SEATTLE — The late President Ronald Reagan affirmed to Congress that a ban on assault weapons was common sense public safety legislation. Through the tireless efforts of law-enforcement leaders and concerned citizens over many years working to rid the streets of dangerous assault weapons, the Assault Weapons Ban was finally passed into law in 1994. Congress passed this landmark legislation with the support and approval of Presidents Ford, Carter, and Clinton. The Assault Weapons Ban has been successfully in effect for 10 years, but it seems that our success is coming to an end.
Starting Sept. 14, our law-enforcement officers and the general public will face a more dangerous environment in our communities. It appears that President Bush and Congress are going let the federal Assault Weapons Ban expire. This makes no sense.
The ban was passed for very practical reasons. Prior to 1994, criminals were armed with enough firepower to outgun the police, making them nearly impossible to subdue, and allowing them to wreak terrible havoc in public places. The ban kept military-style assault weapons out of the hands of criminals. Since the passage of the ban, federal crime statistics show a dramatic 66 percent drop in the incidence of assault weapons traced to crimes. Given that, I can't think of a rational reason not to renew this law.
Police across the nation face danger on the job daily. Why should Congress and the president be allowed to increase that danger? None of us - in the law-enforcement or civilian community - should have to face military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Law-enforcement officers, for the most part, take pride in the ability to maintain the peace with a sidearm. If this ban is allowed to expire, our nation's law-enforcement leaders will be faced with the reality of having front-line officers out-gunned by every street gang, drug trafficker, and common criminal with access to the neighborhood sporting-goods store. The reality is, when the family firearm becomes an AK-47 or Tec-9 assault pistol, they also become the easy weapon of choice for would-be school shooters and other violent teens. How many more lives will the gun lobby put at risk to sell more assault weapons?
This issue needs leadership. As a presidential candidate in 1999, Mr. Bush pledged to support reauthorization of the ban. Time is running out for him to follow through on his promise. With only five working days left after Congress returns from vacation Sept. 7, it's urgent that Bush direct Congress to bring the ban to a vote.
We know that our best defense for public safety and homeland security is the ability of law enforcers to provide a degree of safety and security without having to engage criminals armed with assault weapons. As law-enforcement professionals, we must demand that our lawmakers help by keeping in place proven legislation that reduces crime and keeps our communities safe from violence. It just makes sense.
• R. Gil Kerlikowske is the Seattle chief of police.