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In 2004, a federal law that banned certain semiautomatic weapons expired under a 10-year “sunset” provision.Gun control advocates called Congress’ failure to renew the law a huge failure. Following Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., vowed to introduce a new assault weapons ban.
Congress will likely consider the shortcomings of the old law, which former Republican House leader Tom DeLay called “feel-good legislation.”
It also banned guns with at least two “military-style features,” effectively eliminating 118 models, according to this 2004 University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by the DOJ’s research arm.
Despite these limitations, critics of the law say, people could still get their hands on semiautomatics.
The U Penn report suggested that semiautomatic weapons could maintain their essential functions even if gun makers got rid of the “military-style features” banned by the 1994 law.
The report found the assault weapons ban “targets a relatively small number of weapons based on features that have little to do with the weapons’ operation, and removing those features is sufficient to make the weapons legal.”
For example, after the ban, gun makers marketed “legalized” versions of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which was exactly the same as the outlawed version, but came without accessories such as threaded barrels.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, also made that point when speaking to PBS in 2004. The government only sought to limit guns containing certain “cosmetic features” such as a bayonet mount, according to LaPierre.
“The guns have been marketed the last 10 years without the cosmetic accessories,” he said. “The same guns have been there for the past 10 years.”
And, under the ban, gun enthusiasts could buy any semiautomatic they wanted to – as long as it was made before 1994.