In January, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a counterpart in the House of Representatives will introduce bills to ban assault weapons.
Feinstein was responsible for adding the assault-weapon-ban language to the 1994 legislation. That legislation was part of an omnibus crime bill that included many provisions in addition to the assault-weapons ban. How legislation is crafted contributes to its successful passage, and there are issues around assault weapons that require addressing in the 2013 bill. Should the new bill contain provisions on those weapons manufactured before 2013? Should it have a predetermined automatic expiration date and provisions to limit the gun industry from designing copycat weapons? These and others are questions that affected the 1994 legislation and need careful consideration when writing the new bills.
Provisions of the 1994 assault weapons ban and previous gun legislation
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 classified assault weapons and regulated them according to classification. Nineteen models were identified, including various semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns with a combination of various features. The act addressed only semi-automatic firearms that fire one shot each time the trigger is pulled.
Weapons that fire more than one round with a single trigger-pull have been regulated in the past by the National Firearms Act of 1934, which covered what were considered "gangster weapons" such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns.
The Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986 was a more involved law and included stipulations that loosened restrictions on gun ownership and reopened the interstate sale of long guns. It legalized ammunition shipments through the US Postal Service and removed a record-keeping requirement on sales of non-armor piercing ammunition and gave federal protection of firearms transportation through states where possession of those weapons is legal.
The gun-rights movement lobbied Congress to pass the FOPA to prevent what they believed at the time was an abuse of regulatory power, when in fact the federal agency was doing its job. Passage of the legislation would address claims that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency (ATF) was repeatedly inspecting Federal Firearm License (FFL) holders for the apparent purpose of harassment intended to drive the FFL holders out of business.
In 1986 lobbyists were successful in limiting the inspections to once a year, with an exception rule governing re-examining if multiple violations were recorded; therefore, inspections could follow up on unaccounted for guns. The loosening of gun regulations with passage of the FOPA would have consequences in the 1990s.
Should a ban on assault weapons have an expiration date?
If you owned an assault weapon before the 1994 ban, it was automatically grandfathered, which meant you could keep it; however, manufacturers were prevented from making guns with certain characteristics, which drove the demand and price up to four times the original selling price.
The original crime bill in 1993 in the House did not have an assault-weapons ban, was non-controversial and passed by voice vote. The competing omnibus bill in the Senate was Joe Biden’s crime bill, S. 1607. On Nov. 17, 1993, Diane Feinstein’s amendment to S.1607, S.Amdt. 1152, was attached the bill. The bill was passed after negotiations with Congress, President Clinton and Republicans. Some reports say “there was a lot of arm twisting” to reach an agreement.
This writer could not determine if the 10-year provision on the assault-weapons ban was part of the negotiations, but it seems plausible, as both parties were eager to pass a crime bill. The public outcry over the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident and the subsequent 1993 Waco siege involving the possible abuse of power by federal agencies fueled the expansion of the militia movement and with it stockpiling weapons including assault types, compelling Congress to act.
The Senate omnibus crime bill had 95 amendments. Read the complete bill with all the amendments here.
What does sensible gun legislation include?
The principal elements and model outlined by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence include:
The gun used by Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza was an AR-15 rifle. During the previous assault-weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, civilians could not purchase weapons with features like collapsible stocks, bayonet lugs and flash suppressors. The restrictions, however, only applied to guns manufactured after the ban took effect, leaving hundreds of thousands of AR-15s built before the ban in the possession of owners and on the market for sale, as well as guns redesigned by gun manufacturers to be “legal.”
The new assault-weapon ban needs to include a provision preventing the gun industry from creating copycat/clone weapons identical to banned weapons, which was a flaw in the 1994 federal law. Even though 19 assault rifle models were banned, including AK-47s, UZIs, MAC-10s and other military styles with foldable stocks and flash suppressors, the gun manufacturers were able to get around the law by creating copycat weapons.
Forcechange.com believes the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban must be reinstituted while being expanded to outlaw all variants and copycats of assault weapons, as well as prohibiting all manufacturing and possession of large capacity magazines.
The 2013 bill for an assault-weapons ban should not be part of an omnibus bill because the urgency and focused impact of the legislation can get buried in other issues, like it was in 1994, or have too many amendments which can dilute the efficacy of the law and even neutralize its original intent. In addition, the legislation should not contain an expiration date or limited term. This would ensure perpetuity of the law and confront once and for all the gun industry’s manufacture and sale of these weapons to civilians.
Formulating effective and sustainable assault-weapon legislation has a practical amount of historical law upon which to build and model the new law. The overarching question is will the National Rifle Association hold a sensible law hostage, like it has in the past, or will it be modified with amendments groomed to appease the gun lobby? Compromise is a necessity many times in Washington, but not if assault-type weaponry is ever going to be removed from civilian society. There can be no compromise between life and death. Assault weapons are produced for one purpose only: to kill people.
Previous story on this topic:
Paper published by Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: August 23, 2012 Model Law to Ban Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazine