The Truth About Assault Weapons and Assault Weapons Bans

Thanks to last night’s little cage match, there’s now renewed talk of an “Assault Weapons Ban,” and before people start making wild statements about firearms and their uses, I wanted to step in and try to give a little context to that term. What exactly is an “Assault Weapon?” Are they really all that dangerous? And is an Assault Weapons Ban going to be effective? Just like everything else we publish here, I won’t be pulling any punches . . .

Sometime after World War II, the powers that be started investing in the production of smaller, lighter, higher capacity firearms than those used during the war. Bolt action firearms like the Mosin Nagant m1891/30 and semi-automatic battle rifles like the M1 Garand were sufficient for earlier conflicts, but with the advent of the machine gun and submachine guns, the need for increased firepower in the hands of the individual soldier was fairly apparent.

The designers wanted something that combined the best features of both of those categories — something small enough to carry like a submachine gun, but with the firepower of a full size machine gun. The eventual design that came from all that was what’s now being called the assault rifle.

The term “assault rifle” comes from the literal translation of the name given to the first weapon that fit the definition. The MP-44, or Sturmgewehr as it was dubbed by Adolf Hitler (literally “assault rifle” in German), was a rifle designed by the Nazis in 1944 that delivered the firepower of a machine gun in a man-portable sized package.

The two main features that contributed to the benefit of the firearm on the battlefield were select fire capability and a detachable magazine.

Select fire gave the soldier the ability to either fire a single round of ammo when they pressed the trigger (called “semi-automatic” fire) or fire continuously until the soldier took his finger off the trigger or the gun ran out of ammunition (“fully automatic” fire). This enabled the soldier to either place a single precise shot on target like with the common battle rifles of the day or spray lead, providing a “weight of fire” that was intended to keep the enemy from advancing or taking action.

A detachable magazine gave the soldier the ability to fire longer and quickly replenish the firearm (a magazine is a mechanical device that feeds ammunition into a firearm, often incorrectly referred to as a “clip”). Previous firearms like the M1 Garand only held 8 rounds in an internal magazine that was relatively slow to reload.

But detachability gave the soldier the ability to use a larger 20 or 30 round mag that could be exchanged when empty for a full one in just a couple of seconds. The extended capacity allowed the soldiers to fire continuously for longer, and the ability to quickly change the magazine allowed them to replenish their ammunition supply and keep firing for extended periods of time.

The two most popular designs to be adapted from the MP-44 for use by the modern military were the AK-47 or Avtomat Kalashnikova (automatic rifle Kalashnikov) developed by a team led by Mikhail Kalashnikov and including features from other similar projects of the time, and the M-16 designed by Eugene Stoner. Both were based on the MP-44 design and included select fire capability and took detachable magazines, but the manner in which they accomplished that was very different.

Naturally, while these weapons were originally intended for military use, just like every other firearm designed before them, they were adapted for sale on the civilian market. However, in the United States, the firearms being sold were subject to the National Firearms Act of 1934 and were generally sold without the ability to fire in full-auto mode. Those that were sold to civilians with the fully automatic option still operational were registered under the National Firearms Act and are still tracked by the ATF to this day. They only pass from one owner to the next after a thorough anal exam background check and ATF approval.

NOTE: There have been only two murders ever committed with a legally owned fully automatic machine gun, one by a police officer in 1988 and the other in 1994. No murders have been committed since then.

Once these rifles started to gain popularity with both the military and the civilian shooting population, the mechanical improvements that made them possible began to be implemented in other firearms designs — firearms with fixed, relatively small capacity magazines now had the same basic operating mechanism as an AK-47 running the firearm, for example. And the military firearms began to be adopted and modified to do everything from deer and hog hunting to target shooting.

These days, the AR-15 design (the civilian version of the M-16) is one of the most popular firearm designs in the United States. The reason for that is not its high magazine capacity or its rate of fire, but its modularity. The rifle is the firearms equivalent of a Lego set — it can be changed, reconfigured and tweaked very easily by the end user to exactly suit their use. For everything from short range target shooting to hunting to long range precision shooting, the AR-15 can be quickly modified to suit that role.

As the features of the MP-44 and its derivatives began to filter into other firearms designs, the public wanted a term that could encompass all of these designs into a single class of firearm for the purposes of discussion. Using the original “Sturmgewehr” name of the first such weapon as a base, the term that has generally been used to describe firearms of this type has become “assault weapon.” The term only started appearing in 1989, 25 years after the first civilian AR-15 went on sale, and was first coined by a gun control advocacy group.

Of course, the adoption of this term has been fought tooth and nail by those who legally own and enjoy these guns, as the word “assault” carries a negative connotation and colors the way in which these firearms are viewed. The rising term that has become more acceptable among such populations is “modern sporting rifle” since the mechanics of these types of firearms have been adopted into almost every new firearm being produced and used today and these types of firearms are currently the most popular design of rifle in the US.

While the ability to fire in full-auto mode is generally not available to civilians, the fact is that the detachable mags still allow them to fire longer without reloading. And semi-automatic allows the gun to be fired as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. These two facts have raised some alarm — particularly among the anti-gun community — with some concerned that the features of these weapons enable someone to commit a “mass shooting” like the recent one in Aurora, Colorado.

