It comes as no surprise that on Aug. 9 Time magazine published former president Bill Clinton’s op-ed calling for Congress to “reinstate” his so-called “ban” on so-called “assault weapons.” For decades, Time has been one of the media’s most extreme opponents of the right to keep and bear arms.
In 1968, ahead of a Democrat-majority Congress’ and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s imposition of the Gun Control Act, the magazine published an article arguing “[T]he U.S. must have gun legislation. . . . [L]icensing for the owner, registration for each of his firearms . . . would hardly be an outrageous imposition.”
In 1981, after Congress repeatedly refused to impose Democrat-sponsored legislation banning the purchase of some handguns and restricting the purchase of all others, Time’s editors said “the point has now been reached where, in our judgment, the solution is not tighter controls but an outright ban. . . . A nationwide ban on private possession of handguns . . . would be a start – a movement in the direction of common sense and responsible social policy” (emphasis added).
In 1989, after Senate Democrats began campaigning against semi-automatic firearms, Time’s editors wrote “[T]he time for opinions on the dangers of gun availability is long since gone.”
In 1993, right after his inauguration, Clinton echoed the magazine, saying that Americans “can’t be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans to legitimately own handguns and rifles” (emphasis added).
In his new op-ed in Time, “Reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban Now,” Clinton points out that mass shootings were less frequent during the 10 years his “ban” was in effect, 1994-2004. But there are six important things he doesn’t point out, and four of them are reasons why, in this instance, the word “ban” needs to be surrounded by quotation marks.
First, Clinton’s “ban” did not confiscate existing “assault weapons.” It instead exempted the many hundreds of thousands of “assault weapons” that Americans already owned.
Second, while Clinton’s “ban” was in effect, the number of firearms that anti-gunners thought were going to be banned from manufacture instead increased.
For example, when I tracked such things as the National Rifle Association’s research coordinator, I submitted a declaration to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Heller v. District of Columbia (2011), which was cited by then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his dissent in the case. As part of the underlying research for that declaration, I used the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ annual firearm manufacturer and export reports to determine that at least 730,000 AR-15s—one of many models of firearms targeted by the “ban”—were made and sold while the “ban” was on the books.
The reason, to paraphrase Clinton in another context, depends on what the meaning of the word “ban” is. Clinton’s “ban” categorized various firearms as “assault weapons” and prohibited their manufacture only in their pre-“ban” configurations. If one or two external attachments were not installed on the firearms during their manufacture, the law did not define them as “assault weapons,” thus allowed their continued manufacture and sale.
The following photographs illustrate the point. Here is a pre-“ban” AR-15. On the end of its barrel is a two-inch-long attachment that reduces smoke and flash, and underneath its A-frame front sight is another attachment called a bayonet lug.
Now here is what the 730,000 AR-15s made during the ban looked like.
Third, while Clinton’s “ban” also targeted so-called “large” ammunition magazines—anti-gunners’ term for standard-equipment magazines holding more than 10 rounds, including those for handguns—it did not order their confiscation. Magazines Americans already owned were exempted.
Fourth, while Clinton’s “ban” prohibited the domestic manufacture of those magazines, it allowed their importation. Therefore, the number of the magazines increased by the millions. To illustrate how many magazines Americans buy, when California’s magazine ban was temporarily lifted by a federal court ruling in Duncan v. Beccera last year, cargo jets filled with magazines quickly flew to California, where their contents were offloaded and transported to vendors throughout the state.
Fifth, Democrats are not interested in “reinstating” Clinton’s “ban.” The “assault weapon” legislation that Democrats have been pushing for the last 15 years would ban the manufacture of rifles like the AR-15 and a whole lot of other firearms regardless of how many external attachments they have.
Democrats’ new ban would also ban not only the domestic manufacture, but also the importation of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, not only those for rifles like the AR-15, but also those for tens of millions of handguns, which Americans carry for protection away from home and keep for protection within their homes, and which the Supreme Court has ruled the Second Amendment protects from prohibition.
Sixth, Joe Biden and some of the other Democrats running for president this year have said they support going even further: a law requiring government confiscation of so-called “assault weapons,” which now number well more than 10 million in the United States.
Twenty years ago, Clinton was held in contempt of court by a federal judge because, the judge said, Clinton gave “false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process.” Today, the same habitually dishonest Clinton is mischaracterizing his “ban” to help Democrats impose one with far more severe consequences.