In September of 2004, in the midst of the American presidential campaign, and nearly on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the federal law banning sales of so-called assault weapons, or military-style rifles, was allowed to expire. This happened in spite of widespread support for the ban, and although President Bush had stated that he would sign a renewal if it came to him. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives refused to bring a renewal to a vote, and the assault weapons ban lapsed (Leftwich, 2004).
This event underlined a seeming paradox in American politics. Public opinion surveys have repeatedly shown that a large and growing majority of Americans, on the order of two-thirds of the public, support stronger gun-control measures (Singh, 2003, pp. 75-78). Yet, even in the face of high rates of gun-related deaths, periodically underlined by highly publicized killings, gun-control measures routinely fall short at both the federal and state level (Singh, 2003).
As the lapse of the assault weapons ban shows, this is the case even when the measure had the nominal support of a conservative president locked in a close re-election race, and at a time when the possibility of terrorism was very much in the public mind. President Bush, overwhelmingly popular within his own party, would seem to have been in a strong position to pressure congressional leaders of his own party to bring the measure to a vote. He might also seem to have had every reason to wish to sign the renewal measure, given its broad public support. Nevertheless his support remained purely verbal, with no indication of actual effort to bring the measure forward (Leftwich, 2004). Evidently he judged it more in his political interest, even during his re-election campaign, to allow this widely popular measure to lapse.
The inability of American political institutions to enact stronger gun-contro...