As a Forensic Firearms Examiner with more than 32 years experience, I am often asked, what is an “assault weapon?” Especially in light of such tragic recent events as Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, the simple answer is I don’t know. I don’t know because depending on what state you are asking the question from, it varies.
You would think that journalists and politicians, many of whom are attorneys, would understand that words have meanings; words are their business.
There exists, and has for many years, an accepted definition of an assault rifle. Not “assault weapon,” but assault rifle. An assault rifle; according to the Department of Defense Small Arms Identification and Operations Guide: “Short, compact, select fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between a submachine gun and a rifle.”
A similar definition can be found on Wikipedia. During World War II the Germans originally developed the assault rifle idea. Being smaller in size and having ammunition that was not necessarily a smaller caliber, but a smaller cartridge, and therefore lighter, allowed a soldier to carry more ammunition.
The meaningless term “assault weapon” is a term that has come about in an attempt to demonize a class of firearms, mainly semiautomatic rifles. The word “assault” being clearly pejorative, making those hearing or reading it believe that the firearm is used for criminal purposes. The most innocent item can be used as a “weapon” in the right circumstances. However, this is a misapplication of a term with a longstanding accepted, technical definition, assault rifle.
“Assault weapon” is a dreamt up legislative/media term that has NO precise technical meaning and varies depending on what state you live in, and the pet peeves of the legislature, used to characterize a “bad” gun. This is clearly illustrated by many of the “assault weapons” lists made up by ill-informed legislators. The Ruger Mini-14 and the Colt AR-15 are functionally identical rifles; they just look different. The Colt was/is on most “assault weapons” lists, the Ruger is not. So swap the Colt and Ruger for Ford and Chevrolet. The legislature says you can own a Ford but not a Chevy.
This meaningless term “assault weapons” is used over and over again by the ill-informed media and liberal politicians who are bent on restricting Americans’ access to firearms rather than providing factual information. Neither media personnel nor politicians contact people who might actually know something about firearms and ammunition prior to parroting a term from another of their ill-informed and often biased colleagues. Your local crime labs are chock full of UNBIASED firearms experts.
Unbiased experts don’t seem to be of much interest to journalists and politicians who are focused on their own agenda, the facts be damned. And “assault weapons” is not the only topic. Having those untrained and unfamiliar with firearms providing definitions of firearms is akin to asking Major League Baseball to be the governing body for defining a bowling ball.
Dwight Van Horn is a Hayden resident, Retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, a member of the National Rifle Association Board of Directors and has testified as a firearms expert nearly 500 times in six states.