Assault Weapon Truth
The Facts Buried Beneath the Rhetoric about "Assault Weapons"



What is an "assault weapon"?


It is debated whether the term “assault weapon,” which entered the American lexicon in the late 1980s, originated as a political ploy by gun control advocates or as a marketing ploy by gun retailers.  What is certain is that “assault weapon” is not a technical term, a term of art used by firearms manufactures, or a military term.  The closest match in any of those categories is the term “assault rifle,” which is a military term referring to a medium-caliber, shoulder-fired rifle that allows the shooter to select between semiautomatic mode and either fully-automatic or three-shot-burst mode.  Because "assault weapons," as defined by state and federal law, can fire in neither fully-automatic mode nor three-shot-burst mode, they are not assault rifles(THIS article explains the current laws restricting civilian ownership of assault rifles/machine guns in the United States and explains why those weapons are not part of the ongoing debate over gun control in America.)

Unfortunately, despite both "assault weapon" and "assault rifle" being clearly defined in the Associated Press Stylebook, the media often conflates these two similar-sounding phrasesusing "assault rifle" when they mean "assault weapon"thereby, further confusing the public on the relationship between so-called "assault weapons" and true weapons of war.  None of the rifle models found on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam are available for sale in American sporting goods stores.





This 11-minute video addresses  some of the public confusion over "assault weapons":




Further confusing the issue is the fact that well-respected members of the news media often get the facts very wrong when reporting on "assault weapons." 


In this now-infamous 2004 CNN segment about the then-pending expiration of the 1994 “Federal Assault Weapons Ban,” a CNN reporter identifies an AK-47 held by a police detective as “one of the banned weapons—the nineteen currently banned weapons” and then has the detective demonstrate the destructive force of the firearm by firing it in FULLY AUTOMATIC mode (a mode not featured on any of the nineteen weapons banned under the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban"):




In this live segment from that same day, the detective demonstrates two firearmsone banned and one not—but switches targets after firing the banned gun, before firing the unbanned gun.  The camera remains fixed on the first target, inadvertently creating the impression that only the banned gun was capable of penetrating the cinderblock targets (even though both guns fire the same ammunition and have the same rate of fire):


This segment makes a point of showing that rounds fired from the banned rifle can
penetrate a bulletproof vest, despite the fact that BOTH rifles (which fire identical ammunition)
are equally capable (as is any hunting rifle) of penetrating the same bulletproof vest.



What about the claim that a pistol grip coupled with the relatively low recoil of an "assault weapon" makes it easier to "spray fire" these weapons?

On a semiautomatic firearm, a pistol grip simply makes the gun more ergonomic, and low recoil simply makes the gun more comfortable to shoot. No semiautomatic firearm is any better suited for "spray fire" than any other

Pistol grips and low recoil improve accuracy during fully-automatic fire because they help prevent muzzle climb; however, those features have little impact on semiautomatic fire because the muzzle of the gun has enough time between shots (it only needs a fraction of a second) to fall back into line with the target. Even with a fully-automatic rifle, those features wouldn't be a major factor in a mass-shooting scenario because accuracy is not a significant concern at short distances. If your target is ten feet away, your muzzle can climb six inches and still be on target.


Aren't the high-powered rounds fired by "assault weapons" capable of penetrating police body armor?


The soft body armor (Type I - IIIA) worn by police officers is designed to stop handgun fire, not rifle fire.  Any centerfire rifle ammunition is capable of penetrating police body armor. 

The most-common "assault weapon" rounds are significantly less powerful than the most-common hunting rifle rounds.

NOTE: Another name for the 5.56x45 is .223.


How do "assault weapons" compare to semiautomatic hunting rifles?



NOTE 1: Another name for the .223 is 5.56x45.
NOTE 2: If you doubt that a machine gun can be built with parts and tools from Home Depot, take a look at this (be advised that building a machine gun is a federal offense in the U.S). 


How does a ban on "assault weapons" work?



This 6-minute video addresses the flaws inherent in the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban":





With only two minor exceptions*, THIS is an excellent article on the current debate over whether America should pass another "assault weapons" ban:


*The article mentions that the 1994 “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” banned some weapons capable of accepting a suppressor (aka a silencer) and goes into detail about how suppressors work and why they were invented but fails to mention that, since 1934, the “National Firearms Act” has required anyone wishing to purchase a suppressor to pay a $200 tax (licensing fee), pass an FBI background check (that takes about six months to complete), and receive the written approval of his or her local chief of police (or county sheriff if living in an unincorporated area). The omission of these facts creates the misleading impression that suppressors were/are readily available to the general public. The article also cites a widely circulated but highly dubious statistic about Americans using firearms in self-defense more than two million times each year. This statistic is based on a 1995 phone survey of approximately five thousand respondents, conducted by criminologist Gary Cleck, a professor at Florida State University. More-conservative estimates place the number somewhere between a hundred thousand and several hundred thousand.


