Editor’s Note: With so much misinformation and confusion in the gun debate, Liberty Nation presents the first in a three-part series examining the facts on firearms. In this initial segment, we ask and answer, what is an assault rifle?
Assault weapons, military-style rifles, weapons of war. You’ve heard the terms bandied about by the left, even if you aren’t quite sure what they mean. To those who aren’t “gun people,” such labels inspire fear – which is precisely their purpose – but impart no real knowledge. Those who want people afraid of firearms, of course, don’t want you to have a clear understanding of the simple truth. As it turns out, that simple truth isn’t quite scary enough.
Propaganda: The Left’s Favorite ‘Weapon of War’
“A lone gunman, armed with weapons of war and hate-filled soul, shot and killed ten innocent people in cold blood at a grocery store on Saturday afternoon,” President Joe Biden told the crowd outside the Capitol after the shooting in Buffalo, NY.
“Wounds caused by assault weapons are more severe and lethal than wounds caused by other firearms,” claims the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the statement “Assault weapons are not deadlier than other firearms” is a myth.
A basic education on these weapons and how they function reveals, however, that the term “assault rifle” is little more than political propaganda.
What Is an Assault Weapon?
The 1994 federal assault weapon ban – which expired in 2004 – named quite a few specific guns, but the general definition of a “semiautomatic assault weapon” was broad and arbitrary. Things get a little technical here, but for a rifle, it must accept a detachable magazine and have at least two of the following features: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip protruding “conspicuously,” a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accept one, or a grenade launcher.
So, let’s compare two rifles: A standard AR-15 has a magazine that can be taken out and exchanged easily, and it will often have at least a few of these other forbidden features. Such a rifle can be built to fire different types and sizes of ammunition, but one of the most common is the 5.56mm NATO round, which is also commonly used by militaries around the Western world. It is, by the 1994 law, a “semiautomatic assault weapon.”
The second gun is a semiautomatic hunting rifle. It has a detachable magazine, but it doesn’t have any of the other features on the list. There are many options that fit this description. A look at online auction sites for firearms turns up deals like this all the time: Remington Model 7400, semiautomatic rifle fed by a detachable magazine, for $748.99. It comes with a scope and both a four-round and a 12-round magazine included, and it fires the .30-06 Springfield hunting round – a solid choice for deer and other large game in the US. It is not, according to the 1994 ban, an assault weapon.
Time for Some Truth
But there’s a problem with this designation: Adjustable stocks and flash suppressors don’t make a rifle any more deadly than it was before. The same bullet is leaving the otherwise identical firearm and doing no more or less damage, all else being equal. As for a bayonet attachment that turns a rifle into a gun-spear hybrid, it may look cool but it is actually less efficient at stabbing folks than a medieval polearm. Grenade launchers, of course, turn the rifle into a launcher of explosives – if one happens to have grenades, which are not available for civilian purchase.
But now let’s look at what happens when all other things aren’t equal with the guns. The two example rifles mentioned previously are vastly different, and not just in appearance and spiffy features. The 5.56mm NATO round was developed for war – and that doesn’t mean what you probably think it does.
Hunting rounds are designed to break apart and expand when they hit flesh and bone. The goal, when hunting, is to kill an animal as quickly and humanely as possible, and soft lead bullets that flatten out when they enter the body do that very well. So well, in fact, that they’re banned in war by international law. The 5.56mm NATO round, however, was designed specifically to be effective in combat, but in a way that allows those shot to have a chance at survival should they get medical attention. And if you look at the last 50 mass shootings in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive, only five left more dead than wounded – just 10% – and in 22 of them, no one died.
In fact, that .30-06 bullet, designed to kill as quickly as possible, is also two to three times more metal hitting the body almost as fast – just as fast, in some cases – as the smaller round. Even in its military application, the .30-06 creates a much worse wound than the 5.56mm, and in many states, the lighter bullet isn’t considered powerful enough to legally hunt deer.
So where does the term assault weapon come from? Politicians. It’s a political term designed to strike fear into the hearts of voters – nothing more and nothing less.