a rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle designed for infantry use.
An actual assault rifle is illegal. You cannot buy am automatic rifle (magazine fed or otherwise) without a special permit that is damned near impossible to get.
The AR-15 (AR standing for ‘ArmaLite’ – the company that designed the AR-15) has just two positions on its selector switch – ‘Safe’, and ‘Fire’. In the ‘Safe’ position, the weapon will not fire. In the ‘Fire’ position, when the trigger is pulled, one round is discharged.
The M-16 looks like the AR-15, but unlike the AR-15, the M-16 has a third position. Depending on the model, an M-16 can be set either to ‘Burst’, or ‘Automatic’, as well as ‘Semi’ (for ‘semi-automatic,’ which operates the same way ‘fire’ does on the AR-15), and ‘Safe’.
In burst mode, when the trigger is pulled, three rounds are discharged in rapid succession. In fully automatic mode, when the trigger is pulled, the firearm continues to fire off rounds, in rapid succession, until either the magazine is empty, or the trigger is released.
An M-16 fits the definition of an ‘assault rifle,’ but an AR-15 does not.
You can buy a lot of firearms that look like an M-16, but none of them are assault rifles, and in fact, you can change the appearance of any AR-15 into something that looks like a hunting rifle without modifying the firearm’s functionality one iota. Conversely, you can make an M-16 look like a regular hunting rifle, but because it is magazine fed, and capable of automatic fire, it will still be an assault rifle.
Any semi-automatic firearm that takes a removable magazine is essentially the same as any other semi-automatic firearm of the same caliber that also takes a removable magazine. Some may be of higher quality than others. The rifling of the barrel might be different. They might have different sites. They may have different length barrels. Some weigh more than others. They might have different grips. Some may be designed to allow attachments, like a perhaps a flashlight. Some may, based on those differences, be more accurate than others (or more to the point, easier to be accurate with), but they will all fire the same round, doing the same level of damage to whatever is shot. Functionally, they are all the same.
Someone who truly understands firearms might question whether magazines should be available to the public that can hold 30 rounds, but that is a feature of the magazine and not the rifle. Someone might question whether or not certain caliber rounds should be legal, such as the 5.56 MM NATO round the AR-15 and M-16 both fire, but wanting to ban a firearm for purely cosmetic reasons is frankly silly.
The reasons the AR-15 is so popular are pretty easy to understand. The AR-15 has a highly accurate design, and is also very light. That is a good combination, regardless of how a rifle is used. The AR-15 is also perfectly modular, allowing an almost infinite number of customizations. You can get an AR-15 in .22 rim fire caliber (which is functionally no different than a Ruger 10/22), 5.56 MM NATO caliber, 7.62 MM, or any of a number of other calibers.
An AR-15 that fires a .22 rim-fire cartridge is just a .22, like any other .22. An AR-15 firing a .22 rim fire cartridge would look like an M-16, but other than appearance it would have little in common with an M-16.
Assault rifles are already illegal.
The 5.56 MM NATO round has a tendency to tumble and/or fragment when it hits soft tissue, making it in some ways more dangerous than larger calibers. During the Vietnam war, there were Vietcong who were hit in the ankle, but bullet fragments traveled up the leg and into vital organs, making the would lethal. That sort of thing happens more with the 5.56 MM NATO round than it does with most other rounds, but not at the kinds of ranges one would find in a school shooting. The 5.56 is far more dangerous at range than it is up close.
Another factor with the 5.56 is that it acts in some ways like a tiny sabot round. The sabot round is a tank round (main gun) that blows through both sides of an enemy tank without exploding. The vacuum of a sabot round flying through a tank at super-sonic speed is enough to suck all the occupants of the tank through the exit hole. The 5.56 is a super-sonic round, and when it hits soft tissue, it creates a tremendous amount of kinetic energy, first billowing outward, and then sucking back inward. It does that even if it does not hit a vital organ, and if it does hit a vital organ, that organ is apt to explode.
A handgun round, like the .45, is a relatively slow round, designed to mushroom on impact to do as much internal damage as possible. As such, a .45 is far more apt than a 5.56 MM NATO round to hit a vital organ. One can also acquire a target more quickly with a handgun than a rifle, and handguns are easier to maneuver, making them a better weapon in close quarters than is a rifle.
There are other high velocity rounds than just the 5.56. The 30-06 is a brutal round, used almost exclusively for hunting.
One can have a rational discussion about different rounds and whether or not they should be legal, but banning a firearm because of how it looks is silly. To facilitate such a conversation, here are some ballistics test videos. These will give some idea of the kind of damage different rounds do when they hit soft tissue.
Here is the 5.56 MM NATO round. This is the one everyone is so worked up over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRbAfdoU9vY&feature=youtu.be
Here is a 7.62 MM NATO round. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIFkLAgGy6w
Here is a 7.62 MM round more like what the AK-47 uses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGYF8DTLcj4
This one is a 30-06 hunting round. Note how much more damage a heavier bullet does when also at supersonic speeds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPLfRrn2WHI&feature=youtu.be
Here are some popular handgun rounds, including .45 and 9mm in various loadouts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqziWTq7X1c
You can’t really ban the 30-06, as it is a very popular round for hunting, and it does the most damage. It would seem silly to ban other rounds that do less damage.
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