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Giffords Unveils Policy for Restricting Assault Weapons

March 6, 2018— In just the past five months, three of the 10 worst mass shootings in modern American history have been carried out with assault weapons. Outraged by the fact that these weapons, specifically designed to kill people quickly, are consistently used in horrific public attacks, Americans are calling on elected leaders to protect communities from the unique threat posed by these military-style firearms. Today, Giffords, the gun safety organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, released a new policy framework designed to regulate and restrict access to assault weapons.

“Time and time again, our country has watched in horror when weapons designed for the battleground are used by dangerous people to devastate entire communities in a matter of minutes,” said Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Giffords. “The easy availability of assault weapons has turned places that are supposed to be safe – schools, churches, concerts – into scenes of terror. And Americans have had enough. It is possible to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and better protect our communities from the hail of gunfire produced by an assault weapon. Voters are calling on Congress to protect our children and communities by taking urgent action to restrict the availability of assault weapons. The proposal we’re putting forward today provides a pathway to turn those calls for action into a legislative reality.”

Many of the calls for action since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida have centered on the renewal of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. A February 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed that a majority of Americans, 67 percent, are in favor of a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.

The legislative framework proposed by Giffords would utilize an existing regulatory structure that allows law-abiding Americans to legally possess these firearms, while also addressing the future manufacture and/or sale of these firearms. The components of the Giffords framework include:

  • Congress should require all existing assault weapons to be regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). This proposal would balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners with the need for increased restrictions on these lethal firearms.
  • Congress must also address the future manufacture of assault weapons, either by prohibiting the manufacture of any further assault weapons, as it did in 1986 with machine guns, or requiring future assault weapons to be registered under the NFA.
  • Additional resources must also be appropriated to ATF so that it can enforce the NFA with respect to these and other NFA weapons, including resources needed to modernize and upgrade its equipment and technologies. While the NFA imposes a $200 tax on the registration of each NFA weapon, that money currently goes to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s General Fund, not to ATF. That money should be redirected to ATF to fund its responsibilities under the NFA.

About the National Firearms Act

The NFA, enacted in 1934, was the first federal regulation of the manufacture, transfer, and possession of firearms. Machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers are currently regulated under the NFA. In order to possess NFA firearms, individuals must undergo a background check process that includes the submission of photo identification and fingerprints and requires the registration of the firearm with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Individuals must also pay a $200 transfer tax, an amount that has not changed since the NFA was established in 1934.

In 1986, Congress banned the future manufacture and production of machine guns, but continued to allow the lawful possession and transfer of machine guns that were owned prior to the ban’s effective date as long as they were registered in accordance with requirements of the NFA. As of April 2017, over 5 million NFA firearms were registered with ATF. Because of the NFA’s effective regulatory regime, the use of these weapons in crime is extraordinarily rare.

The Lapsed Federal Assault Weapons Ban

In 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess” a semiautomatic assault weapon. The bill defined the phrase “semiautomatic assault weapon” to include 19 named firearms and copies of those firearms, as well as certain semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns with at least two specified characteristics from a list of features. The federal ban also prohibited the transfer and possession of any new large capacity ammunition magazine.

The law was adopted with a sunset clause, however, and expired in 2004 — thus, these styles of weapons that were formerly banned under the federal law are currently legal unless banned by state or local law. Despite its limited duration, studies show that the federal assault weapon ban resulted in a marked decrease in the use of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in crime. One study found that in several major cities, the share of recovered crime guns that were assault weapons declined by at least 32% after the federal ban was adopted.