The Gun Debate Series: 4 Points to Summarise the Assault Rifle Debate

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Note to our readers: Over the next few days, we’ll be exploring some of the pivotal themes of the gun debate. This series will have particular focus on the ongoing political and scientific discussions in the United States, especially since the latest tragedy in Florida. Our mission as an organisation has always been to educate. Throughout this series, we will focus on presenting the facts — no more, and no less. For now, we will leave the comments below this article open to respectful debate, but as always, we reserve the right to moderate the discussion to ensure that the conversation on this site remains civil.

Let’s start with the object that this debate has largely centred on: the assault rifle. In the Florida shooting, the shooter used an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon (according to law enforcement). This was the same weapon that was used during the Sandy Hook shootings. The definition of an assault rifle is a highly-contentious issue. Here, we look at a few facts related to these guns in further detail:

Reinstatement of a ban.

Given the frequency of mass shootings, gun control advocates have called for a reinstatement of a previous ban on assault weapons. Interestingly, the ten-year ban on assault weapons that was signed into law in 1994 (and expired in 2004) and prohibited semi-automatic weapons —  including the one that was used by the gunman in the Florida shooting (and similar ones that were used in other incidents). Read more about this below.


The definition of “AR”.

Gun advocates, however, contend that guns like the AR-15 are not assault weapons. To start, “AR” does not stand for “assault rifle” — it refers instead to the name of the company that developed them, the Armalite Rifle. This contingent also argues that although the rifles look like military rifles, they function like other sporting firearms where one round is fired with one pull of the trigger.


Eye of the beholder.

Then again, States define what constitutes an assault weapon differently. California’s gun laws, for instance, prescribe that certain AR-15 rifles with a feature called “bullet buttons” (a device used to remove a storage area for ammunition) are no longer exempt from the assault weapons ban, and now must be modified if owners want to continue to keep it. In Ohio, there is proposed legislation that would limit the same gun in other ways.


Notable exceptions.

And so did the assault weapons ban in 1994. This ban defined the term by specific characteristics: the ability to accept a detachable magazine (i.e. ammunition storage device) and cosmetic features. Certain guns designated for recreational or hunting use were exempt from the ban as well — including semi-automatic weapons that couldn’t accept a detachable magazine holding more than five rounds.

Questions or comments? We’d like to hear your viewpoint below: did we miss something? Have an idea for the next post. Let us know!




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