UPDATE July 28: According to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats have postponed further action on HR 1808 – the new assault weapons ban legislation – until next month, after returning from summer recess. “As those discussions [about HR 1808] are continuing,” she said in a brief statement yesterday, “It is clear that the House will reconvene in August in order to vote for the Reconciliation bill. We are grateful to all our Members for promoting our shared values reflected in specific legislation that we can all support.”
Translation: as it stands today, Pelosi is concerned she doesn’t have the votes required to pass the bill. Our sources, including the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), indicate they are hearing that moderate Democrats are threatening to kill the legislation. Media outlets are also reporting that there isn’t enough support among Democrats in the House for the companion legislation increasing funding for local police.
ORIGINAL TEXT POSTED JULY 27: Mere days after trumpeting “the most significant gun violence legislation in decades,” congressional Democrats have resurrected federal assault weapon ban legislation that would outlaw a wide swath of common firearms that are currently legal to own. HR-1808, aka the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) of 2021, was originally introduced in March 2021 by Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and has been reintroduced in light of recent, high-profile mass shootings.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on July 20, 2022. A vote by the full House could occur as soon as this week, where it’s fully expected to pass. The AWB would face much stronger headwinds in the Senate.
Predictably, this iteration of an AWB includes the vast majority of AR-15s and AK-47s. However, for the first time, lawmakers are going after many handguns and shotguns, too; the bill even targets threaded semi-auto pistol barrels, which would mean no more handgun hosts for suppressors could be manufactured or sold in the US.
In other words, HR-1808 considerably broadens the already loose definition of “assault weapon.” It also includes a ban on so-called high capacity magazines, aka standard capacity mags.
Here are the specifics:
What’s In The AWB Bill
According to the text of the bill, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021 (H.R. 1808) would:
Make it unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, or transfer the following:
- All semi-automatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one of the following military features: (1) pistol grip; (2) forward grip; (3) folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; (4) grenade launcher; (5) barrel shroud; or (6) threaded barrel.
- All semiautomatic rifles that have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- Bump fire stocks and any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment, or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle but not convert the semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.
- All semi-automatic pistols that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one of the following military features: (1) threaded barrel; (2) second pistol grip; (3) barrel shroud; (4) capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip; or (5) semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm.
- All semiautomatic shotguns that have at least one of the following: (1) a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; (2) pistol grip; (3) fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 5 rounds; (4) ability to accept a detachable magazine; (5) forward grip; (6) grenade launcher; or (7) shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
- High-capacity feeding devices (magazines, strips, and drums) capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.
It would also “allow for the sale, transfer, or possession of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices lawfully possessed on the date of enactment of the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021.”
The bill specifies that its restrictions “do not apply to antique firearms, manually operated firearms, and more than 2,000 specified models of hunting and sporting firearms.”
The fact that existing standard capacity magazines, threaded handgun barrels, and other firearms and components banned by the bill would be grandfathered in and transferrable means that their value and prices would almost certainly increase dramatically on the second-hand market if the ban were adopted — following a buying frenzy leading up to the enactment date, of course.
A widespread federal gun ban has not been seen in the US since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 that was adopted during the Clinton administration, which included a “high capacity magazine” ban. It remained in effect for 10 years but was allowed to expire in 2004 under a sunset clause during President George W. Bush’s administration. Studies later showed the 10-year AWB had no discernable impact on crime in the US, though some have argued to the contrary.
Kabuki Political Theater
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led a hearing last week to markup HR-1808. The bill was advanced to the full House with a vote along party lines.
During the hearing, Nadler and Cicilline (the bill’s sponsor) demonstrated an apparent lack of firearms knowledge as they attempted to justify why AR-15 rifles chambered in .223/5.56 should be banned, but guns like the M1 Garand in .30-06 or the SKS in 7.62mm, which are actual “weapons of war,” don’t need to be banned.
Nadler called the M1 and the SKS “ancient,” and Cicilline referred to them as “historical relics” — interesting descriptions, considering the elder of these two firearms only predates the AR-15 by 20 years, and both are considerably more powerful. (The M1 Garand was first issued in 1936, the SKS rifle came around in 1945 — the original Armalite AR-15 was developed in 1956.)
