After the tragic shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, there have been a number of calls for more controls on firearms, particularly another ban on so-called assault weapons. Michael Bloomberg was one of the first to use this tragedy to encourage more legal controls on firearms ownership.
To understand if reinstating the “assault weapons” ban would be effective, we should look at what an assault weapon is and the effects of the decade-long ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004.
Prior to the adoption of the assault weapons ban (AWB) in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, there wasn’t a specific definition of an assault weapon. The closest thing to an assault weapon would be an assault rifle, which is a short-barrel (under 16 inches) which can shoot in semi-automatic (one bullet with each pull of the trigger), select-fire (usually 3 bullets with each pull of the trigger), or fully-automatic (multiple bullets with each pull of the trigger).
Sale, ownership, and possession of firearms that can use select-fire or are fully-automatic is controlled through the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1968. The AWB covered a different set of firearms from those covered by the NFA of 1968. A small part of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the ban prohibited the sale and manufacture of: