Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle
Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) / CC BY-SA
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Reader Corey Roberts writes:

The calls to ban ‘assault weapons’ never seem to subside. Images of AR-15s, the media’s favorite rifle to demonize, flash across countless headlines, and Moms Demand an end to “weapons of war on our streets.”

Countless 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.

The ‘assault weapon’ is a mythical creature. Media headlines conflate the term ‘assault rifle,’ a legitimate technical term, and ‘assault weapon,’ an invented propaganda term that has no meaning other than what legislators choose and which indicates no real category of firearm.

So-called ‘assault weapons’ are a fantasy beast. Much like the fabled unicorn.

The term ‘assault rifle’ was 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 takeaway from this definition is that assault rifles are rifles that have select-fire capability. That means they can be switched from semi-automatic fire to one or more modes of fully-automatic fire, whether that’s continuous full-auto or a modulated form such as three-round burst.

Therefore, all semi-automatic only rifles are simply…rifles. Not ‘assault rifles.’

Assault rifles, along with any type of firearm capable of fully-automatic fire, have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934 and 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 achieved with the coining of the term ‘assault weapon,’ you need to go back to 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 gun that would be as portable as a standard rifle but which put down extra firepower when it was 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- automatic and fully automatic fire. The assault rifle was born. Soon, after Mikhail Kalashnikov created the world famous AK-47 inspired in large part by the StG-44. The AK-47 and its derivatives would soon 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 crop up until the 1980’s. As such, there is 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 term. And approximately four decades between the invention of true assault rifles, and the word ‘assault weapon’s first usage.

Anti-gun organizations, eager to find new ways around the Second Amendment needed a term that would allow them to move their prohibitionist agenda forward. The term ‘assault weapon’ fit the bill well and was designed from the start to be highly confusing, frightening to an uneducated public, easily conflated with machine guns, and one that mimics preexisting terminology for plausibility.

It was genius.

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 use of the loaded propaganda term has been extremely successful in its intended goal. ‘Assault weapon’ is now an ingrained part of the public lexicon despite the guns’ non-existence.

News media regularly use the terms ‘assault rifle’ and ‘assault weapon’ interchangeably. Uneducated, otherwise well-meaning people don’t know that the latter doesn’t exist.

The term’s usage in legal applications is even more dangerous. Because ‘assault weapons’ aren’t an actual type of firearm, they can be defined by lawmakers entirely by legislative fiat. Any type of firearm can hypothetically become an ‘assault weapon’ if defined as such through legislation. 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.

The firearms community needs to speak out and set the record straight, if it isn’t already too late. There is no such thing as an ‘assault weapon’. They are a fairy tail 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, everyday firearms that are used by countless Americans for lawful and constitutionally protected purposes.


[This article was originally published in 2016.]

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  1. With Negotiating Rights Away branding ARs as “Modern Sporting Rifles,” the 2A community only plays into the media narrative. It’s about all guns. Period.

    • Correct,something We The People are no deemed to poses,even thought that goes directly against something our government is forbidden from infringement upon.

  2. This article would benefit from a little more explanation of intermediate vs. full-power rifle cartridges (vs. pistol cartridges). A lot folks who spill ink about “assault weapons” don’t understand these differences, and think that intermediate cartridge rifles are somehow more lethal than their full-power counterparts. It’s also worth noting that many early advances in semi-automatic operation began with low power pistol cartridges because these lend themselves to simple blowback operation. Delaying actions came about a bit later to make semi-automatic operation viable for heavier pistol cartridges and rifles.

    • Gun grabbers could care less about any of this. To them, “assault weapon” is defined as anything they want to ban. Take their recent attempt with Arizona SB1625. “Assault Weapons” were defined as any semi-automatic weapon (not even distinguishing between handguns & long guns) capable of accepting a detachable magazine. Or having a fixed magazine holding over 10 rounds. In other words, ALL semi-automatic firearms.

      • Exactly what I came to say. “Assault weapons” DO exist–and they are whatever a particular governmental entity defines them to be. Whether or not they are actual “assault rifles”–I think we all agree that they are not–is not a relevant inquiry. If you possess a firearm that the powers that be have defined by statue as an illegal “assault weapon”, you can be arrested, charged, and convicted of a felony crime that may result in incarceration, and will result in the loss of your gun rights for life.

        That these laws are stupid because such firearms are not a major “cause” of “gun violence,” violative of 2A rights and all the rest is an entirely different question. To win THAT argument requires that the “feelings” of the anti-gun crowd be changed. Ruger figured it out, which is why to date not one of the Ruger minis has been outlawed. Because they don’t look so all fired “tactical,” and therefore are not a “purely military firearm that has no place in polite society.”

