House Passes ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban Along Party Lines, Likely Doomed in the Senate

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The House of Representatives on July 29 passed legislation that would ban so-called “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and dubbed the “Assault Weapons Ban Act,” passed in a mostly party-line 217–213 vote.

Though the definition of “assault weapon” has long been contested, the bill defines such weapons as “semiautomatic assault weapon[s] or large capacity ammunition feeding device[s]” and makes the importation, manufacturing, transferring, or possession of such items a crime.

This would also include some semiautomatic handguns.

The bill exempts firearms that require a manual action between rounds to prepare the gun to fire again, including things like bolt-, pump-, lever-, or slide-action mechanisms.

Also exempt are firearms that have been rendered permanently inoperable or are classified as antiques. In addition, the bill contains a short list of rifle and shotgun models that are specifically exempted.

The bill also allows the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of otherwise-prohibited firearms for law enforcement or authorized research purposes, as well as for activities related to securing nuclear materials. Retired law enforcement officers would also be permitted to own the banned weapons.

The proposed ban would not apply to any firearms already in existence. Weapons that were manufactured before the effective date of the ban could still be legally bought, sold, and owned. This grandfather clause is similar to a clause contained in President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, which banned the manufacture of new automatic weapons for private use after May 1986.

High-capacity magazines—defined in the bill as magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition—would be removed from circulation, but current owners would be allowed to keep the magazines already in their possession.

The bill would also require that high-capacity magazines and prohibited weapons manufactured for law enforcement purposes display the date of manufacture and serial numbers.

Finally, the bill would seek to reduce the number of firearms and magazines in circulation through a buyback program.

By Joseph Lord

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