Assault Weapons: Evil Black Rifles (or perhaps not)
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"Assault rifles" are being demonized by many politicians, media-types, and other anti-gun folk who actually have no idea what it is they are demonizing. Most people who hear the truth are quite surprised to find out just how off-base and factually wrong these nay-sayers are.
Actually, many of the national leaders in the gun banning community know they are lying to the public. Josh Sugarmann, author of the 1988 book "Assault Weapons and Accessories in America" laid out the strategy for all to see.
"Assault weapons-just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms-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."
True automatic assault rifles such as the Sturmgewehr 44 were first developed by the Germans in WWII, and further refined by the Russians immediately post-war as defined by the AK-47. America's eventual version, the M16/M4, wasn't too bad either but certainly wasn't universally loved by soldiers.
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 (the part that goes against the shooter's cheek) was just a bare outline of metal, or even completely collapsible. This "look" is often consider bizarre by those who never thought about the "why" of it.
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 rabbit-rifle heats up with enough shots fired 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 and protect the soldiers hands. 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 Long Rifle.
The .22 LR 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 thousandth of an inch bigger in diameter. Think of it like this - you have to drive 220 miles to get to your friends house. But he's moving three miles further away in a month. Will now driving 223 miles make much of a difference overall?
The actual .223 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 small 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. 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.
When you hear or read someone railing against "high powered assault weapons" you now know that they don't really know much about firearms. The standard deer rifle in Uncle Bob's closet is much more powerful than the .223 cartridge. The AR platform can be manufactured with the capability of using a larger, more powerful cartridge which is used in hunting, but those are still the exception and not the norm for the rifle.
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 in combat the enemy doesn't necessarily stick their head up to check your 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 between individual soldiers is just not that far apart. 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 by a switch between shooting either one shot, three shots, or full automatic with just one pull of the trigger. Full auto meant the gun would continue to fire all the rounds until the trigger was let up.. 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 barrel wants to rise with every bullet fired, and unless one is a super-sized Rambo the barrel 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 almost 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.
Only in the movies, or in news stories about celebrating Third World soldiers do you see automatic fire. It's just not a productive way to fight a war or kill people.
Aside from that the disadvantages of machine guns are considerable. Not least among them is the weight and space of the ammunition they consume. This is something that isn't obvious to the casual viewer of action films, since most on-screen firearms feature tardis-like ammunition capacities, capable of firing indefinitely with no magazine changes.
In fact, an M16 has a firing rate of 750 rounds per minute, so that if one were to be used as typically shown in movies (constant spray of bullets), one would go through a 30-round magazine every two and a half seconds. And a full magazine weighs a pound. So for a single minute's use in full auto, a movie-watching criminal would need to carry at least 25 pounds of magazines around (and that's about $1,000 worth of ammunition, which will seriously dent their bank heist operational budget).
Why is the full auto bit stressed. Because these guns are NOT what is being sold today, but yet it is 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.
Buying a newly-manufactured full-fledged automatic assault weapon has been illegal since 1986, and unless one has jumped through sufficient federal government hoops it is also highly illegal to buy one that was made before 1986.
The process to obtain an older automatic weapon is complicated and expensive, and includes fingerprints by the Feds and an exorbitant federal transfer tax on each full auto weapon. There is little record of any licensed fully automatic weapon being used in the commission of a crime since 1934. Some accounts say one may have been used, some say even up to TWO times in the past almost 80 years has a registered fully auto be used in a crime.
"Machine guns" and "automatic weapons" are simply not bought down at Walmart. Complaining about someone waking into a store and legally buying fully automatic weapons is akin to complaining about how circuses mistreat unicorns.
Those who talk about "machine guns" blasting away at rabbits or deer are either highly ignorant of the subject or just doing it to demagogue the discussion.
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, 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 and flash-suppressor 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.
Many people complain that the semi-autos sold today are easily converted to full automatic weapons. They have no understanding of either the mechanics of firearms or the laws prohibiting even the whiff of an full auto.
Federal law declares that any gun that is easily converted to an automatic weapon IS an automatic weapon for the purposes of the law, even if not actually converted -- (National Firearms Act as amended by the McClure-Volkmer Act of 1986). That NON-automatic pistols or carbines that fire from an open bolt are Title 2/Class III restricted under Federal law, because they can be converted by filing the sear.
