Presto Change-o: New Federal AWB Proposal Doesn’t Mention “Assault Weapons”

by Tommy Grant

Having failed over the past few decades to get an “assault weapons” ban passed, two U.S. senators are again proposing such a ban, but giving it a different name in an attempt to garner support from those in Congress who have long opposed such a restriction. Calling it the “Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion Act,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine introduced a measure on Nov. 30 that would ban nearly all AR-style and many other semi-auto rifles, along with firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

According to the language of the measure, “The term ‘semi-automatic firearm’ means any firearm that upon initiating the firing sequence, fires the first chambered cartridge and uses a portion of the energy of the firing cartridge to extract the expended cartridge case; chamber the next round; and prepare the firing mechanism to fire again; requires a separate pull, release, push or initiation of the trigger to fire each cartridge; and is not a machine gun.”

In a press release explaining the legislation, Sen. King said that earlier “assault weapons” focused too much on cosmetics and not enough on function.

“For years, I have said that rather than using the appearance of these guns to restrict them, we should instead focus on how these weapons actually work and the features that make them especially dangerous,” King said. “The Gas-Operated Semiautomatic Firearm Exclusion (GOSAFE)  Act addresses the lethal capacity weapons like the one used in Lewiston and most of the deadliest mass shootings across the country.”


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Interestingly, the definition cuts a much wider swath than just gas-operated firearms, as the measure’s language later includes in the ban “a recoil-operated system that utilizes the recoil force to unlock the breech bolt and then to complete the cycle of extracting, ejecting and reloading.” 

The measure also would outlaw common normal-capacity magazines that come with most semi-automatic rifles. Under the proposed law, detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds would be banned, although those owning such magazines before the law takes effect would be able to keep them. Going forward, however, owners of such magazines could only transfer them to family  members or relinquish them to the government in a “buy-back” program included in the measure.

Of course, gun-ban organizations, including Brady (formerly Handgun Control Inc.), were thrilled with the announcement.

“The GOSAFE Act will take significant steps to end the proliferation of weapons that are designed for the battlefield and mitigate targeted mass violence,” said Chris Brown, Brady president. “Brady thanks Senator Heinrich and Senator King for introducing this legislation to help free America from the epidemic of mass shootings.

It will be interesting to see if the proposed “assault weapons” ban’s change in language will garner additional support in Congress. Past proposals banning semi-automatic rifles have largely been rejected by Congress after the Clinton Gun Ban of the 1990s had no measurable effect on violent crime and was allowed to sunset after 10 years.

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About the Author

Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for nearly 25 years. 


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