in the Violence Policy Center's own words (from 1988) (emphasis added):
[A]ssault weapons are quickly becoming the leading topic of America's gun control debate and will most likely remain the leading gun control issue for the near future. Such a shift will not only damage America's gun lobby, but strengthen the handgun restriction lobby for the following reasons:
* It will be a new topic in what has become to the press and public an "old" debate.
Although handguns claim more than 20,000 lives a year, the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. The reasons for this vary: the power of the gun lobby; the tendency of both sides of the issue to resort to sloganeering and pre-packaged arguments when discussing the issue; the fact that until an individual is affected by handgun violence he or she is unlikely to work for handgun restrictions; the view that handgun violence is an "unsolvable" problem; the inability of the handgun restriction movement to organize itself into an effective electoral threat; and the fact that until someone famous is shot, or something truly horrible happens, handgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons — just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms — are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons....
So when gun rights supporters worry that "assault weapons" bans are (1) attempts to grease the slope to restrictions on handguns and other guns, and (2) attempts to capitalize on public confusion about what assault weapons really are, they are really only saying what the Violence Policy Center has itself already said.
Thanks to Dan Gifford for the pointer.
UPDATE: I originally said this was a 1998 study, because that's the copyright date, but it turns out the study itself came out in 1988. Thanks to commenters Bill Twist, Dan M., and Edward M. for the correction.