M.E. Synon

America’s ‘gun culture’: Does anyone actually know what an ‘assault weapon’ is?

America's 'gun culture': Does anyone actually know what an 'assault weapon' is?
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Before British coverage of the American debate on gun control goes any further, I have to hope the BBC and a lot of other Anglo-Saxons who really ought to be better informed try to find out what they are talking about. The chatter started up again last week after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

I don’t mean the ignorance here of the origin of the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, thought there is that, too. The amendment was not an invention of James Madison, the principle author of first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. In the Second Amendment, Madison was simply affirming the right to bear arms which the people of the 13 States had inherited from English law. Any educated American shooter will point to English documents from the 1328 Statute of Northampton to Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England to prove it.

In fact, in protecting the right to keep and bear arms – something the British abandoned only in the 20th century – the Americans are now more English than the English.

But what really makes me cringe when I listen to anyone here talking about ‘America’s gun culture’ is their shocked talk about ‘assault weapons.’ Ever asked one of these people just what he means when he talks about an ‘assault weapon?’ I think the average British answer to that one would be: 'Um, er.'

So here it is. The technical definition of an assault weapon is 'any rifle, pistol, or shotgun that anti-gunners want to ban and that looks ugly and scary.' Really. It’s true. The anti-gunners, and the unthinking British who echo them, just throw anything they want into that definition.

I have that from Dan Peterson, a writer and firearms lawyer practising in Northern Virginia. (In case you don’t know the significance of Northern Virginia, it is as close to Washington DC as you can get without actually having to leave the better governance of the South.)

I asked Peterson to follow up on his definition of an 'assault weapon.' So here’s more. You can cut-out and keep: 'An "assault rifle" is a fully automatic rifle that can be carried and fired by one man, that uses rifle cartridges (as opposed to submachine guns, which use pistol cartridges), and that is used in warfare as an infantry weapon. Examples include the American M4 (successor to the M-16) and Soviet AK series.'

The technical definition of an 'assault weapon' is as above: 'ugly and scary.'

According to Peterson, the anti-gunners who want to ban so-called assault weapons ‘usually begin by listing, often inaccurately, a list of manufacturers or models. Sometimes they say that any type of weapon made by a particular manufacturer, no matter what its characteristics, is automatically an ‘assault weapon.’ They include, as I said, pistols, shotguns, and rifles. They generally must be semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull).”

'Then there is often a list of characteristics, and if the gun has two of these characteristics, or even one, it is considered to be an "assault weapon." These include things like detachable magazines, protruding pistol grips, flash suppressors, bayonet lugs, and folding or telescoping stocks. Note that none of these characteristics affects the firing of the firearm, but may contribute to a "military" appearance. "Assault weapons" often look like military "assault rifles" and may share some parts, but not all.'

'Finally, the one characteristic that "assault weapons" have is that no army of any nation on earth has ever issued them as their combat weapon. Reason? They are all semi-automatic, not fully automatic or selective fire. Certain American jurisdictions ban "assault weapons" on grounds that they are "weapons of war" when in fact they are not used for warfare by any country.'

'"Assault rifle," in short, has a meaning, but none of the weapons being talked about in connection with American shootings or legislation is an assault rifle, properly speaking. Assault rifles are highly restricted and registered – they are classed as machine guns, and have never been used in any of these mass shootings, or in nearly any other crimes.'

'"Assault weapon" is a political term of abuse, designed to scare the ignorant, and to stampede legislators, judges, and the public.'