During the hearing, an amendment was proposed to remove stabilizing brace-equipped pistols from the scope of banned weapons. Cicilline said he opposed the amendment, then attempted to explain how the braces can be attached in such a way to turn a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic weapon.
“It becomes a bump stock,” he said. “And so it will allow that to essentially be fired like an automatic weapon. That’s the danger.”
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) was hardly able to keep himself contained before quickly correcting Cicilline, explaining stabilizing braces are not bump stocks, nor stocks of any kind — and they have nothing to do with increasing the rate of fire.
“The internet’s gonna help you here in about five minutes,” Massie said, and indeed, the online comments were shrewd.
In yet another embarrassing exchange, Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Georgia) tried to educate her colleagues about the ballistic characteristics of AR-15 ammunition.
“With assault rifles, exit wounds can be a foot wide,” McBath said. “The victim’s skull explodes on impact.” Bizarre claims about the alleged explosive power of AR ammunition have become a popular anti-gun talking point of late that leave ballistic experts scratching their heads.
On a parallel course, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has invited representatives from the firearms manufacturing community to testify at a separate hearing this week. Letters sent to Daniel Defense, Smith & Wesson, and Sturm Ruger indicated the hearing will focus on examining “the role of the firearms industry in the gun violence epidemic, including with respect to the sale and marketing of assault weapons and the broad civil immunity that has been granted to manufacturers.”
In all three letters, Malone wrote: “Products sold by your company have been used for decades to carry out homicides and even mass murders, yet your company has continued to market assault weapons to civilians.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. Just weeks ago, the Senate stripped similar language related to banning certain guns and magazines from the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” before it was signed into law by President Biden. It’s therefore difficult to see a path forward for HR-1808 once it leaves the Democrat-controlled House.
Politicians Trying to Out Anti-Gun Each Other
If this bill seems doomed out of the chute, what are these hearings really about? Mark Oliva, the managing director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), told Free Range American that he has some insight into the political grandstanding.
He pointed to a national news story that broke a few months ago, saying, “It’s important to note that these two [Nadler and Maloney] are facing off in an August primary after New York’s redistricting put them in the same Congressional district. Both are trying to out ‘anti-gun’ each other before voters go to the polls.”
So while many political experts may be writing this off as Kabuki political theater, the noise further illustrates the divisive nature of the gun debate in Washington, and it clearly shows the anti-gun movement has no intention of embracing bipartisan compromise.
“The proposed legislation is clearly unconstitutional,” Oliva said. “Chairman Nadler would trample on the Constitution to save his political career.”
Oliva reiterated that the recent SCOTUS decision, Bruen v. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, applies a new test for a gun law to pass Constitutional muster — courts must now “assess whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding.”
In a recent statement published on the National Association for Gun Rights website, President Dudley Brown shared the same sentiment.
“It hasn’t even been a month since Biden signed the largest gun control package in 30 years, and Democrats are already back asking for more,” Brown wrote. “This blatantly unconstitutional bill is a proverbial middle finger to law-abiding gun owners and to the United States Constitution itself. The so-called ‘assault’ weapons targeted by this legislation have been common in households for a century.”
Furthermore, according to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), “The US Supreme Court has repeatedly stated the Second Amendment protects firearms ‘in common use’ for lawful purposes [….] There is no question the AR-15 and other semi-automatic firearms and magazines targeted by this bill meet the ‘common use’ threshold.”
Maloney, Nadler, and their colleagues will have a difficult time proving otherwise. Statistics compiled by NSSF show more than 24 million “modern sporting rifles” (AR-15s) have been sold in the United States since 1990 — and 4.5 million of those were purchased in the past two years. To put these figures in context, there are more ARs in circulation today than there are Ford F-Series trucks on the road.
“This is a truly significant figure that demonstrates — again — the popularity of this commonly owned style of rifle,” said NSSF President and CEO Joe Bartozzi. “The firearm industry responds to market demand and this shows that during the elevated period of firearm sales that began in 2020, this particular style of rifle is the top choice for law-abiding citizens for hunting, recreational shooting, and self-defense.”