How Do We Define An Assault Weapon? However You Want To Define It.

Now that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community appears to have come together to push for a ban on assault rifles, and Herr Donald Schumck-o has decided that anyone over the age of 18 should be able to walk into a gun shop and purchase said product, maybe it’s time to figure out how and when the term ‘assault rifle’ should be used.

AR              According to Gun-nut Nation, there’s no such thing as an ‘assault rifle,’ at least not anything that can get into the hands of any law-abiding gun owner, unless he’s willing to plunk down $200 for a Treasury-NFA tax stamp and wait a few months for the purchase to be approved. This is because gun purists have decided that the term ‘assault rifle’ can only be applied to fully-automatic weapons, since the term first applied to a German sub-machine gun, the ‘Sturmgewehr,’ that was issued to German troops near the end of World War II.

Now the fact that this particular design first appeared in a gun issued to Russian troops during the Battle of Stalingrad makes little difference to those gun-history experts who pliantly craft their narratives to fit the marketing needs of the NSSF and the NRA. But why let facts get in the way of whatever nonsense you want to peddle, particularly when you can tie your spiel to something that will protect their 2nd-Amdnement ‘rights?’

The first time the term ‘assault weapon’ appeared in legislation was the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, the assault-weapon ban that became law in California, passed following the gunning down of five immigrant school-children in 1989. And here’s the critical wording of the actual law which needs to be understood today: “a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”

Now the good news about this bill was that it made an explicit distinction between weapons designed to be used against human beings, as opposed to weapons designed for hunting and sport. The bad news is that the law didn’t explicitly define such terms as ‘high rate of fire,’ and ‘capacity for firepower,’ which opened the Pandora’s box of how to define an ‘assault weapon’ that remains open to the present day. Instead of defining these terms and then banning any weapon which met these definitions, the law listed over 50 specific banned guns, and added some silly language about various cosmetic doo-dads (collapsible stock, flash hider, etc.) which don’t really change a gun’s lethality in any particular way.

When the Feds put together their AWB in 1994, they borrowed the list of California-banned guns, included the various design features but dropped any reference to lethality; i.e., no mention of ‘high rate of fire’ or ‘capacity’ at all. This opened the door for Gun-nut Nation to claim that since no semi-automatic rifle can shoot faster than the speed at which the shooter pulls the trigger, there is no real difference between an AR-15 and any other kind of semi-automatic gun. In fact, the 1994 AWB, a creation of Chuck Schumer by the way, said absolutely nothing about why the law was needed beyond this statement in the Introduction to the bill: “To make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons.”  Period. That’s all she (or he) wrote.

I don’t want to predict whether an AWB has any chance of becoming law. But the GVP still needs to come up with a comprehensive and accepted definition of an ‘assault weapon,’ a definition not based on what the gun looks like, but what it’s designed to do; namely, to kill and injure as many human beings as quickly as you can. And anyone who denies that this is how and why assault weapons are used will also believe that Mexico is going to pay for the wall.



An Assault Weapon Is An Assault Weapon Is An Assault Weapon. It’s Time To Put This Argument To Sleep.

dallas            In the aftermath of the terrible events in Dallas, the argument has once again erupted over the definition of an ‘assault rifle,’ because the early but unconfirmed reports identified the shooter’s gun as an AR, but some unofficial statements referred to the rifle as an SKS.  Now in fact both guns were originally designed for military use, but the SKS, generally speaking, has a fairly modest ammunition capacity, whereas the AR generally comes with hi-cap mags.  But once President Obama said the magic words yesterday about how the shooter used a gun that was “not intended for city streets,” then Gun-nut Nation went into an immediate rant about how the gun used in Dallas was nothing other than a semi-automatic, top-loading rifle which is just like any other modern, sporting gun.

Since I can’t play golf on a rainy, Saturday afternoon, and in the interests of helping my GVP friends to understand the ins and outs of the assault rifle debate, here is a picture of a standard, assault rifle which can be found and purchased in just about every location that sells guns.  It can also be acquired in most states via a private transaction, and can also carried openly in places like Texas and a few other dumb states.


This gun, plus or minus a few other attachments, is what is generally considered to be an ‘assault rifle’ or an ‘assault weapon,’ for the simple reason that when the Feds declared a ten-year ban on such guns back in 1994, a gun fell into the prohibited category if it had a detachable magazine and two of five of the other design features numbered #1, #5, #7 or #8.  If it didn’t have at least two of those design features it could still be manufactured and sold, as long as the detachable magazine only contained a maximum of 10 rounds. The magazine limitation applied to magazines that were used in handguns as well.

When the ban on assault weapons expired in 2005, Gun-nut Nation struck back with a vengeance, not only greasing its Congressional friends to vote against an extension of the ban, but also starting up a loud campaign to rid the American lexicon, particularly the shooting lexicon, of using the word ‘assault’ at all.  And this campaign took the form of declaring that, by definition, ‘assault’ weapons had nothing to do with civilian, sporting guns because the former were automatic weapons that were prohibited from civilian use.  Additionally, any semi-automatic rifle (one trigger pull – one round fires) was a ‘sporting’ gun because, because, duh, Gun-nut Nation declared it to be a sporting gun.  Period. End of debate.

Know this: The campaign to promote ownership of AR rifles by rebranding them as ‘modern sporting’ anything is totally and completely full of crap.  Because it doesn’t really matter whether my friend Dianne Feinstein gets it right or wrong when she refers to ‘automatic guns.’  It doesn’t matter whether AR rifles ‘only’ figure in 1% of all the shooting deaths each year that involve the use of guns. It doesn’t even matter whether the Dallas shooter used an AR or an SKS.  The real issue, the only issue in the argument about assault weapons is how we understand the word ‘assault.’

Because guns like the AR or the SKS, even if they can only fire in semi-automatic mode, weren’t designed to go after Bambi in the woods or knock Big Bird out of a tree.  They were designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that was to kill human beings, and to kill as many humans as many times as the trigger of those guns can be pulled.  So why should we allow Gun-nut Nation to set the terms of the debate for determining the lethality of this gun or that?  Remember, they believe that it’s the people who are lethal, not the guns.  Tell that one to the families of the dead cops in Dallas whose dear ones were killed with a legally-purchased gun.