WASHINGTON, DC – On the eve of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, President Bush has kept his 2000 campaign promise and reaffirmed his support for the federal ban on assault weapons, Knight Ridder news service reported this past weekend. According to White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, “The President supports the current law, and he supports reauthorization of the current law.” The federal assault weapons ban is scheduled to expire on September 13, 2004. The NRA, one of Bush’s strongest supporters during the 2000 election, claimed credit for his electoral victory. The NRA is vehemently opposed to the ban and has called for the law to not be renewed. The NRA’s annual meeting is April 25-27, 2003. Florida Governor Jeb Bush is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the event.
Bush’s support for the ban has been longstanding. In October 2000, Bush spokesperson Ray Sullivan told Salon magazine that he would expect then-candidate Bush to reauthorize the ban. That position was reiterated by John Ashcroft during his confirmation hearings on January 17, 2001, when he said, “It is my understanding that the president-elect of the United States has indicated his clear support for extending the assault weapon ban, and I would be pleased to move forward that position, and to support that as a policy of this president, and as a policy of the Justice Department.” Like Bush, Ashcroft has been a strong ally of the NRA, which spent over $500,000 on his behalf during his failed 2000 Senate bid. Just as importantly, in his confirmation hearing testimony Ashcroft stated that the law was not precluded by the Second Amendment. That determination by Ashcroft, a strong adherent of the NRA’s view of the Second Amendment, should remove any discussion from the debate about the law’s constitutionality. In fact, no court challenge to the law has ever succeeded.
During the 2002 campaign cycle, the NRA made ending the assault weapons ban a top priority. Just this month, the Associated Press reported, “Federal NRA representatives say the ban simply has not worked,” and quoted NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandan as stating, “The question is why should we keep ineffective laws on the books….Undoubtedly, there will be a healthy debate on this.”
VPC Public Policy Director Joe Sudbay states, “Undoubtedly, the NRA’s leadership did not envision that the debate over the federal assault weapons ban would be between the NRA and the White House which they vowed to be working out of if Bush won. We have long been concerned that Bush would choose the NRA over public safety. This reaffirmation of the President’s campaign promise is a positive step in protecting the American public. We are equally encouraged by Attorney General Ashcroft’s view that the ban is constitutional. Given the President’s enormous prestige in his party, having the White House on our side should help insure that the Republican House and Senate will pass meaningful legislation to keep these weapons of war off our streets. Unlike NRA head Wayne LaPierre, who apparently believes the President is `somewhat irrelevant’ to this debate, we look forward to working with President Bush to reauthorize an effective law banning assault weapons.