Attorney General John Ashcroft Reverses Bush Administration Position on Renewing Federal Ban on Assault Weapons

For Release:   Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Ban Will End in September 2004 Without Congressional Action

Washington, DC – Attorney General John Ashcroft, in testimony before Congress yesterday, for the first time refused to offer support for re-authorizing the federal ban on assault weapons. Ashcroft’s comments before the Senate Judiciary Committee represent an apparent reversal of Bush Administration policy as well as Ashcroft’s prior statements before the committee.

During his January 2001 confirmation hearing, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Ashcroft if he would support re-authorizing the law when it sunsets in September 2004. Ashcroft’s answer was unequivocal, “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.”

There was no such clarity yesterday, as detailed in news reports, when Ashcroft failed to renew his prior commitment on the part of the Administration. The Attorney General, under repeated questioning, for the first time refused to state that the Administration would support renewing the law. Yet just last week the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the White House supported extending the ban. Ashcroft’s refusal to voice support for renewal of the ban represents a dramatic shift in the Administration’s position.

VPC Public Policy Director Joe Sudbay states, “Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush Administration have, once again, placed the deadly agenda of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry over the safety of the American public and law enforcement. Terrorist training manuals seized in Afghanistan have made clear that America’s enemies recognize the nexus between our nation’s weak gun laws and potential terrorist attacks. That the Attorney General would reveal this change in policy at a Congressional hearing on homeland security only illustrates the depth of the Bush Administration’s fealty to the NRA.” The NRA has made termination of the ban a priority. During his failed 2000 Senate campaign, Ashcroft was the beneficiary of more than $500,000 in NRA spending.





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