Congress Let the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban Expire — Criticism Resurfaces

The 1994 assault weapons ban was a one time thing. After the recent mass shootings, people are wondering why Congress let the 1994 bill expire.

Robin Hill-Gray - Author

May 26 2022, Published 2:17 p.m. ET

U.S. Capitol
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Washington D.C.

Talks of gun control and outright gun bans have been revived amid the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas. The conversations have raised renewed criticism of the 1994 ban on assault weapons. Why did the ban expire?

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Politicians are largely divided on what measures are needed to quell gun violence. While many lawmakers believe mass shootings need to stop, they're divided on passing gun control measures and making it harder for people to access military-grade weapons.

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The ban in 1994 included certain guns and features.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or simply the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. This was written as a section of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The act prohibited the use, possession, and manufacturing of semiautomatic assault weapons and "large-capacity ammunition feeding devices. The act banned over a dozen guns.

Several things determined what constituted a "banned gun" such as make, model, characteristics, and if the gun was considered to be a rifle, shotgun, or a pistol. For example, a semiautomatic rifle was classified as a semiautomatic assault weapon if it had the capability of holding a removable magazine and had two of the following characteristics:

  • Collapsable stock (telescopic)
  • a pistol grip under the "action of the weapon"
  • mount (bayonet)
  • grenade launcher
  • a barrel that accommodates a flash suppressor
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The ban also prohibited the use of LCAFD (large-capacity ammunition feeding devices). This was defined as a feed strip or magazine that could be manipulated to hold over 10 rounds of ammunition. Although the ban was extensive, it included several grandfather causes that allowed for the "transfer of any semiautomatic assault weapons or LCAFD that was otherwise lawfully possessed on the date of enactment." This was possibly one of the biggest loopholes in the act and grandfathered in millions of weapons.

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Talks on the 1994 assault weapon ban

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Why did the assault weapons ban expire?

The effectiveness of the ban received mixed reviews. According to a report by the Department of Justice, the rate of effectiveness in reducing gun violence is small. According to the report, assault weapons were hardly used in gun crimes, though the use of assault weapons in crime fell by 17 percent. Many lawmakers felt the ban was largely ineffective. Given that the ban was set in place with a 10-year sunset, repassing it was going to be a challenge.

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According to NBC News, at the time of the expiration, Rep. Butch Otter from Idaho said that the ban "provided only the illusion of reducing gun violence, but it did real damage to our liberties." The ban did little to prevent certain weapons from being on the streets as many manufacturers were able to simply change a few features to make a banned gun legal. Congress let the bill expire because many Democrats that supported the ban didn't have the majority they needed for a vote.

"Unfortunately, whether there is a ban or not, some individuals will find ways to get weapons that are illegal," stated the then Idaho state police spokesman Rick Ohnsman. Debates over the effectivness of the ban and the various loopholes were largely the driving factors in the ban not getting passed again.


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