But those constraints were of little comfort to about two dozen Maryland officials who gathered at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda yesterday to make one final push to try to persuade the Republican Congress to keep the federal ban in place.
Congregated outside the emergency room, where surgeons treated several victims of the 2002 sniper attacks, they warned that Maryland's streets were about to get a lot more dangerous.
"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)
Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger held up an AR-15 assault rifle and said: "These weapons are not for hunting, they are not designed for sporting activity. These are the weapons the military uses to kill people." He added, "My greatest fear is we just made it easier for the bad guys to rearm themselves."
Calling assault weapons "domestic weapons of mass destruction," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) framed the expired ban as a threat to the nation's homeland security efforts. "You would think for a president who says he is tough on terrorism and tough on crime, he would also be tough on the weapons of choice for criminals and terrorists."
Hours before the ban was to expire, the Web site for Springfield, Mass.-based gunmaker Smith & Wesson was offering two free high-capacity magazines holding up to 16 rounds for weapons purchased before Dec. 31.
A spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the federal ban's sunset. She referred questions about the high-capacity magazine offer to Tom Taylor, the company's director of marketing. He did not return messages.
Other gunmakers did not return calls or would not comment, including Beretta USA Corp., Glock Inc., and Colt's Manufacturing Co. LLC.
Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Baltimore-based Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, said the expiration will have "very little" impact on the industry.
"People who wanted assault weapons already own them," he said. "The guns weren't banned, just cosmetic appendages."
For example, Colt's popular AR-15 rifle, will, presumably, once more be available with the flash suppressor. It has been available without that feature since the ban took effect.
"Customers have been calling all day, very curious," said Abrams, who owns Valley Gun in Baltimore. Far from clamoring to buy assault weapons, "they're just asking me what's going on, because media reports on this have been very confusing."
The buzz about the end of the ban was strong in Manassas, said Bernie Conatser, owner of the Virginia Arms Co. Conatser said he has taken hundreds of orders, at least one from nearly every repeat customers. Some were placed as far back as a year ago.
Most of the orders have not been for weapons but for previously banned magazines and accessories, which customers will place on their "neutered" assault weapons purchased during the past decade.
"It's the proper look," he said. "The original reconfiguration."
Staff writers Tim Craig and Elizabeth Williamson contributed to this report.