New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing new gun control legislation, including "one of the country's most restrictive bans on assault weapons," according to The New York Times. The story illustrates once again the confusion created by treating "assault weapons" as an objective category, as opposed to an arbitrary, scary-sounding term that has no meaning outside of the laws that define it.
New York's current "assault weapon" ban, enacted following the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, uses the same criteria as the federal law that expired in 2004. A rifle is deemed to be an "assault weapon," for instance, if it accepts a detachable magazine and has two or more of these five features: 1) a bayonet mount, 2) a grenade launcher, 3) a folding or telescoping stock, 4) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, or 5) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor. The problem, according to the Times, is that "many high-powered rifles now in production are exempt from the ban because, advocacy groups say, manufacturers have altered their products to circumvent the law."