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Assault weapons legislation in the United States refers to bills and laws (active, theoretical, expired, proposed, or failed) that define and restrict or make illegal the manufacture, transfer, and possession of assault weapons. How these firearms are defined and regulated varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; generally, this constitutes a list of specific firearms and combinations of features on semiautomatic firearms. Assault rifles (not assault weapons) are defined by federal law in the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. The NFA specifically defines an assault rifle as one that can fire more than one round per trigger pull, i.e., capable of selective fire.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban enacted in 1994 expired in 2004. Attempts to renew this ban have failed, as have attempts to pass a new ban, such as the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (AWB 2013). Eight U.S. states have assault weapons bans: three were enacted before the 1994 federal ban, four more were passed before the federal ban expired, and one passed after the federal ban expired. The majority of states (42) have no assault weapons ban, although two, Minnesota and Virginia, have training and background check requirements for purchasers of assault weapons that are stricter than those for ordinary firearms. On June 4, 2021, a federal judge struck down the three-decade-long ban in California, though it is pending appeal by the California Attorney General. While there are no statewide assault weapon bans in Colorado, local bans exist in certain cities or counties in the state. In addition to state bans, Washington, D.C., and some U.S. counties and municipalities have assault weapons laws.
The 1994 federal and 1989 state ban in California were prompted by the 1989 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, California. Over the last decades, there has been an increase in the use of semi-automatic rifles in mass shootings. At least one rifle was used in about 44% of mass public shootings since the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting. The U.S. suffers the highest death toll from gun violence among high income countries and the 2023 Covenant School shooting, which occurred in March, was the 129th such mass shooting in America since the beginning of the year. Existing and proposed weapon legislation often come under renewed interest in the wake of major mass shootings, such as the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
In 2018, most Americans who were polled supported a ban on assault weapons. According to an April 2023 Fox News poll, 61% of Americans are in favour of an assault weapons ban.
Main article: Federal Assault Weapons Ban
In January 1989, 34 children and a teacher were shot in Stockton California. The gunman used a semi automatic AK-47 firearm; five children perished.: 10 President George H.W. Bush banned all imports of semi automatic rifles in March 1989, and made the ban permanent in July 1989. The assault weapons ban tried to address public concern about mass shootings while limiting the impact on recreational firearms use.: 1–2
In November 1993, the ban passed the United States Senate. The author of the ban, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and other advocates said that it was a weakened version of the original proposal. In January 1994, Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said handguns and assault weapons should be banned. In May of that year former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan wrote to the United States House of Representatives in support of banning "semi-automatic assault guns". They cited a 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll that found 77 percent of Americans supported a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of such weapons. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX), then chair of the House Judiciary Committee, tried to remove the ban from the crime bill but failed.
The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly called the federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB and AWB 1994), was enacted in September 1994. The ban, including a ban on high-capacity magazines, became defunct (expired) in September 2004 per a 10-year sunset provision.
The proposed bill H.R.4269, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2015, was introduced on December 16, 2015, to the 114th United States Congress, sponsored by Representative David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island along with 123 original co-sponsors. It currently has 149 co-sponsors. This legislation states that its purpose is "To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes."
The proposed legislation targets various firearm accessories, including the barrel shroud (a safety covering for the barrel of the firearm to prevent the operator from burning his or her hands as the barrel becomes heated after the firing of multiple rounds), pistol grip, and certain types of firearm stocks such as telescoping or collapsing stocks. Also included are lists of various classes and models of firearms, including semi-automatic firearms, AR-15 style rifles, assault weapons, semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic shotguns, and others, some of which have already been banned or restricted under existing legislation including grenade launchers. The legislation also proscribes high-capacity magazines.
On July 29, 2022 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022 (H.R. 1808). The bill is somewhat similar to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that was in force from 1994 to 2004. It defines certain semi-automatic firearms as assault weapons, and prohibits their manufacture, sale, transfer, or possession. Existing assault weapons would be grandfathered in – that is, they would be legal to possess, and legal to sell or transfer through a federally licensed gun dealer. The bill also exempts law enforcement agencies and retired law enforcement officers.
Defined as an assault weapon is any centerfire semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine and one or more of these features: a pistol grip, a forward grip, a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock, a grenade launcher, a barrel shroud, or a threaded barrel. A number of other rifles, shotguns, and pistols are also defined as assault weapons, including some specific makes and models.
