In the wake of the horrific killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced she is preparing legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons. The Senator intends to introduce a bill on the first day the new Congress sits. But if the bill is like the ban that was passed into law in 1994, which expired 10 years later, it will not decrease the number of assault weapons in the hands of American civilians on the day the bill becomes law.
Assault Weapon Ban:What Senator Feinstein is Proposing
On December 17, 2012, Senator Feinstein announced the key provisions of the bill she intends to introduce. The proposed legislation will ban the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of over 100 specific firearms. Also banned will be certain named semiautomatic rifles, handguns and shotguns that can use a detachable magazine, as well as fixed magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.
The sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of other ammunition feeding devices that can accept more than 10 rounds will also be banned.
Like the previous assault weapons ban passed in 1994, Feinstein’s bill will contain a grandfather clause. Gun owners who are in legal possession of a weapon when the new law comes into effect will be allowed to continue to own and use that firearm despite the fact the legislation will make that weapon illegal to buy or possess. And it is the firearm that is grandfathered, not the owner’s right to have an assault weapon. Owners will be free to transfer their grandfathered guns to someone else.
Before making her announcement, Feinstein spoke with President Obama. It is pretty certain that if her bill, modelled on the previous assault weapons ban, passes through Congress, it will be signed into law by the President.
The Crime Control Act of 1994
The Crime Control Act was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994 and signed into law by President Clinton the same day. Title 1X of the omnibus crime bill, known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Protection Act. banned certain semiautomatic weapons. Unlike Feinstein’s current proposal to ban over 100 weapons, this legislation prohibited just 19. It also contained prohibitions against magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
The law contained a sunset clause; barring further action by Congress it would expire after 10 years. No further legislative action was taken, and the assault weapons ban expired on September 13, 2004. Further attempts to reintroduce it failed to reach the floor of the House, but after the Sandy Hook killings, a new assault weapons ban is likely to be passed into law.
One feature of the 1994 law was that although “transfers” of certain weapons were prohibited, transfers of grandfathered weapons were allowed. Although the ban prohibited new assault weapons from being manufactured or imported into the United States, it did nothing to reduce the number of such guns that were in the hands of civilians. In fact, the manufacturing and sale of assault weapons increases whenever serious discussions are held about banning them.
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