In light of the current deluge of anti-gun legislation and rabble rousing in the Congress and in state legislatures around the nation, I present this brief and revised primer which I first posted last year on some of the types of weaponry–more specifically, long guns–currently available to the general public, as well as some that, for the most part, are not. More specifically, I hope to help to expose and correct poor and misleading uses of language, particularly by those who manipulate language to steal freedom. I also hope to provide a few fun facts to know and tell, as well as a helpful and informative answer to anyone who demands to know why anyone “needs” a given gun or firearm accessory. Next week, I’ll provide a handgun primer.
ASSAULT WEAPON: Any scary-looking firearm a gun banner currently wants to ban. Anti-gunners coined the term in the 1980’s as a means of confusing the public and legislators into thinking that anything that remotely looks like a machine gun must be a machine gun–they actually stated their strategy in exactly those terms–which as all right thinking people know are inherently evil and horrifically destructive. Proposed and adopted legislation employing the term has been so broadly and nonsensically written as to ban virtually any firearm ever made. The news media has enthusiastically adopted it, sometimes extending the term in ridiculous ways, such as “assault handgun,” or “assault shotgun.” Firearms widely used for hunting, competition and home protection, such as the AR-15 family, are commonly mislabeled “assault weapons.”
This is the Tec-9, which is also commonly labeled an assault weapon because to the untrained eye, it resembles a machine gun. In fact, it is a very large, unwieldy, unreliable and inaccurate pistol. Notice the lack of sights and the short barrel. The weapon is cheap—in every way—and will accept 30 round magazines, but because it has no shoulder stock and is poorly balanced is difficult to shoot with any degree of accuracy.
There is, in fact, no such thing as an “assault weapon.” There is no such terminology in the firearm lexicon.
Fun Fact: Those using the term “assault weapon,” demonstrate their lack of understanding of accurate firearm terminology, their intent to deceive, or both.
ASSAULT RIFLE: This class of firearm began in 1943 with the MP-43 designed in Germany. In 1943, all rifles of its type were reclassified as the STG-44. True assault rifles have these characteristics:
(1) Individual small arms carried and fired by a single soldier.
(2) Shoulder fired;
(3) Gas operated;
(4) Removable box magazine fed;
(5) Capable of semiautomatic or fully automatic fire;
(6) Fires an intermediate rifle cartridge such as the 5.56 X 45mm (American/NATO standard) or 7.62 X 39mm (Russian/Com Block standard).
This is a Smith and Wesson version of the AR-15. It outwardly resembles military M-4 variants, but is capable only of semiautomatic fire, thus it is not a true assault rifle. Externally, fully automatic AR-15 platform rifles are generally distinguishable from semiautomatic civilian versions only by their left side mounted selector switches. Semiautomatic rifles have two positions: safe and fire, while true military rifles have three: safe, semiautomatic and fully automatic or burst. AR-15 rifles require modern manufacturing materials, tools and methods. They are light, ergonomically exceptional, reliable if properly cleaned and maintained and highly accurate. They are also relatively costly. The design makes considerable use of plastics and aircraft-grade aluminum.
Most semiautomatic AR-15 variants have the same flash suppressor (on the end of the barrel), bayonet mounting lug (under the barrel and under the front sight above), and collapsible stock as their fully automatic counterparts. This is so because they are generally made with the same blueprints and on the same machinery as their genuinely military cousins. These devices have no sinister design or purpose.
While the collapsible stock does slightly shorten the overall length of the weapon, its primary purpose is to allow adjustment of length of pull to adapt to a wide range of shooter size, an important consideration in a general issue weapon. Also, soldiers wearing heavy body armor need shorter stocks as well, however do not wear such armor all the time. In other words, soldiers wearing body armor and shorter people with shorter arms need a shorter stock than taller people. Rather than stock rifles with many different length stocks, a collapsible stock solves that problem cheaply and effectively.
A bayonet lug is merely a metal projection to which the standard military bayonet attaches. Such lugs–and bayonets–have never been a factor in crime.
A flash suppressor merely serves to redirect and lessen the muzzle flash of the rifle, particularly preventing it from revealing the position of a prone soldier. Rifles are used in only a tiny fraction of crimes, and as with bayonet lugs, flash suppressors simply do not figure in crimes; they are no help at all to criminals.
