What is an assault rifle?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 7:14pm

Guns and gun control are again on the front burner in American politics.

But as usual, there are a lot of misconceptions and just plain misinformation about firearms in that dialogue. You pull the trigger and it goes bang.

But that simple act seems to have a lot of politicians and colleagues in the press confused. So, we offer a primer.

Ever since the advent of repeating firearms, starting around the beginning of the Civil War, there are really only a handful of mechanisms used in rifles.

There is the lever action we all know from western movies. Then came higher powered bolt action rifles like the 1903 Sprinigfield used by the US Army in the early part of the century. By the late 30’s and in World War II, the US pioneered in development of the semi-automatic military rifle, the M-1 Garand.

Semi autos had been around a long time, and all have one thing in common. They only fire one shot with each pull of the trigger. That includes modern civilian versions of military guns like the M-16 and AK-47.

The military versions, which are the only true assault rifles, can fire either semi or fully automatic. That means, if you pull the trigger, the gun will keep firing until it runs out of ammunition. Those guns are now difficult, expensive and in some cases, impossible to buy.

Many folks worry about high capacity magazines, and want a return to the 10-round limitation in the old assault gun ban. But the problem there is obvious. Several 10-round mags can be changed to achieve the same effect.

But the basic semi-auto principle is the same in the 65-year-old M-1 and the modern AR-15. One just looks meaner.

So, as the discussion inevitably proceeds, it would be a good idea if we are all talking about the same thing using the same vocabulary. And if it isn’t too much to ask, using some common sense.

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