*This blog focuses on some but not all of the differentiations between modern sporting rifles and assault rifles.*
You’ve heard “assault weapon” in the news. It’s a scary way to refer to the black gun. The word “assault” often causes a misunderstanding about what is semi-automatic and what is fully automatic.
A semi-automatic firearm releases only one round per trigger press. A fully automatic firearm keeps firing until the user stops pressing the trigger. A key part of an assault rifle is the selector switch, which allows selective fire, the ability to shift back and forth from semi-automatic to fully automatic. Any rifle that is only semi-automatic is not a true assault rifle.
Assault rifles come up in talk about gun control. However, people are usually talking about what the black gun looks like. That’s very different from how it fires. Why is this inaccurate information common? The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) says, “The Federal Assault Weapons Ban [of 1994] defined a semi-automatic rifle as an assault weapon if it could accept a detachable magazine and had two or more of the following: pistol grip, folding or telescoping stock, flash suppressor or barrel threaded to accept one, bayonet mount or grenade launcher.”
It’s easy to make a semi-automatic rifle look like a fully automatic model. But those “add-ons” don’t change the power. They don’t turn a semi-automatic into an assault rifle. They don’t let the user hold down the trigger and fire nonstop until the ammo runs out. Just because it’s a black gun that looks like a military gun doesn’t mean it’s an assault weapon.
The term “AR” can be confusing. While you may think it means assault rifle, it actually stands for ArmaLite. The company started making AR-15s in the 1950s (and later sold the design to Colt). The NSSF calls the AR-15 “the modern sporting rifle,” or MSR. It’s very popular among sport shooters and hunters. The M-16 is the U.S. military version of the AR-15, and is an assault rifle because it has a selector switch.
It’s very difficult and expensive for ordinary Americans to own assault rifles. The National Firearms Act of 1934 made many automatic guns illegal. The Gun Control Act of 1968 stopped most foreign automatic rifles and machine guns (like the AK-47) from entering the U.S. The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act banned machine guns made after 1986.
Take a look at the two firearms pictured in this blog. The first firearm is a DPMS Panther Arms AP4 LR-308 from 2005 for hunting and sport shooting. This black gun looks like a military assault rifle. But it isn’t, because it can only fire semi-automatic. The second is a FN FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger), ca 1954 – the predecessor to the modern assault rifle.