Gun control advocates recalled the motivation of the 1994 assault weapons ban.

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In the wake of the spate of mass shootings, President Obama has become more frustrated by congress’s inability to act to curb gun violence. The last major part of federal legislation to regulate firearms was the 1994 assault weapons ban. NPR’s Kelly McEvers spoke with Tom Diaz, who worked on the legislation more than 20 years ago.
KELLY MCEVERS, host:
The Orlando marksman USES an assault rifle. This style of gun is also used in aurora SAN bernardino, sandy hook. Assault rifles are designed to minimize short – and medium-range deaths and injuries. It was developed for the battlefield. Later, it was adapted for the civilian market. The last time congress moved to manage civilian submachine guns was through the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. Tom diaz is part of an effort by house committee lawyers to focus on guns. He’s now a gun control advocate, and he’s in our studio here. Thank you for being here.
TOM DIAZ: thanks for the invitation.
MCEVERS: so let’s go back to the ’90s. What prompted Washington to regulate such guns?
Davis: well, I think people just are not familiar with this new guns began to appear in two environment – one is that early mass shootings, the other two – perhaps more important for the legislation – on the streets of the criminal activity. And that dynamic law enforcement agency says it’s a bad development.
MCEVERS: those who support this effort – what do they want to accomplish? I mean, what does the original proposal want to do?
DIAZ: well, the first suggestion – because people don’t really understand the design features – the first suggestion is that we go after guns with specific names. So like Israel Uzi, ak-47, ar-15 these are the names of guns that people can understand and say, oh yes, this is definitely one.
MCEVERS: yes. So people can say, oh, we don’t like that.
Dayaz: we don’t like uzi.
MCEVERS: but that – this is problematic because it doesn’t include all the weapons that people want to include?
Davies: yes, that’s a problem, because the most important thing about these guns is the design features. The military wants a gun – a rifle – useful in modern combat – short to medium – and heavy firepower. So some features – the design features of guns – whatever you call them – tactical rifles, assault rifles, modern sporting rifles – they all have these characteristics. People at the time didn’t fully understand this.
MCEVERS: so the federal assault weapons ban has a sunset rule. It will expire in 2004, 10 years from now. When this happens, there is no really powerful movement to update it. It is considered a failure.
Davies: well, it was a failure because it was poorly drafted. It does not cover these design features. That’s not the point. The law focuses on the name I mentioned earlier, and you can easily avoid it by changing the name. Another problem is that legislation has done something called grandpa. It says – well, everything that exists since the effective date of this law is still legal. So your existing weapons still have a big market.
MCEVERS: do you think the experience of the weapons ban is one of the reasons why lawmakers are now afraid to accept the issue of gun control?
Davis: that’s going to make it harder for them to accept, because people can say — and I think there’s a couple of reasons — well, the last time we tried, it didn’t work. It doesn’t make any difference.
MCEVERS: if you look back at history, is there an example where congress is more effective at regulating guns?
Daiaz: yes, absolutely. One law is still called the national gun law. Interestingly, it was passed for similar reasons at similar times. It was organized crime in the early 1930s – you know, bonnie and Clyde…
MCEVERS: Al Capone.
DIAZ:…… Run around with fully automatic weapons – machine guns and other things. Congress said, look, we have to stop this. The way they do it is – we can’t ban these guns. They even know what the second amendment means. So they say, we’re just taxing them, so that people have these unreasonable things, and we’re going to have a registration clause.
So the national gun act, passed in 1934, says that if you want to have a machine gun or any other type of war weapon, you must register the person who sold it and the person who bought it. You have to pay a special tax. And you’re going to go through a strict law enforcement check – provide photos, fingerprints, local sheriff’s or police chief’s approval, and they say, no, this guy isn’t too bad for me.
Later, in the 1980s, congress amended the law and now says that no machine guns (new machine guns) can be sold to civilians so far. So I think this provides a useful model to consider at these times.
MCEVERS: does it work?
DIAZ: well, it works well, and that’s not to say that no one USES a machine gun or a serrated shotgun. But the kind of machine guns and other weapons we saw in the early 1930s, of course, stopped.
MCEVERS: that’s Tom diaz. He was involved in the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, and his career has passed since he advocated better gun control. Tom diaz, thank you.
Davis: thank you very much.

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