In United States politics and law, an assault weapon is a variety of semi-automatic firearms that have certain features generally associated with military firearms, including assault rifles. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired on September 13, 2004, codified the definition of an assault weapon. It defined the rifle type of assault weapon as a semiautomatic firearm with the ability to accept a detachable magazine and two or more of the following:
The assault weapons ban did not
restrict weapons capable of fully
automatic fire, such as assault rifles and machine guns, which have
been continuously and heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act
of 1934 was passed. Subsequent laws such as the Gun Control Act of 1968
and the Firearm Owners Protection Act
of 1986 also affected the importation and civilian ownership of fully
automatic firearms, the latter fully prohibiting sales of newly
manufactured machine guns to non-law enforcement or SOT (special
occupational taxpayer) dealers
An assault rifle is a select-fire (either fully automatic or burst capable) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. It is not to be confused with assault weapons. Assault rifles are the standard service rifles in most modern armies. Assault rifles are categorized in between light machine guns, which are intended more for sustained automatic fire in a light support role, and submachine guns, which fire a pistol cartridge rather than a rifle cartridge.
Examples of assault rifles include the StG 44, AK-47, M16 rifle, QBZ-95, INSAS, Heckler & Koch G36, and Enfield SA80.
The assault rifle became the standard
military rifle in the
post-World War II era. The Soviet Union led the way with the AK-47, and
other nations followed later. Combat experience during the World Wars
had shown that most infantry combat took place at 200–300 meters
(218–328 yards) distance and that the winner of any given firefight
would most likely be the one with the highest rate of fire.
The rifle cartridges of the day were therefore unnecessarily powerful,
producing recoil and report in exchange for marginal benefit. The lower
power of the intermediate cartridge meant that each soldier could fire
more bullets faster and/or with less recoil and its lighter weight
allowed more ammunition to be carried.
The term assault rifle is a translation of the German word Sturmgewehr (literally "storm rifle", as in "to storm a position"). The name was coined by Adolf Hitler as a new name for the Maschinenpistole 43, subsequently known as the Sturmgewehr 44, the firearm generally considered the first assault rifle that served to popularise the concept and form the basis for today's modern assault rifles.
The translation assault rifle gradually became the common term for similar firearms sharing the same technical definition as the StG 44. In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
Rifles that meet most of these criteria, but not all, are technically not assault rifles despite frequently being considered as such. For example, semi-automatic-only rifles like the AR-15 (which the M16 rifle is based on) that share designs with assault rifles are not assault rifles, as they are not capable of switching to automatic fire and thus are not selective fire capable. Belt-fed weapons or rifles with fixed magazines are likewise not assault rifles because they do not have detachable box magazines.
The term "assault rifle" is often more loosely used for commercial or political reasons to include other types of arms, particularly arms that fall under a strict definition of the battle rifle, or semi-automatic variant of military rifles such as AR-15s.
The term was most notably used in the language of the now-expired Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994, more commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. The federal assault weapons ban specifically prohibited 19 guns considered to be assault weapons. These were all semi-automatic firearms, meaning that they can eject spent shell casings and chamber the next round without additional human action, but (as opposed to automatic firearms) only one round is fired per pull of the trigger. In addition to the 19 weapons specifically prohibited, the federal assault weapons ban also defined as a prohibited assault weapon any semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and at least two of the following five items: a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel (a barrel that can accommodate a flash suppressor); or a grenade launcher. The act also defined as a prohibited assault weapon semi-automatic pistols that weighed more than 50 ounces when unloaded or included a barrel shroud, and barred the manufacture of magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds.
Although the federal assault weapons
ban expired in 2004, several
states have their own assault weapons bans, which sometimes differ from
the former federal law. For example, in California, the Roberti-Roos
Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 bars a number of specific firearm
models as well as firearms that have one of a number of features.[
In the former U.S. law, the legal term assault weapon included certain specific semi-automatic firearm models by name (e.g., Colt AR-15, TEC-9, non-select-fire AK-47s produced by three manufacturers, and Uzis) and other semi-automatic firearms because they possess a minimum set of cosmetic features from the following list of features: