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The Assault Weapons Ban: How Silly Was It? (Part One)

With the Obama admin and a Washington Post editorial calling for its reinstatement — amidst a tie-in to the Gunwalker scandal — it's worth revisiting the boneheaded law.

by
Bob Owens

Bio

July 6, 2011 - 12:00 am
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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, February 26, 2009:

As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

The fabled “assault weapons ban.”

Few laws ever passed have been as idolized — and misunderstood — as Title XI of the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Subtitle A (the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act).

To listen to the Obama administration, the media, or the nominated head of the ATF spin it, the ban made it illegal to purchase machine guns, and outlawed the ownership or use of high-capacity magazines, saving billions, perhaps trillions, of lives.

That mischaracterization is as wrong as it is laughable. The law had nothing to do with machine guns and real military-issue assault rifles, and did nothing to measurably impact violent crime.

The purpose of the law was to ban the sale and importation of certain semi-automatic (one bullet fired per trigger pull) firearms by name, and a wider group of firearms that had an arbitrarily selected list of  largely cosmetic features. These features did not affect the rate of fire, accuracy, or range of the firearms impacted. Firearms were determined to be “assault weapons” — a term that was created by the law itself — if it had two or more of the following features:

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  1. Folding or telescoping stock
  2. Pistol grip
  3. Bayonet mount
  4. Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
  5. Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device which enables the launching or firing of rifle grenades)

Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  1. Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
  2. Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor
  3. Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
  4. Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more
  5. A semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm

Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

  1. Folding or telescoping stock
  2. Pistol grip
  3. Fixed capacity of more than 5 rounds
  4. Detachable magazine

It was a law passed by lawmakers who desired to “do something,” but who didn’t have the expertise or intelligence to pass a law with any real meaning or measurable impact. It resulted in a 10-year timeframe where this …

…  was an “assault weapon,” but this …

… was not.

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