Words continue to mean things, even though 99% of journalists fail to use them correctly. This post is for journalists, or for those who take them seriously. For everyone else who already knows this stuff; thank you for your patience while we dabble in some remedial education for the less fortunate.
There’s now a trend among conservatives in talk radio to declare that there is no such thing as an “assault rifle”. They’ll say it proudly, as though they’re among an elite few who know the truth about something. This is the sort of thing you “know” because some guy you know knows a guy who’s cousin’s step-father’s uncle knows a thing or two because he once knew a guy who knew a cop, and the story trickled down through several get-togethers and backyard BBQs. In other words it’s not something you know at all. Apparently they mean well in this case, but they are attempting to make a point that, at best, they didn’t quite get the first few times it was explained to them. We’ll try again.
Yes, there are assault rifles. The Germans seem to have cemented the design concept back in the 1940s. In short, an assault rifle (Sturmgewehr) is a smallish rifle firing a cartridge of intermediate size and power (in-between a pistol and a rifle), feeding from a detachable, box magazine, capable of full-automatic fire. The original had a pistol grip stock, but the latter feature is not critical to its purpose or function. Assault rifles really, really do exist. They’re a sort of halfway rifle, between the submachine gun (which fires pistol ammo) and the automatic rifle (which uses full power rifle ammo) and practically all militaries of the world now use an assault rifle of some kind as standard issue to regular infantry. They’re also found occasionally among law enforcement and private collectors.
Assault rifles were essentially banned in the U.S. (before they were even invented) by the National Firearms Act of 1934, as modified by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986.
The thing that does NOT exist is any firearm design known as an “assault weapon”. Notice the difference there; “rifle” verses “weapon”. Sure; a rifle can be used as a weapon, but a weapon is not necessarily a rifle. A “weapon” could be a rock, for example, or a stick, or a fist, et al.
When we’re talking about classifications within the firearm industry, words really, really do mean things. There is no such thing as the firearm classification, “assault weapon”, and therefore no one can define it. When you think about it just a little bit, it makes sense that no one can define it, being that it does not exist.
Just as a politician talking about banning “assault weapons” is only showing his ignorance and therefore disqualifying himself from the discussion, those of you who say there’s no such thing as an “assault rifle” are just as ignorant, or more so. The assault rifle is a significant part of 20th century military and political history, and you seem to have missed the entire story. Please stay out of the conservation until you’ve got it right.
To summarize then;
Assault rifles DO exist. See right here.
Assault weapons (as a firearm design) do NOT exist.