MANY Republicans don't want them to do it - but the House GOP leadership is going to allow a floor vote on repealing the assault weapons ban anyway.
The probable cause: fulfilling a promise made to the National Rifle Association and its backers, while getting a potentially unpopular vote out of the way before election season heats up.
"We don't expect it will be a pretty picture," sighed Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, after the quickly scheduled vote was announced Wednesday afternoon.
Congress banned assault-style firearms two years ago, via a provision in President Clinton's omnibus anticrime legislation. Since then, overturning the ban has been the NRA's top priority.
NRA officials contend these semiautomatic guns - AK-47s, Uzis, and the like - are only cosmetically different from legal rifles. (Private ownership of fully automatic guns has long been largely illegal in the US.) Criminals, they say, are the real assault weapons, not guns.
Supporters of the ban retort that assault weapons are often easy to convert into fully automatic mode. And the very style of assault rifles, they say, appeals to many violence-prone persons. The public may side with them: A Los Angeles Times poll taken last fall found 72 percent of respondents supported keeping these weapons illegal.
After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, new House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia promised the NRA that he would allow a full House vote on overturning the ban. The Oklahoma City bombing, however, dramatically affected public opinion about gun laws, and the vote was put off.
Now House leaders say it may happen as early as today.
Whether the repeal will actually pass is an open question. Many GOP members don't favor the vote, saying it forces them to go on record on a highly emotional issue in an election year. Budget balancing and welfare should be the GOP focus, they say. "To bring this issue up now is ludicrous," said Rep. Peter Torkildsen (R) of Massachusetts.
But support for loosening gun laws tends to cut across partisan lines. Repeal proponents say they can count on 35 to 40 Democratic votes - meaning the measure has a real change of approval.
But its chances of becoming the law of the land are slim. The Senate looks on overturning the ban with less favor, and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) of California, author of the original ban, has vowed "the mother of all filibusters" if the issue comes to the Senate floor.
And Mr. Clinton would surely veto such a bill. "We can't imagine why they're spending any time on it," said White House spokesman Michael McCurry.