Quibbling Over The Definition Of 'Assault Weapon' Misses The Point

In the aftermath of the terrible events in Dallas, the argument has once again erupted over the definition of an 'assault rifle,' because the early but unconfirmed reports identified the shooter's gun as an AR, although the gun was finally identified as an SKS. Now in fact both guns were originally designed for military use, but the SKS, generally speaking, needs to be reloaded more frequently, whereas the AR is often used with hi-cap mags. But once President Obama said the magic words yesterday about how the shooter used a gun that was "not intended for city streets," then Gun-nut Nation went into an immediate rant about how the gun used in Dallas was nothing other than a semi-automatic, top-loading rifle which is just like any other modern, sporting gun.

In the interests of helping my GVP friends understand the ins and outs of the assault rifle debate, here is a picture of a standard assault rifle which can be found and purchased in just about every location that sells guns. It can also be acquired via a private transaction, and can also be carried openly in places like Texas and some other dumb states.

mike weisser

This gun, plus or minus a few other attachments, is what is generally considered to be an 'assault rifle' or an 'assault weapon,' for the simple reason that when the Feds declared a ten-year ban on such guns back in 1994, a gun fell into the prohibited category if it had a detachable magazine and two of five of the other design features identified in the picture above. If it didn't have at least two of those design features it could still be manufactured and sold, as long as the detachable magazine only contained a maximum of 10 rounds. The magazine limitation applied to magazines that were used in handguns as well.

When the ban on assault weapons expired in 2005, Gun-nut Nation struck back with a vengeance, not only greasing its Congressional friends to vote against an extension of the ban, but also starting up a loud campaign to rid the American lexicon, particularly the shooting lexicon, of using the word 'assault' at all. And this campaign took the form of declaring that, by definition, 'assault' weapons had nothing to do with civilian, sporting guns because the former were automatic weapons that were prohibited from civilian use. Additionally, any semi-automatic rifle (one trigger pull -- one round fires) was a 'sporting' gun because, because, duh, Gun-nut Nation declared it to be a sporting gun. Period. End of debate.

Know this: The campaign to promote ownership of AR rifles by rebranding them as 'modern sporting' anything is totally and completely full of crap. Because it doesn't really matter whether my friend Dianne Feinstein gets it right or wrong when she refers to 'automatic guns.' It doesn't matter whether AR rifles 'only' figure in 1 percent of all the shooting deaths each year that involve the use of guns. It doesn't even matter whether the Dallas shooter used an AR or an SKS. The real issue, the only issue in the argument about assault weapons is how we understand the word 'assault.'

Because guns like the AR or the SKS, even if they can only fire in semi-automatic mode, weren't designed to go after Bambi in the woods or knock Big Bird out of a tree. They were designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that was to kill human beings, and to kill as many humans as many times as the trigger of those guns can be pulled. So why should we allow Gun-nut Nation to set the terms of the debate for determining the lethality of this gun or that? Remember, they believe that it's the people who are lethal, not the guns. Tell that one to the families of the dead cops in Dallas whose dear ones were killed with a legally-purchased gun.