Defining Assault Weapons Right Now is a Hot Mess

Wes X
2 min readMar 31
Illustration by Beezle.

What are assault weapons, exactly, and why are they so slippery to define?

The current definition of an assault weapon is part of the gun problem in this country. No one can seem to agree on a good definition. People have politicized the definition into a stalemate. The New York Times, in an article in 2013, lamented defining these guns “could never be comprehensive enough to remove them from the market”.

When the government passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice defined them as “semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.”

Current terms and definitions

After the Highland Park parade my family survived, I noticed reporters called them “long rifles”. After the Nashville shooting last week, they called them “AR-Style” weapons.

Anti-gun people argue that a designation should apply to semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, flash suppressors and folding stocks.

The 2nd amendment people argue these guns are used for shooting and hunting. They want the term assault weapon o be designated for fully automatic weapons. They think accurate terms are “tactical rifle” or “modern sporting rifle”.

Arguing the semantics is pointless and why nothing has been done. The “killer car” argument (cars are just as dangerous as guns) could extend to terms also. You could call that car the “protector” or the “crime equalizer.” It defeats the point. An assault weapon is fucking dangerous and made to kill people no matter what it’s called.

Right now there’s agreement on two criteria–that the weapon is semi-automatic, and they have detachable magazines. Everything else gets debated.

Right now there’s agreement on two criteria — that the weapon is semi-automatic, and they have detachable magazines.

It’s a slippery slope. More general definitions can’t cover everything. More granular definitions exclude dangerous guns. Also, people will find loopholes and workarounds even if there is agreement on a definition.

What’s next?

Without a definition that lawmakers agree on, it will be really hard to ban these guns. We need them to step up and use whatever common ground they have to get the ball rolling.