Additionally the proposed law defines magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition as large capacity ammunition feeding devices, and prohibits their manufacture, sale, transfer, or possession. Existing magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds would be legal to possess, but not to sell or transfer. Magazines for .22 caliber rimfire ammunition are not included in the ban.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 217 to 213. Voting in favor of the bill were 215 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Voting against it were 208 Republicans and 5 Democrats.
The U.S. Senate has not voted on the bill, as proponents do not have the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and pass the law.
|District of Columbia||In force||10|
|Hawaii||In force||10 (pistols)|
|Illinois||In force||10 (15 for handguns)|
|New Jersey||In force||10|
|New York||In force||10|
See also: Gun laws in the United States by state
Three U.S. states passed assault weapons bans before Congress passed the federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994: California in 1989, New Jersey in 1990, and Connecticut in 1993. Four others passed assault weapons bans before AWB 1994 expired in 2004: Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.
See also: Gun laws in California
California restricts the possession, sale, transfer or import of defined assault weapons to those individuals who possess a Dangerous Weapons Permit issued by the California Department of Justice. In practice, very few Dangerous Weapons Permits are issued, and only under a very limited set of circumstances defined in state DOJ regulations.
Main article: Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989
In May 1989, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass an assault weapons law, after the January 1989 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton. The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, or AWCA, restricted semi-automatic firearms that it classified as assault weapons: over 50 specific brands and models of rifles, pistols, and shotguns to those who were issued a Dangerous Weapons Permit by the California Department of Justice. Since the Department of Justice generally does not give Dangerous Weapons Permits to ordinary citizens, the Roberti-Roos Act amounts to an effective ban on defined assault weapons in California. It also banned magazines that it classified as large capacity (those able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition). Guns and magazines legally owned at the time the law was passed were grandfathered in if registered with the California Department of Justice.
In March 1999, State Senator Don Perata introduced Senate Bill 23 (SB 23). The bill had three provisions: to make illegal the manufacture, importation, sale or offer, or to give or lend any large-capacity magazine as defined as having the capacity to accept more than ten rounds; the addition of a "generic" definition list to the existing Roberti-Roos legislation; and the exemption to allow on and off duty and retired peace officers the use of assault weapons. They are defined in Penal Code §12276.1 and §30515. The bill was passed and went into effect on January 1, 2000.
Shortly after this was passed a loophole was discovered. Since the law was written by make and model or the number of features. The loophole was that a detachable magazine was allowed, if it required a tool to remove. This led to the creation of the Bullet Button. The Bullet Button is a device that replaced the standard magazine catch on the rifle and prevented the magazine from being released without a small pointed device inserted into the screw hole. Various designs and other versions of Bullet Button type devices were released and used by millions of Californians.
In December 2015 Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik borrowed a rifle and removed the Bullet Button, making it an illegal configuration. Then went to the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center where they murdered 14 people and injured 22 others. This led to a second, stricter version of the original California assault weapons ban SB880, AKA the Bullet Button Ban. This made previously legal configurations of semi-automatic sporting rifles illegal. The owners were given a choice to register the guns as assault weapons with the California DOJ or change the configuration.
The bill was finalized and passed, then waited for 9 months for the DOJ regulations to enable owners to start the registration process. On the last day of Kamala Harri's tenure, at 2 pm as Attorney General, the laws were updated to include new categories of assault weapons, now including shotguns. This was presented as an emergency approval because the deadline was in 3 hrs.
On June 5, 2021, federal judge Roger Benitez overturned California's ban in his decision in Miller v. Bonta. He issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law but stayed it for 30 days to give state Attorney General Rob Bonta time to appeal. Benitez opened his opinion by stating that "[l]ike the Swiss Army Knife the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)." A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of Benitez's ruling on June 21, 2021, leaving the ban in place as appeals were litigated.
See also: Gun laws in Connecticut
In June 1993, Connecticut became the third U.S. state, after California and New Jersey, to pass an assault weapons ban. In April 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Connecticut General Assembly passed new restrictions to the state's existing assault weapons ban. The law was challenged, but a federal judge upheld it and ruled it constitutional. Gun owners said they would appeal.
