One obstacle President Obama may face in proposing a new federal ban on assault weapons could lie in the use of the term “assault weapon” itself, the New York Times reports. The label, applied to a group of firearms sold on the civilian market, has become so politicized that where people stand on the gun issue can often be deduced by whether they use the term. On Internet forums there is perhaps no more fiercely discussed topic than the question of what constitutes an assault weapon.
Some argue that it would be impossible to come up with a definition comprehensive enough to effectively remove the weapons from the market. Advocates of an assault weapons ban argue that the designation should apply to firearms like those used in the Newtown, Ct., shootings and other recent mass killings — semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and “military” features like pistol grips, flash suppressors, and collapsible or folding stocks. Second Amendment groups and many firearm owners object to the use of “assault weapon” to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire, like those employed by law enforcement and the military. They prefer the term “tactical rifle” or “modern sporting rifle” for the semiautomatic civilian versions.