Coalition Letter to members of Congress requesting them to support the "Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2003"

June 30, 2003

July, 2003

Member of Congress
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Member:

We, the undersigned groups, strongly support the "Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2003" (H.R. 2038), legislation introduced by Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI). This legislation will not only make the assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban permanent, but will also significantly strengthen current law. The current ban is set to expire on September 13, 2004 unless Congress and the President act and pass new legislation. Both President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft have expressed support for the assault weapons ban, and Attorney General Ashcroft has declared the ban Constitutional.

Unfortunately, Congress' intent has not been fully realized under the current ban. The original law, passed in 1994, bans certain models of semiautomatic assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Immediately after the law was enacted, the gun industry moved quickly to make slight, cosmetic design changes in their "post-ban" guns to evade the law. These "post-ban" guns incorporate features that are the essence of an assault weapon, design characteristics that make it easy for a shooter to simply point-as opposed to carefully aim-the weapon to quickly spray a wide area with a lethal hail of bullets. These design characteristics make assault weapons especially attractive to criminals and distinguish them from true hunting or sporting firearms. Today, "post-ban" versions of AK-47s and AR-15s, guns banned by name by the 1994 law, are flooding the civilian market. A post-ban AR-15 clone manufactured by Bushmaster was used by the Washington, DC-area snipers to kill 10 and injure three in October 2002.

After several high-profile shootings in the early 1990s, Congress moved to approve the law recognizing the severe threat that assault weapons pose to public safety and the law enforcement officers who serve to protect us. Nearly 10 years later, that threat still exists. An analysis of FBI data by the Violence Policy Center in its study, "Officer Down"-Assault Weapons and the War on Law Enforcement, found that at least one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2001, were killed with assault weapons. As recently as February 20, 2003, in Alexandria, Louisiana, Officers Charles Ezernack, age 26, and Jeremy "Jay" Carruth, age 29, were killed in an ambush by a criminal wielding an AK-47-type assault rifle.

The on-going need to ensure the safety of law enforcement and the protection of the public health, combined with the gun industry's actions to evade the current ban, give Congress a clear path to legislation. The McCarthy-Conyers bill to reauthorize the 1994 ban deals with military-style weapons available to the public by clarifying the definition of the term "assault weapon." The term "assault weapon" would be defined as any semiautomatic rifle, shotgun, or pistol that can accept a detachable magazine and includes one listed additional feature such as a pistol grip, fore-end grip, or collapsible stock. This improvement recognizes the features that represent the essence of an assault weapon and avoids having to defend current superfluous characteristics such as flash suppressors and bayonet mounts. In addition, this comprehensive bill would ban conversion parts kits; regulate "grandfathered" assault weapons and enhance the tracing of such weapons; ban all high-capacity magazines, including imports; and prohibit juvenile possession.

A majority of Americans clearly support reauthorizing the assault weapons ban. A Lake/Snell/Perry poll conducted July 15-18, 2002, found that 65% of Americans favor renewing the assault weapons ban, with 57% strongly favoring this action.

H.R. 2038 would reauthorize and strengthen the current law to effectively prevent the gun industry from circumventing Congressional intent by continuing to manufacture and market these deadly weapons. Such an effort is not unprecedented. California significantly improved its state assault weapons ban in 1999 in response to the gun industry's efforts to evade a law passed in 1989. The opportunity to reauthorize federal laws allows Congress to address problems with implementation and take steps to improve the law to ensure it is working as intended. The 108th Congress now has the opportunity to ensure that the federal assault weapons ban is extended to more effectively keep military-style assault weapons off our streets.

The undersigned coalition of child advocacy, civil rights, consumer, domestic violence, gun violence prevention, public health, and faith-based organizations from around the country ask you to protect public safety and support H.R. 2038.

Thank you for your consideration.