Transcript

The Assault Weapons Ban: Brady Campaign

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Brian Siebel
Senior Attorney with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Friday, September 17, 2004; 1:00 PM

A 10-year-old federal ban on assault weapons expired earlier this week with little chance that a vote to reestablish it will be brought before congress in the near future.

Brian Siebel, senior attorney with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, discussed the expiration of the assault weapons ban.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Brian Siebel: Hello, and good afternoon. I'm pleased to have a chance to answer your questions about the temporary expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. For more information on this topic, please visit our websites at www.bradycampaign.org, www.stopthenra.com, and www.gunlawsuits.org.

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Wilmington, Del.: As a hunter I am a reflexively against gun control, but am willing to be convinced to support it in some limited ways. Are there any statistics which show that the weapons banned are more likely (normalized to their proportion of the total firearm universe) to be used in crimes than other weapons which are not on the banned list?

Brian Siebel: We published a study called "On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Act" in March, 2004. In that study, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed almost 1.5 million guns traced to crime over the last 15 years and found that the rate at which assault weapons banned by the 1994 Act were used in crime declined by 66% during the 10 years of the ban. We think that is powerful evidence that the ban worked.

Numerous other studies have shown that assault weapons named in the act were disproportionately used in crime relative to their numbers in circulation. For example, James Alan Fox, a nationally known criminologist, did a study showing the TEC-9 assault pistol was more than 5 times as likely as other guns to be used in a homicide.

The ban had the effect of reducing the use of these dangerous weapons in crime. Expiration of the ban will likely have the reverse effect over time.

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Lake Ridge, Va.: I posted this question to Mr. Cox of the NRA and I would like to get your opinion as well.

I have never held a gun, let alone fired a gun or owned a gun. Yet, I find the anti-gun advocates to be completely uncompelling in their arguments. I believe in the Constitution, thus I believe in the second amendment right to own a gun. I agree with those who are pro-gun, that criminals don't buy guns legally, so the ban made no difference -in regards to using assault weapons in violence/criminal acts].

I guess my question is, what is the real motivation behind those who are anti-gun? Why do they feel that limiting the rights of people to buy what they want is so dangerous? I've heard them ask the question: Why does anyone need an assault weapon? My question: Why should the government decide who needs what?

(I really do fall in the middle of the debate, as I do support background checks and stricter tracking of guns.)

Brian Siebel: The Brady Campaign is not "anti-gun" per se. We are for saving the lives of Americans. All of the laws we support are with that end in mind. It is called the Brady background check because of our tireless work to get that law passed.

The assault weapons law is another effective law. According to the data I cited above, it led to a 66% decline in the rate at which these weapons were used in crime over the 10 year period the ban. That was one of the reasons Senator John Warner (R-VA) switched from opposing the ban 10 years ago to sponsoring a bill seeking to renew the law this year.

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Annapolis, MD: Hello Brian,
It is my understanding after looking at the BATF web site that true assault weapons (M16, AK-47, UZI) as used by ANY military in the world are select fire or fully automatic, meaning machine guns and have been federally restricted and licensed since 1934.

Banning these look alikes based on cosmetic features seems like the equivilant of banning those Volkswagon beetle conversions that look like a formula one racer. They look like a racer but still only do 60 or 70 not 180 mph!
So how are these guns any different than the most popular deer rifles besides the fact that the deer rifles typically shoot a larger more powerful cartrige (30.06 vs .223)?

Brian Siebel: The guns covered by the Assault Weapons Act are semiautomatic versions of fully automatic guns designed for military use. Whereas an automatic weapon (machine gun) will continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed (or until the ammunition magazine is emptied), a semiautomatic weapon will fire one round and instantly load the next round with each pull of the trigger. Even semiautomatic assault weapons fire with extraordinary speed. When San Jose, California, police test-fired an UZI, a 30-round magazine was emptied in slightly less than two seconds on full automatic, while the same magazine was emptied in just five seconds on semiautomatic.

These are not deer hunting weapons. Indeed, the 1994 federal ban exempted 661 weapons to make clear that only military-style assault weapons were being effected.

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Fairfax, Va.: Does the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence support our Second Ammendment right to bear arms? Supporters of the "Assault Weapons Ban" bill in Congress such as Dianne Fienstein have openly admitted that they would take away every gun from private ownership if they could. If the brady Campaign DOES support the Second Ammendment, then why align yourselves with people like her that would happily ban almost every type of firearm in the U.S., similar to what they did in the U.K.? In my opinion it is a very slipery slope and your ban is the first step in the erosion of our Constitutional rights.