The three primary features anti-liberty activists often demonize have no role whatever in crime, and do not in any way make any AR-15 variant more dangerous or deadly than any semiautomatic rifle chambered in 5.56mm/.223 Remington.
Fun Fact: Since the Vietnam era, the 30 round magazine has been the standard magazine for the AR-15 family, including civilian and military versions.
This is an AK-47. This rifle is a true assault rifle; it is capable of fully automatic fire. Only semiautomatic versions are available to the general public. Much less expensive and less accurate than the AR-15 family, these rifles are very reliable and can be made in third world workshops with cheap materials.
Fully automatic firearms have been strictly regulated since 1934. In 1986, gun control proponents actually snuck a provision through Congress banning civilian ownership of newly manufactured fully automatic weapons. Civilians can still own a machine gun manufactured prior to 1986 by submitting to a rigorous, expensive and lengthy federal process, but the law has greatly increased the cost of such weapons.
Despite what anti-gunners say, rifles like the AR-15 are excellent hunting weapons and are commonly used for that purpose. The usefulness of a hunting rifle is determined primarily by its cartridge and secondarily, by its utility in the outdoors. Highly accurate, the AR-15 is effective on game animals the size of a coyote or smaller and its rust-resistance, rugged construction, light weight, ability to be easily accessorized and its accuracy make it an excellent field gun.
Assault rifles commonly weigh in the 6-7 pound range and commonly employ 30 round magazines. Their useful range extends to around 300 yards.
Fun Fact: Assault rifles must be carefully aimed to be effective. Because they are relatively light weight and fire an intermediate cartridge, uncontrolled automatic fire tends to ventilate the surrounding countryside, but not the target. Professionals fire from the shoulder, and in only two to three round bursts when automatic fire is employed.
The primary advantages of the assault rifle over the battle rifle are that assault rifles are generally considerably lighter and their ammunition is also lighter, and a substantially larger quantity of ammunition may be carried in the same available space. While it is true that assault rifles do not have the same power and range as battle rifles, engagement distances in battle are now much shorter than they were in previous wars, and usually well within assault rifle range.
Fun Fact: Semiautomatic versions of true assault rifles are not easy or quick to convert to fully automatic capability. Federal law requires semiautomatic look-alike weapons to be purposely difficult to convert, requiring specialized skills, knowledge and tools to accomplish. Unlike what some would have us believe, it is not merely a matter of switching a few parts. Unlawful possession of fully automatic parts is treated exactly as unlawful possession of a complete firearm under federal law.
BATTLE RIFLE: Modern battle rifles have these characteristics:
1) Individual small arms carried and fired by a single soldier.
(2) Shoulder fired;
(3) Gas operated;
(4) Removable box (most contemporary rifles) or internally magazine fed;
(5) Primarily capable of semiautomatic fire;
(6) Fires a full-sized rifle cartridge such as the .308/7.62 X 51 mm or 30.06.
The Model 1903 Springfield (30.06 caliber) used in WWI by American forces is generally conceded to be an example of a true battle rifle, despite the fact that it has only a five round internal magazine and is bolt operated. However, truly modern battle rifles—essentially weapons designed and fielded after WWI and later—have the characteristics listed above.
This is the M1-Garand, called “the greatest battle implement ever devised” by General George Patton. It was America’s issued rifle during WWII. It has an internal, 8 round magazine and loads from a spring steel clip holding its rounds. When the last round is fired, the rifle automatically ejects the empty clip. Many misidentify magazines as “clips.” The only currently manufactured firearm that employs a clip is the M1. It fires the 30.06 cartridge, though some more recent versions of the weapon have been produced in .308 caliber, which is shorter and lighter than the 30.06.
This is the FN-FAL, which has all of the characteristics of a true modern battle rifle, particularly feeding from a removable box magazine. It is still in use around the world and was particularly favored by the British and Australians. It fires the .308 cartridge, commonly from 20 round magazines. Thirty round magazines are available but are generally considered to be too long to be truly useful, particularly for military use. Competent civilians also tend to avoid them. Earlier versions of battle rifles tended to have wooden stocks, but more modern versions generally have synthetic stocks.
