Why assault weapons should be banned

This September, my firstborn son will enter kindergarten, and assault weapons once again will be sold legally to the public. First day of school: Sept. 2. Last day of the ban on assault weapons: Sept. 13.

The juxtaposition of these two events is scary for me, as a mom, even in a town as relatively safe as mine. It’s scary because I remember the day one of our precious children was shot to death in a horrifying rampage at his Winnetka elementary school. And I remember with painful clarity the day my pregnant sister Nancy and her husband were shot to death in their Winnetka townhouse.

The carnage of that day forced me to learn a lot about guns. I learned, for instance, that many criminals get their guns the way my sister’s killer did: by breaking in and stealing them from lawful owners.

That’s one of the reasons why a ban on assault weapons is so important: because people who can’t legally own assault weapons end up possessing them. Criminals buy them from straw purchasers or at gun shows, as the Columbine killers did. Criminals want these military-type assault weapons because of what they are designed to do: kill the maximum number of people as efficiently as possible.

Indeed, it is hard for me to imagine why anyone but criminals needs these weapons. General Wesley Clark said it best: if you want to shoot assault weapons, there’s a place for you: the U.S. military.

The assault weapons ban is supported by just about every conceivable law enforcement organization. Police recognize that assault weapons aren’t made for sportsmen to bring down Bambi; they are made to slaughter human beings, period.

There is widespread public support for an assault weapons ban, and President Bush has said he would sign the measure if it reaches his desk. So why won’t the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives let the assault weapons ban renewal be brought to the floor for a vote?

I’m a mom who, from grievous experience, has to care about gun violence, and I want an answer to that question. I’ve tried to get an answer. I’ve written. I’ve called. I still haven’t been told why Republicans won’t even let our legislators vote up or down on this issue, which is so important to our children’s safety.

The closest thing I’ve heard to a reason is a reported statement by Dennis Hastert (R-14th) Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, that he won’t call the assault weapons ban renewal for a vote because the U.S. Senate probably would vote against it. That’s like saying, “I won’t do the right thing because someone else might not do the right thing.” Is that what our moms taught us? Is that what we teach our kids?

Hastert has been out touting his new book, but he canceled his scheduled appearance at the bookstore in my town. I’m disappointed about that. I’m disappointed because I planned to be there, with other moms and dads and kids, with our single, heartfelt question: why? Why are you intentionally allowing assault weapons back on our streets?

I planned to be there not just to honor the memory of my sister Nancy, who once browsed happily in that store for baby books, and who bled out her life a few blocks away. I wanted to be there for the nephews Nancy never knew, my sons, and for all of the children in the world, who deserve to grow up in safety.

Jeanne Bishop is on the Steering Committee of Million Mom March, North Suburban Chapter, in Winnetka.

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