As for the list of 157 guns that are banned by name, it is much longer than the list in the federal “assault weapon” ban that expired in 2004 (which Feinstein also sponsored), and its terms are broader. While the expired ban covered “copies or duplicates” of the 18 named firearms, the new one covers “copies, duplicates, variants, or altered facsimiles”—language that seems designed to keep lawyers busy. The references to “variants” and “altered facsimiles” suggest that a gun can be deemed an “assault weapon” even if it is not listed and does not have any forbidden “military-style characteristics.” Maybe that’s one reason Feinstein tries to reassure gun owners with her lengthy list of exempted firearms.
A story in Friday’s New York Times claims Feinstein’s bill would “ban certain characteristics of guns that make them more lethal.” By describing the bill that way, reporter Jennifer Steinhauer endorses Feinstein’s fraudulent premise that “assault weapons” are especially suited to mass murder or other kinds of gun crime. Here are the characteristics that, according to Feinstein, turn a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine into an “assault weapon”: a pistol grip or forward grip, a grenade launcher or rocket launcher, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, or a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock. How exactly do these features—a threaded barrel, say, or a grenade launcher without (already banned) grenades—make a gun “more lethal”? They don’t, which is why opponents of “assault weapon” bans object to such arbitrary, appearance-based distinctions.