by Arianna Huffington

Attention, al-Qaida sleeper cells, domestic terrorists, school shooters, David Koresh wannabes and bloodthirsty lunatics everywhere: Be sure to mark Sept. 13 in your day planners because -- thanks to President Bush and his GOP pals in Congress -- your murderous missions are about to get a whole lot easier.

You see, that's the day the 10-year-old federal ban on assault weapons is set to expire, making it perfectly legal to buy, sell and own a whole new line of domestically produced rapid-fire killing machines.

You heard me right: Unless something changes in a hurry, combat-ready weapons like the AK-47, the Uzi and the TEC-9 assault pistol -- weaponry designed to mow down large numbers of people as efficiently as possible -- could once again be flooding the American market. And thanks to the gaping loopholes in our gun laws, everyone from disgruntled teens to Osama bin Laden's henchmen will be able to legally obtain this kind of ferocious firepower at gun shows without even having to undergo a background check. It could be cash-and-carry mayhem.

After the U.S. Army toppled the Taliban, our soldiers found an al-Qaida training manual that included an entire section lauding the ease with which prospective terrorists in the United States could legally stock up on assault weapons, "preferably an AK-47 or variations."

It was Jihad for Dummies -- but now it's our leaders who are acting like idiots.

Bowing to the demented demands of the no-gun-law-is-a-good-gun-law crowd at the National Rifle Association, Republican congressional leaders have steadfastly refused to bring to a vote legislation that would extend the assault weapons ban. And the president has failed to put any pressure on Congress to do so. This despite the fact that, during the 2000 campaign, he said, "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society," and just last year White House spokesman Scott McClellan unequivocally affirmed that the president "supports reauthorization of the current law."

Given his much-touted commitment to keeping us safe, you'd think that the renewal of the assault weapons ban would be a high priority for the president. Especially in an election year.

After all, recent polls show that over 70 percent of Americans support keeping the ban on the books. So does every major police organization in the country. Even 64 percent of gun owners support the ban, realizing that outlawing weapons that feature flash suppressors, silencers, folding stocks, bayonet mounts and large-capacity ammo magazines is not an attack on the Second Amendment but self-preservation.

Yet instead of using his bully pulpit to push for the ban's renewal, Bush is feigning support for the measure while effectively ensuring its demise. The reason is as simple as it is craven: It's all about placating the NRA, which has promised to withhold its presidential endorsement until after the assault weapons ban has expired.

What a profound failure of leadership.

By playing politics with our safety, the president has shown where he really stands on his signature issue of national security. If keeping Americans out of harm's way were truly his top priority, he'd stand up to the gun lobby and demand that Congress do everything in its power to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals, drug dealers and terrorists.

At the very least, he should pressure House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to put the ban to a vote and force our elected representatives to choose publicly between appeasing that most special of special interests, the NRA, or acting in the public interest.

Gun control advocates, including those at the Brady campaign, are teaming with law-enforcement officials to make a last-ditch attempt at shaming Bush into doing the right thing. But time is running short: Factoring in Congress' summer recess, there are fewer than two dozen legislative days left for lawmakers to renew the ban.

How the president responds could prove to be a deciding factor in November.

Voters who have had their toenail clippers confiscated at airport safety checks before being allowed to head out on their summer vacations may not look kindly on a leader who, for no other reason than political expediency, makes it easier for the real bad guys to arm themselves with weapons of massive destruction.

The NRA has promised to deny its coveted "A" rating -- and the millions it contributes to those who receive it -- to any candidate who votes for extending the assault weapons ban.

We should make it crystal clear to those running for office that, if they fail to keep these killing machines off the streets, we will withhold something even more powerful: our votes.

Publication date: 07/08/04

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