From the Houston Chronicle - Chron.com/national
Obama heeding lesson from ‘94 gun ban
By STEWART M. POWELL and JENNIFER A. DLOUHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
April 20, 2009, 9:29PM
WASHINGTON — The last time a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress banned civilian sales of military-style assault weapons, it took American voters just seven weeks to rebel.
They handed Republicans control of the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.
One of the casualties in the backlash was Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, who sponsored the ban and then promptly lost his seat in Congress in 1994 after 42 years of service.
The lesson wasn’t lost on President Obama when Mexican President Felipe Calderon suggested reviving the defunct weapons’ ban to help combat drug cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Obama insisted he had “not backed off” his campaign promise to make the expired ban permanent.
But he bowed to political reality, nonetheless.
“None of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy,” Obama said. “And so, what we’ve focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws.”
Any hint that the ban might be resurrected alarmed some Texas Republicans, largely elected by voters who ardently support the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a Texas constitutional right “to bear arms in defense of himself and the Republic” that dates back to 1836
Few Willing To Take Risk
Fresh restrictions on weapons are “not the solution to the problems occurring in Mexico,” declared Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio.
In fact, some assert the White House would be capitalizing on border violence simply to push a gun control agenda.
“It is not our responsibility to keep guns out of Mexico — and reviving the ban will not affect the way Mexico protects its border,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, a former criminal court judge.
Said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands: The issue remains ending bloodshed by lawless drug cartels and “not a divisive return to policies that infringe upon the American people’s Second Amendment rights.”
The truth is, few believe Obama could win a battle to resurrect the ban anyway, even among Democrats.
“We’ve reached a point where there aren’t many people who will stick their political necks out to vote for sensible gun control,” says Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership.
The Democratic-led Senate already dealt a body blow to the gun control movement when 22 Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined 40 Republicans to shelve firearms restrictions in the nation’s capital.
Merely hinting at renewal provoked 65 House Democrats, many from swing districts, to warn the administration that they would “actively oppose” it.
The latest nationwide polls show “little evidence that gun control is at the moment a high priority for Americans,” says the Gallup Poll’s “Pulse of Democracy.”
Barely 49 percent surveyed wanted tighter laws on firearms sales, the lowest percentage since 1990. Americans remain evenly divided on whether to make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess assault rifles.
“There’s a realization on Capitol Hill that the 1994 law was ineffective,” says Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. “The logical question is why should we resurrect a law that was proven to be ineffective?”
Obama Still Backs Ban
Obama backed the ban during his presidential campaign. His transition team listed “making the expired federal assault weapons ban permanent” a goal.
The White House says he still supports it.
“The president is also, though, focused on taking actions to stem the flow of guns moving south that go across the border (and) making progress on something that we are likely to see progress on,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
The narrow ban that was adopted in 1994 and expired in 2004 prohibited the sale of 19 military-style assault weapons, “copy-cat” models and ammunition magazines that were capable of containing more than 10 rounds.