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A new ban on assault-style weapons was part of Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s platform.
Fear of such a ban sent gun sales skyrocketing and the propaganda machine of the giant National Rife Association went into overdrive flooding its membership is "legislative alerts" about such a ban.
That was then, this is now.
Obama and the Democrats appear to have lost all interest in a ban on assault weapons or any other legislation cleaning up loopholes in America’s gun laws even though killings are on the rise and gun violence continues to escalate around the country.
White House officials admit support for a new ban isn’t there and the President isn’t willing to take on another losing battle with Congress.
Although information on banning assault style weapons remains on the White House web site, sources within the Democratic party say the issue is dead and unlikely to be revived in the near future.
"It’s over," a Democrat strategist admits. "The gun nuts have won…again."
On the morning of April 4, Richard Poplawski had a quarrel with his mother. It was over a dog urinating on a carpet. Mom called the police to have her 22-year-old son evicted from her house, a brick ranch with a dirty aluminum awning in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Two officers responded to the call, figuring it was a typical domestic dispute. Margaret Poplawski greeted them by saying, "Come and take his ass." But the younger Poplawski, who had been laid off from his job in a glass factory recently, had other plans. He went to a private arms cache in the house, retrieved his guns and strapped on a Kevlar bulletproof vest.
Poplawski shot officer Paul J. Sciullo II, 37, inside the house and hit 29-year-old Stephen Mayhle on the stoop. Both men fell dead. Poplawski calmly stood in the doorway and fired two or three more bullets into Mayhle’s body, according to a police affidavit from a witness. Then he retreated into the house and fired hundreds of rounds, using an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons to fend off a police SWAT team for four hours. He killed one other cop, 41-year-old Eric Kelly, and wounded yet another.
It was the deadliest day in the history of the Steel City’s police department. When police finally apprehended and questioned Poplawski, he was without remorse. "He said he wishes he could have killed more Pittsburgh police officers," says a cop who was on the scene but asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing case. (Poplawski’s lawyer did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week.)
There was a time when a creep like Poplawski would have become a potent symbol in the debate over gun control. He wasn’t your run-of-the-mill malcontent. A white supremacist, he frequented the chat rooms of racist Web sites, where he posted screeds about a "Zionist occupation" bringing the country to economic ruin. But Keith Savage, manager of the Braverman Arms Co., where Poplawski got many of his guns (but not the AK-47, Savage claims), says nothing seemed amiss when he filled out Form 4473—the standard questionnaire for federally required background checks. The gun-shop staff had no way of knowing, for instance, about Poplawski’s January 2005 discharge from the Marines for what Lt. Josh Diddams, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman, tells NEWSWEEK was a "psychological disorder" (he had assaulted his drill sergeant during basic training, says Poplawski’s mother). They probably also didn’t know that Poplawski’s former girlfriend had gotten a restraining order against him, later in 2005, after he grabbed her by the hair and threatened to kill her.
In the past, national political leaders might have raised troubling questions about how such an unstable character could obtain easy access to high-powered weapons. They might have been even more motivated given that Poplawski’s cop-killing spree was part of a near epidemic of mass homicides that have left 58 people dead over the past month. Or given that Mexico’s insanely violent drug cartels are arming themselves with high-powered assault weapons purchased at U.S. gun stores and later smuggled south of the border. Yet many past champions of stricter gun-control measures are silent. These include top Obama White House officials who have squelched any talk within the administration about pushing further gun-control measures."It’s weird," says Peter Hamm, the communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "When you see people like [Attorney General] Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton or [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel become muted on this issue, you feel like you want to call up a friend and say, ‘What’s up?’ "
Running for president in last year’s Democratic primaries, Barack Obama promised to restore a federal ban on certain semiautomatic assault guns—a position that’s still on the White House Web site. The ban was originally passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 1994 and lapsed five years ago. In recent years the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also lifted virtually all restrictions on imports of foreign-made assault weapons, permitting a flood of cheap Romanian, Bulgarian and other Eastern European AK-47s to enter the country, according to gun-control groups. "There’s been an absolute deluge of these weapons," says Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center.
But Obama and top White House aides have all but abandoned the issue.