I find it extraordinary that, after years of debate, millions of voters still don't know what an assault rifle is. I don't understand why they never bothered to look up the definition, even though there are perfectly good definitions readily available, for example, on the Internet. See, for example, the excellent article on Wikipedia.
Now, as it happens, a number of jurisdictions in the U.S. have laws restricting semi-automatic weapons, known colloquially as "assault weapons". Thus, we have the curious political problem of labeling semi-automatic rifles which are not, by definition, assault rifles as "assault weapons." In my humble estimation, this is a very serious abuse of language, a feature of political discourse which is increasingly common in our post-modern era. It is abundantly clear that this abuse of language is deliberately targeted against the naive, the especially fearful and the historically ignorant.
The forerunner of the 20th century assault rifle, with an automatic firing mode, is the hand-cranked Gatling Gun, invented by Richard Gatling in 1861, and first used in the American Civil War by the Union Army. The requirement for hand cranking made the invention ill-suited for small arms, such as rifles, for obvious reasons. For more information on the history of automatic weapons, see machine guns. From a practical standpoint, it wasn't until World War II that the modern assault rifle came into use.
As an historical matter, then, assault rifles are a 20th century weapon. Assault "weapons", as defined in some statutes, are fundamentally a 19th century weapon technology (see the Winchester), although, technically, the first so-called semi-automatic weapon was invented and used at the very beginning of the 20th century (see semi-automatic firearm). Please note, also, that the first integrated cartridges were invented and used at the beginning of the prior, 18th, century. See cartridge (firearms). Making assault "weapons" illegal for private ownership would return us to 18th century technology, the time of the famous blunderbuss. The classic blunderbuss was a single-shot rifle that had to be reloaded with powder and ball or shot after each firing. It was used by both sides during the American War for Independence. It typically used powder and balls for ammo. First powder was poured into the barrel, and then a single ball, or, perhaps, "shot". The combination ball and shell lead to the invention of the modern shell, used in virtually all guns, in the 19th century and used with so-called breech-loaded weapons, the first actual rifles. Technically, then, the blunderbuss predates the modern rifle. For more information on this history, see shell (projectile).,
This desire to make so-called assault weapons illegal strikes me as a kind of Revolutionary War nostalgia. There is a value in such nostalgia, since it reminds us of the history off our U.S. Constitution. It's the kind of logic and innocence one might find in a 20th century four-year-old or a 21st century college graduate. In a word, it's disarmingly cute. Indeed, it's so cute, it has inspired me to compose the following song, sung to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean".
Herewith: "My Policy Flies by Emotion":
My policy flies by emotion. My policy flies by age three. My policy flies by emotion. Oh, bring back my policy, please! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss, we must! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss! Oh, muzzle gun users' devotion! And trouble their close harmony! Oh, muzzle gun users' devotion, And push my no gun policy! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss, we must! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss! Last night my emotions did billow! And filled my poor heart full of dread! An impolitic peccadillo, Sent me staggering to my bed! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss, we must! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss! Us pacifists wept us an ocean! Us pacifists care, don't you see?!! Our multi-phase media motion Should soon make our planet gun free! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss, we must! Bring back, bring back! Oh, bring back the bluh-hunderbuss!