Support Renewal with Strengthening of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban

  • Date: Nov 18 2003
  • Policy Number: 200320

Key Words: Warfare, Gun Violence

Noting that in 1994, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a ban on the production for civilian use of certain semiautomatic assault weapons1 and high capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds2; and

Recognizing that the 1994 law is scheduled to sunset on September 13, 20043; and

Noting that civilian assault weapons are semiautomatic versions of military weapons designed to rapidly lay down a wide field of fire; and

Noting that military and civilian assault weapons share key design features that were specifically developed so that relatively unskilled soldiers could inflict maximum casualties despite poor marksmanship; and

Noting that the most important of these features are the ability to accept high-capacity magazines, capable of holding from 10 to more than 100 rounds of ammunition; and

Noting that other features make it easy to simply point (as opposed to carefully aim) the gun while rapidly pulling the trigger --features such as pistol grips (or magazines that function as pistol grips) on the front end of the gun, and barrel shrouds (ventilated tubes that surround the otherwise too-hot-to-hold barrel, providing an area that is cool enough to be directly grasped by the shooter even after scores of rounds have been fired); and

Noting that assault weapons are routinely used in acts of mass murder such as the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 that left 15 dead and 23 wounded; and

Noting that in 1995, at least one in 10 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon4; and

Noting that the National Institute of Justice found that “evidence suggests that the ban may have contributed to a reduction in the gun murder rate and murders of police officers by criminals armed with assault weapons;”5 and

Noting that the firearms industry has moved quickly to make slight design changes in their guns in an effort to evade the law; and

Noting that an assault rifle that evades the current federal ban was the weapon of choice of the Washington-area snipers whose shooting spree in 2002 killed 10 and seriously wounded five; and

Noting that firearms are the least-regulated consumer product, being specifically excluded by law from the purview of the Consumer Product Safety Commission,6 and have been subject to only limited regulation by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and

Noting that the public health approach to injury prevention recommends interventions that address the host, agent and/or environment7; and

Noting that one suitable agent-oriented public health approach is to restrict certain classes of firearms in order to reduce their unintentional or criminal use8; and

Noting that the Sixth Circuit upheld the federal assault weapons ban in 2002 as a “legitimate exercise of congressional authority to regulate a significant threat to public health and safety.”9

Therefore, the American Public Health Association supports the enactment of a federal law to strengthen and renew the 1994 federal assault weapons ban.


  1. 18 United States Code § 922 (v).
  2. 18 United States Code § 922 (w).
  3. 18 United States Code § 922 endnote.
  4. Violence Policy Center, Cop Killers: Assault Weapon Attacks on America’s Police (September 1995).
  5. National Institute of Justice. Impacts of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban: 1994-96. Research in Brief, March 1999.
  6. 15 United States Code § 2052(a)(1)(E).
  7. NRC (National Research Council). 1985. Injury in America: A Continuing Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  8. LDI (Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics) Issue Brief. Firearm Injury in America. Vol 8 (2), October 2002.
  9. August 6, 2002, the Sixth Circuit opinion; Olympic Arms, Inc. v. Magaw, 91 F. Supp. 2d 1061 (U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan 2000), on appeal, National Rifle Association v. Buckles (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit).