Assault Weapon Truth
The Facts Buried Beneath the Rhetoric about "Assault Weapons"

What is an "assault weapon"?

It is debated whether the term “assault weapon,” which entered the American lexicon in the late 1980s, originated as a political ploy by gun control advocates or as a marketing ploy by gun retailers.  What is certain is that “assault weapon” is not a technical term, a term of art used by firearm manufactures, or a military term.  The closest match in any of those categories is the term “assault rifle,” which is a military term referring to a medium-caliber, shoulder-fired rifle that allows the shooter to select between semiautomatic mode (the gun fires one bullet per pull of the trigger) and either fully automatic (the gun continues to fire bullet after bullet as long as the trigger is depressed) or three-shot-burst mode (the gun fires three bullets per pull of the trigger).  Because "assault weapons," as defined by state and federal law, are semiautomatic only and can fire in neither fully automatic mode nor three-shot-burst mode, they are not assault rifles(THIS article explains the current United States laws restricting civilian ownership of fully automatic/burst-fire firearms—aka machine guns—and explains why those weapons are not part of the ongoing debate over gun control in America.)

Unfortunately, despite both "assault weapon" and "assault rifle" being clearly defined in the Associated Press Stylebook, the media often conflates these two similar-sounding phrasesusing "assault rifle" when they mean "assault weapon"thereby further confusing the public on the relationship between so-called "assault weapons" and true weapons of war.  None of the assault rifles found on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam are available for sale in American sporting goods stores.

This 11-minute video addresses  some of the public confusion over "assault weapons":

Further confusing the issue is the fact that well-respected members of the news media often get the facts very wrong when reporting on "assault weapons." 

In this now-infamous 2003 CNN segment about the then-pending expiration of the 1994 “Federal Assault Weapons Ban,” a CNN reporter identifies an AK-47 held by a police detective as “one of the banned weapons—the nineteen currently banned weapons” and then has the detective demonstrate the destructive force of the firearm by firing it in FULLY AUTOMATIC mode (a mode not featured on any of the nineteen weapons banned under the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban"):

In this live segment from that same day, the detective demonstrates two firearmsone banned and one not—but switches targets after firing the banned gun, before firing the unbanned gun.  The camera remains fixed on the first target, inadvertently creating the impression that only the banned gun was capable of penetrating the cinderblock targets (even though both guns fire the same ammunition and have the same rate of fire):

This segment makes a point of showing that rounds fired from the banned rifle can
penetrate a bulletproof vest, despite the fact that BOTH rifles (which fire identical ammunition)
are equally capable (as is any hunting rifle) of penetrating the same bulletproof vest.

In this August 20, 2014, CNN panel discussion on the then-ongoing civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, anchor Don Lemon claims that he was able to buy an "automatic weapon" in Colorado and that the whole process only took twenty minutes.  When guest Ben Ferguson corrects him by pointing out that Lemon actually purchased a SEMIAUTOMATIC weapon, Lemon refuses to acknowledge the difference:

In this December 4, 2015, Fox News segment on the December 2 massacre of fourteen persons in San Bernardino, California, reporter Greg Jarrett claims that a bullet button—a device that turns a detachable magazine into an integral magazine, to comply with California's "assault weapons" ban—is actually a button that "turns your legal semiautomatic weapon into an illegal [fully automatic] weapon":

It's true that California law allows possession of some semiautomatic rifles;
however, under the state's "assault weapons" ban, semiautomatic AR-15
rifles like the ones used by the San Bernardino shooters are illegal unless
the gun's magazine is affixed via a bullet button or similar device. Contrary
to Jarrett's claim, an "assault weapon" is not fully automatic and does not
"continue to fire when the trigger is pressed." At one point during this
discussion, Jarrett uses the terms "assault rifle" and "assault weapon"
interchangeably. Most egregiously, Jarrett claims that a bullet button (so
named because the tip of a bullet can be inserted into the device to
remove the magazine from the weapon) is actually a device that, through
some sort of legal loophole, allows a semiautomatic rifle to be turned into
a fully automatic machine gun with the press of a button.

In this June 14, 2017, NBC News segment about that day's shooting attack on a congressional baseball practice, former Secret Service agent Evy Poumpouras states, “So the difference is a pistol can fire one round at a time—POP . . . POP . . . POP—which is what the Capitol Police were carrying. This individual had a rifle. ‘Semiautomatic’ means that you can switch it to a point where it fires POPPOPPOP—multiple rounds":

In reality, semiautomatic firearms do not have a switch that allows them to fire
faster or slower. They have only one firing mode—they fire one round each
time the trigger is pulled. As with virtually all U.S. law enforcement agencies,
the pistols carried by the Capitol Police are semiautomatic and have the
same rate of fire as a semiautomatic rifle or any other semiautomatic firearm.

