What is an assault rifle?
Since the 1930's an assault rifle is fully automatic (select fire) military weapon (one squeeze of the trigger fires multiple bullets). Then in 1988 gun-control activist (Violence Policy Center founder Josh Sugarmann) invented the term "Assault Weapon", to include civilian semi-automatic weapons (one squeeze of the trigger fires one bullet), because it had a few cosmetic features in common with assault rifles, and because the public might not be able to understand the difference. The media and AP immediately went along with the ruse to dupe the public.
The basics differences between an assault weapon and a hunting rifle are the following:
- Is it black plastic or wood. (Collapsable stock is a bonus)
- Absolutely no difference in magazine capacity
- Handles : pistol grips and front grips make it more maneuverable in tight quarters
- They both use the same sights -- but assault weapons have larger accessory rails and make have redundant system (backup flip-up sights, in case the primary breaks).
- Flash Suppressor is slightly more common on assault weapons
- Looks a lot like Assault Rifles (and has controls in the same place, so people trained on the former, can be more comfortable), but it doesn't have select fire or fully automatic or burst modes (no difference in firepower over a hunting rifle).
If you notice, there's no significant differences in round capacity or cartridge strength or rate of fire (combined, those are firepower) with a regular hunting rifle. No difference in accuracy. In fact, the two guns I drew above, are the AR-15 and a Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle precisely because you can put all the same cosmetic accessories on the Ruger, and make it virtually identical in form and function. (You have to be a gun nerd to notice that the charging handle is slightly different). The AR-15 must be stopped, because it's used in virtually zero crimes, and is used infrequently in extremely rare mass shootings (and the shooter would have been more effective if they just brought pistols). Yet, the AR platform is the most popular sporting and hunting rifles in America, and the ignorant want to ban them, because they look like Assault Rifles, and they're too uninformed to know the difference, or what they're asking (or why).
- 1 Assault Weapon: what classifies one?
- 2 So what is an Assault Rifle?
- 2.1 (1) black plastic instead of wood
- 2.2 (2) Firepower
- 2.3 (3) Handles are the #2 differentiator for being an Assault Weapons
- 2.4 (4) Sights are the same on both (what you use to aim)
- 2.5 (5) Flash Suppressor
- 2.6 (6) Bayonet mount
- 2.7 (7) Accessory rails
- 3 Conclusion
Assault Weapon: what classifies one?
Back in 2000's the City of Trenton's Deputy Police Chief, Joseph Constance noted for a Congressional subcommittee that "Assault Weapons" are used in .02% of all crimes (that is 2 in 10,000), and he said that his police officers "had a higher chance of having to deal with an escaped tiger from the local zoo, than with dealing with a hoodlum with an assault weapon". Someone else quipped that they had a greater chance of being run over by a purple bus. It is Trenton, so they did have both of those things happen there before.
Still, when it comes to gun-control, facts and logic need not apply. People see scary looking guns on TV or the movies, and decide their neighbors shouldn't be able to own them: and like when a frat boy takes advantage of a drunken sorority girl, a new law is conceived.
Since the 1930's an assault rifle is fully automatic (select fire) military weapon (one squeeze of the trigger fires multiple bullets). Then in 1988 gun-control activist (Violence Policy Center founder Josh Sugarmann) invented the term "Assault Weapon", to include civilian semi-automatic weapons (one squeeze of the trigger fires one bullet), because it had a few cosmetic features in common with assault rifles, and because the public might not be able to understand the difference. The media and AP immediately went along with the intentional ruse to confuse and dupe the public, because they knew fully-automatic "Assault Rifles" had already been banned (in the 1930's), but they still didn't like the mean-looking guns and wanted to harass law-abiding sports shooters.
And since the anti-gun constituents and legislators usually don't know the first thing about boom-sticks, their laws reflect that. So they just vilify some feature, or make up terms to justify their new laws.
The problem is with Natural rights, as recognized by the Constitution and 2nd Amendment in their way, there's really only two ways they can write these laws (1) too broad (2) too specific.
In the "too specific" cases, they pick on models or features, which means people change brands/models and go around them. And then in the "too broad" category, they fall into a plethora of mistakes: like going after cosmetics that have no functional penalties, or they try to ban functionality, which be challenged (and they always lose) once it gets to the Supreme Court. If they're truly vile humans, they do it full well knowing they're doing it, but it'll take 5-10 years to get it repealed. (A favorite tactic of Kamala Harris types: support illegal laws knowing it'll take decades to get repealed). Their anti-constitutional agenda is more important to them than their oath to the Law/Constitution. This divisiveness puts them against those who care about the law.
So what is an Assault Rifle?
