Whether you’re talking about the 1994-2004 federal version, the 2013 New York and Connecticut models, or any of a handful of other state designs, Assault Weapons Bans (“AWBs”) have been a hot topic for decades. Supporters say they decrease crime. Detractors point to the fact that all types of rifles combined, represent 364 out of 13,927 in 2019 (just 2.6%)—a tiny proportion—of firearms used in homicides, and that assault weapons don’t even get their own category in these statistics.
Whatever fraction of 2.6% actually represents assault weapons, even if banning them worked 100%, the impact would be miniscule. So, the question to be asked is: are the people promoting these bans ignorant of this fact, or do they know better and just hope that you don’t?
Federal Assault Weapons Ban
Enacted in 1994 after a massive political fight, the federal assault weapons ban is the one most people refer to when using the term. It was enacted with a 10-year sunset date, meaning that in 2004 the law would be reviewed and either renewed or allowed to expire. But what was it exactly?
The 1994 AWB made it illegal to make, sell, or possess, nine categories of specific pistols, rifles and shotguns, including revolving cylinder shotguns like the “Street Sweeper” as well as any semiautomatic rifle made after the law’s enactment that had more than three elements on a list of cosmetic features that were arbitrarily deemed dangerous. These features included: “high capacity” magazines that held more than 10 rounds, muzzle devices (a muzzle brake or flash hider), bayonet lugs, pistol grips, folding stocks, and threaded barrels. Anything made prior to September 13, 1994, was exempted from these restrictions. There was little-to-no consideration for the practical impact on the gun’s lethality.
State Level Assault Weapons Bans
There are seven states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, along with the District of Colombia – that have, on their own, banned assault weapons. Each of these bans mimic the 1994 federal ban, though two states to ban assault weapons, New York and Connecticut, go even further, including pistols and shotguns and requiring any existing guns that fall under the ban to be registered or surrendered to the state after the law was enacted.