Some thoughts regarding the Assault Rifle
Some thoughts regarding the Assault Rifle

The assault rifle and assault-style rifles are politically divisive topics in the United States. Passions flare, especially as public officials consider further regulation of them. After my last firearm post, there was robust debate - and lots of insults. Inspired from that debate, I will today express my thoughts on this very specific firearm topic.

Swirl paw

Meowpolis, Purristan – Tuesday 8 September 2015

In the United States, the issue of the "assault-style" rifle is one of extreme divisiveness. Some love it, others loathe it, and still others feel a want to have one, neither loving nor loathing it, but finding it neat or cool. Most Americans, however, do not possess one, nor intend to. Because most Americans have no interest in this weapons system, one way or another, including many of those owning other firearms, it is left to a minority of firearm owners, and thus an even smaller minority of the American electorate, to defend their legal access to them.

Many of these humans feel they must defend their access to them because it is a weapons system regularly facing legislative attempts to further regulate them, and in some cases, attempts to ban them entirely. Owners of such weapons systems, and those hoping to join them, have many motivations for having and seeking them. Personal defense is a common one, as well as hunting, sport shooting, other recreation, and defending oneself against government.

The aforementioned motivations are generally the same used for almost all firearms. It therefore makes sense they lend themselves to the "assault-style" weapon systems, being so popularly used and socially familiar. However, unlike most other firearms, these weapon systems are distinct. Their distinction exceeds far beyond that of the bolt-action rifle, a shotgun, or various side arms - all of which have credible cases made regarding sport, personal defense, and hunting. The "assault-style" rifle is fundamentally different, a result of what they are, where they come from, and the context of their use.

Automatic firearms

What makes a firearm automatic is their mechanisms of reloading and firing multiple rounds, without the operator having to manually chamber a new round and depress the trigger each and every time a shot is intended. A bolt-action rifle, if lacking a clip, magazine, or similar, is manual - one loads the rifle, fires it, cycles the bolt to unload the spent shell and reload a new one, before being ready to aim and take the next shot. A semi-automatic rifle has a clip or magazine, automating these formerly manual functions. This is where the reloading occurs automatically, after firing a shot from each depression of the trigger. An operator can fire as rapidly as they can repeatedly depress the trigger, or for as long as the muzzle does not overheat, and until the clip or magazine (or belt or drum) is empty. This automatic mechanism and variations of it, generally referred to as semi-automatic, is old and employed by most contemporary firearms.

Auto-reloading of a Bushmaster

Often said in this topic is the distinction of "fully" automatic. All mechanized firing and reloading is, well, automatic. Fully and semi automatic are simply distinctions of the same thing - with a semi-automatic weapon, the sear/disconnector resets at some point, preventing "unlimited" automatic fire. This either happens on each shot, or it happens after a burst of a few rounds. What fully automatic refers to is when one depresses a trigger, if they hold it in the firing position, the weapon will automatically fire all the ammunition available to it until is runs out (or overheats/breaks down). In short, one squeeze, numerous shots fired. Civilian-approved conversions of military assault rifles prevent fully automatic or burst fire. Most military-use assault rifles have three basic settings, referred to as "select-fire": safe, semi-automatic burst, and semi-automatic single (titled differently depending on the firearm and manufacturer). The soldier may select their need, and either, with a single trigger depression, fire a "burst" of typically three rounds, or they may choose, as the civilian versions offer, to fire one single shot at a time, otherwise keeping it in the safe position when not in use. Such military use weapon systems are capable of, and some permit, fully automatic fire.

The Assault Rifle and the "Assault-Style" Rifle

The phrase "assault-style" rifle is political language I have chosen to use in this post, owing to its common use. Personally, I see little difference between the assault rifle and the "assault-style" rifle, but there are some key variations. An example of the assault rifle is the M 16, used by the American Armed Forces. An example of the "assault-style" rifle are government-approved conversions of the M 16 for civilian use, such as commercial brands known as the ArmaLite (originator of the M 16) and Colt model 15 (AR-15), Bushmaster .223, and variants. The conversion is from the fully and/or burst automatic capability to the police and civilian-approved semi-automatic single shot version, without any sacrifice in performance, weight and other characteristics of the M 16. The weapons system, being only a conversion, is still, structurally and mechanically, the same platform, which is why I do not consider them different, and in most contexts, except in this article, I refer to both as assault rifles.

It should also be noted that, because civilian-approved conversions of fully automatic and burst semi-automatic capable military assault rifles are, well, conversions retaining the same fundamental mechanical platforms, the civilian versions can be converted back, or at least simulated. A full conversion, depending on the weapons system, may be akin to converting a stick shift car to an automatic - but the point is, it can be done. When this point is raised, many say this is either not true, or that it is true, but just too difficult. A motivating reason, perhaps, is to ensure most think this cannot be done, and therefore have no just concern of it happening. A simulation is doable and it is not difficult. A full conversion is challenging, unless you have the financial means and determination. For a simulation, there are only a handful of needed parts, such as a bump stock, or a muzzle that can withstand a high rate of fire, with parts easily found online, at gun shows, and at many gun stores. Additionally, some simulations of fully automatic and burst fire, such as bump firing, are perfectly legal. There are countless videos on YouTube of people gleefully converting their civilian-approved semi-automatic rifles into slide-stock automatic weapons. If it were difficult, there would not be an abundance of resources, videos, and How-To guides. Doing so is questionable on legal grounds, depending on what method is chosen, with a full conversion being completely illegal... but so too is super-charging your car, Mad Max style.

What makes an assault rifle

Battle of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto

To get to that answer, the German word "sturm" first needs a bit of attention. During the First World War, the Imperial German Army developed the Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers). "Sturm" means "storm" (and it means "assault" - like most words in any language, meaning is all about context). However, it already sounded like "storm" in English, hence the translation stuck. To storm a position is to assault it, and so in this translation, it would be more accurate to say "Assault Troopers". These assault troops, however, did not rely on firearms. Rather, they threw grenades - lots of them - and they used the bayonet. The nature of stalemate and trench warfare necessitated new tactics. These small groups of stormtroopers where deployed to assault key targets, and open the way for a general infantry advance. The great battle of Caporetto was one of the first wide uses of stormtroopers to break stalemate, and it almost led to Italy's defeat. The Sturmtruppen gained a reputation, which worked its way into popular culture (e.g. imperial German stormtroopers in the Star Wars saga). This digression may not seem relevant, but German word "sturm" matters, as this will be coming up again shortly.

The combat infantry unit

Now that you understand the term "sturm", let us now understand the combat infantry unit. By the time of the Second World War, infantry tactics had coalesced around a few principals. In Germany, the standard infantryman was armed with a bolt-action, 8-round clip-fed rifle, known as the Mauser 98k. A unit was supported with sub-machine gunners, who fired a 20-round, magazine-fed, MP 40. This weapon fired pistol rounds, the ballistics of which did not ensure down-range accuracy, so they were instead, effective close support weapons. Lastly, the unit would include a machine gun crew, firing a belt-fed, fully automatic weapons system (most infamously, the MG 42). These fired rifle rounds, at range, with a tremendous rate of fire. It was primarily used for suppressive fire (meaning those on the other end of it kept their heads down, unable to return fire or advance). This infantry composition intended the following: the rifleman can fire at great distance, with accuracy, and with tremendous knockdown power. He can pick off targets. At close range, the rifleman has a problem - the rifle is long, so it is cumbersome around corners, notably in urban, house-to-house fighting. The sub-machine gunner compensated for this, as he can throw out bursts of fire to suppress advances, and can provide support in close fighting. The machine gun crew can support all of this, by wiping out a massed advance, and providing sustained suppressive fire, allowing infantry to redeploy, or take out targets. Because of the legacy and reputation of First World War stormtroopers, and owing to this infantry composition, the allies used the stormtrooper name as a general reference for the regular German soldier, rather than that of a special group. This German infantry unit composition, as described, was similarly employed by most armies of the time.

The infantryman of the United States did not used a bolt-action rifle as their German counterparts did. Rather, they used the M1 Garand, a clip-fed semi-automatic rifle. Each trigger depression fired and reloaded the next round, continuing with each depression until the clip was exhausted. This gave Americans a rate-of-fire advantage over the Germans who had to cycle the bolt before firing again. Partly resulting from this, the Germans developed the Gewehr 41 ("Rifle model 1941"), a semi-automatic rifle similar to the American M1 Garande. Yet they faced another, more daunting problem - infinite hordes of Russians coming from the East (who ultimately accounted for about 80% of all German casualties during the war).

What to do about a hornet's nest

The Germans were under constant, unrelenting attack, which had them on the move. Supplying an army in the field with all the firearms (Mauser, Gewehr, MP 40, MG 42) and respective spare parts, ammunition, et cetera, presents its own problem. It would be better to arm every German solider with the same weapons system, requiring the same ammunition and parts. Doing so must also satisfy the myriad needs an infantry unit has - long-range kill shots, suppressive fire capability, close combat support, and be effective in urban combat. Somehow, they would have to combine the Gewehr 41, the MP 40, and the MG 42 into a single weapons system. Hordes of Russians are coming, and the Germans need to kill or disable as many as they can, as quickly as possible. There is less and less time to order and deliver spare parts to fix something. If the soldier runs out of ammunition, he should be able to pick up more from any other soldier around him. He needs to be effective fighting in the open steppes, or within a ruined city.