Connecticut prohibits any person from possessing an assault weapon unless the weapon was possessed prior to July 1, 1994, and the possessor:
Connecticut defines an "assault weapon" as:
Connecticut also bans listed makes and models of semiautomatic firearms and copies of those firearms. Grandfather clauses and other exceptions apply, depending.
See also: Gun laws in Delaware
Since June 30, 2022, the production, sale, transfer, receipt, and possession of firearms deemed as assault weapons are prohibited. State law bans numerous specifically named semi-automatic centerfire rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols. The law also bans "copycat" assault weapons, which are defined as being a firearm that while not specifically listed as a banned assault weapon, is either a semi-automatic centerfire rifle, semi-automatic shotgun, or semi-automatic pistol with one or more specific banned cosmetic features. Assault weapons acquired before June 20, 2022 are grandfathered in – that is, they are legal to possess, and to transfer to a family member.
See also: Gun laws in Florida
Assault weapon legislation has been previously proposed in the Legislature.
See also: Gun laws in Hawaii
Hawaiian law bans the manufacture, possession, sale or other transfer of what it defines as assault pistols. Hawaii defines an "assault pistol" as a semiautomatic handgun that accepts a detachable magazine and that has two or more of:
In tandem with the assault pistol ban is a law that bans the manufacture, possession, sale or other transfer of detachable ammunition magazines with capacities greater than 10 rounds that are capable of use with a pistol.
See also: Gun laws in Illinois
On January 10, 2023, Illinois enacted a law making it illegal to manufacture, deliver, sell, or purchase an assault weapon. Any assault weapons that are already owned by residents are legal to possess if registered with the state police by January 1, 2024. In Illinois assault weapons include any centerfire semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine and one or more of these features: a pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, a folding or telescoping stock, a forward grip, a flash suppressor, or a grenade launcher. A number of other rifles, shotguns, and pistols are also defined as assault weapons, including some specific makes and models. Not considered assault weapons but similarly restricted are .50 caliber rifles.
See also: Gun laws in Maryland
Maryland law prohibits the possession, sale, transfer, purchase, receipt, or transportation into the state of assault weapons defined as assault pistols and assault long guns. Maryland's definition of an "assault long gun" includes a list of 45 specific firearms or their copies, with certain variations. Maryland's definition of an "assault pistol" includes a list of 15 specific firearms or their copies, with certain variations. Maryland also defines an assault weapon "copycat weapon" as:
In tandem with the assault weapons ban is a law that bans the manufacture, sale or other transfer of detachable magazines with capacities greater than 20 rounds.
The United States Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the Maryland ban in November 2017. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond had upheld the ban, stating that: "[A]ssault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment." Attorneys general in 21 states and the NRA had asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.
See also: Gun laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law bans the sale, transfer, or possession of assault weapons not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994. Massachusetts defines "assault weapon" by the definition of "semiautomatic assault weapon" in the federal assault weapons ban of 1994. That definition included:
In tandem with the assault weapons ban is a law that bans the sale, transfer, or possession of a large capacity feeding device unless such device was lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994. The definition of "large capacity feeding device" included: a fixed or detachable magazine, box, drum, feed strip or similar device capable of accepting, or that can be readily converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition or more than 5 shotgun shells; or a large capacity ammunition feeding device as defined in the federal assault weapons ban of 1994.
See also: Gun laws in New Jersey
In May 1990, New Jersey became the second state in the U.S. to pass an assault weapons ban, after California. At the time, it was the most restrictive assault weapons ban in the nation. AR-15 semi-automatic rifles with more than one scary-looking feature are illegal in New Jersey, and owning and publicly carrying other guns require separate licensing processes.
Although it is commonly referred to as an assault weapons ban, New Jersey's law actually uses the term "assault firearm" to define banned and regulated guns. Among the list of firearms identified as 'assault firearms' are the Colt AR-15, AK variants and all 'M1 Carbine Type' variants. Some New Jersey gun advocates have called its laws "draconian". Attorney Evan Nappen, author of several books on New Jersey gun laws, says the term is "misapplied and carries with it a pejorative meaning."
See also: Gun laws in New York
New York law bans the manufacture, transport, disposal or possession of an assault weapon in the state. It defines an "assault weapon" as:
In tandem with the assault weapons ban is a law that bans the manufacture, transport, disposal or possession of a "large capacity ammunition feeding device", defined as: "a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that: 1) has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than ten rounds of ammunition; 2) contains more than seven rounds of ammunition; or 3) is obtained after January 15, 2013 and has a capacity of, or can be readily restored or converted to accept more than seven rounds of ammunition."
