What is an Assault Weapon?
By John D. Turner
20 Jan 2013

At the top of Senator Feinstein’s webpage on Issues/Assault Weapons, appears the following header in big red letters appears the following: ”Stopping the spread of deadly assault weapons.” A link to the text of her legislation is on the page. At the very top of the legislation is the title: “To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.”

From the title we gather that the purpose of this legislation is multi-fold. To regulate “assault weapons,” to ensure that the unrestricted right guaranteed by the second amendment and upheld by the supreme court is in fact, limited to whatever extent Ms. Feinstein deems sufficient, and “for other purposes.” Hmm. Wonder what those “other purposes” are exactly?

So what is an “assault weapon” anyway?

According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, the first known use of the term “Assault Weapon” was in 1973. The hardcopy Webster’s dictionary I checked, dated 1984, did not have the term listed. I tried looking at older hard copy dictionaries first, because there has been a lot of confusion over the meaning of the term and that confusion has made its way into the current, modern definitions of the term.

If you ask a military person to define an “assault weapon”, they will most likely tell you that it is a weapon, used by military forces with the capability of firing multiple rounds with a single press of the trigger. The most common such firearm used within the United States military is the M-16 rifle, and its derivatives, such as the M-4 carbine.

Wikipedia states that “assault weapon” refers to different types of firearms within the United States and is a term that has differing meanings and usages within this context.” Which is to say these days, it can mean about anything. Wikipedia goes on to state: “In more casual usage, the term "assault weapon" is sometimes conflated with the term "assault rifle". An assault rifle is a military rifle that utilizes an intermediate-power cartridge, and that generally is capable of full-automatic fire, where multiple rounds are fired continuously when the trigger is pulled one time — that is, a machine gun — or burst capable, where a burst of several rounds is fired when the trigger is pulled one time. In the United States, full-automatic firearms are heavily restricted, and regulated by federal laws such as the National Firearms Act of 1934, as well as some state and local laws.”

Many people mistakenly believe that the “AR” in “AR-15” means “assault rifle,” or alternatively, “automatic rifle.” In reality, the AR stands for ArmaLite, the name of the company that originally developed the rifle.

So what can we take away from this? While it is true that in the United States, one can legally own a fully automatic weapon, it is also true that the process for doing so is very onerous, invasive, and expensive. Couple this with the fact that there are a limited number of automatic weapons that it is legal to own (manufacture date must be before 1986) and it is easy to see that the number of semi-automatic weapons available in the United States vastly surpasses the number of fully-automatic weapons owned by civilians. This is why the criminal use of fully automatic weapons in this country is something that is mostly witnessed only in Hollywood movies and TV shows, where every bad guy seems to be armed with one.

This morning on the way into work, a caller to the Bill Bennett show was discussing why, even though he said he supported the second amendment, he thought that certain types of weapons should be outlawed. “Why,” he asked, “should civilians be allowed to own the same weapons that the military owns?”

Leaving that question alone for the moment, let us examine an even more basic question, implied in the one the caller asked. That is, do civilians own the same weapons that the military owns? The answer to that question, for the most part anyway, is no. Civilian-owned weapons are, for the most part, semi-automatic; leaving aside those owned under Title II of the Federal firearms laws, the National Firearms Act, sometimes referred to as “class 3 weapons.” Military weapons are, as stated above, select fire weapons; capable of firing semi-auto, full auto, and, these days, in “3-round burst” mode whereby a single pull of the trigger causes three bullets to be fired.

There is a difference between a “military weapon,” as used by the armed forces, and a “military-style weapon;” a military-style weapon being one that looks like a military weapon, but is not. Making something look like something it isn’t doesn’t magically make it into that thing. I can, for example, put a spoiler on a Prius. That doesn’t turn a Prius into a race car.

Unlike Senator Feinstein’s bill which says that if I add a folding stock to my 22 caliber Ruger 10/22, I have somehow transformed it into an “assault weapon.” Why? Well, now it has a “military characteristic.” Does it operate any differently? No. But it somehow appears more “threatening” I guess.

Let’s go back to the question the caller had, namely, why should civilians be allowed to own the same weapons that the military owns. We have, I believe, established that by and large, civilians don’t. An AR-15 is not the same weapon that the military uses. You can put all the same stuff on an AR-15, all the “military characteristics” that appear on an M-16 or M-4, so that visually they look the same; but that does not change the fact that they are not the same. There is a huge difference between semi-auto and full auto.

But let’s assume for sake of argument that they are the same. What about the same gun, identical in appearance, but chambered in 22 long rifle instead of 5.56 mm? Visually they look the same, but again they are not the same. No army in the world uses a .22 long rifle as a military weapon! So is a .22 cal version an “assault rifle?” Feinstein’s bill says it is.

I can take my Ruger 10/22, which would be legal under Feinstein’s bill (as long as I only use a 10 round magazine that is), and “trick it out” to make it look “mean and nasty” or “cool” (depends on your viewpoint). I can add a folding stock, black polymer furniture, rails, red dot sights, laser, forward grip, 25 round magazine, the works. There are kits for that for the 10/22. Why? Because some folks like to do things like that, just like some folks like to trick out their cars with decals, fancy mags, jacked up rear ends, chromed motors, you name it.

