Federal Law on Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

Posted on May 21, 2012

On September 13, 1994, Congress adopted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.1 That Act amended the Gun Control Act of 1968, making it unlawful to transfer or possess a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” not lawfully possessed on or before the law’s enactment.2 The law also banned the manufacture, transfer and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons. (Additional information is contained in the section on Assault Weapons.)

The 1994 Act defined “large capacity ammunition feeding device” as “a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device . . . that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”3 However, “attached tubular device[s] designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition” were exempted from the definition.4

The ban contained a loophole, however, allowing for the continued transfer and possession of large capacity ammunition magazines manufactured or possessed on or before enactment of the law. Manufacturers took advantage of this loophole in the months leading up to the ban by boosting production of the magazines. As a result, they continued to be readily available – and legal – nationwide, except where specifically banned by state or local law. This loophole also made enforcement difficult, as most magazines do not have any identifying marks to distinguish those that were manufactured before or after the effective date of the ban.5

The federal law was enacted with a sunset clause, providing for its expiration after ten years. Congress and the President allowed the 10 year-old ban to expire on September 13, 2004, despite overwhelming support for its renewal. Thus, large capacity ammunition magazines (and semi-automatic, military style assault weapons) that were formerly banned under the federal law are now legal unless banned by state or local law.

Click here to view additional information about large capacity ammunition magazines, including background information and state and local laws on the topic.

  1. Pub. L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994). []
  2. 18 U.S.C. § 922(w)(1), (2). (All references to sections of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq., are to the sections as they appeared on September 12, 2004.) []
  3. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(31)(A). []
  4. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(31)(B). []
  5. Importation of Ammunition Feeding Devices with a Capacity of More Than 10 Rounds, 61 Fed. Reg. 39,320 (July 29, 1996) (amending 27 C.F.R. § 178.119). []