Brian Siebel: The Brady Campaign does not have a secret agenda to ban guns or take away guns from law abiding citizens. The 1994 assault weapon ban focused on military-style weapons and their high-capacity magazines and exempted 661 weapons.

Dozens of law enforcement organizations have joined with the Brady Campaign calling for a renewal of this common sense law. Here are just a few of them:
American Probation and Parole Association - APPA
Fraternal Order of Police - FOP
Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association - HAPCOA
International Association of Chiefs of Police - IACP
International Brotherhood of Police Officers - IBPO
Major Cities Chiefs Association - MCCA
Major County Sheriffs' Association - MCSA
National Association of School Resource Officers - NASRO
National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives - NAWLEE
National Black Police Association - NBPA
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives - NOBLE
National Sheriffs Association - NSA
Police Executive Research Forum - PERF
Police Foundation

As far as the Second Amendment is concerned, the Brady Campaign supports the interpretation of the Second Amendment that the U.S. Supreme Court has adopted and has been joined by every federal appeals court except the Fifth Circuit -- that the Second Amendment is linked to service in a "well-regulated Militia"

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Arlington, Va.: You say that the ban "led to a 66 percent decline in the rate at which these weapons were used in crime over the 10 year period", but isn't it true that they were used in less than 2 percent of gun crimes to start with?

Brian Siebel: The NRA commonly cites the 2% figure you mention, but it is very misleading. In fact, that is 2% of all crimes. If you only consider GUN crimes, assault weapons were used by 6.8% of gun criminals prosecuted by state officials, and 9.3% of federally prosecuted gun criminals. Since assault weapons make up only about 1% of the guns in circulation, we consider those numbers to be significant.

In addition, the Department of Justice just released a study that noted "assault weapons account for a larger share of guns used in mass murders and murders of police, crimes for which weapons with greater firepower would seem particularly useful."

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Reston, Va.: Why was the assault weapons ban limited to a ten year time frame? Why not ban the features in question indefinitely?

Additionally, don't you find that attributing a drop in crime to the assault weapons ban over a ten year period is a bit of a stretch? Is there any more relevant data that shows a change in the percentage of crimes committed using these banned weapons? In other words, is there any evidence that the ban made it harder for these weapons to end up in the hands of those that ultimately will use illegal means to purchase firearms?

Brian Siebel: Good question. We believe the assault weapons ban has worked and should be made permanent. Major law enforcement organizations - both rank and file and chiefs - agree.

I've given the data regarding the 66% decline in the rate at which the banned guns were used in crime over the last 10 years. That strongly suggests the ban made it much more difficult for criminals to obtain these high-firepower weapons. If you'd like to read more, go to our website and read our On Target report.

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Sarasota, Fla.: Why has the debate over assault weapons reached this point? I do not understand why, in recent polls, there is so much support for the renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, and there was so little will in Congress for renewing the ban. I do not buy the argument that the 10 year ban only affected cosmetic changes in weapons. The banned items make guns easier to conceal and deadlier. How does the NRA have so much influence in Congress and with the President, that it can thwart the will of the American people?

Brian Siebel: Good question. We believe President Bush is a major reason why the ban was not renewed. He campaigned in 2000 with the promise that he would renew the ban on his watch, but when Speaker Hastert said it would take a telephone call from the President to bring renewal of the ban to a vote on the House floor (after the Senate had voted 52-47 for renewal this year), the President refused to make that phone call.

I guess he would rather have the endorsement of the NRA and the millions it will spend attacking Senator Kerry than to keep his campaign promise and renew a law that made Americans safer and helped keep our law enforcement officers from facing criminals who outgun them.

Voters have a clear choice this November on this issue.

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New York, N.Y.: I'd like to know why the "assault weapons ban" is called that. I mean, there isn't a single "assault" weapon on it, just a number of semi-automatic weapons that happen to look more "aggressive" than other equally capable weapons.

Brian Siebel: Here is how Gun Digest defined assault weapons in 1989 in The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons.

"[T]here will always be a place for what are collectively termed assault weapons. . . . Most of them are effective for the type of warfare for which they have been designed: close range assault work. That's where firepower is a necessity either to make the enemy keep his head down so you can maneuver or, more permanently, to remove him from the action. . . . There is also an element of the civilian population that is showing an increasing interest in this type of weaponry. The vast majority of these shooters and gunowners purchase assault-type weapons limited to semiautomatic fire."

