ar15 trigger AR-15 safe fire
(Dan Z. for TTAG)
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What has incorrectly been termed an “assault weapon” is a semi-automatic firearm that fires just one bullet with each pull of the trigger (versus a fully automatic firearm — machine gun — which continues to shoot until the trigger is released).

Specifically, legislation has incorrectly defined an “assault weapon” as a semi-automatic firearm that can accept a detachable magazine and has one or more of the following cosmetic features (it is these cosmetic features that distinguish the firearm from other “non-assault weapons.”):

  • A folding or telescoping stock
  • A pistol grip
  • A bayonet mount
  • A flash suppressor, or threads to attach one
  • A grenade launcher

None of these features figure into the criminal misuse of firearms, regardless of their appearance.

Then and Now

The term “assault weapon,” coined in the 1980’s in an effort to ban semiautomatic rifles, has arguably become one of the most successful antigun public relations tools in modern history. The term “assault weapon” is now broadly used by antigun activists to describe any and all semiautomatic firearms as taboo and undesirable for private civilian ownership, despite being legally owned and used by millions of Americans.

Anti-gun politicians and misinformed media have perpetuated this erroneous moniker for decades to drive public opinion of semiautomatic firearms into the gutter. As a result, many think that a semiautomatic firearm is a so-called “assault weapon” based on its cosmetic features or assume that the firearm is in fact a fully automatic machine gun.

There is a tremendous amount of misinformation surrounding the issue of so-called “assault weapons.” See other misleading allegations related to these firearms followed by corresponding statements of fact.

Legislation to ban so-called “assault weapons” typically targets rifles that are in common use and rarely used in crime. According to the 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, from 2015 – 2019: Knives, Blunt Objects, and Personal Weapons (fists and feet) exceeded rifles of all kinds for cause of death every year.

Expanding the Umbrella

Semiautomatic pistols, the firearm of choice for concealed carry licensees, have recently garnered attention from antigun lawmakers, as evidenced by their inclusion under the “assault weapon” umbrella in legislation. This practice is becoming more commonplace as the efforts to conceal true intentions of banning all privately owned firearms are diminished.

Banning all semiautomatic firearms is now the goal of the antigun lobby who knows that the common criminal will not be affected by such bans and legislation.

Springfield Armory 1911 TRP 10mm
Dan Thurs for TTAG

Labeling every semiautomatic firearm as an “assault weapon” plays on the emotional response of the public who may not be educated on how firearms work and their everyday use by law-abiding citizens seeking to defend themselves and their families. Legislation to curb crime should be the priority, not laws that will only disarm and endanger those who follow the rules.

Semiautomatic firearms are the most common type of firearm in the United States and are used for a wide variety of legitimate purposes, including hunting, small game control, target shooting, competition and personal defense.


This article originally appeared at and is reprinted here with permission. 


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  1. How can something be “incorrectly defined” when referring to a term that has no definition? – i.e. “assault weapon” – can’t we all just stop using the term, even when defending the improper use of it? Start every conversation with the opposition by saying “there is no such thing as an assault weapon.” Try it, it works to help educate the anti-gunners. Doesn’t change their minds but helps to educate so when they argue next time they will stop using the term and think for a second, which is probably something they are not used to doing for that long a time.

    • If I understand correctly, the term is legitimate for the military lexicon, and military equipment. The problem is the anti-gunners’ attempt to (erroneously) apply it to the civilian world.

      • The term is “assault rifle” – a select fire, intermediate caliber rifle. “Assault weapon” is entirely ginned up for effect because they know that the weapons in common circulation don’t fit the actual term.

      • having the semi’s so closely resemble their full-auto cousins…[often as a marketing ploy]….plus the impact of Hollywood, where seemingly every bad guy has a machine gun…has gone a long way towards fostering this misconception…at least now they’re finally beginning to understand that it is bad guys with handguns that are actually doing all that shooting……

      • Because “assault rifle” and “assault gun” were terms with formal definitions.

