This House would as the United States ban assault weapons

Following the horrific killing of 26 elementary school children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, by Adam Lanza using a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle, that resulted in all his victims being hit more than once[1], Dianne Feinstein has said that she will introduce a bill in the Senate to ban assault weapons. The United States has had an assault weapons ban before; from 1994 to 2004. The ban however lapsed in 2004 as it was set in motion for only ten years unless it was renewed, which Congress decided not to do. Feinstein says that the new bill will “take my bill from '94 to 2004 and perfect it.”[2] Detailed below is a summary of the 1994 assault weapons ban in the United States, which states "Title XI, Subtitle A of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 imposed a 10-year ban on the “manufacture, transfer, and possession” of certain semiautomatic firearms designated as assault weapons (AWs). The ban is directed at semiautomatic firearms that have features that appear useful in military and criminal context and rifles but unnecessary in shooting sports or self-defence (examples include flash hiders, folding rifle stocks, and threaded barrels for attaching silencers). The law bans 18 models and variations by name, as well as revolving cylinder shotguns. It also has a “features test” provision banning other semiautomatics having two or more military-style features…

The ban also prohibits most ammunition feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition (referred to as large capacity magazines, or LCMs). Aloln LCM is arguably the most functionally important feature of most AWs, many of which have magazines holding 30 or more rounds. The LCM ban’s reach is broader than that of the AW ban because many non-banned semiautomatics accept LCMs. Approximately 18% of civilian-owned firearms and 21% of civilian-owned handguns were equipped with LCMs as of 1994.”[3]

The previous ban exempted assault weapons and large capacity magazines manufactured before the law’s 1994 introduction. Leaving the loophole that older guns could still be imported with the result that 4.7 million pre-ban LCMs were imported into the USA from 1995 through 2000.[4] This is a loophole Feinstein claims would be eliminated in the new bill as "it will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession.  Not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets."[5] However as the ban won’t be retroactive it will not take assault weapons off the streets entirely if it was to be passed; its most significant result could potentially be as a stepping stone if it were to show some value in the regulation of firearms.

Any attempt to renew the ban would be controversial, even after two large scale shootings, one in Aurora and the other in Newtown. The National Rifle Association is a powerful lobbying group that would fight any attempt to ban assault weapons. Indeed progress has in recent decades been going in favour of reaffirming the right to hold arms not to limit it. In District of Columbia v. Heller the Supreme court ruled that the right to possess a firearm was unconnected with service in a militia and so overturned a ban in the District of Columbia on handguns[6] and in 2010 it was ruled in McDonald v Chicago that the second amendment is incorporated under the fourteenth amendment so the right to bear arms is protected from infringement by local and state government as well as federal government.[7]

n.b. while this debate is assuming that retroactively banning assault weapons will not be on the table if it was this would make proposition’s case much easier as it is rather a large loophole and many of the arguments would be much more powerful with a more complete ban.

[1] Date, Jack, ‘Adam Lanza Shot Victims at Close Range with Semi-Automatic Rifle’, ABCNews, 15 December 2012, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/connecticut-shooter-adam-lanza-mothers-guns/story?id=17984499#.UM9b72_r18E

[2] Simpson, Connor, ‘Dianne Feinstein Wants to Ban Assault Weapons’, the Atlantic Wire, 16 December 2012, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/12/dianne-feinstein-wants-ban-assault-weapons/60033/

[3] Koper, Christopher S., et al., ‘An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003’, Report to the National Institute of Justice, United States Department of Justice, June 2004, http://www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf p.1

[4] ibid

[5] Simpson, Connor, ‘Dianne Feinstein Wants to Ban Assault Weapons’, the Atlantic Wire, 16 December 2012, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/12/dianne-feinstein-wants-ban-assault-weapons/60033/

[6] Shukla, Raj Zal, ‘This House would ban handguns in Washington D.C.’, Debatabase, 2012,  http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/law/house-would-ban-handguns-washington-dc

[7] ‘McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al.’, Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2010, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1521.pdf

 

Title 
A ban would save lives
Point 

Put simply assault weapons are designed for assault, therefore their proliferation should be prohibited in law. To put things into the general context of gun crime within the United States every year 17,000 people are killed, 70 percent of them with guns and nearly 20,000 people commit suicide by shooting themselves[1]. Murder by gunfire particularly affects children, in total well over a million Americans have died in this manner and 80 people continue to be shot in the states every day. So some form of gun control is necessary and a ban on assault weapons is a good starting point.

Out of 62 mass murders since 1982 almost half the weapons used, 67 out of 142, were semi-automatic handguns and more than 30 were assault weapons.[2] The period of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban from 1994-2004 with the exception of 1999, the year of the Columbine massacre (which notably involved a semi-automatic produced before the ban), was also a peaceful period in terms of numbers of mass shootings.[3] While assault weapons are responsible for a relatively small amount of total gun deaths in the USA that is not a good reason for not banning them; any life saved is worthwhile. Taking the low estimate of 1% of deaths from assault weapons that still means 90-100 people a year while the high 7%[4] means 630-700 lives that could be saved.

Australia shows the advantages on implementing restrictions on guns (in Australia’s case much stricter than anything being contemplated in this debate so the effect would not be as pronounced). In the wake of a mass shooting in Port Arthur in 1996 strict gun laws were implemented. An evaluation by the Australian National University found laws saved $500 million and halved the number of people killed by guns saving 200 lives every year.[5]

[1] Masters, Brian, ‘America’s deadly obsession with guns’ The Telegraph 16 December 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-politics/9749024/Americas-deadly-obsession-with-guns.html

[2] Follman, Mark, et al., ‘A Guide to Mass Shootings in America’, Mother Jones, 15 December 2012, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

[3] Wang, Sam, ‘Did the federal ban on assault weapons matter?’, Princeton Election Consortium, 14 December 2012, http://election.princeton.edu/2012/12/14/did-the-federal-ban-on-assault-weapons-matter/

[4] Matthews, Jake, ‘For Lives and Liberty: Banning Assault Weapons in America’, Harvard University Institute of Politics, 2012, http://www.iop.harvard.edu/lives-and-liberty-banning-assault-weapons-america

[5] Peters, Rebecca, ‘Will Sandy Hook massacre be America’s tipping point’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/will-the-sandy-hook-massacre-be-americas-tipping-point-20121216-2bhfy.html

Counterpoint 

It is exactly correct that deaths as a result of assault weapons are a tiny portion of the total firearms deaths. There is also no way to know if those who were killed by these weapons would have been saved or whether their assailant would not simply have killed them with a handgun instead. Therefore to ban only certain types of guns does not address the issue satisfactorily because it does not take into consideration that any gun can kill. 

Appendix 
Argument One: Ralph Rascitelli. "It's time to outlaw military assault weapons". Seattle PI. December 19, 2007 http://www.seattlepi.com/local/opinion/article/It-s-time-to-outlaw-military-assault-weapons-1259278.php - "The National Rifle Association likes
Title 
Assault weapons are not necessary for self defence or hunting.
Point 

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg argues "We've got to really question whether military-style weapons with big magazines belong on the streets of America in this day and age.”[1] Police chiefs such as Ralph Godbee of Detroit argue "We're talking about weapons that are made for war… you can shoot 50 to 60 rounds within a minute.”[2] In a self defense scenario the person defending themselves need to have enough ammunition to provide deterrence, however they would have to be unwise to take on several assailants so there should be little need to have more than 10 rounds in the magazine. Law enforcement expert Leonard J. Supenski has testified “because of potential harm to others in the household, passersby, and bystanders, too much firepower is a hazard” as in self defense, the defenders will often fire until they have expended all the bullets in their magazine. To use an assault weapon would to spray an assailant with bullets from an assault weapon would be using disproportionate force that will not only harm the assailant but will likely hit anyone else nearby.

Even those who are against an assault weapons ban such as David Kopel concede that for the most part these are not useful weapons for hunting. These weapons are “intended to wound rather than to kill” so would certainly not be useful in taking down a deer. Moreover he also concedes “a hunter will carry only a few rounds” so the large capacity magazine is also useless for sport.[3]

[1] Simpson, Connor, ‘Dianne Feinstein Wants to Ban Assault Weapons’, the Atlantic Wire, 16 December 2012, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/12/dianne-feinstein-wants-ban-assault-weapons/60033/

[2] Jackson, Jesse, ‘Police Chiefs Are Right: Ban Assault Weapons’, Huffington Post, 3 August 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-jesse-jackson/police-chiefs-are-right-b_b_1738147.html

[3] Kopel, David B., ‘Rational Basis Analysis of “Assault Weapon” Prohibition’, Journal of Contemporary Law, Vol.20, 1994 pp.381-417, p.393, http://www.davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/rational.htm

Counterpoint 

The Second Amendment was not designed for only self defense and hunting. The idea that the common man should be reasonably able to protect themselves from tyranny, foreign invasion, and insurrection is a reasonable and just cause. But even if we were to accept that self defense and hunting are the only legitimate reasons for owning a gun then why should the state get to decide what weapons someone should use when hunting or defending themselves? That a gun may not be the best choice for these activities does not mean that it should not be a possible choice.

