For the record – in case I have not stated this for the record enough yet – I don’t believe any sort of federal assault weapons ban will have the desired effect of greatly reducing gun crime in the United States. To ban guns as a direct inference of the lessons taught to us by shootings such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut is to misread and misappropriate those lessons entirely. Guns are not the point of those events – they are incidental. However, if we are to have an assault weapons ban, it should be more effective than the toothless, contorted, and ineffectual Federal Assault Weapons Ban (technically known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, a subtitle of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act) of 1994, which is what President Obama has been pushing for in this area as part of his new gun-control initiative.
Alexander J. Smith of Blogcritics has some jargon-rich ideas for how we might do that in a way that might make some difference (though, in the opinion of this blog, not enough of a difference to sleep better at night):
With the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting still fresh, there may yet be enough impetus to make a federal assault weapon law stick, but before Congress can get to work on a bill, Washington needs a working definition to qualify a firearm as an “assault weapon”. Even if AWB ’94 were resurrected, its criterion for assault weapon was problematic because it relied heavily on how a firearm looked, not how it worked, and bore no weight on fully automatic weapons. A truly effective federal prohibition of assault weapons should qualify a firearm based on its design, intended use, and common application in the field by its intended user. In addition, the law would need to be expansive enough to address subtypes of assault rifles, including service rifles, designated marksman rifles (DMR), battle rifles, and carbines.
So if you want to craft a standard for assault rifles, a good place to start is with the weapon that began it all. Designed to straddle the line between close range submachine guns and longer range rifles, the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44 for short) is considered by many to be the first modern era assault rifle. The StG44 had the following specifications:
- Full length (from stock to barrel) of 37″
- 16.5″ barrel
- Selectable fire between full-auto and semi-auto
- Automatic fire rate of 550-600 rounds/min
- Used a 30 round box magazine
- Effective up to 300m (auto) or 600m (semi auto)
- Muzzle Velocity of 685m/s
Developed to serve as the service rifle for German infantry units in WWII, the StG44 was designed the same tasks as most of the rifles commonly thought of as assault weapons today. Also, the mechanics and performance of the Sturmgewehr are strikingly comparable to many of today’s service rifles such as the M16, FAMAS (F1/G2), and AK-74. The StG44’s perfomance capabilities and features would make an effective platform for classifying the various rifle models as assault weapons, provided that the weapon in question matched or exceeded any two of the StG’s specifications. As an example, an M16 would qualify as an assault weapon with an overall length of 39.5″, a barrel length of 20″, select fire action, and a muzzle velocity of 984m/s.
A working definition based on a weapon’s design specifications seems like an infinitely more practical designation than one based on its “look” and cosmetics. The original 1994 bill names a few specific firearm models – such as the Colt AR-15, TEC-9, and the ubiquitous AK-47 – that are banned, and also designates a banned weapons as any that is built with a minimum set of these features:
- Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:
Folding or telescoping stock
Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).
- Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:
- Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor
Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more
A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm.
Folding stock? Pistol grip? None of these specifications have really anything to do with the lethality of the weapon. Even more asinine is the fact that in order to subvert these regulations, a manufacturer need only change things like the “bayonet mount” of their weapon model, and suddenly, by law, it’s an entirely different gun. The whole thing seems preposterous.