As the House weighs whether to repeal last year's ban on 19 types of semi-automatic assault weapons, eight people who used assault guns to defend themselves or their families told Congress Friday that those weapons saved their lives.
The witnesses said the superior firepower, light weight and fearsome appearance of their assault weapons helped them in their time of need.Brian Rigsby of Noonan, Ga., told the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime that he used a semiautomatic weapon to fend off two men who approached his campsite with shotguns in November 1990.
One of the intruders shot the friend Rigsby was camping with before Rigsby opened fire. Both men carried shotguns, he said, but he overcame them because he was able to fire more quickly.
"In the time it took me to fire nine rounds, the battle was over," Rigsby said. The gun Rigsby used is not banned, but the 30-round clip he carried is.
Sharon Ramboz of Walkersville, Md., told the panel that in 1989 she once frightened off a gang of intruders in her suburban home by standing at the top of the stairs and chambering a round of ammunition in a Colt AR-15, one of the weapons banned in last year's law.
The "loud, distinctive sound" of the gun's bolt being pulled back scared the intruders away, she said.
"I am convinced that this gun, indeed its features and appearance, saved not just my life, but the lives of the three most important people on earth, my children," Ramboz said.
Other panelists included David Joo, manager of a Korean-owned gun shop in Los Angeles, who said he stood on the roof of the shop with an assault weapon to keep looters away from his store during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He said the police never came despite repeated calls.
"From the riots, we learned our own lesson," Joo said. "Before we look for somebody else to protect us, we must protect ourselves with our own weapons."
Their testimony was a striking change from hearings held last year in the Democrat-controlled Congress, where most of the witnesses had been victims of crazed killers armed with assault weapons, defined as guns modelled after similar military weapons.
The law passed last year bans the sale or manufacture of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons. Previously owned weapons are exempted from the law, and more than 650 sporting and hunting guns are specifically exempted from the ban.
The law also bans the sale of magazine cartridges containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The law's backers said last year that the weapons and the large magazines, developed for battle, are unsafe for America's streets.
The law, passed after one of Congress' most bitter struggles last year, is broadly popular. A Jan. 25-26 poll by Yankelovich Partners for CNN/Time showed 75 percent of the public supports the ban.
This year, lawmakers in the newly conservative House of Representatives plan to repeal the ban. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has promised a vote on repeal in May. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, also has promised a vote before the summer.
Debate over the issue highlighted partisan differences on the panel. Many Republicans said the victims' stories illustrated the need to repeal the ban so that Americans will be equipped to fight crime.
"Gun control has a real and significant impact," said subcommittee Chairman Bill McCollum, R-Fla. "Unfortunately, the impact is on the wrong people. Decent Americans can't get guns. We have turned law-abiding people into potential lawbreakers by declaring some guns to be good and others to be bad."
Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who supports the ban, said it would be ridiculous to expect all Americans to arm themselves against crime.
"That's like saying the way to deal with drunk driving is to give every driver a drink," Schumer said. "Does anyone really believe that giving every American an Uzi (assault weapon) will make our streets safer? That by turning our towns into Dodge City we will be making life safer? This is pure pulp fiction."
Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., warned against relying too much on the stories of those who testified and legislating "by anecdote."
"We could use anecdotes to prove that seatbelts in cars aren't safe, because some people have been killed wearing seatbelts," Scott said. "But we know that in most cases, seatbelts are safe."
Similarly, he said, the assault weapons' ban improves safety, on the whole.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., charged gun control advocates with making a "false argument that society will be better protected from violent crime if people cannot protect themselves."
Barr is chairman of the Second Amendment Task Force, which is reviewing all gun control laws enacted, including the 1993 Brady law requiring a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases.
Barr has said that the group "is looking at" a repeal of Brady, but McCollum said Friday that the subcommittee doesn't plan to repeal the waiting period.
"This chairman does not have any plans to repeal the Brady (law)," McCollum said. "There will be hearings on it, but there are no plans to repeal the Brady (law) at this time."