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.”
Now that I know I have your attention @realDonaldTrump, please read this thread— a PARTIAL list of souls lost to preventable,devastating gun violence. America wants universal background checks. The majority of Americans want assault weapons ban. Take Action and I’ll call you Sir. https://t.co/BnaS9zgNps
— Debra Messing✍🏻 (@DebraMessing) September 1, 2019
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.]