        • But some “assault ‘weapons'” definitions expounded by the anti 2A crowd, even here in the Gun Shine State, I have heard would have even wheel guns listed as “assault weapons.”
          But this is really irrelevant.
          But, WTF!! this really matters less than the Bern Bro’s comments about Cuba. If he really feels that way I will invite him to move to Cuba and will even make arrangements for him to have the genuine “Social Democrat pro Castro” experience. I promise I can arrange it. But, Mr. Bern, rule number one as was true for all of us who experienced it first hand, you must hand over all of you cash and property to the socialist state that will see to it that it is better distributed as needed than you could have foreseen.

      • When President Bernie seizes power, the NRA will be designated a terrorist organization, and FBI trained Antifa will use NRA membership lists to rout the bitter clingers.

        • And there will be blood in the streets. Remember Lexington and Concord.
          The dictator government at the time tried to take the Colonists legally owned firearms.
          That was the start of the American Revolution – or have you just snuck into the country recently and don’t know the history.

  3. I’m going to have to disagree with a point on this one. “Assault Weapons” were defined in the Clinton ban as a semi automatic rifle that utilizes a detachable magazine and any two of the following: pistol grip, folding or telescoping buttstock, barrel shroud, muzzle brake, or grenade launcher.

    This means that while the definition is widely unkown and lists things that don’t actually make the rifle more dangerous. There IS a definition.

    • The article explicitly addresses this:
      ” ‘assault weapon,’ an invented propaganda term that has no meaning other than what legislators choose “

      • All terms are invented. I find it effective to use a generally agreed upon description to prove that an AR-15 isn’t more dangerous than the comparably tame looking Ruger Mini 14 because looks should never be used as justification for bans. Far more effective than pretending the term doesn’t exist, which this article claims repeatedly.

        • No. There is *A* definition. There’s no agreed upon definition because it’s purely a propaganda word. If there’s no general agreement then it’s nonsense.
          If you want to go along with that nonsense then whatever, but don’t try to claim this is a term with any meaning outside of the context of whatever infringement is on the menu this year.

        • @Eric in Oregon

          That’s why Virginia’s politicians want to come up with a definition before they vote on their semi auto ban. They postponed their vote until they can sort out the words and clarify their bill. Meantime, they are passing 7 other bills through the process.

    • When I lived in DC, I was assaulted by a homeless man with an umbrella. Who has the right to define his umbrella an assault umbrella (after all he did assault me with it)? Where will the nonsense end?
      An assault rifle has a very specific definition and has been illegal for decades to own outside very specific delineations.
      An assault weapon is whatever someone with an agenda wants it to be.

    • The Killeen shooting, aka Luby’s, was also with handguns. Only the Vegas shooting would have been different with handguns since it doesn’t really matter what you shoot a cowering, defenseless victim with. Headshots with anything are devastating.

  4. Any inanimate object used to do bodily harm to another person. I.E.(rock,club, knife,baseball bat,automobile and yes firearm. Just to name a few. If used against a “SnowFlake”or LGBTOMXYZ Words may also qualify. An “Assault Weapon”. requires the manipulation of a criminal in the case of Assault. In the case of Self Defense it requires the manipulation of a Patriot. Keep Your Powder Dry.

  5. In some states my ruger 1022 is an assault weapon. Wow???
    It’s passed time for calling these uneducated idiots out. They are lying. Just making words up as they go.

  6. Assault Weapons? TTAG is trolling it’s own now???? You reach back to a 2016 article and throw it out there like you’re baiting a caliber war…9 vs 45, creedmore vs everything else?

    Surely you can do better. You fail the interwebs today.

  7. The article repeats a myth. The assault rifle, as defined by the US Army, was invented simultaneously in the US and Germany. We did not give our weapon name like assault rifle. We called it the M2 Carbine and designated it a personal defense weapon for support personnel, tanker’s and artillerymen. However, it was a popular weapon in line infantry units, particularly the Airborne troops because its light weight and large magazine capacity. There are a lot of misconceptions spread about the effectiveness the M1/M2 Carbine that originate in another bad piece of analysis by SLA Marshall. The 30 caliber cartridge is in same ballistics performance range as the 5.56 NATO cartridge fired from the M4 Carbine. You can find videos on the internet where the Shooter is accurate at 300 yards

    The 30 carbine cartridge may be weak sister to the 8mm Kurtz or 7.62×39 but it is an effective round when used by a trained infantry.

    • “The 30 caliber cartridge is in same ballistics performance range as the 5.56 NATO cartridge fired from the M4 Carbine.”

      Not even close. The 5.56 has 35% more energy and is far more accurate and effective at extended range.

      • Neither one works very well on a Polar Bear . The cook might wind up having to kill it with a meat cleaver.( story from my uncle stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WW2)

        • From a 14.5 barrel 5.56 is 2850 fps for a 55g bullet for about 991 ft/lbs at the muzzle.

          M1 Carbine data is 1990fps for a 110g bullet from an 18″ barrel for 967 ft/lbs at the muzzle.

