Gun debate heats up as ban's end looms

WASHINGTON: Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate are turning up the volume as the 10-year-old ban on assault weapons inches toward expiration next month.

WASHINGTON: Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate are turning up the volume as the 10-year-old ban on assault weapons inches toward expiration next month.

The 1994 bill outlawing the manufacture of 19 firearms will lapse at midnight on September 13 if Congress doesn't vote to reauthorize. President Bush said he would sign the bill if Congress passed it. But Republican leaders in both chambers said they wouldn't bring it to a vote unless Bush specifically asked for it.

Advocates of handgun control, working in concert with police unions and law-enforcement associations across the country, have been trying to raise the issue in the media in hopes of putting pressure on Bush to make that request.

"At this point, absent the White House saying, 'We want to get this done,' we don't think it's going to get done," said Peter Hamm, director of communications for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "So our target is President Bush."

Hamm's group has been focusing on local media outlets and small editorial boards. It says that national media are ignoring the issue and that coverage or editorials in small papers spawn a greater number of calls to the White House seeking explanation - both by constituents and reporters.

The group was in Boston for the Democratic National Convention last week, teaming with local police for a stunt that involved a Paul Revere look-alike running through town screaming, "The assault weapons are coming!"

It also has been traveling the country all year in a pink RV designed to bring attention to the issue.

The Brady Campaign is using Dan Klores Communications for PR support.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has placed ads in Beltway publications to argue against the ban. The ads use quotes from former President Bill Clinton outlining his belief that some members of Congress lost their seats in 1994 because they voted for the ban.

"Twenty members of Congress lost their jobs because of support for this ban 10 years ago," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA. "We are reminding Congress that this is a vote that we will be watching very closely."

Arulanandam, who was also in Boston last week, called the issue a high priority for NRA members. "We will continue to do whatever we can and must do to see this ban expire," he added.

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