This Bill Would Ban Most Semi-Automatic Rifles in the U.S.

This Bill Would Ban Most Semi-Automatic Rifles in the U.S.

A bill that would ban most semi-automatic rifles in the United States was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate.

Rather than prohibit certain cosmetic features, the Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion (GOSAFE) Act targets a firearm’s operating system. And while the title of the bill suggests the ban only applies to gas-operated semi-automatic firearms, the text of the bill widens the scope to include virtually every type of semi-auto system.

It is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but it may signal a shift in how gun control advocates seek to ban so-called “assault weapons.”

The bill’s authors, U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), wrote the bill in response to a recent mass murder in Lewistown, Maine, that left 18 people dead.

“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,” King said.

The GOSAFE Act has also been endorsed by every major gun control group, including Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, and March for our Lives.

“As weapons of war have become commonplace in America, so has the unfathomable carnage they bring to our communities,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We applaud Senator Heinrich and Senator King for introducing this new and innovative legislation that would ban gas-operated assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which are capable of creating devastating destruction in extremely short timeframes.”

Opponents argue that the bill is unconstitutional because it would ban an entire class of firearms that are in common use, which the Supreme Court rejected in District of Columbia v. Heller.

“The legislation introduced by Senators King and Heinrich is openly defiant of the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. There is no path forward for legislation of this nature that would deprive law-abiding citizens the ability to lawfully possess the firearm of their choosing and the full spectrum of their Second Amendment rights,” NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane said.


At first glance, the GOSAFE Act appears to be less restrictive than previous iterations of “assault weapons” bans. Those bans, which are active in 10 states, prohibit the manufacture, sale, and possession of all semi-automatic firearms that can accept detachable magazines and include certain cosmetic features like pistol grips, collapsible stocks, and muzzle devices.

The GOSAFE Act purports to narrow the scope of those bans by targeting “gas-operated” semi-automatic rifles that can accept detachable magazines. Gas-operated systems function by siphoning off a portion of the gas produced by a cartridge’s burning powder and using that gas to cycle the action. It’s an extremely common system used in rifles like the AR-15, AK-17, and even the WWII-era M1 Garand.

However, the bill defines “gas-operated” as including blowback-operated and recoil-operated systems as well. These systems are less common in high-powered rifles, but their inclusion expands the ban to include virtually every type of semi-automatic rifle and many AR-type pistols. In fact, the GOSAFE Act is broader and more restrictive than other types “assault weapon” bans because it would prohibit rifles like the Ruger Mini-14, a semi-automatic rifle that does not usually get caught up in gun bans.

Still, the bill’s authors seem to believe the bill will attract more moderate legislators who have not historically voted for “assault weapon” bans. Sen. King pointed out in an interview on MSNBC that three of the four main sponsors have never voted for a similar ban, and Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) characterized the bill as “different” from the gun bans of the past.


The bill does include some exemptions to the ban. Current owners of banned firearms will be allowed to keep them, though those firearms can only be transferred to immediate family members after the bill goes into effect. Other exemptions include:

  • .22 caliber rimfire or less firearms
  • Semi-automatic shotguns
  • Any rifle with a permanently fixed magazine of 10 rounds or less
  • Any handgun with a permanently fixed magazine of 15 rounds or less
  • Recoil-operated handguns

Most modern semi-automatic handguns chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP are recoil operated, but some (like many models from gun company Hi-Point) are blowback operated. It is unclear why recoil-operated handguns were exempted, but others were not.

The handgun exemption is also noteworthy because, according to the FBI, handguns are used in the vast majority of homicides in the U.S. In 2022, handguns were used in 41% of homicides while rifles of any kind were used in 3%. (Hands, fists, and feet were also used in 3% of homicides, while knives or cutting instruments were used in 8%.)

Other Provisions

Along with banning virtually every semi-automatic rifle and pistol favored by hog and coyote hunters, the GOSAFE Act bans all magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition along with any magazine that can be “readily restored, altered, or converted to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”

The bill also includes a provision that would ban any device that, when attached to a semi-automatic firearm, “materially increases the rate of fire.” This is ostensibly designed to ban bump stocks, but as some commentators have noted, could also ban premium triggers, aftermarket recoil springs, and other common upgrades that could potentially increase the rate of fire.

For those who possessed a prohibited firearm before the bill takes effect but don’t want to keep it or give it to an immediate family member, the bill also established a voluntary buyback program. The buyback program would be funded through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program and would offer compensation to anyone who surrenders their semi-automatic firearm or ammunition magazine.

Popular With Hunters

Though gun manufacturers would doubtless engineer semi-automatic firearms designed to comply with the bill’s provisions, the GOSAFE Act would ban the vast majority of AR-type rifles used every year by hunters across the country.

According to a 2022 survey of hunters by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 36% used AR-type rifles (what the NSSF calls “modern sporting rifles”) for varmint hunting, 21% used them for hunting small game, and 21% used them for hunting big game. Another survey by Winchester Ammunition found that 40% of hunters used an AR-platform rifle for hunting in 2021.

Despite the popularity of these rifle systems, the GOSAFE Act would charge anyone who possesses a banned rifle or magazine with a misdemeanor and hit them with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a 12-month prison sentence.

Last Shot

The GOSAFE Act would need at least nine Republican votes to pass the Senate and a majority of representatives in the Republican-controlled House. That’s a high bar, but the bill’s sponsors, who aren’t known as stalwart gun control advocates, may be able to convince their more moderate colleagues.

Gun commentator Stephen Gutowski wrote in The Reload (paywall), that Sens. King and Heinrich have “a better chance of getting more Senators on board than the other Democrats who’ve previously spearheaded ban attempts.”

“If they can get [Sens. Jon] Tester, [Joe] Manchin, and [Krysten] Sinema on board, that would be a sign they’re making real progress,” he writes. “If they get Republican Senators like Susan Collins (R., Maine) or Mitt Romney (R., Utah) to support the new effort, that would start to look more like a potential game changer.”

For now, anyone who would like to get in touch with their U.S. senators can do so here.

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