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Federal Legislation Introduced to Ban “Gas Operated Semiautomatic” Firearms

Friday, December 1, 2023

Federal Legislation Introduced to Ban “Gas Operated Semiautomatic” Firearms

Joe Biden has long insisted he would ban what he calls “assault weapons” and has enlisted a motley succession of extreme anti-gun legislators to aid in that effort. Now, Senators Angus King (IND-ME) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have joined that dubious collective by introducing perhaps the most sweeping gun prohibition bill of the 21st Century. Both had voted against prior versions of federal “assault weapons” bans, making their debut effort into the genre notable not only for its scope but as a paradigmatic in-office flip-flop. But, at the end of the day, their bill is just like its predecessors in targeting law-abiding gun owners, while leaving armed criminals unperturbed.

Most assault weapons bills to be introduced in Congress follow a similar formula. First, they ban various types of firearms by name, usually adding “their duplicates or copies,” whatever that might mean. Then they generically prohibit all semiautomatic long guns with certain supposed “military-style“ features. Finally, they ban detachable magazines based on their capacity, typically drawing the line at 10 rounds.

This bill, however, targets semiautomatic firearms of all kinds and configurations, presumptively banning them as a class, and then exempting some of them. The usual magazine ban is also included, capping legal capacity of most types of ammunition feeding devices at 10 rounds.

This legislation goes even further. If passed, the bill would order ATF to publish a list of whatever semiautomatic firearms remain legal for sale to and possession by the general public. This is likely due to the vague definitions and exemptions within the bill.

As an example, the exemption in the bill for semiautomatic handguns is so poorly written that it wouldn’t apply to many popular self-defense handguns, and, depending on its interpretation, may not apply to any handguns. Meaning the bill could ban all semiautomatic handguns.

The handgun exception applies to “a handgun that . . . is a single or double action semi-automatic handgun that uses recoil to cycle the action of the handgun.” This exception clearly excludes all blowback handguns, including extremely popular .380 self-defense handguns like the Ruger LCP, and gas delayed handguns like the HK P7. But, a narrow interpretation of what it means to “use[] recoil to cycle the action” could exclude the popular Browning short recoil operating system that is used by essentially all modern handguns of 9MM or larger caliber.

But that’s not all. Going forward, ATF would have the unprecedented authority to determine which semiautomatic firearms (if any) threaded their way through the bill’s intricate verbiage to remain lawful for “civilian” use. Just how much authority ATF would wield over the commercial gun market under these provisions is unclear, especially since the bill purports to “exempt” guns its terms wouldn’t actually ban in the first place.

The bill goes even further, however, and gives anti-gunners a third bite at the apple by granting them the right to sue to have whatever “semiautomatic” firearms that remained legal removed from ATF’s permissible list. This would render these guns’ manufacture, importation, acquisition, and possession generally illegal.

Further demonstrating its sponsors’ contempt for science, technology, and modernity (at least when it comes to guns), the bill would prohibit any modification to a permissible semiautomatic firearm that increased its “rate of fire.” This would likely ban things such as bump stocks and binary triggers, but what about more subtle upgrades that make a firearm operate more smoothly or efficiently for competitive or disabled shooters? As usual, the law’s reach is impossible to determine based on its bare text.

People who already owned firearms newly banned by the bill (and there would be MANY such people) could keep them. But they would only be able to transfer them to “immediate” family members, and only then if a federal firearm licensee processed the transfer as if it were a commercial sale, with all the government bureaucracy that entails. Newly banned magazines, on the other hand, could be possessed but not transferred by their owners.

Of course, the bill aims to demoralize and intimidate as many people as possible into giving up their right to own firearms by repurposing funds that are currently earmarked to support law enforcement to bribe Americans into surrendering their guns to the government.

We have said it many times before when it comes to “assault weapons” bans, but it bears repeating: the guns targeted by this bill are primarily owned by law-abiding people who keep them for defensive and other lawful purposes. They are in fact the most popular guns sold in America today. And, semiautomatic rifles are actually underrepresented in murders, behind not just other guns but other types of weapons, including knives and even hands and feet.

Beyond all of the practical problems with the bill, it clearly violates the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has made clear that the Second Amendment protects arms “in common use” for lawful purposes. And just last year, the Supreme Court laid out the test for evaluating whether a law is in violation of the Second Amendment. To survive Second Amendment scrutiny, a law must be consistent with America’s history and tradition of arms regulation.

America has never had a widespread ban on categories of firearms or accessories, and there is absolutely no historical support for giving a federal agency control over what types firearms can be lawfully brought to the market. But, respect for constitutional rights has never been part of the anti-gun agenda.

In the end, this legislation follows the same path as most modern gun control by attempting to blame violent crime on America’s law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to stop those who use firearms unlawfully.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.