Much has been written in the mainstream regarding the term assault weapons, unfortunately most of what has been parroted across the airwaves barely qualifies as urban legend. The Media’s handling of the assault weapon topic is more propaganda than anything else; deceitful in both tone and language. For example; Politicians and activists supported by either a complicit or complacent Media directly or indirectly infer that banning so-called assault weapons will save lives. This is more or less a flawed concept. But to realize the flaws it is necessary to clarify a few issues. The first issue is to actually define an assault weapon.
What is an assault weapon?
This much misused term was first coined by the Germans (reputedly Adolf Hitler himself) to describe a battle rifle with a shorter than standard barrel capable of firing a more powerful round in automatic mode. The “Sturmgewehr” translated from German to mean “storm rifle” or “assault rifle.”
Automatic as defined by Federal Law as “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” This definition includes the frame or receiver, any part or combination of parts designed and intended, solely and exclusively, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled.*
The purpose of this new weapon was to harness the benefits of the smaller automatic sub-machine gun with the more accurate and long-range power of a rifle round, that could be used in close quarters combat as well as out to a medium range on the battlefield. These rifles tend to be fed with rounds housed in a magazine. The capacities of these magazines vary with most able to hold between 10 and 30 rounds of ammunition.
The above paragraph describes the military-issue assault weapon. Military issue assault weapons are “automatic” in function and all “automatic” firearms have been outlawed by Federal Law since October1, 1986. It is a Federal Crime for anyone to own or possess an automatic weapon manufactured after May 19, 1986 date. Only government and law enforcement agencies are allowed to possess such weapons. Individuals wishing to own an automatic weapon manufactured prior to that date are required to have special licensing in order to do so. Since 1934, until the 1986 automatic weapons ban, no licensed automatic weapon had ever been used in a crime.
The civilian assault weapon is mainly what the political theater has been about and is much different than its military counterpart. The only thing today’s civilian assault weapon has in common with a true battle rifle is appearance. The civilian assault weapon is in function, a rifle or carbine that fires either handgun or rifle rounds in semi-automatic mode while looking every bit the part of its automatic battle rifle cousin.
Semi-automatic firearms do not automatically fire an additional round until the trigger is released and re-pressed by the person firing the rifle. During the assault weapon ban craze of the Clinton 90’s, this glaring difference became painfully apparent to those seeking to legislate a ban on such firearms. There actually is no legal definition of an assault weapon beyond model name and appearance. To legally define a civilian assault weapon by its function as the military battle rifles are, would encompass a large group of commonly used rifles, carbines, shotguns, and pistols, all of which are clearly used for other legal endeavors besides mass murder and violent crimes.
So Congress initially had to rely upon banning these evil-looking firearms by name. Not a reliable method as names can change. Today, legislation relies mainly upon appearance to determine whether or not a firearm should be classified as an assault weapon . For example, Connecticut has had an assault weapons ban in place for almost 20 years. The law below illustrates the change from model name to specific appearance traits.
