Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 2023 No. 4 -
Attorney General

FIREARMS—STATUTES—Inclusion Of Rim Fire Semiautomatic Rifles In The Statutory Restrictions On Assault Weapons

The restriction on the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, and offer of sale on “any assault weapon” in RCW 9.41.390 applies to rim fire semiautomatic firearms that meet the definition of “assault weapon” in RCW 9.41.010(2), including any of the firearms listed in subsection 2(a)(i) and semiautomatic rifles that have an overall length of less than 30 inches as specified in subsection 2(a)(ii).

October 2, 2023

The Honorable Shelly Short
Senator, District 7
PO Box 40407
Olympia, WA   98506-0407
Cite As:
AGO 2023 No. 4

Dear Senator Short:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested our opinion on the following question:

Does the prohibitory section of Substitute House Bill 1240 (SHB 1240), 68th Leg., Reg. Sess., ch. 162 (2023) apply to rim fire semiautomatic rifles?


            In some cases, yes. A “rim fire” firearm is one designed to use a particular type of cartridge, as further explained below. Some rim fire semiautomatic rifles fall under the definition of “assault weapons” as defined in SHB 1240. 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. That section also defines “assault weapon” to include semiautomatic rifles that have an overall length of less than 30 inches, which also can include rim fire models. Thus, if any of the specific firearms listed in subsection (2)(a)(i) is designed for rim fire 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.


            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.”

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RCW 9.41.390(1). Your request asks whether rim fire semiautomatic rifles are included in this restriction. SHB 1240 defines “assault weapon,” and provides for certain exclusions from that definition. RCW 9.41.010(2). Before engaging in an analysis of the relevant statutes, we first provide factual context for your question.

            Firearms, including rifles,[1] 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). A rim fire rifle is designed to use rim fire cartridges. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/rimfire. In contrast, the primer of a center fire cartridge is at the center of the base, and center fire rifles are designed specifically to use center fire cartridges. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/centerfire.

centerfire and rimfire cartridges


Richard Mann, Rimfire vs. Centerfire, What’s the Difference?, Field & Stream (July 4, 2023), https://www.fieldandstream.com/guns/rimfire-vs-centerfire/.

            Comments we received report that some firearm types are available in both rim fire and center fire designs. They also note that semiautomatic rim fire rifles are often used for target practice and competitions (youth and adult) as well as small game hunting.


            The purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine and give effect to legislative intent, which should be derived primarily from the statutory language. Duke v. Boyd, 133 Wn.2d 80, 87, 942 P.2d 351 (1997). Thus, statutory interpretation begins with the statute’s plain meaning. Lake v. Woodcreek Homeowners Ass’n, 169 Wn.2d 516, 526, 243 P.3d 1283 (2010). To ascertain a statute’s plain meaning, we look to “the entire context of the statute in which the provision is

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found, [as well as] related provisions, amendments to the provision, and the statutory scheme as a whole” for guidance. State v. Evergreen Freedom Found., 192 Wn.2d 782, 789, 432 P.3d 805 (2019) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

            Statutes are interpreted and construed so that all the language used is given effect, with no portion rendered meaningless or superfluous. Spokane County v. Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife, 192 Wn.2d 453, 458, 430 P.3d 655 (2018). Thus, statutes are interpreted “as a whole so that, if possible, no clause, sentence, or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.” Ralph v. Dep’t of Nat. Res., 182 Wn.2d 242, 248, 343 P.3d 342 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Likewise, neither words nor clauses may be added to an unambiguous statute when the legislature chose not to include them. State v. Delgado, 148 Wn.2d 723, 727, 63 P.3d 792 (2003).

            If a term is defined in statute, that statutory definition must be used. United States v. Hoffman, 154 Wn.2d 730, 741, 116 P.3d 999 (2005). Undefined terms are given their plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Meanings of non-technical statutory terms may be discerned from their dictionary definitions. Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA, 188 Wn.2d 421, 435, 395 P.3d 1031 (2017).

            Consistent with the above authority, we first look to the statutory definition of “assault weapon” in RCW 9.41.010(2) to determine whether it expressly includes or excludes rim fire semiautomatic rifles. That definition is, in relevant part, as follows:

            (i)         Any of the following specific firearms [listed within this subsection] regardless of which company produced and manufactured the firearm[; or]

            (ii)        A semiautomatic rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches;

            (iii)       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

            (iv)       A semiautomatic, center fire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or more [specifically listed features]; [or]

            (v)        A semiautomatic, center fire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds;

            . . . .