Appendix 
Argument Two: Brady Campaign, The Top 10 NRA Myths about Assault Weapons, NRA Myth No.8 http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/pdf/assault/10nramyths.pdf - "... assault weapons utilize military features useful in combat, but which have no civilian purpose.
Title 
Banning assault weapons increases liberty and security
Point 

Many who are pro guns argue that it would be illegitimate for assault weapons to be banned while the police have them. Police forces, however, are going to be much more likely, and able to give them up when a ban is in place. The police don’t want to be involved in an arms race with criminals to have the biggest guns; just look at the British police force where there is little gun crime and few shootings of police officers it is not felt that there is the need to have police armed with more than a taser or even truncheon.[1] Put simply a ban on assault weapons can help reverse the arms race between police and criminals.

Civil liberties would also be enhanced as law enforcement agencies would not need to devote so many resources into monitoring assault weapons purchases and those who have done the purchasing. Instead they would be able to simply target all assault weapons purchases as needing immediate attention.[2]

Finally we must remember that this ban enhances the highest liberty at all; life. Today as Justice Breyer says “gun possession presents a greater risk of taking innocent lives” than not having a gun.[3]

[1] Keating, Ruth, ‘This House would arm the police’, Peter Squires ed., Debatabase, 2011, http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/law/house-would-arm-police

[2] Matthews, Jake, ‘For Lives and Liberty: Banning Assault Weapons in America’, Harvard University Institute of Politics, 2012, http://www.iop.harvard.edu/lives-and-liberty-banning-assault-weapons-america

[3] Masters, Brian, ‘America’s deadly obsession with guns’, The Telegraph, 16 December 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-politics/9749024/Americas-deadly-obsession-with-guns.html

Counterpoint 

Banning assault weapons is an infringement on Americans freedom to protect themselves; what minor civil liberties advances may be gained pale by comparison to this.

It is also unlikely that the police and the FBI would recognise the linkage between fewer guns in the civilian population and reducing the firepower of the police. Similarly the FBI is unlikely to monitor civilians less simply because there is one less reason. The justification of “preventing homegrown attacks before they are hatched” will still remain just as strong as before they will simply be looking for different things.

Appendix 
Argument Three: Assault Weapons: “Mass Produced Mayhem”, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence October 2008 http://www.bradycenter.org/xshare/pdf/reports/mass-produced-mayhem.pdf - Law enforcement officers are at particular risk from these weapons because
Title 
An assault weapons ban would stop the manufacture of many of the deadliest guns.
Point 

Yes a ban would not immediately take assault weapons off the streets but there would be significant long term benefits as highlighted by Connecticut Senator Joe Liberman "We ought to restore the assault weapons ban -- not to take anybody's guns away that they have now, but to stop the manufacturing of these weapons."[1]  The ban would stop manufacturers from making the weapons and with the legislation improved from the 1994 version it would be possible to prevent the cosmetic changes that were made to keep guns on the market.[2] This would mean that prices both in the USA and globally would increase as there would be less supply. One positive result might also be help to change the United States’ position on the arms trade treaty which would further restrict global supply.[3] This would answer Mexican calls to cut off the supply of guns into the country that helps make the drugs violence in the country so deadly both by meaning less of the weapons are made and by helping to cut off the route through which weapons get into Mexico.[4] A ban on assault weapons would not fix Mexico but it would deprive arms smugglers of the closest, easiest and cheapest place to buy the arms used by the drugs cartels.[5]

[1] Jamieson, Dave, ‘Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy Calls For Tougher Gun Controls’, The Huffington Post, 16 December 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/connecticut-governor-dannel-malloy-gun-control_n_2311172.html

[2] Epstein, Edward, ‘NRA clout is outgunning Feinstein / Assault weapons ban renewal in doubt’, SFGate, 28 June 2004, http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/NRA-clout-is-outgunning-Feinstein-Assault-2710800.php#page-1

[3] Urquhart, Conal, ‘Arms trade treaty failure is disappointing, says William Hague’, guardian.co.uk, 28 July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/28/arms-trade-treaty-william-hague

[4] ‘Mexico urges U.S. to review gun laws after Colorado shooting’, Reuters, 21 July 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/21/us-usa-shooting-mexico-idUSBRE86K0IL20120721

[5] Chertoff, Emily, ‘Regulating U.S.-Made Assault Weapons: The International Case’, The Atlantic, 19 December 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/12/regulating-us-made-assault-weapons-the-international-case/266433/

Counterpoint 

Black plastic on a gun does not make it any more lethal than other guns with wood stocks. Stopping the manufacture of such guns would hand over a lucrative market to the Russians and Chinese rather than reducing the number of assault weapons in the world.[1] Drugs cartels would simply find new routes to get the weapons they need, after all they are already dealing in illegal activities making the guns they want illegal on both sides of the border rather than just one is unlikely to stop them.

