WASHINGTON – More than 100 lawmakers called on President Joe Biden to take executive action and enforce regulations regarding the AR-556 pistol, according to a letter obtained by USA TODAY.
The weapon was used in the recent shooting in a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store that killed 10 people.
The letter, first reported by Punchbowl News and penned by Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson, Val Demings, Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter, asks the president to “take strong executive action to address” such weapons under the National Firearms Act, which regulates use of certain firearms, and “serious inequities in the implementation.”
Neguse represents Boulder, and Thompson is the chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
The AR-556 looks like a rifle, operates like one, and even takes the same ammunition as the AR-15, a weapon used in many U.S. mass killings.
But the Ruger-manufactured AR-556 is not regulated as a rifle – at least, not under current gun laws.
More:Boulder shooting suspect’s gun looked like a rifle. But it’s a pistol. Experts worry it’s helping people skirt gun laws
Billed as Ruger’s alternative to the AR-15 rifle, the pistol is smaller, easily concealable, and more maneuverable than a rifle.
It isn’t bound by the strict regulations that a rifle of its size would, leading for advocates to call for change.
“Concealable assault-style firearms that fire rifle rounds pose an unreasonable threat to our communities and should be fully regulated under the National Firearms Act consistent with the intent and history of the law,” wrote the lawmakers, some of whom are on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
Buying a rifle of its same size is subject to multiple layers of added scrutiny, including a background check that requires several forms of ID and even fingerprinting.
The Gun Control Act, which defines and categorizes weapons at the federal level, specifies a pistol as a weapon intended to fire a bullet with a short stock that is “designed to be gripped by one hand” and regulates it differently.
Fact check: No evidence Colorado shooting suspect entered country, bought gun, illegally
The suspect in Colorado bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol legally six days before the shooting. Had it been a rifle, he would have had to pay additional taxes and potentially wait months before the gun was registered.
But he didn’t have to wade through that added red tape for the AR-556 because it is a pistol.
More:Hundreds honor slain officer credited with preventing more deaths in Boulder shooting
Experts and gun control advocates argue the pistols largely mirror a short-barrel rifle, which are heavily regulated under the National Firearms Act. The law defines a short-barrel rifle as a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches. The Ruger AR-556 pistol has a barrel of anywhere from 9.5 to 10 inches.
“If you cut off the back end of the AR-15 and you shorten up the muzzle – the front part where the bullet comes out – it’s the same thing,” Christopher Herrmann, a former New York City police officer and an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told USA TODAY. “You’ve taken this deadly AR-15 weapon and now you’ve made it concealable.”
“For too long, gun manufacturers in order to circumvent the National Firearms Act have designed and marketed concealable AR-15 style firearms which fire rifle rounds,” the lawmakers said. “The concealability and ability to use ammunition capable of penetrating body armor make these firearms especially dangerous on our streets and for law enforcement personnel.”
Following the shooting in Boulder and another the previous week in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, calls for gun control have grown louder.
More:House passes bills to expand background checks for gun sales and close ‘Charleston loophole’
More:The Atlanta shooting put a spotlight on the vulnerability of spa workers. Many are still routinely arrested across Georgia.
Two bills headed to the Senate would tighten gun sale regulations: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act.
Both passed the House, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed, meaning 10 Republicans would be needed to vote with all Democrats and independents in the 50-50 chamber.
In the wake of the two shootings in March, the White House said last week Biden is prepared to issue executive orders to enact gun reform.
He went a step further than the legislation in the House, and publicly called for a ban of “assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again” last week.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the White House will continue negotiations with Congress as Biden considers executive order options, saying, “Right now, we’re working on a couple of levers.”
“While that is moving, while there are discussions on that front — and the president will certainly be engaged in those — we are also continuing to review and consider what the options are for executive actions,” Psaki said.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Grace Huack