Across America, the firepower in the hands of gun owners of varying stripes is increasing dramatically. The reason: assault weapons. Drug traffickers are finding that assault weapons—in addition to ‘standard issue’ handguns—provide the extra firepower necessary to fight police and competing dealers. Right-wing paramilitary extremists, in their ongoing battle against the “Zionist Occupational Government,” have made these easily purchased firearms their gun of choice. And rank and file gun aficionados—jaded with handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles—are moving up to the television glamour and movie sex appeal of assault weapons. The growing market for these weapons—coupled with a general rising interest in the non-sporting use of firearms—has generated an industry of publications, catalogs, accessories, training camps, and combat schools dedicated to meeting its needs.
Assault weapons are growing in popularity for a variety of reasons. For manufacturers, assault weapons are a necessary new product line in the wake of the mid-1980s decline in handgun sales. Yet, manufacturers didn’t create a market, they recognized one. For criminals, the weapons look intimidating, have increased firepower, and can be purchased under the same controls as a hunting rifle or shotgun: that is, virtually none. For survivalists who envision themselves fending off a horde of desperate neighbors from their bomb shelters, the high ammunition capacity and other anti-personnel capabilities of assault weapons are exactly what is needed. And for fans of Rambo and “Miami Vice,” assault weapons offer the look and feel of the real thing. Not surprisingly, this shift to increased firepower—in both criminal and law-abiding hands—has law enforcement worried.
The assault weapons threat is exacerbated by the fact that the weapons are difficult to define in legal terms. Legislators and members of the press have proposed placing increased restrictions on all semi-auto firearms, which would include some hunting rifles. Whether these proposals are merely the result of ignorance of the wide variety of firearms that are semi-automatic, or misguided efforts in the face of definitional problems, they only lend credence to the gun lobby’s argument that restrictions on assault weapons are merely the first step toward banning all semi-automatic guns.
Assault firearms are semi-automatic (firing one bullet per trigger pull) and fully automatic (the weapon will keep on firing as long as the trigger is depressed) anti-personnel rifles, shotguns, and handguns that are designed primarily for military and law enforcement use. With muzzle velocities that are often greater than standard long guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines, assault weapons are built to kill large numbers of human beings quickly and efficiently. In tests at their firing range, San Jose, California police found that a fully automatic UZI could fire its 30-round magazine in slightly less than two seconds. A semi-automatic version of the weapon required only five seconds for the magazine to be emptied. Most assault weapons have no legitimate hunting or sporting use. Assault rifles and shotguns often have pistol grips and folding stocks and are typically lighter and more concealable than standard long guns. Some assault pistols have threaded barrels for the easy attachment of silencers. Many assault weapons are merely semi-automatic versions of military machine guns, making them easier to convert to fully automatic machine guns.
The number of assault weapons in civilian hands—both criminal and law-abiding—is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. No exact figures are available. An unknown number of these weapons have been illegally converted to full-auto. (For an explanation of the different categories and types of firearms, please see Appendix I.)
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