Some battle rifles such as the FN-FAL and the M-14 have been made in fully automatic versions, but all have proved unsatisfactory. Despite the fact that battle rifles weigh 10 pounds and more, that is insufficient weight to make them controllable under fully automatic fire. Their lighter barrels also tend to overheat quickly. The useful range of battle rifles is 500 yards or more.
Fun Fact: The standard sized magazine for modern battle rifles, due to the larger size of their ammunition, is usually 20 rounds. In addition, because military battle rifles are generally not fully automatic, their civilian counterparts are often identical.
Fun Fact: It is incorrect to call the removable magazines of pistols or rifles “clips.” The only currently manufactured, widely available firearm that actually uses clips is the M1 Garand battle rifle. Some military ammunition is packed in “stripper clips,” but these are merely small metal strips that hold a number of cartridges–usually 10–together to allow them to be more easily loaded into magazines. They are not ammunition feeding devices.
SUBMACHINE GUN: These weapons are so called because they use sub-rifle caliber ammunition: pistol rounds such as the 9mm or .45 ACP. While there are long-barreled, semiautomatic versions of these weapons on the market, true submachine guns generally have barrels in the 10″ or shorter range. Any long gun with a barrel of less than 16″ is treated the same as a fully automatic weapon in terms of federal licensing.
This is a Thompson M1, the primary version used by the US Military during and after WWII. It was an attempt to cut down manufacturing costs compared to the Thompson 1928, which had a compensator, top mounted cocking handle, finned barrel, fine walnut furniture and an easily removable stock, a fine blued finish and an internal device called a “Blish Lock,” which was supposed to have aided function and reliability. The M1 was much less expensive to produce, but still many times more time-consuming and expensive than weapons like the M3 “Greasegun.”
The Thompson is a first generation design requiring first class materials, tools and a high degree of craftsmanship to produce. As a result, Thompsons tended to work very well indeed and troops loved them, but when huge numbers were needed, the cost was prohibitive. Even so, many consider the Thompson an ideal submachine gun. Its cyclic rate of .45 ACP rounds is in the 650 round per minute range, which for a general purpose SMG is generally considered perfect. The M1 accepts up to 30 round magazines, while the 1928 accepts those and 50 and 100 round drums.
The Thompson fires from an open bolt—it is a direct blowback action–so when the trigger is pulled, the entire massive bolt assembly flies forward under powerful spring tension, firing the cartridge. This is done to avoid the problem of “cooking off” ammunition, which can occur if the chamber becomes so hot that ammunition spontaneously fires when chambered. The movement of the heavy bolt unsettles the gun, making accuracy more difficult, but competent shooters can do very well indeed.
This is the Heckler and Koch MP5, perhaps the most famous SWAT and special operations submachine gun available today. It primarily fires the 9mm cartridge and 30 round magazines are standard. At one time, long barreled, semiautomatic only versions of this fine firearm were imported from Germany, but President George H.W. Bush banned such imports.
It is a third generation design that differs from the Thompson in many ways. Much of the weapon is constructed of plastics and stampings, reducing manufacturing cost and time, but for other reasons, the weapon is still quite expensive. It fires from a closed bolt using a unique roller-locking system common to H&K firearms. By the time the MP5 was introduced, design improvements had essentially overcome the cooking off problem. Weapons that fire from a closed bolt have greater inherent accuracy and are easier to fire accurately.
The MP5 is available in a wide variety of configurations–including a very effective version with an integral suppressor–weighing in the 6-7 pound range. Cyclic rate depends on the version of the weapon, but most are in the 800 RPM and higher range. This particular version of the MP5 has three separate firing modes: semiautomatic, three round burst, and fully automatic.
Fun Fact: TV and the movies have fostered a great many misconceptions about submachine guns. The primary advantage of these weapons is their ability to place multiple rounds on target quickly, thus enhancing their effect on a target. This means accuracy is just as important with a submachine gun as with any other type of firearm. Aiming and firing from the shoulder is absolutely necessary.
Competent operators do not fire entire magazines, but fire short, well-aimed bursts of 2-3 rounds. With weapons like the Thompson, this is accomplished almost exclusively through trigger control: pressing and holding the trigger exactly the proper amount of time to fire a single round, two rounds, three rounds, etc. With the Thompson’s relaxed rate of fire, this is easy to do. These trigger control techniques can also be employed with weapons like the MP5, but burst features are also available on many models. Still, more experienced shooters will often ignore burst settings and use trigger control instead.
