David S. Markowitz

Slightly revised 4/23/2000.

On September 13, 1994, a ban on newly-manufactured "assault weapons" went into effect. Aside from enacting a law of dubious Constitutionality and utility, Congress also created a field of landmines for law-abiding gun owners. I continually see posts in online discussion groups asking what constitutes an "assault weapon." I therefore have created this outline to help you understand this law. Note that the AWB and the high capacity magazine ban do not apply to the military or to law enforcement agencies.

(Note: At the same time the AWB was enacted, a ban on "high capacity" or "large capacity" feeding devices (magazines) was also enacted. This will be dealt with after the AWB.)

First off, the AWB only applies to semiautomatic guns manufactured after its effectivetured after its effective date, i.e., September 13, 1994. Guns manufactured before this date do not> need to be turned in or modified to comply with the law's provisions.

Generally speaking, it is the part of the gun bearing the serial number which determines when the gun was manufactured. This is virtually always the receiver or frame, although the SN may also be stamped elsewhere on the gun, such as the slide, in addition to being on the frame. For example, on the AR-15 and its clones, the serial number is stamped on the lower receiver. This is the part by which the date of manufacture will be determined.

Please note that the definitions of "assault weapon" and many other terms in this law are specific to this law. They are not necessarily the definitions used by the people who actually use these weapons, like the military, or will be found in a knowledgeable source such as my own Glossary of Firearms Terms.


Any semiautomatic rifle made after 9/13/94, which can accept a detachable magazine and which has two or more of the following characteristics is a banned AW:

I have seen AR-15 clones advertised which, although they aren't fitted with a flash hider, do have a muzzlebreak on the end of the barrel. If this is threaded on the gun would appear to posses the threaded-barrel feature, even if there's no flash suppressor on the gun.  For this to be legal, the muzzlebrake must be permanently attached, e.g., with silver solder.  Be careful!


Any semiautomatic pistol made after 9/13/94 which can accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following characteristics is a banned AW:


Any semiautomatic shotgun manufactured after 9/13/94 that has at least two of the following features is a banned AW:

Exceptions to the AWB:

The High Capacity Magazine Ban:

Also part of the 1994 Crime Bill was a ban on newly-manufactured detachable magazines (aka "clips") which hold more than 10 rounds. The ban also was supposed to applywas supposed to apply to tubular magazines which do not detach from the magazine and hold ammunition other than .22 rimfires. However, an exception has been effected for tubular magazines on lever action centerfire rifles. For example, you can legally buy Winchester 94s in .45 Colt which hold more than 10 rounds, and which were made after 9/94.

Penalties for Violating the AWB or the High Capacity Magazine Ban:

If you get caught violating either law, you are subject to a $5,000 fine and/or up to 5 years in prison. Since this is a felony, you also lose your right to ever again own a firearm, unless you can get the right back from a court (which is not likely).

In conclusion, regardless of their Constitutionality or effect on crime, it is in your best interests as a gun owner to understand the provisions of the 1994 AWB and high capacity magazine ban.

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