What is an assault rifle? An automatic weapon? A semi-automatic weapon?

“An assault rifle is a rifle that:

  • has selectable firing modes
  • can fire in fully automatic mode

Select fire means that there is a switch to toggle between firing modes. One firing mode is called “semiautomatic”. Semiautomatic means that when the trigger is pulled, the following happens:

  • A bullet is fired
  • The spent bullet casing is ejected from the firearm
  • The next bullet round is loaded into the firing chamber

That’s it. One trigger pull = one bullet fired. That’s semiautomatic. That is how most handguns work, how many rifles work and even how some shotguns work. Pull the trigger and one bullet comes out. Just one and only one. A firearm that fires one bullet at a time and loads the next round into the chamber is called a “semiautomatic” firearm. Semiautomatic rifles are NOT assault rifles.

Now, there is another firing mode that is called “fully automatic”. In the case of full auto firearms, when the trigger is pulled and held down, the firearm will shoot continuously until the trigger is released or until the gun runs out of ammunition. A fully automatic firearm is often referred to as a “machine gun”. Machine guns can be described as assault rifles.”

The article above also contains the following:

“The firing rate of a gun like this is around 60-90 rounds per minute. Yes that is a lot of rounds and yes that can mean a lot of carnage, but it is NOT an automatic or a machine gun or an assault rifle. It is considered a “Modern Sporting Rifle”. Most people who own guns like these use them for target shooting, home defense and shooting competitions. These types of firearms were NOT intended for combat or warfare and the vast majority of people who legally own them do NOT want to kill anyone with them.”

Semi-automatic weapons have been around for a long time. For example, the first commercially successful semi-automatic pistol, the Mauser C96 (pictured below), was produced from 1896 until 1937. More than 1 million were manufactured. The pistol’s magazine held 10 rounds.

Mauser C96
By M62 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2558262

It is illegal for any private citizen to own any automatic weapon manufactured after 19 May, 1986, when the National Firearms Act (NFA) was modified to preclude production and sale of automatic weapons to private citizens. Buying a fully automatic weapon manufactured before that date requires extensive background checks/paperwork, and is very expensive due to the limited supply of these firearms.