Note the distinction between "Assault Rifle" meaning a military weapon, and "Assault Weapon" meaning any gun that the gun-grabbers don't like, which is all of them, but especially lightweight rifles with black plastic parts on them.
NOTE: By technical definition, an assault weapon would be any weapon you could use for assault, which includes Lime Jell-O. And it helps to remember that assault with any weapon is already a major crime without the need for special bans. But there is a legal classification for "assault weapons", as in what the military uses. The Supreme Court has been very careful to not rule too closely on this, because these weapons are protected by the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment specifically, so they've mostly dodged the issue (to allow the State/Fed more freedom to intrude than they should have). But when they have ruled, it's always ruled that the government is overstepping.
By definition, an assault rifle is primarily things like fully automatic (one squeeze of the trigger delivers multiple rounds). Silencers/suppressors. And some extremely short (and thus less-accurate) guns called SBR's (Short Barreled Rifles). All those are felonies since the 1930's -- at least without expensive permitting, background checks, and so on.
So whenever someone is talking about an "Assault Weapons Ban" referring to Rifle's they're either stupid, or defrauding people -- those have been banned., and it's their responsibility to know that before talking on the issue. What they're trying to do is ban look-a-like's (but not behave a-like's). These aren't actual assault rifles, any more than a Porsche 911 is a formula 1 car, or your stock Mustang is a top-fuel dragster.
So what exactly classifies an assault "weapon" to the legislators? Mostly it's cosmetics. As I showed in my sketch it includes that following:
(1) black plastic instead of wood
Since plastic is lighter, more durable, and cheaper, it's quite a popular material for many sportsman and hunters. Even collapsable stocks make them easier to carry. This is partly how the AR-15's became the most popular sporting and hunting rifle's in America. I've never heard anyone intelligently argue why making a gun out of black plastic, instead of tan or green somehow makes it more lethal, but that's the biggest differentiator between a classic hunting rifle and an "assault rifle" that Pelosi and friends want to legislate away.
The cops are not outgunned, if anyone says that, you know they either don't know what they're talking about or are a liar. The police have more firepower at their disposal and are exempt from assault weapons bans and have been for years! But a good shooter with a bolt action weapon can deliver more bullets on-target than a bad shooter with a machine gun -- so like most things, it is more about training than tools.
Pretending that the "tools" argument is not just a distraction for the real problem (repeat violent criminals on our streets), there are a few ways to measure firepower: magazine capacity, cartridge strength, and rate fire
Hunting Rifles often use the same magazines, or someone can buy or make larger replacements. But guns are designed to be quick to reload, even without magazines. There is exactly one recorded cases of someone successfully charging a mass shooter during reload (even when they had revolvers or break-action shotguns). Even if they didn't have a backup gun (which they usually do), reloads are going to be quicker than you can get to them. This is why whether they had 10 x 10 round magazines, or 1 x 100 rounds, doesn't matter -- other than the 100 round magazines is less reliable, which is why military's don't use them.
Hunting Rifles and assault weapons use the same ammo, and most have the same rate of fire (and often capacity). The most popular rifle is called the AR-15 (short for Armalite, the company that first made it, not Assault Rifle) and it shoots one of the smallest of the centerfire Rifle Rounds available. That makes it cheaper to shoot, easier to carry around, and have less range than many hunting rifles (still good for a couple hundred yards). I included a meme which illustrates the point. But the "firepower" argument is either made by those who don't know what they're talking about, or is an appeal to those who know less.
The last canard is the weakest. The gun-controllers and Fake News (like CNN) will say things like it's "fully semi-automatic", or some such. But they're trying to make a poorly formed complaint against rate of fire: each squeeze of the trigger fires a bullet automatically. This is called semi-automatic, because each pull only fires one round. Automatic or fully automatic is a machine-gun, which means as long as the trigger is held down, it'll keep shooting on it's own.
I wish more mass shooters would use fully automatics, the death tolls would be lower. What happens is that they shoot wildly, the gun climbs, they miss most of their targets, overheat, and run out of ammo much quicker -- this is why our army stopped giving them to most of our troops in the 80's. (They now only have a 3 round burst, not fully automatic). So banning fully autos hasn't done any good (in mass shootings), and probably did more harm than it helped.
The military M16A2 and beyond has single shot and 3 round burst (not fully automatic anymore), for just those reasons -- fully auto is hard to control, and only useful in a few situations like a mass charge by the enemy who is tightly bunched. There might be one automatic weapon per unit, and that's just to deter charges, carried by some unlucky sod that has to lug that thing around.
So what they're talking about is semi-automatics: you have to pull the trigger for each bullet. Not fully automatics, and they want to ban them.
