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The terms "assault weapon" and "assault rifle" are often confused. According to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in theStanford Law and Policy Review:
Prior to 1989, the term "assault weapon" did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of "assault rifles"...
If an assault weapon isn't an assault rifle, what is an assault rifle?
This is a M4A1 carbine. It is a U.S. military service rifle. It is also an assault rifle.
The M4A1 and other fully automatic firearms are also calledmachine guns. In 1986, the Federal government banned civilians from purchasing newly manufactured machine guns.
Like the majority of firearms sold in the United States, the AR-15 is semi-automatic. This means it fires one round each time the trigger is pulled.
The AR-15 can fire between 45 and 60 rounds per minutedepending on the skill of the operator. This rate of fire is comparable to other semi-automatic firearms, but pales in comparison to fully automatic assault rifles, some of which can fire in excess of 1,000 rounds per minute.
So-called assault weapons are not machine guns or assault rifles. According to David Kopel, writing in The Wall Street Journal:
What some people call "assault weapons" function like every other normal firearm—they fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. Unlike automatics (machine guns), they do not fire continuously as long as the trigger is held. They are "semi-automatic" because they eject the empty shell case and load the next round into the firing chamber. Today in America, most handguns are semi-automatics, as are many l
The answer is perception. According to a 1988 report by the Violence Policy Center, an anti-gun lobby:
[H]andgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons...are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
According to the Department of Justice, the firearms that the AWB would ban were used in only 2% of gun crimes.
Nevertheless, the AWB's passage was aided by the fact that many Americans thought they were banning machine guns and "weapons of war", something that had, in fact, already been banned.
The AWB also arbitrarily banned magazines having a capacity higher than ten rounds. This limitation on magazine capacity applied to all firearms, not just so-called assault weapons.
It has been estimated that at least 3.3 million AR-15 rifles were sold in the United States between 1986 and 2009. While the AR-15 is often portrayed as a paramilitary weapon owned only by a lunatic fringe, this so-called assault weapon is a modern musket—the default rifle with which law-abiding Americans exercise their right to keep and bear arms.
Nevertheless, on December 17, 2012, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the author of the original AWB, announced her intention to introduce an updated Federal Assault Weapons Ban in Congress.
However, Senator Feinstein's own facts do not support her agenda. The truth about assault weapons is that they are statistically underrepresented in gun crimes.
According to Senator Feinstein, so-called assault weapons have been used in 385 murders since the AWB expired in 2004, or about 48 murders per year.
But there were 8,583 total murders with guns in the United States in 2011, meaning so-called assault weapons were used 0.6% of the time.
Further illustrating the small role so-called assault weapons play in crime, FBI data shows that 323 murders were committed with rifles of any kind in 2011. In comparison, 496 murders were commited with hammers and clubs, and 1,694 murders were perpetrated with knives.