“ Sec. 53-202a. Assault weapons : Definition. (a) As used in this section and sections 53-202b to 53-202k, inclusive, "assault weapon " means:
(1) Any selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic or burst fire at the option of the user or any of the following specified semiautomatic firearms: Algimec Agmi; Armalite AR-180; Australian Automatic Arms SAP Pistol; Auto-Ordnance Thompson type; Avtomat Kalashnikov AK-47 type; Barrett Light-Fifty model 82A1; Beretta AR-70; Bushmaster Auto Rifle and Auto Pistol; Calico models M-900, M-950 and 100-P; Chartered Industries of Singapore SR-88; Colt AR-15 and Sporter; Daewoo K-1, K-2, Max-1 and Max-2; Encom MK-IV, MP-9 and MP-45; Fabrique Nationale FN/FAL, FN/LAR, or FN/FNC; FAMAS MAS 223; Feather AT-9 and Mini-AT; Federal XC-900 and XC-450; Franchi SPAS-12 and LAW-12; Galil AR and ARM; Goncz High-Tech Carbine and High-Tech Long Pistol; Heckler & Koch HK-91, HK-93, HK-94 and SP-89; Holmes MP-83; MAC-10, MAC-11 and MAC-11 Carbine type; Intratec TEC-9 and Scorpion; Iver Johnson Enforcer model 3000; Ruger Mini-14/5F folding stock model only; Scarab Skorpion; SIG 57 AMT and 500 series; Spectre Auto Carbine and Auto Pistol; Springfield Armory BM59, SAR-48 and G-3; Sterling MK-6 and MK-7; Steyr AUG; Street Sweeper and Striker 12 revolving cylinder shotguns; USAS-12; UZI Carbine, Mini-Carbine and Pistol; Weaver Arms Nighthawk; Wilkinson "Linda" Pistol;
(2) A part or combination of parts designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault weapon , as defined in subdivision (1) of this subsection, or any combination of parts from which an assault weapon , as defined in subdivision (1) of this subsection, may be rapidly assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person;
(3) Any semiautomatic firearm not listed in subdivision (1) of this subsection that meets the following criteria:
(A) A semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following:
(i) A folding or telescoping stock;
(ii) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
(iii) A bayonet mount;
(iv) A flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
(v) A grenade launcher; or
(4) A part or combination of parts designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault weapon , as defined in subdivision (3) of this subsection, or any combination of parts from which an assault weapon , as defined in subdivision (3) of this subsection, may be rapidly assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person.
(b) As used in this section and sections 53-202b to 53-202k, inclusive, the term "assault weapon " does not include any firearm modified to render it permanently inoperable.**
Now it is not clear if there are any statistics available for the number of American citizens who have lost their lives to an assault weapon bayonet attack, an assault weapon flash suppressor attack, or a person or group of persons attacked with an assault rifle-mounted grenade launcher, especially since live grenades are not legal for sale anywhere in the United States. A “folding stock or telescoping stock” does not make a rifle any more lethal than its solid stock brethren. Some may argue it is easier to hide, but the fact remains there is no evidence to back this claim. There are simply not enough villains out there intent on carrying out crimes with a civilian assault weapon featuring either a folding or collapsible stock.
A “pistol grip” added to a firearm does not make it any more lethal than a firearm without one. The term “conspicuous” added to the legal description of a “pistol grip” would seem even more amusing, as it leaves room for legal debate and even more political theater performed by the uniformed.
“Silencers” are federally controlled and already illegal without a special permit, so very few law-abiding folks actually own one, let alone place it upon a civilian assault weapon. So it would not be unreasonable to question exactly how many injuries or deaths have occurred with a civilian assault weapon sporting a silencer….movies and television excepted. Further, let’s be clear; this Connecticut law applies to law-abiding citizens and not criminals whom by definition do not obey laws imposed upon them by society.
Now this examination of Connecticut’s Assault Weapon statute may appear tongue in cheek, but there are credible studies supporting such skepticism.
In 2003, the CDC in their report Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws concludes:
Bans on specified firearms or ammunition. Results of studies of firearms and ammunition bans were inconsistent: certain studies indicated decreases in violence associated with bans, and others indicated increases. Several studies found that the number of banned guns retrieved after a crime declined when bans were enacted, but these studies did not assess violent consequences (16,17). Studies of the 1976 Washington, D.C. handgun ban yielded inconsistent results (18--20). Bans often include "grandfather" provisions, allowing ownership of an item if it is acquired before the ban, complicating an assessment of causality. Finally, evidence indicated that sales of firearms to be banned might increase in the period before implementation of the bans (e.g., the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994) (21).
The point to this by now should be obvious; banning a “type” of weapon whose function is no more or less than any other semi-automatic rifle or carbine because of a coined term and an appearance package made popular by pop culture is idiotic. It has been tried in the past with at best, inconsistent results. But more importantly, re-instituting ineffective laws and regulations from the past to combat a perceived threat, will only lull us into false sense of security which leaves society and the children we are intending to protect vulnerable to future threats.
Next up; Safety through Magazine Capacity..an Urban Legend
*(26 USC § 5845(b), 27 CFR §§ 478.11 & 479.11).
**Since the discussion here is limited to civilian assault-style weapons, the rest of the statute as it concerns pistols and shotguns has been left out.