As the gun advocates start issuing their reasons why any bans on assault weapons won’t reduce the killing of innocent people in the United States, a report in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the gun used by Aurora theater shooter James Holmes and the amount of ammunition available to him actually was banned by the federal government until Congress let the ban expire in 2004.
Under a ban passed in 1994 during the Clinton Administration, there were federal restrictions on the sales of AR-15, the gun used by James Holmes. But the ban expired in 2004 under the Bush Administration and was not re-enacted.
There is still a ban in place in California, Holmes’ home state, against versions of the AR-15—but Holmes legally bought all three of his guns in Arizona, which has no such ban.
The previous federal law also would have restricted the ammunition to a magazine holding just 10 rounds, rather than the 100-round drum magazine that Colorado authorities said Holmes used in Aurora.
“This shooter was planning a military style assault and he chose a rifle that was designed for just such an attack,” Dennis Henigan, vice president of the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence, told the Wall Street Journal.
But gun advocates say that there are legitimate uses for the extremely popular AR-15, such as marksmanship competitions, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “And their cartridges are standard hunting calibers, useful for game up to and including deer,” the foundation’s fact sheet reads, according to the Journal.
Joe M. Cornell, a federally license gun dealer in Denver, told the Journal that on the day of the Aurora shooting, a friend called him asking about buying an AR-15 for his teenaged son. Cornell said the gun is not appropriate to hunt big game because of its low-caliber ammunition, but can be used to kill varmints, including coyotes, according to Mr. Cornell.
“If I had 100 AR-15s, in seven to 10 days, I could sell them all. They’re that popular,” he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2,293,247 rifles were made in the U.S. last year, an increase of 70 percent since 1998, but the ATF doesn’t break them down by types of rifles or how many are assault weapons.
States such as New Jersey, California, New York and Massachusetts, have bans on assault weapons—in fact, the Massachusetts ban was made permanent during the administration of then-Gov. Mitt Romney, who now says he opposes any new gun laws.
But while a national debate may be starting about banning assault weapons, don’t think that the talk is all in one direction. For instance, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert suggested that perhaps fewer people would have been shot if more citizens had guns and someone took Holmes down—particularly since Colorado law allows for the concealed carry of a firearm.
“It does make me wonder: With all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?” Gohmert asked during an appearance on a Heritage Foundation radio show.