'Assault Weapons,' Explained

How a scary name for an arbitrary group of firearms distorts the gun control debate

By Jacob Sullum from June 2018 Edition

James Huberty, a 41-year-old survivalist who had recently lost his job as a security guard, spent the morning of July 18, 1984, at the San Diego Zoo with his wife, Etna, and their two daughters. The family ate lunch at a McDonald's restaurant in the Clairemont neighborhood before returning to their home in San Ysidro. After Etna lay down to rest, Huberty approached her and said, "I want to kiss you goodbye." When she asked him where he was going, he said he was "hunting humans."

Just before 4 p.m., Huberty drove his black Mercury Marquis sedan to a San Ysidro McDonald's, where he used three guns -- a Browning 9mm pistol, a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, and an Uzi 9mm semi-automatic carbine -- to shoot 40 people. Twenty-one of them died, including an 8-month-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. Seventy-eight minutes after the shooting began, a police sniper killed Huberty with a single shot to the chest.

California Assemblyman Art Agnos, a San Francisco Democrat who would later serve as that city's mayor, cited the San Ysidro massacre as an argument for his 1985 bill banning what he called "assault weapons"-- semi-automatic versions of military firearms, such as the Uzi used by Huberty. Unlike the rifles that soldiers carry, which are capable of automatic or burst fire (i.e., holding down the trigger fires either a continuous stream or a short series of rounds), these civilian models fire just one round per trigger pull. But Agnos thought they should be regulated as strictly as machine guns, which ordinary civilians cannot legally possess in California without a permit that is essentially impossible to obtain.

"The only use for assault weapons is to shoot people," Agnos told the Assembly Public Safety Committee in June 1985. San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara concurred. "These are weapons of war," he said. "They are made to kill people, and they are all over California. There is no legitimate use for these. Nobody hunts deer with them."

Thus began a long-running public policy fraud that was revived once again after the attack that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. .......

This is far from the first time to see explanations regarding ''assault weapons" but this article goes into significant depth from various angles. Of course the difference between full auto capability and semi-auto (better called self-loading) is at the crux of the matter, but also there is the subject of cosmetics - long part of the ignorance shown over and over again. Any enacted ban is only one further step towards continued infringement on rights.

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