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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen August 3, 2022

Proposed assault weapons ban won’t turn gun owners into felons overnight

If Your Time is short

  • The proposed assault weapons ban includes a grandfather provision that would allow current lawful owners of semi-automatic weapons to keep their guns and high-capacity magazines. It will prevent them from buying new ones. 
  • National surveys estimate that about 81 million U.S. adults own a firearm.

Democratic leaders and President Joe Biden have hailed an assault-style weapons ban that the House of Representatives has advanced to the Senate as a way to address the epidemic of gun violence in America. But an Instagram post from the day before is framing the proposed legislation as a way to criminalize gun owners.

The now-deleted July 28 post features a manipulated image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holding a crumpled copy of the U.S. Constitution.

"Thanks to gun-grabbing radicals, Nancy Pelosi now holds the fate of your second amendment rights in the palm of her rotting hand," text that's superimposed over the image read.

A caption that was with the original Instagram post claimed the assault weapons ban would "turn 150 million Americans into felons overnight." But the post is being hyperbolic. The proposed assault weapons ban would allow current gun owners to keep the semi-automatic weapons they already have, they just wouldn’t be able to buy new ones. 

Similar claims about gun owners potentially being turned into felons because of the proposed ban have been shared elsewhere on social media

The offices of Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and David Cicilline, D-R.I., confirmed that existing gun owners will not be penalized under the bill and would not become felons overnight, as implied in the Instagram post. Nadler is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which advanced the bill to the House floor; Cicilline sponsored the measure.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. Instagram is owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

H.R. 1808, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, was proposed after a spate of mass shootings, including ones in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, that were perpetrated by men wielding AR-15-style rifles. It would make it illegal to manufacture, sell, transfer, import or possess semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. The U.S. previously passed an assault weapons ban in 1994, but it expired after 10 years.

Although the bill passed the House with a 217-213 vote and near unanimous support from Democrats, it’s not expected to advance in the Senate, as it’s unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Republican filibuster.

If the measure passes the Senate, it would prohibit semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols that can use a detachable magazine and have at least one type of military feature, such as a pistol grip, folding or detachable stock or threaded barrel. Rifles and shotguns made specifically for sporting or hunting are not a part of the ban. 

Certain law enforcement efforts and authorized tests are exempted from the bill as are any actions related to securing nuclear materials. Also, retired law enforcement officers would be allowed to own semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Any semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines made after the bill takes effect would be required to display their manufacturing dates and serial numbers; no such requirement currently exists.

People who lawfully own semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines would have their ownership grandfathered in, provided the guns are securely stored in a way that prevents them from being accessed by another person. If people sell or transfer grandfathered weapons, the bill would require them to check the backgrounds of the people receiving them. Also, someone who had high-capacity magazines could keep them, but wouldn’t be able to sell or transfer them.

The bill would also allow funding for state and local governments to buy back semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines from people who own them.

The Instagram post’s claim of 150 million Americans is also questionable. There is no national gun registry and federal law prohibits using the background check system to create one. So, the true number of gun owners in the country is unknown.

Surveys may provide a rough estimate. Gallup found around 32% of adults it surveyed in 2020 said they own at least one gun. The 2020 U.S. Census counted 258.3 million adults 18 and older living in the United States. Thirty-two percent of them would be 82.6 million.

A survey by Centiment in 2021 found results similar to Gallup’s. The company found that 31.9% of people surveyed reported owning a firearm and concluded that at least 81 million U.S. adults are gun owners — nowhere near the 150 million implied in the Instagram post.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claimed the proposed assault weapons bill being considered by Congress will turn 150 million gun owners into felons overnight.

The bill includes a provision that would allow lawful owners of semi-automatic weapons to keep them, but not sell or transfer them. The bill would also prohibit them from buying additional semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.  

Also, because no national gun registry exists, it’s unknown how many gun owners there are in the country. However, a recent survey estimated there are about 81 million Americans who are gun owners, not 150 million, as the post implies. We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, July 28, 2022

Archive of Instagram post

White House, "Statement from President Biden on House passage of assault weapons ban," July 29, 2022

U.S. Congress, "H.R.1808 - Assault Weapons Ban of 2022," July 26, 2022

The Los Angeles Times, "Assault weapons ban ends quietly," Sept. 10, 2004

NBC News, "House passes assault weapons ban that’s doomed in the Senate," July 29, 2022

Facebook post, July 29, 2022

Screenshot of July 29, 2022 post

Facebook post, July 18, 2022

Screenshot of July 18, 2022 post

Rep. Jerry Nadler's Office, "Nadler floor statement for the Assault Weapons Ban Act," July 29, 2022

Rep. David Cicilline's office, House passes Cicilline’s assault weapons ban in first vote on measure in nearly 30 Years July 29, 2022

Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, Registration, accessed Aug. 2, 2022

Gallup, "What percentage of Americans own guns?" Nov. 13, 2020

William English, "2021 National Firearms Survey," July 14, 2021

MSNBC, "As an assault weapons ban passes the House. What happens now?", Aug. 1, 2022

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Proposed assault weapons ban won’t turn gun owners into felons overnight

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