The problem is that the majority of guns manufactured today are gas or recoil powered semiautomatics. So banning them would ban ≈70%(?) of the pistols and rifles used today. The most popular pistol used for competition today is variations of the Browning 1911 .45 ACP, and it is called the 1911 because that was the year it was first manufactured. But if you want to talk about multiple shots without reloading that goes easily back to revolvers (1800's and before), and if you read my article (2nd Amendment was for muskets) it talks about the Puckle gun and various repeaters going back to the 1600's that allowed you to shoot multiple rounds without reloading. So gun controllers, are trying to drive us back to the 1600's, without knowing enough about guns to realize it. And they wonder why the informed or the NRA resists their stupidity?
It doesn't matter if a shooter has a semi-auto, pump, lever, or even bolt action rifle -- the difference in mayhem is negligible. The deadliest American shootings are usually with pistols, or like Charles Whitman / Austin Bell Tower shooting: who killed 16 people with a bolt action hunting rifle. And the only reason he didn't get more, was because a college professor had his hunting rifle in his office and started firing back (which made Charles take cover). So rate of fire hardly matters. The average active shooter kills 3 people over an average of 5 minutes, and doesn't need to reload. 66% of the time it ended before police arrived because, the shooter fled, committed suicide, or a citizen intervened. But even if they do need to reload, in 160 active shooter incidents between 2000-2013, only one was stopped during a reload, and that one was a spontaneous event, with only one gun. (Most are premeditated, with multiple).
Since these bans make no sense for mass shooter crimes, we can also look at general crime. But 99% of generic gun crimes are committed with the cheapest guns possible -- little stolen revolvers. So these assault weapon laws can have no effect on general crimes. And mass shooters are about a dozen a year, with well over 3/4ths of them NOT being an assault rifle. So outlawing "assault weapons" is a way to attack collectors, plinkers and sport shooters, and not effective on either type of criminals at all.
So regulating firepower is a distraction and almost irrelevant -- what matters for the criminal is their ability to hit targets, and what matters most to stop them, is response time. And since 5 minutes is way too short for cops to even get there in most cases, it is either armed guards, armed civilians, or watch people die.
(3) Handles are the #2 differentiator for being an Assault Weapons
For some reason, the antigun people don't like the look of pistol grips on rifles. All rifles have a place for your hand, it is just that if the hand grip is too vertical (instead of slanted) and composite instead of wood, why THEN it is an assault weapon. If you don't think this makes sense, then maybe you will understand why gun "nuts" complain about the laws. Pistol grips and front grips make a rifle more maneuverable in tight quarters, which is why they're liked for some sport shooting.
The assault weapon for WWI, WWII and Korea (basically the M1's), and the M14 from Vietnam, are not usually considered assault rifles because they doesn't have a pistol grip. So real military weapons don't count, but fake military weapons (AR15, in lieu of M16) do count, under the laws. The AK-47 or SKS count, because it has a pistol grip, even though it is often wood. So some started creating hybrid grips, to have the same functionality as a pistol grip, but be part of the stock with a thumb-hole. It got around the law, so the lawmakers started going after it, without any valid reason.
(4) Sights are the same on both (what you use to aim)
Hunting Rifles (and Sniper Rifles) often come with fragile long range optics, and many combat weapons use a short range sights (like a red-dot or laser system) -- the latter being faster in close, but not as good for long range. But those closer range sighting systems, are popular for things like skeet, zombie control and home defense.
(5) Flash Suppressor
Another thing that seems to classify "assault" weapon is the tip of the barrel. Guns create a flash when fired -- so often there is a "flash suppressor". These are vents that let the burning gasses escape out the sides (and shields them a bit from head on) -- thus reducing the flash, if you're being shot at (but can increase the flash to those on the sides of the weapon).
Also the recoil tends to make the barrel push back and "climb" -- as the bullet is pushed forward, and equal and opposite reaction is to push the gun back. Since most barrels are higher than the center-line, there's often some lift ("climb") associated with firing as well. So some flash suppressors cut vents only in the top of the barrel, and that asymmetry in venting means the barrel gets a slight push down "compensating" for the barrel climb. And the vents that point slightly backward work like a "brake" and slow the recoil a little. So you get the term "compensator" or "muzzle brake" for that special kind of flash suppressor.
At long range hunting, Animals (like deer) can move before the bullet gets there (if they happen to be looking your way, and see the flash). And if you're night fighting in a war zone, you don't want snipers or the enemy to see your flash if you're shooting at them. But in urban malls, or where most gun crimes happen, flash suppressors are really just decorative, and serves no purpose at all. And if you want to make a climb compensator, 5 minutes with a hacksaw and slots in the top, or angled tip/vent, will give you the same effect.
