Gun synonyms: firearm, pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, carbine, automatic, handgun, semiautomatic, machine gun, Uzi.
A rifle has a long rifled barrel. Rifling is a spiral groove that causes the bullet to spin. A spinning bullet flies straighter, so point-blank range is longer. Point-blank is not gun-to-the-head (or rifle-to-the-head) distance, it is simply the distance over which a straight sighted shot will hit its mark without compensating for the bullet falling in the Earth’s gravitational field.
In the old days, to fire a second (or third, etc.) bullet from a gun, you had to shove powder and shot and wadding and stuff down the barrel. Over time this got easier to do, so we ended up with things like revolvers and the rough (but different) equivalent in long guns, a way to get the second bullet into the right place (the chamber) by pulling and/or pushing on a bolt, lever, or other doohickey. Then they invented a way for the bullet to load itself up so that it was ready to go, generally using some of the energy from the previously fired bullet. These were initially called by terms such as “self-loading,” “repeating,” or “auto-loading.” I think the term “semi-automatic” emerged at a later time to clarify the distinction between what eventually became known as “fully automatic” and “semi-automatic.”
An fully automatic weapon fires a series of bullets with only one pull of the trigger.
A rifle is a gun, a gun is a weapon, a rifle is a weapon, and many weapons are rifles or guns.
An assault weapon is often thought of as a rifle or rifle-like gun designed to attack and kill people, maximizing casualties and ease of use during hut-hut-hut situations.* It may have a way to suppress muzzle flash, it usually has a pistol type grip allowing it to be maneuvered and aimed more quickly, it may be light weight, it usually can carry a lot of bullets or can be modified to carry a whole-bunch-of bullets, etc. There is not a formal definition of assault weapon, though in the process of legislating guns, some statues define the term, but that is not official-Webster-linguo-defined. An assault weapon need not be fully automatic
Most gun aficionados will tell you that an “assault rifle” is always a fully automatic. Period. And, to them, this is true. Not an assault weapon, an assault rifle. Totally different thing, they say. You’re using the wrong word, they’ll tell you.
Yet, a gun is a weapon, so a semi-automatic rifle with a pistol grip, flash suppressor, large magazine, etc. is an assault rifle.
Why is this important?
It is not. Not at all. Means nothing. There is nothing whatsoever to the problem that people who talk about guns and rifles and stuff use terms that do not match what a subset of the terms currently active gun aficionados prefer.
But if you use these terms in a way not anointed by the gun slingers, you will be corrected, and that correction will be used as a tool to derail the discussion. You will be trolled. Slinger-trolled.
When it comes down to banning guns, when a bill is passed that bans specific guns in a specific state or country, definitions must be created for use in statute, as referred to above. Even though many gun slinger trolls will tell you that all the terms are defined, understood, and fully deployed across the gun-o-sphere, they are not. There are all kinds of edge cases and vagueness. For example, an automatic rifle fires several shots, but to most gun slingers, an automatic pistol does not. But a machine pistol is a fully automatic pistol, which is a pistol not because of its pistolosity so much as its lack of long rifled barrel and relative smallness. And so on. It will not do to ban firearms without attending to the definitions very clearly. Meanwhile, it will not do to have the conversation constantly derailed by yammering gun slinger trolls insisting that they own the English Language. They do not.
When the famous Clinton assault weapon ban went into effect decades ago, the fist thing the gun slingers did was to eviscerate it by insisting that definitions had to be very very clear, in a certain way, such as naming specific known weapons or lines of weapons. The production of this clarity was demanded in order to allow the creation of loopholes big enough to pass a naval gun through. The purpose, on the part of the pro-gun lobby, of screwing around with definitions, was to avoid actually banning entire categories of guns. Ultimately, the legislation did not work very well.
For much of the time they’ve been manufactured, a typical semi-automatic rifle that is also an assault weapon, depending and varying across time and space, can be turned into a fully automatic weapon with a kit that goes with that rifle. Newer regulatory standards have made it more and more difficult to make this conversion. There was a time when it was trivial, now it is harder. As the old method of making a weapon fully auto (removing the bit that causes the firing pin to only hit the bullet once, then adding a part that controls the hammer’s cycle so it does not try to fire a bullet before it has entered the chamber, etc) has become more difficult, the bump-stock was invented, a device that totally circumvents the measures take to make this conversion very difficult. And so on.
My message is this: When talking about regulating guns, beware the pedant: the person who tells you that you don’t know what you are talking about because you are not using specific terms, and tries to make that the main point of the conversation.
Yes, ultimately, we will need to have proper and correct definiteness, but it is simply not true that adherence to this absurd level of specificity is required to have a productive conversation. It isn’t true because one of the most important differences between weapons is semi- vs. fully-automatic, and that distinction is artificial. Eventually, we will likely see the difference between an “assault weapon” and a “hunting weapon” similarly mucked up, as we decide as a society to ban assault weapons but protect hunting weapons. There will be a weight limit put on weapons, so light weight (a feature of assault weapons) is not allowed. So heavier weapons will be created that can be lightened by changing the stock. Flash suppressors will not be allowed, but there will be instruction to make and add your own. All of it.
Face it: Gun slinging trolls are simply not honest contributors to this conversation. And that does not matter. It does not matter because we are tired of listing to them.
*the hut-hut-hut situation: