This country needs to re-impose a new, effective ban on military-style assault weapons.

Banning semiautomatic assault weapons designed to kill lots of people quickly isn't quite as simple at it may appear on the surface. That must not keep us from trying.

In fact, even given myriad defects in the now-expired federal assault-weapons ban, we could do a lot worse than essentially reinstating it as originally written. Flawed though it was, it reduced the flow of such weapons.

Even better, Congress should consider emulating California's assault-weapons ban.

The 1994-2004 federal ban was riddled with loopholes. The law outlawed the sale and possession of 19 specific types of weapons; it also outlawed "copycat" weapons that had two or more combat features - such as bayonet mounts, threads for silencers, pistol grips or flash suppressors. But if you made a copycat without two of the listed combat characteristics, it was legal.

An example, from Charles Heller, secretary of the Arizona Citizens Defense League: AR-15 rifles were banned because, in part, these semiautomatic rifles each weighed more than 50 ounces. But after the ban went into effect, said Heller, gun makers switched from using aluminum to polymer in making AR-15s, thus dropping the weight below 50 ounces and, voila!, the rifles were legal under federal law. Aluminum? Illegal. Polymer? Legal.

"The federal ban didn't ban weapons," Heller told us. "It banned cosmetic features on weapons."

A federal ban on assault weapons has been supported by most Americans, including gun owners, in polls conducted over many years. Law enforcement groups also supported the now-expired ban and supported its extensions; among these were the Fraternal Organization of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the National Sheriffs' Association.

When criminals are toting military-grade firepower, police are at greater risk - and need comparable weapons to combat the bad guys.

Studies show the expired federal ban did slow the flow of military-style assault weapons in this country. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence found in 2004 that 45 percent fewer assault weapons were traced as crime guns by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives while the federal ban was in effect.

The National Rifle Association disagrees with virtually all of this. Key points its Institute for Legislative Action website cites include that such a ban infringes on the right to defense and that it bars weapons that are "functionally identical to millions of other guns."

We believe an imperfect ban is better than none when it comes to assault-style weaponry on our streets.

Consider what's a stake: In "The Politics of Gun Control," Robert J. Spitzer pointed out in 2008 that the Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle is easier to buy legally in most states than a handgun.

"Weighing about 28 pounds, this weapon is highly accurate from more than a mile away, and it must be fired while resting on a bipod," Spitzer writes. In 1995 the Rand Corp. observed that the weapon "has the capability of piercing reinforced armor used to protect airplanes, fuel tanks, toxic chemicals, and ground facilities," Spitzer notes.

This country must enact a new federal ban on military-style assault weapons.

The Brady Campaign argues that a new federal ban should be modeled on California's law, which uses a "one-feature" test to define outlawed weapons. Thus those with just one military-style feature are illegal.

The U.S. essentially outlawed machine guns in 1934. It's time we took similar action against their very lethal descendants.

Arizona Daily Star