Weapon Issue

Semi-Automatic Firearms and the “Assault Weapon” Issue

General Information
Semi-automatic firearms were introduced more than a century ago. The first semi-automatic rifle, a Mannlicher, appeared in 1885; the first pistol, a Schonberger, in 1892; and the first shotgun, the legendary Browning Auto-5, in 1900. President John F. Kennedy, an NRA Life Member, owned an M1 “Garand,” a semi-automatic rifle used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War, and owned by hundreds of thousands of target shooters and collectors today.

Semi-automatics account for about 15 percent of the 250+ million privately-owned firearms in the U.S.1 Semi-automatic handguns are used in most defensive gun uses;semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are commonly used for hunting;3 semi-automatic rifles (including some that have been labeled as “assault weapons”) and semi-automatic pistols are the most common firearms in NRA, Civilian Marksmanship Program, International Practical Shooting Confederation, International Defensive Pistol Association and other major marksmanship competitions, and semi-automatic shotguns are widely used for shotgun sports. Semi-automatics are used to defend against crime more often than to commit it4 and, as with other types of firearms, the vast majority are owned by people who don’t commit crimes.

Semi-automatic firearms fire only one shot when the trigger is pulled—like revolvers, bolt-actions, lever-actions, pump-actions, double-barrels and all other types of firearms except fully-automatics5 (machine guns), the importation and manufacture of which have been prohibited since 1968 and 1986, respectively, and which are otherwise regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934.6 A semi-automatic also uses energy from a fired shot to operate its loading mechanism.

Certain misrepresentations about semi-automatics by groups, politicians and media interests that support “gun control” warrant correction. Because semi-automatics fire only one shot when the trigger is pulled, they can’t “spray fire,” and they aren’t designed to be fired “from the hip,”7 as indicated by the fact that they possess sights, which can be used only if held at eye level. They aren’t “easy to convert” into machine guns.8 Federal law, which prohibits manufacturing a machine gun, also prohibits manufacturing an easily convertible firearm, converting a firearm, possessing a converted firearm, and making or possessing a part designed for converting a firearm.9

Semi-automatics, including “assault weapons,” aren’t “high-powered.”10, 11Power is determined by the ammunition a gun uses, and semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and rimfire handguns use the same ammunition as other guns, while semi-automatic center-fire pistols use ammunition covering the same range of power as center-fire revolvers.12, 13 “Assault weapons” aren’t designed for, or used by, the military; they’re not “weapons of war;” they’re not “designed with,” “equipped with,” nor “designed to accommodate” silencers; and they’re not used by terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.14 Our soldiers and the terrorists they fight use fully-automatic rifles. 

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