- - Monday, March 25, 2013


Since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “assault weapons” ban March 14, a fitting question might be, what is an “assault weapon”? A term that originated in the 1980s, it was popularized after the original “assault weapons” ban in 1994. “Assault weapon” is now the popularly accepted term for the AR-15 and many other rifles and pistols that would be more accurately described as “defense weapons.”

Mrs. Feinstein’s ban, which suffered a setback Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid excluded it from the larger Senate gun bill, defines an “assault weapon” as any semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least one military feature: a pistol grip; a forward grip; a folding, telescoping or detachable stock; a grenade launcher; a rocket launcher; a barrel shroud; or a threaded barrel. The exhaustive list is much longer and also includes restrictions that would ban most pistols.

How are firearms usually named or defined? In the military, weapons are defined by their primary use or simply by their nomenclature, such as M16A4 or M240G. Never once in my time in the Marine Corps did I hear an M-16, the fully automatic military version of the AR-15, referred to as an “assault rifle.” The M-16 and other service rifles such as the M-14, and as far back as the M-1 Grand in World War II, have often been referred to as “main battle rifles,” because that is what the military uses them for — battle.

Local, state and national law enforcement organizations throughout the nation have another word for the AR-15: “patrol rifle.” Standards vary by agency, but the deputy sheriffs in Loudoun County, Va., where crime rates are significantly lower than the national average, carry at least one pistol on their persons while on duty and keep a loaded AR-15 and shotgun in their patrol vehicles at all times. It makes sense that they do not refer to these rifles as “assault rifles” or even “battle rifles.” They take them on patrol, and they very rarely use them. They do not use them to assault people.

In civilian circles, hunting rifles are known as hunting rifles. That is because they are made for, and generally used for, hunting. People have used hunting rifles to assault other people in the past, but this is a minority usage, and the fact remains that hunting rifles are for hunting.

So that means “assault weapons” are generally used to assault people, right?

Wrong. According to a study published by the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology for the National Institute of Justice in 2004, only 2 percent of gun crimes were committed with “assault weapons” of any kind before the first “assault weapons” ban went into effect in 1994.

There is no exact count on the number of “assault weapons” in the United States, or of any specific firearms for that matter, but an estimate in Slate magazine in 2012 pegged the number of AR-15s in the United States at around 3.75 million. According to FBI crime statistics in 2011, of the 12,664 homicides committed in the United States, 323 were committed with rifles of any kind. Though data on the number of AR-15s used in killings are not available, an incredibly liberal estimate would be that, of the 323 rifle killings, 32 were with AR-15s. If this number is accurate, this means that in 2011, .00085 percent of the 3,750,000 AR-15s in the United States were used as “assault weapons.” So what were law-abiding Americans doing with the other 3,749,968 AR-15s in 2011?

They were defending their homes.

According to Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, private citizens in the United States use firearms defensively to prevent crimes about 2.5 million times per year, a number that has even been defended by self-proclaimed gun-control advocate Marvin Wolfgang.

The AR-15, like all other firearms in the United States, is used to defend private citizens far more often than it is used in crime. But Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, and other gun-control advocates still brand it an “assault weapon.” Why? It comes down to control.

The Second Amendment was put in place to give citizens the ability to defend themselves, not just against criminals, but also against invading militaries and even their own government. AR-15s and other defense weapons would be the go-to firearms for private citizens if they had to defend themselves from local, state or even federal forces. Perhaps this bothers some career politicians who would prefer keeping that sort of power for themselves.

The label matters because words matter. He who defines the terms often wins the argument. We may be arguing about the relative dangers of swimming pools, but if swimming pools became branded “watery death traps,” it would certainly cause a negative shift in public opinion over the years.

AR-15s are no more “assault weapons” than hunting rifles, revolvers, knives or hammers. They are the primary defensive weapon of a freedom-loving people, and a favorite of military veterans. Don’t let the left define its way into taking our tools of liberty.

Paul Brown, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who served in the Marine Corps for five years, writes about Second Amendment rights at why2a.blogspot.com.

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