Assault weapon

From Academic Kids

An assault weapon is generally defined as a semi-automatic firearm that is similar in name, appearance, or design to a fully automatic firearm or military weapon. An assault weapon may also be defined as a firearm that satisfies a certain set of conditions designated by one of several laws. These statutory definitions may be more narrow or more broad than the generally used definition. This term lacks a concise definition and is considered by some to be pejorative. Note that this term is not synonymous with assault rifle, which has an established technical definition and is capable of fully automatic fire.

The term assault weapon is seldom used outside of the United States.

Characteristics

An assault weapon is most frequently defined as a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun, or pistol with a combination of the following characteristics:

  • "Large" or "High" capacity detachable magazine, usually defined as holding more than 10 rounds;
  • Military-style appearance, including semi-automatic replicas of military fully-automatic assault rifles;
  • Folding or telescoping stock;
  • A grenade launcher;
  • On rifles and shotguns, those with pistol-type grips;
  • A bayonet mount;
  • Threaded barrel capable of accepting a flash suppressor or sound suppressor (aka silencer);
  • Weapons that include a barrel shroud or other covering that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;
  • On pistols, those on which the magazine attaches outside of the pistol grip;
  • Any rifle chambered to fire the .50 BMG cartridge. (In California)

Exactly which characteristics should be used is a matter of debate and varies significantly between jurisdictions. In the United States, nearly a dozen states have their own differing assault weapons laws. There was also a federal assault weapons ban which expired in 2004 and was not renewed.

Common Misconceptions

The close similarity to the term assault rifle and wide variety of definitions has led to considerable confusion over this term. In addition, inaccurate media reporting and political propaganda have created a common misperception that this term covers many items regulated in the United States by the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. For instance, although grenade launchers are covered in many of the assault weapons laws, each individual grenade is controlled, registered, and taxed under the NFA.

Perhaps the largest area of confusion surrounding this term is the difference between a machine-gun and an assault weapon. A machine-gun is universally recognized as a fully automatic weapon, while the current statutory definitions for assault weapons describe them as semi-automatic. Further, the National Firearms Act of 1934 specifically addresses fully automatic weapons, and the private ownership and usage of them is extremely regulated.

There is also the perception that firearms that fall under this category can be easily modified for fully automatic fire. This is not the case since ATF regulations for manufacturers place certain restrictions on firearm product design to comply with the provisions of the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 and the amendments to the McClure-Volkmer Act of 1986 that pertain to machine-gun ownership. These regulations require that semi-automatic firearms sold in the United States be especially difficult to convert to fully automatic operation.

Supporters and Detractors

Gun rights advocates such as the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America hold that the attributes used to create statutory definitions are largely cosmetic. As such, there really isn't any difference between an assault weapon and any other firearm. They also suggest that these weapons are generally suitable for target shooting, collecting, and when necessary, civil and self defense. They further contend that these types of weapons are not frequently used in crime. They believe that the right of Americans to possess such weapons is guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Gun control advocates such as the Brady Campaign and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence are critical of the private ownership of assault weapons and support legislative attempts to ban them. They hold that assault weapons are designed to maximize lethal effects through a rapid rate of fire and by being spray-fired from the hip. They further contend that because of their design, a shooter can maintain control of the weapon even while firing many rounds in rapid succession. As such, these weapons pose a serious threat to public safety and should be banned.

See also: assault rifle, assault weapons ban, National Firearms Act

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