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Clarification of Gun Terms: Semi-automatic, Assault, Machine gun

Many news reports and programs equate "semi-automatic" with "assault" guns. People are led to believe that a semi-automatic can shoot several rounds per second. We hear news commentators calling for a ban of semi-automatic weapons.

Federal Assault Weapons Ban: “Semi-automatic firearms, when fired, automatically extract the spent cartridge casing and load the next cartridge into the chamber, ready to fire again. They do not fire automatically like a machine gun.”

Probably most hunting guns are semi-automatic, requiring a separate trigger pull for each round; that doesn't make them assault weapons. Of course, a victim can reasonably claim “assault” even if only one shot is fired at them (assault: a crime that involves causing a victim to apprehend violence).

“Assault weapon (semi-automatic) refers primarily (but not exclusively) to firearms that possess the cosmetic features of an assault rifle (which are fully-automatic). Actually possessing the operational features, such as 'full-auto', changes the classification from an assault weapon to a Class 3 weapon. Merely the possession of cosmetic features is enough to warrant such classification as an assault weapon.”

If a weapon has certain cosmetic features of an assault rifle (e.g. pistol grip, high capacity magazine etc ) it’s classified as an assault weapon.

Note that fully-automatic operation (hold trigger - several rounds per second) is not an assault weapon but a Class 3 weapon (e.g. machine gun) regulated by National Firearms Act).

What if a semi-automatic gun has not only cosmetic features, but also operates as a Class 3 rifle?

A popular conversion product provides that:
It's approved by BATF:
Apparently the product is “OK” because the operator controls the action.

This weapon provides an advantage; but may be less accurate / continual auto may damage barrel.

Topics: gun control

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  • Dec 26 2012: ... more about the AWB

    However, the AWB also includes a ban on weapons that have certain *cosmetic* features of a machine gun, such as a pistol grip and high-capacity magazines. Therefore, AWB would have an effect…

    But then there’s the issue of guns stolen from the owner. AWB would Not have an effect…

    Note: If you agree with the AWB to provide some effect (it’s not perfect), do you see it needs to address newer products or devices (e.g. SSAR-15) that result in a weapon capable of rapid automatic fire, as in a machine gun? Certainly these weapons provide an advantage similar to a Gatling gun. Should the BATF retract its approval of SSAR-15, or require Class 3 license?
    • Dec 28 2012: George,

      The shooter used a semi-automatic gun, meaning one round fired per trigger squeeze. the majority of modern pistols are semi-automatic. The "action" is a bit more complicated to explain but almost irrelevant when talking pistols.

      Arguably, if you keep the same magazine capacity (at 30), the same short range and the same 20 minutes shooting window, this guy would have, unfortunately, done the same with the glock he was carrying. As for revolvers, those have rapid loaders that can put 6 shots back in the drum in seconds. If you are curious go to you tube and find some rapid shooting or reloading and you will be surprised.
      • Dec 28 2012: The previous assault weapons ban banned high capacity magazines, so would a new one. With only pistols he would less often hit moving people more than a few metres away, his bullets would cause less damage to his victims and not penetrate some types of cover that a rifle bullet would pentrate. People would still be killed but over time the number of people killed in mass shootings would decline.
        • Dec 28 2012: John,

          You are trying to split hairs. A ban in assault weapons won't solve anything. In a classroom sized space there is no viable cover that can stop 9mm, .40 or .45. Magazine capacity is irrelevant if the lunatic has 20 minutes to shoot and plenty of extra magazines. Take the The Virginia Tech shooter who used handguns, moved a lot more than this lunatic did and killed 30 people with 28 head shots. How long did he have? 12 minutes and a lot of moving targets.

          There is a level of sensationalism associated with this tragedy, we need to peel of the emotion associated with it in order to make the right decisions. I agree in spirit that certain weapons should be banned from civilians but that is not the solution nor a start. Police response should be looked at, gun free zones security should be reassessed, weapons permits, magazines size and mental illness should also be included.
      • Dec 29 2012: The State Police reported that the main weapon was a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic.

        In the Piers Morgan Tonight show last week, he had been calling the weapon a "military-style assault rifle".
        It may have had a high-capacity magazine and looked like an M16.
        On Thursday 12/20, he kept asking a guest "How many rounds can the AR-15 shoot in one second?" This implies automatic fire.

        Do you know of any final police reports that the rifle may have been converted to have "automatic fire"?

        If yes, this raises another issue that people should be aware of. Just a few years ago, it was stated that "automatic fire" was impossible for semi-automatic firearms.

        If the weapon did not have an option for automatic fire, Piers Morgan Tonight and other reports were giving a false picture.
        • Jan 1 2013: George,

          These people need to find something to talk about. They get paid for being loud, obnoxious and for taking a side. All of them, Morgan, O'Reily, Olberman, Maddow are to be trusted with a big BUT in the end. This whole assault rifle ban is virtually cosmetic, except for the magazines.

          I don't know if the shooter converted the rifle to full-auto. I am sure it's doable and I am sure there are plenty of sources on the internet or in ranges all over the country. A gun is not a complicated thing.

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