Assault Weapons of Myth and Legend

In A.D. 1994, the United States enacted a ban on the manufacturing of certain semi-automatic firearms for “civilian” sales. Republican opposition to this legislation led to the inclusion of a 10-year sunset provision.1 When the ban failed to be renewed in A.D. 2004, it expired. Gun-control advocates and their allies in the Democratic Party and the law-enforcement community warned that a return of “assault weapons” would bring more murder and mayhem to American streets.







Copyright © A.D. 2007
by M. D. Van Norman.

Ironically, these so-called assault weapons had continued to be manufactured and sold throughout the life of the ban. The reason for this was as remarkably simple as it was obvious. “Assault weapons” do not actually exist. They are a fictional creation of clever propagandists.

The military defines an assault rifle as a select-fire weapon (capable of a single shot, a burst of several shots, or continuous automatic fire) chambered for an intermediate cartridge (one more powerful than a handgun cartridge but less so than a full-sized rifle cartridge). In other words, an assault rifle is a type of machine gun. Though certain semi-automatic firearms (capable of only one shot per trigger pull) may resemble military assault rifles in appearance, they do not meet this definition.2 In fact, machine guns and other automatic weapons have been tightly controlled since the National Firearms Act of
A.D. 1934.

Firearms prohibitionists have long known that they cannot successfully outlaw all guns in one sweeping stroke. Therefore, they have adopted an incremental strategy, focusing on one small aspect of firearms at a time while attempting to divide gun owners in the process. The federal ban on “assault weapons” was a perfect example of this.

The prohibitionists took advantage of the similar appearances between civilian semi-automatic rifles and military assault rifles to confuse the ignorant public during the campaign that led to the ban. The mainstream news media supported this tactic both by implying that the targeted firearms were machine guns and by overstating their effectiveness as weapons. Politically, they successfully attempted to divide hunters and casual gun owners from competitive and defensive shooters.
This traditional Browning semi-automatic rifle chambered for the powerful 7.62×63mm cartridge was not prohibited.
Though misinformation and propaganda won the day, the ban itself was largely meaningless. Since assault rifles were already effectively illegal, the authors of the legislation had to focus on the appearance of certain largely ergonomic features, such as protruding pistol grips, adjustable stocks, and flash suppressors. Various combinations of these features were selected to identify “assault weapons.” Additionally, certain firearms were identified by their specific model names. To actually attack the semi-automatic action of these firearms would have destroyed the subterfuge of the legislation and would have united the gun-owning community in opposition.
The configuration of features on this Stag Arms 5.56×45mm carbine was banned, not its semi-automatic action.
Firearms manufacturers responded by following the law. They removed the prohibited features, renamed their models when necessary, and continued to sell their products. Therefore, during the ban, it was still possible for civilians to buy semi-automatic firearms that superficially resembled military assault rifles. After 10 years, the ban expired uneventfully, save for a few hysterical news stories and some disingenuous posturing by politicians.3
The ergonomic features that defined “assault weapons” did not make them any more dangerous than other firearms.
In conclusion, there is no such thing as “assault weapons.” They are a myth. Even in California, where a more stringent ban on “assault weapons” remains in effect, semi-automatic rifles that merely differ in appearance from the banned weapons are still perfectly legal.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
Comparing rates of fire, a modern semi-automatic pistol is not appreciably faster than a double-action revolver from the 19th-century A.D.
Even if the ban had been effective, criminal misuse of semi-automatic rifles was already rare. Criminals prefer the convenience and concealability of handguns.

Dancing Giant
“Assault is a behavior, not a weapon.”