Sunday, December 05, 2004

Concerns over stun guns grow: "In a report being released Tuesday, Amnesty International says stun guns are being abused by police and wants more scientific study done to determine whether the devices are safe. Amnesty says at least 74 people have died in the United States and Canada in the past four years after being shocked with Tasers. The group also says officers have turned stun guns on the mentally disturbed, children and the elderly."

Gun grabbers say the damnedest things! "In the wake of a deadly shooting in Wisconsin that claimed the lives of six hunters, the gun grabbers have begun their ritual dance in the blood of innocents and 'Ban Assault Weapons' chant. Like a band of savage troglodytes, they worship at the altar of tragedy as a means of pushing their odious agenda, while the gun rights advocates scurry to defend what's left of the Second Amendment."


President Bill Clinton's 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in September, placed a ban on 19 guns classified as "assault weapons." Historically, restrictions on firearms are by no means limited to liberal politicians; both the Reagan and Bush (the elder) administrations oversaw the implementation of limits on importation of certain foreign weapons. The lingering question about the 1994 ban is, "What, if anything, did it accomplish?" Gun enthusiasts say its effects were petty, aside from simply being a morale-boosting coup for the anti-gun lobby.

People on both sides of the debate are so biased that it's nearly impossible to pick through the jumble of truths, rationalizations, opinions and flat-out fabrications. One overwhelmingly unanimous opinion among gun enthusiasts is that Clinton's ban really didn't have a clear target. Most gun retailers despise the use of the term "assault weapon," often ridiculing it as a misnomer fabricated by politicians ignorant on the subject of firearms. Tamara Keel, a long-time salesperson at Randy's Guns and Knives, says, "The real inanity of the ban is that several legal shotguns were more powerful [than banned weapons] but had wooden stocks, so they didn't look as scary."

Admittedly, the once-banned AR15, all black metal and plastic, does look a lot more sinister than the M1A, which has a wooden stock and would look homey on the mantle of a hunter's cabin. That said, there are differences that, though gun enthusiasts beg to differ, are more than just cosmetic.

For example, under the ban, guns could not be sold or manufactured with collapsible stocks, which allow the shooter to shorten the length of the gun. This could presumably make the firearm easier to conceal, which is unnecessary in hunting or hobby shooting.

Flash suppressers, attached to the tip of the barrel to diminish the visible flash, were also forbidden under the ban. "They would be useful at night, for the military, for example. It would keep the enemy from knowing where the fire came from," says Guy.

Again, this feature doesn't seem necessary for sporting use, but Guy explains that many sportsmen value the "historical look of [flash suppressers]. They look more like military arms."

Another restriction under the ban was placed on bayonet attachments, prompting most gun enthusiasts to scoff, "When was the last time you heard of someone getting murdered by bayonet?" Fair enough, but I couldn't get a straight answer as to what, exactly, would be the purpose of the bayonet attachment as far as hobby, sport, or even self-defense. (After all, if you are holding a semi-automatic weapon whose bullets could bust through several layers of drywall, why would you need a bayonet?)

The most significant difference in the gun market since the ban expired is the increased capacity space of the magazine (the cartridge which holds the bullets). Before the ban, no magazine could be sold or manufactured (for long guns or handguns) that held more than 10 rounds. Though most shooters at the range still use 10-round magazines, there is now a variety available. The highest I saw was a 90-round coil for an AR15 on sale at a recent RK Gun Show, which would make it possible to shoot 90 bullets rapidly without reloading.

The question of whether the banned weapons were rightfully termed "assault weapons" or whether they are any more dangerous than legal guns is a never-ending debate. Regardless, the looming problem with all of these regulations is that, ultimately, many people still owned what the government classified as "assault weapons" while the ban was in effect because of a grandfather clause. "We haven't seen much of a change in the weapons people use here [since the ban expired] because so many people had licenses to shoot these guns during the ban," says Guy of the significant loophole in the legislation.

Area gun retailers confirm Guy's assertion that the gun world hasn't seen a significant change since the ban was lifted. Larry Greenlee, of Craig's Firearms, says that immediately after the ban expired, "sales picked up a little, but it calmed back down again." He chalks the small boost up to a forbidden fruit phenomenon; people automatically wanted what they couldn't have before.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which provides background checks for all guns purchased in Tennessee, gives statistics that would tend to further the notion that the ban's expiration was a mere blip on the radar of the gun world. Records from October 2004 show that TBI processed 20,484 total firearms-only a handful more guns than the 19,499 they processed in October of 2003, when the ban was still in effect. Not exactly a sales boom.

So, while folks on either side of the gun control debate have staunch opinions on the ban, its practical applications seem to have been pretty meager. Of course, other avenues of gun control are either possible or already in effect. Many states have their own restrictive gun laws. Massachusetts has a mandatory one-year jail sentence for anyone illegally possessing a firearm; a measure that takes on the gun lobby's argument that criminals don't abide by gun laws.

The Brady Law of 1994 provides for more in-depth background checks as well as mandatory five-day waiting periods, but Tennessee is among 27 states exempt from these provisions. Presently, the background check usually only takes a few moments, allowing customers to make a purchase almost instantly. Jennifer Johnson of the TBI says, "The TN Instant Check system simply tells the retailer whether the person has a felony in their criminal history."

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