Wednesday, August 15, 2012

PF Sep 2012 - Assault Weapons Ban

Resolved: Congress should renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.


I think this is the better of the two choices that were offered for this month (see my previous post) but this is far from an ideal PF resolution.  This resolution is very topical in light of reason mass murders in the news.  Assault weapons permit a malicious individual to wreak a lot of damage in a very short period of time and the argument has long been, why should U.S. citizens have access to weapons normally considered "military" or "law enforcement" type weapons?

Congress did pass an assault weapon ban as part of the the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994"  The assault weapons provision of the law expired on September 13, 2004.  Despite numerous calls to reinstate the law, it has not currently happened and as long as it does not happen in the next 45 days, this topic will be valid for debate.

Researchers, will find some ambiguity in the definition of an assault weapon.  It tends to be one of those things that defies a legal definition and yet we kind of all know what they are when we see them.  I mean, ordinary hunting weapons or guns purchased for household protection are usually not equipped with magazines capable of holding more than, say, 8 or 9 bullets or they usually do not require rapid loading devices and rapid-fire capability.  Still, when the criminals are arming themselves with such weapons, citizens should not be expected to defend themselves with pea-shooters, should they?  And, if the government should decide to overstep its authority and physically repress the citizenry, do we not have a right to defend ourselves?  And if the country is ever invaded by some nefarious foe, should we not be capable of protecting our beloved nation?  I think the answer to all of those questions, is yes., but ... do we really need to have assault weapons?  The National Rifle Association will tell you, there is a huge constitutional barrier to banning arms and yet, not every kind of conceivable weapon is legal to possess.  And so the debate begins.


Since this resolution is very specific, referring to a single statute of federal law, it seems pointless to research definitions of "assault weapon" apart from the one given specifically in the law itself.  Technically, any other interpretation of the meanings may be considered non-topical.

Assault Weapons
The definition of assault weapons, is itself very specific and far too lengthy to post in this article.  The bill names specific makes of weapons or weapons which are made as copies of these.  The bill also described specific characteristics of various classes of assault weapons. (src: Generally speaking, any semiautomatic weapon with a magazine which holds more than ten rounds (bullets) or five rounds in the case of shotguns, is an assault weapon. A key provision of the definition is as follows:

A semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General. In making the determination, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a firearm procured for use by the United States military or any Federal law enforcement agency is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, and a firearm shall not be determined to be particularly suitable for sporting purposes solely because the firearm is suitable for use in a sporting event.'

Generally speaking, an automatic weapon is one which fires when the trigger is pulled and continues to fire until the trigger is released.  A semi-automatic weapon is one which fires when the trigger is pulled and then performs all of the actions required to fire again by simply squeezing the trigger once again.  In other words, it will automatically eject or discard the spent cartridge, reload a new round and cock the weapon in readiness to be fired again.  A conventional revolver is not a semiautomatic weapon because it must does not automatically cock itself in preparation to fire again.

The Law (HR 2038)
Wikipedia has a good basic description of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban including its provisions and history (see:
It is interesting to note the law had no impact on the sale or possession of fully automatic weapons which are already heavily regulated.  In reviewing articles on the law as originally passed by Congress, it will be clear that while the intent of the law may be considered necessary to limit the ease of obtaining very destructive weapons, the effectiveness of the law at achieving its expected benefits is called into question.

Part 2 coming soon


  1. The definition analysis was very helpful for me. You state: "Since this resolution is very specific, referring to a single statute of federal law, it seems pointless to research definitions of "assault weapon" apart from the one given specifically in the law itself. Technically, any other interpretation of the meanings may be considered non-topical." However, couldn't renewing the law include adding other sorts of assault weapons to the list of the ban?

    Therefore, maybe it would be helpful to include a definition of "renewing the law" - though that may be considered a plan - in addition to defining "assault weapons."

    Just my opinion; I hope it's helpful!

    1. I agree with you 100% and talk about that in the post titled "AWB Blowing Open the Pro Debate". As for the "plan", the resolution itself is a plan in the policy debate sense of the word and its pretty hard not to talk about it. I think a definition of "renew" and a case which modifies the old legislation is precisely what is needed. Otherwise, or perhaps, in addition to the definition, one needs to build a very pragmatic justification for the ban because finding good, hard evidence which supports it is extrememly difficult. Hopefully I can give some guidance in a coming post.

  2. i truly don't believe that they should renew the weapons ban because it doesn't do anything. is all it does is stops the sell of assault weapons, everybody that already owns an assault weapon gets to keep them and use them they just can't resell them to the public.

    1. It would not have an immediate effect, but guns only last so long before they break, and ammo runs out. So by renewing it, we would begin the process of drying up the well of Assault Weapons and their ammo.


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