The 1994 law banning 19 assault weapons expired earlier this week after it reached the final day of its 10-year existence. Signed by Bill Clinton, the law contained a “sunset clause,” stating it would automatically terminate if Congress did not vote for its renewal. The sun has set.
Due to petty politics and heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Association, Philadelphia residents are now free to wield their TEC-9s, Uzis and Berettas.
The Republican majority of the House enacted collective inaction, while President Bush did nothing in terms of attempting to influence his party members to act, though stated he would have passed the renewal.
Democrats, the trusty moving force of social reform, mostly hid under their desks in the name of re-election. With many liberals still attributing their minority status in the House to ban-related votes in 1994, a number of Democrats would not touch the issue with a 10-foot Kalashnikov.
But the issue could not have come at a better time for politicians. Now in the final months of a general election cycle, candidates for office can distract voters with their winning messages of neutrality. Or, they can engross constituents with trivial attacks on one another while ignoring heavy issues.
Conversely, the expiration of the ban could not have come at a worse time for Philadelphia residents, especially young students making their way back to school for the first week of classes.
As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer, youth homicides in Philadelphia increased by 47 percent earlier this year, during a seven month period from January to August. A total of 22 children were killed during that time, compared to 15 a year earlier.
Just a week ago today, during a robbery of a McDonald’s in South Philadelphia, an armed thief used an AK-47 to shoot and wound an arriving officer. The AK-47 is one of the 19 firearms now legal in the United States.
In response to citywide killings, area residents have organized Peace Week events to condemn both violence and the termination of the weapons ban. Today, the contributing groups will be located at 19th and Christian streets, Broad Street and Snyder Avenue, Seventh Street and Snyder Avenue, and Point Breeze Avenue. Mothers in Charge and Men United for a Better Philadelphia are the major contributors for these events.
Despite such evidence of fatal gun crimes and the efforts of area groups to promote peace, there will still be politicians like Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Santorum, having voted against the bill in 1994 as a member of the House, and favoring its 2004 expiration, practically dismissed the issue earlier this year. He told reporters that it was only “feel good” legislation, implying that the law had little effect on gun violence.
Though there has been contradictory evidence showing both positive and negative effects of the weapons ban during its 10-year existence, the behavior of this nation’s politicians and fervent gun advocates is quite simply, unacceptable.
In addition to already heightened threats of international terror and national security issues, one more unnecessary problem has been added to the fold. Actually, make that 19.
Regardless of Senator Santorum’s condescending dismissal of the weapons ban as “feel-good” legislation, he may have gotten one thing right. Without it, Philadelphians are likely feeling a lot worse.