So attacking flash suppressors doesn't do anything of value. But it looks "mean", so they outlaw it, knowing it serves no purpose but to annoy collectors, hunters or sport shooters, then they wonder why they and the NRA resist them?
(6) Bayonet mount
There's another optional item that sometimes gets thrown into these legislations: a bayonet mount. California called it out specifically in their legislation.
To give you an idea of the utilitarian value of putting a pointy stick on the end of your rifle, the last bayonet charge by the U.S. military was during the Korean War, and that one was described by Historian S.L.A. Marshall as "the most complete bayonet charge by American troops since Cold Harbor" (aka the civil war). And there's been exactly zero people ever bayonetted in a mass shooting event, or any other robbery or murder, that I could find. So there's almost no utilitarian value in having them since black powder (when you ran out of ammo while charging): it's more for decoration and intimidation. But that doesn't stop legislators for telling collectors they can't have that piece of decoration on their toys.
(7) Accessory rails
Another thing the regulators don't like is accessory rails. These are tracks that allow you to bolt on utilitarian things like flashlights, laser sights, bipods and so on. They're also made of metal or plastic, and often serve the purpose of being integrated into a grip that you can hold. But often, they help define an "assault rifle". Now you can bolt the same accessories to a wood stocked gun: flashlights, extra sights, bipod, or buy built in parts with those accessories integrated. But if you have a convent way of taking them on or off, then that gun must be banned? (Or so the reasoning goes). This is like outlawing roll bars and spoilers because they make your car look more like a race car.
The more gun-controllers go after these cosmetics, or minor utilities, the madder gun owners get. They have some value for sport shooters, and they do nothing to alter the kill ratio of mass shooters or criminals, so regulating them is nothing more than harassment. And this is one of the reasons why groups like the NRA protests most of these bans. Everyone who knows what they're talking about, knows they're stupid. It isn't about safety, it is about capitulation to the collective.
Of course all these bans aren't going to prevent the criminals from getting these weapons -- and crimnals almost never use these guns in crimes anyway. And if criminals want to use "assault" rifle they often just smuggle-in or buy real (fully automatic) assault weapons, or they steal real assault-rifles from the military or even police. They're called criminals for a reason.
Every one of the features that is outlawed as part of these "Assault Weapons" bans, can be readily bought and put on in about 5-15 minutes. So the bans don't slow the bad guys at all, they criminalize gun owners and collectors.
An important thing to note here, is that any semi-automatic weapon, can be made fully automatic. Usually there's a tab or catch, that releases the trigger to keep it from firing fully automatic. In other words it takes parts to make guns NOT fire fully automatic, and sometimes when a semi-automatic fails, that piece wears or breaks and it becomes fully automatic. Most reasonably intelligent people can figure out how to do google searches and modify a weapon, if that's what they want to do. So the laws, really aren't doing anything to stop criminals. And if that's not enough, there are bump stocks, or tricks, where the average person can learn to bump fire rifles or pistols (including revolvers) and get close to the same rate of fire as full automatics. That's why these bans are so useless: you're trying to tell criminals, "here's something you can easily do, but don't do it, or it'll be a crime: unlike the mass murder you're committing".
Imagine you are collector or sport shooter that wants to use the same gun that you were trained on in the military, or compete with military personelle in shooting events using the exact same tools as them (without the fully automatic mode), you must be stopped, we don't want civilians having the same tools as the criminals or Government. This isn't about firepower, or threat to society -- it is about the power of bullies to persecute minorities (Gun owners).
Thugs don't carry $1,500-$3,500 AR-15 into a bank, when a $50 Revolver is much smaller, cheaper and easier to conceal. Bruce Willis Action movies aren't real. Hollywood has sold this false image of thugs with assault weapons, and the most gullible part of the public believes what they see on TV or in the movies, and then wants to legislate based on that ignorance. When there is a mass shooter, and one of the rare ones that has assault weapons, we find that they didn't get the guns legally, and/or they modified them illegally. So you didn't stop or slow them down, you just ignored the rest.
Classification of most things is hard. Where's a car an SUV versus CUV, what's a coupe with 4 doors? What's a laptop computer versus a sub-laptop? So trying to outlaw a sub-laptop as too portable, or a workstation as being too powerful for a home user, makes as much sense as most gun regulations. The reason the gun-controllers want to be able to regulate "assault rifles", is they know they can keep broadening that definition, and misrepresenting it, to try to get rid of all guns. Not that it helps the real problem which is gangs and crime. But if they fixed the real problems, they'd have nothing to appeal to the voters on.
Written: 1999.07.11 Updated: 2015.12.19 Updated: 2016.06.13