The Case for “Assault Weapons”

Let’s face it. If you’ve been paying any attention to the news in the last year, you’ve probably heard the term “assault weapon.” But what is an assault weapon anyway? Why are they so easy to get? Those can’t be used for sporting purposes, they belong on the battlefield!

Allow me to preface this by saying that everything you’ve heard about assault weapons is a lie. An assault rifle is a weapon that fires an intermediate cartridge (like the 5.56 NATO or 7.62×39 mm) and has a select fire capability, meaning it can fire on full automatic. These weapons have been extremely regulated by the federal government since the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934, and it is illegal for private citizens to own an automatic weapon that was manufactured after 1986. The AR-15, which is often described as an assault rifle, is limited to semiautomatic fire only, firing the .223 Remington cartridge, a similar one to the 5.56 round that the military’s M16 and M4 rifles fire.

So if the AR isn’t an assault rifle, why do they keep calling it one? Simply put, “assault weapon” is a media buzzword. Anti-gun activist Josh Sugarmann put it best: “anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun… [increasing] the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.” The mainstream media and the anti-gun crowd have been purposely trying to mislead the public through fear.

The culmination of these arbitrary titles is in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Assault Weapons Ban. After naming over a hundred weapons to be banned by name alone, Sen. Feinstein goes on to list a number of “military features” that supposedly does not serve any legitimate sporting purpose. I don’t seem to remember the term “sporting purpose” showing up anywhere in the Second Amendment, but there are whole books written on that.

What kind of “evil” features could a gun have that make it a dreaded “assault weapon?” Foremost is a detachable magazine, but I‘ll go into that issue in more depth in a later post. Pistol grips, described as allowing a shooter to spray fire from the hip, are ergonomic features. They serve no purpose other than to make the weapon more comfortable to aim and shoot by creating a grip angle more in line with natural positions of the wrist.

Forward grips serve the same purpose. I know many shooters who choose not to have forward grips simply because they prefer the ergonomics of an unmodified handguard. Oh, yes, the handguard is another feature being targeted, inaccurately called a “barrel shroud” in the bill. The handguard is a piece of a weapon that puts wood, aluminum, or plastic between the shooter’s supporting hand and the hot barrel. In other words, you need a handguard if you don’t want third degree burns from holding a bare rifle barrel.

What about threaded barrels? Can’t you screw on a silencer with those? Yes, you can attach a suppressor to a threaded barrel. Please, tell me the last time you heard of a crime committed with a legally owned suppressor? You can also attach a flash hider or muzzle brake to help tame the recoil of larger caliber weapons.

Telescoping, folding, or detachable stocks? Has it ever occurred to people that gun owners are not all the same size? Could it be that a telescoping stock could make the weapon easily adjustable for length, maybe so that if a tall person and a short person were at the range shooting the same rifle, they could switch it between them simply by pushing a button and adjusting the stock? What about the folding stock? It’ll take up less space in the gun safe if you fold the stock and cut a good 10-12 inches off the length of the rifle. Same for detachable stocks.

So what do these features have to do with assault weapons? They have to be bad somehow, otherwise why would people want to have them banned? The fact is, they aren’t bad. Whether my rifle has a telescoping stock and a forward grip or not doesn’t change how it functions, how accurately I can fire it, or how lethal it is.


To the left is a picture of a Ruger Mini-14, a popular rifle for hunting coyotes and a budget-friendly alternative to the AR-15. The Mini-14 is a semiautomatic rifle firing a .223 Remington round, the same as the AR-15, out of 5, 10, 20, 30, or 40 round magazines. The top example would not be banned under the Assault Weapons Ban. Suddenly, when I take the same rifle and put it in a chassis kit that gives it a pistol grip and folding stock, as shown in the bottom two, the Mini-14 becomes an assault weapon. The gun itself did not change how it functions. It still fires semiautomatically. It still fires the .223 bullet from the same chamber, action, and barrel, but to Sen. Feinstein, the rifle has now become a threat to public safety.

The fact is, the assault weapons ban is a play on fear. Fear of some plastic or metal accessories to a weapon that change nothing more than its handling or aesthetic. If there is a documented case of a pistol grip or threaded barrel making a .223 caliber rifle more ballistically lethal, then please, leave a comment. Otherwise, I’ll be looking at this just like most other pieces of gun legislation: feel-good measures that will have no discernible impact on crime. As the Godfather Rahm Emanuel once said: “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

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