Guns Guns Guns!!

So I’m trying to take a break from Presidential politics but with recent events and have been deluged with a fire hose of gun nonsense I feel compelled blog about guns.  Today I want to talk about the guns themselves.  I find it amazing how many folks I run into don’t seem to know even the basics about guns.  in the future I’ll tackle the mess of gun rights and bigger picture issues.  But for now, guns, a bit of background about them, some myths, some facts, a little of trivial and hopefully at the end we can clarify some misconceptions.

Guns Guns Guns

Some background

GUN: A definition:  a weapon incorporating a metal tube from which bullets, shells, or other missiles are propelled by explosive force, typically making a characteristic loud, sharp noise.

Well that seems simple enough!  Time to go home!  Oh, wait, there may be a few more details to cover.  So a gun is something you use to in theory aim and fire a projectile at something.  They can trace their history back to cannons and before rockets and fireworks. Carrying around a cannon proved to be challenging and pretty much wasn’t going to work for concealed!  So the basic idea of exploding some mixture of chemicals to drive a ball out of a pipe evolved.  First developments were around making them work better.

Feel free to skip ahead if you aren’t interested in some of the history of guns.  Also I don’t claim this is all the best capture of the history of guns, I’m mostly leaving out things like dates and the names of folks that had a hand in all this.  I don’t claim to be a historian.  Maybe if anyone cares I’ll go back through this and add more of the details and maybe even point out some oddities and dead ends.   For example, did you know for a little while you could buy a hand held rocket launcher?

Gyrojet rocket gun

Where we all started and the path to now

Early on folks noticed aiming them was complicated by the fact the goofy ball seemed to have a life of its own.  Anyone who knows about baseball has probably encountered the knuckle ball.  Pitch a ball without any spin to stabilize and and air makes it go all over the place.  So gun makes developed a way to spin the projectile to stabilize it.  They did this by putting spiral grooves in the barrel of the gun (the long thing the bullet shoots out of for aliens just now visiting earth for the first time, oh wait you may have learned that already because if anyone saw an alien they probably shot at them!).  Interestingly enough some guns retained the smooth barrel for specific reasons.  Shotguns for example are generally not rifled.  Sometime you want to shoot something from a shotgun and have it act like a bullet and they do that by making special riffled barrels.

Other improvements came about to improve how you set of the explosion.  Earliest of the guns used a cotton rope with a glowing ember to touch a small amount of gun powder that led to the end of the barrel containing the rest of the explosive.  This was unreliable, and evolved to a spark from a piece of flint.  Again not very predictable or dependable.  The experience was basically point the barrel of the gun at the thing you wanted to shoot then pull the trigger.  While you waited for it to fire you kept aiming the barrel until it fired.  It could be seconds after you pulled the trigger  before anything happened.  That is if anything happened at all.  That brings up other factors.  Rain or other moisture made a mess of the whole process.  To load the gun you poured loose gunpowder down the barrel.  Put in some form of usually cotton wadding in the barrel, crammed it all with a long rod, then dropped in a bullet and more crushing it all down with a stick.  Then separately poured a little excess powder somewhere near  small hole in the end of the barrel to light with with either the flint or the piece of burning rope.  Cocked the whole mechanism that held the thing that will set it off, which connected to the trigger and you were ready to go!  If you get any of that wrong or your powder gets moist nothing happens.  So you heard expression like “keep your powder dry” which had nothing to do with baking or make up.

Matchlock rifle loading and firing

Flintlock loading and firing

Soon folks looked at other shortcuts.  At first you poured loose gunpowder down the barrel from a container often call a powder horn.  I expect because some times they were actually made out of a horn.  Someone realized they could save time by measuring the powder into prepackaged amounts in paper containers.  You could rip one open and poor the whole thing in.  Much easier.  Sometimes these were called “paper cartridges”.  Not a big leap to figure out how they came by that name.  They’d sometimes do things like cover them in wax to seal them.  You still had the whole mess about to set them off once you’d loaded the rifle.  I’m mostly talking about rifles put pistols are mostly the same thing only smaller.  Also note at this point most things single shot and then you had to reload the whole mess to shoot again.  There were some cases that supported multiple shots but this was mostly done by having guns with more than one barrel.  One other factor was leaving a gun loaded wasn’t reliable.

Example of paper cartridge

So the next thing was to figure out how to make igniting the powder more reliable.  So someone came up with something that is close to what we use today.  The percussion cap.  This was a preformed metal cap that had a small amount of a pressure sensitive chemical that would ignite when struck.  So now you had a sealed cap that ignited instantly when struck by a small hammer.  The cap would be fitted on the end of a small “tube” that led to the chamber with all the powder.  It was reliable and between each shot you just replaced it with a new one.  Now you had a reliable way to fire the gun instantly.  The time to reload we reduced dramatically as well.  Since the cap could be held in a way that it would stay in place the possibility of a single barrel multi shot gun came about.  The popular “cap and Ball” pistol would allow multiple shots between reloading by introducing a revolving cylinder that contained cap, the powder and the ball together.  This would rotate for each shot bringing the whole in the cylinder in line with the hammer and the barrel.  Hobbyist still enjoy firing this type of gun.  It was the gun “that won the west” and is featured in almost all westerns!

Cap and ball revolvers

So we still have weapons that are slow to reload.  So eventually folks came up with the idea of thing this all together in a single cartridge that could be loaded into the gun and easily replaced with another for each shot.  This is pretty much the bullet we know today.  It consists of the casing, usually brass that holds the thing together.  A “primer” is pressed into the bottom that will be struck by a hammer or firing pin to set it off and a bullet pressed into the end that is the projectile fired by the gun.  While its easy to think that a guns is fired by an explosion it is really better to think about the bullet being fired by the gunpowder burning rapidly and that hot gas driving the bullet down the barrel.  Just a quick note, shotgun shells are little different, they can be paper or plastic (the shell casing does not contain the blast it is the chamber that the cartridge in placed in that is pat of the gun that contains the pressure) and in that shotgun shell there is usually a basket with multiple projectiles.  More about that when I get to ammo.

Mostly Modern Gun Concepts we find today

So with the introduction of the modern cartridge a lot of things started to happen.  Since the cartridge has everything you need to fire the gun you could suddenly fire more times faster.  All you needed for another shot was a fresh cartridge.  One of the first ways we saw to enable multiple shots between reloading the gun was the revolving barrel.  This worked pretty well but meant you could only hold a certain number of shots in the revolving part between reloading the gun.  The most common number of cartridges in a revolver is 6.  Thus the term six shooter.  Some folks recommend leaving a cylinder of the revolver part empty and that empty chamber lined up with the trigger and barrel for safety reasons.  Some designs have managed to have up to 10 chambers but never became popular.  The revolver design is most often associated with the pistols but the basic revolver mechanism has been used in rifles and shotguns.  It is very reliable and this reliability made the preferred weapon for law enforcement.  Another bit of trivia, these types of guns do not work well with silencers.  There is enough high speed gas leakage between the cylinder and barrel to make noises when fired.  So  next time you see a movie with a revolver with a silencer know it was probably made by an idiot.

One final thing worth discussion.  Single action as compared to double action.  This is whether or not the gun can shoot by just pulling the trigger.  In a single action gun you must pull back and cock the hammer and then pull the trigger separately to fire a shot.  A double action gun can be fired by just pulling the trigger.  The trigger rotates the barrel, cocks the hammer and then releases the hammer every pull.  Some folks say that one type of action is faster than another.  But like everything it isn’t that easy.  Single action revolvers can be “fanned” by holding the trigger down and then rapidly pulling back the hammer.  You see this in a lot of westerns!

Fanning a pistol

Another modern development was the gunpowder itself.  Gunpowder was first discovered in China.  In its original form it had some limitations. It is a simple mixture of sulphure, charcoal and saltpeter (potassium nitrate).  You my have already learned that if you saw Captain Kirk make it to kill the Gorn in the Startrek episode “The Arena”!  Gun designers went looking for something better.  Black powder makes a lot of smoke.  It also has limitations in terms of the amount of gas pressure it can generate.  This led to the invention of modern or “smokeless” powder.  Mostly they found out that different chemicals could make a substance that smoked far less and had burning characteristic that could produce a more powerful weapon. One of the first chemicals they removed was sulfur.  So guns could get more powerful.  The powder was enough more powerful that original black powder that older guns designed for black powder could explode using newer powder.

Gunpowder compared

So with all these developments the race was on!  Guns were developed with different ways to manage the cartridges, varieties of guns were developed with characteristics that made them better for certain applications.  So lets look at certain elements that matter today.

The Core of Modern Gun Knowledge – Read from here if you don’t care about history!

Feeding and firing mechanism

So I’ve mentioned the revolver.  In this type of gun the cartridge is carried in a cylinder to the barrel and hammer.  This lets you shoot as many cartridges as the cylinder can hold between reloading the gun.  People being clever have created a number of ways to reload the cylinder.  Some guns the cylinder needs to be reloaded one chamber at a time.  Others an entire cylinder can be swapped. In another variant a device called a speed loader can be used.  The entire cylinder swings out from the gun, an integrated rod in the cylinder ejects all the cylinder chambers and the speed loader puts new cartridges in the cylinder, the cylinder is swung back and the gun is ready to fire again.  Both methods can be used to quickly reload the weapon.  At any rate with practice you can reload and fire a revolver very quickly.

A revolver being fired and reloaded quickly!

So how else do guns get fed cartridges.  Rifles often have a single shot configuration.  They may have a bolt you pull back to load a fresh shell or some sort of lever mechanism.  These are almost always the slowest type to reload but someone trained can surprise you.   Some of the lever types require the user to physically remove the old cartridge then load a new cartridge.  Some of these types of guns can store fresh cartridges somewhere in the gun and then feed a new cartridge when the lever or bolt is cycled.  The number of cartridges they can hold vary.  Five to ten are common.  Most of these types of guns required putting in a cartridge at a time to load.  Loading is slow.  Firing of this type of gun is as fast as you can cycle the bolt or lever.  These types of guns can be fired about a round every two seconds.  Really well trained folks can approach one shot a second.  There are also variations that hold the cartridges in some form of carrier that can be quickly replaced to make reloading faster.   I’ll get to semi-automatic and fully automatic guns in a minute.  But folks should be aware a trained shooter can shoot a lever action gun as fast and as effectively as a fully automatic weapon.  Here is a video of a 13 year old boy shooting a lever action rifler beating someone in a match using a fully automatic gun.

13 year old boy shooting a lever action gun fast

If you are old enough to remember the TV series the “Rifleman” the main character used a lever action rifle.

I should also mention pump action guns.  This type of gun is most often associated with shot guns.  These can also be fired pretty rapidly.  Shotguns also have the advantage that in that they aren’t designed to be carefully aimed. Some folks have demonstrated firing five rounds in less that 2 seconds.  So they can fire very quickly.  I should also point point out there are some shotguns that can be reloaded using quickly replaced “clips”.  There are even a variety of “speed loaders” as well.  Folks with their guns can be clever!

So now lets talk about types of guns clever people had invented.  At some point someone decided that could make a gun that reloaded a fresh cartridge mechanically automatically.  Some of these load and fire a single shot every time you pull the trigger.  These are called semiautomatic weapons.  There are rifles and pistols that work this way.  The next step up are guns that fire as many shots as quickly as possible as long as you hold down the trigger.  These are fully automatic weapons.  It is hard to buy and own a fully automatic weapon in America.  Some of these weapons can be set to fire a small number of shots every trigger pull to full auto.

Semiautomatic and automatic weapons are almost always reloaded using some cartridge carrier.  The can be clips that can hold from 6 to approaching a hundred cartridges or other types of carriers like small drums that can hold hundreds of cartridges.  These can be swapped out when empty very quickly.  This makes reloading these weapons very fast.  It can be slow and tedious to put the cartridges into these carriers but you can have multiples of these carriers prepped to allow a large number of shots to fired nearly contentiously for long periods of time.  These are those “high capacity” clips that folks talk about banning.  One the extreme end cartridge are held in some form of belt that feeds into the gun.  This allows almost unlimited amounts of cartridges to be fired.  That really doesn’t have much to do with discussion but I mention it just for reference.  Belt fed weapons are almost always military weapons.

It might be interesting to talk about how the mechanisms work to reload and prepare the gun again “automatically”.  There are two popular methods and some rarer ways as well.  The first most common these days uses energy from the burning gun powder to make some sort of mechanical black magic happen.  Not totally Rube Goldberg but one is to use the recoil of the bullet firing to drive back part of the gun, eject the old shell while a spring feeds a fresh round into position to be loaded by the mechanism being driven closed by another spring.  As part of this process the moving component of the gun cocks the hammer in preparation of the next shot.  If the gun doesn’t have a hammer then whatever firing pin mechanism is reset to strike the primer on the fresh bullet.  The is what you are going to find in most semiautomatic pistols.

“So Spacegrrrl, how else might you pull energy from the bullet to make a machine work?”  With the hot gas of course.  This is a system that bleeds some of the gas pushing the bullet out of a tiny port in the barrel and feeds that gas into some sort of mechanism.  A piston for example.  This is more complex and does not easily lend itself to use in a pistol.  It is however more common in rifle sized weapons.  This is a difference between two well known assault style weapons, the so called “AR-15” uses recoil force and the AK-47 uses gas.  There are some folks that believe that the gas system is more robust.  For this discussion its more of an interesting bit of trivia.

So there are other ways to drive a mechanical mechanism to automatically feed and fire a gun.  One of the earliest automatic weapons known was the Gatling Gun.  These used a hand crank to drive a mechanism that consisted of multiple barrels driving in a rotary motion.  Bullets were fed into the whole gizmo via a gravity fed rack.  The firing rate was a function of how fast you could crank it.  They were large weapons but at the time considered a “super weapon”.  Since good ideas often live on in newer forms some of the most lethal guns today are based on this multiple rotary barrels design.  The “mini gun” you can expect in any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is an example of these.  The can fire about as fast as you can spin them.  These days they are driven by an electric motor.  The most extreme example may be the gun in the A-10 ground attach plane.

A-10 cannon being fired

Another way to drive a machine gun is with a chain, these guns are called….. wait for it… Chain Guns!  These are commonly used in US military vehicles like tanks.  Again not really related to common guns we civilian types encounter.  You can’t really own these types of things anyways but some forms of them are in our popular culture.

That covers most of the ways guns are fed the ammunition  they shoot.  I’ll summarize it a bit more in a minute.  Now lets talk about styles of guns.

Gun Styles/Types

First handguns. These are small guns meant to be fired being held from a variety of positions.  They are easy to carry and conceal.  Hobbyist, military and law enforcement all use handguns.  They can vary from the feeding mechanism, the caliber, the ammo capacity and even the materials they are made from.  They range from the smallest derringer (small pocket pistons named for their designer) to extreme large caliber powerful specialty weapons the are at the limit of what you can hold and fire.  But lets talk about what most folks discuss today.

Pistols and Rifles (or long guns)

It can be confusing because technically I suppose you could call any gun you can fire in your hand a “hand gun”.  But for now lets call hand guns the class of weapons consisting of pistols.  Basically smaller weapons fired primarily while holding them in your hand.  Lets separate them from Rifles or long guns.  Called long guns because well, they are long.  The long guns usually has some sort of “stock” meant to be held against the shoulder when firing.  This can be to make the gun more controllable and possibly easier to precisely aim.


Revolver type pistols

The most common hand gun is likely the revolver.  These are going to hold five or six shots.  They can be slower to reload but as I’ve explained trained shooters can reload these types of weapons quickly.  They vary in fire power form the “snub nose .38” you see in movies all the time to the “Dirty Harry Magnum .44”.  They are reliable and deadly in the right hands.  Very common in law enforcement.  They small barrel guns in particular aren’t known to be very accurate and smaller caliber versions may have limited ability to quickly disable a person.  Folks like to call this stopping power.  The imagined likelihood that shooting someone with the weapon would completely stop an attacker.  A “snub nose .38″ is considered to be a lower stopping power (by some) weapon that a motivated nut job might temporarily”shake off” and continue their attack.  A “Dirty Harry Magnum .44” is high stopping power weapon likely to injure a similar nut job so seriously that they would be physically unable to continue to attack.  What kind of bullet the gun is firing can make a big difference as well.  More on that later.

Semiautomatic pistols

Becoming more common is the semiautomatic pistol.  They have been around for a long time but are a little less common as they are harder to manufacture as they can be more complicated.  They hold their ammunition in some sort of carrier or clips.  Clips for these guns can hold from five to over 40 rounds of ammunition.  Clips can be swapped out very quickly and it is easy to carry more loaded clips to let someone shoot large numbers of shots nearly uninterrupted.   Once again the caliber of the bullet can vary.  The classic US military semiautomatic pistol was the “Colt 1911 .45 ACP”.  Types of bullets these types of guns are a little more limited as some  types of bullets can increase the chances of the gun jamming.  These types of guns are  less reliable than revolvers.  That reliability question has made some in law enforcement reluctant to carry these guns.  That concern seems to becoming less of a concern.   These gun have the same accuracy issues revolvers do but in theory reload fast and can shoot more between being reloaded.

Other than whatever laws may require for background checks both revolvers and semiautomatic hand guns are legal to own in the US.  Some locales may have restrictions on the maximum size of clips that can be purchased.

One other confusing thing to remember for some weapons the maximum number of rounds the gun can contain may be smaller when the gun is being used for hunting.

Machine pistols

These are small fully automatic weapons. They in general cannot be legally owned in the US.  I mention them because they are types of guns that can associated with gang violence. These types of guns include the UZI and MAC 10.  These have large capacity clips and firing rate approaching one thousand rounds a minute.  As a result of the short barrels these weapons suffer from poor accuracy.   Because if the size and ease of concelement these weapons are often used by high end security services and body guards.


So it is worth calling out a few common types.

Sporting or hunting rifle

Lets start with the simple sporting rifle.  These are usually designed with some sort of feed mechanism allowing slower rates of fire and also designed to hold less ammo.  Sometimes just a single shot.   They were usually designed for hunting things like deer,  They have longer barrels to make them more accurate.  They sometimes are deliberately limited in the amount of ammo they can carry to comply with hunting laws.  Calibers can range from very small to pretty large depending on the intended usage.  Larger caliber ammo is usually associated with larger game animal hunting and also greater range of accurate fire.  These guns are used for all manner of sport shooting from “plinking” at cans type of target shooting to stalking and killing of large animals like elephants.  Personal note: I have had serious Bambi syndrome since my late teens.  Please try and limit your shooting to targets and not wonderful animals!!


A variation of long guns is the shotgun.  A shotgun is a smooth bore weapon designed to shoot a group of individual projectiles all at once. These are usually called shot.  They used to be various sizes of lead balls.  These days lead use is recognized as environmentally unsound so the balls are now more often made out of less toxic metals like steel.  Some folks feel lead is better as it is heavier and therefore flies father.  Shotguns shells are categories by their shot size.  They range from 12 “bird shot” used for things like dove hunting to “Double Aught”, 00 or buckshot used for hunting larger animals to other applications.  Some shotguns can also fired a shell containing a rifled slug for even more range and knock down power.  Some folks claim and shotgun firing a slug can shoot through a car’s engine block.  You pick your shell based on what you want to shoot.  For example you are going to use a larger shot (smaller numbered) to try and hunt a bird like a goose which flies higher and is larger so needs more “knock down” power.  Again, don’t shoot animals, even geese even if they do poop on stuff a lot.  An interesting thing to note is that the smallest shot loses a lot of energy quickly.  I’ve been shot by number 12 bird shot while dove hunting (yes, I suck having shot doves!) and I was far enough away that it didn’t penetrate the skin and only stung.  And people have been know  to load shotguns shells with rock salt to create a shell you can used against people in a mostly nonlethal manner.  A classmate in grade school was shot with rock salt while “borrowing” oranges out of an orchard at night. He said it stung like a “&^%^&$I!*^$” through his jeans but he was in class the next morning with a bag or oranges.  Similar ideas for nonlethal shotgun shells include “bean bags” and rubber bullets.

Shotguns aren’t sized by caliber but “gauge”.   This is the diameter of the shell and inner barrel. Modern shot guns tend to range from the small end of .410 to the high end of .12 gauge.  Another aspect of the shotguns is referred to as the choke.  That’s pretty much what it sounds like.  Its how much the barrel is “chocked down” at the end which will determine how rapidly the pattern of the shot spreads apart.  Back in them thar olden wild west days there were .10 and even .8 gauge shotguns.  These days those huge bore shotguns are no longer in use but every once in a while you get to see one in a move like “Appaloosa”

8 gauge shotgun

A final couple of things about shotguns.  Some folks believe a shotgun is a better gun for personal protection at home.  They mostly need to pointed, not aimed, often have a very distinctive sound when being “racked” in the case of a pump action shotgun (some say that noise is the most effective deterrent you can have).  The have great “knockdown” power and present a much lower risk of going through walls and injuring things like your neighbors!

There are some interesting modifications that are illegal.  The primary one being sawing off the barrel.  This is to make the shotgun easier to conceal.  One of the earliest gun laws was to make that practice illegal.

Finally there are barrels for some shotguns that are rifled specifically for shooting slugs.  And there are “rifled” slugs as well.  In the case of the rifled slug the grooves are to allow the slug to go through a barrel that has a choke.  The slug is not spun by the grooves but is stabilized by making the tail end of the slug hollowed out so it flies much like a badmitten birdy.   Finally there is also a thing called a sabot shell.  This contains a bullet like projectile held in a plastic cup to allow a “bullet” to be fired from the larger diameter barrel.  These require a rifled barrel for stabilization of the projectile.

Some other variants are the Street Sweeper, a short barrel shotgun with with a 12 shell canister ammo holder.  Another variant is the Alley Sweeper.  Same basic idea, a short barrel shotgun designed to be more easily used on restricted spaces.  Popular in millitary, law enforcement and video game applications.

Semiautomatics hunting rifles

There are again designed for some variation of hunting or targeting shooting,  They still have limited capacity for ammunition storage but they feature some sort of automatic reloading capability with each trigger pull.

Machine guns or Sub Machine guns

These are fully automatic weapons with larger ammunition storage and the ability to fire more than one round with each trigger pull.  The have longer barrels and some form of stock.  The term “sub” usually refers to the caliber of the bullet.  The most iconic sub machine gun is the Thompson with its distinctive round magazineand hybrid pistol grip.  This the gun most often associated with 30’s gangsters!   The “Tommygun”, the  “Chopper” carried around in a violin case!  Scourge of the “G men” everywhere when in the hands of someone that looks like Jimmy Cagney on the streets of old Chicago in old timey gangster movies.  It shot the same bullet that the 1911 Colt semiautomatic pistol fired.  It was small and easy to shoot.  It shot about 700 rounds a minute and could hold about 100 rounds.  They use a recoil based system to drive the mechanism.  Back in the day you could buy one mail order from Sears!!  A lot of these were built and used in the military and law enforcement.  You can no longer own one easily and therefore no longer available mail order from Sears!  They are very collectible and expensive.  There is a semiautomatic version that was manufactured for a while.

So lets talk about “proper” machine guns.  What is indisputable is they are fully automatic weapons.  You hold the trigger down and they shoot continuously.  What makes something a full machine gun.  As near as I can figure its the caliber of the bullet.  I know some folks that are licensed and legal machine gun owners so I got a chance to see them fire a whole range of this type of weapon at one of their “shoots” in the desert (more on owning and shooting one later).  I developed a favorite.  The BAR.  Browning Automatic Rifle.  If I owned one that’s the one I’d want.  Rare, collectible and pricey.  It fires a 30.06 caliber cartridge.  This makes this a very powerful gun with a lot of range.  It is sometime referred to as a squad weapon.  It could fire about 600 rounds a minute and it was a weapon easily capable of disabling a car.  It was the preferred weapon used by Bonnie and Clyde of bank robber fame.  These were not readily available to the general public so Clyde would steal his from the National guard.  He reportedly preferred to cut the barrels shorter to make it easier to use.  It uses a gas system to drive the reloading mechanism.  It is fed using a round box style “clip”.  Again I’m mentioning these more for completeness.  Machine guns are rare and not something regularly found outside the context of military life.  An interesting bit of trivia, my youngest sister is trained and qualified by the US army to operate a squad class machine gun.

Assault Rifles

We have finally arrived at the class of weapon that seems to cause the most arguments.  Probably why I wrote this whole mess in the first place.  So what are they, where do they come from and what are some of the complications?

This class of guns comes from what has become the standard regular issue weapons from most militaries these days.  They are generally a “select fire” weapon.  This means they are a rifle capable of full automatic continuous fire, short burst fire and single shot semiautomatic operation.  Short bursts are usually 3 shots or so.  These guns have some sort of selector to put the weapon in the desired firing mode.  These have medium length barrels to maintain accuracy and fire smaller caliber ammunition to make them easier to control and lighter weight. Some have provisions for enhanced sights and stocks that can be reconfigured to better fit the specific environment.  They feature reloading via some sort of clip or box ammo container for more rapid reloading of the weapon.

So the two weapons that seemed to spawned the guns we see and argue about today are the American M-16 and the Russian AK-47.


These days it seems like America is more fixated on weapons designed to capture elements of the M-16.  These are often called Colt AR-15s even if they aren’t.  The Colt AR-15 is what got this whole mess started.  This gun was designed for civilian use.  It looks very similar to the M-16.  It had a high capacity removable clip, barrel lengths that are similar, a stock style very similar and fires the same ammo.  The 223/5.56×45mm round.  It however is only a semiautomatic weapon.  It can only fire one round with each trigger pull.  It uses the same gas operated style of reloading mechanism (Thanks Robert for pointing me at an AR-15 video that made me realized I described this as a recoil based system).  For whatever reason this design caught on and now they are extremely popular.  There are also a huge number of variations from multiple manufactures.  In fact some folks prefer to think of the AR-15 as a platform instead of a specific weapon.  Also, sadly some characteristics of the AR-15 have made it a preferred weapon for use by nut jobs in the commission of horrible acts.  At the center of most recent mass shootings you will find an AR-15 style gun likely played a part in it.  So why is that.

  • Availability – You can find them everywhere.  You can buy one at your local Walmart (if they are in stock, they are often out of stock because they are so popular)
  • Affordable – The huge numbers of these guns keep the prices down.
  • Quality and simplicity – USA, USA,USA!!  We make good stuff so most AR-15s are going to be reasonably well built and the designs are mostly reliable.
  • It won’t attract attention – Assuming you aren’t just waving it around buying one and taking one to a local shooting range isn’t likely to raise much attention.  Also for whatever reason we live in a country where buying a large amount of ammo doesn’t raise any flags.  Heck you can just buy the ammo online mail order, credit card please?. 😦
  • Capacity – The AR-15 can hold up to 100 rounds per clip.
  • Clip fed – you can swap out an empty clip with a fresh one in seconds.  So you can maintain a constant stream of fire easily.  You are only limited by the amount you can shoot until someone finally manages to introduce you brain pan with much deserved bullet.  Say hi for me to whatever deity you think is waiting for you.
  • Accuracy – The length of the barrel makes this a reasonably accurate weapon out to 500 yards.
  • Ammunition – The standard AR-15 round is the NATO 223/5.56×45mm round.  These are easily available and have some desirable characteristics.  It is a high velocity round so it has a flat trajectory and it penetrates things well.
  • Rate of fire – An AR-15 fires about as quickly as you can pull a trigger.  Pretty fast.
  • Nut Jobs lack imagination and superior reasoning powers – I’m going to editorialize a bit here.  It required no imagination to think that the best weapon to shoot up a bunch of people is the AR-15.  Its going to be easy to get so if you are a lazy “terrorist in waiting” its what you are going to choose.  Its a “me too” choice.  We’ve seen this used by so many times before.  Better choices will take more investigation and more work to acquire.  Also popular culture has sold this to everyone as the thing you use to shoot people up.  You see them in video games, movies and TV.  I could go on and on about why its a poor choice for the seriously f-ed up idea of shooting  lot of people but this isn’t meant to be a list of good ideas for demented killers in training.

The AR-15 as the mythical sport shooter modern hunter weapon?  This again my opinion but right up front.  I don’t see how anyone can make the case they should make the AR-15 their first choice as a hunting rifle.  There is no need for the capacity and the firing rate while hunting.  Additionally the round is a terrible round for hunting,  It lacks the knock down power for most game.  Its lower accuracy at longer ranges make other choices better.  The semiautomatic nature of the feed mechanism make it prone to jam when allowed to get dirty.  To be fair there are variations of the AR-15 that can make it better for hunting.  Remember, its more than a gun, its a platform!  So there are bigger calibers for example that improve the knock down power.

One the other hand as a target shooting gun it is fun. Folks that like to go to the range and blow off some steam by putting some holes in a target can find a lot of joy shooting one.  An AR-15 once again can be modified to use .22 ammo to make it cheaper to shoot.  If you like to tinker that “platform” fact makes owners find a lot of distractions personalizing their guns.

Do the upsides of the AR-15 make it worth keeping around given the propensity for mass murders to choose them as the “go to” tool of choice for performing their acts of pure evil?  If it was me I’d not lose a lot of sleep if I couldn’t own one but that is a personal opinion and I’m smart enough not to pretend I speak for anyone else.

The AK-47

The assault riffle of choice for the worldly militant/terrorist/Russian/Eastern European solider.  The Kalashnikov.   This gun was designed in late WWII in Russia.  It is a gas operated mechanism that fires a slightly larger and slightly slower round than the M-16/AR-15.  These are extremely reliable.  For a variety of reason they are not considered as accurate a weapon as an AR-15.  It fires about 600 rounds a minute and had an effective range of just short of 400 yards.  These guns exist in huge quantities throughout the world.  Estimates of 100 million of these exist.  That is approximately 1/5 of the worlds guns.  The quality of these guns varies wildly.  This isn’t a widely seen gun in the US but they are available and can be sold here if modified to be semiautomatic.  The AK-47 usually has a slightly shorter barrel length than the AR-15.  Once again this gun can use a “clip” which hold up to 100 rounds.   The AK-47 shares a similar stock style with the AR-15.  A full shoulder stock with a pistol style hand grip near the trigger.  This the gun you can expect most bad guys in movies in any setting outside the US.  One thing to think about.  Mostly all AK-47s outside the U.S. are fully automatic and  they are all basically the same gun manufactured under license.  This means if there is some idiot terrorist that has outside the U.S. connections they likely to could get the parts to make sure that had fully automatic capable weapons.  This was the gun so effectively used in Paris to shoot people attending a large concert.  I dread the day that mass killers in the U.S. start to shift their focus to getting these from their faith confused evil brothers outside the county. 😦

So in summary what are called “assault rifles” in the U.S. are guns similar to military weapons that manufacturer removed the features that would prohibit them from being sold to civilians.  They are guns capable of rapid single shot semiautomatic shooting using higher capacity magazines.  They mostly use ammunition developed for military applications.  There are many other types of assault rifles than the two I’ve mentioned here but they are usually rare and expensive.  Lets hope mass murders never figure that out because there are some that seem capable of being even more deadly in the right hands.  In the case of the AK-47 they ARE military weapons modified in the US by gunsmiths to remove the fully automatic firing capability.

Sniper rifles

Sniper rifles are a class of rifles designed to have extreme accuracy at long distances.  There are generally no laws preventing civilian ownership.  These guns are usually fitted with telescopic sights to all hitting targets at extreme distance.  These guns often feature an integrated “bipod” at the front of the weapon to stabilize it when fired.

The extreme case of these weapons might be the Barret .50 caliber sniper rifle can hit a target accurately at a distance of 1.1 miles. This round will penetrate an engine block.  These guns are fed with a 10 or 12 round clip and are recoil operated semiautomatic actions.  This ammo is considered armor piercing.

Other Gun Characteristics

So there are all sorts of things that affect gun performance.  I’ll discuss o few of those.

Caliber – This simply the size of the bullet.  Wow, that sounds easy, big bullets are better bullets.  Not exactly.  Smaller bullets can be faster.  And the size of the cartridge can mean more or less gun powder.  Calibers can range some as small as .17 to as large as .700 (that is a bullet about 7/10s of an inch in diameter).  As with everything there are trade off for each aspect of the ammunition.  At the extreme end of rifles you have long distance rifles designed to fire the same .50 caliber round used in large machine guns in WWII.

Barrel length – Longer barrels tend to make guns more accurate and allow the bullet more time to accelerate, so faster and that tends to go farther.

Noise – Its worth mentioning that some gun are much louder than others.  Factors all come together to determine how big the bang is when you pull the trigger.  Smaller caliber and smaller cartridges can make some guns quieter.  Even gun construction can make the sound they make vary.  Lets talk a bit about silencers or suppressors.  They are basically a muffler for a gun much like the muffler on your car.  They are not illegal exactly but you have to jump through more hoops to get one.  And they aren’t generally available “off the shelf”.  To use them you may have to modify the gun to attach them.  And some guns can’t use one.  Revolver style pistols won’t work with one because the hot gas of the shell has too many places to escape besides the end of the barrel.  Your classic “spy movie” silencer sound can only usually be achieved with smaller caliber weapons and sometimes special ammo.  For example when used on some guns ammo that is “subsonic” can be quieter.  They can be used to make a gun pretty quiet.  Some trivia, in the movie “No Country for Old Men” the primary villain (Anton Chigurh)used a shotgun with a silencer.  That really is possible if not common and in real life maybe even quieter.


Lets talk bullets.  I thing there is a lot of misunderstanding around bullets.  Your basic bullet is a shaped piece of lead.  It is shaped to make it fly through the air better and possible to penetrate its target better.  At some point folks said “I bet we can make a better bullet to do “X”.  So here are some variants common today:

Rim Fire vs Center fire – Chances are if you grew up in places where guns were common you may have shot the good old .22.  This is a common small caliber gun that featured cheap ammo.  One way they found to make the bullet cheaper was to make the casing also contain the priming mechanism, or that thing that lights we gunpowder when the firing pin strikes the bullet.   There is a small bit of that pressure sensitive chemical contained the folded “rim” of the case.  Cheap to make but not reusable.  Some types of ammo can reloaded with fresh gunpowder, a new primer and a new bullet then reused.  These bullets have a separate “primer” that is pressed into the center of the back of the casing.  This a “center fire” round.  At one time rim fire ammunition was available in several calibers (I have an old .32 caliber single shot rifle but I can’t get ammo for it anymore) but now is mostly the popular .22LR (“long rifle” referring to the length of the cartridge)

Hollow point – This is a bullet that has been hollowed out with a pit at the head of the bullet.  The reason for this is that when the bullet hits the target if expands and causes more damage.  These bullets penetrate less and can leave more energy in the target as they fully expand and stop in the target instead of passing through.  These bullets are usually though to cause the most injury and have the most “stopping power”.  Some times these bullets can have a plastic nose piece to make them better aerodynamically or feed better.  Sometimes these bullets can be “jacketed” with a harder metal (usually copper) to make them stronger for use in higher power rifles.  Interestingly these types of bullets are so deadly that their use in warfare is considered inhumane so they are illegal for use in war.  Humans being the odd beasts that we are still use these regularly as civilians and in law enforcement.  To be far, use by law enforcement may make sense as this type of bullet is less likely to ricochet.  Way to go humans!  Of course the USA being special snow flakes chooses to ignore international laws regarding this ammo and will start to use it in side arms starting in 2018.   Some folks have even discovered that the hollow cavity can be filled with heavy metals like mercury to make them even more deadly!  Good job demented killers!  There is even another variant of this bullet designed to expand to have multiple sharp edges.  Why smart people can’t focus on inventing other things like a clothes dryer that folds your clothes.  Oh well.

Metal Jacketed – Who hasn’t seen the movie “Heavy Metal Jacket”?  The tittle refers to the type of bullet used by most millitaries.  This is a usually lead bullet covered with an outer shell of a stronger metal.  This shell allows the bullet to survive being fired out the gun with much greater force without deforming.  They also feed more reliably.  The bullet also stays intact so that it penetrates the target better.  Believe it or not this is the “humane” type of bullet you are supposed to use for war.  They were designed with a couple of ideas in mind. The first is to make the feed through a weapon better.  The second was to allow more “power” to drive the bullet.  Jackets can be out of things like copper or steel.  This type if bullet penetrates and often passes through its target.  Some folks feel this makes this a type of bullet have less stopping power.  While no one wants to get shot with anything this bullet may cause less severe injuries than a “hollow point” style bullet.  Still, just don’t get shot and please don’t shoot people.

Frangible bullets – This is a type of bullet that breaks in to multiple pieces when it hits the target.  It is used in cases where ricochet or penetration is not desired.  This may be desired in settings like close environments or airplanes.  Sometimes these are made out of non-toxic materials and used for training to reduce the risk of injury.

Armor piercing bullets – These are bullets that are made out of extremely hard materials in order to make them able to shoot throw hardened targets.  There is a variation of these types of bullets worth considering.  The Teflon coated bullet.  This popular story is this is a bullet that has been designed to penetrate the materials typically found in bullet resistant vests and protective gear often used in law enforcement.  Actually that isn’t really true, most folks think that is what the coating is for.  It is to protect the gun barrel from wear when firing a bullet made from a harder metal.  Tests show the coating has little effect against protective vests.  But when they were first introduced it made for some great sensational news stories.  There are bullets designed to penetrate protective gear but this use a combination of shape, hard materials and high energy.

Tracers – This is a type of bullet that contains some sort of chemical that remains lit as the bullet flies after firing.  This allows the “gunner” to see the flight of the bullet.  They are mostly fired as a novelty in civilians uses.  They can be hard on the gun and a downside is that they also reveal where they are being shot from.  Laser sites may be a better alternative.  Those are just a laser aligned with the barrel of the gun so that the laser appears on the target were the bullet should be expected to hit.

Non-lethal projectiles – So some people have put their thinking caps on to see if there is something that can be shot at people to deter them but not seriously injure them.  So folks have invented wax bullets, plastic bullets, bean bag shotgun shells, rings and other things that shouldn’t kill someone.  The quest for something like that has been challenging.  Some alternative have been used over time but there is always a chance hitting someone in the right place with some of these could cause serious injury and that someone determine enough could continue whatever crazy act the are set on doing. I mention these mostly as a reference as to why in serious cases civilians and law enforcement can’t rust these alternative to subdue someone who is a serious threat.

Exotic ammo – There are some odd things that come up sometime.  While it isn’t generally used in handguns shells are made from depleted uranium.  This is a material heavier than lead that burns like magnesium.  Making a great material to used against armored things like tanks.  Not really something that has any part of a discussion about guns in the general public.  Other strange ideas.  Several murder mystery tales suggest the perfect murder could use a bullet made from ice.  Neat idea, it does not work.  You can make a bullet form wood however.  This has been used in the elusive quest for a decent non-lethal bullet.  There is a type of shell that fires small lead shot out of a normal rifled weapon.   Some times this is called “snake shot”.    Bad news if you are a snake but not particularly lethal is you aren’t.

Legality of all of this in the US today

So if you read all this so far WOW!  But I assure you this is all leading up to a point.  We need to understand the range of guns and the things they shoot to understand how that may affect our laws.  Lets review what we can own and what restrictions we have on guns.

Where do the laws apply?  First there are some federal laws that affect everyone.  Add to that most states add their own laws to those.  We’ll look at the different classes of laws to see just what we can and can’t do and how that might vary from place to place and by context.

Federal gun laws

So these laws apply to everyone in the US.  I am talking about people in civilian life and not those in the context of the military or law enforcement.  I’ll try and talk a bit about how some folks can expand their access to certain types of guns.  So each person’s right to own guns would appear to be guarantied by the constitution.  The second amendment seems to say we can all own a gun.  I’m not going to get into how to interpret that.  Folks have devoted their lives to arguing what it means from every side you can imagine.  It doesn’t even say guns, it say weapons.  Lets just agree that this part of the constitution says to most people that here in the US in some contexts owning guns is legal.  I want to focus on the specific laws that have come along since that do say specifically what we can’t own.

  • To own a gun in the US you need to be a US citizen or permanent resident alien.
  • You can’t own fully automatic weapons.  You can own certain automatic weapons in limited circumstances.  It has be be a weapon manufactured before a certain date and you have to purchase a tax stamp and fill out a bunch of paperwork with the government.  You can become licensed to either do security work or become a gun manufacturer or types of dealer or importer to gain access to newer and non-us built fully automatic weapons.  Again there are also certain types of trusts that can be created that are allowed to own some of these restricted weapons.  Bottom line, want to buy that new Uzi machine pistol you probably have to jump through a bunch of hoops, subject yourself to some background checks and spend a lot of money.
  • You can’t own a heavy weapon.  So no cannon or keeping that mortar granddad brought home from the big one.
  • Silencers or suppressors are also illegal and require a variety of legal hoops to pass through to own.  Once you’ve done that you can own one.  If you do get a manufactures license you can do most anything.
  • Federal law places restrictions on selling guns across state lines.
  • You can’t own a gun disguised as something else.  No gun that looks like a sixth finger like in “Man from Uncle”!
  • You can’t own a shotgun or rifle with a barrel below 16 inches or a total length less than 26 inches.
  • You can’t own a gun with less than a certain amount of metal in it as to make it undetectable to a metal detector.
  • You can’t but a hand gun of you are under 21.
  • You can’t have a gun in a school zone.
  • Buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer requires a background check before the purchase can be completed.  So any of this and you can’t get a gun:
  1. Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  2. Is a fugitive from justice;
  3. Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  4. Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  5. Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  6. Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  7. Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  8. Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
  9. Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

That is pretty much it as far as the federal laws are concerned.  Things that aren’t covered:

  • Carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Clip capacity
  • Gun firing rate
  • Gun range
  • Training requirements
  • Folks under 21 buying rifles or shotguns
  • Private sales or exchanges
  • Gun assembly from components for personal use
  • Ammunition types or amounts
  • Lethality

State gun laws

Here is where it can get confusing.  Lets look at a few common ones:

Concealed carry and open carry – Lets start with where you can carry a gun and how you can carry a gun.  I grew up in Arizona.  This was a so called open carry state.  This means it is legal to carry a gun with you unless specifically stated locations (like courthouses, public buildings and drinking establishments) if you have your gun out in the open in plain sight.  This includes your car (yes your rifle rack).  Now a days you can’t take a gun to school but when I was growing up I brought a shotgun to school during dove season so I could leave as soon as I got out to head to the cattle yards nearby.  Some states do not allow even open carry and place restrictions on where you can have a gun and how you can transport a gun.  State that allow you to carry a gun hidden from view or “concealed carry” have specific requirements to apply for a license to allow that.  There can be training requirements and background checks.  Even requiring individual approval by some local law enforcement member.  Some states have reciprocal agreements that let them honor “concealed carry” permits from other states.  Even with these permits there usually are restrictions where you still can’t have your gun with you.  Business owners can prohibit firearms.  Want to feel “safe” while looking for that Big Mac, well, learn a martial art because no guns allowed in McDonalds!

Hunting laws – States also often have laws that restrict aspects of gun use when hunting.  For example limiting the number of rounds held in a gun while hunting.  In some cases the type of gun can be restricted.  No hunting some classes of larger game with a gun not thought to be up to the task of a “humane” end for the animal.  No bird hunting with a rifle as the bullets fired up in the air can travel long distances.  Not a gun but no fishing with explosives!!

Where you can shoot –  Some states restrict where you can shoot your gun.   Some places you can set up some cans and shoot most anywhere out in the open so long as its safe.

Licenses or registration – Some states require anyone with a gun have a license to have it and/or may require all guns to be registered.

Additional restrictions – Some states require background checks for privates sales of guns.  Some states have placed additional restrictions on automatic weapons beyond the federal restrictions.  Some localities have restrictions beyond both federal and state restrictions.

Stand your ground laws – Some states allow individuals the use of deadly force in assure personal safety and the protection of property.  Florida has been in the news repeatedly as a result of their “stand your ground” laws.  Basically if you can prove you believed someone is putting you life in grave danger you can shoot them dead.  I got in a argument shortly after I moved from Texas (via Phoenix) about the use of deadly force in Texas.  An attorney who overheard a conversation of me telling some of my new friends of a story in the news about a property owner legally shooting a thief he discovered stealing someting from his property joined in and loudly told my new friends I was making it up and Texas had no law permitting any such thing.  Needless to say I was embarrassed and asked myself how I got something so wrong.  Well it turns out I was right and that attorney was being an asshat.  He was flat out wrong.  In Texas the “Castle Doctrine” allows “if someone is committing trespass or interference with your property and you must reasonably use deadly force to prevent arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime or criminal mischief during the nighttime. If someone is unlawfully on your property and attempting to commit any of these crimes, you will gain the legal justification for using deadly force.”  So be careful in Texas and Florida, don’t get shot!!

Gun storage – Surprisingly there is little law regarding where and how you store a gun.  There is a federal law that states if you store your gun securely or lock you gun and someone gets it somehow and something bad happens you can’t be held responsible.  A few states have laws requiring some sort of safe and secure storage, but mostly not many restrictions.  Want to put that loaded and chambered Glock “9” in a kids playroom in your home knock yourself out.  Its legal for the most part.  Of course it is a record sized bad idea and if some toddler plays “OK Coral” and bad stuff happens you will face all manner of criminal and civil repercussions.  So please be responsible.

The Raw Numbers

Now lets look at the magnitude of the problem.  First off, how many guns are there in the US today?   It is hard to have a firm number but most folks seem to accept that there are 300 million guns in the US today.  We seem to be manufacturing about 12 million guns a year (my numbers may be low as they are a few years out of date).  How are those guns broken down by type.   Best estimates is around 4 million of those are the “assault” type rifle.  Pistols and rifles appear to be purchased in approximately even numbers.  Shotguns are purchased in much fewer numbers.  Best guesses are rifles and handguns are 80% of the guns in America with that number being evenly divided between the two types, shotguns make up another 14% a couple percentage are “assault rifles” and the rest is misc.  Maybe a few of those rocket guns I mentioned at the beginning! 🙂

Making your own gun

Today we live in the age of the “Maker”.  We have technologies that make creating things easily a possible in a way we’ve never seen before.  3D printing, NC machine tools and other technologies make it very reasonable to make your own gun.  With 3d printing you can make a gun with no metal and it will shoot and can be lethal.  With current technologies it won’t last long but some have fired over 100 times before failing.  The printers to “print” these guns can be purchased for a few thousand dollars and could print numbers of guns.  Be a little more sophisticated and add a few metal components now you could have a more deadly gun that would be more reliable and expected to last for a long time.  A gun can be as simple as the “Zip Gun” which is basically a tube to hold a bullet and something as simple as a rubber band with a tack to strike the primer of the bullet.  Some of these can be as dangerous to fire as to be shot with.  But they can be lethal.

