BOISE, Idaho - The expiration Monday of a 10-year federal ban on assault weapons means firearms like TEC-9s can now be legally bought - a development that has critics upset and gun owners pleased.
The 1994 ban, signed by President Clinton, outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it, which it did not.
Some of the 19 - foreign-made weapons like the AK-47 and Uzi - are still banned under a 1989 law prohibiting imports of specific automatic weapons.
Studies by pro- and antigun groups as well as the Justice Department show conflicting results on whether the ban helped reduce crime. Loopholes allowed manufacturers to keep many weapons on the market simply by changing their names or altering some of their features or accessories.
The differences between assault weapons and guns on the market before the ban expired are "cosmetic," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said Monday on CBS's "The Early Show."
"To lead anyone to believe we're talking about a class of guns that's more powerful, makes bigger holes, shoots more rapidly is not true," LaPierre said.
Gun-control advocate Sarah Brady disagreed. "There's nothing cosmetic at all about this law," she said on "The Early Show."
Gun shop owners said the expiration of the ban would have little effect on the types of guns and accessories that are typically sold and traded across their counters every day.
At the Boise Gun Co., gunsmith Justin Davis last week grabbed up a black plastic rifle resembling the U.S. military's standard issue M-16 from a row of more than a dozen similar weapons stacked against a wall.
The civilian version of the gun, a Colt AR-15 manufactured before 1994, could be sold last week just as easily as it can be sold this week. "It shoots exactly the same ammo at exactly the same rate of fire," said Davis.
However, the expiration could result in sharply lower prices for some weapons, said Sanford Abrams, owner of Valley Guns in Baltimore and vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association.
He said some pre-ban, military-style rifles with a combination of banned features such as flash suppressors, bayonet mounts and detachable magazines had been trading at gun shows for up to $1,600, but the price could drop to less than $900 since those characteristics will again be allowed on new weapons.
"The biggest complaint we had was from ex-military wanting to buy a version of what they had in the military," Abrams said. "They wanted to buy one but they didn't want it to be minus any of the characteristics it had in the military."
Many states - including California, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii - have passed their own laws curbing the use of assault weapons. Some of those are more stringent than the federal ban.
U.S. Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, trumpeted the end of the federal law.
"President Clinton's so-called 'assault weapons' ban was nothing more than a sop to antigun liberals," Otter said Friday in a written statement. "It provided only the illusion of reducing gun violence, but it did real damage to our liberties."
But advocates for the ban, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, point to some particularly vicious shootings in which military-style weapons were used - including the 10 killings in the sniper shooting spree that terrorized residents in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in 2002.
National police organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and the Fraternal Order of Police all support the renewal of the ban. President Bush has said he would sign such a bill if Congress passed it.
Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry criticized Bush for not pushing for an extension.
"Today George Bush made the job of terrorists easier and made the job of America's law enforcement officers harder and that's just plain wrong," Kerry said Monday.
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Kerry's comment was "another false attack from Senator Kerry." Bush believes the best way to curb gun violence is to enforce laws that are on the books, McClellan said.
The expiration of the assault weapons ban does not mean the end of federal background checks. The 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act is separate legislation from the assault weapons ban, said Daniel Wells, chief of the FBI unit charged with overseeing the background checks system.
"The change in law relating to assault weapons has no impact on the Brady Law," Wells said.
Davis predicted the biggest change in his business will be the ability of manufacturers and importers to market higher capacity ammunition magazines - the removable "clip" that holds and feeds bullets through guns.
Under the 1994 ban, the maximum capacity of a magazine was set at 10 rounds.