Reader Corey Roberts writes:
With the usual fervor, the call to ban ‘assault weapons’ has once again begun anew. Images of AR-15s, the media’s favorite rifle to demonize, flash across countless headlines, and Moms Demand Actions demand an end to “weapons of war on our streets.” Countless, well-meaning celebrities tweet and make pleas to ban these evil rifles designed to do “just one thing…kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.” There’s just one problem. Assault rifles are already banned, and ‘assault weapons’ don’t exist.
‘Assault weapons’ are a mythical creature. No matter how many media headlines conflate the term ‘assault rifle’ — a legitimate technical term — and ‘assault weapon,’ an invented propaganda moniker that has no meaning other than what legislators choose to define it as and which indicates no actual category of firearm. The truth of the matter: so-called assault weapons are a fantasy beast much like the fabled unicorn.
The term assault rifle is defined by the US Army in its 1970, Army intelligence document, ‘Small Arms Identification and Operation Guide – Eurasian Communist Countries’:
Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges.
The key take-away from this definition is that assault rifles are rifles that have select-fire capability. This means they can be switched from semi-automatic fire to one or more modes of fully-automatic fire, whether that be continuous full-auto or a modulated form such as a three-round burst. Therefore, all other rifles that are semi-automatic only, are simply rifles. Just like any other semi-automatic rifle, and are not assault rifles.
Assault rifles — those that meet the actual definition — along with any type of firearm capable of fully-automatic fire, have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934 and were de facto banned since the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.
To truly understand the depths of the anti-gun propaganda victory that was scored in coining the term ‘assault weapon’ we have to go back into the origins of fully-automatic and semi-automatic firearms, as well as the creation of true assault rifles.
Hiram Maxim’s first fully-automatic machine gun was built in 1883. Not long after, semi-automatic firearms appeared in the 1890’s with the invention of the Borchardt C93 handgun in 1893. Box-type magazines and pistol grips were soon to follow and have existed nearly as long, the Thompson submachine gun of 1918 being a notable example of a firearm with these characteristics.
The true assault rifle first appeared during the Second World War. The Germans wanted a rifle as portable as a standard rifle but which would put down extra firepower when required. To achieve this goal they invented the StG-44, or Sturmgewehr, model 1944. (Sturm, literally ‘storm’ means to assault or attack, Gewehr means rifle). The defining characteristic of the new breed of firearm was a rifle that fired an intermediate cartridge and the ability to select-fire between semi- and fully-automatic fire. Thus, the assault rifle was born.
Soon Mikhail Kalashnikov created the world famous AK-47 based in large part on the StG-44. The AK-47 and its derivatives would become the most ubiquitous representative of this class of rifle throughout the world.
The first appearance of the artificial propaganda construct ‘assault weapon’ on the other hand, doesn’t occur until the 1980’s. So there’s a gap of nearly a century between the invention of common features such as pistol grips and box magazines (which are often included in the legal definitions put forth in assorted state and federal ‘assault weapon’ bans) and the coining of the name. And another four decades between the invention of true assault rifles and the term ‘assault weapon’s first usage.
Hoplophobic organizations, eager to find new loopholes around the Second Amendment needed a term that would allow them to move their prohibitionist agenda forward. ‘Assault weapon’ fit the bill and was designed from the start to be highly confusing, easily conflated, and to mimic preexisting terminology for maximum disinformation. In a 1988 Violence Policy Center piece entitled Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann wrote:
Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
The term has been extremely successful in its intended goal. ‘Assault weapon’ is now an ingrained part of the public lexicon despite the fact that they’re virtually non-existent. News media regularly uses the terms ‘assault rifle’ and ‘assault weapon’ interchangeably, and typical, average, otherwise well-meaning people don’t know that the latter does not exist.
The term’s usage in legal applications is even more dangerous. Because of the fact that ‘assault weapons’ aren’t a real type of firearm, they can be defined by law makers entirely by legislative fiat. Any type of firearm can hypothetically become an ‘assault weapon’ depending on a legislator’s ignorance or creativity. Thus the term can be used to subtly expand the categories of banned firearms by including more and more common features into the legal definition.
While it will be a heavy lift, the firearms community needs to speak out and set the record straight, letting the public know that no such thing as an ‘assault weapon’. That they’re a fairy tale creation that’s no more real than the fabled unicorn. Every time we encounter the word we must correct this rampant disinformation.
So-called ‘assault weapons’ are, in fact, simply common semi-automatic rifles; normal, commonly owned firearms used by countless Americans for lawful and constitutionally protected purposes every day.