The Truth About Semi-Automatic Firearms

From the last round of debate:

Via Documenting Failure.

UPDATE: Greetings, Instapundit readers!

After watching the video (and maybe forwarding the link to friends and family who might be confused by the “assault weapon” issue) you might want to check out ‘It would be nice if President-elect Obama had the time to focus his energies on repeal of the Second Amendment’

It’s (almost) hard to believe that a serious pundit would suggest that a presidential priority should be to repeal one-tenth of the Bill of Rights. But there you have it.

45 thoughts on “The Truth About Semi-Automatic Firearms”

  1. He’s got the right plan. Don’t belittle, don’t insult, don’t get mad — just explain. The ones who won’t be swayed by this won’t be swayed by anything, so don’t try at all for them.

  2. Why didn’t he open up the fully-automatic AK-47 and show everyone that it LOOKED EXACTLY THE same inside inside as the other two?

    As it is, this film is pure propaganda, showing only one side. Even if it is the side I agree with, if we allow ourselves to fall into the same trap of deliberate misdirection, how are we any better than the Brady group?

  3. Fully auto is overrated anyways. It’s almost useless on an assault rifle. When I was in the Canadian reserve we almost never used it. So there’s not even much difference in killing power between an auto AK and a semi AK.

    Really, people, if you want to reduce violence the way to do it is to make people not want to commit crimes.

  4. A few points:

    (1) AFAIK, a civilian can still purchase a fully-automatic weapon provided he or she obtains a Class III license in accordance with federal law. However, it is true that some states and localities prohibit ownership of class III firearms by civilians (the status of such prohibitions after DC vs Heller is a matter of some interest).

    (2) “Assault weapons” are select-fire rifles — that is, they are generally equipped with a switch with safety, semi-auto, and full-auto positions. They generally fire lighter ammunition than the older-style main battle rifles, to enable soldiers to carry more rounds into battle. The idea is to put lethal firepower in the hands of soldiers on the battlefield in higher densities than the semiauto-plus-squad-machine-gun regime. Many people credit the German Sturmgewehr 44 as the first true assault rifle. I don’t know why someone purporting to make a video like this would profess ignorance on these points.

    (3) It is not hard to convert, e.g. an AR-15 to an M-16, if one obtains the appropriate select-fire sear. One could also in principle file off the disconnector and convert it to a full-auto weapon — but I wouldn’t recommend that.

    (4) Any weapon worth having is lethal.

    (5) As the court affirmed in DC vs Heller, the Second Amendment is not about sport and it is not about hunting. It is about liberty. See point (4).


  5. The confusion goes back to the beginning.

    What was originally termed “automatic” was automatic loading and/or cocking (usually both). The user didn’t have to do anything between rounds but wait for the action to cycle, as contrasted to either single-shot (load one round at a time) or manual cycling as in a bolt action. Later on, multiple-shot-per-pull firearms were introduced, and were also tagged with “automatic” and this is where the confusion originates.

    Nor is “semi-automatic” useful in this debate. I know, I know, it’s accurate — but it sounds like weasel-wording to somebody who doesn’t know the technology. “Uh, hunh, ‘semi’ means ‘partial’, so how hard can it be to make it ‘fully’?” Unscrupulous debaters can and do play off that, and as long as gun users continue to use “semi-automatic” they will continue to hand their a*es to the Brady Bunch.

    We need a new term. All I can think of is “self-loading” — leave the word “automatic” completely out, reserving it for multiple-shot-per-pull weapons. I myself have used “autoloader”, but even that lends itself to misunderstanding.

    Oh, and the trick with the AR is useful, but he missed a bet. If you do that (as I have) for somebody who doesn’t know guns, pause when you have the action out of the stock, look your interlocutor straight in the eye, and say, “This is the gun. This is the part that shoots. The rest of it is handles so you can hold it conveniently and trim to make it look the way you want.” It helps when you’re talking to someone enamored of banning ugly guns.