What about the claim that a pistol grip coupled with the relatively low recoil of an "assault weapon" makes it easier to "spray fire" these weapons?

On a semiautomatic firearm, a pistol grip simply makes the gun more ergonomic, and low recoil simply makes the gun more comfortable to shoot. No semiautomatic firearm is any better suited for "spray fire" than any other

Pistol grips and low recoil improve accuracy during fully automatic fire because they help prevent muzzle climb; however, those features have little impact on semiautomatic fire because the muzzle of the gun has enough time between shots (it only needs a fraction of a second) to fall back into line with the target. Even with a fully automatic rifle, those features wouldn't be a major factor in a mass-shooting scenario because accuracy is not a significant concern at short distances. If your target is ten feet away, your muzzle can climb six inches and still be on target.

Aren't the high-powered rounds fired by "assault weapons" capable of penetrating police body armor?

The soft body armor (Type I - IIIA) worn by police officers is designed to stop handgun fire, not rifle fire.  Any centerfire rifle ammunition is capable of penetrating police body armor. 

The most-common "assault weapon" rounds are significantly less powerful than the most-common hunting rifle rounds.

NOTE: Another name for the 5.56x45 is .223.

How do "assault weapons" compare to semiautomatic hunting rifles?

NOTE 1: Another name for the .223 is 5.56x45.
NOTE 2: If you doubt that a machine gun can be built with parts and tools from Home Depot, take a look at this (be advised that building a machine gun is a federal offense in the U.S). 

How does a ban on "assault weapons" work?

This 6-minute video addresses the flaws inherent in the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban":

With only two minor exceptions*, THIS is an excellent article on the current debate over whether America should pass another "assault weapons" ban:

*The article mentions that the 1994 “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” banned some weapons capable of accepting a suppressor (aka a silencer) and goes into detail about how suppressors work and why they were invented but fails to mention that, since 1934, the “National Firearms Act” has required anyone wishing to purchase a suppressor to pay a $200 tax (licensing fee), pass an FBI background check (that takes about six months to complete), and either receive the written approval of his or her local chief of police (or county sheriff if living in an unincorporated area) or create a legal trust through with to purchase the silencer. The omission of these facts creates the misleading impression that suppressors were/are readily available to the general public. The article also cites a widely circulated but highly dubious statistic about Americans using firearms in self-defense more than two million times each year. This statistic is based on a 1995 phone survey of approximately five thousand respondents, conducted by criminologist Gary Cleck, a professor at Florida State University. More-conservative estimates place the number somewhere between a hundred thousand and several hundred thousand.

Despite its derisive use of the word "liberal," THIS is a very good article on the popular AR-15 (aka Bushmaster) rifle.  For another perspective, this article, which begins, "I'm a liberal, and I own an AR-15," is also quite good.

What about "high-capacity" clips and magazines?

In the parlance of recreational and professional shooters, a "high-capacity" magazine is one that allows a firearm to be loaded with a greater number of cartridges than the standard capacity for that model of gun.  For example, the standard capacity for an M1911 pistol is 7 rounds, so an 8-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for an M1911.  The standard capacity for a Glock 17 pistol is 17 rounds, so a 19-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for a Glock 17.  The standard capacity for an AR-15 rifle is 30 rounds, so a 40-round magazine is a high-capacity magazine for an AR-15.

On the other hand, bans on "high-capacity" magazines typically do not consider a firearm's standard capacity when establishing legal standards.  Instead, these laws establish an across-the-board maximum (typically 10 rounds) that cannot be lawfully exceeded.  Under such laws, guns that were originally designed to have a standard capacity in excess of the legislated maximum must use shorter magazines or, in the case of pistols, magazines that have been partially plugged to prevent them from being loaded to capacity.

The thinking behind such bans is that, in an active shooter scenario, the shooter's constant need to reload will slow the assault, thereby, allowing would-be victims to either flee or fight back.  Supporters of such bans point to the 2011 Tucson shooting in which the shooting spree was cut short after the gunman dropped his second magazine while trying to reload, allowing bystanders crouched near his feet to grab the magazine and wrestle him to the ground.  Opponents of such bans point out that the Tucson shooting represents an anomaly (a shooter dropping his extra magazine) within an even greater anomaly (one's odds of being involved in a mass shooting are about the same as one's odds of being struck by lightning) and argue that survivors of other mass shootings have reported that their assailants reloaded too quickly for anyone to flee or fight.

