Dianne Feinstein Assault Weapons Ban: Why It’s a Good First Step

ByElizabeth Schroeder

When opponents of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (which placed restrictions on assault weapons and large capacity magazines) criticize it for being ineffective at preventing gun violence and deem methods other than gun control the only way to curb mass shootings, they appear to be overlooking an obvious, and in this case absolutely correct, possibility. The Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, while effective, was not as successful as it could have been not because it was a step in the wrong direction, but rather because it did not step far enough. While promising, the 1994 ban fell short. What is needed is not legislation that depletes the original ban, but strengthens it. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) recently proposed assault weapons ban does just that.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which expired in 2004, put into place a variety of restrictions on the possession of assault weapons (AWs) and weapons with large capacity ammunition feeding devices (also known as large capacity magazines, or LCMs). The act defined a weapon as a banned assault weapon “if it were semiautomatic and had an ability to accept a detachable (interchangeable) magazine, and had two of the following features: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip that protruded conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, a bayonet mount, a muzzle flash suppressor or threaded barrel to accommodate one, or a grenade launcher.” Although this definition did make many deadly assault weapons illegal during the 10 years it was in place (James Holmes of the Aurora shooting, Wade Michael Page of the Sikh temple shooting, and Adam Lanza of the Newtown shooting all used assault weapons with large capacity magazines that would have been prohibited under the ban) it was also a definition that made it easy for gun manufacturers to, essentially, cosmetically alter models of their assault weapons into perfectly legal versions of their prohibited originals. This means that perpetrators of the shootings mentioned above likely could have legally bought very similar weapons to the ones they used if the ban had still been in place, effectively sidestepping the restrictions.

Senator Feinstein’s proposal addresses this significant loophole. She suggests requiring that assault weapons having only one military feature be prohibited, instead of two. She also proposes eliminating bayonet mounts and flash suppressors from the list of features that determine the legality of a firearm, due to the ease with which they can be removed to make what should be a prohibited weapon permissible. Under the 1994 ban, a semiautomatic weapon that had the ability to accept a detachable magazine and a grenade launcher would be legal. Senator Feinstein’s ban would make sure it was not.

The senator also includes in her proposed ban the aspects of the 1994 ban that worked: namely, banning large-capacity magazines that could accept more than 10 rounds. Anyone who suggests that limiting large-capacity magazines is inconsequential in preventing fatalities is turning a blind eye to survivor accounts of recent shootings that prove the opposite. In the 2011 Tucson shooting, “three bystanders, one of whom was wounded, managed to subdue the shooter as he attempted to reload his second 30-plus round magazine.” It is not a far jump to say that, had Jared Loughner only been able to fire 10 shots and not 31, witnesses could have deterred him sooner and fatalities and injuries could have been far fewer.

The horrible tragedies that capture newsrooms, break hearts, and tear families apart are not some inevitable byproduct of modern society we have to accept. Senator Feinstein’s ban has the potential to drastically reduce the gun violence that results in mass fatalities that has been all too present in America’s recent history. It would be irresponsible not to put it into effect.