Monday, January 19, 2015

The Mythical Assault Rifle

I'm starting a new set of files, like the Opposite files. This new set will be called "Myths and Legends." The firs tin this series is the "assault rifle."

The term "assault rifle" is thrown around by the media and legislators often. But what is an assault rifle? They mean it to refer to a broad class of "scary looking" semi-automatic rifles, like the AR-15 and AR-10. But those are not properly assault rifles. Let's see what Wikipedia has to say:
According to the legend, the name [assault rifle] was chosen personally by Adolf Hitler for propaganda reasons... a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
  • It must be an individual weapon
  • It must be capable of selective fire [selective fire means the rifle can shoot 2 or 3 shots with a single pull of the trigger]
  • It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle [yes, that's right, an assault rifle fires a bullet less powerful that a standard (e.g. deer hunting) rifle]
  • Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine
  • And it should at least have an effective range of 300 metres (330 yards)
Rifles that meet most of these criteria, but not all, are technically not assault rifles despite frequently being called such. For example...
  • Semi-automatic-only rifles like variants of the Colt AR-15 are not assault rifles; they do not have select-fire capabilities...
The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges."
So let's get one thing clear. The AR-15 (and AR-10 even more so) are not assault rifles. In fact there are no civilian assault rifles in the US, because there are no civilian selective fire weapons. Again from Wikipedia:
Selective fire weapons are regulated in the United States under the National Firearms Act of 1934; their importation was prohibited in 1968; their new manufacture for the civilian market was prohibited by the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.
So when politicians or the media tell you we need to ban assault rifles, they might as well say we need to ban unicorns. What they really means is that the want to ban all civilian gun ownership and it's easiest to start with the "scary looking" rifles like the AR-15.

The "AR" in "AR-15" doesn't stand for "Assault Rifle" by the way; it stands for Armalite, the company that first manufactured them. The correct term for such rifles is "MSR" or "Modern Sporting Rifle". In fact, when the government buys select fire versions of this rifle for use by agencies like the IRS, they call them "PDWs" or "Personal Defense Weapons." Somehow calling on people to ban civilians being allowed to own "personal defense weapons" (with part of their functionality disabled as per federal law) doesn't seem to work well, so the media and politicians make up scarier sounding terms.

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