It's worth noting that the Tucson shooter used a true high-capacity handgun magazine that holds 33-rounds and extends well below the grip of the pistol.  The long, heavy, unwieldy nature of this type of magazine may have contributed to the shooter dropping it.  Likewise, during the 2012 Aurora, CO, theater shooting, the gunman's use of a true high-capacity AR-15 drum magazine—a style of magazine notorious for jamming—may have prevented greater loss of life.  The rifle reportedly jammed after firing no more than 30 rounds, forcing the shooter to switch to one of the other three guns he was carrying. 

During the December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the gunman reportedly changed magazines more often than necessary, indicating that he did not perceive himself to be vulnerable while reloading.  According to The Hartford Courant, "[The gunman] changed magazines frequently as he fired his way through the first-grade classrooms of Lauren Rousseau and Victoria Soto, sometimes shooting as few as 15 shots from a 30-round magazine."

In this video, a survivor of the 1991 Luby's Massacre describes that assault and explains how the shooter reloaded too quickly for anyone to react:

In this video, two firearms instructors demonstrate how little a reload does to slow a shooter:

The 2007 Norris Hall massacre at Virginia Tech (the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history prior to the June 12, 2016, shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL) lasted between 10 and 12 minutes. During that time, the gunmanusing 15-round magazines—fired approximately 174 rounds, killing 30 people and wounding 17 others. If he completely emptied each magazine before loading a full one and if his average reload time was three seconds (pretty easy to accomplish), he reloaded 11 times, accounting for just 33 seconds of the 10- to 12-minute shooting spree.  The use of 10-round magazines instead of 15-round magazines would have increased his total shooting time by just 18 seconds.  The use of 30-round magazines instead of 15-round magazines would have decreased his total shooting time by just 18 seconds.  No adjustment to the size of the killer's magazines would have significantly altered the amount of time he had to target victims.

In THIS article and THIS article, survivors of the Norris Hall shooting recount that the gunman took only a second to reload.

In its final report, the nonpartisan Virginia Tech Review Panel wrote:
The panel also considered whether the previous federal Assault Weapons Act of 1994 that banned 15-round magazines would have made a difference in the April 16 incidents. The law lapsed after 10 years, in October 2004, and had banned clips or magazines with over 10 rounds. The panel concluded that 10-round magazines that were legal [under the ban] would have not made much difference in the incident. Even [revolvers] with rapid loaders could have been about as deadly in this situation. (p. 74)

This video shows just how quickly a shooter with a revolver can fire six shots, reload, and fire six more:

He fires the first six rounds at four times the rate of fire of the average "assault weapon."
Even with the reload, he fires twelve rounds at twice the speed at which twelve rounds can be
fired from the average "assault weapon" (without a reload).

Aren't "assault weapons" more dangerous than handguns?

Functionally, there is no difference between semiautomatic "assault weapons" and the semiautomatic handguns that are so ubiquitous in American society—both have the same rate of fire, firing one round each time the trigger is pulled.

Rifles fire larger, more powerful cartridges and have greater muzzle energy than handguns; however, as shown in the video above, even revolvers, which function on a different mechanical principle than semiautomatic firearms, can match the rate of fire of a semiautomatic "assault weapon."

Approximately 70% of all gun homicides are committed with handguns.

How often are "assault weapons" used to commit violent crimes in the U.S?

In 2011, rifles of any kind (not just "assault weapons") were used to commit 323 homicides (2.55% of all homicides that year).  Almost twice as many people were killed with blunt objects, more than twice as many people were beaten to death with bare hands, and more than five times as many people were stabbed to death.

Before the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban" went into effect, "assault weapons" were used in approximately 2% of all gun crimes.

In a 2003 review of the 1994 "Federal Assault Weapons Ban," the
National Institute of Justice (the research branch of the U.S. Justice Department) concluded, "Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. AWs were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban."

Is this confusion over "assault weapons" purely accidental, or is there a deliberate effort to mislead the public?

A 1988 study by the Violence Policy Center, one of the nation's leading gun control advocacy groups, unabashedly celebrates the public's confusion over the difference between "assault weapons" and military machine guns.

The study concludes, "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.”

In an October 27, 2007, interview on National Public Radio, Miami Police Chief John Timoneyan outspoken proponent of "assault weapon" banswas asked about that year's increase in fatal shootings of police officers.

