What Exactly Makes An Assault Rifle?

President Obama on Wednesday announced support for a new ban on military-style assault weapons. Critics are frustrated, saying the term itself is misleading and based on appearance more than purpose.

Jeff Serdy of AJI Sporting Goods in Arizona said:

“The number one myth is these are machine guns. They’re not machine guns. They’re semi-auto, meaning I pull the trigger one time, I get one bullet.”

Serdy is among those who claim the features that identify these guns as “assault” weapons have little to do with how deadly they are, according to FOX News. They feature “a telescoping stock, pistol grip, ability to accept a magazine, and a flash-hider.” And technically, any weapon capable of dealing physical damage can be used in an assault: That computer monitor, laptop or mobile device you’re looking at could be used in an assault. Serdy said:

“This AR-15 is no more dangerous than this hunting rifle which is used for woodchucks all across the East.”

The ban seems to focus on hand-held projectile weapons capable of holding clips of ten rounds or more.

A statement released Wednesday from the Violence Policy Center says:

“The combination of improved and expanded background checks, effective bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and stronger anti-trafficking laws will work together to prevent another Newtown and to stem the daily gun violence that tears apart too many families and communities.”

A bill much like what Obama is calling for will apparently see the light of day thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who also pushed a similar ban that expired in 2004.

The new Feinstein bill will also aim the ban toward 120 specific weapons, such as the popular AK-47 usually mentioned in rap music, and AR-15, easily accessorized guns often referred to as the Barbie Doll of guns. The AR-15 is the top selling gun in the US, with nearly 50 percent of users claiming they use it for target shooting.

According to some polls, “Everybody” wants to get rid of “assault weapons”, but nobody really has a clue what that means, says PolyMic.

The editor, Mike Cooper, has challenged many PolicyMic commenters to define the term “assault rifle.” Not a single person has been able to do it. This does not surprise him, since there is no such thing as an “assault rifle.”

Since nobody can tell you what an “assault rifle” is, Cooper offers the next best thing. Direct from the text of the the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, rifles meeting the following criteria were banned:

“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.”

Semi-automatic rifles aren’t being banned unless they accept over ten rounds per magazines and have not only one but at least two of these seemingly arbitrary features. These extra features are only necessary in a war-time situation, which begs the question of who is getting weapons of that caliber easily enough that we need a civilian ban on them?