Think tank proposes ‘assault weapon permits’ in place of bans

A liberal think tank is proposing a number of measures including a permitting process in place of a federal assault weapons ban. (Photo: AP)

With the 20th anniversary of the original 1994 Assault Weapon Ban as perspective, a noted liberal think tank is suggesting a number of moves to replace the once-standard tactic.

This comes as the Center for American Progress, referred to by Time as “Obama’s Idea Factory,” released a 28-page report Friday analyzing policy options for regulating firearms with the President Clinton-era federal Assault Weapons Ban now two decades in the rearview.

That ban, implemented in 1994, expired in 2004 although several state-level bans remain. The think tank argues that, while certain ‘military-style rifles’ still are questionable, the smart money is on pushing for increased background checks, assault weapon permits and other measures to target the potential gun criminal, rather than seek an outright prohibition.

“Twenty years after the successful passage of the federal assault weapons ban and 10 years after its expiration, the push for a federal ban on these guns seems stuck in neutral,” concludes the think tank’s report.

The group contends that the logical push, instead, is for more comprehensive background checks on gun sales, giving an opportunity to offer something besides the now familiar trope of a reactionary ban on assault weapons solution to the problem of gun violence.

“In April 2013, while the Senate also considered a new assault weapons ban that only mustered 40 votes, the Manchin-Toomey bill to expand background checks garnered 55 votes,” said the report compiled by Arkadi Gerney and Chelsea Parsons for CAP. “This shift in focus to prevent dangerous people from accessing guns is appropriate.”

Besides the recommendation for increased background checks, the study also advocates restricting interstate long arm sales to the same degree that handgun sales currently are, and that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms require virtually all sales of multiple rifle be reported. In a nod to current events, the authors’ calls for a restriction on the use of automatic weapons by those under 16 and that 3D printer users seeking to manufacturer firearms be required to first secure a federal firearms license.

Finally, in a new tactic, the paper’s authors suggest that Congress mandate that individuals seeking a gun classified as an assault weapon first obtain a permit.

“While the precise contours of such a permitting system require additional consideration, requiring individuals to get a permit prior to obtaining an assault weapon would help ensure that these high-powered, military-style firearms do not end up in the wrong hands and also allow responsible, law-abiding individuals to continue purchasing and owning them,” read the study, which advocates a cross somewhere between the NFA-style Class III licensing system currently used for machine guns, and the more popular concealed carry permit licensing performed by the states.

The Center for American Progress’s call to distance the gun control movement from the late 20th Century tactic of the assault weapon ban in favor of new 21st Century strategies have been echoed in recent months by some of those in the vanguard of such groups.

“We’ve very much changed our strategy to focus on public safety measures that will save the most lives,” Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts told Propublica in an article published this week on shifting gears away from calls for assault weapons bans.

In the same piece, Erika Soto Lamb, the communications director for the Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety group, took a similar stand, saying that even though they still feel strongly about assault weapons, “we feel like it’s a more productive use of our time, effort, money, voices, and votes [to focus] on the policies that are going to save the most lives.”

Regardless of the switch in tactics, it remains to be seen if the public has the stomach for more gun control laws.

A March 2014 Rasmussen poll found that 53 percent of those asked oppose stricter gun control laws, which was the lowest level of support seen by the polling group for stricter laws since February 2012.