        “Assault weapon” doesn’t have a formal definition. It’s meaning depends on the direction of the political wind.

    • Gun Control is an assault weapon used for racism and genocide. The long, long despicable History of Gun Control proves that is a fact and not some concocted knee jerk politically motivated label.

    • Richard says “can’t we all just stop using the term”

      Actually Richard, no, we can not. We apparently don’t have that ability.

      Conservatives and or the right is terrible at “narrative language”. Just plain awful, and as a result the left owns the narrative, completely.

      Conservatives and or the right, synonymously use the word “weapon” with firearm, gun, pistol, sidearm, rifle, shotgun, derringer…you name it. I understand much of that comes from prior military training, however when you are fighting for “hearts and minds” using the term “weapon” is bad form.

      Therefore calling every firearm a “weapon” not only is factually incorrect, but makes the leap to “assault weapon” that much easier. We help the anti-gunners every time we say a firearm is a “weapon”.

      So “can’t we all just stop using the term” No. In this manner Conseritives are like “old dogs”.

      Why is that? Conservatives are still calling Democrats “liberals” which means Liberty, which means you just called them the Freedom Party. You think they are the Freedom Party? They are Leftist, aka Socialist, Marxist, Fascist, and Communist. Which one of those “-ism’s” also means freedom?

      The left knows the power of labeling, that is why overnight they change “gun control” to “gun safety”. And when they do, the entire leftist machine, only uses the new term.

      ***Defund the police***.nope, OK….re-imagine policing.

      ***Stealing the vote (HB-1)….nope, OK….Voter Integrity Bill

      They are brilliant at this, the right…still calling them a term that is synonymous with freedom, and is a compliment to boot ….. Liberal.

      • What conservatives really need to do is stop using the terms “Democrat, progressive, liberal, socialist, leftist, left wing and so forth. The proper word is “Statist”. Statists believe the people, individuals, their needs, wishes and rights, are subordinate to the State in all matters.

        • Hunt,

          Except that is incorrect.

          Leftists being “Statists” is merely their means to an end. It is only when they control the state do they become “Statists”, remove that control and they will fight the state.

          And how will they fight the state, by the use of their Leftist ideology, aka Socialism, Marxism, Fascism, and Communism.

          Also even when they control the state they do not “…believe the people…are subordinate to the State….” Rather they believe ‘the people’ are subordinate to them (they know better), the state is merely the intermediary that facilitates their control.

      • Absolutely, 100%. They do NOT deserve to be called liberals. The best way I know other that’s avoiding, is to call myself a liberal and then espouse complete right wing opinions.

    • Good call On statism. Rather than focus on oftentimes nebulous political affiliations, better to focus on the actual methods effects of the policies that are advanced.

      • Jack,

        “…focus on oftentimes nebulous political affiliations…”

        Their political affiliations is from where they derive their political power.

        To discount that would be not knowing your opponent, and will leave you in a quagmire, a limbo where you will lose as often as you win.

        Even worse, focusing on the “..effects of the policies that are advanced..” will have you in a completely defensive posture, and nothing more. It is the equivalent of standing down range and attempting to deflect what will be an endless barrage of bullets.

  2. Sorry, boys and girls (and those who ain’t too sure)….language that titivates has power over the language that informs. regardless of anything POTG say or write, “assault weapon” forms the desired picture in the brain of the uninformed. “semi-automatic modern sporting rifle” does not resonate, even among POTG.

    Control the language; control the people. We have lost this battle. Unlike football, in life defense does not win games. Once the charge is made, defending becomes proof the charge is accurate (“When did you stop beating your wife?”)

    • That’s spot on.

      WE, because we care, know that an ‘assault rifle’ (‘sturmgewehr’) is a select-fire, medium-range combat rifle. WE, because we care, know that there IS no specific firearm extant known as an ‘assault weapon,’ although we can claim that the phrase denotes a heavy cannon mounted in a turretless tank chassis (‘sturmgeschutz’). It doesn’t matter any more.

