No One Knows What an Assault Weapon Is

Even liberal New York Times clueless on real definition

Guns on sale / AP

President Barack Obama's proposed ban on assault weapons may face a road block for the sheer reason that no one seems to know exactly what defines them.

According to the New York Times, the label of "assault weapon" applied to firearms available to civilians is so vague and politicized that it may be impossible to find a definition comprehensive enough to banish them from the market.

Obama's decision to go after "military-style weapons" adds to the confusion:

The most basic criteria have to do with a firearm’s ability to fire multiple rounds quickly. Because of this, the firearms included under any assault weapons ban are usually semiautomatic, meaning that a new round is automatically reloaded into the chamber but is not fired until the trigger is pulled again. The weapons also have detachable magazines, allowing them to fire 10, 20, 30 rounds or more without the need to insert a new magazine.

After that, however, the definition becomes more difficult. In calling for a renewed ban, Mr. Obama on Wednesday singled out "military style" weapons.

Those could include features like a pistol grip, designed to allow a weapon to be fired from the hip; a collapsible or folding stock, which allows the weapon to be shortened and perhaps concealed; a flash suppressor, which keeps the gun’s user from being blinded by muzzle flashes; a muzzle brake, which helps decrease recoil; and a threaded barrel, which can accept a silencer or a suppressor. Bayonet lugs or grenade launchers are also sometimes included.

But there is disagreement about which features are worrisome enough to include in a ban. And existing state bans differ in how many features they allow.