In the end, I still have a 25 round .22 cal rifle. I have probably spent a thousand dollars or so, on a rifle that originally cost around $225, but it hasn’t suddenly morphed into a battle rifle that any army in the world would take into combat.

It is not a military weapon.

A friend of mine recently purchased an MP-5 lookalike chambered in .22 caliber. It looks real cool, and is a lot of fun to shoot on the range – but it is most definitely not an MP-5.

The caller also stated that he didn’t see why anyone “needed” such a weapon. The host, rightly, pointed out that the first ten amendments to the Constitution are called “The Bill of Rights,” not the “Bill of Needs.” It isn’t his or the governments business to try and figure out what they think I “need” and thereby base what I can have on that perceived need. It doesn’t work that way. What I think I need is my business; no one else’s. And it is most certainly not the governments.

The second amendment says I have a right to “keep and bear arms.” It doesn’t say I can only keep and bear the arms that the government thinks I need. It doesn’t speak of hunting, or self protection either, limiting me only to arms that the government, in its perceived wisdom, has decided adequately fulfill those roles. It is simple and succinct. It leaves up to me what arms I decide I need to keep and bear. I make those decisions based on an analysis of what I perceive my needs to be, of the perceived threat, ease of use, cost, and perhaps esthetics as well, as with any purchase. I may want an AR-15 because I think it looks cool. And yes, you can hunt with one. It will kill an animal just as dead as a Ruger mini-14 range rifle, which uses the same round.

The arms we can bear are not to be determined by the government. If that were the case, it would appear in the amendment or failing that, surely somewhere in the writings of the founders; they certainly wrote enough on the subject. And it certainly is not to be determined by someone like Senator Feinstein, thumbing through a gun catalog and picking out all the pictures that are disturbing or frightening to her.

Should the government also determine what we can say, even though we supposedly have freedom of speech, or what we can write, even though we supposedly have freedom of the press, or what church we can attend (or if we can even attend church at all) even though we supposedly have freedom of religion? If Senator Feinstein doesn’t like my church (perhaps she thinks it has a “military characteristic” or teaches something she disagrees with), should she be able to tell me that I cannot attend it? Should it be banned?

But these laws will make us “safer,” say those on the left. How? We already have laws on the books against theft and murder. The Sandy Hook killer broke both of those, as well as others. We have laws against bringing a weapon into a school. He remained undeterred.

Laws prevent nothing; all they do is enable us to punish those who break them. And when it comes to folks like the Sandy Hook shooter, usually not even that since most such either take their own life or elect suicide by cop. Write and enact all the "anti-gun" laws you like - all you will do is limit the law-abiding and the bad guys will still do what they do without having to worry about anyone stopping them.

If you truly think that laws prevent crime, just get in your car and drive. Notice how the speeding laws don't inhibit people from speeding, the stop signs (and laws concerning them) don't make people actually come to a complete stop, DUI laws don't prevent people from getting behind the wheel of a car drunk, etc. They do enable the police to charge you a hefty fine if they want when they catch you breaking them, and do allow cops, insurance companies, etc to assign blame (and make criminal arrests if necessary) once something bad happens when the laws are flouted.

Laws themselves are words on a piece of paper that people ignore on a regular basis every day.

Do you have an armed guard that follows you around 24/7 making sure that you are safe? I surely don’t. If my house is invaded by one or more armed persons, should I ask them to wait while I call 911? By the time the police arrive, I could be laying there cold in a pool of coagulating blood. Why is it apparently ok for a perpetrator to kill me, but not ok for me to defend myself? Senator Feinstein doesn’t have to worry about this; she has an armed guard. And, apparently, a concealed carry permit. I don’t begrudge her that permit and the gun that goes with it; why does she begrudge me mine?

According to Feinstein, my Glock is an “assault weapon.” Apparently it carries “too many rounds.” How many is enough? Recently, a woman whose home was invaded in Loganville, GA pumped five rounds into the face of the intruder with a 38 special. The intruder not only did not die, but managed to leave the scene under his own power (he was later apprehended). She was lucky – he had apparently had enough. But what if he had had an accomplice, or had been high on PCP or for what other reason continued the assault? How many bullets would have been “enough” in that case?

The woman had time to call her husband (who then called 911) and hide before the intruder broke in. Still the cops showed up after all was said and done. Had she not been armed, it is nice to know that they would have been there to fill out the after-action report, and make sure her cold dead body was loaded properly into the ambulance, along with her 9 year old twins.

Bottom line Senator Feinstein; please leave my gun rights alone and leave the decision of what sort of weapon I want to own to me, ok? Sandy Hook was a bad thing. We get that. But bad things happen. They will happen even if your legislation passes. That is just the way life works. You can’t pass a law and make bad things go away.

Perhaps I should refer to your proposed “assault weapon” ban as an “assault law,” since it is assaulting my constitutional right to keep and bear arms.