      If the term ‘assault weapon’ has been accepted by legislators and the courts, then THAT is what matters. If it has been popularized in the press, and is accepted by the public, then THAT, also, is what matters. No one, outside of our small circle of friends, uses the soft-pedal phrase ‘semi-automatic modern sporting rifle’, and it’s never going to catch on elsewhere.

      It’s too late to claw back the pedantic high ground; No amount of complaining and ‘educating’ is going to change that. We lost. Time to move on, and waste no more time with this ‘angels-dancing-on-pinheads’ argument.

      Oh, it’s ’42.’ In case you were curious.

        • “…but what is the question?”

          ‘Life, The Universe, And Everything’…

        • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quotes on TTAG,
          who would of thought? Who would of Deep Thought?

        • “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quotes on TTAG,…”

          I’m still hopeful a parody porno starring Trillian is made…

          *sigh* 😉

      • true…but correcting the gun grabbers at every opportunity in regard to “assault rifles” seems to annoy them no end..making it worth the effort

        • “…correcting the gun grabbers at every opportunity in regard to “assault rifles” seems to annoy them no end..”

          Well, there’s entertain value it that.

    • Never give up the fight for control of the language. Pretty soon they will say 2+2=5. NEVER agree to their use of words when you know they are wrong.

      • “Never give up the fight for control of the language.”

        To borrow from the gun community….”Action beats reaction.” Fighting over words uses up resources better spent on other, more likely to succeed, efforts.

        Pro and anti gun people do not speak recognizable languages to each other. Any decent public speaking coach will tell you that to adequately persuade, you must consider your audience, and use words recognizable, friendly and relatable to your audience.

        Leftism is the majority flow these days. If you do not use their words against them, you would do just as well if you talk to them in Klingon.

    • “I want the ‘Chain Saw’ attachment.”

      Yeah, on my NAA Mini-Revolver, hanging around my neck, even as I write.

      Got it loaded with Federal’s ‘Punch’ .22, a 29 grain, nickel-plated case and projectile.

      Spicy load, fair fireball from the NAA. Pushes 1600 FPS from my 10-22 takedown…

      • I’m gonna get that bayonet because “why not”?!? Although it’s gonna be a long one on my S&W Sport.

  3. “I’m gonna get that bayonet because “why not”?!? Although it’s gonna be a long one on my S&W Sport.”

    No one needs a chainsaw bayonet for hunting.

    • What is this hunting you speak of??? My rifle is for protecting me & mine. All enemies both foreign and domestic. Especially the latter…

      • “My rifle is for protecting me & mine. All enemies both foreign and domestic.”

        There’s the problem. The Second Amendment only protects the collective right of members of the formal militia to keep and bear firearms in order to hunt (or maybe shoot clay pigeons). And animals have the same natural and civil rights as humans. So, even hunting is a crime. We only have 12 years to save all the animals from extinction.

        • There you are wrong. The Second Amendment is not to protect me, it is to place a restriction upon the Federal Government. It is a warning to lawmakers of a boundary not to be crossed. We have foolishly allowed them to get away with treason against the oath of office they take. Animals have no rights, as they can bear no responsibilities.

        • Sam, you are a sarcastic SOB. I say that with heartfelt respect. I enjoy your posts and been here long enough to know you are long on sarcasm and humor. The newbies haven’t figured you out and it can be entertaining.

  4. Say they are assualt weapons. So what.Now find me in the second Amendment that prohibits assault weapons.
    Time to quit beating around the bush on what is and what aint.
    Shall Not Be Infringed

  5. I’m getting a Cuba feeling right now
    Just because one could call me paranoid doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
    My spidery sense is on yellow alert, sure hope it doesn’t go to red but watching the Cuban people demanding freedom with out semiautomatic defense weapons!
    The Castor brother’s are sure making me think President Biden is a Trojan Horse and current plague is the gift that just keeps giving Liberal something they have always dreamed of!
    I grew up experiencing The Bay of Pigs incident on TV

    • Yeah that was as bad as the Great Toilet Paper shortage of 2020. All the can food gone from the shelves. Paper towels weren’t as popular as they are now so I don’t know if they were gone or not. Every body kept saying they’re only 90 miles from the us. Demon Rats sold them out back then and they are doing it again today.

