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Deadly 'assault weapons' – what are they?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about “assault weapons,” but it seems that many of the people doing the talking don’t know anything at all about guns, and that’s causing confusion.

As an Army-certified Small Arms Repairman and a lifelong firearms owner and enthusiast, I know a little bit about guns and assault rifles, so I’d like to set the record straight about a few things.

First off, the term “assault weapon” is a made-up name. There really is no such thing. The term was coined by some firearm marketers back in the 1970s to describe military-looking, semi-auto firearms. Anti-gun extremists recognized it as a catchy and scary term and exploited it for all it was worth. The term was a play on the valid label “assault rifle,” which is a lightweight, selective fire rifle or carbine. The key there is that term “selective fire,” which means the operator can select either single shot or multi-shot modes of fire. In other words, a true assault rifle can fire one shot for each trigger pull, or it can fire a burst or string of shots for each trigger pull – machine-gun mode.

What Feinstein, Obama and Holder are calling “assault weapons” are not selective fire. They are not machine guns and are not capable of selective fire. Nor are they easily modified to be able to fire like machine guns. These guns are semi-auto firearms that fire one round each time the trigger is pulled, just like a typical revolver or semi-auto pistol, or the 100-year-old Winchester Model 1907.

The only thing that distinguishes an “assault weapon” from any other semi-auto firearm is its appearance. What the gun ban crowd calls “assault weapons” are guns that are made to look like military weapons, but which function like common hunting firearms. Certainly this appearance could make them more appealing to someone bent on mayhem because they look “menacing,” but they are not more “deadly.” As a matter of fact, typical military-look firearms like the AR15 fire cartridges that are ballistically inferior to common hunting rounds. The AR15’s 5.56mm NATO cartridge is so anemic that it is not allowed for deer hunting in most states, but that doesn’t stop the “experts” in the media from routinely referring to them as “high-powered” and “devastating.”

The confusion about what these firearms are, how they operate and what they are capable of is no accident, though. In a “report” in 1988, Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center advocated for exploitation of the potential confusion. He said “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. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.”

As to the practical use of military-looking firearms, along with being extremely fun to shoot, an integral part of the fastest-growing shooting sport in the country, and popular for varmint hunting, they are very handy, excellent for home-defense and very reliable and durable. They are the sport-bikes of the shooting world: sleek, fast and cool. But most importantly, they are the very types of firearms referenced in the Second Amendment because they are more suitable for militia duty and training than anything else the average person can afford to own.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced a new bill to ban the manufacture, importation and sale of these scary-looking guns. When she got a ban passed in 1994 she defined “assault weapons” as any semi-auto firearm capable of accepting a detachable magazine and which has any two specific military-looking feature. But when manufacturers began making their guns without those military-looking features, Feinstein and her ilk protested that the manufacturers were dodging the law by using “loopholes.” So in her latest iteration of an “assault weapon” ban she has redefined them to be any semi-auto capable of accepting a detachable magazine and which has any one specified military-looking feature. And in case there is any doubt about Sen. Feinstein’s ultimate objectives, she made those very clear in 1994 in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” when she said; “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them … Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ’em all in, I would have done it.

There was also much consternation about the previous ban allowing current owners of the “evil black rifles” to keep them and treat them like they actually owned them – legally buying, selling and trading them amongst their peers – so in the new iteration Feinstein is requiring registration and restrictions on resale and transfers. As in 1994, she is also trying to ban magazines with greater than 10-round capacity because “no one needs a 30-bullet clip to hunt with.”

Among the millions of Americans who presently own these guns, many are going to reject as unconstitutional any law requiring registration of any of their firearms and will refuse to comply. Is Sen. Feinstein going to order that these people be arrested, jailed, or possibly killed because they understand “shall not be infringed” to mean shall not be infringed?

As I have pointed out before, a magazine is nothing more than a box with a spring in it, very similar to a Pez candy dispenser. There are literally hundreds of millions of standard 20- and 30-round magazines in circulation, and a 10-round magazine can easily be converted to a 20-round magazine with just some poster board, paperclips, duct tape and rubber bands. How many lives would be ruined or lost and dollars spent trying to enforce that unenforceable law?

While it is the principle that matters most in this debate, from a practical standpoint these laws are just plain stupid. So called “assault weapons” have never accounted for more than about 1 percent of all gun crime, and regardless of what ban supporters claim, there is absolutely no statistical evidence that the ’94 ban had any impact on crime whatsoever. A quick look at Wikipedia can easily confirm that.

Call your elected servants and tell them that restricting responsible gun owners does not impede criminals. Tell them: No New Gun Laws.