Despite it's derisive use of the word "liberal," THIS is a very good article on the popular AR-15 (aka Bushmaster) rifle.  For another perspective, this article, which begins, "I'm a liberal, and I own an AR-15," is also quite good.


What about "high-capacity" clips and magazines?


In the parlance of recreational and professional shooters, a "high-capacity" magazine is one that allows a firearm to be loaded with a greater number of cartridges than the standard capacity for that model of gun.  For example, the standard capacity for an M1911 pistol is 7 rounds, so an 8-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for an M1911.  The standard capacity for a Glock 17 pistol is 17 rounds, so a 19-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for a Glock 17.  The standard capacity for an AR-15 rifle is 30 rounds, so a 40-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for an AR-15.

On the other hand, bans on "high-capacity" magazines typically do not consider a firearm's standard capacity when establishing legal standards.  Instead, these laws establish an across-the-board maximum (typically 10 rounds) that cannot be lawfully exceeded.  Under such laws, guns that were originally designed to have a standard capacity in excess of the legislated maximum must use shorter magazines or, in the case of pistols, magazines that have been partially plugged to prevent them from being loaded to capacity.

The thinking behind such bans is that, in an active shooter scenario, the shooter's constant need to reload will slow the assault, thereby, allowing would-be victims to either flee or fight back.  Supporters of such bans point to the 2011 Tucson shooting in which the shooting spree was cut short after the gunman dropped his second magazine while trying to reload, allowing bystanders crouched near his feet to grab the magazine and wrestle him to the ground.  Opponents of such bans point out that the Tucson shooting represents an anomaly (a shooter dropping his extra magazine) within an even greater anomaly (one's odds of being involved in a mass shooting are about the same as one's odds of being struck by lightning) and argue that survivors of other mass shootings have reported that their assailants reloaded too quickly for anyone to flee or fight.

It's worth noting that the Tucson shooter used a true high-capacity handgun magazine that holds 33-rounds and extends well below the grip of the pistol.  The long, heavy, unwieldy nature of this type of magazine may have contributed to the shooter dropping it.  Likewise, during the 2012 Aurora, CO, theater shooting, the gunman's use of a true high-capacity AR-15 drum magazine—a style of magazine notorious for jamming—may have prevented greater loss of life.  The rifle jammed after reportedly firing no more than 30 rounds, forcing the shooter to switch to one of the other three guns he was carrying. 

During the December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the gunman reportedly changed magazines more often than necessary, indicating that he did not perceive himself to be vulnerable while reloading.  According to The Hartford Courant, "[The gunman] changed magazines frequently as he fired his way through the first-grade classrooms of Lauren Rousseau and Victoria Soto, sometimes shooting as few as 15 shots from a 30-round magazine."


In this video, a survivor of the 1991 Luby's Massacre describes that assault and explains how the shooter reloaded too quickly for anyone to react:




In this video, two firearms instructors demonstrate how little a reload does to slow a shooter:




The 2007 Norris Hall massacre at Virginia Tech lasted between 10 and 12 minutes. During that time, the gunman fired approximately 174 rounds, killing 30 people and wounding 17 others. If his average reload time was three seconds, which is pretty easy to accomplish, the use of 10-round magazines instead of 15-round magazines would have increased his total shooting time by less than twenty seconds.


In THIS article, a survivor of the Norris Hall shooting recounts how it took the gunman only a second to reload.


In its final report, the nonpartisan Virginia Tech Review Panel wrote:
The panel also considered whether the previous federal Assault Weapons Act of 1994 that banned 15-round magazines would have made a difference in the April 16 incidents. The law lapsed after 10 years, in October 2004, and had banned clips or magazines with over 10 rounds. The panel concluded that 10-round magazines that were legal [under the ban] would have not made much difference in the incident. Even [revolvers] with rapid loaders could have been about as deadly in this situation. (p. 74)

This video shows just how quickly a shooter with a revolver can fire six shots, reload, and fire six more:



He fires the first six rounds at four times the rate of fire of the average "assault weapon."
Even with the reload, he fires twelve rounds at twice the speed at which twelve rounds can be
fired from the average "assault weapon" (without a reload).