[1] Falconer, Bruce, ‘Semiautomatic for the people’, Mother Jones, July/August 2008, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/07/semiautomatic-people

Appendix 
Argument Four: Diane Feinstein quoted in Deborah Sontag, ‘Many Say End of Firearm Ban Changed Little, New York Times, 24 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/national/24guns.html -"It was drying up supply and driving up prices. The number of tho
Title 
An assault weapons ban would violate the second amendment
Point 

The Second amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”[1] would be violated by a ban on assault weapons. This right clearly does not limit what arms a citizen may bear. The ruling of District of Columbia v. Heller clearly reaffirmed that the government can’t ban certain classes of arms and also that this right is not connected with service in a militia.

[1] ‘Second Amendment – Bearing Arms’, Findlawhttp://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment02/

Counterpoint 

Supreme court rulings have been overturned before. This is an area where the bill of rights is clearly outdated and out of touch; today’s militia is clearly the standing army and so this should just be interpreted as only granting members of the army the right to carry arms. The maintenance of “the security of a free state” clearly is not something that today is done through the citizenry having access to guns, whether assault weapons or not. Moreover it is difficult to see why if there is a right to bear arms that is unconnected with the security of the state these arms should be these particular assault weapons rather than types of weapon that we are not looking to ban. Would a rifle not be as useful in the event of invasion as a semi-automatic? The Bill of Rights was written at the end of the eighteenth century when the weapons were muzzle loading muskets it was not conceived with powerful, accurate, modern weapons that are capable of mass murder without reloading. 

Appendix 
Argument One: "Assault Weapons Bans. A Solution in Search of a Problem." Gun Owners of America. August 1994 http://www.gunowners.org/fs9403.htm - "Military-Type Firearms Are Protected by 2nd Amendment. Assault weapons legislation not only disarms honest
Title 
It is incoherent to ban some guns
Point 

It is incoherent to attempt to ban assault weapons while allowing other weapons to remain on the streets. As professor Jacobs from New York University argues “Pistols are dangerous because they are easily carried and concealed; shotguns because they spray metal projectiles over a wide area; certain hunting rifles because they fire large calibre bullets, and certain "sniper rifles" because they are accurate over great distances. Assault rifles are not remarkable by any of these criteria.”[1] Indeed the previous ban simply used a list of guns that were banned rather than a specific definition that could then be applied universally showing the difficulty of classifying these weapons.[2] It should also be remembered that this will not affect assault weapons that are already legal in the United States so this would not even be banning all assault weapons so would leave millions in private hands, while it might be argued there is some slight difference between an assault weapon and another gun there is certainly no difference betweena a new and an old assault weapon.

[1] Kopel, David B., ‘Rational Basis Analysis of “Assault Weapon” Prohibition’, Journal of Contemporary Law, Vol.20, 1994 pp.381-417, p.404, http://www.davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/rational.htm

[2] Kobayashi, Bruce H., and Olson, Joseph E., ‘In Re 101 California Street: A legal and economic analysis of strict liability for the manufacture and sale of “assault weapons”’, Stanford Law and Policy Review, vol.8 No.1, 1997, http://saf.org/LawReviews/KobayashiAndOlson.htm

Counterpoint 

The point of an assault weapons ban is not to completely ban guns but to ban guns that can fire large numbers of bullets rapidly and have no purpose other than to shoot people. The ban targets those weapons that are not useful for self defence or hunting. The opposition argument is essentially that because some guns are legal all guns should be legal; the line has to be drawn somewhere and there is little reason why the line at assault weapons is less logical than a line that allows some grenade launchers and shotguns while banning others?[1] Since this line is clearly arbitrary then we should move to the only non-arbitrary line, a full ban, a move towards which this ban is a step towards.

