Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Assault Weapons, What Are They?

Yesterday, David over at The War on Guns pointed out an anti gun editorial/opinion piece that needed fisking. The editorial is titled "America's Gun Culture", written by "reporter" John Merchant. It is a very weak anti-gun piece that basically follows the "assault weapons are bad, I know because I used to shoot rabbits" party line of the gun grabbers. It is full of misinformation and inaccuracies. I commented upon it, but did not spend much time as it really was a very weak argument.

I checked back on the article this afternoon to see what folks have added to the comments, and to see if maybe the author had replied to any (he had not). There are some good comments posted, but one really sticks out. The comments author explains assault weapons in such a way that should make sense to just about anyone.

My definition of a assault weapon is short and sweet, but does not do a lot for folks that do not understand very much about firearms:

"A military rifle, capable of controlled, fully-automatic fire from the shoulder, with an effective range of at least 300 metres".
The commenter's explanation does much better:

Rick Schwartz

Assault weapons were first developed by the Germans in WWII, and further refined by the Russians post-war as defined by the AK-47. America’s version, the M-4, wasn’t too bad either.

They tried to meet the needs of the soldiers who were actually fighting so the weapons tended to be:

--of a smaller caliber
--easy to maintain
--Shot from the hip if necessary
--fairly accurate out to a reasonable distance.
--Could be fired in three different modes, single, 3-shot, and full automatic.

Any extra metal or wood was left off the gun, and if the part wasn’t needed it wasn’t on the gun. This meant that often the stock was just a bare outline of metal. Now, being lightweight created it’s own set of problems.

The foremost problem is that the barrel was a skinny, short little thing, which meant that it got pretty hot quickly. This is not good. Even a little .22 heats up just at the firing range, and a soldier didn’t want to be worrying about a hot barrel. That can cause many bad things to happen including ammo accidentally firing at random. To minimize that a “shroud” was used over the barrel, with ventilating holes to carry away the heat. It didn’t add anything to the gun except to keep the barrel cooler when firing multiple rounds in a short time.

Often a flash-suppressor was added, not to keep the enemy from knowing where the fire is coming from, but to keep the soldier’s nighttime eyesight protected. The enemy would have plenty of notice about where the fire is coming from since the bullets would be coming directly towards him.

Soldiers don’t like humping heavy things; they have enough to carry anyway so the smaller the rounds (bullets) the more the soldier could pack. One can never have too much ammo, but it doesn’t do any good if you’ve left it all back at the barracks.

This meant the majority of the assault riffles were chambered for the .223 round. That means the width of the bullet is only .223 of a full inch. The significance of this?

Well, the most popular round in the world, and the one that is used to take more rabbits and squirrels than any other (because that’s about all it’s powerful enough for) is the .22.

The bullet is a little thing. Itty bitty. Imagine something less than a quarter inch in diameter. And the dreaded assault riffle bullet is three one hundredths of an inch bigger in diameter. The actual bullet really isn’t that much larger than a fat grain of rice.

So how does such a small bullet help the soldier? Because the .223 is put into a larger cartridge with more powder it comes out of the barrel much faster than a normal .22. That creates more energy when it hits someone, but the size of the bullet has always kept it from being considered a sure mankiller. In Vietnam a Marine coined the term “poodle killer” for the .223 and that name has stuck even to today. That was okay with the soldiers because in reality a wounded soldier on the other side was better than a dead soldier. A dead soldier was forgotten about but a wounded one needed on average four other soldiers to take care of him.

Because of the way the gun was normally carried on patrol it was good to have a way to immediately bring it into play… thus the stock and grip were designed to fire, if necessary, from the hip. Couldn’t hit a darn thing with it that way but when bullets are coming towards you, you don’t always stick your head up to check their accuracy. So it worked in a fashion. Kept the enemies heads down until a soldier could get into a better position behind cover.

The rifle didn’t have to be super accurate and it wasn’t. Especially at a distance. Combat is just not that spaced out. If you can barely see the guy it’s a job for artillery, not rifles.

