CLAIM: A congressional bill to ban certain semi-automatic weapons would “turn 150 million Americans into felons overnight.”
THE FACTS: The bill would only affect future firearm transactions, so people who already lawfully own such weapons when the bill passes would be allowed to keep them, legal experts confirmed. An effort by House Democrats to ban certain semi-automatic weapons is being misrepresented online.
“They want to turn 150 million Americans into felons overnight,” read an Instagram post with a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that amassed thousands of likes. The post referred to H.R. 1808, also known as the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, which passed in the House on July 29. The bill is expected to stall in the Senate, where Republicans have dismissed it as an election-year strategy by Democrats. The bill would make it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess a long list of semi-automatic weapons and magazines. Among the semi-automatic weapons banned would be some 200-plus types of semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s, and pistols. The restrictions would not apply to many other models, which the bill lists by name.
However, the bill would not turn existing owners of semi-automatic weapons and magazines into criminals. Instead, people who already legally own such weapons when the bill passes will still be allowed to possess the firearm, and those guns will still be legal to sell or otherwise transfer.
A summary of the bill prepared by the Congressional Research Service lays out this exemption, saying, “The bill permits continued possession, sale, or transfer of a grandfathered SAW, which must be securely stored. A licensed gun dealer must conduct a background check prior to the sale or transfer of a grandfathered SAW between private parties.” Dru Stevenson, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston whose research focuses on firearm law confirmed that “the bill grandfathers in current owners.” “It does not turn 150 million Americans into felons overnight,” Stevenson said in an email to the AP. Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert and professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, confirmed the same. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., also testified that the bill includes an exemption that allows for the possession of existing semi-automatic guns.
The claim that 150 million people would be affected by the bill is also suspect, since current estimates suggest that there aren’t even that many firearms owners in the United States. A 2021 National Firearms Survey, for example, found that about 81 million Americans are gun owners.
— Ali Swenson contributed this report with additional reporting from Karena Phan in Los Angeles.