Gun dealers in Maryland and Virginia said yesterday that lifting the 10-year-old federal ban on assault weapons would have little effect on business -- no parties to celebrate the expiration and probably no lines out the door.
For one thing, distributors could not ship the weapons until the ban expired at midnight today, so stores won't have the fresh stock for days or weeks. But mostly, the dealers said, customers just aren't that eager to buy them.
"My greatest fear is we just made it easier for the bad guys to re-arm themselves," said Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.
(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
"I think people are more excited that we lost some ground 10 years ago and we're taking that ground back," said Robert Marcus, owner of Bob's Gun Shop in Norfolk. But he said that any hoopla about the end of the ban is "much ado about nothing."
The ban -- which prohibited the sale of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons with specific features, such as bayonet attachments and flash suppressors -- was largely cosmetic, and the average target shooter or hunter got along fine after it, dealers said.
"We haven't had a huge demand for any of those weapons, not before the ban or after," said John Schelin, owner of Schelin's Guns in College Park. "We have some that have been on the shelves for over a year."
However, about two dozen local elected officials continued to call for a continuation of the ban yesterday.
The inventories of gun shops in both states have included legal versions of the firearms for the past decade, the dealers said, adding that the ban's expiration would result in more conversation than sales.
The dealers said they expect the most enthused gun collectors to inquire about the now-legal accessories.
"It's about a boy and his toys," said Al Koch, manager of Bart's Sports World, a gun shop in Glen Burnie. "It's like saying I want hubcaps and a racing wheel on my AR-15," a type of assault rifle. "Now I can put whistles and bells on my firearms that I couldn't put on them yesterday."
Under the federal ban, weapons were limited to 10-round ammunition magazines and could not include two or more of the following characteristics: a folding or telescoping stock; a pistol grip; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor; or a grenade launcher, all features found on military weapons. Firearms with those features continued to be sold to law enforcement agencies and the armed forces.
The ban's expiration allows gunmakers to again offer the weapons with the attachments and higher-capacity magazines, including clips with 15 or 30 rounds. But a Maryland law, passed in June 1994, restricts ammunition magazines that hold more than 20 rounds. The state, one of seven to have its own ban on assault weapons, also prohibits 16 types of assault pistols.
A bill that would have expanded the state's law to include 45 other types of weapons with certain military characteristics died last spring in the General Assembly. Advocates of the bill said yesterday that they would push for its revival and passage next year.
Virginia has no state ban on assault weapons.
Certain restrictions remain in place in both states for people who want to buy assault weapons, including state and federal background checks.