The reporter opened the interview by explaining to the audience that police shootings were up from 2006 and then asked Chief Timoney, "What are some of the reasons that you think this might be the case?"

Chief Timoney responded, "On quite a few of these shootings, not just automatic weapons but assault rifles have been used."

A few seconds later, the reporter asked, "Is the kind of weaponry that criminals are able to acquire growing more powerful?"

Chief Timoney answered, "Oh, without a doubt.  The federal assault weapon ban that went into effect ten years ago sunsetted about a year and a half agotwo years ago.  And certainly in South Florida we're seeing the markets here being flooded by these assault rifles.  There are so many of them on the market it's driving down the prices so that you can get these weapons for under $300.  They're much more powerful in the bullet themselves, and then there's more of them, so instead of a 10-shooter, you now have 30 rounds."

After a few more seconds of conversation, the reporter said, "You're suggesting greater gun controls, it sounds like."

Chief Timoney replied, "Absolutely!  Listen, I'm fully aware of, cognizant of, supportive off the Second Amendment, but there's no way anybody can convince me that an ordinary citizen should be walking around the streets of our cities carrying a military assault weapon."

During this four-and-a-half-minute interview about 2007's unusually high number of police shootings, Chief Timoney spoke of little except the dangers police officers face from assault weapons (which he intermittently referred to as "assault rifles" and erroneously claimed are "much more powerful in the bullet themselves").  This is particularly shocking because, according to a January 14, 2008, article published in Chief Timoney's hometown paper, the Miami Herald, only one U.S. police officer was fatally shot with an "assault weapon" in 2007.

An August 23, 2014, article in the Miami Herald attributes a similar claim to Miami police: 

Miami police say they consider the spike in shootings this year an “outlier.” They say major crime numbers remain low overall and put much of the blame on the end of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. Automatic gunfire from easy-to-get guns can spray hundreds of bullets in the blink of an eye.

Read more here:

What about U.S. states that already have strict bans on "assault weapons"?

There is no correlation between the stringency of a state's gun control laws and that state's homicide rate. Likewise, there is no correlation between a state's rate of gun ownership and that state's homicide rate.

Sources listed HERE.

What about the claim that bans on "assault weapons" have made England and Australia much safer?

Proponents  of "assault weapon" bans often speak of the great disparity between the number of gun deaths in the U.S., where "assault weapons" are legal, and the number of gun deaths in England and Australia, where "assault weapons" are banned.  Comparing total numbers of gun deaths, rather than overall homicide or violent crime rates, is an act of statistical gamesmanship designed to make such bans appear more effective than they actually are.

The U.S. population is five and a half times that of England and Wales combined and thirteen and a half times that of Australia; therefore, the total number of crimes in any category is likely to be much higher in the U.S. than in England or Australia.  More-scrupulous advocates for "assault weapon" bans sometimes focus instead on gun death rates, but that still ignores the question of whether or not such bans actually make the population safer.  If a person plotting a murder can't find a gundue to a banbut still manages to carry out the crime with a knife, it's difficult to argue that the ban made the deceased victim safer.

To accurately gauge the safety of a nation, one must look at the overall homicide and violent crime rates.  Unfortunately, differences in the way the United States, Australia, and England/Wales collect crime data make it virtually impossible to precisely compare overall violent crime rates. However, it is possible to compare homicide rates.

It is true that the U.S. has a significantly higher homicide rate than either England or Australia, but the U.S. homicide rate has declined significantly during the past twenty years; whereas, the homicide rates in both England and Australia havedespite the "assault weapon" bans those countries implemented in the 1980s and 1990s, respectivelyremained fairly constant over the past forty years.

For a simplified tutorial on "assault weapons," view the slideshow at


The New York Times – Sept. 12, 2014 – NEWS ARTICLE – “The Assault Weapon Myth”:

Los Angeles Times – Dec. 11, 2015 – OP-ED BY ADAM WINKLER – “Why banning assault rifles won't reduce gun violence”:

The Washington Post – Dec. 16, 2015 – WEEKLY COLUMN – “Why are gun rights supporters worried about bans on so-called assault weapons?”:

The Washington Post – June 16, 2016 – NEWS ARTICLE – “Why banning AR-15s and other assault weapons won’t stop mass shootings”:

Politico – June 16, 2016 – NEWS ARTICLE – “Why Democrats aren't pushing an assault weapons ban:  And leading gun control groups don't think they should, either”:

New York Post – June 21, 2016 – WEEKLY COLUMN – “Why banning ‘assault weapons’ is nothing but symbolism”: