A direct answer to the question of whether President Joe Biden could ban assault rifles is: no. For one, if we are being technical, civilians have never generally owned assault rifles. The firearms industry, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) – its trade association – uses the term “modern sporting rifles” for the semi-automatic AR-style rifles that civilians can own.
“Assault rifles” would be those specifically designed and produced for military and law enforcement sales. Hence, a ban wouldn’t technically impact “assault rifles.”
The Associated Press suggested last summer that the terms “assault rifles” and “assault weapons” should be considered highly politicized.
It accurately defines a semi-automatic rifle as “a rifle that fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled, and automatically reloads for the subsequent shot;” while an automatic rifle is defined as a rifle that “continuously fires rounds if the trigger is depressed and until its ammunition is exhausted.”
The NSSF has also noted that millions of modern sporting rifles are legally owned by law-abiding Americans today.
“These rifles are used by hunters, competitors, millions of Americans seeking home-defense guns and many others who simply enjoy going to the range. The modular nature of the platform allows it to be configured for various applications and body types. Despite their popularity, modern sporting rifles are widely misunderstood,” the NSSF explained.
“Confusion exists because though these rifles look like military rifles, they do not function the same way. Also, groups wanting to ban these rifles have for years purposely spread misinformation about them to aid their cause, including using the terms ‘assault rifle’ and ‘weapons of war,'” the NSSF added.
Current estimates suggest there are as many as 400 million guns in private hands in the United States.
State Bans – Paving the Way to Federal Ban?
Of course, drawing from federal and state laws, an assault weapon is one that can include semi-automatic rifles, pistols, shotguns, and which are able to accept detachable magazines. The issue is still very much in gray territory, as some states consider a pistol grip to be a defining feature, while others do not.
Currently, nine states now ban most semi-automatic rifles, including the AR-15.
Just last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1240 into law, a measure prohibiting the “manufacture, importation, distribution, selling, and offering for sale” of more than 60 specific weapons, including AR-15s, M-16s, AK-47s, and others.
Moreover, it was also last month that a federal judge blocked enforcement of an Illinois state ban on semi-automatic firearms. In a 29-page opinion, Judge Stephen P. McGlynn, of the Southern District of Illinois said the ban was likely to be found unconstitutional.
The decision could be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A Mission for Joe Biden?
Biden has never shied away from his goal to see semi-automatic firearms banned. However, he has finally admitted that any legislative efforts would have to be made by lawmakers – not through executive action.
Following the tragic school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, in March, President Joe Biden called for Congress to ban “assault rifles,” and attempted to paint lawmakers as the problem.
“People say, why do I keep saying this if it’s not happening?” Biden said, referring to his frequent appeal for such a ban, NPR reported. “Because I want you to know who isn’t doing it, who isn’t helping, to put pressure on them.”
Since taking office, the president has repeatedly called for a ban on semi-automatic firearms, which he maintains will curb gun violence. However, the president actually conceded that he is essentially powerless to act.
“I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns,” Biden told reporters. “I can’t do anything except plead with Congress to act reasonably.”
GOP lawmakers have argued that a ban won’t stop bad people from doing bad things and that the country needs to address issues of mental health and school security rather than blaming firearms.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.