BACKGROUND: Assault Weapons Ban

March 2, 2004

In 1994, as part of the historic Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, President Bill Clinton signed legislation to prohibit the manufacture and sale of specific military-style assault weapons, and weapons with certain combinations of features designed for military use. The law contains a sunset provision, which means it will automatically be repealed if new legislation is not passed by September 13, 2004. If the Assault Weapons Ban is not renewed, a number of weapons will again be available for sale.

The law bans specific assault weapons by name and also classifies as assault weapons semi-automatic firearms that can accept a detachable ammunition magazine and have two additional assault weapon design characteristics. The definition of an assault weapon is very specific, and those that are prohibited are those with multiple assault weapon features. Assault weapons manufactured and sold prior to September 1994 are “grandfathered”, and are not covered by the 1994 law.

The ban is supported by more than 275 consumer, children’s, civil rights, domestic violence, faith-based, law enforcement and gun violence prevention organizations at the national, state, and local levels. President Bush has indicated that he will sign a renewal of the ban. Opposition to the ban is led by the National Rifle Association (NRA). So far, the courts have rejected challenges to the law made by the NRA.

Gun manufacturers have embraced the practice of “sporterizing” the banned weapons; making small adjustments so that the weapon no longer is covered under the law. One such weapon, the Bushmaster XM15 M4 A3 assault rifle, was used by the Washington, DC area snipers to kill 10 and injure three in October 2002.

Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the 108th Congress to support the renewal and enhancement of the current assault weapons ban.

  • H.R. 143, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), seeks to prohibit the importation of weapons that have been modified to avoid the assault weapons ban. H.R. 2038, introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and cosponsored by a number of other members, seeks to reauthorize and strengthen the current ban. H.R. 3831, introduced by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), seeks to extend the sunset provision of the current law for 10 years.
  • S. 1034, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), seeks to repeal the sunset date on the current ban and ban the importation of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. S. 1431, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), seeks to reauthorize the current ban. S. 2109, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), seeks to extend the sunset provision of the current law for 10 years.
  • On March 2, 2004, legislation that simply renewed the ban for 10 years was considered as an amendment to S. 1805, the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.” The amendment, S.AMDT.2637, passed by a vote of 52-47. However, the bill itself was overwhelmingly defeated.


The July 2000 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, USA:

Resolved, That the 73rd General Convention express deep concern about the repeated use of easily available handguns and assault weapons by and against children and call upon Episcopalians to seek ways to develop community strategies and create sanctuaries for our children, so that all may come to identify and value themselves and others as the precious children of God that they are, and that they may come to know peace in their lives and to create peace for future generations.


The February 1995 Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, USA: Resolved, That the Executive Council adopt the following principles related to legislation proposed in Congress:

Support the assault-weapons ban established under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994










Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) to stay informed and take action on this important issue.

Call your Members of Congress and ask them to support renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban