Terminology- "Assault Rifle"

I’ve read the term “Assault Rifle” has its roots in the California legislature, circa 1980s, when gun control supporters were looking for a way to ban semi-automatic rifles. Is this verifiable?

From Wiki on Assault rifle

You probably want to talk about Assault Weapons whose history is muddled, but can possibly be traced to California

You can give credit to Ahold Hitler for coining the term:

“According to one account, the name was chosen personally by Adolf Hitler[6][7] for propaganda reasons and literally means “storm rifle” as in “to storm (i.e., “assault”) an enemy position,” although some sources dispute that Hitler had much to do with coining the new name besides signing the order.[8] After the adoption of the StG 44, the English translation “assault rifle” became the accepted designation for this type of infantry small arm.”

“Assault Rifle” as a term originated during WW2 when they were invented by Germany, and has a specific meaning. “Assault Weapon” as a term originated in the 1990s and it was intentional that people would mix it up with “Assault Rifle”, because the confusion helped in getting bans passed. An assault rifle is a select-fire rifle - that means it can switch between fully-automatic (multiple rounds per trigger pull) and semi-automatic (one round per trigger pull) fire, while assault weapon bans usually only affect semi-automatic weapons. The vast majority of “assault rifles” are not “assault weapons”, and the vast majority of “assault weapons” are not “assault rifles.”

According to the US Army:

The definition of an “assault rifle” is “Assault rifles are short, compact, select-fire (i.e. both semi-automatic and full-automatic) weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges."

The origin of the term “assault rifle”comes from the German word “sturmgewehr” after the Sturmgewehr 44 German Army rifle from the Second World War. The rifle was a compact, selective fire weapon in an intermediate caliber cartridge.


As Pantastic mentioned, “assault weapon” is not the same thing. The term “assault weapon” seems to have been invented by, and has certainly been widely used by gun controllers in a largely successful attempt to spread confusion between semi-automatic and fully-automatic weapons.

“Sugarmann has been credited with popularizing the term “assault weapon”.[6] The term “assault weapon” became widely used among gun-ban advocates starting in the late 1980s. The impression that Sugarmann originated the term may stem from a 1988 study he authored, Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, which examined the growing popularity of semiautomatic weapons the VPC deemed “assault weapons”.[7] The Violence Policy Center study documents advertising from the gun industry that specifically refers to these weapons as assault rifles.[8]”

“Assault weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s 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.”

Josh Sugarmann, founder and head of the anti-gun group; the Violence Policy Center

Dishonest bunch, these gun controllers.

As mentioned, Assault Rifle was a real weaponry term dating to WW2 referring to a selective-fire compact lightweight (relative to the standards up to mid century) one-man carried and operated infantry weapon firing an intermediate rifle cartridge (shorter range and lighter than a full-power rifle round, but more powerful and accurate than a submachinegun’s pistol ammunition), optimized for rapid fire on the move at short ot medium range. An STG44, the AK and M16 families, FAMAS, Steyr AUG, etc.

However some of the original set of “assault weapons” in the late 80s-early 90s media portrayal and subsequent legislation ***were ***lookalikes or knockoffs of assault rifles or SMG’s, plus the ocassional “civilian marker version” of a real military weapon with a different trigger mechanism (and sometimes barrel). Around them grew a part real, part mythical narrative of outgunned police and of weapons easily modified into full auto. The real concern about the weaponry at the time would have had less to do with the “assault” part and more with that a criminal with two taped 30 round mags of 7.62x39 even in sporting rifle mode would have a firepower advantage on a policeman with a six-shooter or a 9mm. But some punk with a full-auto modified TEC9 could be a greater danger to himself and innocent bystanders than to his intended target (crap weapon to begin with).

That ever since the expiration of the original ban the makers of weapons for the civilian market have lost their minds putting all sorts of ridiculous tacticool froofraw on the firearms for sale does not make them more “assaulty” than before. But it does mean that a lot of the buyers are somehow under the illusion that all that fancy schmancy accessorizing will give them a better chance vs. the deer/Bad Guys/zombies.

It’s not an illusion. These guns ARE more deadly. Why else would people want to ban them? Gun-controllers are experts on the subject of guns and their use. Everybody knows this. Gosh.

Moderator Note

This is just a friendly reminder that this thread is in GQ.

Discussions about the terms “assault rifle” and “assault weapon” and all of its variants are perfectly acceptable, but let’s stick to the facts. Save the political and satirical comments for a more appropriate forum, please.

This thread is also about the terminology used. Even though that terminology may have been invented or perverted for political reasons, let’s also keep the broader political issue of gun control out of GQ. There are plenty of threads in GD and the Pit for that.