Fun Fact: Firing from the hip or waving the muzzle wildly from side to side while emptying a magazine—which looks dramatic and macho in the movies–is an excellent way to miss everything you’re trying to hit and hitting everything you’re not trying to hit. This is commonly known as “spray and pray.” Remember that a tiny deviation at the muzzle equals missing by feet, yards and acres as the distance to a target increases.
Submachine guns do not recoil so wildly on full automatic as to knock their shooter backward, nor do they inevitably fly irresistibly upward and out of a shooter’s hands. They are, after all, essentially small rifles weighing as much as ten pounds or more loaded firing handgun cartridges. With proper training and technique, they are very controllable and accurate and recoil effect is minimal. Because they fire pistol cartridges, their effective range is generally limited to 100 yards and less.
Submachine guns fire from detachable box magazines and are designed to be carried and used by a single soldier. Submachine guns are useful in law enforcement not only because of their suppressive fire potential—they can keep armed bad guys pinned down and unable to shoot—but because they are shoulder fired, and because of their longer barrels and longer sight radius relative to handguns, they are easier to shoot accurately at greater than handgun ranges and do not suffer from over-penetration if proper ammunition is employed.
LIGHT MACHINE GUNS: True machine guns are belt-fed. In other words, their ammunition comes in long belts with the cartridges joined by metal links. When the weapon fires, it ejects empty brass and disassembled links.
The most commonly known light machine gun in current American forces use is the FN M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). Because of it’s relatively light weight (about 17 pounds unloaded) and compact size, as well as the fact that it is commonly fed from 200 round pre-packed plastic ammunition boxes, it, unlike most true machine guns, can be and almost always is carried and fired by a single soldier. The M249 also accepts standard AR-15 30 round magazines, an advantage of firing the same standard 5.56 NATO cartridge. Logistics is always a vital military concern. Having to stock the smallest number of calibers possible is highly desirable.
While the M249 does potentially offer somewhat greater range than an AR-15, its cartridge is well known to be a mediocre penetrator of cover and building materials. However, for the generally shorter military engagement ranges of today, it’s a reliable, useful weapon.
Fun Fact: M249s are often seen in movies and on TV.
GENERAL PURPOSE MACHINE GUNS: America’s GPG is the iconic M60, in widespread use since Vietnam. Despite an initially finicky reputation and some odd design features—such as the ability of the gas piston to be installed backward, turning the gun into a huge single shot rifle—regular improvements have been made over the years and it is still in service.
As the illustration demonstrates, most M60s come with an integral bipod. While the weapon can be carried by a single soldier–it weighs about 23 pounds unloaded–it is truly a crew served weapon. Crew served weapons commonly have a gunner and one or more soldiers assigned to keep ammunition linked and running, and to change the issued spare barrel when a barrel becomes too hot.
There are cut-down, lighter weight versions of the M60, some with shorter barrels, making it easier to carry and fire for a single operator, but most GPG’s are mounted in helicopters, HumVees or other military vehicles.
Firing the .308 cartridge, the M60’s range is essentially equal to that of the FN-FAL, the M-14 and other battle rifles: 500+ yards. True machine guns do not recoil like rifles: they vibrate.
Fun Fact: When Sylvester Stallone went berserk and shot up everything in sight with a machine gun in several of the Rambo movies, he was using a blank-firing M60.
While the M60 is still in limited military use, the American version of the FN MAG58, the M240 is in wider general use.
This machine gun weighs approximately 28 pounds unloaded and is belt fed. It is considered to be more reliable than the M60. Like the M60, it is generally carried by a single soldier, but is truly a crew served weapon. There are a number of variants available and in wide use, and this weapon is often vehicle and aircraft mounted.
HEAVY MACHINE GUNS: All heavy machine guns are crew served weapons, and generally require rather large crews as they burn through ammunition quickly and are large and heavy. The most famous of such weapons is arguably the Browning M2 heavy barrel in .50 BMG caliber. Introduced in 1921, it was one of the weapons that won WWII. It was used not only on tanks and other armored vehicles, but in fighter and bomber aircraft. Like the model 1911 .45 ACP pistol, it is one of John Moses Browning’s most enduring designs and is still the western heavy machine gun standard.
