Comparison: "Assault Weapons" vs. Other Firearms
The main intent of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was to make “military looking” firearms illegal. The supporters of the AWB believe that civilian versions of military weapons are more lethal than other firearms that operate in the same fashion, but do not look like military weapons.
Most of us that have reasonable knowledge and experience with firearms recognized from the start that the AWB definitions were primarily about the cosmetic features of the weapons and not their actual functionality or lethality.
This fact is supported by a quick comparison of a rifle that was banned (Colt AR-15) and one that was not. (Ruger Mini-14) Both of these weapons fire the same exact cartridge and bullet, the .223 Remington. Both are semi-automatic. Both can accept detachable magazines. Functionally, these are very similar weapons. So what is the main difference? The AR-15 has a black synthetic stock and looks like a military weapon. The Ruger Mini-14 has a wooden stock, and looks more “conventional.”
Before we examine the “Features test
” of the AWB, let us all acknowledge that every revolver, pistol, rifle or shotgun is a dangerous and potentially deadly tool. Regardless of the size, weight, caliber or color scheme, a firearm can destroy anything in front of the barrel when a trigger is pulled and the projectile is launched.
The AWB apparently attempts to make a distinction by creating a class of firearms that are, in some way, more dangerous than other firearms and therefore should be banned. The March 1999 report from the National Institute of Justice “Impacts of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban: 1994-1996” by Jeffrey A. Roth and Christopher S. Koper states:
"Although the weapons banned by this legislation were used only rarely in gun crimes before the ban, supporters felt that these weapons posed a threat to public safety because they are capable of firing many shots rapidly. They argued that these characteristics enhance offenders’ ability to kill and wound more persons and to inflict multiple wounds on each victim, so that a decrease in their use would reduce the fatality rate of gun attacks." (Emphasis added)
The supporters of the AWB believe that certain features on a firearm make it more “lethal.” By banning those features, the firearm would become less “lethal”, thereby making our world a much safer place. Of course, this line of thought ignores the only component which determines the lethality of any firearm: The intent of the person who pulls the trigger.
Those of us that oppose the AWB recognize the subjective nature of the features identified with the ban and argue that these features were chosen because of an emotional reaction to a few tragic, but nonetheless, anomalous incidents where military style weapons were used.
When we examine the banned weapons and compare them to weapons that were not banned, it is tough to find significant differences beyond the cosmetics. FUNCTION OF ACTION
Many people not familiar with firearms do not make any distinction between a semi-automatic firearm and a fully automatic firearm. This is understandable, but the distinction needs to be made. A fully automatic firearm will fire multiple bullets with each trigger pull. These weapons are used by the military and law enforcement agencies. It is unlawful for a civilian to possess a fully-automatic weapon without special licensing from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. (BATF) This has been the case since 1934.
Although many of the banned weapons look like their fully automatic counterparts, they are not the same!
All of the banned weapons have a semi-automatic action. What this means is that after the firearm is fired, either a gas system or recoil system causes a mechanism to eject the shell casing and load a new round. Only one bullet is fired each time the trigger is fired. From a practical standpoint, a double action revolver could also be called “semi-automatic” since a bullet is fired each time the trigger is pulled. The only difference is in the mechanics.
There is nothing unique about a semi-automatic action. In fact, the semi-automatic action is more than 100 years old. This type of action is used in pistols, rifles and shotguns of all different styles and calibers. AMMUNITION
The type of ammunition shot by these banned weapons is not special or unique; they fire a variety of different ammunition from rifle calibers of .223 to .308 to pistol calibers of .22 to .45. (For those that aren’t familiar with what those numbers mean, the caliber is basically the diameter of the bullet as measured in inches. So a .22 caliber is roughly a quarter inch in diameter.) These bullet types are not unusual and are used in literally hundreds of different firearms that are not banned. COSMETIC FEATURES
Most people that have more than very basic knowledge of firearms recognize that the vast majority of “features” that define what an “assault weapon” is are strictly cosmetic and have absolutely no affect on the lethality of the firearm. FOLDING OR TELESCOPING STOCK
How short is short? The BATF requires that rifles and shotguns that have an overall length of less than 26 inches must be registered and owners of these weapons are required to pay licensing fees. All of the banned rifles and shotguns still have overall lengths of 26 inches, even if they have folding or telescoping stocks. All of these weapons were previously legal, and would still be legal if they had fixed stocks but were shortened to the legal limit of 26 inches. So, what is it that makes a folding stock so dangerous?
Proponents argue that folding stocks sacrifice accuracy for concealability and mobility. Most people familiar with these types of weapons would argue that a folding or telescoping stock does not affect accuracy at all.
The concealability issue is really questionable since it is legal to own a rifle or shotgun with an overall length of 26 inches. If, when the stock is folded and collapsed, the weapon is still 26 inches long, why should the type of stock be an issue?
