Assault rifles are high-powered, small-caliber rifles (or pistols) styled to look as if they belong in the US Army’s arsenal. Military assault weapons such as the M16A2 function as fully automatic weapons, firing multiple bullets with one pull of the trigger. But civilian ownership of machine guns has been highly controlled in the US since the 1930s. Assault rifles available on the domestic market are semi-automatic, meaning one pull of the trigger fires one bullet, while the next round is chambered automatically and ready to go.
How would a ban work?
Semi-automatic weapons are very common, so that’s not the basis on which assault weapons would be banned. Instead, legislation controlling assault weapons would name specific firearm models, such as Bushmaster’s AR-15, as well as combinations of features to be outlawed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California was the author of the 1994 ban and has vowed to reintroduce an assault-weapons bill in the new Congress. A version of the bill she introduced in 2005 banned rifles known as AK-47s, AR-15s, and Uzis, among others. In addition, that legislation prohibited the ownership, transfer, or manufacture of any rifle that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and has two or more of these five characteristics: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a muzzle flash suppressor or threaded barrel capable of accepting such a suppressor, or a grenade launcher.
Does Obama want a ban that's tougher than the old one?
Yes. A White House fact sheet on the president’s gun proposals says the 1994 ban was a good start, but that manufacturers were able to circumvent it by making cosmetic modifications to their products.