4 years, 8 months ago
The Phoenix New Times reports on “assault rifles” found by hikers in the desert of Arizona, and the three weapons – two SKS’s and an AK-47 – according to the news report, “could have come from almost anywhere, considering the hundreds of gun stores in Arizona that sell such weapons.” The report is followed by another which again calls the guns “assault rifles.”
Northescambia.com reports that a man was charged with discharging an AK-47, later citing a witness who saw “what appeared to be a clip connected to an automatic weapon in a back passenger floorboard.” Without knowing any better, one would be tempted to think that rogue New Yorkers were running around with machine guns given this news report about a recent shooting in the Springfield Gardens area of Queens. It shows a picture of an AK-47 take from Wikipedia, with the following caption: “The AK-47 is a deadly assault rifle that can fire 10 rounds per second.”
Most main stream media reports concering “assault rifles” and “assault weapons” become badly confused, with terms conflated with other, and with competing (and oftentimes incorrect) terms. Thus does the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 become important in our discussion. Among other things, this act banned the sale of machine guns manufactured after the date of enactment to civilians, inflating the cost of fully automatic weapons then in circulation to $10,000 or more (far beyond their actual worth). For most people, it is cost prohibitive to own a fully automatic weapon, and purchase of one requires registration and approval with the ATF and local law enforcement (oftentimes not granted).
Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges … Assault rifles have mild recoil characteristics and, because of this, are capable of delivering effective full-automatic fire at ranges up to 300 meters.
When understanding the phrase “assault rifle,” one needs to imagine U.S. Marine Corps squad rushes; the fire team member using the Squad Automatic Weapon fires area suppressing fire while the other three fire team members run forward. After a certain distance has been covered, the three Marines carrying the M4s or M16s go prone and lay down suppressing fire with their rifles (capable of selective fire) while the SAW gunner runs forward, goes prone, and then the rush continues in like manner until the enemy position has been assaulted and overrun.
So assault rifles have at least three characteristics: (1) capable of selective fire (which includes fully automatic fire), (2) fire an intermediate cartridge, and (3) mild recoil. My Rock Rivers Arms rifle has two of the three characteristics, and so it is not an assault rifle. The confused phrase “assault weapon” pertains to weapons that were banned and later allowed because of the sunset provision on September 13, 2004, and have to do with weapons that look scary because they have collapsible (or telescoping) stocks, forend grips, high capacity magazines, and so forth. The expiration of the assault weapons ban doesn’t have any affect on the continued ban on fully automatic weapons in the Firearm Owners Protection Act.
The phrases “assault rifle” and “assault weapon” (now a defunct and outdated definition) are used interchangeably in the main stream media, and sloppiness is to blame, even if firearms owners refer to their weapons as ARs (AR is shorthand for ARmalite). One humorous example refers to .50 caliber assault rifles, a contradiction in terms and an impossibility.
But not all media is as ignorant or reluctant to be precise as the dozens of examples I find daily. For one such report headlined with the phrase assault rifle, I contacted the author, Jessica Schrader, with the following note.
I am a gun rights and second amendment blogger. I strongly suspect that the use of an “assault rifle” is incorrect (to fully meet the definition of “assault rifle” it must be capable of select(ive) fire, which includes fully automatic fire). The phrase “assault weapon” is purely a political definition, and went out when the federal “assault weapons” ban … because of the sunset provision on September 13, 2004. It pertains mostly to weapons that look “scary,” not to fully automatic weapons.
I strongly suspect that the shooting was done with a semi-automatic rifle of some kind, of which there are 50 million plus in the U.S. Can you confirm that a semi-automatic rifle was used, or was it in actual fact a machine gun capable of fully automatic fire? The wording in the headline may have been a function of sloppy police department communications, so I am not attempting to place blame on anyone, just get to the facts.
To which she responded:
Thanks for your note. That is a good point- actually, in the follow up we published yesterday, police used the term semi-automatic. We will update the other one. Thanks again!
So even though the police are sometimes to blame for sloppy word usage, they occasionally get it right too. We may not ever win the battle, but words mean something, and it’s important to be precise. Jessica Schrader knows this and serves as an example for how the rest of the main stream media should cover the facts.