Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Federal assault weapons ban
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, or AWB, is a provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a federal law of the United States that includes a prohibition on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment. The ten-year ban was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban expired on September 13, 2004 as part of the law's sunset provision. It is unclear whether Congress will renew the ban in some form; current President George W. Bush says he would not veto the ban if Congress passes it but would not push for a renewal.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban is only a small part (title XI, subtitle A) of the very large and extensive Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. In total, there are 33 "titles" (sections) of the act.
All firearms addressed in the ban are semi-automatic firearms, that is, firearms that fire one shot each time the trigger is pulled, without the user reloading by operating a bolt or lever. Neither the AWB nor its expiration affects the legal status of fully-automatic firearms, which can fire more than one round with a single trigger-pull; these have been illegal except by special permit since 1934.
During the period the law was in effect, it was illegal to manufacture any weapon that met the law's definiton of an assault weapon or any magazine or clip holding more than 10 rounds, except for export or for sale to a government or law enforcement agency. Possession of illegally imported or manufactured equipment is outlawed as well, but note that the law did not ban the possession or sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines that were manufactured before the ban took effect.
Definition of Assault Weapon
The law created a definition of assault weapon: Certain models (all of which apply to only semi-automatic weapons), such as the Colt AR-15, TEC-9, all Kalashnikovs (including the AK-47), Uzi, and others were banned by name; other weapons were banned for having certain features:
Semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and two or more of:
- folding or telescoping stock
- conspicuous pistol grip
- bayonet mount
- flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
- grenade launcher
Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of:
- magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
- threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or silencer
- barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
- unloaded weight of 50 oz or more
- a semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm
(all but the last pistol feature are found in the pre-ban TEC-9, the probable inspiration for that section of the law)
Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of:
- folding or telescoping stock
- pistol grip
- capacity of more than 5 rounds
- detachable magazine
On March 2, 2004 (108th Congress, 2nd Session), Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) added a 10-year extension to the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, Amendment 2637, to S.1805, the Senate's gun manufacturer immunity from liability bill. While the amendment was agreed to by a vote of 52-47, S.1805 picked up several other amendments, and the NRA withdrew its support of the bill. The sponsor Larry Craig (R-ID) asked for a vote, and S.1805, with the Feinstein Assault Weapon Ban renewal amendment, was voted down 8-90. S.1805 was widely hailed by Democrats as the only viable vehicle for a renewal of the AWB before its expiration.
Deficiencies in the definitions
Classification of assault weapons has proven extremely difficult since there is no basic functional difference between the types of firearms targeted for these bans and many very common hunting and target-shooting firearms. For characteristics by which guns are traditionally compared, such as caliber, rate of fire, muzzle velocity, accurate range, magazine capacity, etc., assault weapons are identical in function to just about any semi-automatic firearm. The features banned by the law, however, were primarily superficial accessories, so when a weapon is banned as an assault weapon, the manufacturer simply makes the required superficial changes which render it legal again. For example, the AB-10 is a post-ban version of the TEC-9, made legal by changing the name and removing the (cosmetic) barrel shroud and barrel threading; the XM-15 is an AR-15 made legal by changing the name and removing the flash suppressor; post-ban AK-47s are sold under different names with the bottom of the pistol-grip attached to the stock, creating a "thumbhole stock", or by removing both the threaded barrel and the bayonet lug.
This lack of distinguishing characteristics was implied by Josh Sugarmann , executive director of the VPC , years before the federal ban was passed. In his March 1989 paper titled "Assault Weapons: Analysis, New Research and Legislation," Sugarmann wrote that, "[Assault weapons] 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."
Kristen Rand, legistative director of the (anti-gun) VPC , said a few months before the expiration of the ban, "The 1994 law in theory banned AK-47s, MAC-10s, UZIs, AR-15s and other assault weapons. Yet the gun industry easily found ways around the law and most of these weapons are now sold in post-ban models virtually identical to the guns Congress sought to ban in 1994."
One effect of the ban was to raise the price on previously manufactured rifles, and previously existing normal capacity magazines. Its expiration has led to lower prices on the limited capacity rifles and magazines manufactured in accordance with the law.
California is one state that passed a particularly strict statute regarding assault weapons. In California, several different categories of weapons are classified as assault weapons. Critics claim that the categories are so poorly delineated that one cannot accurately state what is and what is not banned under the law. The first category includes weapons listed by manufacturer and model on a list that went into effect in 1989. The law was passed in response to a Stockton schoolyard shooting by a mentally ill individual who killed or wounded over 30 people with an AK series rifle. The list includes most modern military rifles, such as the Colt AR-15 series and clones, AK series and clones, Uzi series, Heckler und Koch HK91, HK93, HK94, and others. This first category could not be purchased after July 1989, and had to be registered with the state no later than January 1, 1990. In response, some gun manufacturers simply changed the names of their products to circumvent the ban, such as the Colt Sporter (AR-15) and imported SAR-1 (AK series).
