Photo: brian.ch via Flickr
In light of recent calls for stricter gun control, an inevitability following the grisly acts of a troubled gunman in Connecticut, knowing a glossary of important weapons terms is integral to understanding the debate.Naturally, many people have strong opinion on guns and gun control, but have little background to discuss it.
So we’ve put together a primer on what people mean whey they talk about “assault weapons” or the “gunshow loophole” or a “high-capacity magazine.”:
Assault Weapons: Since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, there has been no federally recognised definition of “assault weapon.” States which ban “assault weapons,” do so using their own organic definition of the term. Generally, an assault weapon is defined as any semi-automatic weapon designed primarily for ‘paramilitary assaulting’ of human beings.
Hunting rifles here need not apply here, nor do standard sidearms (pistols).
Automatic vs. Semi-Automatic: Automatic means that when the trigger is held down, the action of firing a round is repeated, ostensibly until the magazine is out of firepower.
Semi-automatic means the weapon has a self loading action, so once it’s loaded and cocked, every pull of the trigger results in sending a round down range.
Pistol Grip: A huge indicator of the difference between weapons used for assault purposes and weapons used for hunting purposes. The pistol grip on an assault rifle improves stability on the rifle’s recoil.
Selective Fire Weapons: This refers to weapons that have safeties which switch between semi-automatic, and 3-round burst or automatic. Generally, the only weapons available to private parties are non-selective fire (weapons safeties which simply switch between “fire” and “safe”).
Flash Suppressor: Another huge indicator of assault style weapons — a flash suppressor let’s hot air and gas escape from the barrel, allowing for a smaller “flash” as the round exits the barrel. It’s design is centered around increasing visibility for the shooter (smaller flash, better sight).
Telescopic Stock: This just means one of those cool stocks that folds, or collapses, on and off the weapon via, in most cases, a hinge at the back of the weapon.High-Capacity Magazine: generally, a high-capacity mag refers to anything that holds over 10 bullets. The magazine Adam Lanza used was listed as 30+, according to the Telegraph. Look for this term to pop up again and again as legislators decide exactly what it is they plan to “control.”
Strawman Purchase: One of many loopholes in the gun control arena. A convicted felon, or a Manhattan resident, has a legal friend living in a legal state. That friend makes the purchase, and hands over the weapon (often for a small fee). The practice is, of course, illegal, but ATF agents have called the prosecution of strawman purchases “incredibly difficult.”
Photo: Jayel Aheram via Flickr
The problem is that proving the intent of the strawman to not actually own the gun is tough to do, and few states have laws regulating second-hand purchases (ostensibly what the strawman would say it, “I didn’t want it anymore, so I sold it.”)Seventeen year-old Dylan Klebold of the Columbine shooting used his 18 year-old girlfriend as a strawman.
Private Party Transfer: I own a gun. You want it. You pay me. I give you the gun. This is a second-hand purchase, or a private party transfer. Some states require records to be exchanged, but most don’t. Private Party Transfer is the loophole used to prevent prosecution of strawman buyers.
FFL — A Federally Licensed Firearms dealer: An FFL is the legal conduit through which private purchasers are able to own weapons of any sort (depending on their state and local ordinances).
Gunshows: Gunshows come in several shapes and sizes, but the ones in question will certainly be those which are known to have little oversight and demonstrate loose trading practices.
The so-called gunshow loophole refers to the undocumented passing of weapons from one owner to another owner who wouldn’t otherwise qualify (for a variety of reasons, prior felon, drug addiciton, etc.).
Now here are a few important legal precedents one should keep in mind:
Title II and NFA weapons: Title II weapons, and National Firearm’s Act weapons, are heavily regulated under federal law. They include short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, automatic shotguns, submachine guns, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, grenades, and homemade bombs (among others). In order to acquire one of these weapons, one would have to go through the ATF directly for approval.The Gun Control Act of 1968: Basically this set the legal precedent for the rules American FFL’s adhere to when they sell a weapon to a private buyer. Provisions include restrictions on the types of people allowed to purchase firearms (no felons) and regulation of interstate trading (since each state has different laws about legal gun ownership).
Firearm Owners Protection Act 1986: This law was enacted as a response to what many believed to be prosecutorial over reach of the ATF since the passing of the 1968 Gun Control Act. It loosened the law regulating interstate transfer, long barrel sales, and record keeping.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993: Simply instituted a federal background check for every buyer of personal firearms. Also known as an FBI background check, any red flags, such as previous mental diagnoses or incarceration for felonies.
Local FFL’s all use this background check now, and has been streamlined so much so that it only take a matter of minutes; though the original intent of the law was to make buyers wait “5 business days,” it’s now touted as “instant.”
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used “to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives.”
Assault Weapons Ban of 1994: The Clinton-era ban is the only comprehensive ‘assault weapons’ ban in the history of the United States, in part because it was the first time the term ‘assault weapon’ was given a federally recognised definition.
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