The Federal “Semiautomatic Assault Weapon” Ban (the Clinton Gun Ban)
In 1991, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment by a vote of 247-177, stripping an “assault weapon” ban from then-Rep. (now Senator) Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) crime bill. However, many Democrats who had voted against the ban in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush was in office, voted for it in 1994 at the urging of their party’s leader, President Bill Clinton, who had said people “can’t be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans to legitimately own handguns and rifles.”33
(Semi-Automatic Firearms and the Clinton Gun Ban)
The ban, which had been passed by the Senate, was passed by the House by two votes after Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) did not close voting at the end of allotted time, to allow Democrat Party whips to convince several members to vote for the ban.34
The 10-year ban, which began on Sept. 13, 1994, and which was disingenuously named the Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act because it exempted various firearms (a pretense with no tangible effect), defined semi-automatics as “assault weapons” if they had more than one external attachment.35 In crime-prevention terms, this approach was pointless because, as noted, the attachments are useless to criminals and are common to other firearms. The ban defined “large” ammunition magazines as those holding more than 10 rounds.
For propaganda purposes, President Clinton and the Brady Campaign claimed that the ban reduced the number of “assault weapons.”36 However, the facts indicate otherwise. The ban did not prohibit guns already made, motivating its Senate sponsor, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to say, “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America turn them all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t there.”37 The ban also had no effect on foreign-made “assault weapons,” such as AK-47s and Uzis, because the BATF had banned their importation in 1989. And it didn’t prohibit the importation of magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
The ban also didn’t prohibit the manufacture of any guns entirely, it prohibited making certain ones with their standard complement of external attachments. Thus, for example, during the ban AR-15s were made with a pistol-like grip, but without a flash suppressor, bayonet mount and, in the case of carbine models, adjustable-length stock. In practical terms the most significant thing about the ban was that it prohibited the manufacture of magazines holding more than 10 rounds, the majority of which are standard-equipment for handguns not defined as “assault weapons.”38
Rather than reducing the number of military-looking semi-automatics and standard-size magazines, the ban caused their numbers to increase more than they would have otherwise. As the ban approached, consumer demand rose and manufacturers increased production accordingly. And when the ban expired, demand for the original, multi-attachment versions of the guns and the standard magazines soared. Moreover, during the ban, hundreds of thousands of one-attachment versions of the banned guns and
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