With all the talk of guns in the news, have you wondered what makes something an assault weapon? Or an assault rifle? What is the difference between a machine gun or a semi-automatic? In order to be an informed citizen, it is sometimes hard to sort these things out in the middle of our hectic lives. Here’s a quick overview of what they are talking about:
Fully automatic weapons have been banned since 1934. These are what we think of as the machine guns of the prohibition era, and they continuously shoot rounds so long as the trigger is engaged. Once the trigger is released they stop shooting. Since these fire so quickly, these are fed by very large magazines – you might think of a drum magazine that contains hundreds of bullets. In the military, these types of weapons are fed by long strings of connected rounds. An assault rifle is considered a fully automatic weapon. These are not available to the public.
Semi-automatic weapons include the vast majority of all other firearms – pistols, rifles, and even shotguns. Semi-automatic weapons fire one round for each pull of the trigger. Semi-automatic refers to how each round is fed into the chamber – the person shooting does not have to stop to reload after every shot (like they used to do with muskets, for example, which would be muzzle loaded through the end of the barrel of the gun). Semi-automatics utilize multiple round magazines – a small metal box with a spring that pushes each round up into the barrel of the gun as each round is fired. Magazines can come in many sizes. A standard size for rifles fits about 10 rounds. Handguns have a range of anywhere from 5-18 or so. This is the thing they are talking about limiting – New York just limited magazines to only 7 rounds.
Assault weapon is a bit of a made up term since there is no widely accepted definition of what this is. In previous legislation, an assault weapon has been defined as any semi-automatic weapon that has a detachable magazine and contains one (as in the new New York law) or two (old 1994 federal law) of the following military-style features: a folding stock (the part that rests against your shoulder if you are firing a rifle), a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or threads to attach one, ability to accept a grenade launcher. Eliminating these features from a semi-automatic weapon does not affect the semi-automatic capabilities of a weapon.
This is an intimidating subject, but I believe it is best if everyone on all sides of the issue is educated on what is being discussed.