Assault Weapons


Assault weapons manufactured for the civilian market, equipped with detachable high-capacity ammunition magazines, are virtually identical to their military counterparts designed for the battlefield. The difference is that military assault weapons are selective-fire. That is, they are capable of fully automatic fire (firing rounds continuously as long as the trigger is depressed by the shooter)—or three-shot bursts—as well as semiautomatic fire. Civilian assault weapons are semiautomatic-only firearms (the trigger must be pulled back separately for each round fired). In the civilian world, this is a distinction without a difference in terms of public safety. The unique design features of semiautomatic assault weapons allow the shooter to efficiently kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time available. In fact, increased lethality is the exact purpose for which these weapons were designed.

There is no reason for assault rifles, assault pistols, and assault shotguns to be sold on the civilian market. Nevertheless, these weapons have become a primary sales focus as the gun industry markets its products to a shrinking customer base.

In 1988, the VPC first warned of the threat posed by assault weapons. Our research continues to expose the public safety threat assault weapons represent as well as the need to ban their sale to civilians. Issues addressed in our research include: specific weapons that are used in mass shootings; how the firearms industry markets these weapons; and trends in assault weapon manufacture, such as the marketing of next-generation assault pistols, some of which are even capable of piercing the body armor worn by law enforcement. Some of our major reports can be found below.



Assault Weapons Primer

VPC Backgrounder on Ruger, the Manufacturer of the Assault Rifle Used in the Lewiston, Maine Mass Shooting (October 2023)

Assault on DC: Assault Weapons Recovered in the District of Columbia

Pistol Braces That Evade Federal Restrictions on Short-Barreled Rifles

Backgrounder on Daniel Defense (May 2022)

The Militarized Marketing of Bushmaster Assault Rifles (April 2018)

Understanding the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Semiautomatic Assault Rifle (February 2018)

SKS Assault Rifles: A Menace to Law Enforcement (June 2017)

Key Points About Assault Weapons (June 2016) | Puntos claves sobre armas de asalto (de junio de el año 2016)

Understanding the Sig Sauer MCX Assault Rifle Used in the Orlando Mass Shooting (June 2016)

AR-15 and AK-47 Assault Pistols: Rifle Power in a Handgun (March 2015)
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Freedom Group’s Militarized Marketing (January 2014)
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Assault Pistols: The Next Wave (January 2013)
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Bullet Buttons: The Gun Industry’s Attack on California’s Assault Weapons Ban (May 2012)

VPC Backgrounder: The Ruger Mini-14 —The “Poor Man’s Assault Rifle” (July 2011)

The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market (June 2011)
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Target: Law Enforcement — Assault Weapons in the News (February 2010)
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United States of Assault Weapons: Gunmakers Evading the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (July 2004)
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A Further Examination of Data Contained in the Study “On Target” Regarding Effects of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban
(April 2004)

Illinois: Land of Post-Ban Assault Weapons (March 2004)
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Bullet Hoses: Semiautomatic Assault Weapons — What Are They? What’s So Bad About Them? (May 2003)
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“Officer Down”—Assault Weapons and the War on Law Enforcement (May 2003)
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Target America: Can the Flood of Foreign Assault Weapons be Stopped? (March 1998)
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That Was Then, This Is Now: The NRA and the Gun Industry Talk About Assault Weapons — From Both Sides of Their Mouths (December 1997)
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Assault Weapons and Accessories in America (1988)

For More Information

50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles

Gun Trafficking

Mass Shootings