Violence Policy Center


IndexOnline NewsPress ReleasesFact SheetsPublicationsLinksHomeAbout VPC
Looking for something?

Bullet Hoses

Semiautomatic Assault Weapons—What Are They? What's So Bad About Them?

What Is a Semiautomatic Assault Weapon?

Semiautomatic assault weapons are civilian versions of automatic military assault rifles (like the AK-47 and the M-16) and automatic military assault pistols (like the UZI).

Military AK-47 Assault Rifle

Civilian AK-47 Assault Rifle

These guns look the same because they are virtually identical, save for one feature: military assault rifles (like the rifle on the left above) are machine guns. A machine gun fires continuously as long as its trigger is held back—until it runs out of ammunition. Civilian assault rifles (like the gun on the right) are semi-automatic weapons. The trigger of a semiautomatic weapon must be pulled back separately for each round fired.

Because federal law has banned the sale of new machine guns to civilians since 1986,a and heavily regulates sales to civilians of older model machine guns, there is virtually no civilian market for military assault weapons. The gun industry introduced semiautomatic versions of military assault weapons in order to create and exploit new civilian markets for these deadly weapons. The next section explains why civilian semiautomatic assault weapons are no less deadly than military automatic assault weapons. In fact, they are arguably even more deadly.

a) See, 18 U.S. Code, Section 922(o).

Back to Table of Contents



  All contents © 2003 Violence Policy Center


The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.