Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration intends to push for the reauthorization of the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
However, the administration is meeting resistance from many within its own party, including Colorado Congresswoman Betsy Markey. In the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Markey said: "I am a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights. I believe it is a mistake to deny constitutional rights to all Americans because of the misdeeds of a few."
A statement like Markey's fails to see compromise in the complexities of the gun control debate, and it thwarts common-sense efforts to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals and extremists.
The original ban was a 10-year ban on the "manufacture, transfer and possession" of semiautomatic firearms that have features useful for military and criminal applications but are unnecessary for shooting sports or self-defense. The ban included weapons such as AK-47s, Uzi machine pistols, the TEC-9 and revolving cylinder shotguns (also known as street sweepers). It also banned guns with two or more military features, including flash suppressors, silencers, pistol grips, grenade launchers and bayonet mounts.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence noted that in the 10 years the ban was in place, the incidence of assault weapons being traced to crimes dropped 66 percent. Similarly, a report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004 found that the share of gun crimes using assault weapons declined anywhere from 17 percent to 72 percent in the six localities included in the study.
Since the gun ban has expired, however, the Brady Center notes that hundreds of people have been killed with assault weapons, including 38 police officers.
In Miami alone, the number of gun-related crimes using assault weapons have climbed from 4 percent of all gun crimes to 20 percent. Finally, in a Washington Post/ABC News Survey taken in October 2006, 61 percent of the American public favored stricter gun-control laws, while only 36 percent opposed them.
Opposing the assault weapons ban because of the Second Amendment offers little defense against these social realities, especially given the Supreme Court's interpretation of it.
Indeed, until recently, the Supreme Court and the bulk of scholarly opinion have viewed the right to bear arms as a collective right of the state to arm and regulate militias rather than an individual right bestowed on every American. Last summer's Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller overturned that legal consensus.
However, even the Heller decision did not say that there was an unlimited individual right to bear arms. In Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that even though the D.C. ban on virtually all handguns was unconstitutional, a wide variety of gun laws are still presumably constitutional, including bans on "the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill," the "carrying of firearms in ... schools and government buildings," or prohibitions on "dangerous and unusual" weapons.
Reinstating the assault weapons ban is not tantamount to nullifying the Second Amendment. The ban does not seek to take away firearms from responsible gun-owners and hunters; rather, it represents the pragmatic belief that we can uphold the Second Amendment while also keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.