Most people familiar with these weapons would acknowledge that a shortened stock can improve mobility. This is especially useful if one chooses to use one of these firearms as a personal defense weapon. Many SWAT teams and Special Forces units use very short versions of these weapons in situations involving urban areas just for that reason.
However, it must be noted that police and military units have NO restrictions on length. Some of these units use VERY short weapons with barrels only 8 to 10 inches long. These weapons would be illegal for a civilian to own without special licensing from the BATF. PISTOL GRIP
The development of the pistol grip on rifles and shotguns is really an offshoot of improved ergonomics. It is just more comfortable to carry a rifle or shotgun with a pistol grip. When carrying a rifle with a pistol grip, your wrist is allowed to stay straight and inline with your lower arm. If one tries to carry a rifle with a conventional stock, one has to “” the wrist at about a 45-degree angle in order to hold on to it. This can cause cramping and fatigue.
According to The Brady Campaign “A pistol grip on a rifle or shotgun facilitates firing from the hip, allowing the shooter to spray-fire the weapon. The pistol grip also helps the shooter stabilize the firearm during rapid fire and make it easier to shoot assault rifles one-handed.”
Any rifle or shotgun can be “fired from the hip” if one is not concerned with accuracy. There is nothing about a pistol grip that makes this easier. If a shooter wants to hit an object, he or she must use some type of sighting device, otherwise it is pure luck. Unless you are a movie star.
Which makes one wonder what movies the folks at the Brady Campaign are watching. In real life, no one in his or her right mind would think of shooting a high-powered rifle or shotgun with one hand. That is an injury or accident waiting to happen. However, if your total knowledge of firearms is what you see on television or at the movies, it is understandable that one would conclude that shooting one-handed is effective. BARREL SHROUD
When guns are fired, the barrel gets hot. Just how hot is determined by many things including the type of barrel, type of ammunition fired and the frequency of fire. Barrel shrouds prevent burns. That is their only purpose. They do not affect the functioning of the gun. FLASH SUPPRESSOR
Proponents of the AWB argue that flash suppressors allow a shooter to be concealed when shooting at night. Anyone that has watched news reports of our military firing weapons at night, or has fired these types of weapons at night will recognize that flash suppressors can reduce the amount of flame that shoots 18 inches beyond the barrel, but they do not eliminate it.
Recoil buffers are sometimes confused with flash suppressors. Recoil buffers are an effective way of improving the accuracy and enjoyment of firing high-powered weapons by reducing “felt” recoil and “barrel jump.”
It must be noted that flash suppressors and recoil buffers are legal to have on any other rifle, just not the ones designated as “Assault Weapons.” THREADED BARRELS THAT CAN ACCOMMODATE SILENCERS
The term “silencer” is really misapplied to high-powered rifles. A sound “suppressor” would be more appropriate. Some military firearms have barrels machined with threads so that they might be able to accept a sound suppressor. However, the threading does not effect the operation of the firearm at all. The concern should be the sound suppressor itself, not threads on a barrel.
It is not legal to own a sound suppressor unless one obtains a license from the BATF; therefore, whether or not a weapon can accept a silencer is completely irrelevant. BARREL MOUNT TO ACCEPT A BAYONET
This issue is almost laughable. When was the last time anyone was stabbed with a bayonet extending from the barrel of an “Assault Weapon?” Is this really a public safety issue? DETACHABLE MAGAZINE
There are a number of different ways that cartridges can be carried in a weapon. Revolvers use a round cylinder which rotates each time the weapon is fired. Some rifles and shotguns use a tubular magazine, which uses a spring to feed a new cartridge into place. Some rifles have an internal, non-detachable magazine. The capacity of these various types range from 3 to more than 20 cartridges.
A detachable magazine is a component that individual cartridges are loaded into, but it differs from those previously noted because it can be removed from the firearm. One can carry multiple magazines and re-load the firearm quickly and efficiently. There are a variety of pistols and rifles that use a detachable magazine. The capacity of a magazine varies by the physical size of the cartridge, and the type of firearm it is used in. Most military style weapons can accept magazines that typically carry 10 to 30 cartridges at a time.
The AWB has made it illegal for a citizen to own or purchase magazines with capacities larger than 10 cartridges that have been manufactured or imported after the ban was made law.
The intent of having a smaller magazine capacity is that a criminal could not fire as many shots as rapidly, therefore reducing the ability to kill of wound more people. However, the statistical evidence reported in the previously mentioned National Institute of Justice report shows:
“The ban has failed to reduce the average number of victims per gun murder incident or multiple gunshot wound victims.”
Because “assault weapons” are rarely used in gun crimes, a significant change in numbers of victims would not be expected. CONCLUSION
Beyond appearance, there are no significant differences between those weapons that are affected by the 1994 AWB and those that are not. The banned weapons are no more lethal than any of the weapons that are not banned. The 1994 AWB was an emotional legislative response to the perception of a major public safety and law enforcement problem.
If one looks objectively at the facts and statistical evidence regarding the uses of these banned weapons and crime, the conclusion is obvious. The AWB is not effective and should be allowed to expire.