  6. “Assault Weapon” is a product of Josh Sugarmann from the Violence Policy Center to purposely mislead the lay public who would be easily confused between the cosmetically similar semiautomatic AR-15 and M-16 machine gun. Antigunners continue to use misleading terms like “weapons of war” (name one military that has ever issued semiauto AR-15s) or “Large Capacity Military Magazines” (as if only the military ever had exclusivity).

    • As stated in the article, misinformed media! Ya right they are not misinformed they know what they are saying is misinformation and/or strait up lies.
      They say the gun industry are fear mongering to sell more guns. Yet they say we should fear guns, voting disenfranchisement, the rona, 1000 different isms and fobias. They are al liars. Believe no media

  7. Completely the wrong argument to be making. Drawing lines and making distinctions between “military” ARs and “civilian” ARs concedes to the fallacy that if they were “assault rifles” or “weapons of war”, it would be somehow okay to ban them.

    They are weapons of war. Most of us don’t use them for that, but the fact that they have those capabilities is EXACTLY the reason we need to fight tooth and nail to keep em.

    Lets grow a spine and start being honest about this.

    • “They are weapons of war. Most of us don’t use them for that, but the fact that they have those capabilities is EXACTLY the reason we need to fight tooth and nail to keep em.”

      Isn’t it interesting that the groups who attack the anti-gunners with law suits do not seem to put forth the truth that the Second Amendment protects the ability of the populace to overthrow government gone rogue, oppressive, tyrannical?

      • Genghis Khan used sex effectively as a weapon of war. It is estimated that 1 in every 200 men alive are a descendant of his. He controlled half the known world in his time.

    • suitable for militia use…similar function and matching ammunition…the AR-15 is what the founding fathers had in mind…

  8. @William Wallace
    “Animals have no rights, as they can bear no responsibilities.”

    You are missing the gag.

    But there is this:
    “And then there is the “Well, with rights come responsibilities” nonsense. No, they don’t. They are rights. That means the debate is over – the rights won. There’s no “responsibility” to not exercise your rights since the purpose of rights is to ensure you get to exercise them even if everyone else disagrees. Reject this bizarre attempt to turn Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben’s hack cliche into constitutional law.”
    – –

  9. Is this message being sent to the swing voters and to more wobbly demographics on the D plantation?

    The message is important, but preaching to the choir is of no benefit.

    • “…preaching to the choir is of no benefit.”


      It keeps the troops, you know, the ones putting in the actual work of defending our rights, motivated.

      See?… 😉

  10. “Assault weapon” is not a misnomer, it is not “erroneous.” It is a legislatively defined word, no more no less. They could have called these rifles Waloons and it still would not be a misnomer. Yes it was chosen for its emotional impact and to make the ownership of them seem somehow evil and menacing. No, assault weapons are not Assault Rifles (as that term is defined by the US military), but so what? In California, for example, the purchase of machine guns was banned after a date certain, and current owners were required to register their “assauult rifle” (and machine guns etc) as “assault weapons.” The term is defined and contained in the Penal Code with various laws regulating the ownership, use, transfer (out of state only) and transport of all such arms. The goal of the very first assault weapons ban here (which failed) was to eliminate evil black rifles from the state. Despite the fact that these are all features based bans that are not functionally related, the State to this point has not banned operationally equivalent rifles (Garands, M1 Carbines, Mini14s and the like), just scary EBRs. Why the limitation? No one knows for sure, but it is assumed the pols decided it would be much easier to ban EBRs than the others, that they could be vilified more easily.

