‘Assault’ weapons vs. sporting weapons: What’s the difference?

A question posted to Quora asked, “are the differences between assault weapons and sporting weapons merely cosmetic?” It was an interesting question, and one that garnered an array of different responses. Take a look at two of the more thorough responses to the question and add your thoughts in the comments section below!  (Also note on the first response that the top rifle does not, in fact, have a pistol grip. These were the photos used to make his argument – and while it’s a sound argument, a hunting rifle with a pistol grip would be a preferable example here)

An anonymous Quora user responded with the following:

Yes. 100 percent true.

Here’s a test.  Tell me what the functional difference is between these two firearms:

Time’s up.

This is a test I use on anyone who says we need to ban “assault weapons” but hunting rifles are ok. The firearms above are the Remington 7400 (top) and the DSA SA-58 (bottom). They have the following qualities:

• ​They are semi-automatic in operation.

• They fire the .308 Winchester cartridge.

• They are fed from a detachable box magazine.

• They are both “black” rifles.

• Both have pistol grips.

In other words, they are functionally identical!  Other than the SA-58, a semi-auto civilian version of the FN-FAL, looking “scarier” and military, they’re technically equal firearms in terms of lethality and usage.  Yet, the one above is fine with most people, and even more so when you get the wood stocked version, but the bottom one they want to ban even if it has a wood stock (and some versions do).

Somehow, the argument is that getting shot by an “assault weapon” is worse than being shot by a hunting rifle.  A curious position, because either of these rifles are deadly to deer or human with a single shot.  .308 Winchester is not a round you ignore when hurled in your general direction.  I’ve never heard a person hit by .308, assuming they survive, say “I am sure glad I was shot with the Remington!  I could’ve been killed by the evil FN-FAL!”.

“Assault weapon” is a marketing term invented by Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center (Assault Weapons and Accessories in America).  It was coined for the express purpose of public deception and misdirection on policy issues.  And it worked because it resulted in a purely symbolic ban from 1994-2004 and the media STILL bleats on, like loyal sheep, about “assault weapons” anytime there is a mass shooting regardless of whether a scary-looking rifle was used or not.

John Fogh, Professional Firearms Instructor, responded: 

The title of the link is disingenuous. A better title for the link would have been “Modern ‘Assault Weapons’ are the equivalent of the hunting rifles used in the American revolution.”

The revolutionaries small arms were either on par (smoothbore muskets) or superior (long rifles) to the weapons of the British military. Currently the major difference is that military rifles are capable of firing multiple rounds per trigger pull (either burst or automatic fire) and civilian models are not. An actual military M4 has a slightly shorter barrel than a civilian carbine. Everything else is cosmetic or ergonomic.

Both the military and civilan versions shoot the same ammunition (as well as many traditional styled hunting rifles.) Many consider this ammunition to be drastically less powerful than a traditional deer hunting rifle.

There is a lot of quibbling over the title ‘assault weapon’ because it was a term invented by the gun control advocates to make for a scary sound bite. It has no technical definition (in a field where everything has a technical definition). The gun rights side invented the term “modern sporting rifle” which while being an overly broad, made up term, it does have the advantage of being accurate in that are used for several types of target shooting and hunting. 

I could just as easily say that most people have a kitchen drawer full of ‘rape knives’ (the very same type of knives used in a large number of rapes!) or start referring to a carpenters hammer as a “robbery bludgeon” (the same weapon used in some robberies!)