I think there was more panic in 2008 than way back for the first AWB.
There were some significant differences.
First off, the average American was just not very engaged on the issue in 1993. When we tried to warn Joe Six Pack about HR 3355, the response was "that's just about machine guns. I don't care about that. Now stop interrupting my dinner."
The second was perception. Proponents of the bill had effectively convinced the public that the guns they were going after were machine guns, and that those guns were being used to mow down dozens of police officers a day. Hey, if it was on Miami Vice
or NYPD Blue
, it must have been true. I recall an episode of ER
in which a surgeon lost the use of his fingers trying to remove an unexploded hollow-point bullet from a gang member. Yep. Hollywood was on board.
Attorney Janet Reno was pushing for the bill, and was quoted saying, "tell the NRA to get lost!" People cheered. FBI Director Louis Freeh drafted a memo suggesting mandatory licensing of all handgun owners, as well as a "media strategy" to develop public support. Nobody seemed to think that was out of line.
Bill Clinton got up on stage to give a speech in support of the bill, and he had the wife of an officer who had recently died in the line of duty. He claimed that the new ban would save the lives of countless officers, just like officer Seaberry. The only problem was that Seaberry had died in a car accident.
Did the media report or question any of that? Nope. They wanted the ban. Politicians on both sides wanted the ban. Judging from the rather faint and feeble amount of outcry, the American public wanted the ban.
So, we got the ban. Those gun owners who got mad about the NRA interrupting their dinner with phone calls about the stupid machine-gun ban? They were the first to scream and stomp their feet. After all, how had we let that happen?
Yeesh. So yeah, the folks who still had the pre-ban stuff gouged. If Joe Six Pack had pre-ban stuff, he happily gouged on it. If he was trying to buy it, he'd scream about prices, and then he'd blame those of us who had let it happen
The 1990's were rough. Not just because of the ban, but because of the atmosphere of hostility towards guns and gun owners. There was actually legislation proposed to repeal the 2nd Amendment. It looked like we were really headed to a dark place.
We're in a different situation now. The makeup of Congress changed quite dramatically in the 1994 midterms, and the AWB is often quoted as a factor in that. Bill Clinton remarked that Al Gore's loss of Florida in 2000 was likely due to lingering resentment over his participation.
Right now, the very issue of gun control is considered toxic to all but a small (but vocal) minority of politicians. Some may support the idea privately, but they're not going to act or speak on it publicly. We have two Supreme Court victories under our belt, and the American public is much more informed and engaged on the issue. I simply do not see it happening any time within the next decade.
So, it's hard to compare. There was very little panic leading up to the AWB, and that was real. There was a surreal amount of panic after the 2008 election, and there was no real crisis. So, it's hard to predict.