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California law currently bans certain assault weapons by specific type, series, and model and also by the firearm’s general characteristics as set forth in the three categories below. (Pen. Code, § 30510.) California law also generally prohibits the sale of large-capacity magazines (i.e., magazines able to accept more than ten rounds). (Pen. Code, § 32310.)
Category One: California bans assault weapons by type, series, and model. For example, California bans the following assault weapons by name: Beretta AR-70, Springfield Armory BM59 and SAR-48, Steyer AUG, Sterling MK-6, and the Bushmaster Assault Rifle. (Pen. Code, § 30510.) These are often referred to as Category One assault weapons.
Category Two: California law bans firearm models that are variations of the AK or AR-15, with only minor differences from those two models. (Pen. Code, § 30510 subds.(a)(1), (f); see Cal. Code Regs., tit. 11, § 5499 [listing the banned AK and AR-15 variations].) These are often referred to as Category Two assault weapons. It is important to note that Category One and Category Two assault weapons are banned regardless of whether they have a Category Three characteristic as mentioned below.
Category Three: California law bans assault weapons by general characteristics—Category Three. Pursuant to Penal Code § 30515, an assault weapon includes any of the following:
For more detail, see Penal Code § 30515 or these Frequently Asked Questions.
On September 13, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 into law. (Pub.L. No. 103–322, September 13, 1994, 108 Stat 1796.) A provision of that act, known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, provided that it was “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” (18 U.S.C. § & 922(v)(1).)
All statutory references to title 18 of the United States Code are to the code as it read when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was enacted.
However, due to a ten-year “sunset” clause in the law, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004. Since that time, there have been many efforts in Congress to enact a new assault weapons ban, but those attempts have failed. Accordingly, unless banned by state law, any firearm banned under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban may now be lawfully possessed in the United States.
When it was in effect, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban banned semiautomatic assault weapons in three ways: (1) by listing specific manufacturers and model names, (2) by including “copies or duplicates” of those specific weapons, and (3) by generic characteristics. (18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3).)
Those banned by specific manufacturers and model name included AK-47s and all models of the Norinco, Mitchell and Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs, Colt AR-15, Steyr AUG, and several others. Additionally, any copies or duplicates of these firearms were banned as well.
This list was primarily derived from California’s list of banned assault weapons in California’s Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) of 1989. It included semiautomatic rifles, semiautomatic shotguns, and semiautomatic pistols with certain specific, defined characteristics such as a folding or telescoping stock, or a bayonet mount.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban also prohibited large capacity ammunition feeding devices, which included devices that had the capacity to accept more than ten rounds of ammunition. (18 U.S.C. §§ 922(w)(1), 921(b).)
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban applied only to weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices manufactured after the date of the ban’s enactment, and thus it excluded possession or transfer of any semiautomatic assault weapon and feeding devices otherwise lawfully possessed before the enactment. (18 U.S.C. § 922(v)(2).)