There Are Assault Rifles and Then There Are “Assault Rifles”

By , January 4, 2013 9:30 am

Dear reader, this rifle:


Is not the same as this rifle:

(Note the owner’s discussion of his rifle; unfortunately, what to him looks “cool,” to others looks scary.):


Wouldn’t it be more honest and wouldn’t it lead to more productive debate on the important gun control issue if we referred to actual assault rifles as, you know, assault rifles and mock “assault rifles” as, well, mock assault rifles? Or look-alike assault rifles or pretend assault rifles or fake assault rifles or __________ (fill in the blank) assault rifles?

Our military uses assault rifles. People who hunt or shoot recreationally do not. The dweebs, schmucks, twits, wackos who shoot up schools and theaters also do not use actual assault rifles. They use the pretend, the mock, the look-alike variety. And that variety is not automatic. It is not a machine gun. It shoots one bullet per trigger pull. Actual automatic rifles and machine guns have been well-regulated and basically outlawed for personal use (with very minor exceptions) since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The Wikipedia** entry on assault rifles, provides the following definition of an assault rifle, the type of rifle our men and women in uniform use in battle:

An assault rifle is a selective fire (either fully automatic or burst-capable) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine.

Wikipedia then list 5 criteria a rifle must meet to qualify as an assault rifle:

In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
-It must be an individual weapon with provision to fire from the shoulder (i.e. a buttstock);
-It must be capable of selective fire;
-It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle;
-Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable magazine rather than a feed-belt.
-And it should at least have a firing range of 300 meters (1000 feet) (emphasis supplied)

The key element for my purposes is “It must be capable of selective fire“; that is, the shooter must be able to change from fully automatic mode to semi-automatic or “burst-capable” mode, essentially by a flick of a switch on the gun.

Now here’s the important part: the AR-15 used at Sandy Hook and the guns used at the Aurora, Colorado, theater and at Columbine and at the mass shootings elsewhere, by this definition were not assault rifles. They had only one mode: semi-automatic, which means that each pull on the trigger results in just one shot. Yes, I realize that trigger pulls don’t take a lot of time, but that’s another argument. For now, I’m just trying to define one term of this important debate.

So why is the term “assault rifle” and its cousin “assault weapon” bandied about so cavalierly? Well, we have Congress and the the gun control lobby (and a less than vigilant and sometimes cheerleading media) to thank for that. In 1994 Congress, with the help of the gun control lobby, enacted the Assault Weapons Ban. According to Wikipedia:

In United States politics and law, “assault weapons” are usually defined in legislation as semi-automatic firearms that have certain features generally associated with military firearms, including assault rifles. Some definitions in “assault weapon” legislation are much broader to the point of including the majority of firearms, e.g. to include all semi-automatic firearms or all firearms with detachable magazines. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired on September 13, 2004, codified the definition of an assault weapon. It defined the rifle type of assault weapon as a semiautomatic firearm with the ability to accept a detachable magazine and two or more of the following:
-a folding or telescoping stock
-a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
-a bayonet mount
-a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor
-a grenade launcher (emphasis supplied)

Note the absence of the “selective fire” element. Folks, I repeat: We’re talking about weapons here that fire just one bullet each time you pull the trigger.

So, by a simple sleight of hand, Congress took a weapon that is really no different than most hunting rifles in its essential mechanics and turned it into one that general public thinks must be the same type of rifle our military uses in Afghanistan–simply by hanging the word “assault” around its neck.

Again, my purpose in this post is not to debate gun control. My purpose is to define terms fairly and accurately, so that when we participate in the debate, we use terms accurately and thereby actually communicate.

Now if the media would just pitch in.

**Yes, I know that Wikipedia has its problems as a reliable source; however, I chose to use it here because it is easily accessible and because the discussion seems fairly balanced.

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