The author clearly included semi-automatic versions of the military weapons named in the 1994 law - AK-47s, UZIs, TEC-9s, AR-15s, etc. With high-capacity magazines, a shooter can empty the 30 to 50-round clips these guns carry in only a few seconds. That is a military assault.

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Quantico, Va.: you keep talking about criminals committing crimes and how outlawing assault weapons will stop crime. these weapons were banned for 10 years but you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a gun show, dealer, or newspaper full of them! they were still available for purchase in a variety of bizarre configurations. do you really think criminals are going to stop using weapons because there's a law on the books saying it's illegal?

Brian Siebel: Yes, the gun industry did go out after the ban and make "copycat" weapons in an effort to get around the ban. Fortunately, it didn't work. We looked at copycat weapons as part of our On Target study and found even considering those guns there was a 45% decline in the rate at which these weapons were traced to crime over 10 years. True, copycats and grandfathered assault weapons were sold during the time of the ban, but they were used less and less frequently over the last 10 years. We think that is a good thing.

Indeed, a very recent Justice Department study stated: "The ban prevent[ed] a few thousand crimes with assault weapons annually."

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Washington, D.C.: Why is there continued support for a ban that's been shown to be inneffectual (20 percent drop in weapons used in assault weapons which can't be directly associated with the bill since gun violence in general has been falling over the last 20 years), in lieu of pursuing more favorable means that directly effect the reasons for gun violence in the first place like: income levels and jobs of those commiting crimes, adding more police on the street, tougher penalites for gun crime, strict enforcement of those penalties? It was crystal clear to anyone who has ever touched a gun that the restrictions in the ban were strictly cosmetic and would do nothing to control actuall gun violence. People were not being killed by the name of the weapon, the flash supressor, the magazines size, the bayonette lug, and the pistols grip. I think most people do support means of gun control that don't infringe on others Constitutional rights, such as manditory gun locks. But when you start legistlating away peoples Constitutional rights with generalized language, as was done with the AWB, it becomes much easier to do so in other cirumstances like the Patriot Act.

Brian Siebel: I've addressed many parts of your question in response to others. I would like to address your point about having more police on the streets. Of course, we think that is a good thing. Unfortunately, the program that put 100,000 more police on the streets was a President Clinton initiative that President Bush has made major cuts to. We don't believe it is prudent in this time where we are focused on homeland security to take police off the streets and put high-firepower assault weapons back on them.

In response to some of your other comments, no one lost a day of hunting due to the assault weapons ban. And renewing the law would only prevent thousands of new high-firepower weapons from reaching the streets, it would not take anyone's gun away.

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Washington, D.C.: I feel like the gun debate has not really caught fire as a campaign altering issue. Could it be that Kerry's support of hunting is muddying the waters?

Brian Siebel: Senator Kerry challenged President Bush last week very forcefully for his failure to do anything to get this law renewed despite universal support from law enforcement nationwide. Recent polls in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida indicate than when voters realize the difference between Senator Kerry and President Bush on this issue, they swing their support dramatically to Senator Kerry, who stopped campaigning in March to come to the Senate and vote for renewal of this law. (The polls can be found on our website at www.bradycampaign.org.) We believe this will be an issue between now and November 2nd.

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Washington, D.C.: 30 rounds were emptied in five seconds by the San Jose PD. I find that amazing that a human finger could pull the trigger 6 times in one second, impossible!

Brian Siebel: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's husband and son were also amazed when they were hit, along with many others, by a fusillade of bullets during the Long Island RR massacre in 1993. Rep. McCarthy said that the shooter was able to empty 45 rounds in a few seconds because he had high-capacity magazines for his semi-automatic Ruger pistol.

In the 101 California Street massacre in SF in 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri fired hundreds of rounds from his two TEC-9 assault pistols in a very short period of time.

Tom Mauser, who lost his son at Columbine, said the firepower of the TEC-9 is what pinned down so many children in the library of that school and led to their deaths.

These are high-firepower weapons of war.

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Brian Siebel: Thank you all for the questions. I'm sorry I didn't have time to get to every one. Please visit our websites at www.bradycampaign.org, www.stopthenra.com, and www.gunlawsuits.org if you would like further information.

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