Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban?

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 7:43 AM EST

If the Federal Assault Weapons Ban had been renewed in 2004, there's a good chance that its restriction on high-capacity gun magazines would have prevented the Tuscon shooter from killing so many people. So who's to blame for allowing this common sense law to lapse?

Certainly not the American public. During the 2004 debate on renewing the ban, the Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania released a poll showing that 68 percent of the public—including 57 percent of all gun owners and even 32 percent of all NRA members—wanted the ban extended.

Enacted in 1994 with the support of Ronald Reagan, the Assault Weapons Ban was politicized during the contentious 2004 presidential race. "I don't understand the philosophy that says you're making America safer when you take cops off the streets and put assault weapons back on them," John Kerry said at a rally in Missouri. Though Bush was chastised by Kerry for siding with "powerful friends in the gun lobby," he had claimed he'd sign the assault weapons ban extension if it crossed his desk.

Yet the bill never made it that far.  House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) dismissed the ban as "a feel good piece of legislation" and flatly told the New York Times that it would expire even if Bush made an effort to renew it. "If the president asked me, it would still be no," he said. "He knows, because we don't have the votes to pass the assault weapons ban. It will expire Monday, and that's that."

His role in ending the ban made DeLay a hero among gun nuts, who printed up bumper stickers that said, "I'm for NRA and Tom DeLay." The NRA invited DeLay to keynote its annual meeting in 2005, just as ethics investigations were ramping up against him. He took the podium and choked up slightly as he proclaimed: "I've been in elected office for 26 years, and this is the highlight of my career." 

Ever since, things have certainly been downhill for the Hammer. On Monday, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Time will tell whether cohabitation with hardened criminals will temper his love for high-powered guns. 

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