Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not been shy about putting forth their preferred solution to the seemingly intractable problem of mass shootings, namely to bring back the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
Bill, in particular, made his stance known in a recent article published by TIME. The piece came fast on the heels of the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which together left 31 people dead and many more injured.
“Elected officials speak about the need for change,” Clinton wrote. “But the tragedies do keep happening, while the one thing that we know can reduce the number and the death tolls of mass shootings has not been done: reinstituting the ban on assault weapons and the limit on high-capacity magazines that was in effect from 1994 to 2004.”
Though Mrs. Clinton has not specifically demanded reinstatement of the 1994 ban in the days following the Texas and Ohio tragedies, she did tweet her belief last week that guns are more to blame for mass shootings than mental illness, violent video games or any other factor, and therefore access to them must strictly curtailed. It is also worth noting that during her ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton touted her experience in the Senate as a co-sponsor of legislation to reinstate and extend the weapons ban her husband signed into law.
The law to which the first couple has made repeated reference is the Federal Assault Weapons Ban enacted during the Clinton presidency. Under this statute, “assault weapons” and other “large-capacity” weapons were prohibited from being manufactured for civilian use.
Because of its 10-year sunset provision, however, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004.
Since that time it has not been reinstated, despite calls by most Democrats, and even some Republicans, to do so.
Precarious political calculus
In the aftermath of its original passage, Democrats suffered massive electoral defeat in the 1994 midterms. As such, conventional political wisdom holds that the ban has not been put back into place during the intervening years out of fear of similar consequences. But in the TIME article, Mr. Clinton dismisses such concerns.
“The gun lobby often invokes the Democratic losses in the 1994 midterm elections after passing the assault-weapons ban and the Brady background-check bill to try to scare lawmakers of both parties into maintaining the status quo,” he wrote.
“The 2018 elections, thanks to the passionate activism of citizen groups across the country, proved that it’s a different world now,” he continued. “Today members of Congress will be supported if they reinstate the assault-weapons and large-ammunition magazine bans.”
Whether or not Bill Clinton is right remains uncertain because Democrats have yet to give it a shot. It is also unclear whether they will now be willing to take a risk at the behest of the Clintons, who have lost a great deal of their former clout within the party in recent years.
As for whether such a ban would really save lives — nobody truly knows. It may get rid of a few guns here and there, but it will do nothing whatsoever to address the underlying issues that lead some to commit brutal acts of violence against their fellow citizens.