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Which states have banned assault rifles in the US?

President Biden has called on Congress to impose tighter gun controls after mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta in recent days, with just a handful of states imposing their own laws.

Which states have banned assault rifles in the US?
David Ryder AFP

In the aftermath of the tragic events of the last week there has been a renewed focus on gun control legislation, with a particular emphasis on restrictions for those classed as assault weapons.

The exact definition of the term varies between states but generally applies to semi-automatic firearms with detachable magazines. These assault weapons were the type used in both the Boulder and Atlanta shootings in recent days, and are responsible for approximately 85% of mass shooting fatalities.

As with the majority of gun control legislation the rules governing assault weapons are largely decided at state level. We take a look at the states which have chosen to impose restrictions on the lethal weapons.

Which states prohibit assault weapons?

Across the United States just seven states and the District of Columbia have imposed laws which ban guns classed as assault weapons. Those states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

It was the District of Columbia who first introduced assault weapon restrictions in 1932, with most of the other bans coming much later. Minnesota and Virginia also impose some form of regulation on assault weapons, but in the case of the latter this simply means providing proof of age and of citizenship.

In many instances however, state authorities have actually placed added protections on the right of citizens to own assault weapons and ruled that local authorities are not able to impose their own restrictions.

Less than two weeks before the attack in Boulder which left eight people dead, a Colorado Supreme Court judge ruled that the city could not enforce a ban on assault weapons than had been passed by city authorities two years prior.

In his ruling, Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman said: “The Court has determined that only Colorado state (or federal) law can prohibit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.”

Biden calls for “common-sense steps” to limit assault weapons

With so many states refusing to impose restrictions on assault weapons, President Joe Biden has called on lawmakers across the country to act urgently in the face of the clear danger.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said: "I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future, and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.”

Biden himself played a key role in the introduction and passage of a 1994 bill that introduced a ban on assault weapons during his time as a senator. It came as part of a crime bill that banned such weapons for ten years, but the legislation lapsed in 2004 and could not be extended.

Biden has insisted that the introduction of tighter gun control restrictions should be an area of bipartisan support, saying recently: "This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives. American lives. And we have to act.”

However recent evidence suggests otherwise; 13 Democrat-controlled states have increased gun control laws in recent years, while 14 Republican states have removed them.