If the House never brings it up to vote, the Senate won't dare bring it to a vote for fear of being left out on a limb. However, if it ever hits the presidents desk, he will sign it. And all the rabid Bush supporters will marvel at his prowness as he screws us in order to "steal another DemocRat issue".

17 posted on 01/04/2003 8:36:35 PM PST by Blood of Tyrants
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Jed Eckert
Will the Republicans throw it all away again in 2004?

The signals of whether the GOP will fumble this issue are mixed. I'll comment on a few of them.

The sad fact is that President Bush campaigned as someone who would rarely do anything that would make Katie Couric put on her little frowny face. Personally, I think the more often the little wench is upset, the more often America is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, we have a president who wants people like her to say that he is "reasonable." I like President Bush in many ways, but I've thought for a long time that he was being far too accommodating of our enemies on gun control. (See This is Julie for my first writing criticizing him on this issue.) If the media puts pressure on him to reenact the ban and make it permanent, he will likely pressure the GOP Congress to pass the ban again.

The danger in supporting the ban for him is that he wouldn't be president today without the votes of many gun owners who thought he was better than Algore even if he didn't seem the staunchest of allies. He'll have much more support in 2004 from people who vote for the incumbents without thinking, but he probably won't be so secure that he can lose one of his key constituencies. If he signs the ban just before the election, he will demoralize many people who had supported him. If he demoralizes these people just before the election, he could still lose just as his father did.

For Congressional Republicans, the issue is trickier. They don't have the momentum and widespread unthinking support that a president will have. They will be facing many more voters back home who pay attention to things. If they support a ban, they will demoralize many of their supporters and will almost certainly lose.

For Congressional Democrats, the issue might even be trickier. There are many Democrats who represent relatively conservative, rural areas. Some of them originally supported the ban in '94 and almost lost that year because of that support. Some of them have recently won elections against Republicans who beat a Democrat in '94 because that Democrat supported the ban. They may be caught between voters to whom they promised respect for the Second Amendment and a party that is demanding their support of a permanent ban. They could be in trouble either way.

If there were any issue that could lead to the formation of a successful third party in 2006, this could be the one. If the GOP passes the ban, it will lose much of its support. Some people will quit voting for GOP candidates. Others might still vote for them but will not volunteer or contribute. Democrats who kept their promise to voters and voted against the ban may find themselves without good committee assignments or party support as the party takes revenge. Those who voted for the ban will have a hard time keeping the votes that kept them in office.

With both parties facing that vulnerability, a third party could make some progress. It would need to oppose gun control without seeming to advocate that everyone should carry M-16's down the street. It would need to oppose taxes but in a moderate way. It would need to be open to people from both sides of the abortion issue but generally lean pro-life. I think it would need to be strong against illegal immigration without appearing isolationist.

I Resolve for a Free New Year

18 posted on 01/04/2003 8:38:10 PM PST by WFTR
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Blood of Tyrants
. And all the rabid Bush supporters ...

Aren't they such interesting people?

19 posted on 01/04/2003 8:38:18 PM PST by templar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Jefferson Adams
Please pardon my ignorance, but what is LF?
20 posted on 01/04/2003 8:41:11 PM PST by aberaussie
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-92 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson