The Gun Control Debate: Terminology

Gun control advocates ask why pro-gun people are “afraid to talk” about the issue in the aftermath of a mass shooting. For me personally, I think it’s because the media’s misuse of firearm terminology prevents an educated discourse on the subject.

To everyone talking about gun control right now: I am not here to present a case for or against any gun control. But, since you insist on talking about it, can we please get some terminology right?

A Kel-Tec P3AT - A pocket sized semi-automatic firearm

A Kel-Tec P3AT – A pocket sized semi-automatic firearm often used for concealed carry

A “semi-automatic” weapon is a weapon that fires exactly 1 shot for each pull of the trigger. Let’s be clear, semi-automatic weapons are NOT machine guns. Machine guns (automatic weapons) are already banned, and they have been since 1986. A handgun that someone buys to protect their home is a semi-automatic weapon. A small pistol that a woman carries in her purse to protect herself is a semi-automatic weapon. I understand your desire to ban weapons that are “more deadly” than others. We can have a discussion about the finer points of what you think that is. But, the word “semi-automatic” is not the word you’re looking for.

Next, the term “assault weapons”. Assault weapons are also not machine guns (see above). An assault weapon is simply a firearm that *looks like* their military counterpart. The specific definition of an assault weapon (as defined by the 1994 law that expired in 2004) include features such as barrel shrouds, bayonet lugs, and pistol grips. None of these features contribute to how deadly a weapon is, but rather how scary they look. The only feature of the assault weapons ban that had any significance to its killing capacity was the “high capacity magazine” ban, which brings me to my final point.


Glock 19 - 33 Round Magazine

A Glock 19 w/ a 33 Round Magazine that extends beyond the frame of the handgun.

The word “high capacity magazine” is another term that is also misused. After the Gifford shooting in Arizona, there was talk about banning “high capacity magazines” because the shooter used 33 round magazines. Yes, 33 round magazines on a Glock 19 is a high capacity magazine. It is an extended magazine, and not the size that the gun is designed for or comes standard with. It also hangs out of the bottom of the firearm and is both unwieldy and looks a little ridiculous.



Glock 19 - Standard

A Glock 19 used by many police agencies and homeowners, standard capacity, 15 rounds.

However, I don’t understand the why the gun control lobby has defined “high capacity magazines” as anything more than 10 rounds. That gun (which is the compact model), comes standard with magazines that hold 15 rounds of ammunition. In order to get a 10-round magazine, you have to special order from the manufacturer who has to put a plastic block at the bottom of the magazine to artificially limit the capacity. 10 rounds is not the “normal” capacity for a handgun. Instead, it is a “reduced capacity magazine”. I am open to discussing the dangers versus practical applications of a 33 round magazine, and certainly there are not many people who “need” such an item. But, let’s be clear, the 13-17 round magazine that comes standard on many firearms used by police officers today are not “high capacity”, they are the standard capacity.

Personally, I don’t believe that more gun laws are the solution. But, unlike some of my fellow gun rights advocates, I am not opposed to having a discussion about it, nor am I opposed to a solution that, in the aggregate, results in lives saved. However, please stop throwing proposals out there if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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