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Carl Hiaasen
Bush, Kerry dodge assault weapons issue
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Four years ago, candidate George W. Bush did something bold and out of character for a Texas Republican: He announced his support for the controversial federal ban on certain assault-style firearms.

“It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society,” Bush declared on the campaign trail.

Since becoming president, Bush hasn’t said much of anything on the subject. The 10-year-old law expires this week without a peep of complaint from the White House, though Bush’s aides claim he still favors the weapons restrictions.

John Kerry, who also supports the law, has been nearly as mute as the president on the issue. When it’s a choice between protecting citizens or antagonizing the National Rifle Association, both candidates are content to dodge the gun lobby.

Meanwhile, jubilant manufacturers such as Beretta and Armalite have been ramping up to reintroduce large-capacity semi-automatics in the retail gun market. This is fantastic news for street gangs, workplace snipers and future terrorists.

For the last decade, criminals have been forced to seek out older-model Uzis and AR-15s, manufactured before the 1994 law took effect. These weapons could still be obtained from dealers and gun shows, thanks to a friendly provision written into the legislation.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold slaughtered 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School near Denver in 1999, one of the weapons they used was a modified Intratec TEC-DC9 machine pistol that had rolled off an assembly line in Miami-Dade – before the federal law was enacted.

Critics of the assault-weapons ban, which singled out the TEC-9 and 18 other specific models, have always said the law didn’t work because it was full of holes. Those holes, of course, were devised by the NRA.

Yet, according to police and advocacy groups, the law did work. Statistics compiled across the country showed the number of assault weapons linked to crimes dropped dramatically between 1995 and 2002.

Polls found broad support for the ban even in the conservative Midwest and Southwest regions. Another survey of “NRA supporters” reported that large numbers favored renewing the law, and even strengthening it.

Predictably, the NRA leadership paints all who favor assault-weapons regulations as either liberals or fascists – descriptions that hardly apply to the hundreds of police chiefs and law-enforcement officials who’ve been working to get the law extended.

After all, it’s the cop on the street who is most at peril.

Last week, District of Columbia police Chief Charles Ramsey and scores of other police brass held a rally urging Bush to lean on Congress. Bush has promised to sign a bill restoring the ban, if it passes.

Which it won’t, as he well knows.

Given the current redneck leadership of the U.S. House, the assault-weapons law stood zero chance of revival without some arm-twisting by the president.

It didn’t happen. In this election year, there was nothing bold or out of character about Bush’s disinterest.

Consequently, any loon, gangster, zealot or one-man militia will soon be able to purchase an easily concealed, rapid-firing, short-barreled rifle with a silencer or a flame suppressor.

Instead of a magazine that holds 10 bullets, as the current law allows, customers can equip their new gun with 32-round magazines.

One company that won’t be celebrating the resurgence of assault weapons is Navegar, the Miami-Dade gun maker responsible for the notorious Intratec TEC-9.

“Resistant to fingerprints,” the company’s advertisements had boasted.

More than 75,000 new TEC-9s hit the streets in 1994 alone. The boom wasn’t enough to save Navegar, beset by lawsuits from shooting victims, their survivors and several municipalities.

Navegar went out of business in the spring of 2001. However, the firm has changed its name several times before, so perhaps it will return to ride this new wave of prosperity.

Carl Hiaasen can be reached by e-mail at HeraldEd@aol.com>.
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