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Sen. Feinstein introduces stringent assault weapons ban, foresees 'uphill' battle

The proposed ban names 157 specific firearms including semi-automatic rifles and pistols, a re-tooled version of the 1994 assault weapons ban that has expired. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

The federal assault weapons ban proposed Thursday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would be more restrictive than the one that expired nearly a decade ago, which was criticized by gun-control advocates as being full of holes.

"It’s much better," said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "It’s a huge improvement."

The last ban prohibited 19 varieties of semiautomatic firearms by name, as well as certain kinds of shotguns. It also instituted a test that determined which guns were banned based on whether or not they had two or more “military-style” features, such as a pistol grip, folding rifle stock, or barrel equipped for a silencer.


This one would ban 157 specific guns, including the popular AR-15 style of semi-automatic rifle, and would require just one "military-style" feature to be prohibited.

Sen. Feinstein, who also proposed banning magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition, foresees an "uphill" battle in Congress to pass a renewed ban on some of America’s most popular firearms.

The National Rifle Association will be among the legislation's chief foes.

"Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades," the NRA said in a statement. "The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein’s wrong-headed approach."

Critics of the last law, which was implemented in 1994, argue that companies were able to easily bypass the two-feature test by simply removing one of the features, and continue producing what was effectively the same semi-automatic rifle.

Why gun groups say 'no way' to assault weapons ban

A report released by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in 2004 noted that under the last ban, “gun manufacturers sought to evade the ban by producing weapons with minor changes or new model names.”

The new one-feature test could make that more difficult. 

“Her new bill demonstrates that the Senator has learned valuable lessons from the previous federal ban that was in place from 1994-2004,” the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said in a statement. “In particular, the change from a 2- to 1-feature test shows that she has taken significant steps to eliminate the loopholes that allowed the gun industry to manufacture ‘copycat rifles’ under the previous law, thereby violating its spirit and intent.”

A 2004 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania for the Department of Justice found that the 1994 ban reduced the number of crimes committed with assault weapons. That decline in violence was offset by a rising number of crimes committed with other semi-automatic weapons not affected by the ban, however, the study found. As a result, the ban appeared to have “no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

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“We have tried to learn from the bill,” Feinstein said at a press conference Thursday. “We have tried to recognize legal hunting rights. We have tried to recognize legal defense rights. We have tried to recognize the right of a citizen to legally possess a weapon.”

While there are estimated to be about 110 million rifles in the United States, according to a report released by the Congressional Research Service in November, there are no reliable figures on how many firearms fitting the description of an assault rifle are in circulation. An estimated 1.5 million assault rifles were in circulation when the last ban was signed into law, according to the report.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposes new federal ban on some assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, as well as ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.