Discussions about exactly what makes a weapon an “assault rifle” or “assault weapon” are permitted as long as you refer to proposed legislation and usage of the terms by major organizations (either for or against gun control). Your own opinions about where the lines should be drawn are better suited to another forum.

Understood. Please delete my last post, as you see fit.

However, I don’t think any discussion of the term “assault weapon” can be complete without considering its origins, and the dishonest use to which it was put.

In the US at least, any legal definition of ‘assault rifle’ is going to be determined by the state you live in (or, in most states, not). And although this is bordering on IMHO, a think a very simple (and modern) definition for me is:

Any long arm (i.e. non-handgun) that appears unnecessarily complex to be used for hunting.

Take it for what it’s worth, but I stress the word ‘appears’… :smiley:

Were you not in the Marines? Around what time? They didn’t use the term “assault rifle” when referring to the M-16?
As must have already been said, “assault weapon” is the US political term.

Add-on: What might a weapon which is in every way like an assault rifle but semi-auto only be called? That description in the last sentence was a mouthful and that’s not how people commonly talk. Just “rifle” is not precise enough. “Carbine” perhaps? Although the AR-15 and such already have carbine versions.

I think there is some utility in having a specific name for that kind of weapon since it is quite useful as a weapon. The high practical rate of fire, high capacity, lower weight and smaller size are significant improvements over full-size combat rifles. Being limited to semi-auto only is not that big a limitation; Soldiers typically use semi-auto even when they have the option of using bursts or full auto.

I have to ask what is it about an AR-15 that makes it

I know you put appears in quotes but I’ll be damned if I get it.

The discussion about its origins is exactly the topic of this thread. So yes, it absolutely may be discussed in this thread.

Topics involving gun control tend to be a hot button issue for a lot of folks, so I’m just reminding everyone to stay within the bounds of GQ here. Stick to the facts.

If anyone has further questions about what is or is not GQ appropriate, feel free to start an ATMB thread or send me a PM asking for clarification.

This is taking us out of GQ territory. Let’s stick to definitions of the term as it has been used in proposed legislation, pro- and anti- gun control literature (that can be cited), and that sort of thing, not personal opinions.

“Were you not in the Marines? Around what time? They didn’t use the term “assault rifle” when referring to the M-16? As must have already been said, “assault weapon” is the US political term.”
W/regard to the Marines, yes. Entered Spring 1969. At that time, and as not enough M16s were available, I qualified with an M-14. As to how we referred to the 16s, I don’t recall if they were referred to as either “assault” term. I don’t think so.

My inquiry is to get clarification on the roots of the terminology to be used in future conversations on the subject.

I can’t speak for the USMC, but when I was in the Army in the early 1980s we were issued the M-16A1. It was referred to in the training manuals and by the instructors simply as a rifle. We were required to call it a rifle, or an M-16A1, or a weapon. I never once heard it called an assault rifle, though I was familiar with the term from civilian reading.
In any case, the term assault rifle does have a specific meaning and is used by respected firearms historians like Edward Ezell. Assault weapon was coined, as noted upthread, for political purposes. A given rifle can be or not be an assault weapon based on the presence or absence of cosmetic features. I have two AR15s in my safe. They are close to identical. One is an assault weapon because it has a flash hider. The other, lacking that feature, is not an assault weapon.

can we dispense with this bullshit? No deer hunter would bother with anything like an AR-15 or AK-pattern rifle. The AR-15 fires 5.56x45mm (.223 Remington) which is not considered sufficient for deer hunting, and the AK-pattern rifles are not accurate enough. Plus, at least in Michigan it’s illegal to hunt with a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun which can hold more than six rounds at a time. So no, nobody thinks they need a “fancy shmantzy assault weapon” for deer because nobody is that stupid. if you want to claim that “a lot of the buyers” think so, then I’ll need to ask you for a cite.

similarly, I have a Ruger Mini-14 and a ROMARM WASR-10/63. Both are semi-automatic, centerfire rifles. Under the previous “assault weapons” ban, one would have been legal while the other would not. Why? the latter has a different kind of stock.

4 AR-15 pattern rifles chambered in big-game cartridges.

to be Technically Correct (the best kind of correct!) those are AR-10 pattern rifles. The ArmaLite AR-10, chambered in .308 Win (7.62 NATO) was the original designed in the 1950s and was scaled down to become the AR-15/M-16.

.223 is perfectly capable of dropping a deer. Its not ideal but it is totally valid choice vs your average 100-150 pound deer. My father hunts deer with a mini-14 and has bagged several.

Ok, I retract that. seems I was going by the restrictions of the particular zone I live in, which restrict rifles for deer hunting to .35 caliber or larger, with case length restrictions. reading between the lines, they mean only rifles chambered for pistol cartridges like .357 or .44. Sounds like I need to go shopping for a lever gun :wink: