Assault Weapons and Assault Rifles

Assault weapons are guns/fire arms that fire one round each time the trigger is pulled. They are not assault rifles or machine guns.

Issue: 1 / 2018By Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd)Photo(s): By US Army, Wikipedia
M4A1 Carbine

The term “Assault Weapons” as such is not defined in the dictionary and each word of the term is defined seperately. The Cambridge dictionary defines the word “assault” as a violent attack and “weapon” as an object used in fighting or war such as gun, bomb and knife, etc. So if we combine the two the sense that we get is that an “assault weapon” is a weapon for unleashing a violent attack. defines assault weapon as – “various automatic and semiautomatic military firearms utilizing an intermediatepower cartridge, designed for individual use.” This definition is also misleading because as we will see later in the article automatic and semiautomatic weapons are grouped in separate categories.

Oxford dictionary also does not define the term “assault weapon” but it does define an assault rifle which it defines as - A lightweight rifle developed from the sub-machine gun, which may be set to fire automatically or semi-automatically.

In the United States, an assault weapon is a term used to define some types of firearms. The definition varies among regulating jurisdictions, but usually includes semi-automatic firearms with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip, and sometimes other features such as a flash suppressor or barrel shroud. Some firearms are specified by name. At the time that the now-defunct Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994, the US Justice Department said, “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.” The origin of the term has been attributed to legislators, gun control groups, the media, and the firearms industry itself. It is sometimes equated with the term “assault rifle”, which refers to selective-fire military rifles that can fire in automatic and/or burst mode but this equation is incorrect. Thus drawing from US federal and state law definitions, the term “assault weapon” refers primarily to semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that are able to accept detachable magazines and possess one or more other features. Some jurisdictions define revolving cylinder shotguns as assault weapons. Legislative definitions do not include fully automatic weapons, which are regulated separately as Title II weapons under US federal law.

Common attributes used in legislative definitions of assault weapons in the US include:

  • Semi-automatic firearm capable of accepting a detachable magazine.
  • Folding or telescoping (collapsible) stock, which reduces the overall length of the firearm.
  • A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
  • Bayonet lug, which allows the mounting of a bayonet
  • Threaded barrel, which can accept devices such as a flash suppressor, Suppressor, compensator or muzzle brake
  • Grenade launcher.
  • Barrel shroud, which prevents burning of shooter’s arm or hand as a safety device.

The firearms industry itself introduced the term “assault weapon” to build interest in new product lines. Phillip Peterson, the author of Gun Digest Buyer’s Guide to Assault Weapons (2008) wrote:

The popularly held idea that the term ‘assault weapon’ originated with antigun activists is wrong. The term was first adopted by manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and dealers in the American firearms industry to stimulate sales of certain firearms that did not have an appearance that was familiar to many firearms owners. The manufacturers and gun writers of the day needed a catchy name to identify this new type of gun.

The term “assault weapon” is sometimes conflated with the term “assault rifle”. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, the media should differentiate between “assault rifles,” which are capable of fully automatic firing, and “assault weapons,” which are semiautomatic and “not synonymous with assault rifle.” Civilian ownership of machine guns (and assault rifles) has been tightly regulated since 1934 under the US, National Firearms Act and since 1986 under the Firearm Owners Protection Act.

Differences Between Assault Weapons and Assault Rifles

The AR-15 rifle, is the most popular rifle sold in the United States today. Millions have been sold to American citizens since 1963.

The AR-15 is the most common example of what are sometimes called assault weapons. But what does this term actually mean?

First, it is important to understand what an assault weapon is not. The terms “assault weapon” and “assault rifle” are often confused. According to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in the Stanford Law and Policy Review:

Prior to 1989, the term “assault weapon” did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of “assault rifles.”

If an assault weapon is not an assault rifle, what is an assault rifle?

It is like the M4A1 carbine, a US military service rifle. It is also an assault rifle.

The M4A1 is fully automatic. This means it fires multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled. The M4A1 can fire up to 950 rounds per minute.

Like the majority of firearms sold in the United States, the AR-15 is semi-automatic. This means it fires one round each time the trigger is pulled. The AR-15 can fire between 45 and 60 rounds per minute depending on the skill of the operator. This rate of fire is comparable to other semi-automatic firearms, but pales in comparison to fully automatic assault rifles, some of which can fire more than 1,000 rounds per minute.

So-called assault weapons are not machine guns or assault rifles. According to David Kopel, writing in The Wall Street Journal:

What some people call “assault weapons” function like every other normal firearm—they fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. Unlike automatics (machine guns), they do not fire continuously as long as the trigger is held. ...Today in America, most handguns are semi-automatics, as are many long guns, including the best-selling rifle today, the AR-15, the model used in the Newtown shooting. Some of these guns look like machine guns.

Therefore assault weapons are guns/ fire arms that fire one round each time the trigger is pulled, however due to the menacing looks of weapons like the AR-15, people often confuse them with automatic, assault rifles.

Indian Army Para Commandos with Tavor assault rifles

Indian Assault Rifles

Some of the assault rifles which are in use in Indian armed forces are given below:

  • INSAS – This is the mostly used assault rifle in Indian Armed Forces and was originated in India. It also has a light machine gun variant. It has its basic design similar to AKM but has some points of difference too. This rifle is being used by Nepal, Bhutan and Oman military. But some issues of jamming, cracking ofthe magazine and semi-automatic mode were scars on it. But its variants have eradicated these drawbacks.
  • Multi calibre individual weapon system (MCIWS) – It is also an indigenously developed rifle by India which is expected to replace the INSAS assault rifle. It has got some special feature that deserves appreciation and its induction into the army will improve the fighting skills of soldiers.
  • AKM – This Assault rifle is used in Indian Armed Forces, which has a basic design as that of AK-47 rifles. AKM is a modernised form of famous AK-47. It has a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and comes with semi-automatic and fully automatic modes. Named as Avtomat Kalashnikova, AK series is automatic rifles that were found a hit among soldiers after its invention.
  • AK103 – Apart from AKM, Indian Armed Forces use AK 103 from AK family. AK 103 is also a variant of AK 47 additionally having side folding stock. It is also used by special forces of Indian Navy i.e. MARCOS.
  • T91 assault rifle – It is a Taiwan made rifle and is used by Special Forces of Indian Army and Garud of Indian air force. The rifle has got firing speed of about 800 rounds per minute. This rifle is based on T86 assault rifle with features of M16 and AR-18 rifles. It has 4 firing modes i.e. safe mode, semi-automatic mode (1 bust), 3 burst mode and fully automatic mode.
  • IMI Tavor TAR-21 – This rifle is also used by Special Forces of Indian Armed Forces. This Israeli made rifle having selective firing system (semi and fully automatic modes). The rifle’s birth was aimed to build a reliable and durable rifle, which needs low maintenance. This makes it step ahead of carbine rifles.
  • FN F2000 – This is an Assault rifle by Belgium and used by a Special Protection Group of India. The rifle can fire at a swift speed of 850 rounds per minute. The gun is fully automatic with NA TO box magazines and is currently used by many countries.
  • SG 551 – It is the assault rifle made in Switzerland and exclusively used by National security guards, which has a major part of the Indian army. It is based on SG550 and has shorter length than SG 551 with firing speed of about 650 rounds per minute. The rifle is being used by France, Canada Brazil, Germany and many other nations.

All the above assault rifles being automatic weapons cannot strictly be termed as assault weapons which are semi automatic, single shot weapons.

Procurement of new Assault Rifles and Carbines

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman, met on January 16, 2018, and cleared procurement of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines on fast track basis for 3,547 crore to enable the Defence Forces to meet their immediate requirement for the troops deployed on the borders.

On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, Indias Defence Acquisition Council, presided over by the Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared 15,935 crore worth of proposals including the one to procure 7.4 lakh ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ assault rifles at a cost of 12,280 crore for the three services. This clearance also included 1,819 crore worth of Light Machine Guns which will also be procured through the fast-track procedure to meet the operational requirement of the troops deployed at the border. Additionally the clearance includes 5719 sniper rifles for the Indian Army and Air Force at an estimated outlay of 982 crore.