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Calling Sporting Rifles ‘Weapons of War’ Is Flat Out Wrong

AR-15 History
Image: Creative Commons.

President Joe Biden and many liberal lawmakers believe the problem today from mass shootings to gang violence simply involves firearms. Such calls for greater gun control would do more to penalize the law-abiding and very likely do little to stop the criminal element.

One common refrain made by the left is that today’s “modern sporting rifles” are in fact “assault weapons” or worse “weapons of war.” The tactics they are employing should almost be applauded were our very freedoms not at risk. The hyperbole is meant to change public perception and win over the masses, even if it is misleading and in many ways factually incorrect.

A problem is that a quick scan of media reports following the recent shootings shows that many so-called “experts” or “authorities” support this language.

CNN quoted Timothy D. Lytton, “a gun industry expert” at Georgia State University, who stated, “The AR-15 platform weapon – whether it’s in a long gun or pistol – essentially has the same firepower. It’s a semiautomatic made for combat.”

MSNBC also posted a video that claimed that the AR-15 style rifle is “a weapon explicitly meant for going on offense and not defense.”

These are just two recent examples of the dozens that highlight the vast misinformation that is being spewed about modern sporting rifles. MSNBC’s producers clearly misunderstand that any actual combat weapon employed by today’s warfighters is meant for use in both offensive and defensive situations. Moreover, this is really simply about trying to suggest that today’s modern sporting rifles have no place in civilian hands because they may resemble cosmetically the M-16/M-4 platform currently carried by those serving in the American military.

Weapons of War in Civilian Hands

There was actually a time when weapons of war were sold to civilians, and the U.S. government didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the U.S. government was doing the selling. This happened after the Civil War when Washington basically said, “everything must go.” This included horses, rifles, cannons, and even warships.

That is how the legendary Bannerman catalog got its start – by buying up the military surplus and reselling it.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the U.S. military was again downsized and weapons were sold off to civilians. The same thing happened yet again after World War II when M1 Garands and M1 Carbines were sold as surplus. Thus it could be argued that civilians did in fact have access to military weapons. The same is most certainly not true today. Surplus equipment isn’t sold as much, and weapons are destroyed and not released for civilian sale.

Another point to address is that in the 1920s, firearms such as the Auto Ordnance Thompson submachine gun and the Colt Arms Company’s Monitor – a commercial version of the Browning Automatic Rifle – were actually marketed to civilians. Auto Ordnance even had a showroom in New York City, where reportedly anyone could go in and for $200 – a not insignificant sum of money at the time – could literally walk out with a “Tommy Gun.”

That all changed with the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934, which put new restrictions on the ownership of “machine guns” and other firearms including short-barreled rifles and shotguns. At one point Congress even considered restricting ownership of handguns, but backtracked after pressure from the National Rifle Association – a point worth noting as many liberals will argue the NRA has only become a lobby group in recent decades.

After the NFA, machine guns were among those firearms that required a comprehensive background check along with a “transfer tax” of $200, essentially equal to the price of the Thompson at the time. That doubled the cost of the firearm, but didn’t completely outlaw it.

Today, because of a provision of the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOTA) of 1986, no new machine guns can be manufactured for, or purchased by, civilians. Thus it is virtually impossible for the average civilian to own a modern “weapon of war,” but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been machine guns that have been used in crime. Those are illegal of course, which highlights the fact that just because something is banned doesn’t make it magically disappear into the ether.

All of this is worth considering anytime a so-called “expert” talks about “weapons of war.”

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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