Newsweek Fact-Checks Biden's Claim That He Banned Assault Weapons

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

President Joe Biden has long touted his role in passing the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban, both as a candidate and as president. He essentially says that he did it before and he'll do it again.


It's a bold statement, to be sure, even if there are problems with any assault weapon ban up to and including that it seems unlikely to survive judicial challenge in the long run.

But Newsweek did something interesting, something I wouldn't have expected out of the mainstream media. They opted to fact-check him, and by that, I mean something more than just providing a rubber stamp to his comments.

While it is true that Biden did help bring about legislation that led to the banning of some assault weapons in 1994, the scope of this action bears further scrutiny.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden helped enact the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that prohibited "the manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon."

This banned the sale of a number of specific weapons, modifications, and large-capacity ammunition devices "that can be readily restored or converted to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition."

However, as noted by a 1999 National Institute of Justice paper, it still exempted prohibited weapons bought before it was passed, and that only minor adjustments to a firearm, such as shortening its barrel by just a few millimeters, were "sufficient to transform a banned weapon into a legal substitute."

Furthermore, the ban expired in 2004, with Congress failing to reauthorize it. Only 18 specific models of firearms were banned. A 2004 report to the National Insitute of Justice provided examples of numerous loopholes available to circumvent some of the prohibitions.

The report noted that cosmetic changes such as removing a bayonet weapon were "sufficient to transform a banned weapon into a legal substitute."

The ban did not apply to semiautomatics with more than one military style featured under its provisions either. The report noted that Intratec, whose TEC-9 machine pistol was among the specified prohibited models, was able to manufacture an "after-ban" model that removed features such as a threaded barrel or barrel shroud, but was otherwise identical to the TEC-9 and was able to accept grandfathered 32-round magazines.


In other words, the assault weapon ban wasn't much of an assault weapon ban.

What they don't touch on because it's not really relevant to the claim being examined here is that there's also pretty much no evidence that it worked.

See, there was a massive push for the ban because we were told that inner-city gangs were using these weapons, and if we banned them, the homicide rate would drop. The problem is that by the time the law was passed, the rate had already started going down. It continued to do so through the ban and well after it sunset.

Now, the general gist of this fact-check seems to be that this wasn't nearly as extensive an assault weapon ban as some people are calling for today, and as such, Biden's experience is pretty much irrelevant. At least, that's my overall take on it, and if so, it's correct.

What people are wanting now isn't something that takes out a couple of cosmetic features. The fact that only a few particular weapons were banned and companies could adjust and still sell firearms absent a few features is part of how that ban was able to pass in the first place.

Yet today, we have the GOSAFE Act that seeks to basically ban semi-automatic rifles as a whole. There won't be any workarounds under the law. As such, it's going to have a lot more opposition, and that opposition is going to be a lot more vehement simply because the proposal is so restrictive.


So Biden managing to get a somewhat more tolerable bill--saying it's more tolerable should not be taken to mean I approve of it, for the record--through 30 years ago isn't really relevant to what's being pushed today.

And, frankly, we're tired of hearing him go on about it, especially since it's in between bought of only semi-coherent ramblings at best.

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