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November 28, 2007



The distinction between "assault rifle" and "assault-type rifle" is lost on most readers. An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle, a weapon with fully automatic and semi-automatic capabilities. "Semi-automatic rifle" is probably a more apt term to describe what most people think of as an "assault-type" rifle.


"Still, there's something about those two words; put them together in a headline and you can rattle the attention of gun aficionados everywhere."

This is exactly why the media and political arena misuses the term "assault weapons". It is used to produce mental images of crazed mentally disturbed persons storming public areas or that of a dangerous gang members prowling the streets.

Below is the Wikipedia definition, maybe we can start from there as a definition and work our way through.

"In a strict definition, a firearm must have all of the following five characteristics to qualify as an assault rifle:
• Is a carbine sized individual weapon with provision to be fired from a shouldered position.
Barrel length is usually 400 mm to 500 mm (16” to 20”)
• Is capable of selective fire.
• Fires from a locked breech.
• Utilizes an intermediate powered-cartridge.
• Ammunition is supplied from a large capacity detachable box magazine."

Wikipedia notes these sources for their defintion;
1 ^ C. Taylor The fighting rifle – A complete study of the rifle in combat, ISBN 0-87947-308-8
2 ^ F.A. Moyer Special Forces foreign weapons handbook, ISBN 0-87364-009-8
3 ^ R.J. Scroggie, F.A. Moyer Special Forces combat firing techniques, ISBN 0-87364-010-1

Trey Garrison

I think the wording and distinction Bill Miller drew in his story was excellent. It's an extra couple of words -- semi-automatic or "assault-style" -- that doesn't slow the sentence or crowd the story. It did indeed stand out and I was compelled to send him an email attaboy.

In a perfect world, every story would have room for educational asides explaining, for instance, that most hunting rifles are more powerful than the typical semi-automatic assault style weapon (30-06 vs. .223 or, for instance, or how a bolt action 7 mm develops 3,178 foot pounds of kinetic energy, versus a 7.62 typical load (standard for an AK or AK variant) which delivers 1,480 foot pounds of kinetic energy.) Or it might explain that full-auto fire is pretty much useless unless you're laying down suppressing fire, and that a trained shooter is much deadlier shooting semi-automatic. But it's not a perfect world and real estate on the page isn't cheap.

Most any story mentioning guns has a tell that reveals whether the reporter knows his/her stuff. When you hear an AR-15 or SKS called "high-powered," or see magazines referred to as "clips" -- be wary.

As to my definition? An assault-style rifle is a simply semi-automatic version of an existing select-fire battle rifle or military carbine.

Poster Bill's point above is best -- simply call them "semi-automatic rifles" and do away with the sensationalism of labeling any black-stock weapon with a pistol grip an "assault rifle."

Stephan Rutan

An assault rifle weapon is fully-automatic not semi-automatic. If you join any branch of the military you will be trained how to use it. OF course, to do that would mean that you have the want to serve this nation instead of tearing it down. Not too many journalists or liberals fall into the category of serving others as a general rule. That is probably why none of them understand the difference.


Assault rifles come in a variety of lengths from the AK-47 and M-16/AR-15 to those barely long enough to be called a rifles (Uzi, Ingram, Tek-9). The military versions are capable of full-automatic fire; civilian versions are limited to semi-automatic fire, but many can easily be converted to full-auto because the original design was that way. Besides a high rate of fire, short barrels are desirable for the assault mission (usually urban environs with close-in fighting) hence the development of the Uzi- and Ingram-sized weapons, which could more accurately be termed machine pistols. Not all fire a rifle round as do the AK-47 and M-16. The machine pistols fire .45 ACP (Auto-loading Colt Pistol), 9mm, and like "rimless" rounds. The primary concern about assault weapons is their capability of being concealed easily under clothing while having a high rate of lethal fire; therefore, that combination of characteristics are what should be outlawed. These are not hunting or defensive weapons - they are terrorist weapons.


Assault weapon, any weapon used in an assault.
A butter knife can be an assault weapon.
The term "assault weapon" needs to be properly defined as any weapon used in an assault not a term used to describe a gun.
Webster defines assault as; a violent physical or verbal attack b: a military attack usually involving direct combat with enemy forces c: a concerted effort (as to reach a goal or defeat an adversary)2 a: a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person (as by lifting a fist in a threatening manner) that puts the person in immediate danger of or in apprehension of such harm or contact.
The gun did not assault anyone, the person behind the gun did the assault.
Stiffer laws for the use of a weapon are what is needed, not more laws governing the rights to own such weapons.


According to the BATF, the Brown Bess Musket (Muzzle-loading smoothbore) can be classified as an "Assault Rifle"--since it original usage was by the US Marines.
It is a label of convenience, a loaded term (as it were) used to bias the reader.
In reality, it is as described above--selectable semi/full auto.


Well, since there is not a set of technical specs that define the term 'assault weapon', there's no true definition. But I'll give you three working definitions.

For the purposes of the following statements, a couple of definitions are in order. 'Fully automatic' means when the trigger is held down, multiple bullets are fired. 'Semi-automatic' means that each trigger pull fires a single bullet, but no cocking or other motions are required for subsequent shots (ie, you can fire as quickly as your fingers will pull).

(1)My definition: assault weapon = a fully-automatic rifle or pistol. Period. Any semi-auto weapon (IMHO) is ultimately on pretty equal footing with standard hunting weapons.

(2) Common definition among the informed gun-savvy community: assault weapon = all fully auto, plus any semi-auto rifle (no semi-auto pistols) with high-capacity magazines (20+ bullets) and capable of laying down sustained rapid fire (easy magazine switching, easy trigger pull, etc).

(3) Uninformed civilians, including Brady Bill authors : any weapon that looks like it could have been used by the bad guys in the Die Hard movies -- to wit, black composite construction, optional sling, a banana-style (long and curved) magazine, and some kind of structure on the barrel that looks cool.

So, since there is no technical definition (thus, your blog which would not be necessary otherwise), this is my offering.


I'll go with Bill on that. If you ask the state of California, it's any semi auto rifle with a "pistol" type grip , capable of accepting high capacity clips.
By their definition several competition .22 rifles and sporting shotguns, would have fallen into the "assault" rifle catagory.
Somebody came to, and re worded that definition. Otherwise their olympic shooting team was going to have to practice in Nevada.


The quick and dirty definition of an assault rifle is:

"A military rifle, capable of controlled, fully-automatic fire from the shoulder, with an effective range of at least 300 meters".

The semi automatic rifles that garner headlines when called "assault rifles" have some features of a true assault rifle, but lack even a three round burst capability. Referring to these firearms as assault rifles is intended to cause fear and angst in the readers, fear of an inanimate object.

It is interesting that in my hands, an AR-15 would be called an assault rifle by the media. The same firearm in an LEO's hands is often called a patrol rifle, or just plain rifle. Why is that?

A more detailed explanation of an assault weapon was written by Rick Schwartz, and can be found at


The assault weapons ban was a joke. The idea congress had was to ban a weapon by the way it looked, not the way it shot.
I'm sure most Americans believe that an Assault Weapon shoots "fully-automatic." Wake up, fully automatic weapons have been banned in the U.S. since 1934, so that's not the issue, or is it?
AR-15's and AK-47's were banned because they "looked" dangerous. I have a hunting rifle, 30.06 that's a semi automatic, even have a magazine for it that holds 10 rounds.
Just because it's a "hunting" rifle, does it mean that it's less dangerous?

Justin Buist

Well, 'assault weapon' is a now defunct legal term on the national level. I tend not to use it and don't define a gun as one unless it was banned by the 1994 AWB. Since it's almost impossible to do that based on a simple picture, even for me*, I doubt many journalists have ever used the term properly.