  6. When Tim says “we” he means “you” since he is a troll. Don’t be fooled by his deliberate misdirection.

  7. Tim is not on our side. He’s yet another sock puppet who thinks that he’ll be more persuasive by pretending to be a concerned conservative.


    This was not misdirection at all. It clearly explains some things that people are ignorant of.

  8. I think what Tim means is that the guy in the video should have taken out the pins with a punch and hammer and done an extreme close up to show the different shape and design of the hammer and the changes to the sear, selector, and trigger. His failure to do that and to explain the differences in machanical opperation via the use of the auto sear is propaganda… apparently.
    My only gripe is that he didn’t point out that most hunting rifles are DEADLIER than most semi-auto rifles like the AR-15. They need to be more accurate and I don’t think anyone will contest the deadliness of a .30-06 versus a .223. This must be why the Garand is the perferred weapon of terrorists and gang bangers;)

  9. @Tim:

    I agree with Murdoc – I cannot find anything that is either intentional or unintentional misdirection. He was 100% factually accurate. And maybe I’m biased here but I do *not* see what the other side is… The other side to what? What an automatic vs. a semi-automatic weapon is? Or that using the term “assault weapon” is largely subjective and useless? Please explain.

  10. The video is informative, but also misleading in certain respects.
    As a previous poster noted, the term “assault rifle” is problematic, to say the least. Uninformed people in the media, the political establishment, and elsewhere throw the term around to generate emotional effect, or advance a specific agenda, wihout knowing how it or other firearms are defined or dinstinguished from one another.

    Sturmgewehr translates to “storm rifle,” which roughly correspsonds with assualt rifle. However, the lot thickens, because Hitler initially denied permission for German arms manufacturers and the military to develop the new weapon. Thus, development proceeded in secret, hidden by a new name. Previous full-auto militry arms had been called automatic rifles (i.e. such as the US BAR), submachine guns (which fire pistol caliber cartridges), or machine guns. Submachine guns, while enormously effective within their lethal envelope, fire pistol ammunition such as 9mm or 45ACP, and are not designed for long-range use. The BAR, called an automatic rifle, is akin to an LMG, but lacks sustained fire ability because its barrel cannot be changed easily in the field when it overheats. Heavy machine guns, such as the types used in WWI – Maxim, Spandau, Hotchkiss, Vickers, etc. – are devastatingly effective but cumbersome to emplace, heavy and require a crew (hence are called crew-served weapons). Moroever, MG ammo is often fed via belts or by boxes containing belts.

    Assault weapons were an attempt to reconcile these different shortcomings, strengths, and missions. Firing an intermediate-dimension cartridge midway between rifle and pistol-size ammunition, these weapons allowed the soldier the ability to engage targets at short range w/ full auto fire, as a SMG would, but then to fire single-shots or controlled bursts at more distant targets. The weapon is also made partly of stamped metal components, and is not as time consuming to manufacture as a traditional rifle (Mauser 98K, etc.). It is also lighter, and uses detachable magazines.

  11. Pete: With the exception of your first sentence, that was an excellent comment. Lost in all the history, though, is the part where you explain what’s misleading about the video.

  12. He didn’t even touch the fact that the pistol grip makes an assault rifle a lot more useful in an assault. Anybody who’s ever tried to clear any close quarters with an M14 could attest to that.

  13. I agree with Matt Groom.

    I would have liked to have seen a ballistic gel or watermelon test (or cinder blocks, anything) comparing a 7.62×39 and/or 5.56 NATO with a typical 308, like a Model 70. Heck, just the diff. in report and observable recoil should be instructive.

    Unfortunately the folks that most need to receive this education are least likely to see it.

  14. “From the last round of debate:” This video tape was produced in 1989, almost 20 years ago ! I remember when it came out then shortly after the Stockton, CA shootng. Pyle used to work for the Chicago PD before he moved to California. It’s okay as far as it goes but it’s not that great of video.

    Also in 1989, another police expert, the chief firearms training officer for the San Jose, California, police department, Leroy Pyle, produced a videotape in which he explained and detailed both visually and audibly, the difference between a full auto and a semi-auto.[29] This brief technical video by a police expert was also suppressed or ignored by anti-gun officials and the national media. For his efforts to shed light on the issue, Officer Pyle was suspended, given a punishment assignment and driven from his 25-year police career by his anti-gun chief Joseph McNamara. One of the charges McNamara leveled at Pyle was that he wore a San Jose police uniform during part of his public educational effort, something the chief himself was doing in paid advertising for Handgun Control, Inc. and in other public appearances to influence legislative decisions.

  15. The basic premise of the argument being presented here seems to be that true assault weapons have full auto capability, and so weapons limited to semiautomatic fire, even the really scary looking ones, aren’t that different from those used by millions of people for sport and self defense and therefore shouldn’t be banned. While I agree with the basic facts underlying this argument, I think it’s sad that we’ve been reduced to framing the debate in these terms, since it illustrates how far the playing field has already been tilted in favor of the gun control advocates. The message that’s really being sent here is: yes, we agree – fully automatic weapons are too dangerous to be allowed in the hands of private citizens – so you’re perfectly justified in telling us we’re not allowed to own them, but please, please, at least let us keep our semiautomatics.

    If we weren’t living in a society composed mostly of brainwashed sheep, the real question up for debate would be: what right does the government have to deprive us of fully automatic weapons? As has been pointed out many, many times before, the second amendment isn’t about hunting, or defending ourselves from criminals (though both of those are good things), it’s about defending ourselves from a tyrannical government. This being the case, doesn’t it follow that private citizens should have access to the same weapons as agents of the government such as the police, ATF and FBI? Instead of having to point out repeatedly how difficult it is to convert a semiautomatic to full auto, shouldn’t we be asking what right the government has to prevent us from doing so?

    The fact that I probably sound to the average person like a raving lunatic for even attempting to make this argument only points out how much time the average person has spent watching maniacal Hollywood villains mow down everything in sight by spewing out thousands of blanks on full auto without any need to reload or carry the pounds and pounds of ammo they’d need in the real world. It seems a given to most people that if private citizens were allowed to own fully automatic weapons, criminals would be perforating everyone and everything in sight in no time. However, as has already been mentioned here, the value of the full auto setting on assault rifles is debated even in military settings. Unless one is surrounded by mobs of bullet resistant zombies, there aren’t many places where you’ll get anything like a consensus on the value of being able to burn through hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a mode that makes aiming the weapon difficult at best.

    Just to reiterate, I’m not talking here about heavy machine gun emplacements, crew served weapons, or weapons mounted on tanks, ships, or planes. I’m talking about assault rifles carried by individuals, along with the thousands of rounds of ammo they’ll need for even a few minutes of full auto fire. Given a choice between being trapped in a building by a maniacal shooter toting an assault rifle stuck on full auto or one armed with a 12 gauge and a semiautomatic pistol loaded with prefragmented ammunition, I’ll take the machine gun.

    So, if the police are willing to forego bazookas and cluster bombs, than so am I. And if they feel they can carry out their duties without resorting to fully automatic assault rifles, than I won’t complain too loudly about not being able to have one of my own. But I’d rather have people tell me I’m out of my mind than resort to begging the government not to take my semiautomatics because they’re really, really different from those preternaturally evil, fully automatic, assault weapons. Really.

  16. bbbeard: While your post was mostly dead-on, I think it’s important to point out that the definition you gave for “assault weapon” is the definition of “assault rifle.” “Assault weapon” is a phrase that was invented as a catch-all for anything that looks scary. In current culture, the distinction has to be made. A person’s AR-15 with telescoping stock and a pistol grip would be considered an “assault weapon,” which really doesn’t mean anything from a mechanical standpoint.

  17. “(2) “Assault weapons” are select-fire rifles — that is, they are generally equipped with a switch with safety, semi-auto, and full-auto positions.”