RCW 9.41.010(2)(a).

            SHB 1240 does not use the term “rimfire” or “rim fire.” However, it does use the term “center fire” to define two types of assault weapon. See RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(iv), (v). Thus, those

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specific subsections apply only to center fire weapons, and would not include rim fire semiautomatic rifles. State v. LG Elecs., Inc., 186 Wn.2d 1, 9, 375 P.3d 636 (2016) (“[W]here a statute specifically designates the things upon which it operates, there is an inference that the Legislature intended all omissions.”) (quoting In re Pers. Restraint Petition of Hopkins, 137 Wn.2d 897, 901, 976 P.2d 616 (1999)).

            The remainder of the subsections in RCW 9.41.010(2)(a) that address rifles are not so limited. Accordingly, by process of elimination, subsections (i), (ii), and (iii) are most applicable to your question.

            Turning first to RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i), an assault weapon includes “any” of the 62 specifically listed firearms. The common meaning of “any” is “one or more without specification or identification” or “whatever or whichever it may be.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/any. Use of the term “any,” coupled with the absence of any qualifier based on type of ammunition used, means that a semiautomatic rim fire rifle qualifies as an assault weapon if it is one of the firearms listed in RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i). Comments we have received indicate that several firearms listed in that subsection are rim fire semiautomatic rifles, such as the FAMAS F11 and some versions of the AR15.

            Turning next to RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(ii), an assault weapon also includes a “semiautomatic rifle” having an overall length of less than 30 inches. This definition is also not dependent on whether the rifle is center fire or rim fire.

            Turning last to RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(iii), an assault weapon includes a “conversion kit, part, or combination of parts, from which an assault weapon can be assembled,” and thus applies whenever the underlying weapon is itself an assault weapon, regardless of whether it uses rim fire or center fire cartridges.

            We also consider whether the terms “firearm,” “semiautomatic,” or “rifle” would themselves exclude rim fire rifles under existing law. They do not. RCW 9.41.010(20) defines “firearm” as “a weapon or device from which a projectile or projectiles may be fired by an explosive such as gunpowder [but] does not include a flare gun or other pyrotechnic visual distress signaling device, or a powder-actuated tool or other device designed solely to be used for construction purposes.” RCW 9.41.010(40) defines “semiautomatic” as “any firearm which utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fired cartridge case and chamber the next round, and which requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge.” Finally, RCW 9.41.010(37) defines “rifle” as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.” None of these definitions hinge on whether the rifle is center fire or rim fire. Thus, none of these terms exclude rim fire rifles.

            To interpret RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i)-(ii) as excluding rim fire rifles would require reading a qualification into the plain language of the statute that the legislature chose not to include. It

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would also ignore that the legislature expressly limited subsections (iv) and (v) to center fire firearms, but did not so limit subsections (i), (ii), and (iii). Therefore, under the plain and unambiguous language of SHB 1240, a semiautomatic rim fire rifle is an assault weapon if it falls under RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i)-(ii).

            Although your question is answered by the plain language of SHB 1240, we also note that the legislature has used the term “rim fire” elsewhere in RCW 9.41, and, by doing so, has demonstrated that it knows how to specify when a law applies to such devices differently. Specifically, the legislature defines “antique firearm” in relevant part as “a firearm or replica of a firearm not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center fire ignition with fixed ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898 . . . .” RCW 9.41.010(1) (emphasis added). This demonstrates that the legislature knows the difference between center fire and rim fire rifles but has elected not to treat such devices differently in subsections RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(i)-(iii).

            In summary, under the plain and unambiguous language of SHB 1240, a semiautomatic rim fire rifle is an assault weapon subject to the restrictions under RCW 9.41.390 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” per RCW 9.41.010(2)(a)(iii).

            Some comments we received raised or alluded to constitutional issues regarding SHB 1240, both generally and as it relates to rim fire rifles specifically. That issue is beyond the scope of the question presented, and by long practice, our office declines to provide opinions as to the constitutionality of enacted statutes because we often defend the validity of statutes when challenged in court.

            We trust that the foregoing will be useful to you.

  Attorney General

Lauren R. Kirigin
  Assistant Attorney General


[1] Because the question focuses on rifles specifically, the analysis of this opinion is limited to rifles and does not address other types of firearms, such as pistols or shotguns.