What happened in Aurora, Colorado is a true tragedy. All our thoughts and prayers go out to those that are suffering in it's wake. I listened to some of the discussion on TV over the weekend and heard a lot of misinformation, particularly regarding assault rifles. I thought I might offer some clarification for those that may be interested.
I have been a shooter since I was ten years old and have both experience with and knowledge of firearms. I do not tout myself as the ultimate expert but I know enough to be helpful. An assault rifle is a military weapon that is made to be light, durable, flexible and accurate. What separates from other rifles is that it has multiple modes of fire. In the first mode it is an auto-loader that fires one shot for each time the trigger is pulled. When the action cycles a new cartridge is loaded and it is ready to fire with the next trigger pull.
The second mode that is available in many assault rifles is a three shot mode. One pull of the trigger allows three very quick shots. This is the preferred mode for many military actions. Finally, there is the full automatic load where the rifle continues to fire as long as the trigger is held down until all of the ammunition is expended. You cannot go to your local gun shop and buy one of these weapons. They are illegal except to military, police, and those that have a federal license to own them. Those licenses are very hard to come by. (A reader picked up on two errors that I made and wish to correct. The final buyer of a fully automatic weapon does not need a special license. He must purchase a $200.00 tax stamp and have a clean record.)
What a civilian can buy is a look-a-like rifle that give the appearance of an assault rifle but is simply an auto-loader just like many standard hunting rifles. There is no three shot or full auto option. The one thing other than appearance that they do have in common is the ability to accept large capacity magazines.
Many people have the idea that assault rifles use exceptionally powerful ammunition. The two calibers that are commonly used in American made assault rifles, the 5.65 NATO and the 7.62 NATO, were originally hunting cartridges that were adapted for military use. They would be considered to be of medium power suitable for small game up to the size of deer. In fact, the balistics of the 7.62 NATO are very similar to the old .30-06 caliber. The most ubiquitous assault round is the 7.62x35 Soviet which is used in the AK47 and the newer AK74. (A reader just corrected two errors that I made. The AK74 fires a 5.45x39 cartridge.)These are even less powerful than the American cartridges.
Ultimately the gun is a tool. Like a knife or an axe or a baseball bat, it can be used to inflict harm. But if someone is evil enough, and yes I believe in evil, they will find a way. They will make a bomb or a Molotov cocktail. They will find away because the are compelled to. The problem is that when the crazies come out of their holes to do that harm and they are the only ones armed, who will stop them?
I apologize for the errors and thank the reader that set me straight.