    Minor point, “Assault Weapons” are not select-fire rifles; an “Assault Rifle” is a select-fire rifle that allows the user to fire in full or semi-auto.

    That is why the anti-gun movement used the term Assault Weapon in the first place: it sounds scary, and there are already laws prohibiting the purchase and ownership of Assault Rifles without the proper permits. It was a sneaky use of language to broaden the prohibitable firearm list by exploiting ignorance.

    It hurts the pro-Second Amendment side if we also muddy term.

    “Many people credit the German Sturmgewehr 44 as the first true assault rifle. I don’t know why someone purporting to make a video like this would profess ignorance on these points.”

    Another minor point: just like the misuse of Assault Weapon above it sounds like the maker of this video said Assault Rifle when they meant the opposite term. Another inherent problem with the erroneous term “Assault Weapon” in the first place.

    Just want to point those out for anybody else who wonders along and is not used to the terms.

  18. Tim,
    if a surgeon opened your mom up she would look the same as Angelina Jolie on the inside too, but they’re not the same are they? Neither is the full auto Ak47 and the look alike semi auto version. In fact they only look “exactly the same”on the inside to schmendricks like you who know neither shite nor shinola about guns.
    The bottom line is that the right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally protected. If you don’t like it change the constitution.

  19. I wish he would have done a better weapons clearing at end of his firing demos and checked chamber and removed the mag before disassembly of the Ruger.

  20. Well, I hardly know where to begin. How is it misdirection? He opened up TWO of THREE weapons. They looked VERY SIMILAR inside. He DID NOT OPEN UP THE THIRD. Had he done so, it would have looked VERY SIMILAR inside. But that would have weakened the point he was trying to make. He told ONLY PART OF THE TRUTH. That is a standard LEFIST tactic. He showed himself to be no better than they are.

    As for the accusations I am a leftist troll, if that is the best counterargument you have, then I suggest you need to take at least one class in logic, and fallacies thereof, before you engage your electronic pencil.

  21. Tynan – You are right – full auto is overrated. Well aimed shots win gunfights.

    In USMC Infantry school, the instructors had us fire two clips of ammo on “burst” at pop-up targets. I didn’t hit crap – the rifle was bouncing around too much. Then we fired at the same targets with well aimed single shots. Hit it every time.

  22. I remember seeing this video on display at a local gun store in San Jose back after the Stockton Schoolyard Shootings in 1989. Leroy Pyle was very active in trying to stop an Assault Weapons ban in California, and produced this video to help clarify the issue.

    Of course, the nimrods in the California State legislature were completely duped by the opposition. I’ve often used my memory of this video to describe why the Assault Rifle issue was a sham, so it’s nice to see it again on the web. Rest assured I will bookmark this link for future discussions.

  23. Tim, would it have helped if he had disassembled all the weapons and showed the difference in selector switches, sears etc? If you can’t accept the ineluctable why bother with the minutely technical?
    You are being nettlesome, to what end though? By any objective standard the video is an infinitely more accurate depiction of the capability of “assault weapons” than one will ever see in the press or voted on in congress. Do you nit pick when the press says stuff like “high powered assault rifle”? I bet not, even though there is no such thing. It’s like saying a gigantic Lilliputian or thoughtful and responsible liberal, i.e. it’s an oxymoron.
    What is your point? That the presenter was less than forthcoming? I don’t agree. The point is we as citizens have the right to bear arms. Liberals, the press, and GFWs in congress are always trying to take this RIGHT away or minimize it by trying to define weapons down so that eventually the only thing a citizen can arm himself with is an organic tofu tosser. I assert to you that the founding fathers meant that the people should be armed as well as the government to prevent the government from abusing the powers entrusted to them. In 1776 every rifle was an assault rifle.

