Washington Times

January 17, 1994, Monday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 924 words

HEADLINE: Confiscate millions of legitimate rifles?

BYLINE: James Bovard

Gun control fever is at an all-time high in America. The Senate in November
passed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, to
ban ownership of assault weapons, and a House-Senate conference in the coming
weeks will decide the provision's fate. President Clinton, Attorney General
Janet Reno, and Mr. Clinton's FBI director, Louis Freeh, have all come out
stridently in favor of banning "assault weapons." Yet, despite the enthusiasm
for restricting gun owners' rights, there is little or no evidence that assault
weapons are a public safety problem.
The Washington Times, January 17, 1994

In recent years, three states and dozens of cities and counties have banned
or severely restricted the ownership of "assault weapons." According to the
Defense Department, an assault weapon is a rifle that is capable of both
automatic (machine-gun) fire and semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull)
fire. But most of the media implicitly define "assault weapon" as any
"politically incorrect rifle." Most bans focus on semi-automatic rifles, and
media coverage routinely confuses semi-automatic with automatic-machine guns,
ownership of which has been severely restricted by the federal government since
1934. A study by David Kopel of Denver's Independence Institute noted, "American
civilians have owned semi-automatics since the 1890s, and currently an estimated
20 to 30 million own the firearms covered by the broader definitions of 'assault
weapon.' "

New York City required rifle owners to register their guns in 1967; city
council members at that time promised that the registration lists would not be
used for a general confiscation of law-abiding citizens' weapons. Roughly 1
million New Yorkers were obliged to register with police. The New York Times,
which never saw a gun control proposal it didn't like, editorialized on Sept.
26, 1967: "No sportsman should object to a city law that makes it mandatory to
obtain a license from the Police Department and to register rifles. . . .
Carefully drawn local legislation would protect the constitutional rights of
owners and buyers. The purpose of registration would be not to prohibit but
The Washington Times, January 17, 1994

to control dangerous weapons."

In 1991, Mayor David Dinkins railroaded a bill through the City Council
banning possession of many semi-automatic rifles, claiming they were actually
assault weapons. Tens of thousands of residents who had registered their guns
in 1967 and scrupulously obeyed the law were stripped of their right to own
their guns. Police are now using the registration lists to crack down on gun
owners; police sent out threatening letters, and then policemen in some cases
have gone knocking on doors, demanding that people surrender their guns,
according to gun expert-lawyer Stephen Halbrook.

The motto of New York gun owners fighting the proposal was, "We Complied,
They Lied." Jerold Levine, counsel to the New York Rifle Association, observed:
"Tens of thousands of New York veterans who kept their rifles from World War II
or the Korean War have been turned into felons as a result of this law. Even
the puny target shooting guns in Coney Island arcades have been banned under the
new law because their magazines hold more than five rounds." Jerry Preiser,
president of the Federation of New York State Rifle and Pistol Clubs, declared
that the mayor's and city council's acts "only show that New York City's leaders
are like repeat sex offenders. . . . They can never be trusted!"
The Washington Times, January 17, 1994

The Feinstein bill is widely perceived as a "foot in the door" to far more
extensive gun bans. When a Christian Science Monitor reporter asked Mrs.
Feinstein why her amendment did not ban all semi-automatic guns, Mrs. Feinstein
replied: "We couldn't have gotten it through Congress."

President Clinton has also implied opposition to permitting private
ownership of semi-autos, declaring last February that "I don't believe that
everyone in America needs to be able to buy a semi-automatic or an automatic
weapon . . . in order to protect the rights of Americans to hunt and to practice

But ownership of automatic weapons is already effectively banned for almost
all Americans - and the Second Amendment was enacted not to protect hunting and
marksmanship but to allow Americans to own the means to defend their hard-won
liberties. If all semiautomatic guns are banned, the federal government could
confiscate tens of millions of guns.

The bans on assault weapons are products of political hysteria rather than a
public safety campaign. A 1990 Florida state commission estimated that "only
one-tenth of 1 percent of the guns used in crimes were so-called 'assault
weapons.' " The FBI Uniform Crime Reports indicated that rifles of all kinds
account for only 4 percent of the nation's homicides, and the number of
The Washington Times, January 17, 1994

homicides committed with rifles has fallen sharply in the last decade.

Just because many gun owners are paranoid does not mean that they have
nothing to fear. Politicians have repeatedly broken their promises to gun
owners, and restrictive new gun control laws will likely be eventually followed
by gun confiscations. If President Clinton signs an assault weapons ban, it
could signal the start of an attack on gun owners' constitutional rights that
could far surpass all previous gun bans.

James Bovard is the author of the forthcoming "Lost Rights: The Destruction
of American Liberty" (St. Martin's Press, April 1994).