Assault weapon ownership raises debate

Posted Nov. 13, 2009, at 8:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

One of the more constant debates about guns often revolves around the ownership of “assault weapons,” which were banned for 10 years beginning in 1994. The federal law was allowed to “sunset” five years ago.

Gun owners worry it will rise again.

According to the National Shooting Sports Association, the legislative ban targeted semiautomatic firearms that could accept a detachable magazine and had two or more of the following cosmetic features: a folding or telescoping stock; a pistol grip; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor (or threads to attach one); a grenade launcher.

Art Wheaton, a Maine guide who is a former executive with Remington Arms, and Tom Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, have differing views on the ownership or use of those weapons. Here are their two divergent opinions:


Franklin

Tom Franklin: “I’ve been bothered by the line-drawing issue, how we distinguish between sporting guns that need little regulation versus guns that are commonly used in crimes — and require more strict regulation, given that they can be functionally similar, i.e., semiautomatic firing.

“Obviously this is a big sticking point for many who oppose regulations such as background checks,” Franklin wrote in an e-mail. “With more thought it seems to me that the test is how the product actually is used.

“When AK-47s and AR-15s become commonly used by criminals, it would make sense to restrict their purchase to buyers able to prove they are responsible and law-abiding, even though they may be useful for shooting bears or moose,” Franklin wrote. “These are extraordinarily minor inconveniences that we accept in order to live in a more safe and civilized community.

“In my view the most politically astute move the gun lobby could make today would be to renounce the extremists in their ranks and embrace common-sense regulation of such weapons and handguns,” he wrote.

“Maine should be the first in the nation to demonstrate that true sportsmen are not gun fanatics but honor their Second Amendment rights as bearing concurrent responsibilities. Maine hunters and sportsmen don’t need the NRA to tell them how to think.”

Art Wheaton: “The media does not distinguish well between automatic and semiautomatic [weapons],” said Wheaton, who pointed out that semiautomatic firearms, which fire one round every time the trigger is pulled, are common. Fully automatic firearms, which fire continuously with the trigger pulled, by contrast are already heavily regulated.

“[Some guns] look militaristic, they are used in the military, but they perform no different function than a [Remington] Model 700 bolt-action rifle, which is one shot at a time. We get down to the issue of looks, only because it becomes a factor and a lovely platform to suit their anti-gun position.

“They would like you to believe, an AR-15, and lookalikes — they may have a large clip, they may be militaristic-looking. They may be synthetic. They may have a different look to them I would call militaristic. [They would say] that those guns, there is no need for a sportsman to own those,” Wheaton said.

“That [assault weapons ban] went into sunset, and they couldn’t get enough votes to redo it, but all the time that law was in effect, the other side of the argument kept clamoring to add more guns to that list. From that you deduce, it now becomes a platform to gradually use the slippery slope to restrict firearms acquisition and use in the country.”

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