  24. I saw this video at The Arsenal, and a viewer had mentioned safety violations. There are safety violations and then there are safety violations. The one that really caught my eye, and is typical of how people get killed, happened when officer L. Pyle removed the mag after firing full auto w/ the AK47 underfolder. He then handed a hot weapon, not even on safe, to his helper behind. Those not paying attention would have seen him remove an obvious source of ammunition from the gun, and assume erroneously that the weapon was cleared. I heard no noise come from outside the video shot to indicate that his helper subsequently checked or cleared the weapon, and I’m still worried about that gun going into the trunk of the car in that condition. For those who are still unclear on what went wrong, note that when shooting the other two semi-auto variants, he removes the magazine, the first step in clearing a weapon, then clears the chamber by racking the bolt carrier back—see the chambered round get ejected. Ideally, the safety should be reset to safe, but the AK is kind of finicky that way. Safe means the bolt carrier is locked forward, and this complicates checking to see if it’s clear. Still, safe would have been better.

  25. It’s that “me” thing, I think. Many of you talk as if the flick was made for you. You don’t need no steenking flick. You already know what a semi-auto is. As is usual in the 2AM crowd, many are the ones sitting around in a circle-jerk talking (and the key word here is “talking”) about what might be better. Not much action, just talk. Mostly bitching :-).

    The flick was originally made for legislators. People who don’t know semi-autos. A copy was given to every Fed and State legislator in the US. It went over so well that a copy was then mailed to every NRA affiliated club in the US. Still very well received, it was advertised in the American Rifleman for free distribution. Many thousands were mailed out to the public.

    And finally, it has made its way around the Internet. It is popular because it is presented in plain English that is understandable by the average Joe. I made that in the late-80’s and it is just as relevant as it was then. More now, maybe, with Obama and the Dems gaining power.

    I look forward to someone making a film that is better received. Maybe one of you guys can make one better?

    SJPD “retired”

  26. This video was a very well thought out and I believe it is only slightly biased. The explanations were thorough and concise. The only avenue the bias that I could see was the lack of view of the internals of the automatic weapon and the lack of mentioning of the high capacity magazines.


    If you look closer the automatic AK’s bolt was open when he handed it back. It was the only weapon that was empty when he was finished shooting. The other two AK’s (semi) still had live rounds left in the magazines.

  27. I differ in my terms with seemingly all of you in that there is a full automatic action i.e. machine guns, and an automatic action i.e., self cockers and loaders (what most are calling semi automatic assault weapons) and a semi automatic action i.e. a revolver, Gatteling or other action that takes outside force to operate it’s action completely.

    But it is truly academic to debate these terms as the left liberals i.e. newly renamed “progressives” will tack them with what ever name cast these family of firearms in the worst light possible. Heck they are attempting to rename themselves in the most positive light with definitive words that they think will mask their true nature because to take away rights is not progressive at all in the most widely understood meaning of that title. It seems a title of conformist or automaton better suits their way of thinking.

    Therefore, I feel it is in the interest of all second amendment supporters to make an effort to educate folks as to what these firearms are and especially what their impact on crime has or has not been. (the only reason the assault weapons ban was allowed to sunset was because after ten years and countless studies there was absolutely NO correlation to this family of firearms and crime) Even the Brady bunch had to admit this historic defeat with their own studies and so in keeping with the self destruct portion of the bill it died only because ALL the studies came to the same conclusion and it was written into the bill that if there was no provable correlation of “assault weapons” to crime then it would self destruct. Educate folks to this point and explain these findings to them…….. I have done this a swayed many folks who “did not mind getting rid of those type of guns” They had no idea so many studies had be done and in fact showed that it is much, much safer to live in a state where free gun ownership is known to exist. These studies were looked at by the supreme court justices while deliberating on the second amendment issue and thank God they found the way they did.


  28. I agree with Mendicant Optimist completely.
    “Assault Weapon” every “weapon” is an “Assault Weapon” and every firearm is nothing more than a tool. It all depends on what the person in possession of that firearm does with it, PERIOD!
    We do not need “Gun Control”; we need “Politician control”!

  29. Politician control…EXACTLY… and I love my new DPMS 308 “defence rifle”, a perfect match to the “defence pistols” i own…

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