The legislature responded by passing a far tougher law that defined assault weapons based on their characteristics, which are very similar to the federal characteristics listed above, except that only one of the listed "characteristic" warrants illegality, thereby making all pistol grip semi-automatic weapons illegal for private sale. An additional restriction is on semiautomatic rifles shorter than 762 mm (30 inches), and any shotgun with a revolving cylinder. These weapons could not be purchased after January 1, 2000, and had to be registered before January 2001. In addition, the law stated that any weapon that is part of the AR-15 series or AK series is also an assault weapon, regardless of manufacturer, which dates back to failed 1989 ban. However, the Caifornia Supreme Court have declared the identification of assault weapon by series to be too dubious and difficult for the average citizen to make without specific and clear model identification guidelines. The court therefore overturned the "series" identification portion of the law in their ruling of Harrot v. County of Kings , filed 6/28/2001 . The implications of this case is that only firearms specifically listed by exact model name or conforming to explicit exterior characteristics (such as a pistol grip) can be banned under current legislation. This leads to the consequence that AR and AK "series" rifles can be legally purchased and possessed in California if the model is not explicitly banned and as long as the owner does not add the visual characteristics which turn it into an assault weapon (i.e. pistol grip, flash suppressor, etc).
Assault weapons may only be possessed if properly registered with the state. No new assault weapons may be manufactured, purchased, or imported into California except by licensed dealers or manufacturers for sale to law enforcement agencies or the federal government, or by production companies for use in movies. Certain pistols sanctioned for use by the International Olympic Committee are exempted from the Assault Weapons Control Act. A permit process does exist at the Department of Justice, but the DOJ's internal policy is reputed to issue permits to no one except movie prop companies. The California law is fairly typical for a state-level regulation of assault weapons.
Despite purporting to make California a safer place, both sides agree that there are many firearms that are legal in California that are functionally identical to prohibited weapons, and evidence of the effectiveness of such laws is hard to come by. Both sides also agree that the law needs to be revised to make it more clear so ordinary people can understand what is and is not an assault weapon.
When the act was being debated in the legislature, the Association of California Cities, a prominent supporter, claimed that California law enforcement agencies feared that some groups in large cities might undertake successful rebellions against civil order if armed with modern weapons. In spite of hundreds of thousands of such "assault weapons" in the public hands for some decades, no such events have ever occurred anywhere in the USA. Prominent members of black churches in L.A., as well as Senators Boxer (D-CA) and Feinstein (D-CA), have claimed that the only real purpose of such weapons is to kill large numbers of people, and therefore there is no reason to permit them. Some gun rights advocates claim that the primary uses of these firearms in civilian hands has been, and continues to be the sport of recreational target-shooting (there were no reported deaths or injuries related to the sport of target shooting in 1999, 2000, and 2001).
Based on engineering differences, ease of modification, and their high level of expertise, CRPA members see nothing special about assault weapons except their appearance, which is exactly what the gun collectors want, and what the legislature wants to prohibit. The legislature has thus been accused of being paternalistic and somewhat frivolous for creating the Assault Weapons Control Act. Another example of politically based gun laws is the ban of all ammunition with the word "Magnum" in the name by some parts of Los Angeles, when in fact the word Magnum is rather meaningless in ammunition nomenclature, with its reputation largely based on movies, not ballistics.
Gun rights advocates have argued that the only real purpose of these "assault weapons" bans is to make the public used to the idea that firearms can be banned by government action and the public simply must accept any bans the government will choose to impose in the future. According to gun rights advocates, these bans have purely symbolic and propaganda purposes with no chance of reducing violent crime. Supporters of the ban counter that the banned features of these weapons were designed for military use. Supporters argue that the features that define an "assault weapon" make it useless for hunting and less effective for target shooting, but more effective in combat. Supporters feel that weapons designed for combat should have no place in a peaceful society. Gun rights advocates assert that exterior features which make up the cornerstone of the ban such as a pistol grip or a stock that folds are only similar to military weapons through a cosmetic relationship, and the removal of such features simply restricts law abiding citizens' rights while not reducing crime.
Oddly enough, bayonet mounts are allowed under California law - they do not count as a so-called "evil feature".
Impact the ban has had on crime
The only government study done on the Assault Weapons Ban concluded that the banís "impact on gun violence has been uncertain." 
John Lott performed another study, which appears in his book The Bias Against Guns. He writes, "(The study) examines the first four years of the federal law as well as the different state assault weapon bans. Even after accounting for law enforcement, demographics, poverty and other factors that affect crime, the laws did not reduce any type of violent crime. In fact, overall violent crime actually rose slightly, by 1.5 percent, but the impact was not statistically significant. The somewhat larger increase in murder rates—over 5 percent—was significant, but not all states experienced an increase." 
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details