Saturday, September 19, 2009

Understanding Assault Weapon Bans

by Ben Small

Many folks don't understand the 1994 Clinton Assault Weapons Ban, nor do they understand what are meant by the terms "Assault Weapons" or "pre-ban," nor do they understand what risks still await one who wants to add some cosmetic touches to their so-called Assault Weapon, even though the 1994 ban expired on September 13, 2004. I'll try to explain the basics here. But before I begin, please pardon the complexity and idiotic nature of these measures. Congress passed them, not me. And these laws have done just about nothing to stop crime.

The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban pushed by Clinton and enacted by Congress banned specific guns made by specific manufacturers. These weapons, all semi-automatic in nature - meaning they fire one shot with one trigger pull - included the specific models and manufacturers' names, and it included a catch-all for any other weapons which carried characteristics of those weapons. So, the definition of weapons included those specifically named and any others which fit this language:

A semi-automatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following:

1) a folding or telescoping stock;
2) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
3) a bayonet mount;
4) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor,, and
5) a grenade launcher.

All but the grenade launcher are regarded by gunners as cosmetic issues. But having a grenade launcher itself, as long as your rifle didn't have one of the other listed cosmetic parts, was not banned.

Oh goodie! I could use a grenade launcher on my rifles, and Congress doesn't seem to think that, alone, is a bad thing...

Similarly, the ban with respect to pistols covered a semi-automatic that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following:

1) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
2) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer. (Nevermind that silencers are regulated anyway by the National Firearms Act);
3) a shroud that is attached to, or partial or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;
4) a manufactured weight of fifty ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded,; and
5) a semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm (popularly called a "machine gun")

These definitions were taken directly from the Act. Additionally, magazines were banned if they could hold more than ten rounds, but of course, there was no limit to the number of ten-round magazines one could buy or carry.

There were also provisions covering certain kinds of shotguns, but enough is enough. You'll get the picture without adding the restrictions on shotguns.

The ban prohibited manufacture, transfer, or possession of a "semi-automatic assault weapon." But there were some exceptions to this part. It was legal to possess a weapon owned prior to the date of enactment, and it was legal to purchase a weapon made before October 1, 1993.

The legislation was largely regarded as a joke. So much notice was provided of these provisions, and the Act took so long to pass that manufacturers ramped up production of banned weapons prior to October 1, 1993 such that weapons covered by the act and manufactured before that date are still easy to find in new, unfired condition even now. Indeed, I bought a new pre-ban Bushmaster AR-15 legally in 2000. And the gun store from which I bought it had a huge collection of new, unfired pre-ban weapons for sale.

Interpretation of the Act is tricky. For instance, if you bought a kit, pre-October 1, 1993, which if assembled before that date would be a legal Semi-automatic Assault Weapon, but waited until after that date to assemble the kit into a weapon, your completed weapon assembly would violate federal law, because the law covered complete weapons, not kits or parts for them.

So, your perp or protag has a kit for an imported AK-47, or already has one and wants to add some cosmetic features. Is he going to violate federal law if he does so, now that the infamous Clinton Assault Weapons Ban has expired?

Well, gee, he'd better be damn careful, or the ATF (remember Waco?) will come knocking on his door. Why? Because of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and BATFE regulations thereunder, which make criminal the assembly of a rifle or shotgun using more than ten of the following imported parts:

(1) Frames, receivers, receiver
castings, forgings, or castings.
(2) Barrels.
(3) Barrel extensions.
(4) Mounting blocks (trunnions).
(5) Muzzle attachments.
(6) Bolts.
(7) Bolt carriers.
(8) Operating rods.
(9) Gas pistons.
(10) Trigger housings.
(11) Triggers.
(12) Hammers.
(13) Sears.
(14) Disconnectors.
(15) Buttstocks.
(16) Pistol grips.
(17) Forearms, handguards.
(18) Magazine bodies.
(19) Followers.
(20) Floor plates.

Understand, it's perfectly legal to add these parts or build a kit, as long as they're U.S.-made parts, which of course, are identical or better than the foreign parts. You just can't build or modify any semi-automatic assault weapon if doing so will mean you then have more than ten of these imported parts on your weapon. You can buy a completely assembled imported new pre-ban AK-47; you just can't build or assemble one with more than ten of these parts imported.

How much sense does this make? How would you like to do ten years in federal prison and pay an enormous fine just because you decided to replace your U.S.-made unfinished wood stock on your AK-47 with a nice laminated foreign stock? Or, as reflected in this picture, you wanted to match your fore-ends to your stock, and replaced one or the other (or maybe both) with a foreign-made part?

How's that for Buy America enforcement?

1 comment:

Dana Fredsti said...

Ben, I'm gonna send my ex to read this - he was a weapons handler in films for a while and will find this VERY interesting!