When the assault weapon ban expired in 2004 as part of its “sunset provision”, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, said the ban was nothing but a cosmetic law.
LaPierre told Jim Lehrer of PBS, “It’s not a question of harm. It’s a question of it was a meaningless ban. It involved only cosmetics.” He assured us that these guns were no different than any other gun. “The same guns, there’s no difference in the performance characteristics of the ones that they ban, this ones they didn’t. There’s not a gun going on the market tomorrow that’s more powerful than what was there a week ago.”
And yet, here’s a video of what a “Bushmaster” (one of the weapons used in the Sandy Hook massacre, whose design, the police say, can be traced the M-16 which was developed for U.S. troops in Vietnam) can do:
(Video was removed by user — go figure)
The Chiefs of Police disagreed with LaPierre then, to no avail.
Here’s an edited for brevity/topic snip of the interview Jim Lehrer did with LaPierre and Gil Kerlikowske, chief of the Seattle Police Department, on September 13, 2004 (emphasis mine):
WAYNE LA PIERRE: It’s not a question of harm. It’s a question of it was a meaningless ban. It involved only cosmetics.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean if it only meant cosmetics, then what was the problem in keeping it on — if the police chiefs of America thought it was a good idea?
WAYNE LA PIERRE: Well, because I think it’s just a meaningless, cosmetic nonsense law. I mean it was lied into law in the first place by giving the people the impression you were talking about machine guns and when a lie is discovered, it doesn’t get renewed…
There was so much misinformation talking about machine guns, weapons of war, rapid fire. I mean, they probably thought that that’s the type of gun they were talking about and they weren’t. I mean, we really talk to rank-and-file officers every day. I don’t hear this…
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: I am shaking my head. Number one, the International Association of Chiefs of Police represents something like 16,000 police chiefs.
When we were at the Dirksen Senate Office Building last week to talk about this, let me tell you, there were police chiefs and elected sheriffs from very, very small police departments across this country…
Machine guns have been banned since the 1930s. Nothing has changed. We haven’t made any attempt to remove guns. This weapon ban has been in effect for ten years. I have not heard one thing from any of my colleagues, big city or small, that says, look, we need to do something more about handguns.
This is a narrow and specific law to deal with military-style weapons that are not only used to assault police officers, used by gang bangers but also used to assault people in our communities. And, you know, we’re the ones sworn to protect those communities.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. LaPierre.
(LaPierre avoided the question until Lehrer asked again)
WAYNE LA PIERRE: He’s calling it an assault weapon bill – the same way they’re calling this. He’s using the same rhetoric to describe it as this.
What it bans is the 1187 pump shotgun that he was holding up in West Virginia.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean you just disregard or do not put credence in what the chief and he says 16,000 other police chiefs say about this elected sheriffs.
WAYNE LA PIERRE: I talk to rank-and-file police everyday. I’m just telling you, I had three of them stop me yesterday and they pulled me aside and said, Wayne, you guys keep going because those guys don’t speak for us.
The same guns, there’s no difference in the performance characteristics of the ones that they ban, this ones they didn’t. There’s not a gun going on the market tomorrow that’s more powerful than what was there a week ago.
How wrong LaPierre’s absurd talking points turned out to be. Sadly, it was obvious then, but his rhetorical specialty of hyper-reactionary moving-of-the-goal-post to gun banning sufficed to silence discussion over the necessity of the assault weapons ban. Of note, LaPierre’s hysteria regarding assault weapons not being any different from other weapons and all weapons being banned was addressed in the the 1994 ban, which provided specific protection to 670 types of hunting rifles and shotguns.
Furthermore, the Brady campaign clearly lays out the difference between semi-automatic hunting rifles and military-type assault weapons (among other weapons):
Q. What is the difference between semi-automatic hunting rifles and semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons?
A. Sporting rifles and assault weapons are two distinct classes of firearms. While semi-automatic hunting rifles are designed to be fired from the shoulder and depend upon the accuracy of a precisely aimed projectile to kill an animal, semi-automatic assault weapons are designed to kill as many people quickly, as would be needed in combat.
Opponents of banning assault weapons argue that these military-style weapons only “look” scary. Assault weapons look scary and are scary because they are equipped with combat hardware. Combat features like high-capacity ammunition magazines, pistol grips, folding stocks, and bayonets, which are not found on sporting guns, are designed specifically to facilitate the killing of human beings in battle.
In September of 2004, in spite of urging by police chiefs, the Republican majority refused to bring the assault weapon ban up for a vote, saying there were not enough votes. The 1994 law had been endorsed by President Reagan, President Carter, and President Ford. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms.
Additional source: Mass Shootings in the United States Since 2005, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Mass Gun Violence in the United States Since 1997, Washington, DC: major-shootings pdf.