Professor Bob


In the debates President Obama called for renewal of the assault weapons ban. This was followed by the Oregon mall shooting after which the media ran a story about the confusion over whether the gunman had an automatic or semiautomatic rifle. It was also followed by Bob Costas’ rant which indicated a lack of understanding of firearms and the gun culture. What do all of these things have in common—ignorance of the subject. During the push for the Clinton assault weapons ban (which was only cosmetic in nature) the media repeatedly referenced “assault weapons” while showing footage of individuals shooting machineguns. First, I am not sure that the term assault weapon makes sense as “assault” is an act and a weapon can be anything from a vehicle to a baseball bat. Second, a big part of the problem with the gun discussion is that there are no real or workable definitions for terms such as assault weapons or Saturday night specials or small cheap handguns. Third, there is much confusion among the media and lack of knowledge about the difference between automatic and semiautomatic firearms. Based on my research the Nazi’s were the first to use the term “assault weapon” in the late 1930s. The Germans equipped crack infantry troops with light machineguns. This term was then resurrected by the Democrats and the media in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s but was used to refer to semiautomatic firearms instead of machineguns. A machinegun is commonly referred to, today, as a fully automatic weapon. One pull of the trigger fires multiple shots until the trigger is released or the magazine runs dry. Based on what is on television and in the movies it would lead one to believe that machineguns are everywhere. Even in the movie version of John Grisham’s book a sharecropper had a machinegun. Really? Machineguns are regulated by the National Firearms Act, sold only by Class III dealers, require a complicated purchase procedure, and are very expensive. The last full auto Uzi I saw was priced at $17,000. The last I read Florida had more legally owned machineguns than any other state at more than 20,000. A small number when you consider that Florida has over one million people with concealed weapon permits. Semiautomatic weapons, on the other hand, fire one round each time the trigger is pulled. A semiautomatic may be more appropriately called an autoloader as what it really does is simply load the next round for the shooter. The semiautomatic came onto the scene in the late 1800s and became popular with the military during WWII. Since then the semiautomatic has become the most popular shotgun used for hunting, skeet shooting, and trap shooting. Additionally, there are some very popular semiautomatic hunting rifles and for at least three decades semiautomatics have taken every national match in the target shooting arena. What the media and politicians refer to as an “assault rifle” is simply a semiautomatic firearm that is made to LOOK like a full auto military firearm. The Clinton gun ban was not really a ban at all. It simply made them look less like a military weapon. Today, the top selling rifle in the U.S. is the AR15 style of rifle which is now commonly used in hunting and competitive shooting. Also of interest, is that the standard cartridge fired by the AR15 style rifle is typically much less powerful than the predominant rifle cartridge used in WWII. The question is are the media and politicians simply ignorant of firearms or whether they deliberately mislead people to believe that semiautomatic firearms are machineguns in order to scare them? Either way, having accurate information reported about firearms would go a long way.


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