The Truth About Assault Weapons

This is an AR-15 rifle. It is the most popular rifle sold in the United States today. Millions have been purchased by American citizens since 1963.

The AR-15 is the most common example of what are sometimes called assault weapons. But what does this term actually mean?

First, it is important to understand what an assault weapon isn’t. The terms “assault weapon” and “assault rifle” are often confused. According to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in the Stanford Law and Policy Review:

Prior to 1989, the term “assault weapon” did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of “assault rifles”…

If an assault weapon isn’t an assault rifle, what is an assault rifle?

This is a M4A1 carbine. It is a U.S. military service rifle. It is also an assault rifle.


The M4A1 is fully automatic. This means it fires multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled. The M4A1 can fire up to 950 rounds per minute.The M4A1 and other fully automatic firearms are also called machine guns. In 1986, the Federal government banned civilians from purchasing newly manufactured machine guns.

Like the majority of firearms sold in the United States, the AR-15 is semi-automatic. This means it fires one round each time the trigger is pulled.

The AR-15 can fire between 45 and 60 rounds per minute depending on the skill of the operator. This rate of fire is comparable to other semi-automatic firearms, but pales in comparison to fully automatic weapons, some of which can fire in excess of 1,000 rounds per minute.

So-called assault weapons are not machine guns or assault rifles. According to David Kopel, writing in The Wall Street Journal:

What some people call “assault weapons” function like every other normal firearm—they fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. Unlike automatics (machine guns), they do not fire continuously as long as the trigger is held. They are “semi-automatic” because they eject the empty shell case and load the next round into the firing chamber. Today in America, most handguns are semi-automatics, as are many long guns, including the best-selling rifle today, the AR-15… Some of these guns look like machine guns, but they do not function like machine guns.

The truth about assault weapons is that they function just like this ranch rifle… ranch_rifle…and this shotgun…shotgun…and this pistol…pistol

…and this double-action revolver.revolverEach of these guns fire one round each time the trigger is pulled.one_roundBut if that’s true, what makes this semi-automatic rifle a ranch gun… ranch_rifle

…and this semi-automatic rifle an assault weapon?ar15_1

The answer is perception. In the year the term “assault weapon” was invented, Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center, an anti-gun lobby explained its purpose:

[H]andgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons… are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, couple 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.

Beginning in 1988, 25 years after the AR-15 was first sold to the American public, the anti-gun lobby began a systematic campaign of categorizing it and other “military-style” firearms as assault weapons.

The media followed suit, and soon the American public began to think that an assault weapon was, like the assault rifles it resembled, a machine gun.

This strategy came to fruition in 1993, when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was introduced in Congress. The AWB would ban the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons to American citizens.

But in order to ban assault weapons, politicians first had to define them.

Because assault rifle were already banned, and because a blanket ban on semi-automatic weapons wasn’t considered politically feasible, the AWB would define assault weapons as semi-automatic firearms that shared too many cosmetic features with their fully automatic couterparts.

These banned features included certain combinations of collapsible stocks… no_stock…flash hiders…no_flash_hider

…and pistol grips… no_pistol_grip…despite the fact that none of these “military-style” features enhanced the weapon’s lethality.

According to the Department of Justice, the firearms that the AWB would ban were used in only 2% of all gun crimes.

Nevertheless, the AWB’s passage was aided by the fact that many Americans thought they were banning machine guns and “weapons of war”, something that had, in fact, already been banned.

The AWB also arbitrarily banned magazines having a capacity higher than ten rounds. This limitation on magazine capacity applied to all firearms, not just so-called assault weapons.

In order to secure enough votes to pass the bill, a “sunset” provision was added. After ten years, the ban would expire.

On September 13, 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban went into effect. A Washington Post editorial was unusually candid about its real purpose:

No one should have any illusion about what was accomplished [by the ban]. Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control.

As soon as the AWB became law, manufacturers began retooling in order to produce firearms and magazines that were compliant with the new gun regulations. One of those new, ban-compliant firearms was the Hi-Point 995 carbine, which was sold with ten-round magazines.

In 1999, five years into the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the Columbine High School massacre occurred. One of the perpetrators, Eric Harris, was armed with a Hi-Point 995.

Undeterred by the ten-round capacity of his magazines, Harris simply brought more of them; thirteen magazines were found in the aftermath. Harris fired at least 98 rounds before killing himself.

In 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired. It was not renewed.

The AWB had failed to have an impact on gun crime in the United States. A 2004 Department of Justice study concluded:

Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. [Assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes before the ban.