          That is within the round to round variation with the 5.56 having an insignificant higher muzzle energy on average.

          The original post was read off a chart. I ran the actuals through an energy calculator. It does not change the conclusion. The carbine drop is significantly higher because of the lower muzzle velocity.

        • So you use the worse round possible to compare it to. A 55gr meant for a 20 inch barrel in a 14.5. I mean why don’t you compare something like a 77gr in a 14.5.

          Then you would get 1146lbs. Or a 62 grain in the 2900FPS range also gets you around 1170

  8. When it comes right down to it, the 1934 & 1986 legislation mentioned in the article are infringements on the 2nd amendment in their own right. So, why are they being used to mince words to justify our side? The 2A community should under no circumstances being doing this, otherwise the implication is that such legislation is acceptable after a certain period of time. Following that pattern, we’ll be completely screwed in short order.

  9. The second amendment protects “weapons of war” because it is ABOUT war.
    We should be pushing that fact rather than begging off the issue over stupid terms.

    • True anything can be used as a weapon. Cars and trucks are popular again in Europe.

      The only thing I ever really thought of as an “assault weapon” in the army was flamethrowers. Everything else could be used for defence or attack.

    • Americans define anything capable of doing major harm or causing death as a deadly weapon.

      A car is considered a deadly weapon. If you use, or attempt to use, a deadly weapon on someone you can be killed for doing so. No gun or knife is required to allow someone to legally kill you.

      I’m sure the crowd that defined “assault weapon” to be a firearm wouldn’t mind eventually adding swords or other long bladed weapons into the category. They wouldn’t want people to own swords nor carrying them.

      Who really needs a sword, right? What is this like the samurai era!? Swords are not made for cutting food…

  10. So it’s okay for the government to define a particular type of technology until it hurts the second amendment?

    Americans have defined what an “assault weapon” is. It’s commonly known to be a modern long gun with a detachable magazine and so-called pistol grip. Doesn’t matter what the caliber is nor the fact it isn’t full auto. It’s all about whether the tool allows the operator to attack/fight numerous people… Hence the characterization of modern guns being “weapons of war” designed to make it easier to kill many people before needing to reload.

    It’s true that modern guns like the SCAR, ACR, Bren, Tavor, etc, were never designed to a hunting rifle nor a sporting/competition rifle. They are fighting rifles, like the battle rifles before them. Full auto is not necessary for these guns, it helps decrease finger fatigue, but not a requirement. Regardless of having full auto, these later designs have thin barrels that do not perform well when over heated by full auto fire. Full auto fire is a necessary feature on belt fed firearms, which are not commonly owned in the U.S.

    The anti gun orgs have won the language war and now they are winning the philosophical war too. They have defined the technology/terminology and now they’re moving on to “define” the acceptable use for firearms.

    They have correctly labeled most modern rifles in the U.S. as weapons for combat. However, they created the perception in the minds of Americans that such rifles have no place in modern society because they enable the user to shoot at numerous people utilizing their larger magazine capacity.

    How else is one to fight off a home invasion with the statistical average number of attackers? How else are the American citizens to defend their life, liberty and property from foreign and domestic threats/enemies in the present and future? How do Americans fight off the ever growing militarized police forces in the U.S. when those departments are acquiring “weapons of war” and actual vehicles from war? It’s as if when the government becomes larger and more powerful is when Americans most need modern rifles and ammunition designed to fight with.

    When the minority didn’t have weapons for war they were oppressed, raped, enslaved or murdered. Whether it done for political, ethnicity, religion or property… The only thing that matters is who has the weapons. Bad things will happen to good people if those people can’t fight. Bullying doesn’t end once you graduate school.

  11. The Demonuts hate we law-abiding Citizens having guns, any types of them.
    But the fact the billionaires like MiniMike having a revolving group of armed individuals around him day and night, with Hi-Capacity semi-auto pistols concealed under their clothes. Is just fine?
    Well, I don’t feel bad with my Glock 19 fully loaded in the right front pocket of my track pants. Cell phone in the left one.
    But even armed, the couple of times the average older American would have possibly thought GUN! My hands flew free, ex Boxer, and Bouncer Englishman!
    But having said that, if the gun was needed, a Glock would have been utilized instead.
    I own two weapons that could be described as Assault Weapons. Neither one has jumped out of the safe to do harm as yet. A Steyr AUG or AK 47 with a folding stock.

  12. One can KILL with ONE BULLET………If that one bullet would save you, or someones life, does the ” Government” not want you to have more bullets in case you miss ? just sayin.
    So how dumb is it to limit the number of rounds you have at your disposal in case you really need them? well it really means the less bullets equate to less guns…without both you have …….. 0

  13. Regardless what the definition of an “assault weapon” is, the fact that it’s sole purpose is to kill another human being should make it illegal to own by ANY civilian. Bernie Sanders is winning because reasonable people understand that this country needs to change direction. Stalin said, “There is no murder in paradise.” This ideal is what we need to follow.

  14. So where does the USC state we can’t have “assault weapons?
    What did we use on the British and were they not assaulted?

  15. I’d like to see an article on the Syrian rebel unit that uncovered and used that huge cache of STG44s in the Syrian civil war. Obviously data is probably nihl, but it would be cool to read about the units combat effectiveness using the STG in modern combat.

    • There is no single person combat and I suspect that even at the squad level there is little difference between a squad equiped with Garands or M4s because the bulk of the squads rounds down range come from the squad machinegun so the STG44 should do just fine.

        • Your point is?

          Combat is not one on one. It is many on many. If squad level combat isn’t a complete wash then it certainly at the platoon level. The Germans did not favor spray and pray which we know is less effective than aimed semiautomatic fire in most situations.

        • Just stating a historical fact. Despite the potential of such a weapon, it was limited by logistics. I’ll guess it was mostly used in 200-300 metre semi-auto fire most of the time with full auto in reserve for when the Ivans were in spitting distance.

  16. Guys… can we quit with the pedantic bullshit? No, really. We know what they mean by “assault weapon” just as well as they do, even if they can’t put it into words, and we refuse to put it into words.

    My AR is better than mil-spec. You can bolt all the same accessories to it as the military gun. It takes the same mags, it fires the same ammo. The only thing it does different is that it lacks the waste ammo switch – which is a 2A infringement. In other words, “define assault weapon” is just as effective as “they’re the real racists”. It’s not, at least not on the lower emotional level they operate on. Since they’re dealing in emotion, fling emotion back in their face.

    When they say “assault weapon” go ahead and own it. And then launch into why it’s a 2A infringement. When they tell you that it’s time to “be reasonable”, tell them our side has been reasonable for a century, and our side has given all the ground with law after law, and the only thing it’s got us is a higher murder & violent crime rate so they can fuck right the hell off with that shit. And it they want to start having battles in the street, just make sure you tell them that you don’t expect them to last long without a gun.

    It’s time to stop insulting everybody’s intelligence, but it’s also time to stop making excuses. Yes it’s a weapon of war, so what of it? As an American it’s our God-given right to possess and maintain weapons of war specifically to use to SHOOT PEOPLE LIKE THEM who would use the power of government against everyday Americans. This really is OUR COUNTRY. We’re not only in the right morally, but we also have all the guns, so what say we start acting like it?

    • The Gun Control crowd at one time used the term “Assault Gun” until it was pointed out this was an official term for a “tracked armored vehicle with a hull mounted cannon for destroying tanks and infantry support, typically German or Soviet origin. Hence the use of the ambiguous term “Assault Weapon”.

      • And now we have the term “semiautomatic assault firearm”.
        Because, you know, more syllables = more scary evil bad.

  17. I really have no use for full auto. I’m sure it might be fun but it seems like more about wasting ammo for civilians. Who knows what the future brings though?

    I don’t pretend to know everything but when talking heads on tv start saying things about guns, I usually turn the channel.

    • If Americans were allowed by their rulers to buy new full auto firearms belt fed guns wouldn’t be so rare in the U.S.. Those gun owners that buy 3-4 ARs would rather have 2 ARs and 1 belt fed machine gun.

  18. It’s only a WEAPON if you use it to hurt someone with it, Until then it’s a gun. It’s not an ASSAULT unless you ASSAULT someone with the gun. Making it then and only then a ASSAULT WEAPON. It’s a gun only. Metal and wood like a hammer which is used more than a gun as a ASSAULT WEAPON.

  19. When I was young, I watched my Dad’s crazy GF smack him with a loaf of bread. Chucked it right at his face, picked it up off the floor after she full on sprinted across the single wide and kept swinging until it was bread stuffing. It was a great Thanksgiving.

    Is that an assault weapon?

  20. What kind of assault rifles do you own?
    Gun owner, why I have a AR-15 and a AK- 47. They both are semi automatic though so not true assault weapons.

  21. “if it isn’t already too late.”

    It is.

    You’re going up against the New York Times, the Washington Post, every major newspaper, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Rachel Mad-Cow (on Batwoman now, no less!), and every other social influential force in the US, including 99% of social media run by anti-gun, pro-state tech billionaires.

    Good luck with “speaking out.” It’s like Xerox trying to convince people to stop saying “xerox this document” when using another brand copier.

    There’s hopeless and then there’s *hopeless*.

  22. I pray a conceal and carry or an open carry person is close by me if a lunatic decides to start shooting people. I want someone close by to protect me because that evil gun killer can kill a lot of people before the police get there. The majority of gun owners are responsible people. Criminals will always get guns to kill. They DO NOT obey laws


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