PORTLAND (AP) – Groups against gun violence have intensified an effort in the waning days of this session of Congress to convince lawmakers to renew a federal ban on assault weapons that is scheduled to expire in September.

Since Mother’s Day, the Million Mom March and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence have traveled the country with “Halt the Assault” rallies to raise awareness of the Sept. 13 expiration on the federal assault weapons ban.

On Tuesday, only eight days remained before Congress adjourns for August, not to return until days before the ban expires. Supporters fear such a short window might not be enough to renew the ban once Congress reconvenes.

“The clock is running out,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood, during a rally of about 100 demonstrators in Portland. “President Bush has said he supports the ban. It’s time for him to start acting like it.”

The 1994 Assault Weapons Act made it illegal for a person to manufacture, transfer or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon. Renewing the ban was part of a gun package the did not make it through Congress earlier this year.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has said that he will not call for a vote on the renewal of the ban, though supporters hope President Bush will put pressure on Republican leaders to bring the assault weapons ban up for a vote.

Justice Department data shows the proportion of banned assault weapons traced to crimes has dropped by 65.8 percent since 1995, the first year the ban went into effect. Assault weapons represented 3.57 percent of all guns used in crimes that year.

A handful of protesters attended Tuesday’s rally, carrying placards denouncing the ban as inhibiting the Second Amendment. The types of weapons affected by the ban – 19 in all including Tec 9s and Kalashnikovs – are no more dangerous than other guns, said Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association.

Figures that suggest otherwise are often driven by an agenda, he said.

“They’re purveying a bunch of untruths and half truths. This is a big lie. This whole thing is a big lie, and it’s disturbing,” Weinstein said, carrying a sign that read “The Second Amendment protects all the others.”

Weinstein said that most gun owners and enthusiasts fear that renewing the ban might allow for future bans on other types of guns deemed unsafe.

“We are not about taking guns away,” Brenda DiDonato, president of the Maine chapter of the Million Mom March, during a rally in Portland. “We are about saving lives, and we are about keeping our homes and communities safe.”

The groups have other events planned this week in Maine and New Hampshire.


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