By the time you read this column, it is highly probable that the federal ban on semiautomatic assault weapons will have expired and once again these weapons will begin to flood our communities and threaten our officers.
First passed in 1994, the assault weapons ban required domestic gun manufacturers to stop production of semiautomatic assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds except for military or police use. Imports of assault weapons not already banned by administrative action under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were also halted.
Since the law was enacted, the ban has proven remarkably effective in reducing the number of crimes involving assault weapons. Since 1994 the proportion of assault weapons traced to crimes has fallen by a dramatic 66 percent. Public opinion polls continue to prove that more than 75 percent of the public supports a reauthorization of the current ban.
The IACP has been a strong supporter of the assault weapons ban since 1992, and our membership approved a resolution calling for its reauthorization at our 2003 conference. The membership took this action because we, as law enforcement executives, understand that semiautomatic assault weapons pose a grave risk to our officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.
It is deeply troubling that Congress and the administration have so far failed to reauthorize this critically important legislation.
Assault weapons are routinely the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers. They are regularly encountered in drug busts and are all too often used against our officers. In fact, one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2001, was killed with an assault weapon, according to "Officer Down," a report from the Violence Policy Center. The weapons in question