It is a crime to even ATTEMPT to convert a legal semi-auto to fully automatic fire even in the absence of a conversion kit. The attempt is the same thing as possessing an illegal, unregistered machine gun. If you possess even a single PART from a full auto gun and attempt to fit it to a semi-auto, you've just tried to assemble an illegal machine gun. That is a 10 year prison sentence and/or a $250,000 dollar fine.
The semi-auto versions of any military-type rifle have to be specifically designed so that CANNOT accept parts from their full auto cousins without requiring major alteration to the gun itself. As a result, the presence of the alteration is prima facie evidence that you were, in fact, intending to manufacture an illegal machine gun.
This is difficult to explain to someone who isn't familiar with the internals of firearms. I can tell you it is not easy to convert any semi-auto rifle to full-auto. It requires a machine shop in many cases and a machinist used to working to very precise specs. And manufacture of a conversion kit would be considered manufacture of a machine gun under the law. Hence why you don't see the kits.
Books do exist on how to build machine guns or make the necessary conversions. That's legal. It's protected under the 1st Amendment. You can even buy the book and own the corresponding gun. Questionable judgement but still legal. You become a criminal the moment you attempt to go from the abstract words on a page and turn them into steel reality. Then you're breaking the law. Not until.
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The AR, the AK and similar rifles make perfectly fine hunting guns if used on the right game. Many people think rifles chambered for the .223 cartridge are the absolute best for hunting varmints such as coyotes, small feral hogs, and other destructive pests, 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. Since almost all states limit the number of rounds that can be carried in a long gun while hunting to only three the issue of someone shooting a deer thirty times is simply not even reasonable. The hunter merely uses a smaller magazine, or a large one with a plug that prevents over-loading it.
Would they be used to take elk or mule deer out west where the animals are much bigger and the shooting distance is measured by hundreds of yards? No, that takes a much bigger gun and caliber bullet. But just because you don't use a hammer in place of a screwdriver doesn't mean that both hammers and screwdrivers have their proper uses.
The October 2009 issue of Outdoor Life, the premier magazine of hunting and fishing, prominently featured an AR style rifle on it's front cover, and declared it one of the top ten hunting rifles of the year.
And the National Shooting Sports Foundation has launched a national media campaign designed to correct widespread mis-perceptions among gun owners and non-gun owners about AR-15-style rifles, also known as modern sporting rifles, by enlisting the help of widely respected outdoors writer/author Doug Painter to do a video explaining how this type of rifle is perfect for certain types of hunting.
The Modern Sporting Rifle
These types of rifles 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. They shoot a common and inexpensive cartridge. They're customizable, with only a few moving parts, easy to find spare parts for, and don't have a lot of recoil.
You can drop it in a swamp, pull it out and it will still shoot. Not a lot of expensive hunting rifles could take the abuse a typical sports uitility rifle could shrug off.
Many police departments in both big and little cities across the nation are converting to these guns for these same reasons.
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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-16, is perfect for his use.
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.
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. At Camp Perry, where the National Shooting championships have been held each year for decades, the AR-15 (or M16) has owned the short to medium length accuracy competition for many years.
Chuck Hawks, a noted gun writer and scholar, says:
Camp Perry service rifle competitions are dominated by M16 type rifles, and the use of the M1A or the M1 is extremely limited. While I will probably never move to shooting a M16 type for competition, the individual who wants to be competitive should consider such a proposition. The M16 type has lower recoil, more inherent accuracy potential, and better ergonomics. Additionally the advent of 1/7 twist rate barrels for the M16 type allow the use of heavier bullets thereby allowing shooters to shoot very accurately out to 600 yards.
Go to most outdoor ranges and you'll see all kinds of guys with their AR-15s, AK-47s, and other look-alikes 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 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 want to emulate them.
Are these guns being used to specifically target police officers for death? No, of course not. David Kopel examined the evidence stretching over years and years and found that they are far from any major cause of harm to our police officers:
Again, these guns may "look" like a military weapon but they are the farthest thing from one... they fire just 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 they way they look, and a smaller type bullet.
Here's an excellent ten minute video about this subject
You'll get to see a normal, everyday hunting rifle change to an "evil black rifle" right before your very eyes. And when you realize that it is fundamentally no different from you going from suit and tie with combed hair to bluejeans and a tee shirt with unkempt hair then you'll understand the lies the gun banners have been trying to foist off on the public.
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.
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This Hub was last updated on April 9, 2013
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