So What Is an Assault Weapon?

With many Dems ambivalent, gun control faces big obstacles

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 17, 2013 7:14 AM CST

(Newser) – A key part of President's Obama's gun control agenda is a ban on assault weapons, but both sides of the gun debate can't even agree on what is an assault weapon, much less whether to ban them, reports the New York Times. Gun control proponents generally use the term to refer to semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and features like flash suppressors and pistol grips. But gun advocates say that "assault weapon" can only refer to fully automatic fire, and that the semiautomatic versions available to civilians should be called "tactical rifles" or "modern sporting rifles." Gun historians, however, point out that using the term "assault rifle" for semiautomatic firearms was originally coined by the gun industry.

On the other hand, the whole debate may be pretty much moot as the president's gun agenda faces stiff opposition by Republicans and much ambivalence by centrist Democrats, reports the Washington Post. Two decades of defeat for gun-control legislation has left little interest on Capitol Hill to take it on again, and observers say Obama's call to restrict assault weapons and magazine sizes are most likely to go nowhere. Universal background checks and new gun trafficking penalties are more likely to be passed, although even those components face opposition. (Click to read about Obama's 23 executive orders.)

John Jackson, co-owner of Capitol City Arms Supply shows off an AR-15 assault rifle for sale yesterday at his business in Springfield, Ill.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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