Expiration date on safety passed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Commentary by Howard Dean

On Monday, Sept.13, the law banning the manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons for private sale in the United States expired.

Before you read further I should tell you that my father was an avid hunter. I grew up with guns in the house, and although I do not hunt, I own an over-and-under shotgun.

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While running for office in Vermont, I won eight straight elections with the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

As Governor, I conserved hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat by partnering with the NRA to fight off the right-wing property rights advocates who opposed government land acquisition.

I believed Vermont’s outdoors should be the way it has been for generations, and now it will be.

However, I have never met a hunter who thought owning an assault weapon was necessary to shoot a deer or a bear.

I have met a lot of law enforcement officers who think that the federal assault weapons ban saved a lot of their colleagues’ lives.

I have met parents whose kids were killed by assault weapons years ago and are bracing for more of the same.

The expiration of the assault weapons ban also showed me something that is becoming a frequent occurrence with this administration: politics trumps conviction. The ban expired because Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) refused to let the ban come to a vote in the House of Representatives. President Bush, knowing the ban has overwhelming political support among American voters, said he would support the extension of the ban when he was a candidate for President in 2000.

Like so many of his campaign promises on education, health care, balanced budgets and foreign policy, there was no truth to this promise either.

A few months ago, a White House spokesman said President Bush still supported the reauthorization of the ban. Since then, the President has done nothing to support that statement.

During this election season, President Bush says he is the best person to keep our country safe and secure. But keeping our country safe and secure does not just mean keeping terrorists outside our borders. Keeping our country safe and secure means keeping harmful weapons off our streets and away from people who will use them to harm others. That means keeping weapons away from terrorists as well as potential criminals.

Where I come from, chief executives are supposed to lead.

Where I come from, when the chief says he supports something and his party controls the House and the Senate, what the chief really wants, he gets.

I would have more respect for President Bush if he had come out and said “I changed my mind, and I’m not supporting the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban.”

But, he did not do that. America needs a president with the real courage to say what he believes – no matter what the latest poll numbers show.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates. Email Howard Dean at howarddean@democracyforamerica.com.