A 10-year federal ban on assault weapons has expired and the issue may well become yet another part of the political campaign under way. But the reality is that virtually identical weapons are already available and the ban expiration will have little impact if any.
But that does not mean we should not extend the ban. Regardless of the situation, there is little need for these weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens.
Assault weapons are a popular topic because the public can understand the need to limit their access. The real culprit in our society has and will always remain the deadly handguns. These readily available, cheap weapons are used in crimes far, far more than any assault-type weapon. But it would be impossible to regulate the sale of handguns beyond our current laws. And those laws - though well-intended - are making no dent in the availability of handguns.
Some of those who oppose the regulation of assault weapons make the argument that the criminal element cannot gain access to the rapid-fire weapons because of their price. Well that argument is laughable. To assume criminals cannot afford these guns is ludicrous. Of course they can afford them.
But the fact of the matter is that weapons almost identical to the banned assault weapons have always been available. So it's obvious that the ban is yet another political stunt to calm the public into some false sense of security.
What is long forgotten in this argument is not the type of weapons available for criminals. That element of society will always have access to some form of weapon that will be used in the commission of a crime. What we need to address are the penalties for those who use a weapon. When you have 16-year-old thugs on the street corners with handguns, the discussion on assault weapons seems fairly stupid.
The public debate on guns has and will always be part of our social discussion. And like so many other issues of the day, it will not be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. The balance between a Constitutional right and an explosion in crime will remain a part of the public disagreement in America for many more generations. And the answer remains as elusive today as it ever has.