September 13, 1994 is a date which will live in gun rights infamy. As a child of the 1980s, I grew up in an era of amazement and rapid change in the gun culture. In my house alone, we went from wood and blued steel rifles, shotguns, semi-autos, and revolvers to plastic fantastic (read: GLOCK) and modern lightweight rifles like the Colt SP1.
It happened fast, too. My father, being a plainclothes state investigator, was one of the cops on the front lines during the war on drugs in Miami. At the time, the police were definitely outgunned, but my father, a cop who was a bona fide gun guy, wasn’t one of them.
When he saw new tech and tactics, he latched on quickly. He was one of the first in Florida to carry one of Gaston’s guns, which made me one of the first on my block to shoot a GLOCK.
Here are two snapshots from the distant past. The first photo (above) is from the early 1980s. If you’ll notice, the main self-defense long gun was the tried and true classic Remington 870 Police with an 18″ barrel. The main handgun wasn’t a semi, but a Smith & Wesson revolver.
The only semi-autos we had were the classic single action trio of the period: a Colt 1911, a Browning Hi-Power, and a Star PD 45. The idea of a double stack, double action, high-capacity wondernine hadn’t yet hit the scene in our house.
Now, let’s take a look at the photo below.
This picture is from around 1993. The 1911 and S&W revolvers are still there, but the GLOCK second generation pistol series has crept in; G19, G21, and G23, to be precise. The plastic fantastic compact and its newfangled brother in that hot new cartridge — .40 S&W — along with the amazing .45 ACP bruiser, the G21, were in the corral. Alas, I don’t have pictures of the long guns from that era.
Around that time period, the humble 870 Police was being retired, and new, high-speed, low drag guns were coming into the collection. Then, suddenly, President Clinton got out his pen, scribbled his name, and made things a wreck for law-abiding gun owners.
But the bill never would have passed if it included a turn-in or confiscations. So Feinstein and her pals grandfathered in previously owned guns that were banned for sale after the law went into effect.
Here’s a good representation of some of the popular guns of the era that, thanks to the Senator from California, we couldn’t buy once the Clinton AWB became law.
A “corrected” 1994 production Norinco MAK-90, a 1989 production Ruger Mini-14 GB, a 1987 Daewoo MAX-II, and a 1980 Colt SP1. All are pre-Clinton AWB production guns, and all are guns folks would have been lusting after when the ban was signed into law.
All were affordable before the ban, and all but one went to stupid-high prices post-’94.
Norinco MAK-90 in 7.62x39mm
The Norinco MAK-90 was the last version of the Chinese-made AKs to come into the US before the ban. Starting in the early 1980s, importers brought in one version or another of the venerable Chinese AKM Assault Rifle.
MAK-90 stands for Modified AK of 1990, because in 1989, President Bush passed an import ban on “non-sporting” guns. Things like pistol grips, folding stocks, bayonet lugs, and threaded barrels were no longer a go.
So, the enterprising Chinese made them with thumbhole stocks, ground off those bayonet lugs, and never finished the barrel with threading. That left it simply crowned and slightly smaller in diameter than the rest of the barrel, so a gunsmith couldn’t thread it for the 14x1L pitch that standard AK barrels used.
Even though the MAK-90 was ugly, it was still a pre-ban gun, and you could add a folding stock, bayonet mount, or threaded barrel without violating the law. Mine has a pin-on slant brake, and there’s a Romanian wire folding stock somewhere in the parts bin for it, too. The full wood stock just looks classy.
The Norinco never really climbed that much in price, but demand for them rose, met by legal pre-ban AK magazines and parts flooding in from the former ComBloc after the Cold War. Brand new-in-the-wrapper East German magazines were $5.99 each and were sold in four-packs with a DDR Rain Drop camouflage mag pouch for a discount.
Also, since a MAK-90 was a normal AK pattern rifle, all the standard stocks fit it with little to no work. During the ban, at gun shows in Miami that MAK-90s would be sold new-in-box. And for an extra $30 you could get a bag with an original surplus ChiCom Type56 stock set. That’s exactly what’s on mine.
As for pricing, I recall them along with the newer imported Romanian SAR-1 AKs go for just under $400 out the door at the ban’s height. It was like the second golden age for AKs. The overall choices were fewer, but prices and quality were pretty good. The Chinese and later Romanian SAR-1 guns were affordable and 100% built-in military factories.
Ruger Mini-14 GB in 5.56x45mm
The Ruger Mini-14 was the go-to 5.56x45mm rifle back then. They were affordable and available with good customer support and of decent quality. They went for around $399-$450 before the ban depending on configuration.
Factory built guns with folding stocks stopped being sold directly to the civilian market by Ruger in 1989 as a response to the Stockton, California school shooting. But you could still get them as an accessory through your FFL without a problem. If you grew up during the 1980s, a stainless Mini-14 in a factory folder holds a special place in your heart.
