When it comes to Feinstein’s assault weapons, appearance is everything

February 10, 2013

By Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold –

In crafting her masterpiece 2013 bill to ban “assault weapons”, Senator Dianne Feinstein explained the failure of the 1994 version to the fact that manufacturers were able to circumvent the intent of that bill by making cosmetic changes to the weapons, including replacing pistol grips with “thumbhole” stocks.

The term “cosmetic” is unfortunately the core of Senator Feinstein’s bill, since the banned weapons are simply semi-automatic firearms which bear at least one “cosmetic” feature described in the bill.


Let’s examine some of these features in detail.  “Semi-automatic” firearms can be easily converted into fully-automatic operation to be classified as “assault weapons” if:

  • the gun’s barrel is completely or partially enclosed in a shroud to allow the operator to hold the barrel without being burned,
  • it has a pistol grip, including a thumb-hole grip in the stock,
  • it has a folding, collapsible or adjustable stock,
  • it has a pistol grip on the forearm,
  • it has a flash suppressor, muzzle brake or threaded barrel,
  • it has a bayonet lug,
  • it has a grenade launcher (or rocket launcher??).

What is a true Assault Weapon:

The military classifies assault weapons as fully-automatic rifles or carbines (will fire continuously as long as the trigger is depressed), with short barrels (OAL about 36″), firing an intermediate power cartridge (between pistols and battle rifles or machine guns). They are used for close quarter combat (< 100 yards). The ammunition is smaller and lighter than traditional battle weapons so that the soldier can carry more rounds. Civilians can only own fully-automatic arms, under the 1934 National Firearms Act, which were manufactured before 1986, with permission of the Treasury Department, subject to an extensive background check. Assault weapons are the primary weapon issued to troops, since the nature of battle has evolved from trench warfare into close quarter skirmishes.

While it is illegal under Federal law to possess the parts necessary to convert a semi-automatic weapon to fully-automatic capability (also called “selective fire”), all semi-automatic weapons manufactured since 1986 are modified so that these parts cannot be simply “dropped in”.  Penalties for violating this law are severe, and rigorously enforced. Violations are extremely rare, and even inadvertent alterations or breakdowns resulting in multiple fire are prosecuted.

Following is an examination of six assault weapon characteristics that the government is seeking to misrepresent,  so that the American people are fooled into believing that everyday guns used for hunting, target practice and competitions are assault weapons that have no use except for mass killings.

1. Barrel Shroud
All rifles have some way to protect the shooter from being burned by the barrel, which becomes too hot to touch after 5 rounds or so. At a minimum, there is a long stock or forearm for support by the non-firing hand.  Shrouds over the barrel of a semi-automatic rifle are mainly used to cover the the gas tube (AR and AK) or reciprocating mechanism (M1 Garand and M14). Senator Feinstein and others think the shroud is there to grasp the hot barrel in safety, like Rambo in the movies, while firing from waist level. Movies are movies, and things done for dramatic effect are seldom derived from real life. In short, the barrel shroud is functional, but does not affect the way the rifle is held or operated.

2. Pistol Grip
Pistol grips are a common feature of military assault rifles, which tend to have a high, straight stock which does not lend itself to a conventional grip or posture. Since these weapons have very little recoil, it’s not necessary for the soldier to hold the stock to his cheek and shoulder, rather shoot from an heads-up position. That too is largely an accommodation to modern close-quarter battle.

AR style rifles, used by the US military, have a buffer tube which extends nearly a foot from the rear of the receiver, which dictates how the weapon is configured. The buffer tube contains the recoil spring, and cannot be removed. The shoulder stock slips over the buffer tube. Stocks with a pistol grip can be fitted to conventional weapons too, largely for appearance. People like to wear camouflage clothing too, but that doesn’t make them terrorists (or shouldn’t, despite liberal propaganda).

3. Folding or Collapsible Stock
A military rifle has to fit all soldiers reasonably well, both short and tall, winter and summer, with and without body armor. The minimum overall length under the 1934 law is 26″ (30″ in the Feinstein bill), which is not exactly concealable. A typical sporting rifle is adjustable over a 2″ range, from 34″ to 36″ overall, still outside even the Senator’s specifications. Civilians come in all sizes and shapes too, perhaps more diverse than young soldiers fit for battle. Folding stocks cannot reduce the overall length below 26″, a restriction which has existed since 1934.

4. Flash Suppressors
This is a scare word (much like “assault weapon”), for a device whose function is not widely known. The term “suppressor” is used by Senator Feinstein to create confusion with “silencers” used by mobsters. A flash suppressor is a 2″ cylinder that attaches to the end of the barrel with slots on the sides to divert some of the burning gases to the side rather than in the line of sight of the shooter. The flash is still there and easily seen (if you’re looking in that direction), so it’s not a sinister device to hide the location of the shooter.

