In AGO 2023 No. 4 (October 2, 2023), the WA Attorney General (AGO) discussed whether Washington’s new statute resricting the manufacture, import, distribution, and sale of assault weapons applies to rim fire semiautomatic firearms.
In short, the answer is “It depends.” Rimfire rifles are not excluded from every definition of “assault weapon.” A rimfire rifle that is semiautomatic is an “assault weapon” if it is either (1) a specific firearm listed in RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i), (2) has an overall length of less than 30 inches per RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(ii), or (3) is a conversion kit, part, or combination of parts, from which an assault weapon can be assembled.
In 2023, the legislature enacted SHB 1240, which amends RCW 9.41 to restrict the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, and offer of sale of “any assault weapon.” Firearms, including rifles, are commonly designed for rim fire or center fire ammunition. A bullet with a rim fire cartridge is one for which “its primer, the explosive, is around the rim of the cartridge.” State v. Hammock, 154 Wn. App. 630, 633, 226 P.3d 154 (2010).
WHAT IS A “RIM FIRE RIFLE?”
A rimfire rifle is designed to use rim fire cartridges. In contrast, the primer of a center fire cartridge is at the center of the base. Consequently, center fire rifles are designed specifically to use center fire cartridges.
ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
The AGO looked to the statutory definition of “assault weapon” in RCW 9.41.010(2). That definition is, in relevant part, as follows:
- Any of the following specific firearms [listed within this subsection] regardless of which company produced and manufactured the firearm [; or]
- A semiautomatic rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches;
- A conversion kit, part, or combination of parts, from which an assault weapon can be assembled or . . . converted . . . if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person; or
- A semiautomatic, center fire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or more [specifically listed features]; [or]
- A semiautomatic, center fire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds;
In it’s opinion, the AGO said a rimfire firearm is one designed to use a particular type of cartridge. It explained that some rim fire semiautomatic rifles fall under the definition of “assault weapons.” That section defines “assault weapon” to include any of the 62 specific firearms listed in subsection (2)(a)(i), “some of which we understand come in rim fire models.”
“Thus, if any of the specific firearms listed in subsection (2)(a)(i) is designed for rimfire ammunition, or if a rim fire rifle has an overall length of less than 30 inches, it is an assault weapon and subject to the restriction in SHB 1240, section 3 (codified as RCW 9.41.390). Other categories of assault weapons defined in the bill, namely in subsections (4) and (5), specifically cover only “center fire” models, so those categories would not include rim fire models.” ~WA Attorney General
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