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What is An Assault Weapon? Nothing More Than a Scary Term Created By Politicians and the Media

I finally sat down to invest a few hours figuring out the difference between an assault weapon and an assault rifle. They seemed to be the same thing to me and I got confused every time I listened to a discussion or read another article. Well, it’s no wonder. Some of the terminology simply doesn’t support an actual category of firearm. According to Kobayashi and Olson 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' so as to allow an attack on as many additional firearms as possible on the basis of undefined 'evil' appearance.”

The federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) contained in the 1994 Crime Bill, defined an assault weapon based on stylistic or cosmetic features such as the presence of a bayonet lug, pistol grip, folding rifle stocks, threaded barrels for attaching silencers, and the ability to accept ammunition magazines holding large numbers of bullets. It was in fact, based on a picture book review. These guns were chosen because they look scary. They had no enhanced lethality.

An example of a true assault rifle is the M4A1 Carbine. It is fully automatic – meaning it can fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled. This is a U.S. military rifle that is capable of firing 950 rounds per minute. We can relate to it more easily as a “machine gun” and it has been banned from non-military purchase since 1986.

The rifle most commonly, and inaccurately, identified as an assault weapon is the AR-15. This is a semi-automatic rifle that fires one round each time the trigger is pulled and is capable of 45-60 rounds per minute. They do not fire continuously once the trigger is pulled. The designation AR-15 comes from the name of the company that produced it, ArmaLite, and 15 is simply the model number. It is very popular because it is light weight, has high accuracy and low recoil. This gun is no more lethal than the common rifle owned by every rancher in Texas.  

The AWB expired after a 10 year period. In an assessment of the ban from 1994-2003 prepared for the Department of Justice, it was found that assault weapons and large capacity magazines were used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban, and assault weapons were used in a particularly small percentage of gun crimes. The most common weapons prohibited by the 1994 federal ban accounted for between 1% and 6% of guns used in crime. The report also stated “The relative rarity of assault weapons used in crime can be attributed to a number of factors. They are long guns, which are used in crime much less often than handguns, and are more expensive and more difficult to conceal than the types of handguns that are used most frequently in crime.”

According to the FBI crime report for murders in 2011:

- 323 were committed with rifles

- 496 were committed with hammers or clubs

- 1,694 were committed with knives  

Pursuing a ban on assault weapons is a charade to make politicians appear as if they are doing something to combat crime. As we have learned from the previous ban in 1994, these so called assault weapons are not the problem. Would somebody please pass this on to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

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