After cases of gun violence — like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people dead — the debate about guns is reignited. And there is one type of weapon in particular that draws attention for being used in these massacres: the AR-15 rifle. That was the gun used by the shooter in the Texas shooting, the same one in the Parkland, Florida, school mass shooting that left 17 dead in 2018, the same one in the Las Vegas massacre in October 2017, and at least others. 3 more shootouts.
AR-15 rifle-style weapons had a ban in the United States that expired in 2004.
There has been talk of reinstating the media, but that ban, which would need a congressional bill to revive, doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere on Capitol Hill anytime soon.
Even under the ban, gunmakers used loopholes to keep producing weapons similar to the AR-15 by changing details on the gun or its name. For example, the ban did not cover versions of these weapons unless they had two cosmetic features: a folding stock, a bayonet mount, a visibly protruding pistol grip, a flash top, or a grenade launcher.
To understand where the country is headed with gun control, it’s important to know how we got here.
The 1994 ban
In many of the mass shootings in recent years, including the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1 and the Texas church shooting on Nov. 5, the attackers used semi-automatic weapons.
But it wasn’t always legal to sell and buy them.
In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton pushed an assault weapons ban through Congress, and it had bipartisan support. Former presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford even signed a joint letter to the House of Representatives at the time expressing their support.
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“This is an issue of vital importance to public safety,” the letter said. “We urge you to listen to the American public and law enforcement to support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.”
Clinton’s ban vetoed more than a dozen types of semi-automatic weapons similar to the one used by in the Parkland shooting. There was a clause that stated that it would expire after 10 years if Congress did not reauthorize it. That didn’t happen.
Some Democrats wanted to renew the ban, but they weren’t enough to make it happen. So the veto expired in 2004.
Other Efforts to Bring Back Prohibition
One of the strongest advocates in Congress for a return to prohibition is California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who reintroduced a bill that would ban the sale of such weapons after a deadly shooting at a Newtown school. Connecticut. She left 20 children and six adults dead in 2012. Feinstein, who helped champion the 1994 legislation, crafted his proposal as an enhancement to the ban that expired in 2004. This rule would also have banned rolls of ammunition larger than 10 rounds.
When his proposal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided not to include the semiautomatic weapons ban proposal in gun legislation going to the Senate, believing that including it would that the law would be blocked by a Republican tactic.
Instead, he proposed that the ban be an amendment to the gun legislation so that the Senate could vote on it.
Finally the proposal fell with 40 votes against 60.
In more recent years, an effort to ban these types of assault weapons in the Florida House failed.