The Truth About the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the AR-15

The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban not actually ban the manufacture or sale of the AR-15 rifle. Yet, I keep reading both on social media and in mainstream media that we need to re-instate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in order to keep people from purchasing AR-15 rifles.


I understand that gun control is a touchy subject. I am trying to be respectful of everyone’s feelings on the subject, regardless of what those feelings are. However, there is a lot of gross misinformation being passed around as fact, particularly with regards to the AR-15 rife and the Clinton-era Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

When engaging in a discussion of an issue such as gun control, I believe one should be as accurate in their terminology and as researched as possible. This goes for both sides of the argument.

This is a long post about the history of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, not the politics. I am not posting this to promote gun control. I am not going to argue about gun control. I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible while explaining, to the best of my understanding, what the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was and how it relates specifically to the AR-15 rifle. If you want to argue, please do it elsewhere, but please do so with the proper facts and terminology.


In 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed with a 10-year sunset provision. This legalization defined semi-automatic assault weapons by a specific set of criteria and then banned sale and manufacture of weapons under that set of criteria. This criteria was largely feature-based, and included a limit on the number of specialized features a firearm could have, such as pistol grips, flash suppressors, and collapsible stocks — none of which affect the rate of fire, the force of fire, or, arguably, the accuracy of the weapon.

Under the law, a firearm could have only a limited number of these features. Firearms that fell within the designated criteria were legal for manufacture and sale in the United States, unless specifically banned by name (make and model number) in the bill.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 did place strict limits on the amount of ammunition that firearm magazines could hold, which was 10 or less. No exceptions.

Under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the AR-15 was legal and available for sale to the general public. However, the media keeps reporting that the AR-15 was illegal during this ban.

Specific to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the AR-15 has a pistol grip integrated into its design. That means that other add-on, optional features, such as collapsable stock, were considered illegal. It was also illegal to modify a post-ban AR-15 with these features.

In the case of the AR-15, what the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban essentially did was equivalent to saying that you can buy a pickup truck with a V-8 engine OR an automatic transmission OR a leather interior, but you can’t have any combination of those features on the same vehicle.

In the strictest sense, during the ban, a new AR-15 could not be purchased with certain features or modified to possess features which are now common and legal. However, a truck that has a V-8 and an automatic transmission and a leather interior is functionally the same as a truck that only has a V8 engine. In other words, if leather interiors were outlawed, it wouldn’t mean that all pickup trucks were banned — only those with leather interiors. Such was the case with the AR-15.

Often, the only difference between an AR-15 rifle sold before the ban and an AR-15 rifle sold after the ban was simply the size of the magazine sold with the rifle and the amount of ammunition that magazine could hold. Functionally, the two rifles operated exactly the same.

The federal Assault Rifle Ban sunsetted in 2004. It wasn’t repealed, it simply wasn’t renewed, even though the Bush Administration was reportedly in favor of renewal in the months leading up to its sunset. There are still vigorous arguments on both sides of the debate as to the effectiveness of the legislation.

Ironically, a 1989 ban on IMPORTED assault weapons was passed under the George Herbert Walker Bush administration was arguably more stringent than the Clinton-era Federal Assault Weapons Ban:

The Truth About the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the AR-15 was originally published on Random Thoughts from the Passenger Seat