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Let Sleeping Laws Die

Location: Washington, DC

Let Sleeping Laws Die

by Senator Larry Craig

If a law is ineffective, should we make a special effort to keep it alive, or just let it die?

Minus all the shouting and symbolism, that's exactly the question Congress faced about renewing the ban on some "assault weapons," which expired on September 13, 2004. Although supporters of the ban want to renew and expand it to ban more guns, a Congressionally-mandated study found it has had no impact on violent crime.

This is mainly because the banned firearms were never involved in more than a tiny fraction of those crimes in the first place. They were banned by name or simply for cosmetic characteristics that have very little to do with the operation or lethality of a weapon. No matter how "menacing" a weapon looks, statistics from communities around the nation show that fewer than 3 percent of guns used in crime are semiautomatics. Even if the law banned ALL semiautomatic firearms (and it doesn't), it wouldn't put a dent in crime.

And it hasn't. While proponents of the ban may argue that crime rates have steadily fallen since the ban was put in place in 1994, they are leaving out the important details. This falling crime rate is part of a trend that began in 1991- before Bill Clinton was elected and well before the ban was passed into law. Over this same period of time, gun ownership among law-abiding citizens and the aggressive prosecution of gun crimes have both increased. I'm sure these two factors have more to do with the falling crime rate than the ineffective semiauto ban.

Another reason why the ban doesn't curb crime is a reason as old as the gun-control debate, although still relevant; criminals, by definition, don't obey laws - including gun bans. They can and do access black markets for tools to commit crimes. Law enforcement agrees; surveys of America's rank-and-file police demonstrate the vast majority are opposed to gun bans as a crimefighting technique. And in this case, enforcing an ineffective gun ban wastes scarce police resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.

Some argue the ban keeps particularly bad guns away from everyone, but this argument is misinformed, at best. At worst, it is downright misleading. Semiautomatic firearms don't fire any faster or louder or more powerfully than others. They aren't machine guns; if you pull the trigger, one bullet is fired. One bullet per trigger pull. They can't "spray bullets." In fact, the size, weight, and ease of loading historically made them the self-defense choice for many homeowners. President Teddy Roosevelt hunted with a semiautomatic over 100 years ago. Furthermore, there are national and international sport shooting competitions using semiautomatic firearms.

Finally, gun-control advocates point to polling data about the ban, suggesting that the American public supports extending the Clinton gun ban. However, the way a polling question is worded often influences the answer given. Here's an example. I can ask people if they support restricting dihydrogen oxide, a dangerous liquid that can suffocate humans and animals and is pervasive in our environment. However, this sinister chemical seems a lot less harmful if I call it by its common name: water. Once the Clinton gun ban is explained in plain terms, support for it quickly erodes.

This law did no good and certainly did harm by diverting police resources and burdening law-abiding citizens. This was a sleeping dog that we did well to leave alone.

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