The main distinguishing feature, though, was it’s ability to “select” fire. The shooter could choose between, with one pull of the trigger, to shoot one shot, three shots, or full automatic which meant the gun would fire all the rounds attached to it. Some magazines held five rounds, some ten, twenty, thirty, and even a hundred.

The truth is though, very few of the assault rifles are ever fired full auto by trained troops. The reason is because they just can’t hit anything. Inside a barn they would have trouble hitting the sides of the barn. The gun wants to rise, and unless one is a super-sized Rambo the gun WILL rise into the air while it’s firing.

Virtually every company commander in Vietnam had a standing rule: an automatic $50.00 fine for any troop who shot his gun at full auto without an express order from the commander. This was the days when $50 was a months pay for these guys.

There were some extremely limited times when full auto was helpful, and then one was glad they had it.

Our guys in Iraq are under similar orders about firing full auto. It’s just not a productive way to fight a war.

Why is the full auto bit stressed. Because these guns are NOT what is being sold today, and what every one screams about when they say “assault weapons.”

The guns sold to the civilian market that “look like” the military weapons all fire ONE SHOT at a time, just like virtually every other gun on the market. It’s nothing special, and it’s the way civilian rifles have been made for almost 140 years.

Getting a full-fledged automatic assault weapon as a civilian is nearly impossible, and unless one has jumped through many, many hoops it is also highly illegal.

Full auto weapons have been illegal for citizens to own since 1934 except under exceptional circumstances. That’s 1934. Period. In order to own one, the gun has to match a severely defined description, and a citizen has to fill out and get a number of federal permits, pay an exorbitant amount of money as a “tax” and have the gun registered with the federal government. There are only a few thousand permits across the entire United States. “Machine guns” and “automatic weapons” are simply not bought down at Walmart.

Complaining about legally-sold fully automatic weapons is akin to complaining about how circuses mistreat unicorns.

What the anti-gunners mean when they say "assault weapons" are guns that are made to “look like” the real ones. And that’s it. There are a number of variations in manufacturers, and model names, but not a single one of them would be found on a battlefield. The real soldiers would laugh at them.

One can take a little .22 rifle which looks like a harmless little plinking rifle that wouldn’t do any great damage to a armadillo and for a couple of hundred dollars buy all kinds of replacement parts and add-ons such as the barrel-shroud that would make it indistinguishable (from the outside) to an “assault rifle.” Yet, internally it would be the same little ol’ .22.

What many in the anti-gun movement are trying to do is to get one to believe that if you put racing stripes and decals on your dad’s Oldsmobile you can take it out to the NASCAR track and compete equally.

Yes, many of the look-alikes fire the same round as the military ones do, but this is considered an underpowered round by the civilian world. It’s certainly less powerful than what Uncle Bob’s deer hunting rifle fires. And, by the way, it does make a perfectly fine hunting gun if used on the right game. People love hunting varmints such as coyotes, and it’s even popular for some small types of deer in parts of the country where the forest is thick and sight is only fifty yards or so. Those who talk about “machine guns” blasting away at deer are just doing it to demagogue the discussion.

They are lightweight, rugged, and easy to maintain because many people, including tens of thousands of ranchers, farmers, and backpackers need this type of rifle while out in the fields. Many police departments in both big and little cities across the nation are converting to these guns for the same reasons.

These rifles can use magazines that hold up to 30 rounds, but if one can shoot three 10 round mags in 30 seconds or one 30 round mag in 24 seconds it is not really any more dangerous. When the King riots were happening in L.A. there were many Koreans on their rooftops with their AR-15s and multiple round mags. They kept their neighborhood from burning down. That’s a pretty impressive reason for wanting any weapon.

A farmer friend of mine in northwest Arkansas carries one on the back of his tractor out in the fields. His bane is armadillos, which tear up his crops faster than anything else. When he sees one he shoots it. He needs something that can stand up to the abuse of being shaken for hours on the tractor, is lightweight and short enough not to get in his way, and is powerful enough to pierce the ‘dillo hide. His AR-15, the semi-auto civilian model of the M-4, is perfect for his use.