    Well, the definitions are in the statutes, and unless and until the statutes are struck down, there will be “assault weapons.” People are better off demonstrating that the use of the phrase is an intentional scare tactic, and that these rifles are functionally no different than perfectly legal ones that are not “assault weapons.” Show people they are being manipulated by the gun banners.

  11. Have had Progressives I work with outright tell me I can’t buy a gun because it looks “dangerous” while a similar functioning gun is fine because it does not look “dangerous”. This is what we are dealing with here people.

  12. “Have had Progressives I work with outright tell me I can’t buy a gun because it looks “dangerous”…”

    That’s why we can’t have chainsaw bayonets.

  13. @FormerParatrooper
    “The newbies haven’t figured you out and it can be entertaining.”

    I sometimes wonder if many who speed read are really newbies. At any rate, when I have to explain the joke that means it wasn’t funny. Which makes me question if my “skill” is degrading.

    But anyway, thanx for the acknowledgement.

  14. Perhaps we should fight back with this war of words and describe this type of firearm action with a term from long ago. After all, in order to be a semi auto there had a (full) auto and that is not the case. The term from long ago was Self Loader. Sounds less threatening. My AR, 1911, P320 are just self loaders.

    • “The term from long ago was Self Loader. Sounds less threatening. My AR, 1911, P320 are just self loaders.”

      Good idea. Was thinking “auto loader”, but “auto” is problematic.

      Wonder if we could assign “single shot”? A full semi-automatic rifle/hand gun, can only fire a single shot, without reloading. Reloading comes from a magazine, just as what we call “single shot” are guns that require manual reloading. A semi-automatic requires reloading of a single cartridge before the semi-auto can be fired again.

  15. We need to ban engorging spoons and binging forks. Nobody needs a spoon that can shovel 200ml into your mouth. Nobody needs a six-spline fork to eat ham.

    Type 2 Diabeetus and obesity are an epidemic in this country because it’s far too easy to buy these instruments of death and disease when a salad fork or teaspoon is all anyone should ever need.

    It’s for the children!!! What are we teaching them!

    Also, we must ban penises to stop rape. Thank you, that is all.

    • Yup. And this article ignores the fact that the entire push to manipulate and scare the public over “assault weapons” arose from the blatant failure of handgun bans submitted by Congress in the 80’s. They couldn’t sell a handgun ban to the public, so they went after the scary black rifle .

      Leftist scum are simply now returning to the original desire to ban handguns by including them in the “assault weapon” moniker.

  16. The nfa act say another in 5 (SBS, SBR,AOW, BigBore Destructive Device and Silencer) from 6 groups …………

  17. @Hawkeye
    “And Bambi too, in a couple years.”

    Oh, you are so mean. That’s just evil, wicked, mean, bad and nasty.

    And mean.

  18. Get real. The Far Right argue endlessly about pure nonsense. Does it make a difference whether the weapon is called a semi-auto and empties in 2 seconds or a full auto that empties in 1 second.

    Ask the 400 plus people that were seriously wounded at Las Vegas if semantics means anything to them or if we could ask the 60 dead what they would say.

    Or the argument over high capacity clip or magazine terminology. Its yet another debate for Morons.

  19. Semi-auto 2 seconds to empty. Full auto 1 second. Semantics matter not to the dead and wounded from mass murders.

  20. Most gun owners agree with a government that you don’t need a Bayonet attached to your long gun. Because most gun owners don’t understand that the Second Amendment is not about guns. It’s about Arms.

    When the next “mostly peaceful protest” happens in your city. Many of you are going to wish that you had a bayonet attached to your long gun. If you end up having to patrol your neighborhood. A fixed bayonet is an outstanding psychological weapon. It has been used by the military police for decades. And they never had to stab anyone to control a crowd.

    I’m working on attaching a bayonet to all my long guns.

  21. Assault Rifles Are Selective Fire Capable Arms, the possession of which by civilians is limited by federal law, and precluded by some state law.

    Assault Weapon is a meaningless term which could include firearms, clubs, knives, brickbats, the list goes on and on, including anyth8ng 5hat one person has at another with.

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