There was a lot of good conversation in the blog post I wrote about Gun Rights and Common Sense and one of the recurring questions seemed to be, “What is an assault weapon?”
Let’s explore that a little further shall we?
If you go to Wikipedia here’s what you’ll find about assault rifles, which pretty much stays true to what Earl says above.
An assault rifle is a selective fire (selective between fully automatic, semi-automatic, and burst fire) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and adetachable magazine. It should be distinguished from the US legal term assault weapons. Assault rifles are the standard service rifles in most modern armies. Assault rifles are categorized in terms of using an intermediate cartridge power that is between light machine guns firing full power cartridges, which are intended more for sustained automatic fire in a light support role, and submachine guns, which fire a lower powered pistol cartridge rather than a rifle cartridge. Fully automatic fire refers to an ability for a rifle to fire continuously until the magazine is empty and no rounds remain; “burst-capable” fire refers to an ability of a rifle to fire a small yet fixed multiple number of rounds with but one press of the trigger; in contrast, semi-automatic refers to an ability to fire but one round per press of a trigger. The presence of selective fire modes on assault rifles permits more efficient use of rounds to be fired for specific needs, versus having but a single mode of operation, such as fully automatic, thereby conserving ammunition while maximizing on-target accuracy and effectiveness.
Examples of assault rifles include the StG 44, AK-47, M16 rifle, QBZ-95, INSAS, Heckler & Koch G36, and Enfield SA80.
The assault rifle became the standard military rifle in the post-World War II era. The Soviet Union was the first nation in the post-war era to adopt an assault rifle, the AK-47, and other nations followed later. Combat experience during the World Wars had shown that most infantry combat took place at 200–300 meters (220–330 yards) distance and that the winner of any given firefight would most likely be the one with the highest rate of fire. The rifle cartridges of the day were therefore unnecessarily powerful, producing recoil and report in exchange for marginal benefit. The lower power of the intermediate cartridge meant that each soldier could fire more bullets faster and/or with less recoil and its lighter weight allowed more ammunition to be carried.
So what is an assault weapon? Back to Wikipedia:
Assault weapon refers to different types of firearms, and is a term that has differing meanings and usages.
In discussions about gun laws and gun politics in the United States, an assault weapon is most commonly defined as a semi-automatic firearm possessing certain features similar to those of military firearms. Semi-automatic firearms fire one bullet (round) each time the trigger is pulled; the spent cartridge case is ejected and another cartridge is loaded into the chamber, without the manual operation of a bolt handle, a lever, or a sliding handgrip. An assault weapon has a detachable magazine, in conjunction with one, two, or more other features such as a pistol grip, a folding stock, aflash suppressor, or a bayonet lug. Most assault weapons are rifles, but some are pistols or shotguns. The exact definition of the term in this context varies among each of the various jurisdictions that limit or prohibit assault weapon manufacture, importation, sale, or possession, and legislative attempts are often made to change the definitions. Governing and defining laws include the now-expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban, as well as state and local laws. Whether or not assault weapons should be legally restricted more than other firearms, how they should be defined, and even whether or not the term “assault weapon” should be used at all, are questions subject to considerable debate.
The term “assault weapon” is sometimes conflated with the term “assault rifle“. An assault rifle is a military rifle that utilizes an intermediate-power cartridge, and that generally is capable of full-automatic fire, where multiple rounds are fired continuously when the trigger is pulled one time, or burst capable, where a burst of several rounds is fired when the trigger is pulled one time. In the United States, full-automatic firearms are heavily restricted, and regulated by federal laws such as the National Firearms Act of 1934, as well as some state and local laws.
The term “assault weapon” is highly controversial. Critics assert that the term is a media invention, or a term that is intended to cause confusion among the public by intentionally misleading the public to believe that assault weapons (as defined in legislation) are fully automatic firearms when they are not.
It’s a moving target and it’s hard to nail down. I’ve got to admit I wasn’t sure what it was either until I went looking.
Assault Weapon or Rifle Confusion
When I got out of the Corps back in the mid-80’s I was pretty good with my M-16 a2 assault rifle. Then I went out into the civilian world and a friend handed me an AR-15 and I field stripped it down exactly the same way I did my M-16.
The only difference I could see is that it didn’t have the 3 round burst selector switch on it, which if you think about it is a pretty small difference.
To be fair I can understand why people who don’t shoot, own guns, or aren’t exposed to them lump these types of weapons all into one big – let’s call them assault guns for the sake of argument – assault gun category. (In the military a gun is actually a howitzer, but allow me to temporarily change the meaning here.) They don’t care if it’s fully automatic, capable of three round burst, or just goes bang every time you pull the trigger. To them it’s an “assault gun.”
If it looks dangerous and fires bullets very fast it’s an “assault gun”. That’s all they care about.
Thus, people tend to use the two interchangeably when in fact those of us that do shoot or own fire arms get upset because we know they’re different. It’s like someone looking at a race car and saying, “That’s the same thing as my Toyota.” On the surface they may share some similarities such as four tires, windshield, hood, etc, but underneath the motor, suspension, tires, etc, are very different.
Anyway, what are your thoughts on this topic? Questions? Comments?
Sound off below!