How often are "assault weapons" used to commit violent crimes in the U.S?


In 2011, rifles of any kind (not just "assault weapons") were used to commit 323 homicides (2.55% of all homicides that year).  Almost twice as many people were killed with blunt objects, more than twice as many people were beaten to death with bare hands, and more than five times as many people were stabbed to death.

Before the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban" went into effect, "assault weapons" were used in approximately 2% of all gun crimes.

In a 2003 review of the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban," the
National Institute of Justice (the research branch of the U.S. Justice Department) concluded, "Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. AWs were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban."


Is this confusion over "assault weapons" purely accidental, or is there a deliberate effort to mislead the public?



In an October 27, 2007, interview on National Public Radio, Miami Police Chief John Timoneyan outspoken proponent of "assault weapons" banswas asked about that year's increase in fatal shootings of police officers.

The reporter opened the interview by explaining to the audience that police shootings were up from 2006 and then asked Chief Timoney, "What are some of the reasons that you think this might be the case?"

Chief Timoney responded, "On quite a few of these shootings, not just automatic weapons but assault rifles have been used."

A few seconds later, the reporter asked, "Is the kind of weaponry that criminals are able to acquire growing more powerful?"

Chief Timoney answered, "Oh, without a doubt.  The federal assault weapon ban that went into effect ten years ago sunsetted about a year and a half agotwo years ago.  And certainly in South Florida we're seeing the markets here being flooded by these assault rifles.  There are so many of them on the market it's driving down the prices so that you can get these weapons for under $300.  They're much more powerful in the bullet themselves, and then there's more of them, so instead of a 10-shooter, you now have 30 rounds."

After a few more seconds of conversation, the reporter said, "You're suggesting greater gun controls, it sounds like."

Chief Timoney replied, "Absolutely!  Listen, I'm fully aware of, cognizant of, supportive off the Second Amendment, but there's no way anybody can convince me that an ordinary citizen should be walking around the streets of our cities carrying a military assault weapon."

During this four and a half minute interview about 2007's unusually high number of police shootings, Chief Timoney spoke of little except the dangers police officers face from assault weapons (which he intermittently referred to as "assault rifles" and erroneously claimed are "much more powerful in the bullet themselves").  This is particularly shocking because, according to a January 14, 2008, article published in Chief Timoney's hometown paper, the Miami Herald, only one U.S. police officer was fatally shot with an "assault weapon" in 2007.


A 1988 study by the Violence Policy Center, one of the nation's leading gun control advocacy groups, unabashedly celebrates the public's confusion over the difference between "assault weapons" and military machine guns.

The study concludes, "Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”


What about the claim that bans on "assault weapons" have made England and Australia much safer?


Proponents  of "assault weapon" bans often speak of the great disparity between the number of gun deaths in the U.S., where "assault weapons" are legal, and the number of gun deaths in England and Australia, where "assault weapons" are banned.  Comparing total numbers of gun deaths, rather than overall homicide or violent crime rates, is an act of statistical gamesmanship designed to make such bans appear more effective than they actually are.


The U.S. population is five and a half times that of England and Wales combined and thirteen and a half times that of Australia; therefore, the total number of crimes in any category is likely to be much higher in the U.S. than in England or Australia.  More-scrupulous advocates for "assault weapon" bans sometimes focus instead on gun death rates, but that still ignores the question of whether or not such bans actually make the population safer.  If a person plotting a murder can't find a gundue to a banbut still manages to carry out the crime with a knife, it's difficult to argue that the ban made the deceased victim safer.

To accurately gauge the safety of a nation, one must look at the overall homicide and violent crime rates.  According to a July 2, 2009, article in the British newspaper Daily Mail, the violent crime rate in the United States (466 per 100,0000 residents) was only 23% that of the United Kingdom (2,034 per 100,000 residents) and 28% that of Australia (1,677 per 100,000 residents).

It's true that the U.S. has a significantly higher homicide rate than either England or Australia, but the U.S. homicide rate has declined significantly during the past twenty years; whereas, the homicide rates in both England and Australia have, despite the "assault weapon" bans those countries implemented in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, remained fairly constant for the past forty years.






For a simplified tutorial on "assault weapons," view the slideshow at AssaultWeapon.info.