Mar 19 2017

True History of Assault Rifles

Politicians and media seem like they can never stop talking about “assault rifles,” but everyone seems to have a different definition of what an assault rifle IS and what they’re they’re capable of.

Alan Grayson claimed that the Pulse shooter used a rifle capable of shooting 700 rounds per minute. Carolyn McCarthy put forth legislation to ban so-called assault rifles and their “distinguishing features,” but was unable to define or describe those features other than using the phrase, “the shoulder thing that goes up.” New York Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington once claimed that these rifles were capable of shooting heat-seeking projectiles. Diane Feinstein even claimed that assault rifles have the magical property of making murder suddenly legal.

CA State Senator Kevin de Leon warned citizens of assault rifle “ghost guns” in 2014 that held 30-caliber clips that could shoot 30 rounds in half a second. Even by De Leon’s math, 60 rounds per second, with 60 seconds, would be 3600 bullets per minute in a semi-automatic, one bullet per trigger pull, rifle. The average rate of fire for a fully automatic machine gun varies immensely between make and model, but can be anywhere from 500 – 1200 rounds per minute, with outliers, of course. Do you know what can ACTUALLY fire 3600 rounds per minute? The rotary cannons on fighter jets. So there are literally politicians saying that an AR-15 has the same rate of fire as a FIGHTER JET.

Clearly, there’s some discrepancy here. Why does everyone want to ban these things, but can’t even explain what they are?
Well, what if I told you that it’s because from it’s very inception, the word “assault rifle” was nothing but a propaganda term?
Seriously though, let’s have a little history lesson.

Prior to WWI, soldiers mostly had a choice between big, heavy, battle rifles, and big, heavy, machine guns. The introduction of more accurate, longer range rifles brought on the need for soldiers to be able to fight while protecting themselves behind cover or in trenches and they couldn’t really do that with battle rifles or machine guns. The Germans recognized the need for lighter, handheld weapons and began experimenting with converting various pistols into a fully automatic form, often with detachable wooden stocks – this introduced the idea of using pistol ammo in full auto guns. These tricked out pistols ended up not being as practical as armies had hoped they’d be, so after a bunch of trial and error, the Germans developed the MP 18, aka Machine Pistol 18. The MP 18 was the first practical submachine gun to see combat and everyone thought it was great.

Fast forward to 1935. Armies are outfitted with big, heavy, full power rifles with long ranges, and light, short range submachine guns that use pistol ammo. WWI saw that combat usually happened somewhere in between, where the submachine gun couldn’t shoot far enough but the sheer power, and range of the battle rifles were completely wasted.

Eventually Germany decided it needed something that was lighter than the battle rifles, took an intermediate cartridge that was somewhere between the huge rifle cartridges and the small pistol ammo, could fire at an intermediate range, and was selective fire – meaning it would have different firing modes, including full auto.

The new research and development program was given the designation Machine Carbine, Mkb for short, to differentiate it from regular submachine guns. Field tests of the Mkb 42 (H) went really well but still had some issues, so the model gave way to the new and improved Machine Pistol models, the MP43 and MP44. Both of these guns were still selective-fire, mid range rifles with intermediate cartridges.

Now, by the MP44’s official acceptance in 1944, Germany was basically getting slaughtered in WWII. But Hitler and the Nazis were masters of propaganda and figured the announcement of a new weapon would freak out the other armies, so he renamed it the Sturmgewehr 44 – literally meaning “storm” or “assault” rifle. And thus, the first ever assault rifle was born and it’s name sounded super scary.
So you might be asking how we got from the Stg44 propaganda weapon to today’s AR-15 and why newscasters talk about ARs every time there’s a shooting, even when the shooter didn’t actually use an AR.

The Stg44 inspired a whole host of other military weapons in other countries but the US was slow on the uptake. They brought in a private engineer from a company called ArmaLite in the 1950s, tasked with developing the US’s own version of an assault rifle – again, a selective-fire rifle capable of full auto. In response, Eugene Stoner developed the Armalite-15, which was eventually adopted by the US government and renamed the M-16 – but not until 1963.

In the mean time, ArmaLite tried to sell other designs and failed miserably, eventually forcing them to sell the rights for the AR-15 and its predecessor, the AR-10, to Colt. Colt jumped on the bandwagon really fast and started selling ARs to various military services around the world and, due to its success, trademarked the name AR-15 as soon as the M16 was adopted. But the registered trademark, AR-15, is used ONLY to denote the civilian, semi-automatic version.

Now this is where the shit hit the fan – in 1989, most the AR-15 patents had expired, opening up the market for other companies to begin manufacturing their own versions. And the AR-15 was widely popular, so why not?

According to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in the Stanford Law and Policy review, “Prior to 1989, the term ‘assault weapon’ did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of assault rifles.”
Why? First, you have a Newsweek article in 1985 entitled “Machine Gun USA.” The article claimed that any civilian rifle could easily be turned into it’s fully automatic military counterpart and that 500,000 such full auto weapons were in civilian hands. But they didn’t call these guns “machine guns” or “fully automatic weapons” – they called them “assault weapons” and “assault rifles.” Now at this point, full auto machine guns were already heavily regulated and in 1986, the government banned any new full autos from entering the civilian market. But journalists were supposed to be the bastions of truth, so if they’re telling people that Joe Shmoe gun owner is turning his rifles into full auto, military grade assault rifles, well then it must be true.

At this point in time, gun control groups were largely focused on handguns, as most gun crime is committed with handguns. But their efforts went nowhere.

Then, in 1988, you have Josh Sugarmann, Executive Director of the Violence Policy Center. He got a great idea for a new gun control campaign and wrote about it in a report called “Assault Weapons and Accessories in America.” He wrote: “Assault weapons … are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”

So the new plan was to use the public and media’s confusion for a new gun control agenda and label anything that looked particularly dangerous as an “assault rifle,” even though these firearms were far less powerful than traditional hunting rifles.

Sugarmann was right about the confusion, and after a 1989 shooting in Stockton, CA, the media proved they didn’t know the difference between full auto and semi auto, and called the rifle a full auto military style assault weapon at the same time that the AR-15 patents expired and variants flooded the market – creating the perfect storm. The Brady Campaign turned their eyes to these so called assault rifles, and they, along with other gun control groups and anti-gun politicians like Dianne Feinstein, slapped the label on anything that had “features that appear useful in military and criminal applications.”

So there you have it. An AR-15 is not an assault rifle. Nothing legally owned and used by the general public is an assault rifle. The firearms used in mass shootings are not assault rifles. The term “assault rifle” was coined by Hitler to create fear. It was then used by the media, and then the politicians, to create fear. That is the TRUE history of assault rifles, and why no one seems to be able to get it right – because an assault rifle is propaganda.

1 comment

  1. John Pilge

    While in the Army, I was told the “AR” stood for “Automatic Rifle” and the “M” in -16 was for “Military.” Often wondered where “Assault Rifle” came from.

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