When is an assault rifle not an assault rifle? When the gun industry and their PR folks decide that it's a Modern Sporting Rifle. And since many high-profile members of the gun control community (Feinstein, et. al.) still haven't figured out the difference between a semi-automatic weapon and an automatic weapon, the gun folks don't need to worry about whether anyone really understands the difference between one type of gun and the other.
But I know the difference (there isn't any) so let's start the conversation below the fold.
The origins of the term 'Modern Sporting Rifle' are somewhat obscure. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) claims that MSRs were the lever-action rifles developed by Spencer and later by Winchester with a tubular magazine that held 8-10 rounds. The rifles were shorter and lighter than standard infantry guns and were used primarily by cavalry units. The Winchester repeater saw more frequent use during the two decades it took to pacify the various Plains Indian tribes, and from that time until the present continues to be favored by hunters primarily for short-distance deer shoots.
There's only one problem with this little NSSF history lesson: The term 'Modern Sporting Rifle" didn't exist back when Spencer and Winchester made their rifles. The term was coined, in fact, by the NSSF and the gun industry to get such products accepted by chain stores like Cabela's that were at first reluctant to display military-style weapons in retail venues frequented by families (read: mothers and children.) The gun industry portrays the design of these rifles as nothing more than just another example of consumer goods reflecting changing tastes, as in the following quote by NSSF President Steve Sanetti:
“Nothing looks like it did 50 or 100 years ago.” Today, this is the way a rifle looks. It doesn’t have a wood stock or blued steel. Yet it has become ‘America’s rifle.’"But hold on a minute, Steve. There are many rifles out there today that look exactly like they looked fifty years ago. The semi-auto Remington 750, still a very popular gun, has been in production (with various name changes) since 1952. The Browning BAR, another semi-auto hunting rifle, hasn't basically changed since 1967.
What's changed is the gun industry's attempt to make high-capacity, military-style rifles palatable with today's political sensitivities, not today's marketing tastes. When I bought my first Colt AR-15 forty-five years ago, nobody had any problem referring to it as an assault rifle. The term had been around since the end of World War II, when it first was applied to an automatic rifle, the StG 44, known as the sturmgewehr (which literally means 'assault' or 'storm') issued to units of the Wehrmacht in 1944.
The landscape began to change in 1994, when the Democrats, led by Dianne Feinstein, pushed through a ten-year ban on "assault" rifles as part of a national anti-crime bill. According to the NSSF and other gun industry mouthpieces, the use of the term 'assault rifle,' was an attempt by anti-gun elements to get rid of these weapons by creating the fiction that they were no different from rifles used by the military. In fact, it wasn't only liberal, anti-gun "elements" that ganged up on the poor, law-abiding assault rifle owners. On the eve of the vote in Congress, the following letter was sent to Republican Congressmen, urging them to vote for the ban:
As a longtime gun owner and supporter of the right to bear arms, I, too, have carefully thought about this issue. I am convinced that the limitations imposed in this bill are absolutely necessary. I know there is heavy pressure on you to go the other way, but I strongly urge you to join me in supporting this bill. It must be passed.The author of the letter, a really hard-core member of the liberal "element," was Ronald Reagan.
The NSSF can say whatever it wants about why the Modern Sporting Rifle is different from military weapons, but the difference boils down to one thing, namely, that assault rifles used by the military are designed to shoot multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger (automatic) while the civilian versions require a separate trigger pull (semi-automatic) for every shot. But from a design and function perspective, this is hardly a game-changer, because most assault weapons carried by the military also provide the option of being fired on either automatic or semi-automatic mode. In fact, most assault weapons carried by our guys and gals in combat zones shoot either one or two shots for each trigger pull, because the odds of putting more than two auto-fire shots on target are slim to none.
If anyone out there really believes that the purpose of making a civilian version of the assault rifle is to somehow lull consumers into thinking that they aren't getting their hands on a military gun, consider the description of the product by Colt Firearms, the company that manufactured both the first military and civilian versions:
Colt’s rifles are the only rifles available to sportsmen, hunters and other shooters that are manufactured in the Colt factory and based on the same military standards and specifications as the United States issue Colt M16 rifle and M4 carbine.So here we have the company that took Gene Stoner's brilliant design, then converted it first into the AR-15 for civilian sales and then into the M16 for military use. That's correct folks, the current Colt M4 rifle carried by our troops (and plenty of other combatants) started out as a commercial design that was adapted to military use - not the other way around. Oh well, what's a few facts when facts really don't matter, right?
Except facts do matter, especially when we are talking about something as serious and dangerous as guns. That's why as a retail gun dealer who has sold more than 12,000 guns, including more than 1,500 assault rifles, I joined Evolve. For the first time there's a group of people coming together who want to find a real middle ground between gun use on the one hand and gun safety on the other. Because if we don't find a middle ground, we'll end up arguing endlessly and fruitlessly about the pros and cons of the 2nd Amendment and needless gun violence will continue to occur. Let's turn the page, write a new chapter together, and end gun violence one and for all.