The desire to keep these weapons out of the hands of people who intend to do harm to innocent civilians is one that’s shared by both sides of the gun control debate. However, the manner in which that should be accomplished differs greatly. While those who are generally termed “pro-gun” believe the current system of background checks for firearms purchases required by the Brady bill for every sale of a firearm from a gun store is sufficient, there’s a vocal minority generally referred to as the “gun control advocates” who believe the only solution to keeping these weapons out of the hands of evil people is a nation-wide ban of their sale and manufacture.

That option is known as an “Assault Weapons Ban,” and has some issues.

As soon as you start trying to define exactly what constitutes an assault weapon, you start getting into some thick weeds. Assault weapons don’t have a single defining feature that puts a firearm into this category.

The defining features of a true assault rifle are the ability to accept detachable magazines and the ability to fire either semi-automatic or fully-automatic. But the number of firearms in civilian hands with select fire capability are statistically insignificant and detachable magazines are now a standard feature of many slow firing guns. Just like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity, most people tend to define firearms in this category using the “I know it when I see it” test. But while that might work for pornography, when legally categorizing a firearm, more objective definitions are required.

When the original national “Assault Weapons Ban” was enacted in 1994, the following criteria were used to determine prohibited guns:

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  •     Folding or telescoping stock
  •     Pistol grip
  •     Bayonet mount
  •     Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to  accommodate one
  •     Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).

Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  •     Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
  •     Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor
  •     Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
  •     Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more
  •     A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm.

Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

  •     Folding or telescoping stock
  •     Pistol grip
  •     Fixed capacity of more than 5 rounds
  •     Detachable magazine.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Because the actual defining feature of an assault rifle is generally absent (full auto), the politicians decided to base their definition on a set of cosmetic features that generally had no impact on the operation of the firearm. Weapons banned under this “Assault Weapons Ban” or AWB were no more dangerous that weapons legally permitted under the AWB…they just looked scarier.

Another issue raised with an AWB is determining if it will actually be effective. The entire point of such a ban is to reduce the number of fatalities and improve the quality of life, but it only makes sense if these types of firearms are actually being used in crimes. Thankfully, the National Institute of Justice published a report in 2003 as the ’94 AWB was getting ready to expire that indicated that assault weapons accounted for, on average, 2% of firearms used in crimes [source], with the highest estimates at no more than 13%. Of those, the vast majority were assault pistols rather than rifles, which are handguns with some of the features listed above.

In reality, the AWB was fueled more by fear and the political desire to “do something” than by fact. A mass murder or attack with an assault weapon, as defined, is what we in the risk analysis business call a “low probability, high consequence” event. One where it will probably never ever happen to you, but it will suck if it does. This is the same reaction we have to every mass shooting, and one I talked about at great length here. It’s an emotional reaction that is disproportionate to the actual risk posed by the situation.

So-called assault rifles are the most popular design for firearms in the country. They’re used for everything from hunting to target shooting to competitions. “Assault weapons” account for somewhere between 2% and 13% of all guns used in crimes, the overwhelming majority being handguns. And distinguishing between a modern hunting rifle and a “military style assault weapon” as these have been called by gun controllers is almost impossible.

In other words, an Assault Weapons Ban would be an ineffective deterrent to crime, detrimental to the economy in terms of manufacturing and hunting and almost impossible to enforce given the ability to change firearms designs to circumvent regulations.

Or, put bluntly, it sucks. And that’s the truth.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

74 Responses to The Truth About Assault Weapons and Assault Weapons Bans

  1. avatarDavid W. says:

    You should really send this in to any and all news websites that accept public editorials or whatever the MSM calls them.

    People should know what they are doing. The simple fact that an “illegal assault weapon” is only illegal because it can be adjusted to fit a small woman or a giant line backer with the push of a release is just wrong.

    • avatarBLAMMO says:

      Yes, an excellent primer for the layperson. Almost nothing most of us didn’t already know, but a real edumucation for journalists who use terms like “high-powered automatic assault weapons”, “heavy weapons”, “high-capacity clips”, “shoulder thing that goes up”, etc.

  2. avatarSkinnedknuckles says:

    Great review. I plan to print it out to give to people I know who believe an AWB is a useful thing. Can readers have permission to forward this to their elected representatives?

  3. avatarBrian says:

    Good job. You guys have a pretty good feel for knowing when folks who may not be “gun folks” might be googling around given current events. You also do a good job of cutting through the lingo we often use that would confuse newbies while not talking down to them. I repeat: Good job!

    • avatarfred says:

      +10 ! TTAG is a great resource I check daily for my own education, that I feel comfortable passing on to friends and relatives who need same, without fear they will get a bad impression. Unfortunately, there’s too many other online places where I cant feel same confidence in the restraint of members or hosts.

    • avatarThe Anti Fox says:

      I used to hunt with a .22 and 410 when I was a teenager. I also did target practice and did quite well. A lot has changed since then and I got caught up in other things. I’m not anti-gun, but the amount of gun violence, and in particular, the trend involving mass shootings, where the shooters are using the weapon for the traditional definition provided. I know, technically, not automatic weapons, but the intent was.

      As gun enthusiasts, I suspect you draw the line at 20 kids, 6&7 yrs old, taking 2-11 rounds each in 2 minutes. I mean, who would support that? So let’s not get bogged down in the definition. Let’s focus on what the weapon can do in a 2 minute time frame, and what uses that capacity supports. Using those statistics got me to thinking.

      What other purpose, other than mowing down mass numbers of human beings, would anyone need a weapon that could kill multiple targets, each with multiple rounds, in two minutes? Not a good application for hunting, unless you want to quarter your deer with your rifle. Not really good for home protection – imagine letting that much lead fly through your home, and perhaps your neighbors home, as you try to hit a running target? One that ran past your daughters room. Even a precision, single shot weapon, used by a trained marksman could result in your daughters death. Slewing 30 rounds, in rapid fire, inside your home isn’t good use of your weapon unless you are OK with taking out members of your family. Not to mention the rounds that go out of your home, hitting neighbors in their sleep.

      So, how about we focus on the capacity of the weapon to kill humans rapidly. The ones used in nearly all mass shootings.

      Who can tell me why they need a gun that supports 30 round clips, capable of quick replacement, for any other purpose than killing multiple humans, quickly? If used for defense, please tell me how you eliminate casualties of friendly fire?

      Example of an assault weapon – one that can kill 20 kids, each with 2-11 rounds each in their tiny bodies, in 2 minutes. Killing 12 and hitting 58 in less than 10 minutes – hard to do with the traditional handgun or hunting rifle, right?

      So let’s get sensible. No one wants to take away guns from hunters, those who shoot at ranges, or for home defense. Let’s focus on the capacity of a gun to kill humans per minute.

      • Your argument is one that focuses on shock value and emotion, trying to put these graphic images in our heads. It is not surprising though, considering the gun control argument is based on emotion and misinformation.

        In terms of self-defense, AR-15s and other so-called “assault weapons” were used many times by Korean business owners during the L.A. Riots in 1991. They provided the firepower needed to fend off the mobs of people attempting to loot their stores. These civilian “assault weapons” are useful in situations where mobs of people may come after my family or myself. Social breakdown is possible anywhere. Just look at places ravaged by Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. The intensity of the devastation was unexpected. Businesses and homes looted in New York City, and because Bloomberg has banned the carrying of a gun in public, the people are all but defenseless.

        For home defense, let me replace your hypothetical situation with my own. I would have my house and other security measures set up in a way that I was in complete control of the situation. In the event that a criminal would break into my house, I would use an AR-15 and frangible bullets (bullets designed to break apart upon impact) to reduce over-penetration. I would also use the modular capacity of the AR design to add lasers and a flashlight to decrease the chance of a missed shot. I would have my children’s’ rooms placed in such a way that they would be out of my line of fire. Hell, I may even bulletproof my walls. The .223 cartridge, while it is more powerful than a handgun, may take more than one shot to take down a determined, armed thug, and if I’ve got four or five armed thugs attempting to rob my house or rape my hypothetical daughter, I want to have the most ammunition possible and the best hand to neutralize the threat and protect the most important aspects of my life. An AR-15 would provide the defense I need. Yes, need.

        You say AR-15s are not useful for self-defense? Then why do you see all the police carrying them on news footage at Sandy Hook? In Sandy Hook, and all of the cases like it, the police are carrying these “assault weapons,” even though they are defensive situations. I support proper, highly encouraged training with firearms for all law-abiding citizens. Normal citizens and the police all face the same threats, albeit police are more inclined to put themselves right in that line of fire through the conditions of law enforcement. Nevertheless, police carry “assault weapons,” because coming against an unknown threat requires the best defense possible. I would like to have the best defense against unknown threats as well. My family’s lives and my own life are worth that much.

        While burglaries and home invasions are somewhat rare in the big picture, so are school shootings. But I am more likely to be faced with a semi-rare burglary or home invasion personally, than an extremely rare school shooting or workplace/theater/whatever-else shooting. And if I were to enter one of those situations, I should have the right to defend myself no matter where I am, no more of than “gun free (killing) zone” crap, that only disarms law-abiding citizens and creates a target for criminals. I am willing to take the responsibility of accidents that affect my family, because I can control that. I cannot, however, control a criminal’s actions.

        Although, I’ve explained my position on the utility of so-called “assault weapons” in the hands of the average person, I really do not need to, because the burden of proof is on you. In America, we have, let’s call it a default setting of liberty. Freedoms are limited only if there is evidence that limiting that freedom would effectively provide a better quality of life for Americans without infringing on our Constitutional Rights. If our government Overwhelmingly believes that the Constitution does not fit the current standards of our nation, they can amend it. Therefore, it is your responsibility to provide evidence that a ban on “assault weapons” weapons would improve mine, as well as most other Americans lives without infringing upon our rights.

        So let’s stop and think, would an “assault weapons” ban have stopped this attack? No, considering there is already an “assault weapons” ban in place in Connecticut, and it did not stop this attack. The AR-15 used by the shooter was legal under the Connecticut law. But that’s just one state, so would a national ban have stopped this attack? Doubt it, considering we had one in place for 10 years, during which time the Columbine Massacre (the model after which most other mass shootings are based) and the North Hollywood Shootout occurred.

        Maybe the ban should cover more guns? Now would this help? Let’s ban all AR-15s, AK clones, semi-automatic handguns, anything that resembles a military firearm and fits your killing of “humans per minute rule.” According to all proposed legislation, the “assault weapons” ban will not require citizens to turn in their guns, so despite the ban all these guns are still out there, but no more can be produced. A psycho could still get a hold of one and kill innocent people. And considering many, if not most, handguns out there are semi-automatic and hold more than 10 rounds, this could possibly be a violation of 2nd Amendment rights, which the Supreme Court has agreed allows us, as law-abiding citizens, the individual exercise of self-defense through bearing arms, which make an outright ban on handguns unconstitutional.

        Disregarding any possible violation of 2nd Amendment rights, let’s just take all guns listed in the ban away from the law-abiding citizens. Force them to turn in the guns or face felony charges. Here we run into an infringement on our 4th Amendment rights to protect us against “illegal search and seizure,” and possibly “ex-post facto” laws well. The government now has the right to take away private property, because it has deemed it a hazard. All this to prevent an extremely rare event in the broad scheme of things without evidence to back-up whether or not it will prevent it. Criminals still have access to “assault weapons” through the black market or even stealing from military installations(which has been done) and citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights are eroded. Psychos can still use any other weapons they can think of, whether it be a car used to mow down a crowd of people, or a plane used to crash into a building, a homemade bomb used to blow up a building or crowd of people, a homemade flamethrower or Molotov cocktail to burn innocent people in a crowded theatre or elementary school classroom alive. Not to mention the number of handguns with magazine capacities less than 10-rounds, revolvers, lever-action rifles, and pump-action shotguns still available to the public and potentially the psychos. These guns are still capable of killing large numbers of people given the right circumstances, such as a gun-free zone in an area where police presence is minimal.

        “Assault weapon” bans are ineffective and unconstitutional. They only limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. Criminals and crazies are always around, and they will always kill.

        So what is a good plan, how do we limit this violence?

        Start with increased security in public schools, and fostering the moral development of children as they are raised, both in school and at home, rather than a do-whatever-you-want type attitude. Increase the funding of mental health institutions. Revive institutionalization that was removed during the 60’s. Make an effort to include mentally unstable and psychotic people in the background checks. Encourage children to develop social relationships rather than numb their brains with violent entertainment. Abolish all the “gun-free zones” that create shooting galleries for criminals.

        This issue is complex and banning certain kinds firearms will not solve it, but only serve to increase the problem. A ban is only a quick fix that fails to address the underlying societal problems, and is destined to fail.

        “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

        • avatarLolinski says:

          Trust me when I say a “assault weapon” is useful many people here in Bosnia are alive because they either bought, salvaged or smugled a weapon. They did this because the UN thinks similarily to you and imposed an arms embargo which made it even easier for the chetniks to commit mass murders.

          PS: This is meant as a response to The Anti Fox.

      • avatarJ Madison says:

        I will answer your question about why a so-called assault weapon is needed: To protect our freedoms and Constitution from an increasingly despotic,intrusive, heavy handed government. PERIOD

      • avatarBob says:

        Your use of the term “gun violence” is disingenuous and intentionally misleading to promote your agenda.

        Do I really need to point this out for you? “Gun violence”? Really? Can you point to me out exactly how a gun becomes violent?

        People are violent. See? Makes sense, doesn’t it.

        Do you throw terms around like “knife violence”, or “baseball bat violence”, or “hand violence”, or “foot violence” (hands and feet account for more deaths than so-called “assault rifles”).

        Didn’t think so.

      • avatarFirstShirt says:

        Maybe I’m alone in this thought of why we citizens have a right to keep and bear arms. I believe that we have the absolute God-given right to have the type of weapons you so artfully describe as being able to kill 20 kids, each with 2-11 rounds each in their tiny bodies, in 2 minutes.

        Of course, what you artfully dodge is the true reason you and I have an inalienable right to keep and bear arms. That is our ability to resist a tyrannical government that always turns to mass murder. Please stop by your library and research exactly how many unarmed human beings were brutally killed by their own federal government in the Twentieth Century. You can stop at 20 million if you wish.

        Please rethink your idea that guns only apply to hunting deer, squirrels, and rabbits.

      • avatarRich Grise says:

        I guess you missed the part where the shootings took place in a so-called “gun-free” zone.

        That’s right, it’s “gun control” that killed those kids.

      • avatarTexasJester says:

        You forgot the most important part of the equation – the HUMAN holding the “assault weapon”. The weapon didn’t kill those kids; the HUMAN using the TOOL did.

        A firearm is a TOOL – just as a hammer, crowbar, candlestick holder, knife, car, etc. Do we ban hammers because someone uses one to bash in a skull? How about candlestick holders – a favorite weapon in mystery stories?

        Now let’s focus a bit on the HUMAN element: This particular human had mental issues, and was being treated with psychotropic drugs – as was EVERY OTHER MASS SHOOTER (except Fort Hood – that was a terrorist act). These drugs have a nasty side effect – homicidal and suicidal tendencies. Next, the kid KILLED HIS OWN MOTHER to get the weapons. he then entered a “gun-free zone” to commit his heinous crime. If he had used a semi-auto pistol, he could have inflicted similar damage, if he had the extra magazines – only takes a couple seconds to change a magazine.

        I once saw a video of a guy shooting 20 rounds from an AR-15, then 20 rounds in 2 magazines loaded with 10 rounds, switching magazines in the middle, to show the time difference in target acquisition, aim, and fire. It took less than a second longer. Smaller magazines don’t slow people down.

        Put emotions aside and look at the human element in these shootings; stop focusing on the TOOL used.

  4. avatarGreg Camp says:

    The problem here is illustrated by the woman’s question last night. She referred to AK-47s. The knucklehead in Aurora used an AR-15, not that the undecided questioner would know the difference. The people who want control don’t know the subject, have no interest in learning it, and want to ban what makes them nervous.

    • Agreed. The few state AWBs that are out there also ban certain guns by name, such as an “AK-47″ or “AR-15.” So in NJ you can buy a Ruger 5.56, but not a Colt AR-15 because that name contains the banned gun name, but their essentially the same thing. There shouldn’t be silly blanket restrictions by name. If there is an AWB it should consist of anything beyond fully automatic, and the things that kill indiscriminately like grenades and bombs.

  5. avatarAlan says:

    Thank you.

  6. avatarTim says:

    One point of clarification, the literal translation of Sturmgewehr is “storm rifle”, not “assault rifle”. Sturm is “storm” in German.

    If the Germans wanted to name it an “assault rifle” they would have named it the Angriffgewehr. :D

    • avatarNot Your Mother says:

      I’d expect that from you. Nice addition.

    • avatarMr. Grimm says:

      That’s true, but in military terms ‘to storm’ is usually taken to mean to attack (assault) a location, i.e. to take a fort by storm or to storm that machine-gun nest, etc.

      • avatarGyufygy says:

        Seems like an example of the imperfection of translations, even between two related languages.

      • avatarTim says:

        True, storm is a synonym for assault in this context. However, a word does exist for “assault” in German. So my point stands, if the Germans wanted to name the StG.44 “assault rifle” they would have named it the angriffgewehr and not the sturmgewehr.

        Conversely, if we were simply taking the Germans lead and using a literal translation of their name, we would have named assault rifles “storm rifles” instead.

        Nick said the literal translation of strumgewehr was “assault rifle” and I wanted to clarify that point by offering the correction it in fact means “storm rifle”.

        • avatarCurzen says:

          Stuermen is synonymous with Angreifen in German with the most contextually appropriate English translation being Assault when talking about a Sturmgewehr.

          If you look it up in a dictionary you will also find that it is a literal translation, as an example the literal counter-translation for assault to German are: Angriff, Anschlag, Koerperverletzung, Sturmangriff, taetliche Beleidigung, Taetlichkeit, Ueberfall, Uebergriff. And then you due to context decide which one is the most appropriate literal translation to use.

          source: 30 years in Germany.

        • avatarheavy says:

          Tim, “storm” and “Sturm” are 100% synonyms in English and German, respectively. The Germans used the word “Sturm” with rifles and troops because it meant assault, not because it meant bad weather. You may be referring to the word “Angriff” as a synonym for assault, but that’s more “attack” than “assault.” Fact is that “assault rifle” is in fact a 100% translation of “Sturmgewehr.”

          I’d like to add that there really is no ambiguity in the translation. I’m a citizen and native speaker in both countries.

        • avatarGyufygy says:

          Putting aside how much of a nerd this makes me look like and off the off-topic, I wonder if the “Storm” in “Storm Bolters” from Warhammer 40k is a reference to sturmgewehr: medium range, high rate of fire. Random gaming geek thought.

        • avatarTim says:

          Thanks to our resident German speakers for clarification.

        • avatarheavy says:

          Tim, love your channel and have learned tons from it. Glad to return the favor in some small way.

      • avatarMr. Grimm says:

        I guess its a matter of the intent of a term making it through translation or the literal phrasing of a term. I wonder of any of the AI around here are language majors?

        • avatarRybred says:

          Storm is a more accurate translation that applies to most civvies.
          The reason being that it was a rifle used to “Storm” or overtake a location.
          In military terms it would be carrying out and “Assault” on a position or advancing forward.
          The name does not imply that it is a rifle used for “Assault”ing people, because that would be the purpose of ANY weapon on the battlefield.
          When used in the legal phrase “Assault WEAPON” it will ONLY carry a negative connotation. It makes it sound to the layperson that the ONLY purpose for this firearm would be for injuring and killing civilians.
          This was a smart move on the anti’s part and is a term that needs to be moved away from if we happen to be lucky and not get another AWB.

  7. avatarjim says:

    Well, someone beat me to the “storm” translation but I maintain that an assult rifle is a .58-caliber Springfield rifled musket with a long bayonet and a brass buttplate. If not a Tower musket.

  8. avatarNew Chris says:

    I know nothing about knitting but I’m not willing to let my ignorance on the topic stop me from demanding that “assault needles” be banned.

    • avatarMark says:

      Ted Nugent recently said on Armed American Radio that Romney said on the phone that he had supported the “assault weapon ban” in the past explicitly because he was deceived by the terminology and didn’t know what it meant. He supposedly gets it now and Ryan can always explain the finer points if necessary.

      • avatarNew Chris says:

        Yes, it’s unfortunate that Obama has no one in his circle of influence who can explain the terms so he doesn’t sound like a fool.

        I’m sure that he has convinced himself that his position is noble, and just, and thus learning the details and particulars is just a waste of time.

        It’s that kind of arrogance in the face of ignorance that make people think they should be President in the first place.

        As for Romney… the guy is a stuffed suit who sill say whatever he needs to to get power.

        • avatarJames says:

          Wait, wait, Chris. He is surrounded by the smartest people in the world. He said so. How can he sound like a fool when he gets such good advice?

  9. avatarNathan says:

    WOW. I was only 15 when the first AWB expired and was not into guns, so I never knew and had never researched the inanity that was an “assault weapon.” So a fixed stock AR-15 with a bull barrel was not an assault weapon? But with an M4 profile barrel or a collapsing stock, it became one? That is insane.

    • avatarPascal says:

      Go to the Ruger website and look at the Ruger Mini-14

      The Ruger Mini-14 by name with a “collapsable” stock is not legal in CT and cannot be shipped, but you can have ANY of the fixed stock variations. Same rifle, different stock one is not legal simply because the stock is adjustable.

      Imagine now for a second, if these guys cannot get this simple stuff right, how do you think all the other laws we have are put together? NYC still has a law that says its illegal to jump from the Empire State Building. I believe there are several “stupid laws” website.

      The issue with the word “assault” — the emotional term and what makes it look scary. There is no logic or reason. The Hollywood movie BS that someone can come in take out a room with full auto — all emotion.

      If someone had a brain they could have simply made the law this simple

      1) No select fire button where you can go full auto
      2) No full auto at all
      3) No rocket launcher attachments

      Done! Still would suck, but at least would make sense because everything else does not.

      • avatarNathan says:

        Yeah…either that or they will try to ban all semi-auto actions. Nobody needs one of those!!! For it to be safe, you need to be able to pull something or flip something or….wait people can shoot those at a rate of 30 rounds/minute? That’s way too fast!!! Single shot only!

      • avatarThe Anti Fox says:

        Forget the term assault then. Focus on the capacity of the weapon to kills humans per minute. 20 kids, 6-7 yrs old, each with 2-11 rounds in them, done in 2 minutes (including walking between classrooms).

        Regardless of the true definition of the weapon, that is an assault. Could the shooter have done that with a traditional single shot revolver or hunting rifle? No, because they don’t support interchangeable clips and the ability to discharge 100 rounds in 2 minutes.

        • avatarSCSIwuzzy says:

          You’ve never heard of a speed loader, have you? Or are familiar with modern hunting rifles? Or that guns don’t have clips (some did, back in the WW2 era, a brass band that liiked something like a staple).

          I can reload my Colt pistol with a speed loader nearly as fast as I can change the magazine in my Ruger, esp if I don’t mind spilling casings on the ground.
          The .22s that boy scouts use in summer camp have interchangeable magazines these days.
          And of course a revolver is by definition not single shot.

          But you don’t really care about facts. You’re here to troll.

        • avatarThe truth says:

          Well he actually used two handguns in the attack on the school. The AR-15 was found in the trunk of his car and that’s in the official police report! So before you go vomiting all over the Internet with your opinion please get your facts straight and use facts not speculation and media spin

  10. It is also notable that some state AWB that are currently in effect ban some guns by name only. I know CA does this, and I’m sure other states do too. Here in NJ for example, you cannot have an AK-47 or AR-15 by name. You can get an AK-74 because it doesn’t have “AK-47″ stamped on the side. You cannot buy a colt AR-15 because that is the product name. You can buy a Ruger 5.56 becasue they don’t have “AR-15″ in the product name. But the Ruger 5.56 is their AR-15, it’s the same thing.

    • avatarTim says:

      This highlights the moronic nature of such bans. The 1994 AWB was equally moronic in nature as Nick points out with the bullet points above. Since they can’t use the actual definition of “assault rifle” to ban semi-automatic look-a-likes, they came up with a list of evil features that makes them look menacing and banned those.

      • Ya the cruel thing they do in NJ is you’re allowed two exception to the list of banned features. However, those two exceptions are taken up by the fact that every Ar-15 type rifle has a pistol grip and a detachable magazine, which leaves everything else off the table, so no foregrips or collapsable butt stocks. Crime and violence problem solved! (sic)

        • avatarMilsurp Collector says:

          Chewie, we live in a state where the possession of a chain of more than 15 links stuck together, loaded or not, for belt-fed semi autos is by law possession of an illegal high capacity magazine. But take one of those links off the chain and bada-bing! it magically becomes legal. Banning guns by name is the least of our problems.

        • @Milsurp

          Mag capacity and missing features certainly isn’t the worst of it. Transportation laws are absurd. They are written that you are not allowed to transport a firearm, with a few exceptions such as moving or going to and from the range. You sure as hell better not make any deviations or get out of the car for anything besides pumping gas. And that gas station better be in line between A and B. Otherwise if you get pulled over and they discover a gun in the car you get charged with illegal posession of a firearm, 5-7 years in prison. I’m not exaggerating or making this up. I just went to a lawyer Q&A at my local range in North Jersey. He said he’s had cop’s use an NRA bumper sticker as probable cause to search the vehicle. Then even if you do everything right and legally they can still take your gun and charge you. You will have to fight it and then if you want the gun back you will go through hoops that cost you 10 times the worth of the gun itself.

        • avatarBLX says:

          Not to mention that slingshots, and the components with which to make them, are prohibited. Careful traveling through the Garden State with a hand with a thumb and index finger intact (frame), a post office rubber band (propellant) and a box of paper clips (ammo). Thank you, Governor Florio :-(

  11. avatarDerryM says:

    Yes, Obama is blowing smoke about AWB. I think he has worse things in mind, as evidenced by his reference to “cheap handguns” in the Debate. His agenda is to radically change the U.S. and he is smart enough to know he has to effectively disarm the general population to make long term changes. He is looking past the next four years and to who his successor might be…not a specific person just yet, but a specific mindset that would carry-on his intended legacy of Big Government and a Socialist/Progressive Welfare State.

    • avatarJPD says:

      I must say, NOT!! A president, any president, looking past their adminstratioon??? Please…..his future is assured, he will make mega bucks from speaking engagements, and from the special interest groups that he befriended.

      Just like every other politician.

      History has taught us one thing. No government, or government leader, since the Egyptians….has every given a rats behind about the people.

      Examine the motives behind the decisions of every world leader in history, even the so called great ones. You can count on one hand those that truly cared and worked for the average citizen.

      • avatarDerryM says:

        You are falling/have fallen into the trap Obama is counting on. He wants to so fundamentally change The United States that he can only begin in four more years. I never said he wanted to do anything good for the People. Far…far from it. He wants to make this Country into HIS vision of a Socialist State “Utopia”, and reject the founding principles that have worked for 236 years.
        So, yes, I think he is looking beyond, but not for good. rather for the undoing of America as we know it. He is no Great Leader, but a closet Tyrant. Only The People ever look out for The People. Obama would have it such that The People can no longer look out for themselves.

      • avatarCHart says:

        Look at it this way people in the American’s past that have cared for the people were assassinated!!! Am I right?

  12. avatarCharlie says:

    “… a “low probability, high consequence” event.”

    This is the logical fallacy known as Misleading Vividness.

    Misleading Vividness is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

    1. Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (and is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence) .
    2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur.

    Charlie

    Definition courtesy of The Nikzor Project.

  13. avatarjwm says:

    Let’s get real folks. A poorly written AWB is just a stepping stone. The end game here is England. The time will come when we’ll be allowed a select few shotguns and rifles for hunting and pest control with a license and home inspections. There will be no handguns and no legal right to self defense.

    The only way to stop this is to beat the dems so badly at the november elections that their great grandkids will remember the pain brought on by speaking gun control.

    Honestly I think we’re fvcked. But I have grandkids so the fight for theor future goes on.

  14. avatargemalo says:

    If somebody is trying to hit me with a hammer, that hammer becomes an ‘assault weapon’. So where does the AWB begin and end? Do we ban most everyday items because someone may be assaulted with them? IIRC, the legal term for striking someone is battery. Threatening them is assault; hence the charge of assault and battery. Therefore, the AWB is meant to ban any weapon that seems to threaten someone. The definition of weapon is wide open in my mind. Therefore, to ban certain firearms and label them ‘assault weapons’ is ludicrous.

  15. avatarLow Budget Dave says:

    I think this is a good article, but I disagree with the logic (a bit). Just because a law is 90% ineffective does not necessarily mean it is automatically a bad law. Speed limits, for example, are mostly ineffective, but remain in place because the laws do more good than harm.

    The key element is whether the AWB does more harm than good. I can see arguments in both directions, but it seems to come down to how the law is enforced, and whether you have ever been shot.

    People who have been shot tend to have more liberal ideas about gun control, and people who have experienced mal-enforcement of gun control laws tend to be more suspicious of the AWB.

    But as the article points out, neither political stance has much to do with the shape of the gun.

    • avatarDJ says:

      “People who have been shot tend to have more liberal ideas about gun control”

      I’ve never seen any data to back that assertion up.

      If they were shot as a result of criminal action, then gun control wouldn’t have done a thing to help them. Criminals don’t care about the law – this is why we call them criminals.

    • I don’t think that your claimed trend that people who have been shot before lean towards gun rights is neccessarily true. The antis always find victims to get in their commercials.

  16. avatarDavid M says:

    I’ve always defined an assault weapon as an object one person uses to attack another person with. As people have said above anything could become an assault weapon be it a firearm, knife, chair, brick, etc. To me the AR-15 and AK-47 have been and are just models of rifles.

    • avatarSoccerchainsaw says:

      Exactly! I’ve said here before that perhaps we should embrace the term “assault weapon” but be sure to properly define the term. From the civilian point of view, an assault weapon is anything that is used to physically assault a person or persons. We also need to define “anti-assault weapon” which is the exact same group of weapons in the hands of a law-abiding citizen used to thwort, repell, or stop an assault. The important thing is not what tool is used but the purpose to which the tool is employed. Illegal activities such as assault, rape, murder, etc. are already, well, illegal. No more laws really needed. How can you enact an AWB without impacting our right to “anti-assault weapons”?

  17. avatarGregolas says:

    Encyclopedic and Excellent! Thank you.