In January 2016 the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association sued and a Federal Judge ruled that "the seven round limit is arbitrary and unenforceable"; because of this, the limit in New York is now 10 rounds.
See also: Gun laws in Washington (state)
On April 25, 2023, the state of Washington enacted a law prohibiting the sale, offering for sale, manufacturing, importation, or distribution of certain semi-automatic firearms that it defined as assault weapons. Assault weapons legally possessed before the ban went into effect are grandfathered in; that is, it is legal for owners to keep them. In Washington, assault weapons include any semi-automatic centerfire rifle with a detachable magazine, and at least one of these features:
A number of other rifles, shotguns, and pistols are also defined as assault weapons, including a list of specific makes and models.
Some local governments have laws that ban or restrict the possession of assault weapons.
A Washington, D.C. law banning the possession of assault weapons was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2011.
The law that set up Illinois' concealed carry system in 2013 also established state preemption for certain areas of gun law, including restrictions on assault weapons. Laws passed before July 20, 2013, are grandfathered in, and a number of local governments in the Chicago area have laws that either prohibit or regulate the possession of firearms that they define as assault weapons. These include the city of Chicago and Cook County. On December 7, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to grant a writ of certiorari to take up a challenge brought against a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit which had upheld a local law banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. In refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allowed the ruling to stand and the ban to remain in place.
In March 1989 the Northwest Indiana cities of Gary and East Chicago city councils passed ordinances prohibiting both sale and possession of assault weapons. Gary City Councilman Vernon G. Smith (D-4th) sponsored the ordinance making it a crime to possess or sell assault-type weapons. Both of these ordinances were invalidated under statewide pre-emption legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels in 2011.
In July 2023, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed an assault weapons ban trigger law, which can only go into effect once the Indiana state preemption law is repealed or invalidated.
Boston has a law prohibiting the possession or transfer of assault weapons without a license from the Boston Police Commissioner.
Further information: Public opinion on gun control in the United States
Shortly after the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, a CBS News poll found that a majority of Americans (57%) supported a ban on assault weapons. Gallup noted a similarly high percentage of Americans thought that a ban would be an effective response to terrorism after the 2015 San Bernardino attack (55%), and in 2013 when the question was put in a referendum format ("Would you vote for or against a law that would reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004?") (56% support). But it noted that "Support for stricter gun control laws often rises after high-profile shooting incidents and then often subsides again," and that support for stricter gun controls, although still a majority view, had declined since the early 1990s. By October 2016, support for an assault weapons ban had fallen to a historical low of 36%.
In 2017, 68% of American adults supported banning assault weapons, including 48% of gun owners and 77% of non-gun owners, and 38% of Republicans who own guns and 66% of Democrats who own guns, according to a Pew Research Center survey with an error attributable to sampling of +/- 2.8% at the 95% level of confidence.
A Quinnipiac University poll taken after the 2023 Michigan State University shooting found that 48% of Americans opposed a ban on assault weapons, while 47% supported a ban on assault weapons. Support for a ban fell five points since the previous Quinnipiac poll in April 2021, showing a decline in support for banning sales of assault rifles despite a series of high-profile mass shootings driving increased support for new gun restrictions.
In April 2023, a Fox News poll found that 61% of Americans were in favor of an assault weapon ban. 84% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans were in favor.
Seventy percent of voters support a ban on high-capacity magazines, and 68 percent want to ban assault-style weapons.
Eight-in-10 Americans told the pollsters they favor bans on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and "bump stocks," an accessory used by the Las Vegas shooter that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire like an automatic weapon.
Support for gun control on other questions is at its highest level since the Quinnipiac University Poll began focusing on this issue in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre: 67 - 29 percent for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons; 83 - 14 percent for a mandatory waiting period for all gun p**urchases.
Updated March 27, 2023.Describes inclusion criteria.
The bill passed with a sunset provision of a decade in place, meaning that when lawmakers agreed to it they knew that it would automatically expire in 2004 unless renewed through another vote. Congress did not reauthorize the ban at that time, meaning that the sale and manufacture of those previously banned weapons was legal once again on Sept. 13, 2004.