The gun was also, of course, prominently featured on the hit show The A-Team. Who didn’t want to be like H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, B. A. Baracus, John “Hannibal” Smith, and Templeton “Faceman” Peck? I know as a kid I did.
Anyway, during the ban Mini-14 GB prices soared and the 20- and 30-round magazines went to hard unobtainium levels. I recall 20-round magazines were $80 a pop and 30-round magazines were easily over $100.
As for the rifles themselves, the GB models were the only ones affected due to their threaded barrels with flash hiders and bayonet lugs. The factory and aftermarket folding stocks with pistol grips made them that much more attractive.
The Mini-14 was always compared to the AR-15, but I always viewed it more as America’s answer to the AK pattern rifle. They both use a similar bolt design, both use rock-in magazines, and both were affordable at the time and well-built.
Daewoo K2/AR-100/MAK-II in 5.56x45mm
The Daewoo K2 was and is, in my humble opinion, one of the best Cold War era service rifles that most people have never heard of. It took everything that was great from the FN FAL, Colt M16A1, and Soviet AKM and blended it all together into a finely crafted machine of South Korean exceptionalism.
It has a 1:7 twist barrel, uses standard AR-15 magazine before STANAG compatibility became a thing, a folding stock, a nice birdcage-style muzzle brake/flash hider, and a crisp trigger.
Just like the Norinco AKs, the Daewoo was targeted by President Bush’s 1989 import ban. The one shown here is a pre-ban import gun before all the great features were removed. Before the ’89 ban, Daewoo made them under three different names. The K2, the AR-100, and the MAX-II. Mine is marked as a MAX-II on the receiver.
Before the ban, Daewoos were competitively priced with the Ruger Mini-14. After the bans, prices naturally rose. They were in demand, but hidden at the same time.
Everyone wanted the AK, the Mini-14, and an AR-15. The Daewoos just sat in the corner being picked up by the intelligent gun buyer. They were more affordable than the pre-ban AR-15s and had all the features Sen. Feinstein didn’t want you to have.
By the mid to late 1990s, Daewoos were fewer and farther between on the gun show circuit. Sure, a post-import ban Daewoo DR-200 with its ugly thumb hole stock and stripped bare barrel could be found, but at that point, no one was making accessories to convert them like what could be done to a MAK-90.
So those lingered until long after the ban ended. But the original K2 and MAX-II marked guns went quickly into gun safes and gun cabinets. In an era of iron sights and folding stocks, the Daewoo was king and the prices matched too, usually over $900 for one in good conditioned.
Colt AR-15 SP1 in 5.56x45mm
The Colt SP1 in its rifle and carbine forms were the hottest tickets at that time, other than rare oddities like the Steyr AUGs and Valmets. The SP1 was prized for a number of reasons. It was an actual AR-15, of course, and that’s what Pres. Clinton and Sen. Feinstein said red-blooded Americans should no longer be able to buy. It was also extremely customizable.
The lowers alone were worth their weight in gold for some since they were pre-ban lowers. You change the upper and stock on a SP1 rifle and make it a clone of the then modern Colt M4.
Pre-ban AR-15s were priced around $800. After the ban was signed into law, you could find them as high as $1,500 and folks gladly paid that. Used 20-round and 30-round magazines averaged $30-$40 a pop and a 100-round Beta C mag went for close to $1,000.
Folks couldn’t get enough of the AR-15 and demand skyrocketed. Nothing makes people want something more than someone telling them they can’t have it.
Companies like Bushmaster, DPMS, and Olympic Arms, once small players in the AR game, suddenly grew to massive importance. Their pre-ban guns were in demand and even after the ban went into effect, their neutered guns were, too since they were much like the AK pattern rifles.
No threaded barrels, flash hiders, or folding stocks, but for the most part they looked similar to the pre-ban guns and, more importantly, they weren’t molested design-wise like the Daewoo was with the DR-200. And magazines were fairly affordable compared to some others.
But what folks really clamored for were the pre-ban ARs so they could get the latest and greatest modern setups with accessories like a Fiberforce CAR-15 stock, M7 bayonet, Lone Star Ordnance Stowaway grip, and an A2 flash hider. That rifle was some styling and you could still do that back then if your lower was pre-ban.
Fortunately for America’s gun owners, the Clinton “assault weapons” ban had a sunset. It termed after ten years, and in 2004, when that happened. George W. Bush was in office. Despite dire predictions from all the usual suspects about blood running ankle-deep in the streets if the law wasn’t renewed, the AWB was allowed to slip into the dustbin of history.
For some in states like New York, Massachusetts, and California, however, the horror continues.
Stay tuned. Coming soon we’ll have a shootout between these four AWB-era warriors. We’ll pit the Norinco vs. the Ruger and the Daewoo vs. the Colt. Then the finalists will go head-to-head to see which was the best pre-ban rifle. Just because we can.