Besides, using the law to describe an object is futile. Just look to California for a good example: They include single-shot target rifles (so long as they're chambered in .50BMG) in their definition of an "assault weapon." That's just insane.

Now, as far as actual terms go:

Assault rifle: A select-fire rifle capable of semi-automatic and fully-automatic or burst fire chambered in an intermediate rifle cartridge. The term originated with the STG 44. STG is short for sturmgewher which translates to "assault rifle" Sturm = assault. Gewher = Rifle.

What's an 'intermediate' rifle cartridge you might ask? Well, it's like pornography: "I know it when I see it."

It's very difficult to classify firearms in simple terms. In the above comments I've already seen fellow gun guys do so inaccurately. Let's take a look:

..."'Fully automatic' means when the trigger is held down, multiple bullets are fired."

This simple definition would categorize shotguns as fully automatic weapons. I know that's not what the poster intended, but that simple definition just won't work.

..."'Semi-automatic' means that each trigger pull fires a single bullet, but no cocking or other motions are required for subsequent shots (ie, you can fire as quickly as your fingers will pull)."

This simple definition would include double-action revolvers. Again, I know it's not what the poster intended, but it reads that way.

..."An assault-style rifle is a simply semi-automatic version of an existing select-fire battle rifle or military carbine."

This is probably the best place to start, but it still brings up a bunch of "what if" questions. How different do you have to be for it to be considered no longer a "semi-automatic version" of an existing select-fire battle rifle? For instance the Mini-14 is based on the M14 (hence the name Mini-14) but it fires a totally different cartridge. Further, no military that I know of uses the fully-automatic version of the Mini-14 (Ruger's AC 556) so does that one get a pass? Its design is derived from one accepted by the United States Military (for a short time) and it chambers a cartridge that is for all intents and purposes identical to a current military cartridge (.223 vs 5.56 NATO need not be debated here), but is that good enough to classify it as "assault style?" What if we chambered it for .222 Remington instead of .223 Remington... now it only shares heritage with a previous military design and doesn't fire a "military" cartridge. Did it just lose its assault style weapon moniker?

I've tried, much to my own amusement and frustration simultaneously, to get "reasonable gun control" folks to define "assault weapon" for me and they can't. I don't blame them: I can't either! But boy is it fun to watch.

"Based on a military design" is a common theme -- but that doesn't work because the civilian and military arms designers play back and forth all the time. The Armalite AR-15 was licensed to Colt who got the military contract for the M16 but they also marketed it toward civlians around 1963. I'm not actually sure who "adopted" it first, but if the gun banning crowd wants to hinge the definition of a "military arm" on who adopted it first we're in for some fun. Every new gun that comes out will secure a civilian sale before it goes military to protect that market. Then hunters across the nation will be turning in their turn-bolt rifles because they're almost all based off the Mauser '98 design, which saw military application before civilians sales in this country.

"Designed to kill people" falls under that canopy too. Every significant leap in firearm technology has been employed by the world's militaries to kill people.

"Designed to kill a room full of people" is the next clarification I get which results in Mr. I Hate Assault Weapons getting a lecture on the capabilities and military uses of pump action shotguns. Either that, or being shown a picture of a BAR in hunting configuration.

As for me, I'd just like to see journalists reporting facts. Start with "semi-automatic rifle" if that's all you've got. If you get more information then "semi-automatic rifle chambered in 7.62x39mm" is even better. Unless a journalist can report the manufactuer or importer, model, and chambering of the firearm the have absolutely no reason to be tossing around the "assault weapon" label. If they don't know that level of detail then my BS meter is pegged and I assume it's just a rifle of some kind.

*: I'm a gun geek. I can tell you that in the picture attached to this article Mr. Kalishnakov is holding an AKM, not the originally designed AK-47 (Note to Mr. Miller: AK-47 is close enough for all purposes. I'm not picking on you here!) based on the smooth furniture and the long "indentations" on the receiver forward of the magazine. However, I can't tell if an AR-15 that appears to have a collapsable stock is actually sporting a version that has been permanently welded into one position for compliance with the now-defunct 1994 AWB.


As an aside Automatic Weapons are not banned as evidenced by many "full auto days" at various gun ranges. Casper, Wyoming and some town in Georgia have held such events yearly. At the aforementioned events you can "rent" a full on 7.62mm minigun, M134. A weapon capable of throwing 4000-6000 rounds a second. You can also rent a "Ma Duce" Browning M1.

Trey Garrison

Poster Pete: Full auto weapons are not banned for civilian use.

They simply require a $200 transfer tax and federal background check. (Both of which are, IMHO, unconstitutional infringements.)

But they are not banned.


My hat is off to Bill Miller for working to write, er, right a wrong with the misuse of the term "assault rifle."

And I stand and applaud all the contributors here and their well-reasoned and well-written definitions.

Unfortunately, the term "assault rifle" is a hot button, an emotional one that conjures horrific mental images that sell newspapers and draw TV viewers. ("Child abduction," "Home Invasion" and "Firey Rush-Hour Pile-up" are among others.)

Worse, the term "assault rifle" is a manufactured one, created for political purposes. Defining it, as others have shown, is next to impossible. I'm not sure a reporter -- whether or not s/he knows the definition -- can really use it properly. If we agree that one attribute must be "selective fire" (e.g., capable of being fired on full-automatic), then the term cannot be used in the story in question.

But what's a reporter to do when the spokesman for the police department (as was the case on last night's TV newscast) is quoted describing the stolen weapons as "assault rifles"? (He may have even said, "high-power assault rifles.")

At best, we can only hope for an educated newsman who is able (and willing) to politely question the information s/he's given ("Officer, were these full-auto weapons, and, if so, what were Federally-banned weapons doing in the pawn shop?"), and report accurately ("Stolen were an unknown number of semi-automatic rifles...").

Again, my appreciation to Mr. Miller, et al.

And my GENUINE thanks to our police, out looking for these bad guys. God bless and protect our good guys...


The automobile used to run down innocent victims is an assault weapon.

The knife used to mug a pedestrian is an assault weapon.

The baseball bat used to bludgeon a combatant in a drunken brawl is an assault weapon.

The single shot .410 shotgun used to rob a liquor store is an assault weapon.

The semi-automatic rifle that looks like an AK-47 (but is NOT) that resides in my gun cabinet has never assaulted anyone and neither have I. It is not an assault weapon. It is not any more particularly suited for assault than any other semi-auto firearm (and much less so than some).

It is a semi-automatic rifle that is perfectly serviceable for target shooting, self defense and hunting. It is no more dangerous, and in most cases is less powerful, than a typical semi-auto hunting rifle. The fact that someone "feels like" it "looks" scary does not make it an assault weapon...or an assault rifle for that matter.

My definition of an assault weapon

An original assault weapon had automatic settings for firing multiple bullets with one trigger pull. Other settings are safe and semi-auto. Most of these weapons that are sold today don't meet this criteria. They have only the settings for semi-auto fire and safe. Semi-auto is one bullet is fired for every trigger pull.

A true assault weapon would be similar to the old Tommy guns of the 1920-30s in the eyes of the press. They are equating the look and feel of a gun to a negative term.

The Federal Govt under President Clinton defined certain gun types to be in a "assault weapon" class. These guns were banned from being sold.

I don't believe that the term can be defined by caliber of bullet since many people can build a similar looking gun with a different size of bullet fired.

In my opinion the press will say what the press wants to illustrate. Very often they are anti-gun trying to illustrate that guns are bad. A gun is an object like a car. You can hit people with a car too. We do have the right to own guns in our Constitution like we have the freedom of speech. Many anti gun people don't realize that if they attack guns they might be attacking other freedoms contained in the Constitution.

coach purses

When the door of happiness closes, another opens, but often times we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one which has been opened for us.

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