Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle
Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) / CC BY-SA
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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.

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  1. This is why we need a bill to repeal the NFA.

    The media and democrat establishment doing their best to destroy it would be a win for us because they’d have to tell the sheep automatic weapons are currently illegal.

    • WHOA hide my sh_t and slap your granny.
      W A I T
      O N E

      Automatic Weapons are NOT ILLEGAL, they’s expensive, and thar’s a tax stamp.

      Some of the stupidities can be consolidated by obtaining an SOT on/with an ATF&E class 7 license. Again, expensive, but you can build some nice full-auto versions of weapons by (in many to most cases) obtaining a semi-auto version and dropping in a full-auto bolt and trigger grouping (all possible and legal if you have enough $$$ and fit nicely bent over a log). SEE, the honor system can be augmented by paperwork and $$$.

  2. The average American is far too stupid to understand the differences and distinctions expressed in this article.

    Generations of public education has seen to that.

  3. Long ago had a discussion with an intelligent but anti person.

    I carefully explained the difference between ‘semi-automatic’ and ‘automatic’.

    The response was “That’s automatic enough!”

    Invincible ingnorance. It’s sad, but common.

    • I think your friend had it exactly right. Either machine guns should be legal to own, or semi-autos should be illegal to own. A semi-auto is every bit as dangerous as a machine gun in a criminal attack on unarmed persons.

      There would have been no increase in the body count in Sandy Hook, in Orlando, or in Aurora if the assailants had been firing on full-auto (and quite likely there would have been fewer). The attack at the Westgate Mall was conducted with select-fire weapons deliberately clicked to the semi-auto setting.

      I don’t understand this type of article (and there’s one ONE HECK of a lot of them) that make so much hay about the distinction between machinegun and semi-auto, as if the image of an attacker with an AR or AK hosing into a crowd on semi-auto is supposed to assure the anti-gun people that the danger is less than they believe.

      Guns are lethal weapons. Semi-auto versions of select-fire weapons are especially effective for killing. So every once in a while, there is going to be a massacre. It’s the price we pay for not having a disarmed citizenry.

      Let’s debate on honest terms.

      • OK…(I hope this views properly)

        Rifle Full-auto practical Semi-auto practical
        AK-47 600rpm 100rpm
        M16 700–950 rpm 150rpm

        Full-auto ROF six to seven times faster than semi-auto

        • And which of those modes of fire would be more reliably lethal in the context of a gunman or gunmen attacking a crowd of unarmed people inside of a public venue?

          Or, can you offer any other rationale for saying that machine guns should be illegal even while semi-auto knockoffs of machine guns remain legal?

          I think you can’t. There is a logical distinction between autoloading weapons (semi- and burst- and full-auto) and non-autoloading weapons. There is no logical distinction between different firing modes of automatic weapons.

        • If the ability to do 6X damage, as opposed to semi-auto, is meaningless to you, ok.

          In a crowed venue, spraying bullets at 600rpm gets the damage done, even if precision targeting is not possible. even someone who has never fired a full-auto weapon “gets it” after the first several seconds….slower fire is more controllable. Thinking that someone who finds their gun point at the ceiling will simply reload and do the same thing, all over again, seems to ignore the adaptability of humans. But let’s speculate that a complete dunderhead get a machine gun, and learns that slow-fire is better. even with three-round bursts, the ROF is greater than semi-auto.

          As to whether the average citizen should be permitted a gun that fires more than one round without reloading, I can fully support laws that restrict privately-owned guns to singe-shot, black powder, muzzle-loaders. Now, how do we get all those instantly illegal guns into the smelters?

        • This blog is not the audience for the distinctions, so it does matter what we call them. The audience is that portion of the populace that thinks semi-auto is close enough to be called auto. Of course, someone who thinks like that doesn’t realize a revolver is pretty much semi-auto because you can deliver 6 bullets as fast as you can pull the trigger. Might be fun to ask some-one if they would consider a revolver less lethal because you have to pull the trigger to fire each bullet? Maybe we should spend a bunch of time dumping the term “auto-loader” into a conversation with the anti-gun gang.

  4. I think the term assault weapon is also redundant. It’s like saying cutting knife. That’s what it does.

    The power of governments to manipulate language and melt minds is astounding. Fortunately, we have the internet to combat them now. Remember that only 10% of the German people supported the NAZIs but the other 90% were forbidden from saying anything about it. They were unable to know just how powerful their numbers were because of this.