Regarding so-called large capacity magazines, the study said:

[I]t is not clear how often the outcomes of gun attacks depend on the ability of offenders to fire more than ten shots (the current magazine capacity limit) without reloading.

Furthermore, legislators had seriously misjudged the popularity of so-called assault weapons. The political cost was enormous.

In his memoir, Bill Clinton wrote that Democrats lost control of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections because of the AWB. Other Democrats have stated that the AWB may have cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election.

At Virginia Tech in 2007, Seung-Hui Cho once again showed the futility of regulating magazine capacity when he carried nineteen ten- and fifteen-round magazines in his backpack as part of a carefully planned massacre.

Cho used seventeen of the magazines and fired approximately 170 rounds – or ten rounds per magazine – from two handguns before killing himself.

Like Eric Harris before him, Cho demonstrated that a magazine’s capacity was incidental to the amount of death and injury an unopposed murderer could cause in a “gun-free zone”.

Although the Virginia Tech massacre was and remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, calls for new gun control were relatively scarce in its aftermath, possibly because so-called assault weapons were not used.

But after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the AR-15 and other so-called assault weapons were once again villified as “weapons of war” and “machine guns” whose only purpose was to murder and maim.

In reality, so-called assault weapons are a popular choice among hunters and competitors alike. competitionAt the 2012 National Trophy Rifle Matches, all of the 1300+ competitors used a semi-automatic rifle that the anti-gun lobby calls an assault weapon.matchBased on an estimate by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, at least 3.3 million AR-15 rifles were sold in the United States between 1986 and 2009.

While gun prohibitionists portray the AR-15 as a paramilitary weapon owned only by a lunatic fringe, this so-called assault weapon is a modern musket – the default rifle with which law-abiding Americans exercise their right to keep and bear arms.

The AR-15 is particularly favored for its modularity, accuracy, light weight, and low recoil – attributes that make it ideal not only for shooting sports but also armed self-defense.

As such, it is the epitome of what America’s founders sought to protect when they wrote the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

But despite (and perhaps because of) its status as America’s most popular rifle, some legislators are calling for another ban on the AR-15 and other so-called assault weapons.

On December 17, 2012, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the author of the original failed AWB, announced her intention to introduce an updated Federal Assault Weapons Ban in Congress.

However, Senator Feinstein’s own facts do not support her agenda.

The truth about assault weapons is that they are statistically underrepresented in gun crimes.

According to Senator Feinstein, so-called assault weapons have been used in 385 murders since the AWB expired in 2004, or about 48 murders per year. But there were 8,583 total murders with guns in the United States in 2011, meaning so-called assault weapons were used 0.6% of the time. This represents a decrease in murders from so-called assault weapons compared to the decade when the AWB was in effect, even though such weapons are more common today.

Further illustrating the small role so-called assault weapons play in crime, FBI data shows that 323 murders were committed with rifles of any kind in 2011. In comparison, 496 murders were committed with hammers and clubs, and 1,694 murders were perpetrated with knives.

To the extent that so-called assault weapons like the AR-15 are used gun crimes, the rifle’s popularity must be considered.

In addition to the AR-15, James Holmes used America’s best-selling shotgun at the Aurora movie theatre shooting.

At the Virginia Tech and Tuscon shootings, Seung-Hui Cho and Jared Loughner used America’s best-selling handgun.

All else being equal, a gun that is commonly owned is more likely to be used for legal or illegal purposes than a gun that is rarely owned. Outlawing guns that are popular today will only make different guns popular tomorrow.

Nevertheless, gun prohibitionists continue to target AR-15 rifles and their owners – not because these firearms have any inordinate capability, but because the anti-gun lobby has invested more than two decades convincing the American people that “weapons of war” must be banned, regardless of whether such a ban would have a measurable impact on public safety, and despite the fact that real weapons of war have already been banned for nearly three decades.

The truth about assault weapons is that there is no such thing. There are semi-automatic weapons, which are the firearms of choice for millions of law-abiding Americans.

To ban all semi-automatic firearms is to deprive Americans of the most commonly used arms in violation of the Second Amendment. To ban specific semi-automatic firearms because of their cosmetic features is ignorant.

Like prohibition, the United States has gone down this road before. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

A ban on so-called assault weapons is the first step toward a ban on all semi-automatic firearms. Contact your legislators, and tell them the truth about assault weapons.

No corporation, lobby, or political action committee had any part in the creation or funding of this educational project. It is solely the work of an individual.

Article taken from

WireShots Staff

WireShots is a news service provided by H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City. We cover all news related to the Shooting Sports including Firearms, Archery, Outdoors, as well as events at our range and retail store. You can reach us via email at . Shoot On!

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