Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is circulating a letter among his colleagues asking President Bush to reconsider his support for renewing the so-called assault weapon ban, which is scheduled to expire in September 2004. Although usually presented as the very model of reasonable gun control, this law is in fact an arbitrary infringement on the right to keep and bear arms, banning weapons based on little more than their militaristic appearance. As Paul notes, the guns covered by the law are not true assault rifles, which are capable of automatic fire. The banned weapons are semi-automatic guns, firing once per trigger pull, that are neither especially dangerous nor especially favored by criminals.
"The semi-auto ban is useless in preventing violent crime," Paul writes. "Contrary to the propaganda of gun control supporters, only a very small percentage of crimes were committed with so-called assault weapons."
Paul adds that there is nothing sinister about magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, which are also banned by the law. "10, 20 and 30 round magazines for 'legitimate' hunting rifles have been on the market for decades," he notes. "These rifles banned in 1994 are little different than the semi-automatic hunting rifles that have been on the market since World War II."
The "assault weapon" ban is important as a precedent precisely because its justification is so slight. It suggests that you don't need a good reason to limit Second Amendment rights. It also invites further infringements down the road, as supporters take the critics' arguments to heart and start arguing that the ban is not broad enough. After all, it covers only a very small percentage of the guns used in crimes.