  5. Semi’s auto’s are band in CA. If you are in possession of a rifle purchased legally that has a detachable clip thing that goes up, your a white supremacist on the verge of being an active shooter when butterflies appear from unicorn farts…or a murdering jihadist because democracy, is an abomination, however government regulations is no concern to these radical desert dwellers, they get armaments from AZ which effectively zeros out any regulations created to save children, gays, people who are not sure what gender they are, school district responsibility to protect said children, and police who run when higher fire power is employed. The only winners of this legislation are flower and candle companies along with liberal trumpeting love will win over evil.

  6. I’ve seen all too many of us be confused about “Assault Rifle” vs. “Assault Weapon.”

    I’ve seen people screaming in all caps that there’s no such thing as an “assault rifle.”

    Or they will say “an AR-15 isn’t an assault weapon.” It seems to me that the guy who says “The AR-15 isn’t an assault weapon” is really trying to say “The AR-15 isn’t an assault rifle.” Let my try to explain how I come to that conclusion: The term “assault weapon’ does have a LEGAL meaning, even if it doesn’t have a meaning that makes epistemic sense, and an AR-15 does match it. But, you tell me, “screw DiFi’s stupid definition, there’s really no such category, it doesn’t make sense to have such a category” [which is what I mean by it not making epistemic sense]. OK, I can go along with that…but then the guy claiming the AR-15 isn’t an assault weapon should have said “there’s no such thing as an assault weapon,” not that the AR-15 isn’t one. Which indicates to me he’s got the terms confused.

    I’ve seen multiple accounts of apparent confusion on this distinction, by people on our own side. Kind of makes it seem hopeless that the other side will ever get it right (even if they want to, which, really, they don’t) much less that people who don’t necessarily hate the 2A but really aren’t into guns will ever get it right.

    • I got into an argument last night about the AK. I told him that with the proper paperwork, and the money required for ownership, I could own one. He got mad and basically said I didn’t need one, and asked if I was going to use it for deer hunting. I should have said “Yes, with it set on semiautomatic”.

  7. I’ve tried my damnedest to explain the difference between semiauto AR-15s that look like our military’s M4’s in appearance only, but do not have the ability to shoot multiple rounds with one trigger pull. These are my NY relatives it just goes in one ear and out the other.

    Theses people are bombarded with so much misinformation that’s all they believe. In their head gun owners don’t need rifles that look scary and hold over 10 rounds. Show them a mini14 with a wood stock it’s a hunting gun, put it in a plastic black ATI stock and a 20 round mag it’s a military assault rifle. They are happy with their ignorance.

    In their heads they believe in the 2nd amendment because they think people have the right to hunt with what a nongunner deems good enough. They also believe people can have a revolver in the home for defense. Long Island democrats, at least they don’t care that I own guns nor do they care about more legislation. So I still like them and give them boat rides when they visit FL.

    • Be real careful on those boat rides. You know how dangerous that can be. Just look at all of the tragic boating accidents that the folks on this site have had.

  8. Correct the fools and call it by the correct name. An assault rifle. And tell them the second amendment makes no distinction between an Assualt rifle and a 22 caliber bolt action rifle.
    Get in their face. Your rights are at stake. It is every person of the guns responsibility to tell how military weapons in the hands of civilians saved lives.
    You can start with the Deacons For Defense and Justice, and the returning GIs of Athens Tennessee.

    • +1 for DoD reference
      +1000 for “And tell them the second amendment makes no distinction between an Assualt rifle and a 22 caliber bolt action rifle.”

  9. Regarding Unicorns, to prove they exist, all I have to do is find 1, as in one, as in single example. To prove Unicorns do not exist, you must prove that there are no Unicorns, anywhere on the planet, which you obviously cannot do (being as you cannot literally be everywhere, simultaneously, searching every intersection of time and space. “Assault weapons” have specific characteristics, as defined in the various laws concerning. If I go to the gun store and find a single example of an “Assault weapon, including handguns, as defined in law, I win. Is/is not becomes a futile pastime, and makes us look more like clueless Luddites. “People” know “assault weapons” when they see them, just as the SC knows porn when they see it. Advantage: anti-gun crowd.

    On another note, winners write history. The anti-gun crowd is winning and gaining every day (based on the politicians willing to pass anti-gun legislation…not just propose it). So, the anti-gun crowd will get to re-write the entire history of guns in America, one day. Unless…..nah, that couldn’t happen.

