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NSSF “Rebukes” Senators for Bill to Curb Assault Weapons

In opposing the GOSAFE Act, the gun industry trade group defends the guns used in the deadliest mass shootings

Last week, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, announced that it “flatly rejects” the Gas-Operated Semi-Automatic Firearms Exclusion (GOSAFE) Act — a bill to regulate the semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines (LCMs) used to commit the country’s deadliest mass shootings — and “rebukes” the senators who introduced it in the wake of the Lewiston, Maine, mass shooting, which was likely carried out with a Ruger AR-10 semi-automatic rifle.

To learn more about the GOSAFE Act and how it works, click here.


In its statement, the NSSF called the proposed legislation “clearly unconstitutional, as the U.S. Supreme Court held in Heller that entire classes of firearms cannot be banned from legal sale and possession by law-abiding citizens.”

But it is not accurate to say that the bill would ban an “entire class of firearms” — let alone “an entire class of ‘arms’ overwhelmingly chosen by American society for th[e] lawful purpose [of self-defense],” which was the language the Supreme Court used to describe the handguns at issue in Heller — as gas-operated semi-automatic rifles with fixed magazines, like the M1 Garand and Browning BAR, would still be available to civilians under the GOSAFE Act along with several other types of firearms, including:

  • Recoil-operated semi-automatic pistols, which includes most handguns, such as Glocks;
  • Semi-automatic shotguns;
  • .22- or lower-caliber rimfire weapons;
  • Manually operated firearms, including single-shot, muzzle-loading, bolt-action, lever-action, and pump-action rifles, shotguns, and handguns; and
  • Any rifle or shotgun with a permanently fixed magazine that holds 10 or fewer rounds of ammunition, or handgun with a permanently fixed magazine that holds 15 or fewer rounds, and that cannot be converted to accept more ammunition.

Each of these weapons can be used for self-defense as well as for hunting and recreational shooting — like the semi-automatic rifles that the NSSF claims “are used daily” for those same purposes.

The GOSAFE Act would simply prohibit civilians from owning semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s and AK-47s that are especially dangerous because of their gas operating systems, which allow shooters to fire dozens of high-velocity rounds in seconds. These weapons — and their core gas systems — were originally designed for military contracts before making their way to the civilian market. And this is why the civilian counterparts can be just as deadly as the military versions.

It’s worth noting that typical AR-15 and AK-47 calibers can penetrate through several interior walls and car doors, for example, endangering bystanders.1Declaration of James Yurgealitis, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Town of Superior, No. 1:22-cv-02680 (D. Colo. Oct. 20, 2023),, paragraph 136. And in many states, these rifles are sold with LCMs that typically hold 30 rounds of ammunition, but an analysis of 736 self-defense shootings cataloged by the NRA shows that only 2.2 shots are fired on average in these situations.


The NSSF’s reaction to the GOSAFE Act is not particularly surprising given the trade association has a long history of helping gun manufacturers market and sell assault weapons and LCMs — and fighting laws that might restrict their sale. The NSSF has taken issue with the assault weapons bans currently in effect in 10 states and Washington, D.C., which generally mimic the former federal ban, because they supposedly target “cosmetic features” carried over from military rifles, such as folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, and threaded barrels, claiming that “[n]one of these features figure into the criminal misuse of firearms, regardless of their appearance.” But these features do not merely affect a firearm’s looks, as the NSSF wrongly contends. Folding and telescoping stocks make firearms more compact and easier to hide, pistol grips make it easier to handle a rifle with one hand and in close quarters, and threaded barrels allow shooters to install silencers on their weapons, for example. Each feature increases the weapon’s lethality.

In its statement, the NSSF said the GOSAFE Act “would ban the sale of commonly owned gas-operated, semiautomatic rifles that can accept detachable magazines,” estimating that “over 24.4 million” such rifles have been produced since 1990. But the NSSF is counting the total production of these rifles “less exports”; it does not distinguish between military, police, or civilian rifles. And it also would appear to include rifles in the hands of prohibited owners, such as criminals and domestic abusers, as well as those that have been illegally trafficked to other countries.2Notably, it has also recently been reported that NSSF’s estimates as to the number of  large-capacity magazines, which the GOSAFE Act also restricts, were calculated using questionable methods. Will Van Sant, “The Gun Industry’s Trade Group Is Using Flimsy Data in Big Court Cases,” The Trace, October 5, 2023,

The inclusion of over 30 years of sales to the military and police as well as prohibited owners and traffickers — sales that do not impact the legal, civilian market — distorts the number of “law-abiding citizens” who own assault weapons. And comparing the NSSF’s data to ATF data and surveys on gun ownership shows that less than 8 percent of civilian gun owners actually own assault weapons, which represent just 5.3 percent of all firearms owned in the U.S.3Declaration of Louis Klarevas, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Town of Superior, No. 1:22-cv-02680 (D. Colo. Oct. 20, 2023),

The NSSF claims that the GOSAFE Act “would also place a federal limit on magazine capacity, a measure that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found had no appreciable effect on crime reduction during the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.” The CDC publication referenced — published in 2003, before the federal assault weapons ban sunset in 2004 — examined 51 studies related to gun laws and their effect on violence and concluded that the “[r]esults of studies of firearms and ammunition bans were inconsistent.” The CDC publication also does not reference LCMs specifically.

There is more recent data on this very topic. Everytown research indicates that over twice as many people are killed, and over 10 times as many people are wounded, when mass shootings involve LCMs. When assault weapons are involved, mass shootings have 22.7 times as many people wounded as mass shootings without them.

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