A muzzle brake works in a similar fashion, but with round holes or narrow slots, so that gases escape with higher velocity and help reduce recoil and the tendency of the muzzle to rise. Muzzle brakes are used on many sporting weapons, and are not an exclusive feature of military firearms. The shotgun in a recent picture of the President “shooting skeet” has a muzzle brake drilled into the barrel itself. That’s why smoke seems to come out of the top of the barrel.

The flash suppressor or muzzle brake can be welded or pinned to the barrel, but is usually threaded so that it can be replaced or removed for cleaning. It is possible to attach a sound suppressor (aka “silencer”) to a threaded barrel, but these devices are strictly regulated under the 1934 NFA, and licensed in the same manner as civilian machine guns and short barreled rifles or shotguns. A majority of the states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, allow civilians to possess NFA weapons and devices. Illinois is not among them. It should be noted that “silencers” don’t actually silence the report, but reduce it to about 100 decibels (the level of a jackhammer 30 feet away), not the “phht” you hear in movies. Sound suppressors are actually legal in most European countries, which otherwise have strict gun controls, to reduce objectionable noise levels from hunting and target shooting.

5. Bayonet Lug
Most military style weapons have a small T-shaped lug near the muzzle which is an attachment point for a bayonet. It doesn’t do much unless you actually attach a bayonet, and a bayonet doesn’t do much unless you are within an arms length of the enemy. A bayonet is nothing more than a knife. Although a lot of people are killed with knives, none outside the battlefield have been attached to rifles at the time. All soldiers train with bayonets, but their use in battle pretty much ended with Chamberlain defending Little Round Top at Gettysburg, 1863.

6. Grenade (Rocket) Launcher
Grenade launchers are nothing more than an empty tube until you load them with a grenade, and lethal grenades are not available for civilian use, even by police. Enthusiasts sometimes attach dummy launchers, or launchers made for Airsoft (compressed gas) rifles, for appearances. Real launchers can be used for tear gas or flash-bang effects by police, and in some states, by civilians. Rockets are never launched from a rifle attachment, and the launchers themselves are hollow tubes. You could launch a rocket from a piece of PVC pipe. In fact, some of the “rocket launchers” which show up at “gun turn-ins” appear to be plastic pipe painted olive green. Scary stuff.

All six of the above “assault” characteristics share the same point, that they are all simply cosmetic, adding nothing to the lethality or effectiveness of the weapon. The same Ruger Mini-14 is classed by Senator Feinstein’s bill as an assault weapon if it has a flash suppressor or a pistol-grip stock, but a “hunting” or “sporting” weapon if it does not. Keep in mind that both fire the same ammunition from the same magazines, and can be fitted into a new stock, without tools, in about a minute. That’s why the good Senator classifies even the empty stock as a scary assault “weapon”, banned under her bill. In a society that prosecutes school children for drawing pictures of guns, or pointing their fingers in play, or pretending to throw a grenade on a playground, the Senator seems to be in her element.

It is clear that Senator Feinstein and several of her colleagues (including President Obama) would like to ban all semi-automatic firearms, but are constrained because of Constitutional issues, including the Heller v DC and McDonald v Chicago decisions by the Supreme Court.

Feinstein is capitalizing on the grief over events in Colorado and Connecticut to blame scary-looking weapons which are “designed to kill a lot of people in a short period of time.” She does this, not because her bill will prevent or even mitigate similar tragedies in the future, but because she sees it as an easy first step to disarming America.

She is pandering to the ignorance and fears of a largely urban society, unfamiliar with guns of any sort, using loaded words like “assault,” “suppressor,” and “automatic (meaning semi-automatic),” to confuse the public. Feinstein is using the term “assault weapons” rather than the 1994 term, “assault rifles,” in order to sneak in regulations banning semi-automatic handguns as well as the more familiar AR-15 and AK-47 long guns. This is a particularly egregious infringement on the Second Amendment as clarified by the Supreme Court, since nearly all of the handguns used for sport and self defense fall in this category.

Countless reports speak about the desire to stem “Gun Violence”, which actually means “gun control” over law abiding citizens. Criminals, after all, don’t care which laws they break, and they’re much harder to catch.

It would be well for our president and legislators to heed these words of our fourth president, James Madison, before passing another round of gun legislation proposed once again by Senator Feinstein (D-CA).  Her legislation, although law of the land in1994, didn’t stem gun violence and was summarily rescinded in 2004.

“A government that does not trust its law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is itself unworthy of trust.” — James Madison 

Initially published at Illinois Review on Friday, February 8, 2o13.


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