Millions of versions of the assault rifle now circulate among American civilians. While civilian versions are semi-automatic, the military versions have three modes: semi-automatic, fully automatic and burst. The civilian versions give the consumer the feel and look of an assault weapon. With some effort they can quietly be adapted to military mode. Why the interest in something that looks and feels like an assault rifle?
The assault rifle has many ancestors, but the most immediate is the World War I German Empire’s MP 18. Trench warfare led to a stalemate in which advances were stopped with machine guns and artillery. The German Empire realized artillery bombardment and infantry waves alone could not break the trench stalemate. They created a new type of unit: the Sturmtruppen. Small units of highly trained storm or shock troops would infiltrate enemy weak spots creating a breakthrough for the infantry. Shock troop combat would be at close quarters, in enemy trenches, buildings, pill boxes and the like. These storm troops needed a new weapon. Firing accuracy was not relevant, rapid, relatively indiscriminate, fire was. Face to face with the enemy they needed a reliable weapon spouting lethal bullets in the enemy’s general direction. Close fighting in confined quarters required a short barrel. The MP 18 was such a rifle. The 49.2” standard infantry rifle, the Empire’s G98, could fire 15 rounds per minute; the 32.8” MP 18, 350 to 500 rounds per minute.
The assault rifle evolved through various wars to become today’s AK 47 and the ArmaLite AR 15 in their many variants. What use may a civilian make of such a weapon? A civilian’s motives for purchasing a rifle include collecting, hunting, sport and home protection. A collector prizes something rare, a pristine object in the original box. A serious collector would rarely, if ever fire the weapon. Why would a collector want something held by every Tom, Dick and Harry, available everywhere?
The ideal hunting rifle is long- barreled with an accurate but relatively slow rate of fire. This is because each shot jerks the rifle, accurately aiming the next shot is impossible with rapid fire. Hunters prefer bolt action, or a specialized shotgun. The sort of damage the assault rifle does, should it hit anything, spoils the meat and trophy.
Sport shooting demands careful, accurate fire. In the Olympic Biathlon a favorite is the ANSCHÜTZ bolt action 22 caliber rimfire.
For Home Protection many recommend double barrel sawed-off shotgun. The reduced length facilitates use in close quarters like hallways. Shotgun pellets can penetrate drywall yet be lethal to an intruder on the other side. In Oklahoma, the shotgun barrel must be at least 18 inches.
A civilian-use assault rifle is useful for quickly producing indiscriminate human casualties in relatively small spaces; a movie theater, a party, a club, a concert or classrooms. In these situations rapid, sustained, deadly fire need not be accurate. A lone gunman wielding a semi automatic assault rifle has been shown to quickly achieve the desired casualties. Slowing down rampaging minorities, attacking a neighborhood strong point, a fortified police station, U.N. troops out to confiscate your guns, or a nearby enemy bivouac is not for the lone gunman. At least five or six like-minded and similarly armed neighbors are needed. A car bomb can give a few valuable seconds advantage by destroying defenses and disorienting defenders. An assault rifle attack can then follow. A stolen local police vehicle strategically left at the target will not attract too much attention. It makes an ideal car bomb. Even without such local targets or assault weapon armed associates, a man can sit in his recliner, beer in one hand, assault rifle on his lap, ammo boxes stacked against the wall, and fantasize.
Bob Darcy is Oklahoma State University Regents Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Statistics.