High Capcity Magazines

Associated Press file A stag arms AR-15 rifle with 30-round, left, and 10-round magazines is displayed. High-capacity magazines have been used in several mass killings in recent years, and Colorado lawmakers banned magazines that hold more than 15 bullets in 2013.

The weapon identified in court documents from the Boulder attack is an AR-556 pistol. And calling it a pistol makes a big difference in how that weapon is taxed and regulated.

Here are some details:

• It doesn't look like a pistol

The pistol manufactured by Ruger is a trimmed-down version of the popular AR-15 style rifle, which is essentially a semiautomatic version of the Army's M-4 carbine.

• It can be used like a rifle

Equipped from the factory with what can function as a collapsible butt stock, the pistol could be fired from the shoulder. On its website, though, Ruger calls that stock "Pistol Stabilizing Brace" which can rest against the shooter's forearm.

The pistol version of the AR-556 has a 10-inch barrel, six inches shorter than the firm's rifle variant. Like the rifle, the pistol fires standard .223 caliber ammunition, the same round used in the Army's M-16 and M-4 rifle.

• Lighter not cheaper

The 6-pound weapon retails for $899, $100 more than its rifle cousin. At the same time, it's compact, similar to military weapons designed for use in vehicles and urban warfare.

• So, why isn't it a rifle?

In 2011, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ruled that versions of the AR-15 designed to be used as pistols aren't subject to regulations and taxes imposed on "short-barreled rifles."

That "Pistol Stabilizing Brace" not being called a rifle stock makes a massive regulatory difference.

• Why the worry about small rifles?

Rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches have been under federal restrictions since the 1930s, when Congress stepped in with gun control measures designed to curtail the excesses of the Chicago mob after the famed St. Valentines Day massacre tied to Al Capone. The mafia like short barreled rifles because they could be hidden under a jacket while still packing the killing power of a rifle.

The laws imposed a $200 tax and federal licensing requirements on owners of short-barreled rifles. Owners of the those compact rifles are required to get the same kind of license required for owners of machine guns. Civilians can qualify for that license as collectors, and it's relatively cheap at $30 for the application $10 annual renewal fees.

• Why is a federal license such a big deal?

The federal license comes with significant paperwork, a thorough background check. And as part of the application process, a visit by a local ATF agent is required. And by having the collector license, you must allow the ATF to enter your house on demand to check "inventory and records" anytime they wish. No warrant is required.

• What calling it a pistol is worth

Under ATF's pistol designation, getting the AR-556 doesn't require a federal license and it gets a $195 tax break.

It carries the same regulations as other pistols, including a background check on buyers. But unless a user wants to carry it as a concealed weapon, no license is required in Colorado.

• What calling it a pistol is worth

Colorado requires background checks for firearms buyers and does regulate the capacity of magazines retailers can sell, with a 15-round limit.

Those who owned magazines of larger sizes before the 2013 law was passed were allowed to keep them. But importing high-capacity magazines into Colorado, selling them here or transferring them is illegal.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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