German soldier with a Sturmgewehr
German soldier with a Sturmgewehr

What came of this thinking was the prototype MP 43 and its successor, the MP 44. This was a single revolutionary weapon with four select-fire settings: safe, no shooting, fully automatic (like the MG 42), semi-automatic burst (like the MP-40), and semi-automatic single shot (like the Mauser and Gewehr 41). It fired a caliber between the high-power rifle round used in the Mauser, Gewehr 41, and MG 42, and the pistol round of the MP 40. It was shorter than a rifle, so it was more effective in urban settings. It turned each German soldier into his own, complete infantry unit. They demonstrated and presented this prototype to the German Führer, Adolf Hitler, who loved it, but not its name - the Maschinenpistole (MP) model 1944. From the legacy of the great sturmtruppen, he bequeathed upon this world, from his lips to God's ears, the "Sturmgewehr" or "storm" rifle or more accurately, the Assault Rifle. The Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44) entered service and proved itself. Ultimately, it came too late for the Germans, but it sure did it change history!

The assault rifle takes over

Soviet propaganda says that an uneducated tank driver, Mikhail Kalashnikov, developed the Avtomat Kalashnikov model 1947 (AK 47) from inspired thought and tinkering, à La Leonardo da Vinci. Of course, what really happened was the Russians got hold of a German StG 44 and made their own, unique variant. Similarly, when Americans captured crates of the revolutionary German firearm, they translated the word written on the side: Sturmgewehr became Assault Rifle to the English-speaking world. From this German weapons system came every other "assault-style" weapon ever produced. It is the granddaddy of them all.

An American solider testing the Sturmgewehr
A Post-War American solider testing the Sturmgewehr

I will say this again: every time a human says "assault rifle" they are literally quoting Adolf Hitler. When saying "assault-style" rifle, they are paraphrasing him - not much of an improvement. When humans say they want these weapon systems for sport or recreation, simply ask yourself this question: did Nazi Germany design and Adolf Hitler name this thing for sport and recreation? They did not, of course. Its purpose is to kill as many Russians as possible. Russians, by the way, are also "humans" and "people".

What are you getting at?

If you have not yet read my proposed solution regarding the firearm issue in the United States, I suggest you consider doing so. I make no secret about my personal views on this matter. Furthermore, I demonstrate my solution is constitutional, reasonable, and just. I also know few with influence will look at it with any earnest and serious consideration, owing to the near zealotry of a particular group of firearm absolutists and manufacturers, along with the influence of their lobbies. However, I find it annoying that that a weapons system developed by Nazi Germany and personally named by Adolf Hitler enjoys passionate defense while being actively sought after by a minority of so-called hunters and sportsmen. Its design is for select-fire combat against advancing hordes, and therefore, frankly, it is an insufficient hunting weapon, as it lacks the range and knockdown power of a traditional hunting rifle. Using a tool made to kill Russians to instead shoot a deer in the woods seems rather comical, and any claim that this is its purpose is laughable on its face.

Lethal Lady
Lethal to whom? The police? Why?

The only intended purpose of this weapons system is combat, everything else is theater (which is fun). I will note, many firearm advocates acknowledge this, making no secret of their intent to be armed to some level of parity with the United States Armed Forces (in fact, another popular "assault-style" weapon is the Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), which includes "combat" in its name). I focused some time on the point regarding defense against government in my earlier post, suffice to say, this a moot point for those making it. Insurrection is unconstitutional, equated with foreign invasion in the text of the American constitution itself. Any who fight government in conflict are, by definition, engaging in insurrection. The U.S. congress, by explicit powers granted in the constitution, can call forth the very same militia referenced in the Second Amendment, to suppress that insurrection. Furthermore, there are those who say law abiding citizens should be allowed to have or seek this very specific combat weapons system, regardless if it were regulated out of civilian use. If intending to keep and seek a weapon systems that is no longer legal, one would cease being a law-abiding citizen. It is in interesting contradiction and a contention I find strange.

Regardless, there is no just reason, in my humble view, for Hitler's weapon system and variants of it to be in civilian hands. Yes, I understand I may be accused of Reductio ad Hitlerum - the problem with that is, well, the Nazi's have everything to do with the Assault Rifle, and Hitler its name. It is therefore not misdirection. It was invented for a singular purpose, and given the name we all use by a specific individual. Those arguing otherwise must recognize and account for that origin in purpose and name. Knowing most Americans do not have such a weapon, nor seek one, and most Americans, including firearm owners, support reason, I feel if more Americans were aware that the assault rifle and "assault-style" variants are weapons of war, rooted in Nazi technology, with the explicit purpose of killing people, more might be willing to consider abolition of such weapon systems for civilian use. This is why I have outlined my thoughts on this particular type of weapons system. As with my last post on firearms, being mostly derided by firearm advocates, I suspect the same with this one. I hope, however, that some Americans might read this and think about mechanized rifles in a more informed way, from what an automatic firearm is, what fully and semi-automatic means, distinctions between civilian and military variants, the origins and purpose of the assault rifle, and perhaps, come away with a more comprehensive understanding. This greater understanding might lead to more critical considerations when, invariably, this again comes up as a political and policy matter.

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