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"Assualt Weapons"- Part 1 of 4 Parts

Today’s national discussion about gun control has taken on a renewed sense of urgency in view of the many recent mass shootings (“an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter”). These distressing tragedies serve to amplify the many voices calling for nation-wide changes to our existing Federal and State gun laws. The media and social media clamor for new gun-control laws while employing terminology that may not be familiar to many of us. Nonetheless, we may ask ourselves, if a law, protocol, or procedure will mitigate mass shootings, why has Congress not acted? Well, they have―on multiple occasions, which this paper will examine. We’ll look at some of the existing and proposed laws designed to protect the American people.

Seniors need to know the ins and outs of gun control, including relevant laws and their associated terminology in order to intelligently discuss the issue from a foundation of facts. Part 1 examines Gun Control Laws and Regulations. Part 2 looks at the 2011, 2013, 2019, 2021, and 2022 law, proposed legislation, and studies with a focus on definitions. Part 3 dives into the Effects of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and and Part 4 consists of my personal observations and a discussion of ammunition.

This is an AR-15/M-16. If a rifle doesn’t look exactly like this, it’s an AR-15 style rifle

Sample AR-15 style Rifles

Gun Control Laws and Regulations

(not an exhaustive list)

1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968,

1986 Firearms Owners' Protection Act

1989 Department of the Treasury Report and Recommendation on the Importability of Certain Semiautomatic Rifles

1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,

1998 Department of the Treasury Study on the Sporting Suitability of Modified Semiautomatic Assault Rifles

2011 U.S. Department of Justice Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns

and the yet-to-be-passed Assault Weapons Ban of 2019,

Let’s take a brief look at each of these bills and regulations.


The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 also called the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) generally prohibits the importation of firearms into the United States. However, if the weapon is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes, it may be imported. (Page 4)

The first time that The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, (ATF) undertook a meaningful analysis of rifles or shotguns under the sporting purposes test was in 1984. At that time, ATF was faced with a new breed of imported shotguns, and it became clear that the historical assumption that all shotguns were sporting was no longer viable. Later, this reasoning would be applied to military rifles. (Page 7)


“In 1986, Congress loosened several controls it had established in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA.) The stated purpose of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) was to ensure that the GCA did not “place any undue or unnecessary Federal restrictions or burdens on law abiding citizens.”

Stockton, CA

On January 17, 1989, at Stockton, Calif., Patrick Purdy, who had an extensive criminal history, shot and killed five schoolchildren and wounded 32 others with a semi-automatic Norinco Type 56s rifle―a Chinese gun modeled after the Russian AK-47 (now that’s confusing).

As first responders arrived at the scene, Purdy committed suicide. His victims were predominantly Southeast Asian refugees against whom he openly expressed hatred and frustration that they were taking jobs from "native-born" Americans.

Chris Bartocci, a former Colt employee and author of the book “Black Rifle II,’ says this was the first time many in the general public had heard about the availability of such weapons as the Norinco type 56S.

“The term "assault weapon" …became widely used starting in the late 1980s. Many attribute its popularization to a 1988 paper written by gun-control activist and Violence Policy Center founder Josh Sugarmann … who … argued that the American public's inability to differentiate between automatic and semiautomatic weapons made it easier to get anti-gun legislation passed. Defining an assault weapon—in legal terms—is not easy," Josh Sugarmann warned back in 1988. "It's not merely a matter of going after guns that are 'black and wicked looking.’”

He continued: "The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons -- anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun -- can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”

In response to Stockton, Congressional legislators struggled with a way to ban the import of military-style rifles like the Norinco without banning sporting-type rifles. Consequently, the ATF was directed to form a working group to examine the issue.


The ATF’s July 6, 1989 final report identified three broad characteristics which are common to the modern military assault rifle and should form the basis for banning their importation into the U.S.

(1) military configuration, which includes:

- ability to accept a detachable magazine,

- folding/telescoping stocks,

- separate pistol grips,

- ability to accept a bayonet,

- flash suppressors,

- bipods,

- grenade launchers, and

- night sights

(2) ability to fire automatically (i.e., as a machinegun); and

(3) chambered to accept a centerfire cartridge having a length of 2.25 inches or less, [which is the exact length of the ammunition fired from the AR-15.]

Regarding the ability to accept a detachable magazine, the working group explained that virtually all modern military firearms are designed to accept large, detachable magazines. However, detachable magazines are not limited to military firearms as most traditional semi-automatic sporting firearms are designed to accommodate a detachable magazine. The difference between a military magazine and a sporting magazine is its capacity. Since sporting magazines hold fewer rounds than a military magazine, they do not meet the criteria of a military firearm.

In March and April 1989, ATF announced that it was suspending the importation of certain "assault-type rifles." Their distinctively military configuration served as the basis for ATF’s finding that the rifles were not considered sporting rifles under the statute. For the purposes of this suspension, assault-type rifles were those rifles that generally met the following criteria:

(1) military appearance;

(2) large magazine capacity; and

(3) semiautomatic version of a machinegun Page 1

“In 1989, ATF took the position that any of these military configuration features, other than the ability to accept a detachable magazine, would make a semiautomatic rifle not importable.

“This was not the first time that ATF considered magazine capacity to be a relevant factor in deciding whether a firearm met the sporting purposes test: the overall appearance and design of the weapon especially the detachable box magazine . . .is that of a combat weapon and not a sporting weapon.”


The 1994 Act, also called the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban,” banned the U.S. manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, other assault weapons with specific combat features, "copy-cat" models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds. The ban expired on September 13, 2004

The President also signed an executive order in 1994 which banned importation of firearms, including the rifle used in Stockton, the Norinco Type 56S rifle, and ammunition from Mainland China.

There were multiple attempts to renew the 1994 ban, but none succeeded.

As in the 1989 study, the 1994 act focused on the external features of the firearms, rather than on their semi-automatic capability.


ATF’s Firearms Evaluation Panel: “In the end, we concluded that appearance alone does not affect the “large capacity military magazine” (LCMM) rifles’ suitability for sporting purposes. Available information leads us to believe that the determining factor for their use in crime is the ability to accept a detachable large capacity military magazine.” Page 28

In 1998, the ATF expanded its ban to include any semi-automatic rifle capable of using a detachable magazine that could hold more than 10 rounds.

In addition, the 1998 Firearms Evaluation Panel specifically addressed the informal shooting activity of "plinking" (shooting at randomly selected targets such as bottles and cans) and determined that it was not a legitimate sporting purpose under the statute. The panel found that, "while many persons participate in this type of activity and much ammunition was expended in such endeavors, it was primarily a pastime and could not be considered a sport for the purposes of importation. Page 17

The 1998 ATF report states that “Congress specifically exempted 661 long guns from the [1994] assault weapon ban that are "most commonly used in hunting and recreational sports." The vast majority of these long guns do not use large capacity magazines. Although a small number of the exempted long guns have the ability to accept large capacity magazines, only four of these exempted long guns were designed to accept large capacity military magazines. The 1994 law also demonstrates Congress' concern about the role large capacity magazines and firearms with the ability to accept these large capacity magazines play in crime.” (page 24-5)


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