Fun Fact: In B-17 bombers in WWII, Browning .50 gunners were given only 1000 rounds of ammunition due to weight limitations. Their linked ammunition was about nine yards long, hence the saying “I gave him the whole nine yards,” made by gunners who fired all their ammunition at attacking German fighters.
Lighter versions of the weapon weigh 84 pounds. Because of the great weight, the weapon is always fired from a tripod or solidly mounted on tanks or other vehicles. It is still used in some aircraft applications as well. Prior to the invention of .50 BMG sniper rifles, the machine gun was sometimes fitted with telescopic sights and used in the extreme-long range sniper role by legendary sniper Carlos Hathcock among others.
Fun Fact: The difference between a machine gun and an automatic cannon is the ammunition. Machine guns almost exclusively fire non-explosive projectiles—solid bullets. Cannons, automatic or not, fire exploding projectiles–cannon shells. Machine gun ammunition is expressed in caliber such as .308, or in its metric designation, 7.62mm. Cannon ammunition is virtually always expressed in the metric system such as 25mm or 30mm. Contemporary cannon ammunition is generally at least 20mm in size.
There are automatic grenade launchers, but they are not true automatic cannons. They fire grenades, and generally at much slower rates of fire, velocities and shorter ranges than cannon. In fact, it is commonly possible to see the grenades they fire in flight with the naked eye.
Anti-gunners, or those who are simply not familiar with firearms often ask: “who needs a 30 round magazine,” or “who needs an AR-15,” or “who needs a machinegun?” Set aside the fact that firearm historians, collectors and instructors do, in fact, “need” such weapons and accessories. The underlying issue is one of inalienable rights and freedom. If a 30 round magazine is deemed too dangerous for honest, law-abiding free men to own today, won’t a 20 round magazine be too dangerous tomorrow, and a ten round magazine the day after? Ten round magazines have already proved too dangerous for New York State politicians who have banned all but seven round magazines. As I’ve pointed out here, for the AR-15 and similar rifles, 30 round magazines are standard, not “large capacity.” Freedom may be taken in a step by step, little by little process, but once lost, it is exceedingly difficult to regain.
No one needs a car that can exceed, say 50 MPH, and no one needs a 60″ TV–after all, they use a great deal of electricity–but few want politicians and bureaucrats telling them what they need. The primary difference is the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental unalienable right which springs from the unalienable right to self defense. Even without the Second Amendment–which does not bestow a right to keep and bear arms–the right would still exist. In the same way, because one can never know how many rounds one might need to protect lives, arbitrary magazine capacity limits ultimately cost rather than save lives. In fact, due to the stupidity and haste of New York State politicians, New York police officers with standard magazines larger than seven rounds–virtually all of them–are currently criminals. The legislature carved out no exemption for the police or the bodyguards of politicians.
In an ironic sense, federal regulation of machineguns is one of the greatest crime-prevention success stories of all time. With perhaps a single exception, no federally registered machine gun has ever been used in a crime. But this has nothing to do with federal regulations. In order to own a machine gun, suppressor (there is no such thing as a “silencer”), even a rifle or shotgun with a barrel shorter than 16″, one must be fingerprinted, undergo local, state and federal record checks, meet all legal criteria, receive the OK from a local sheriff or police chief, pay a $200.00, non-transferrable tax, and submit to a wide variety of federal regulations relating to storage and transportation. Machine guns are not misused because those willing to undergo such an onerous procedure are surely among the most honest, honorable and law-abiding Americans. A machinegun in their hands is no more dangerous to the public than a single shot, bolt-action .22LR rifle.
Ultimately, the answer to those questions is simple. The Second Amendment secures the individual right to keep and bear arms, but self-defense is its secondary purpose. The Second Amendment secures every other amendment. It secures liberty itself. It is the ultimate empowerment of citizens to resist tyranny, whether it asserts itself little by little and with smiles and assurances, or in outright warfare. In resisting tyranny, an AR-15, 30 round magazines, and even machine guns are not only needed by patriots, they are mandatory if liberty is to survive.
Those who would take such weapons from honest citizens know that very well indeed.