People love to use the word assault weapon. Reporters utilize the phrase as a buzzword, to deliver fear into your heart and the hearts of your loved ones. The word gets tossed around during debates as if nobody really knows the definition of an assault weapon. What exactly constitutes an “assault weapon”?
First we need to define the term assault rifle. An assault rifle can only be a selective-fire weapon that utilizes an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. To fall into this category, a firearm must be capable of selective fire, have an intermediate-power cartridge with more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle. Its ammunition must come from a detachable box magazine, and have an effective range of at least 110 feet. Any weapon that does not meet all of these requirements may not be considered an assault rifle.
Making matters even more confusing, legislation coined the term “Assault weapon” in an attempt to rush the idea of fear into certain firearms. Bruce Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson explain, “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.’” Assault weapons are usually defined as semi-automatic (one shot per pull of the trigger) firearms that utilize attachments commonly assumed to be affiliated with military firearms. A firearm may only be considered an assault weapon if it reflects a rifle type weapon, fires semi-automatic, has the ability to accept a detachable magazine, and two of the following; folding/telescoping stock, a pistol grip beneath the action of the weapon, a bayonet mount, flash suppressor/ threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, a grenade launcher.
Automatic firearms are also called machine guns which were made illegal to sell or transfer in 1986 under federal law. A machine gun can only be a fully automatic, mounted, or portable firearm such as the M4A1 Carbine. A machine gun rate of fire varies from 300 to 1800 bullets every minute. Machine guns are then sub-divided further as submachine guns, assault rifles, battle rifles, automatic shotguns, or autocannons. This information proves useful to expose the differences between (so-called) assault weapons, assault rifles, and a typical machine gun.
The Colt AR-15 has no choice but to fire one bullet per pull of the trigger; for this reason, the rate of fire proves much slower than the M4A1 does with only 45 rounds per minute which is comparable to all other semi automatic rifles. David Kopel explains 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… Some of these guns look like machine guns, but they do not function like machine guns.” Through his words, Kopel stresses the fact that weapons such as the AR-15 functions just as a typical hunting rifle does, and does not hold the ability to induce the damage that an assault rifle will create.
Not only do “assault weapons” such as the AR-15 work just like a regular hunting rifle. They also work in a similar fashion to every other gun sold in America; shotguns, ranch guns, and even pistols. However, the design of the gun affects the perception of many citizens who do not know any better, which insights a stigma around them. According to a 1998 report by the Violence Policy Center, “The weapon’s 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.” A large portion of the population does not hold knowledge towards the subject of guns and do not understand the difference between the “menacing” AR-15 and any machine gun.
In 1989, after the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton California left thirty-two injured and five children dead, anti-gun lobbyists and the media began campaigning against AR-15’s and other “military style” firearms. This caused the public to believe that these ordinary rifles are as dangerous as fully automatic, militaristic, machine guns. The suspect, Patrick Purdy, used a semi-automatic weapon to fire 106 rounds in 180 seconds. Purdy then took his own life with a pistol; not an assault weapon. These numbers are easily recreated by all semi-automatic weapons, regardless of the aesthetics of the firearm. The number of dead and injured children would have skyrocketed had the gun been fully automatic because more shots would have been fired. Although semi-automatic weapons are undeniably dangerous, to govern some of them as illegal (although they each posses the same amount of power and danger) based off it’s appearance instead of its functionality is erroneous.
On September 13th 1994, Bill Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The purpose of the assault weapons ban was to prohibit the manufacturing and civilian transfer, possession, or use of semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines for ten years. The NRA (National Rifle Association) opposed the ban, stating, “‘Assault weapons’ are used in only one percent of all crimes,” which was then proven by the Department of Justice’s crime statistics in 1999. The ban also penalized the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. These devices are defined in the act as, “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after [September 13, 1994] that has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than ten rounds of ammunition,” which sounds absurd upon realization that many guns typically take more than ten bullets. However, the Assault Weapons Ban incorporated a grandfather clause which declares that possession or transfer of weapons or ammunition that was possessed lawfully before the date of enactment will not be punished. This means that while the manufacturing of these guns have ended, the same amount of these weapons are still on the streets within the hands of people; still capable of abuse.
As one can see, an “Assault Weapon” does not differ from it’s semiautomatic counterparts. Although they may seem intimidating compared to other guns on the market, they do not function differently. A pistol that just missed the classification may be just as dangerous as any assault weapon. To conclude the assumption that they are more dangerous to our society followed by attempts to remove them from the hands of families requiring protection may be the most illogical and frightening portion of the situation. Our government means well, which makes this situation counterintuitive.
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