When the 10-year federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, sports shooting enthusiast Tyler Cooper bought his first AR-15, a semi-automatic civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-4 assault rifle.
The 21-year-old Flowery Branch man has since expanded his collection to include an SKS, a Chinese-made rifle similar to the AK-47, complete with 30-round magazine.
“I have them for self-protection, but shoot them pretty much for fun and for sport,” said Cooper, who has plenty of wide-open space to shoot on a farm off Union Church Road.
Gun collectors like Cooper fear that recent comments from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the stated policies of the Obama administration threaten their ability to buy guns like the AR-15 and SKS in the future.
“It won’t do anything but make it harder for honest, law-abiding citizens to get the guns they want,” Cooper said of a proposed renewal of the old assault weapons ban. “Criminals will get them no matter what.”
Holder, during a news conference announcing the arrests of Mexican drug cartel members, said U.S. gun stores were arming the warring factions with assault weapons like the AK-47, which can fire up to 30 rounds as fast as the finger can pull the trigger, and can be illegally modified for fully-automatic fire.
Holder said the Obama administration wants to re-institute the ban on the sale of assault weapons, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton and not renewed by President George W. Bush.
The proposal to renew the ban has the support of some law enforcement circles and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“What we’re trying to do is create a minimum-level safety net that helps reduce the number of people killed with guns,” said Brady Campaign Spokesman Doug Pennington, who said while assault weapons may get more media attention, the group believes strengthening background checks for all gun sales is among its top legislative priorities.
Pennington said the argument that the civilian, semi-automatic version of assault weapons are no different than sporting or hunting rifles is disingenuous. The old ban limited magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Now 30 rounds can be fired in a matter of seconds from either the civilian or military versions, he said.
“The difference between (the rate of fire of) a fully-automatic AK-47 and a semiautomatic AK-47 is really only about three seconds,” he said.
Pennington said for drug cartels who use such weapons to kill on Mexican and U.S. soil, “we’ve ended up being the Mexican drug dealers’ gun store.”
Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, disputes that contention, noting that Mexican drug lords are also equipped with rocket-propelled grenades.
“You can’t purchase RPGs at gun shows in Texas, so attacking and weakening the Second Amendment will do nothing in that regard,” she said.
Parsons called the Clinton-era assault weapons ban “a failure.”
“It had zero effect on crime,” she said. “All it did was ban semiautomatic firearms for law-abiding people.”
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal voted against the ban during the Clinton administration and “his position hasn’t changed,” spokesman Chris Riley said.
The old ban, and the potential for a renewed ban, has had a major effect on the marketplace for the guns.
Shuler’s Great Outdoors in Gainesville, which sells AR-15s for $1,000 and up, has several on order, General Manager Jon Lipscomb said. Before Obama was elected, it took three to four weeks to get one in the store. Now the companies that manufacture them are back-ordered for six to 18 months, Lipscomb said.
“When (the ban) happened last time, people were caught off-guard,” Lipscomb said.
At Oakwood Sportsmen’s Lodge, “as soon as it looked like Obama was going to get elected, they flew off the shelves,” firing range manager Walt Sippell said.
Sippell believes assault weapons are targeted for bans “because they look mean and they look ugly.”
When the ban expired, “people went out and bought them and the blood did not run in the streets,” Sippell said. “The law-abiding citizens that bought these guns did what they always did with them, and that’s target practice and hunting.”
Pennington, who supports an assault weapons ban, said polls show more than half of Americans are in favor of such a move.
“There’s a balance Americans overall are willing to have,” Pennington said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask, even if it’s fun firing a semiautomatic assault weapon, maybe it’s for the better good to make sure these military-style weapons are that much harder for the bad guys to get.”