[1] Laurence, Charles, ‘Semi-automatics and grenade launchers are legal again in US’, The Telegraph, 19 September 2004, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1472121/Semi-automatics-and-grenade-launchers-are-legal-again-in-US.html

Appendix 
Argument Two: Assault Weapons Bans: A Solution in Search of a Problem." Gun Owners of America. August, 1994 http://www.gunowners.org/fs9403.htm - "Knives more deadly: According to the FBI, people have a much greater chance of being killed by a knife or a
Title 
Assault weapons are not used in most crimes
Point 

There is little point in banning a type of weapon that is not used in most violence; assault rifles are used in fewer than 1 percent of all violent crimes in the united states at a time when gun violence is falling.[1] If assault weapons are not used in most crime then there is no rational basis for banning them. When the previous assault weapons ban expired in 2004 far from there being an increase in crime as predicted the number of murders declined by 3.6%.[2]

[1] La Jeunesse, William, ‘Debate answer on assault weapons ban could cause problems for Obama’, Fox News, 1 November 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/11/01/debate-answer-on-assault-weapons-ban-could-cause-problems-for-obama/

[2] Lott, John R., ‘The Big Lie of the Assault Weapons Ban’, Los Angeles Times, 28 June 2005, http://articles.latimes.com/2005/jun/28/opinion/oe-lott28

Counterpoint 

There is a rational basis for banning assault weapons as they are a firearm of choice among criminals. In a study of young adult purchases of handguns in California buyers with minor criminal histories were twice as likely to purchase automatic pistols as those with no criminal history. This was even higher at five times as likely for those who had been charged with two or more serious violent offenses.[1] This means those purchasing assault weapons intend for them to be used for violent ends.

It is true that assault weapons are used in a small percentage of crimes, although 1% is disputable in Miami for example 15 out of 79 homicides in 2006 involved assault weapons,[2] but the opposition ignore that large capacity magazines are used in a much higher percentage of crimes; between 14 and 26% before the 1994 ban.[3]

[1] Koper, Christopher S., et al., ‘An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003’, Report to the National Institute of Justice, United States Department of Justice, June 2004, p.17 http://www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf

[2] Associated Press, ‘Assault-weapon attacks on rise in Miami area’, MSNBC, 14 September 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20781848/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/assault-weapon-attacks-rise-miami-area/#.UM8YPW_r18E

[3] Koper, Christopher S., et al., ‘An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003’, Report to the National Institute of Justice, United States Department of Justice, June 2004, p.18 http://www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf

Appendix 
Argument Three: Timothy Wheeler. "Assault-Weapons Ban, R.I.P. Good riddance". National Review Online. September 13, 2004 http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/wheeler200409130630.asp - "As the assault-weapon panic fades, gun-control activists will find a
Title 
A ban on assault weapons would not work, it will simply encourage a black market
Point 

It has already been demonstrated that most crime already takes place using other guns or even without firearms at all so it is illogical to think that this ban would make any difference to crime. For a start as the ban would not be retroactive large numbers of assault weapons would remain legally in the United States. It would create a black market in the weapons which would enrich organised crime which would simply mean that those who are intending to use those guns for ill have access to them while those who want them for self defense don’t.[1] As a response to Obama’s reelection some gun owners are already purchasing more guns and bullets, in some cases with the intention of selling them on the black market should a ban come into force.[2] It is clear therefore that the ban would do little to reduce the number of assault weapons in the United States and would likely even do little to impact on their availability.

[1] Wohlferd, Clark A., ‘Much ado about not very much: The expiration of the assault weapons ban as an act of legislative responsibility’, Legislation and Public Policy, vol.8, 2005, pp.471-484, p.480 https://www.law.nyu.edu/ecm_dlv1/groups/public/@nyu_law_website__journals__journal_of_legislation_and_public_policy/documents/documents/ecm_pro_060716.pdf

[2] Hagler, Frank, ‘Gun Sales at Record High: Sales Soar Over Fear of the Black President’, Policy Mic, November 2012, http://www.policymic.com/articles/19701/gun-sales-at-record-high-sales-soar-over-fear-of-the-black-president

Counterpoint 

Of course a ban will not completely eliminate these weapons but it would reduce the supply and make it much easier for the police to seize the weapons so taking them off the streets. It would also be a step in the right direction in attempting to change public perceptions and amend the American attitude. It is understated just how relaxed American laws are in comparison to the rest of the world, even states such as Switzerland and Israel that are often highlighted by the NRA as being model states that allow gun ownership with few resulting shootings are much more restrictive than the USA.[1]

There is no reason to think that a black market is somehow going to result in more of these weapons being available so the fact that it will exist after a ban is not a reason not to go ahead with the ban. It is not ideal that a ban is not retroactive so leaving a large number of such guns in private hands but this number will slowly diminish over time rather than continuing to rise as it would under the status quo.

[1] Rosenbaum, Janet, ‘A League of Our Own’, Foreign Policy, 19 December 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/18/a_league_of_our_own

Appendix 
Argument Four: Deborah Sontag. "Assault weapons ban comes to end: A dud?". International Herald Tribune. April 25, 2005 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/world/americas/24iht-gun.html - "When the ban took effect in 1994, it exempted more than 1.5 million

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