That Was Then, This is Now
The NRA and the Gun Industry Talk About Assault Weapons–From Both Sides of Their Mouths
Myth Three

A “True” Assault Weapon is a Selective-Fire Military Weapon

The full-auto “issue” is a red herring that was raised by the NRA and the gun industry only after public attention began to focus on the increasing death and violence associated with semi-automatic versions of these weapons.

The NRA and the gun industry are correct that military assault weapons often have a “selective fire” feature. This allows the shooter to switch between full-auto fire (fires repeatedly as long as the trigger is held back) or semi-automatic fire (the trigger must be pulled for each round fired). It is also true that civilian assault weapons do not have automatic fire capability (federal law severely restricts the sale and possession of machineguns by civilians). But semi-automatic assault weapons are still unacceptably dangerous because:


  • They keep the generic features that make them ideal for rapidly laying down a withering field of fire. As the leading pro-assault weapons expert Duncan Long wrote in his 1986 book, Assault Pistols, Rifles and Submachine Guns:

    The next problem arises if you make a semiauto-only model of one of these selective-fire rifles. According to the purists, an assault rifle has to be selective fire. Yet, if you think about it, it’s a little hard to accept the idea that firearms with extended magazines, pistol grip stock, etc., cease to be assault rifles by changing a bit of metal.[18]

  • Military and civilian experts agree that semi-automatic fire is actually more—not less—likely to hit the target than is automatic fire, and is thus more deadly.[19] Regardless, a person of moderate skill can fire a semi-automatic assault weapon at an extremely fast rate of fire.[20]
  • Many semi-automatic assault weapons can easily be converted to automatic fire with home tools and modest skill.


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