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What is an "Assault Rifle"? (Updated 08Jan05)

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What is an "Assault Rifle"?  I would love to have one person tell me exactly what it is.

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We’ve all seen the news. We’ve all seen papers and magazines report on the use, possession and legality of "assault rifles". ("AR's) But I’ve yet to have one person really tell me what an AR is. I’m going to use this space to refute a few of the explanations that I’ve heard. These are actual arguments I’ve heard when I’ve asked people "what defines an AR"?, not hyperbole.

What defines an Assault Rifle?

1. "Speed of the bullet". Muzzle velocity is an interesting argument. It would seem that the faster a bullet travels, the more inherently dangerous it would be. But while a faster bullet might mean higher lethality, the opposite isn’t true. Slow moving, heavy bullets are just as lethal. Look at the difference between a .45 acp and a .22. A .45 acp is fairly slow moving at around 1000 feet per second (fps) while a .22 is marginally faster at around 1200 fps. But who would argue that a .22 rimfire is more lethal than a .45 acp? Lethality of a round is more determined by where a bullet lands and how much energy it is able to deliver than by the simple speed of a round.

2. "Type of action" or the manner in which the weapon operates. This is a very common answer. Let me just preface my explanation by saying that while there are many variations on design, there are only 6 main types of weapon actions (not counting black powder).

a.Single shot - Individual bullets must be loaded one at a time into the weapon, fired once, and then manually reloaded for the next shot. Very slow and very old technology. This type of weapon dates back to the rolling block Sharps rifle from the US civil war and is commonly found in competition style weapons and cheaper hunting rifles. This was state of the art technology back in the 1860's but is now very dated.

b.Bolt Action - Individual bullets are loaded for every shot using a mechanical crank to extract every spent casing and insert a new round, every time the trigger is pulled. Most will have a 5 shot magazine. This is an inherently accurate design and is common on most hunting rifles.

c.Pump Action - A variation of the bolt action. Individual bullets are manually loaded into the bore using a mechanical "pump" at the fore end of the gun. This is a common design for most shotguns and a few rifles. Most will feed from a 3-5 round magazine. A little faster than a bolt action but not much, as each bullet must be manually chambered after each shot.

d.Lever Action - Another variation of the bolt action that uses a lever beneath the trigger to manually load each bullet after the weapon is discharged. This is a design first used at the end of the US Civil War and into the Indian Wars. About as fast as the pump action and commonly found in hunting rifles.

e.Semi-Automatic - A revolutionary design dating from the end of the 1st World War and seen on many military and commercial firearms since. There are more variations on this design than I care to type about so I will generalize. Simply put, the weapon fires one time for each time the trigger is pulled. This is different from fully automatic, which I will describe next.

f.Full Auto - This is the refinement of military small arms and is restricted almost to the point of making private ownership impossible. This weapon will continue to fire for as long as the trigger is depressed. Some models fire "bursts", 3 or so full auto rounds for each time the trigger is depressed. These weapons are far more rare than the media, Hollywood or liberals would have you believe. They do exist in the criminal world but their expense, rarity and the high level of technical expertise required to fire them makes them fairly impractical. Why spend thousands for an illegal, full auto AK or Uzi when you can buy other weapons for far less?

Not only does the sheer number of firearm types knock holes in that argument, but the premise itself is a fallacy.. To say that a weapons action will cause crime is the logical equivalent to saying flies cause garbage.  Dont let movies and television convince you that your average street thug is going to whip out a $14,000 H&K MP5 rather than a stolen $50 Lorcin 9mm.

3. "Designed to kill people". Another interesting, but very flawed argument. A close family member posed this to me. If a weapon is designed to kill people, it is an assault rifle. Fair enough.. But what is the purpose of any firearm? Its purpose is to initiate a chemical reaction that will propel a projectile out of the barrel. Nothing more, nothing less. What the operator desires the projectile to do once it leaves the weapon has nothing to do with weapon design. By saying that an Ak-47's design is more dangerous than a bolt action hunting rifle is the same thing as saying that a 69 Camaro SS is the same thing as a kit car with a Volkswagen engine. Saying that one weapon is inherently more deadly than another absolves the individual from personal responsibility. Not only this, but every semi-auto military surplus firearm available for sale in the US is (basically) mechanically identical to non-military semi autos, such as the Ruger mini-14 or the Browning BAR hunting rifle series. While my semi-automatic Ak-47 looks identical to a fully automatic Ak-47, it is nearly impossible for anyone but a skilled gunsmith to alter it to fire full auto. It is simply not the same weapon.

4. "Ammunition is designed for man killing". Part of the same conversation as point 3, and again and interesting point. And once again, very flawed. As I pointed out in the first argument, lethality of a bullet is based more on how much kinetic energy it is able to deliver and where the bullet impacts. By this logic, the 7.62x39 bullet fired by an Ak-47 is more lethal than a .30-30 round fired from a lever action deer rifle. To be precise, there is little difference between the 2. Both are basically the same diameter, .30 caliber, and both have about the same effective range. Yet no one would call a lever action .30-30 an assault rifle. Most common commercial game ammunition has roots directly in a military firearm. The 7mm, 8mm, .30-06, .308 and .223 were all military calibers at one time and all can be found on a variety of modern hunting firearms.

5. "The weapons looks will encourage crime". I hear this argument all the time and it always cracks me up. What people are saying is that by picking up certain firearms, people will be unable to control themselves and will go on crime sprees. To argue this point simply, ill say that I’ve had my AK for 6 months and I haven’t robbed a liquor store yet. I know this will prompt more questions in the minds of left wingers, so let me clarify. If someone is going to knock off a liquor store, they don’t need an AK to push them over the edge. They are going to do it regardless. This reminds me of an episode of Cops where some douche bag robbed a convenience store with a BB gun. With the exception of professional criminals, not thugs and crack heads, the simple price and unavailability of most battle rifles precludes their use. If there were no battle rifles in the US, people would find something else to use to commit crimes. And a simple visit to the CDC's website will show that very few mil-surps are used in the commission of a crime. Which leads me to my next argument.

6. "If there weren’t any guns, there wouldn’t be any gun deaths". Brilliant. If we remove every firearm from the planet, there wouldn’t be any more gun deaths. Absolutely right... But people have been finding creative and unusual ways to kill each other for thousands of years. Lets talk about meaningful ways to reduce the number of violent deaths in America. The last time I went to the CDC's (Center for disease control) website and checked the mortality rates in the US, there were something like 10, 000 firearm related deaths in the US. This included a huge percentage of suicides and accidents. Now lets look at the mortality rates on our highways. Something like 100, 000 deaths a year and rising. When was the last time someone had a background check at the DMV? Do we prevent felons, people convicted of misdemeanor family violence or people convicted of misdemeanor drug charges from driving cars? Hell, we give people upwards of 3 chances at being caught driving drunk before we revoke licenses. I’m not arguing that these people should be allowed to own firearms, but do you see the disparity here? People have been killing each other for thousands of years. If it isn’t with a firearm, it will be with steak-knives, rocks, clubs or whatever else a criminal chooses to use. This will never change. There is no proven correlation between the private ownership of firearms and increased rates of homicide. Look at States and cities that stringently prohibit private ownership. California, New York, DC and Chicago. Its nearly impossible for the average person to own many types of firearms yet these locations have the highest violent crime rates anywhere in America. Now look at Texas for example. My home state and notorious for the amount of privately owned firearms. Even the stereotypes of a Texan include a rifle rack in the back window of a truck. Yet why aren’t our homicide rates higher? Ill let you come to your own conclusion. But ill leave you with this. Go to a gun show. You will find nothing but polite, respectful people. Care to hazard a guess why this is so?

One of my Chief Petty Officers back when I was in the Navy always used to tell me. "If you bring me a problem, bring me a solution as well." So ill leave you with this. Why do people speed? Everyone knows that it is dangerous and illegal. So why do we speed? The chances of being caught speeding are relatively low and the penalty if caught is also relatively low. Does this prevent speeding? If the government were to say tomorrow that in an effort to reduce the rampant death rate on our highways, new laws were going to be enforced.

1. Doubling the number of State Troopers on our highways.

2. Making radar detectors illegal and punishing their use by 10 years in jail, seizure of the vehicle it was used in and permanent revocation of driving privileges for the offender.

3. Permanent revocation of all driving privileges, 10 years in jail and a $100,000 fine for even 1mph over the speed limit. No plea bargains, no chance of getting out of it.

4. Permanent revocation of all driving privileges, $100,000 fine and 10 years in jail if caught driving while under the influence. Again, no plea bargains and no reduced sentences.

5. Permanent revocation of all driving privileges, $100,000 fine and the immediate seizure of the vehicle used to be given to the victim of DUI accidents and their families.

6. The death penalty for anyone who kills another while under the influence of any substance. No reduced sentences, no life in prison, no time off for good behavior or parole. Kill another through your negligence and you die, period.

Do you think anyone would speed? Do you think anyone would get behind the wheel if they’d been drinking? Many will read this and say "that’s too harsh". But think of the impact these laws would have. Human life would again have value and peoples actions would have immediate and harsh consequences. People speed and drive drunk because the odds of getting caught are slim and the penalties for doing so are less than inadequate. Lets apply these same laws to firearms. We can erase all other laws and simply use and ruthlessly enforce these.

1. Anyone besides felons and the mentally insane can own firearms.

2. Automatic 20 years in prison at hard labor for anyone breaking the law while using or carrying a firearm. The profits from this labor to go into a fund for the families and victims of violent crime and for enforcement of the law. Speeding with an illegal firearm in your car? 20 years. Jaywalking with an illegal firearm? 20 years.

3. Automatic life in prison at hard labor for the commission of a violent crime with a firearm. Point a pistol at a convenience store clerk while robbing? Life in prison and the profits for your labor goes into the same fund.

4. Kill another with a firearm while committing a crime? Automatic death penalty within 1 year of conviction. Not only that but upon conviction, all of your organs would be harvested and sold and this money given to the family of the victim or placed into the fund for victims and law enforcement.

Maybe this is too harsh but it is an attempt to show how meaningless our laws are. People are not afraid to break the law. This is the problem, not firearms. I would love for anyone who reads this to tell me that I’m wrong. If you find holes in my logic, please email me and tell me. Who knows, maybe you’ll change my mind..?

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