Assault Rifle: What’s In a Name?

“Assault Rifle” or “Modern Sporting Rifle” … It doesn’t really matter.

I’ve seen social network postings and blogs, authored by both the well-intentioned and by wingnuts, attempting to discredit the media and the current public sentiment by saying, in effect “It’s not an assault rifle because it can’t be used as a fully automatic rifle.”.  (Meaning many rounds fired as long as the trigger is kept in the firing position — as opposed to semi-automatic, where only a single round is fired for each trigger pull, but the action of the weapon discards the spent casing and chambers the next round.)

But basing an argument for or against increased controls (or a complete ban) on assault rifle on such a parsing of the definition is a fool’s errand.

“Modern Sporting Rifle” is a term invented by the gun industry because continued use of the term “Assault Rifle” (and its association with “AR”) was becoming bad for business.  (This quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation web site:  “Unfortunately, some anti-gun organizations have worked hard to mislead the public by calling the civilian versions of service rifles, “assault weapons.” This anti-gun strategy is a clever ploy, much in the same way that prohibitionists labeled alcoholic beverages, “demon rum.” True “assault weapons” are in fact light machine guns capable of fully automatic fire.”)  So we have the invented definition “Modern Sporting Rifles”.  Thank goodness for the NSSF to keep us all straight on this.

(Use of the term “sporting” introduces other connotations.  To some, sporting involves patronage of, shall we say, venues of ill repute.  To others, the sporting life includes horse racing and fox hunting.)

However, “Assault Rifle” can (or has) become a definition in law.  If statute, code, or regulation defines a weapon with certain characteristics as an “Assault Rifle”, then it is.  If you are suspected of violating the law, that’s what you are going to be charged with.  (I find it a bit odd that some of the postings I’ve read have been by federal, state, or local law enforcement officers.  Theses LEOs should be the first to understand that no matter how your hobby defines a weapon, it is what the law of a specific jurisdiction says it is.)

(For you policy wonks out there — watch for delaying tactics by the gun industry over just this definition, should bills start popping up in Congress and the various state legislatures.)

But in the end, quibbling over the definition just doesn’t matter.

How an Assault Rifle is defined.  (From USA Today)

How an Assault Rifle is defined. (From USA Today)

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