Defining the terms

It is about two months since incomprehensible and almost unimaginable evil descended on Newtown Conn., and it has descended on other places as well. It is understandable that politicians and the media have had much to say since then. The Manchester Journal has written two editorials on the subject. The first one ended "We welcome your reactions and counter-arguments. This is a dialogue that should continue until we find the answer." I thank the Journal for that statement. The rest of the editorial is full of errors based on ignorance about firearms. I spoke with Andrew McKeever and confirmed that in one case at least he did not mean what he word for word wrote, because he "does not know much about firearms." This seems to be a very common condition. We cannot have a meaningful debate on this issue without some common understanding about what firearm terms mean. The Journal stated that it believes people should have the right to use firearms for hunting and target shooting, "But those should be limited to single shot rifles or shotguns." The fact is that most hunting and target rifles in this country are not single shot, and were not even in the time of my grandfather. Thus the Journal says, but did not mean, it wants to ban most traditional hunting rifles even though it supports hunting.

Lets go over rifles in a simplified but still meaningful way. In the days of Daniel Boone, rifles were single shot muzzle loaders. They held one shot and the bullet and powder were separate. Both had to be slowly pushed down the barrel from the front end. Most of the rifles used in the Civil War were this general type although loading had been speeded up somewhat, but around that time and through the 1870s two other types became more common. One was still single shot, holding only one bullet at a time, but this is loaded with a cartridge containing both powder and bullet into the barrel from the back end. The second type was the repeating rifle. This is much like the single shot, using self contained cartridges , but they are loaded into a magazine and moved into the rear of the barrel by manually operating some type of mechanism. Until recently at least this was the predominant form of hunting rifle in this country and may still be the majority.

Around WWII the semi-auto first became somewhat common. This is just a repeating rife except the mechanism to reload is powered by the force of the explosion instead of manually. It is legal to hunt with these rifles, but in Vermont the magazine must be limited to, I believe, five rounds.

The second amazing statement referred to "military style assault weapons". "Why ammunition for such weapons is even available to the general public is close to incomprehensible."

One, there is no such thing as assault rifle ammunition. The ammunition for the rifle used in the Newtown horror is the same that will fit in properly chambered single shot and repeating rifles. As far as the military part is concerned, military ammunition is less lethal and maiming than hunting ammunition. The latter is designed to do maximum damage and kill as quickly as possible. Hunting style bullets are banned under the Geneva Convention Rules on "Civilized Warfare."

Two, the term Assault Rifle has been made meaningless by the media. The best definition of an assault rifle includes the ability to fire full automatic, that is, a spray of bullets like a machine gun. Such weapons have long been banned in this country unless one gets a special permit and pays a hefty tax. They are rare in civilian hands and I have not head of them used in crime since the 1930s and that was with sub-machine guns not assault rifles. The term assault rifle might properly also include weapons capable of firing like a machine gun but in limited bursts, usually 3 shots,with one pull of the trigger. Again, we do not encounter these and I think the same tax etc. rule applies.

Today for the media, and by extension much of the political apparatus, the term Assault Rifle seems to have no real meaning. It is apparently based on nothing but cosmetics. Two mechanically identical rifles can be classed differently. One is an evil assault rifle, and one a benevolent hunting rife. Why? Cosmetics. The handle that ones trigger hand holds is shaped differently, but does not change the function or ability of the rifle at all. How is this a logical way to make public policy? I never owned a Subaru Outback, but I always thought they looked appealing. When the Subaru Forrester came out, I thought it was both ugly and impractical. In fact, it had less luggage space than the Outback or Outback's mechanical twine, the Legacy. Should the Forester be banned because it is not esthetically appealing to me? Or perhaps the Outback should be banned because it is just a Legacy with a few more curves and an addition grill protector?

Wendell Coleman is a resident of Londonderry.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions