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Commentary by Sen. Dianne Feinstein
| Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

On Jan. 24, I introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, a bill to stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans to own weapons for sporting, recreation and safety purposes. The bill has 21 co-sponsors.

In the weeks since the bill was introduced, opponents seeking to discredit and defeat this effort have mischaracterized the bill. I would like to rebut some of those misconceptions and misrepresentations.

• The most common attack is that the bill is a “gun grab” and will result in confiscations. That is simply false.

First, every single American who legally owns any of the weapons restricted by the bill at the time of enactment keeps their weapons. Period.

Any buy-back program would be completely voluntary and run by local jurisdictions. Furthermore, there is no registration requirement in this bill. The government will not ask you to register your lawfully owned weapons.

Let me be clear: No legally owned weapons will be taken. None.

Additionally, to make absolutely certain no legitimate hunting or sporting weapons are swept into the manufacturing and importation ban, the bill includes more than 2,200 weapons that are specifically excluded – by name – from the bill.

• Another common – but equally misguided – refrain is that the bill is unconstitutional. That claim is false and flies in the face of established judicial precedent.

The original federal assault weapons ban – the law of the land from 1994-2004 – was challenged in federal court several times, and each and every time the reviewing court upheld the bill as constitutional.

While the Supreme Court recognized an individual right to gun ownership in District of Columbia v. Heller, that opinion also clearly stated that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Justice Scalia, the author of that opinion and one of the most conservative justices, wrote that “dangerous and unusual weapons” could be prohibited.

Following Heller, state assault weapons bans in the District of Columbia and California have been upheld. In fact, every Second Amendment challenge to an assault weapons ban has been rejected, both before and afterHeller.

• A third erroneous criticism is that the bill focuses on characteristics that are “cosmetic.” The bill bans firearms that have at least one military feature, such as a pistol grip, barrel shroud or folding stock. Calling these military features “cosmetic” misunderstands why these features were developed and what they make possible.

These features were developed for military weapons for one reason: to make weapons more effective and efficient at killing people in combat situations.

A pistol grip makes it easier for a shooter to rapidly pull the trigger, facilitates firing from the hip and allows a shooter to quickly move the weapon from side to side to spray a wider range.

Barrel shrouds and forward grips allow shooters to grip weapons with nontrigger hands even as the barrel gets extremely hot from rapidly firing multiple rounds.

Folding stocks make weapons more portable and concealable, while threaded barrels allow the attachment of grenade launchers, flash suppressors and other devices that reduce noise and recoil.

And replacement bump-fire stocks allow semiautomatic weapons to reach rates of fire approaching those of fully automatic weapons, which have been banned for decades.

Law enforcement officials agree. Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that military features “enhance our capability” and, as a result, are “meant for the battlefield” – not our streets.

• Finally, critics suggest that other assault weapons bans have failed. Evidence proves otherwise.

The Police Executive Research Forum found that 37 percent of police departments reported “noticeable increases” in the use of assault weapons following the expiration of the 1994-2004 ban.

A Justice Department study found the use of assault weapons traced to crime declined 70 percent nine years after the 1994 ban took effect. Another Justice Department study found the ban was responsible for a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders. Considering the annual number of gun murders exceeds 11,000, that means hundreds of lives saved.

In Virginia, the Washington Post reported the number of assault weapon seizures declined during the 1994-2004 ban, but climbed following its expiration. And a separate ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in Maryland resulted in a 55 percent drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore City Police Department.

Bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines work.

Recent mass shootings, including the massacre of 20 young children and six brave adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, demand meaningful action to reduce gun violence.

I hope the facts will lead this debate, and not misperceptions pushed by a gun lobby that seems to care more about the profits of weapon manufacturers than the safety of the American public.

 

Dianne Feinstein (D) represents California in the United States Senate. Her commentary originally appeared in the Orange County Register.

 

 

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