Gun Control

Dianne Feinstein Wants to Ban Parts That Make 'Assault Weapons' Legal Again

The latest version of the senator's "assault weapon" ban targets products that highlight the irrationality of "assault weapon" bans.


Reason / Joanna Andreasson

This week Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced the latest version of her "assault weapon" ban. "Americans across the nation are asking Congress to reinstate the federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," she claims. "If we're going to put a stop to mass shootings and protect our children, we need to get these weapons of war off our streets."

Since this bill, like its predecessors, does not apply to firearms that Americans already possess, it won't actually take anything "off our streets"— or, to be more accurate, out of anyone's gun cabinet, basement, or garage. That's better than the alternative of mass confiscation, but it gives you a sense of Feinstein's dishonesty on this subject that she claims to be eliminating guns at the beginning of her press release, only to note five paragraphs later that "owners may keep existing weapons." Since Americans own more than 16 million guns that are covered by Feinstein's definition of "assault weapons," that is no minor detail.

Feinstein has not posted the text of her bill yet, but it sounds a lot like the 2017 version. The 2019 bill, like the previous one, bans "205 military-style assault weapons by name," along with any firearm that "accepts a detachable ammunition magazine and has one or more military characteristics," such as "a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel or a folding or telescoping stock." It also "exempts by name more than 2,200 guns for hunting, household defense or recreational purposes," which is supposed to show us how generous Feinstein is being. But this list, which consumed nearly 100 pages of the 2017 bill, is completely gratuitous, since any gun that's not banned by name and does not fit the general definition would remain legal regardless of whether the bill said so explicitly.

The bill's arbitrariness should be obvious, since features that do not make a gun any more deadly in the hands of a mass shooter, such as a folding stock or a threaded barrel, nevertheless transform it into an intolerable "assault weapon," as opposed to a gun suitable for "hunting, household defense or recreational purposes." The picture above, which shows a Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle and a Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, starkly illustrates Feinstein's silliness. The two models fire the same ammunition at the same rate and have the same magazine capacity. Yet the one on top was specifically banned by the 2017 bill, while the one on the bottom was specifically exempted.

Thordsen Customs

The 2019 bill includes a new provision that provides further evidence of Feinstein's wacky approach to gun control. According to the senator's press release, the bill "bans Thordsen-type grips and stocks that are designed to evade a ban on assault weapons." Feinstein is talking about products like the FRS-15 Enhanced Stock Kit (left), made by the California company Thordsen Customs. The kit replaces an adjustable stock and pistol grip on a gun that would otherwise qualify as a prohibited "assault weapon" under state bans like California's. Once you switch out the parts, the gun has neither of those forbidden features. In other words, the kit enables a gun owner to comply with an "assault weapon" ban, which Feinstein perversely characterizes as evading the ban.

"What our rifle stock does is remove both of those individually named items and replace them with a single-piece, solid, traditional-style rifle stock like you can find on any other traditional-style rifle," says Alan Thordsen, founder and CEO of Thordsen Customs. "That's all it does."

Thordsen is bemused by Feinstein's disapproval of products that enable people to follow the arbitrary dictates of legislation like hers. "We are complying with the ban," he says. "If there's a feature that is banned, we change the feature. That's not evading. That's not skirting the law or violating the spirit of the law. We are conforming with the law and creating products that enable law-abiding people to keep their legal firearms in a legal configuration so that they are not criminals."

Although "they singled our product out by name," Thordsen says, "more generally they were talking about any device or product that will convert your current assault-weapon configuration to a non-assault-weapon configuration," which is "one step closer to a total semiautomatic rifle ban….The whole thought of banning parts or devices that will take your possibly noncompliant firearm, if this bill were to pass, and make it compliant again is ridiculous."

By the same logic (if that's the right word), smooth rifle barrels should be banned because they can replace threaded barrels, transforming a prohibited "assault weapon" into a legal gun. The problem here is not sneaky entrepreneurs like Thordsen but irrational legislators like Feinstein. Thordsen's real offense, one suspects, is highlighting how pointless bills like Feinstein's are.

"Military-style assault rifles are the weapons of choice for mass murderers," Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) claims in Feinstein's press release. That is not true, since mass shooters are much more likely to use handguns. Even if it were true, and even if a bill like Feinstein's could make those "military-style assault rifles" disappear (which it does not even purport to do), mass murderers would still have plenty of equally lethal options. It therefore requires colossal chutzpah or monumental self-delusion for Feinstein to claim her ban would "put a stop to mass shootings."