Assault Rifle: Myth or Reality

There has been a lot of rhetoric concerning “assault” rifles and their deadly effect. There is no doubt that an “assault” rifle in the hands of someone who knows how to use it can be devastating. All one needs to do is refer to the military for confirmation. There seems to be a question regarding the definition of an “assault” rifle. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF&E) is responsible for identifying weaponry for which the civilian possessor must have a tax stamp. These include the M-2 carbine, the M-14, the AK 47 assault rifle, and the M-16. These weapons have the very distinct characteristic in that they all can be fired as fully automatic.

It may be a good thing here to define the terms “fully automatic” and “semi-automatic.” For the purposes of this discussion, we will use the terms “trigger press” and “trigger pull” interchangeably. A “fully automatic” weapon can expel all rounds in the magazine or clip with one press of the trigger. A “semi-automatic” weapon can expel only one round with each press of the trigger. For example, if you have a “fully automatic” weapon with a 30-round magazine, all of the rounds can be expelled with one press of the trigger.  For a “semi-automatic” weapon to expel 30 rounds, the shooter must press the trigger 30 times.

Let’s do some math. An AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle. A thirty-round magazine provides the shooter with essentially thirty rounds of a .223 caliber projectile (essentially the same as a .22). One trigger press equals one .22 caliber round sent down range. A 12-gauge shotgun round loaded with .00 buckshot holds between eight and twelve .32 caliber projectiles. What this means is with every trigger press of the 12-gauge shotgun, between eight and twelve .32 caliber projectiles are sent down range. To sum up so far, an AR-15 can send one .22 caliber round down range per trigger press while a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with .00 buckshot can send eight to twelve .32 caliber projectiles down range per trigger press.

Let’s expand this a bit. A 12-gauge shotgun round loaded with #4 buckshot will hold between 18 and 24 .25 caliber projectiles. With every press of the trigger, between 18 and 24 .25 caliber projectiles are sent down range. Compare this to an AR-15 which will send one .223 caliber projectile down range with each trigger press.  Some blog sites suggest that #1 buckshot is the most effective home defense round. This is a 12-gauge shotgun round that holds between 16 and 20 .30 caliber projectiles. Again, with each press of the trigger of the 12-gauge shotgun, between 16 and 20 .30 caliber projectiles are sent down range as compared to the AR-15 which can only send one .223 caliber round down range per trigger press.

Let’s expand our math lesson.  A magazine for an AR-15 typically holds either 15 or 30 rounds. You can get larger capacity magazines, but our focus here is what is more often purchased over the counter. Focusing on the 15-round magazine, the shooter can send a total of 15 .22 caliber projectiles down range. A typical 12-gauge “semi-automatic” shotgun (or a pump-action shotgun) will hold between 6 and 8 rounds. Every time the shooter presses the trigger on an AR-15, one .223 caliber projectile goes down range. Every time the shooter presses the trigger on a 12-gauge shotgun, a much larger number of projectiles go down range. With .00 buck, it is between 8 and 12 .32 caliber projectiles, with #4 buck it is between 8 to 24 .25 caliber projectiles, and with #1 buck it is 16 to 20 .30 caliber projectiles.

Table 1

Weapon # of Rounds # of Projectiles Caliber # of projectiles in a 15 round magazine
AR-15 1 1 0.223 15
00 Buck 1 8-12 0.32 120-180
#1 Buck 1 16-20 0.3 240-300
#4 Buck 1 18-24 0.25 270-360

There is a distinct advantage of an AR-15 over a shotgun, that being projectile distance.  An AR-15 can typically shoot farther. As a combat gun, the shotgun is much more devastating in close quarters, meaning within a 75-yard range. However, with limited exceptions, the shotgun is considered a hunting weapon while the AR-15 is more often depicted as an “assault” rifle. This is merely form over function. Some media outlets and certain politicians have portrayed the AR-15 as an “assault” rifle. Some of these same media outlets and politicians have portrayed the AR-15 as an “automatic” rifle. Clearly, neither is the case.

A February 2017 article published on Outdoorlife.comreported that the Associate Deputy Director of the ATF&E, Ronald Turk, “identified ‘assault weapons’ as a politically contrived term with no real meaning.” However, many media zealously have embraced the term, “assault weapon,” which has now become a term both of substance and of reality. The media’s dysfunctional use of the term, “assault rifle,” is literally anything that looks like its military version.

There does not seem to be much discussion regarding hunting rifles that chamber a .223 round, like the AR-15. Some of these rifles are tube fed or magazine fed, with some able to hold numerous rounds. There is no discussion on banning these weapons. There is no discussion on banning 12-gauge shotguns, which can be infinitely more devastating than the AR-15. There is no doubt that a weapon in the hands of someone who knows how to use it can be devastating, be it an AR-15, a 12-gauge shotgun, a crossbow, or a broadsword.

It is imperative to understand the role of the media in these discussions. Their primary function is to sell their product (i.e. getting more subscribers or viewers). This is why the evening news starts with teasers that generally are events of a tragic nature. The lead-in might refer to a residential break-in as a “robbery” because the term “burglary” does not sell well, while “robbery” does. When was the last time you saw a news teaser that was something positive or uplifting? That does not sell: fear sells.

So, when you hear the media or a politician talk about “assault” weapons, remember the facts of firepower. Remember that the media manufactured the term. Remember that they are not interested in educating you. Their interests are in making money by getting you to watch or to read their product. Mark Twain once said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

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