Tri-State Laws Among Most Restrictive on Getting AR-15s, Other Assault Rifles

The rapid fire of a Sig Sauer MCX echoed through an Orlando nightclub on Sunday morning in an attack that left 50 people dead, including the shooter.

The MCX and similar variants like the AR-15, which law enforcement initially said was the weapon used in the nightclub massacre, are easily obtained in many U.S. states, but New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are among the most restrictive when it comes to buying and owning what has been described as "America’s gun."

The AR-15 rifle is a semi-automatic weapon, meaning it fires one round each time the trigger is pulled. It's essentially the civilian version of the well-known M-16, a fully automatic rifle used by U.S. soldiers for the last few decades, and it became a popular purchase after a federal assault weapons ban that was enacted in 1994 expired in 2004. 

But in the tri-state, getting one of the weapons -- or any other so-called assault weapon, for that matter -- isn't as easy as it is in other states. 

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Connecticut and New York passed laws to restrict access to semi-automatic "assault weapons."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law on April 4, 2013, months after the shooting in Newtown. The barred anyone from buying new assault weapons, naming dozens of models including the AR-15 in the ban.

The ban gave the state -- which is home to several gunmakers including Colt, which is based in Hartford and first manufactured the AR-15 -- some of the strictest gun laws in the country. 

New York, meanwhile, passed the SAFE Act, which posed strict provisions for gun owners and defined assault weapons by characteristics. But some critics told the I-Team in 2014 that the provision defining assault weapons is ineffective because it allows gunmakers to produce legal variants similar to those banned under the law. 

New Jersey, meanwhile, has banned more than 50 gun models by name -- including the AR-15. The Garden State's ban has been in effect for more than 20 years. 

Some gunmakers have created semi-automatic rifle variants that are similar to the AR-15, but exclude features that would fall under assault weapons bans. Such rifles often take high-capacity magazines that are often seen on assault rifles, but Connecticut, New Jersey and New York all have provisions banning these larger magazines.

Here's a look at how easy it is to get and keep an AR-15 in the tri-state area:

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  • The state specifically prohibits the AR-15 by name, along with a list of more than 100 gun models. Guns with features commonly associated with so-called "assault weapons" are also prohibited by state code.
  • Despite the ban, there are semi-automatic rifles based on the AR-15 that are legal in the state. Such variants eschew many of the features of guns named in the ban and include smaller magazines.  
  • Gun owners who possessed an AR-15 or other assault weapon before 1994 or April 4, 2013, can keep their weapons so long as they applied for a permit before July 1, 1994, or Jan. 1, 2014, respectively. 
  • Owners who have permits for the weapons can only keep them on their properties or properties of others who give the owner permission to bring the gun, certain target ranges in the state and at firearms exhibitions.
  • Anyone who owns an AR-15 or other assault weapon without a permit must render them permanently inoperable or turn them over to police. 
  • Possession of an assault weapon without a permit is a felony. Anyone convicted of the crime is sentenced to a year in prison, and the sentence can't be suspended or reduced.
  • Gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition are also banned in Connecticut.
  • Read more about the state's gun laws here.

New York State

  • The SAFE Act of 2013 banned most guns that can receive detachable magazines and at least one other feature commonly associated with assault weapons.
  • The AR-15 and other assault rifle models are not explicitly banned by name, and certain variants of the gun are technically legal under the act. 
  • Guns that fall under the SAFE Act's definition of assault weapons that were purchased before Jan. 15, 2013, and registered with state police before April 15, 2014, are legal to own. Registration includes registrant's name, date of birth, gender, race, residential address, social security number and description of each weapon being registered. 
  • Retired law enforcement officers are permitted to own guns categorized as assault weapons that they acquired while working for their departments.
  • Gun magazines cannot hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition in New York, but a gun owner can only load 7 rounds in a clip outside of approved shooting ranges.
  • Read more about New York's gun laws here. 

New York City

  • "Assault weapons," including the AR-15, are banned in the city. Only law enforcement officers, current or retired, are exempt.
  • Gun owners must have a permit for and register all other weapons — handguns, rifles and shotguns. Gun owners also need a license and permit to carry. 
  • All other state gun laws apply in New York City.
  • Read more about New York City's gun laws here.

New Jersey

  • The AR-15 is prohibited by name in New Jersey.
  • Other assault rifles are also banned by name, along with guns with specific aesthetics, similar to New York's statutes.
  • Despite the ban, there are semi-automatic rifles based on the AR-15 that are legal in the state. Such variants eschew many of the features of guns named in the ban and include smaller magazines.  
  • Anyone who owned an AR-15 or other assault rifle before May 1, 1990, can keep the weapon so long as they registered the weapon before May 1, 1990, and the state Attorney General's office determined it was used for target shooting.
  • Gun magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition are illegal in New Jersey. 
  • Read more about New Jersey's gun laws here.
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