If we’re going to have a “national conversation” about banning “assault weapons” following Newtown — and it looks like we are — let’s at least know what we’re talking about and what we’re not talking about.
Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 in the Newtown murders. Legally speaking, it’s an “assault weapon.” CNN is one of many media outlets calling for laws banning such “assault weapons” in the wake of the shooting. They should be available only in “war zones,” CNN’s Don Lemon asserted on Monday.
A horrifying image right out of Rambo instantly comes to mind: Sly Stallone mowing down dozens of bad guys with a single sweep of his terrifyingly deadly weapon, firing several hundred rounds of ammunition per minute. The impulse to “do something” is nearly irresistible. But let’s take a step back.
The AR-15 that Lanza used is called a “semi-automatic” weapon. The “automatic” part means the spent cartridge is automatically ejected after firing and a new cartridge is automatically loaded. The “semi” part means the trigger must be pulled for each and every shot. Most handguns and long guns on the market today operate in exactly this fashion.
Calls to ban “assault weapons” are actually calls to ban weapons that look like the one Rambo used but which fire one bullet at a time. The AR-15 Lanza used “looks like” a machine gun but hardly operates like one. The term “assault weapon” is legally and functionally meaningless.
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