By Michael Conlon
CHICAGO (Reuters) – A 10-year-old ban on assault weapons expired across the United States on Monday with a political firefight but no apparent rush to rearm by gun fanciers.
At The Shooters Shop in West Allis near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, salesman Peter Kinkead said that by noon he had received more than 20 phone calls in addition to walk-in inquiries.
«People are using us as a resource, asking what the law covers. Now that the ban expired I think we’ll see more security guards who will come in and be able to purchase a proper (ammunition) magazine for their work,» Kinkead said.
At Badger Outdoors in West Milwaukee owner Wally Allan said he had not heard a lot of talk among customers.
«I think it hasn’t really sunk in but we might hear from people once it does. I still have the same guns I had before; mostly handguns and shotguns for hunting. We don’t see a big demand for the kind of guns that were affected by the ban,» he said.
With the expiration of the ban, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent out a letter to weapons importers clarifying the post-ban rules.
«There is no longer a federal prohibition on the manufacture, transfer and possession of SAWs (semiautomatic assault weapons),» the bureau said.
In Tennessee, at Nashville’s Gun City USA, firearms instructor Robert Schlafly said there had been no upsurge in orders or interest, adding it may be too early to tell what will happen.
In the long run, he predicted the end of the ban will drive down prices since new inventories will appear on the market.
«To me the ban was just a way for (former President Bill) Clinton to get more votes,» Schlafly said. «It’s all politics. It didn’t hurt the firearms industry but people were mad.»
The 1994 law, which expired just after midnight Sunday because (the U.S.) Congress elected not to renew it, banned the sale, manufacture and importing of powerful military-style assault weapons, along with magazines holding more than 10 rounds and certain other features such as devices to suppress the flashpoint.
Weapons made before the ban remained legal to possess and sell during the 10-year period. The ban had heavy backing from law enforcement interests but was bitterly opposed by the gun lobby, including the powerful National Rifle Association, which said it did little to take guns from anyone intent on mayhem.
In Washington, Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry accused President Bush of choosing «powerful and well-connected friends» over police officers and families by secretly backing the gun lobby in its opposition to a renewal of the law.
Now, he said, «when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase an AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, they’re going to hear one word: ‘sure.»‘
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan called Kerry’s remarks «another false attack» and said the best way to stop gun violence is to vigorously prosecute gun crime.
© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
By Michael Conlon