Assault-Weapons Ban Expires

The expiration of the federal assault-weapons ban, which took place Monday, makes gun enthusiasts happy because they will once again be able to legally purchase military-style guns such as TEC-9s.

Critics, however, say the expiration is nothing more than Washington politics.

"It's all about politics," Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (search), told FOX News on Monday. "Anybody in Washington can tell you the reason this ban is going to expire is because of politics."

The 1994 ban, signed by President Clinton, outlawed the sale of 19 types of assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire in 10 years unless Congress specifically reauthorized it, which it has not.

Some of the 19 - foreign-made weapons like the AK-47 and Uzi - are still banned under a 1989 law prohibiting imports of specific automatic weapons.

A bill was introduced in April that would have renewed the ban. But despite 136 co-sponsors, it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and no further action has been taken on it.

Studies done by pro- and antigun groups, as well as the Justice Department, show conflicting results on whether the ban has helped reduce crime.

Loopholes allowed manufacturers to keep many weapons on the market simply by changing their names or altering features and accessories.

The weapons ban has also put the 2004 presidential campaign in its crosshairs.

National police organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (search), the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (search) and the Fraternal Order of Police (search) all support the renewal of the ban. President Bush has said he would sign such a bill if Congress passed it.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Monday assailed Bush for not extending the ban, and outlined his own $5 billion plan to fight crime. Kerry also picked up the endorsement of the National Association of Police Organizations (search).

"Today George Bush made the job of terrorists easier, and made the job of America's law enforcement officers harder, and that's just plain wrong," Kerry. "George Bush made a choice today. He chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over the police officers and the families he promised to protect."

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that was "another false attack from Senator Kerry."

Bush believes the best way to curb gun violence is to enforce laws that are on the books, McClellan said, and he added that violent crime was at a 30-year low.

Other Democrats also took aim at the president.

"By letting the assault weapons ban expire today without having lifted a finger to renew it, the President has removed all doubt on where he stands -- he believes the world's most dangerous assault weapons should be allowed on American streets," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "If he wanted the ban renewed, he could have called on Republican congressional leaders to pass it."

Gun-shop owners said the expiration of the ban would have little effect on the types of guns and accessories that are typically sold and traded across their counters every day.

At the Boise Gun Co., gunsmith Justin Davis last week took a black plastic rifle resembling the U.S. military's standard-issue M-16 from a row of more than a dozen similar weapons stacked against a wall.

The civilian version of the gun, a Colt AR-15 (search) manufactured before 1994, could be sold last week just as easily as it can be sold this week.

"It shoots exactly the same ammo at exactly the same rate of fire," said Davis.

Many states — including California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii — have passed their own laws curbing the use of assault weapons. Some of those are more stringent than the federal ban.

National Rife Association (search) Vice President Wayne LaPierre told FOX News on Monday that the guns being legalized "are no different than any other hunting gun, any other handgun ... We're not talking about machine guns or rapid-fire" guns.

"I think everyone needs to take a deep breath on this," LaPierre added.

U.S. Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, trumpeted the end of the federal law.

"President Clinton's so-called 'assault weapons' ban was nothing more than a sop to antigun liberals," Otter said Friday in a written statement. "It provided only the illusion of reducing gun violence, but it did real damage to our liberties."

But advocates for the ban, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, point to some particularly vicious shootings in which military-style weapons were used — including the 10 killings in the sniper shooting spree that terrorized residents in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in 2002.

"To turn back the clock — it's so difficult to make political progress on this issue in this country," Hamm said, adding that 2,700 people a year die from gun-related violence. "It's very sad, as far as we're concerned, to step backwards."

Idaho State Police spokesman Rick Ohnsman said troopers have had no significant problems with assault-style weapons and his agency has not taken a position for or against the federal legislation.

"Of course, the legitimate owners of guns register them. Unfortunately, whether there is a ban or not, some individuals will find ways to get weapons that are illegal."

The expiration of the assault-weapons ban does not mean the end of federal background checks. The 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (search) is separate legislation from the assault weapons ban, said Daniel Wells, chief of the FBI unit charged with overseeing the background checks system.

"The change in law relating to assault weapons has no impact on the Brady Law," Wells said.

Davis predicted the biggest change in his business would be the ability of manufacturers and importers to market higher-capacity ammunition magazines — the removable "clip" that holds and feeds bullets through guns.

Under the 1994 ban, the maximum capacity of a magazine was set at 10 rounds. That sent the price of high-capacity magazines through the roof, Davis said, even though magazines manufactured before the ban were protected by a "grandfather" provision and could still be sold.

Now, some gun manufacturers are planning to give away high-capacity magazines as bonuses for buying their weapons. Sales of formerly banned gun accessories, such as flash suppressors and folding stocks, are also expected to take off.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.