Democrats Unveil What NRA Calls ‘Most Sweeping Gun Prohibition Bill of the 21st Century’

A new gun control bill seeks to impose a sweeping ban on the most popular semi-automatic firearms, drawing opposition from gun rights groups.
Democrats Unveil What NRA Calls ‘Most Sweeping Gun Prohibition Bill of the 21st Century’
Firearms on display at Gun Effects in Los Angeles on Sept. 8, 2023. (Christina Corona/NTD)
Tom Ozimek
12/1/2023
Updated:
12/3/2023
0:00

A Democrat-led bill seeks to impose a sweeping firearms ban with exceptions that gun rights groups say are so fuzzy that the prohibition could prohibit nearly all semi-automatic handguns, in the latest push to curb Second Amendment rights.

The measure, dubbed the Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion Act (GOSAFE), which a gun rights group panned as “perhaps the most sweeping gun prohibition bill of the 21st Century,” was introduced on Nov. 29 by a number of Democrat U.S. senators, along with an independent—with no Republicans joining.

The central goal of the bill is to ban firearms that can be fired quickly (along with accessories that increase firing speed) and have the ability to accept magazines with a capacity of 10 rounds or more, all in a bid to limit “a firearm’s ability to inflict maximum harm in a short amount of time.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), the bill’s co-sponsor, said in a statement that the measure seeks to keep “those firearms that are inherently dangerous and unusually lethal, designed for maximum harm, out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others.”
Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety hailed the measure as “innovative,” while the National Rifle Association (NRA) called it “perhaps the most sweeping gun prohibition bill of the 21st Century” and a violation of Americans’ constitutional rights.
A gun store employee shows the differences between (L–R) high-capacity magazines for a handgun, an AK-style rifle, and AR-style rifles at Lawful Defense in Gainesville, Fla., on April 19, 2023. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)
A gun store employee shows the differences between (L–R) high-capacity magazines for a handgun, an AK-style rifle, and AR-style rifles at Lawful Defense in Gainesville, Fla., on April 19, 2023. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

What’s in the Bill?

The GOSAFE Act seeks to impose a series of new regulations on the sale, transfer, and manufacture of many types of semi-automatic firearms.

For instance, it would require that all semi-automatic rifles above .22 caliber have a permanently fixed magazine capacity of 10 bullets or fewer while imposing an outright federal-level ban on all detachable magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The proposal also includes a requirement for the capacity of gas-operated semi-automatic rifles above .22 caliber to be “permanently fixed,” meaning that any such firearm capable of taking a larger capacity magazine would be banned.

Another provision prohibits any modifications—such as installing bump stocks or Glock switches—while also banning build-it-yourself ghost gun kits.

The bill would also require government approval of any future semi-automatic firearm designs before manufacture, and it would establish a list of prohibited firearms.

There are exemptions to the bill’s sweeping scope, including bolt-action rifles, semi-automatic and recoil-operated shotguns, any rifle or shotgun with a permanently fixed magazine of 10 rounds or less, and any handgun with a permanently fixed magazine of 15 rounds or less.

GOSAFE Act regulation flow chart. (Office of Sen. Martin Heinrich)
GOSAFE Act regulation flow chart. (Office of Sen. Martin Heinrich)

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Heinrich, Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Angus King (I-Maine).

No Republicans have expressed support for the measure.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) issued a statement to media outlets reacting to the legislation, saying that she “will carefully consider it,” but that she'll continue to focus on measures to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illness.

Reactions

The bill drew praise from gun control groups and critical reactions from gun rights defenders.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, hailed the new bill while decrying what it called the widespread availability in the United States of what it called “weapons of war.”

“We applaud Sen. Heinrich for introducing innovative legislation that would regulate assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which are capable of creating devastating destruction in an instant,“ John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. ”We urge Sen. Heinrich’s colleagues to pass this bill before yet another community is forever scarred by someone filled with hate and armed with an AR-15.”

By contrast, the NRA’s legislative arm, the NRA-ILA, said the measure targets law-abiding gun owners “while leaving armed criminals unperturbed.”

The NRA-ILA warned that the exemptions in the bill are unclearly drafted and so risk banning all semi-automatic handguns.

“The exemption in the bill for semi-automatic handguns is so poorly written that it wouldn’t apply to many popular self-defense handguns, and, depending on its interpretation, may not apply to any handguns,” the NRA-ILA wrote in a note. “Meaning the bill could ban all semi-automatic handguns.”

For example, the bill’s handgun exception applies to “a handgun that ... is a single or double action semi-automatic handgun that uses recoil to cycle the action of the handgun,” which the NRA-ILA says could be interpreted to “exclude the popular Browning short recoil operating system that is used by essentially all modern handguns of 9 mm or larger caliber.”

The bill’s provisions banning devices that “materially increase the rate of fire” of semi-automatic firearms also drew objections from the NRA-ILA.

“This would likely ban things such as bump stocks and binary triggers, but what about more subtle upgrades that make a firearm operate more smoothly or efficiently for competitive or disabled shooters?” the group asked. “As usual, the law’s reach is impossible to determine based on its bare text.”

In general, the NRA-ILA said it believes the bill “aims to demoralize and intimidate as many people as possible into giving up their right to own firearms” and that the measure “clearly violates the Second Amendment.”

“We have said it many times before when it comes to ‘assault weapons’ bans, but it bears repeating: The guns targeted by this bill are primarily owned by law-abiding people who keep them for defensive and other lawful purposes,” the group said.

“They are, in fact, the most popular guns sold in America today. And, semi-automatic rifles are actually underrepresented in murders, behind not just other guns but other types of weapons, including knives and even hands and feet.”

Mr. King, the bill’s co-sponsor, defended the measure, claiming it’s narrowly focused on restricting firearms that have shown to be particularly lethal.

“For years, I have said that rather than using the appearance of these guns to restrict them, we should instead focus on how these weapons actually work and the features that make them especially dangerous.”