The civilian models have been made more accurate than the military models because the majority of the guns sold are simply used as target rifles. It’s a huge sport and tens of thousands compete across the country to see who can maintain the most accurate rifle. Go to most outdoor ranges and you’ll see all kinds of guys with their AR-15s and others at the line. These guys are just average, everyday guys (and some women) who like to put little holes in paper with things that go bang.

Many of these folk are former military who just hold fond memories of those days. Others just want to look cool, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. A lot of them consider the military as "heroes" and just want to emulate them.

Again, these guns may “look” like a military weapon but they are the farthest thing from one… they just fire one bullet at a time the way every other civilian rifle is sold. There is fundamentally no difference between them and Uncle Bob’s hunting rifle except in looks, and a smaller type bullet.

Now that you know the truth of the matter you can spot when someone is ignorant about assault weapons and yet are still willing to give their opinion about something they know nothing about.
So there you have it, one great explanation of the differences between assault weapons and those we are allowed to own (in most states and cities). This is going to be a great help to me when discussing assault weapons bans with folks who are not very knowledgeable about firearms.


Fits said...

With combat and overseas pay, I was grossing $200 a month in '68. We went full rock & roll quite often.That was the point. Particularly since losing the M-14 which was a decent enough brush-cutter and the 5.56 was and is not.A hundred or more guys letting loose at the same time was the definition of defoliation.I keep saying it's time to plunk down the $200 for the full-auto license but to this date it still irks me.

John R said...

$200 for the tax stamp, then another what, $10 to 12k for the M-16?

the pistolero said...

I'm not sure even that explanation will have much truck with the antis, with them being the emotion-driven bedwetters that they are, but it's still probably the best one I've seen yet.

Fits said...

Shhhh...JR. I might stumble across one. But yeah. Bummer they try and price us out of the 2nd.

me said...

wasn't what he just described an "assault rifle" as opposed to the invented term "assault weapon"? I'm probably splitting hairs, but until the ban was "weapon" used by anyone? or anyone outside the media at least?

John R said...

Pistolero, no argument will work with the true anti's, but good common sense and factual discussion will work with those who are just taking what the media states for granted. If we can open their eyes on this issue, then they will be more likely to question other gun control propaganda.

You are correct there HH. Assault weapon is a made up term to vilify any firearm with futuristic looking characteristics and absolutely no military value.

Now the media is even identifying assault "revolvers".

Anonymous said...


Are you kidding? Assault weapons are thought to be un-sporting.

Anonymous said...

Great article JR. But wouldn't the .223 actually be three thousandths of an inch bigger than the .22? And not three hundredths?

Anonymous said...

Not a bad description, but I have another definition. I consider any weapon, be it a fist, rock, arrow, bottle, spear, knife sword, bullet, well you get my meaning, either thrown, jabbed, hurled propelled or shot in my general direction to be an assault weapon. It’s the media, and as you mentioned before the coined description by the German designer, who more than likely was trying to come up with a new and innovative description of a light easy to use infantry weapon, he had just developed and wanted to sell to the German military. I agree totally with you about full auto fire. Light weight rifles and submachine guns climb as they are fired and this is the reason the M-16 A3 and its newer variants are semi auto single shot or 3 shot burst only. I was a fire team leader in the Marine Corps when we had the M-16 A1 which fired full rock and roll, and we were instructed to not have our automatic rifleman shoot on full auto, except under special circumstances. There was a lot of what we called spray and pray in Vietnam, and yes full auto fire does make one pucker up and hit the deck if not trained to deal with it. The point is that the anti gun types are as stated, emotional and illogical on this issue. They hate or are afraid of fire arms period. They reason that if they start with the so called assault weapons it will be easier to move on to the next type and so on and so forth until they achieve their misguided goal of outlawing all fire arms. Then they will go after swords and who knows what after that. We can only hope to educate those who are on the fence or who have been misled by the liberal media with open, honest and accurate information as we have here.