  10. Yes, if I had a nickel for every post I’ve written in the comments sections of various articles on this very subject, explaining the nonsense that is the term “assault weapon.” But I constantly do it, over and over and over again. It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole but it must be done.

  11. The message of this article is great, only issues I found were common misconceptions. 1, there were firearms that fit the definition of assault rifle (shorter then battle rifle, intermediate cartridge, select fire) decades before the sturmgewehr, they just didn’t have the name assault rifle. Look at the Winchester Burton rifle and the Federov Avtomat. Also, the AK-47 isn’t based on the sturmgewehr other then vaguely in looks and the concept, which had been around since turn of the 20th century.

  12. Steal the dialogue, never use the term assault anything. Substitute “scary looking gun ban” or gun seizure by fiat, or legislation by emotion. Whatever the underlying motive is these laws are marketed by fear and should be undermined with ridicule.

  13. An AR-15 in the hands of a bad guy may be an ‘assault weapon’ but one in the hands of a good guy is an ‘ anti-assault weapon’. So you see, it is the use of the tool that determines which category it falls in, not what features it has or what it looks like.

  14. Don’t let them know the mini 14 and mini 30 work the same way as AR 15
    Some assault weapon ban states still allow the mini
    I salute Ruger for making a non scary modern sporting rifle

  15. ‘Assault Weapon’ is a completely bogus phrase. We all know it but here we’re definitely preaching to the converted. The other side don’t care and don’t want to learn.

    I believe that the term ‘Assault’ refers to intentional physical contact with another person without their consent (in the legal sense). It can also even refer to the threat of violence backed up by some sort of show of force. Anyway, I digress, you can assault someone even with a feather, it doesn’t have to be a lethal weapon.

    I understand that ‘Assault Rifles’ were named because of their military utility, this utility is exactly what the framers on The Constitution had in mind with the 2nd Amendment. i.e the average citizen should have the right to own (& bear!) the commonly issued duty weapon of a standing army.

  16. this is good and all but why the fuck do you guys INSIST on preaching to the choir?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    posting this shit here is NOT going to change any minds. if thats not what your goal is, then your goal is LITERALLY PREACHING TO THE CHOIR. get out of the echo chamber and get engaged with the opposition.

  17. Push back, yes. When they say “assault rifle” or some variation, you don’t go all logical. Uze their mis-statement to throw them.

    “Oh, you mean an A K?” or

    “Oh, he had a sturmgewher? Where’d he get that?”

    You’re making them look stupid and pushing *them* into the weeds. Most of them will mess up, because they’re reciting slogans they don’t understand.

    They’ve got nowhere to go w/o making the “pro” point. Imagine Musket Morgan, sputtering a reply…

    “The gun he had looks just like the ones our special forces carry.”

    “Oh, it’s looks? Ban Hollywood prop guns … and halloween costumes I assume?”

    Consider any other move the anti might make. Once they say their made up agitprop term, they are wrong footed. They van’t help but look like schmucks, if the pro people will just use it. By being confused about what they mean, and otherwise calm, you steal the emotional weight of the term as well.

  18. Sounds a lot like “partial birth abortion.” Consider:

    1) A made up legislative term without any prior definition in the relevant field? YES.

    2) Outlawed a long time ago, with ban upheld by the courts? YES.

    3) Still being used as a political football by the antis? YES.

    4) Masking a judicial agenda to completely overturn the Supreme Court decision recognizing rights in this area? YES.

    4) Masking a political agenda to ban all recognition of rights in this area? YES.

    The symmetries are uncanny.

  19. I have been posting corrections to the “assault weapons” obfuscation ever since Clinton signed the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. wherever I find them, be they articles published in the news media or comments on social media.

    The latest trend even more pernicious than “assault weapons” was started by California wingbat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She now calls any black rifle or any rifle or pistol with a large detachable magazine, “Military-style” weapons.

    Another take on the “Weapons of war” scare tactic.

    Hey, Senator Frankenstein! Khakis and camo-colored shirts and pants are “Military-style” clothing. Should they be banned, too?

    If you want to see her be totally destroyed in Congress, you need to check out the Youtube video on a hearing chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz. of a proposed assault weapons ban. He does a wonderful job of making her sound even more stupid than she already is:

    “Sen. Ted Cruz Dismantles Assault Weapons Ban at Gun Control Hearing”


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