Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

An Assault To Homeland Security

Jun 30, 2003
Op-Ed

It is fair to say that there is no greater task now facing our government than to protect and defend our cities and towns from those who would seek to do us harm.  If you have watched C-Span at all over the last two years, you will have noted a regular procession of Democrats and Republicans on both the House and Senate floors touting the urgency to further secure our nation.   After all, keeping our citizen’s safe is a goal that should not be marred with partisan squabbling or special interest agendas.

That’s true in an ideal world.

Unfortunately, Washington is a town that is increasingly dyslexic in reading what is truly important, and a frightening, inexplicable event may soon occur.  Some of the most lethal, efficient firearms desired by criminals and terrorists may soon flood our domestic market.  Why? Because Congressional leadership wants to kill the ban on semiautomatic assault-style weapons.

In 21st Century America, when we speak about safety and keeping our families secure, at some point we must address the issue of sensible gun legislation.  While we can protect the rights of law abiding citizens who own guns for hunting or a sense of personal security, surely we can all agree that weapons of war should be kept off our streets.

The federal assault weapons ban, passed in 1994, prohibits the manufacture, sale, and importation of new military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons and rapid fire ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.  In more simple terms, this means that weapons such as UZIs and AK-47s--among many other similar devices--are now barred from public use.  I have yet to meet a duck hunter who feels inconvenienced by this.

But the law was only authorized for ten years.  If Congress and the President do not renew it, we have trouble on our hands.  Are you ready for revolving cylinder shotguns such as ‘Street Sweepers’ to become legal again?

If you haven’t received a check from the NRA recently, then the answer is probably no.  So it speaks volumes that House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Tex) announced recently that the House will not even have a vote on this matter.  To be against reauthorizing this ban may put into question one’s sense of reason--but to thwart the democratic process by holding legislation hostage is unconscionable.

There’s a reason why every law enforcement organization, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriff’s Association, support this ban—because it works.  According to the National Institute of Justice, the assault weapons ban has clearly reduced the use of these extreme weapons in crime.  According to the report, police traces on assault weapons used in crimes declined by 20 percent the first year alone.

As my good friend Senator Frank Lautenberg has noted, found in the ruins of a terrorist training camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, was a book called “How Can I Train Myself for Jihad.”  The book discussed the ease in which guns can be purchased in the United States in order to engage in terrorism.  We simply must not include additional, rapid fire guns developed solely for military use, into our nation’s gun shows and stores.

H.R. 2038, The Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2003 is designed to renew the current ban.  While it is no secret that the gun lobby heaves enormous political weight throughout the halls of Congress, it appears that we do have some allies of our own.  After all, during the 2000 election cycle, then-Governor Bush made a campaign promise to support extension of the ban, as did Attorney General Ashcroft during his 2001 Senate confirmation hearing.  Now is the time for them to tell the Republican leadership in the House and Senate to put this issue to a vote.

To do so is not just a matter of legislative fairness-- it’s an urgent matter of homeland security.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.

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