As firearms sales surge, Democrats drop assault weapons ban
John Byrne
Published: Monday April 13, 2009

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NRA has 'stranglehold' on Congress, senator says

As firearms sales in the United States hit new highs, the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress are squelching talk of a renewal of the assault weapons ban passed by Congress that lapsed in 2004, saying they don't want a distraction from their agenda and don't have the votes in Congress.

Seven million people have applied for criminal background checks since November in an effort to buy guns, according to the FBI. That figure doesn't include Virginia, whose gun shows don't require any background checks.

The buying bonanza has stripped some stores almost bare of assault weapons and yielded a national ammunition shortage.

As gun sales blossom, Democrats' interest in regulating gun sales appear to be waning, despite the recent spate of high-profile gun violence.

Two recent reports have fingered the Obama Administration and the assault weapons ban's most ardent supporter in Congress -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) -- as putting off any effort to regulate high-powered weapons. Congressional officials told a reporter in comments published Saturday that Obama and top White House aides have all but abandoned a push for tighter gun control, indicating they can't stomach a fight with the National Rifle Association when they're focused on other issues.

"He and other White House strategists have decided they can't afford to tangle with the National Rifle Association at a time when they're pushing other priorities, like economic renewal and health-care reform," congressional officials said.

"The president supports the Second Amendment, respects the tradition of gun ownership in this country, and he believes we can take common-sense steps to keep our streets safe," Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose effort to extend the assault weapons ban failed in the Senate 9-80 in 2004, signaled on 60 Minutes Sunday that she won't currently pursue the ban's renewal. Feinstein authored the original ban, which was in place from 1994 until 2004.

She said she "agrees" that an effort to renew the ban now would pose a distraction to Obama's agenda and spark a culture war.

"So you are going to hold off?" 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl asked.

"That's correct," Feinstein said. "I'll pick the time and the place, no question about it."

Feinstein said there isn't support for the assault weapons ban in Congress. Pro-gun Democrats picked up seats in the last election.

"The National Rifle Association essentially has a stranglehold on the Congress," Feinstein said.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was a prominent advocate for the bill while serving in the House, but now appears to be silent.

"It's weird," Peter Hamm, the communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told Newsweek. "When you see people like [Attorney General] Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton or [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel become muted on this issue, you feel like you want to call up a friend and say, 'What's up?' "

Gun control advocates blame Americans' disapproval of tighter gun control on misleading efforts by the National Rifle Association and gun advocates to suggest that President Obama would "take away" citizens' guns.

"That extreme position apparently prompted a man, who told friends he was afraid the government would take his guns away, to shoot three police officers in Pittsburgh last week," notes the Guardian. "But more commonly such views are boosting gun sales, from Ohio to Texas and from Wyoming to Virginia."

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