  18. avatarRalph says:

    the AWB was fueled more by fear and the political desire to “do something” than by fact

    I’m not buying that at all. The AWB was passed by gun-hating politicians using fear as a tool to gull the public into believing that their pols wanted to “do something” to prevent crime. The AWB was never designed to be the end of the disarmament process, just the beginning. By using the scary “assault weapons” name for run of the mill every-day semiautomatic firearms, politicians fooled hunters, target shooters and others into believing that their guns weren’t at risk. Well, they were. And they still are.

  19. avatarJPD says:

    Excellent article!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. avatarGCT says:

    Being a retired military fella I am, the original term AR actually stood for Armalite. The politicians took the model and gave the name assault rifle to the AR acronym. I have no problem with a ban on full automatic weapons in most peoples hands.

    I, like your article stated, like my AR because of the modularity and the ability to change out calibers without buying a new rifle. It really does not matter as I feel after this election the gun bans will begin in earnest in some states if not at the federal level. The ban will not solve anything as most crimes are actually pistol related.

    Fast and Furious was designed to turn the mood of the country against firearms especially AR15 type weapons. It backfired and still no one is in jail for it.

    Great site!

  21. avatarAverage_Casey says:

    The term assault weapon is just foolish. To assault someone or something is to attempt to cause harm. A weapon is a item that is capable of increasing the damage of an assaulting action. So all weapons are assault weapons. By using that terminology it just makes us seem like we don’t understand the english language.

  22. avatarg says:

    Good article, Nick! I’ll be sending this to friends who don’t know the history.

  23. avatarMark N. says:

    A very nicely written piece. Mirrors my own thoughts on the subject that I’ve been mulling for some time. I personally would drop the “sucky” parts, as they detract from the reasonable and intelligent tone of an informative piece and push over into advocacy. Kind of a turn off to the anti crowd, who I think would otherwise be impressed with the logical deligitimization of the AWB. You should send it to the President. The tone of his remarks suggests a lack of knowledge of the utility of the “modern sporting rifle” (aka modular rifle), that may change his mind about his support for a bill he knows will haveno effect on the gun violence problem.

    The other aspect of this problem is the widely held perception that a 5.56 is a “high powered rifle” Complex subject to be sure, but it is certainly not a high power caliber compared to the most often used and popular hunting cartidges in this country such as the 308 or 30-06, or even the .270.

  24. avatarSanchanim says:

    Nice article Nick…

  25. avatarJose says:

    Great article! Maybe need to delve on the word “assault” a bit more.

    The way I see it the word has a very positive meaning for the military, carrying the connotation of an offensive maneuver, whereas “assault” is a very negative thing in civilian terms: a crime. So, many civilian minds could be subconsciously translating “assault rifle” to “crime rifle”.

    Also, in regards to the “Sturm” vs. “Assault” thing, I read some time back that the term Sturm was first translated to Assault by the U.S. military back in WWII because although the Germans used the term “Storm” to mean the same thing, “Assault” was the common term used back then by our military.

    J.

  26. avatarUncle Lar says:

    The third key element of modern battle rifles is the use of an intermediate cartridge to allow for control in full auto mode. The AK platform accomplishes this with the shorter reduced powder capacity and lighter bullet 7.62×39 while the AR went with a cartridge derived from a small caliber varmint round the .223/5.56 NATO.
    As for the 1994 AWB, remember the authors incorporated a 10 year sunset provision in order to sell it to congress with the full expectation that at the end of those 10 years it would have been so effective that a permanent renewal would be a no brainer. Instead it was universally held to have had no positive effect on crime or public safety and so was allowed to expire with only trivial and token protest.

  27. avatarTequila Party USA says:

    Assault weapons, like any firearm does not operate independantly of a person. And we all know that guns, including assault weapons, can’t kill people by themselves. People kill people! We don’t need bans on weapons, because then only criminals will have weapons. We need a more aware public. A public that isn’t afraid to report suspicious individuals or irradick behavior. We need tighter enforcement on current gun laws and mandatory “gun safety” classes for “every” US citizen beginning at age 14. Liberals will claim it will teach our youth how to use weapons; but the classes should be centered around gun safety and awareness, not use of a weapon. Use of a firearm can be part of an optional voluntary class.

  28. avatarC says:

    The author kept refering to the MP-44 when he means the StG-44

    • avatarjon says:

      wikipedia: “It is also known under the designations MP 43 and MP 44 (Maschinenpistole 43, Maschinenpistole 44 respectively), which denote earlier development versions of the same weapon with some differences like a different butt end, muzzle nut, shape of the front sight base or with an unstepped barrel, all only visible with close inspection.”

      great article, great comments.

    • avatarD says:

      MP-44 was a temporary designation for the StG-44 because Hitler wasn’t akin to the idea of a rifle with an intermediate cartridge, so they called it a machine pistol during development.

  29. avatarAnthony says:

    http://wh.gov/QoEF

    A petition in regards to the truth about “assault weapons”

  30. avatarCHart says:

    You know the people that have caused these problems for the rest of the law abiding citizens need mental help. Most have tried and were denied. If the government should be talking about any reform it should be the mental health centers that refuse many of these people help. Notice the story describing that the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary was denied 3 times to purchase firearms but still found a way to get them. The problems are not the firearms as much as the people behind them. The saying stands true, again… “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!”

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