Palin vs. Biden: For And Against Assault Weapons

11/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

People often disagree about how best to keep dangerous people from getting dangerous weapons, but very few argue we should have no gun laws at all.

By large majorities, Americans continue to believe that policies like criminal background checks on all gun sales, waiting periods, strong police crack-downs on illegal guns, handgun registration, and restrictions on access to military-style assault weapons, are common sense ideas we should enact into law.

Take the assault weapons example. Since the 1990's, opinion surveys have shown strong and consistent public support for restrictions on access to military-style semi-automatic assault weapons - about 70% of Americans, depending on the survey. This support helped lead to a national law strictly regulating their sale and possession between 1994 and 2004.

Sen. Joe Biden was a leader in drafting that law and getting it passed, and police were grateful for it. During the ten years it was in effect, the law helped reduce the number of specified assault weapons traced to crime by 66% compared to the pre-ban rate.

To put it another way: approximately 60,000 more assault weapons might have been traced to crime between 1994 and 2004 if it weren't for the Assault Weapons Ban. Unfortunately, Congress and President Bush allowed it to lapse.

Was the law perfect? No, but it had a clear, measurable impact on assault weapons traced to crime, and law enforcement wanted - and still wants - restrictions on access to those weapons.

To take one example, after the ban expired, Miami-Dade Police reported a 400% increase in the number of assault weapons used between 2005 and 2006. And in September of last year, Miami-Dade Police Officer Jose Samohano was shot and killed with an assault weapon that a new and stronger assault weapons law might have taken off the streets.

Yet when Charlie Gibson asked Gov. Sarah Palin last month whether she agreed with 70% of the American people who support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, she replied, "I do not."

There wasn't a lot of time in that interview to probe exactly why she disagrees. It would be a useful part of tonight's debate if we could find out.

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on and the Huffington Post.)