Assembling “real” guns, or ghost guns is a very real thing today.  The fact is that a manufacture can legally build almost all of a gun except for a single critical part that is used in the inner assembly of the gun.  This part (sometimes the lower receiver) carries the serial # of the weapon and it the part of the gun that is used to monitor the gun throughout its life.  So want a truck load of nearly an AR-15?  Sure just tell be where to unload the truck.  Oh, want some almost completed almost controlled parts, we’ll get you those too!  So what does it take to assemble your ghost gun AR-15?   A $1000 small computer controlled milling machine and $80 dollars of aluminum.  Oh, and about six hours.  When you are done you have a completely functional AR-15.  Legal to own.  No background checks and no waiting.  Cost, other than needing to buy the machine it won’t cost much different for one purchased at a gun store.  It will use the same ammo and the same clips as the off the shelf gun.

Being shot

Bang Bang, you’r dead!!!   Oh no, I’ve been shot, what now??!!  Good news, unless you get shot in the head or the heart you have an 85% chance of survival if you can reach a hospital while your heart is still beating.  In fact your survival rate is no different than a stab wound.  Bleeding out is a very real danger so try and stop the bleeding if you can.  So don’t get shot in the head and get to a hospital before your heart stops.  Better yet please don’t get shot (and don’t shoot other people)  Finally how scared should you be about being killed by bring shot?  Not very.  With the exception of young black males the chance of dying because you were shot are about the same as being killed in a car crash.  The night is dark and filled with terrors I guess.  You have decide how that risk will affect how you choose to live your life.  Me, I’m not running out for the bullet proof vest and stylish helmet.


So why did I write all this?  I wanted to create a “baseline” for everyone that wants to talk about the issues surrounding guns because I found so many people that just didn’t know what they were taking about.  So no possibility of actual intellectual conversations was possible.  I hoped to somehow create some sort of way to get everyone enough up to speed about guns to be able to talk about them.  It is a very complex topic.  The gun is an extremely easy tool to use to end life.  There is no denying that.  I also believe a gun can be a tool to prevent the loss of life and in the extreme, the loss of our freedom.  I think we have the right to have them. But I’m going to cover what I think and some of reasons I came to those beliefs some time later in a separate blog.  I know guns can be an enjoyable way to spend time.  Shooting the right gun at the right thing can be a very fun thing.  It can also present interesting challenges.  Gun competitions can be enjoyable.

Opinions on guns are infinite in their range and are the root of some of the most passionate discussions in America today.  Whether you like it or not America was a nation built on guns and is a nation of guns.

So lets blow up some myths:

Automatic weapons – No recent mass shooting involved an automatic weapon.  The killers used a semi-automatic weapon.  Automatic weapons fire a continuous stream of bullets so long as the trigger is held down.  A semiautomatic weapon fires only one bullet every time the trigger is pulled.  You can not easily acquire or own an automatic weapon in the US.  Every time you hear some talking head or someone saying we need to ban all automatic weapon you can say “Congratulations, we have!”  Because we have, they are illegal (or have lots of legal hoops to jump though and they are expensive).  You are also allowed to ignore that person who keeps using the wrong term or substitute the “Charlie Brown” adult “wa wa wa” voice sound while they speak.

Military weapons – What most people call military weapons are not.  The are civilian weapons in the style of military weapons but have been made to comply with US guns restrictions,  A real “assault rifle” is classified as a rifle with multi-select fire capabilities.  This means it can be set to fire like a standard semiautomatic weapon or a fully automatic weapon.  And we know fully automatic weapons are illegal!

AR-15s allow more rapid shooting – it can easily demonstrated non-semiautomatic weapons can be slower to shoot than other manual fire weapons like revolvers and lever action rifles when shot by skilled shooters.  Also fire rate does not always mean effective firing.  How many times have we heard of the stupid spray of bullets “drive by” where no one or only a couple of people are injured and more often than not the person intended to be affected.  Folks that are serious about shooting things when it really matters talk about lead on target.  Not how many shots were fired but how many went where the shooter intended and produced the effect desired.

AR-15s can be reloaded faster – This is partly true.  With a large capacity clip you can quickly reload an AR-style weapon with a single action.  However with training a shooter can quickly reload revolver style weapons.

AR-15 style weapons are more deadly – Depends.  They are deadly when used correctly to that end.  Many things are,  These weapons can shoot a lot of ammo and can be reloaded quickly.  It isn’t hard to carry a number of clips so the amount they can shot is high.  They however need to be aimed and can be unwieldy in closed spaces.  A shotgun or pistol can be far more dangerous in some circumstance,  Also the jacketed style of ammunition that is commonly used is less lethal than other types of ammo like larger caliber hollow point styled ammo.  The AR-15 is not as effective at longer distances when compared to more specialize long rifles.

AR-15s are great sporting rifles – Well, that depends.  They can be fun for target shooting.  They’d be illegal to hunt with in many circumstances and the characteristic of the bullets they fire makes them a poor choice for a lot of types of hunting.  I’d say the iPhone is a sub-optimal smartphone when compared to my Android phone but there sure are a lot of folks that like their Apple phones.  This is subjective so there is no right answer.  I personally can’t see myself to get one to hunt with but then again I don’t hunt anymore.  I have gone to the range with friends that owned them and I enjoyed shooting them.  But again I would likely buy some sort of semiauto .22   rifle or another pistol if I wanted to shoot regularly again.  Some people like tofu and I’ll never get it, but then I love spam and not many people I know share that love. 🙂

AR-15s are great for personal protection – Again not an easy call.  In some cases they would be very effective but more often that not the best choice may be a shotgun, the right pistol or even a baseball bat.  Running away, hiding and/or calling the police should always be considered if they appear to be an option.  Again I can’t make that decision for someone else, particularly not knowing the circumstances.

Its easy to keep AR-15s away from determined killers – Easy.  Flat out no.  There are too many here already, too many new ones being built and there are too many ways to make one yourself.  This is worse than the “closing the barn door after the cow got out”.  The cow has long since been moved to another farm and the barn has already burnt down.  More laws don’t stop criminals from breaking them.

High capacity clips are the problem – Even dramatically decreasing clip capacity only slightly slows down the time to reload the weapon.  It does mean a killer would have to carry more clips but that seems easy to overcome.  Also a determined  mass murderer could easily fabricate a higher capacity clip or acquire one illegally.  As to why you need them for sport shooters?  Again this is for a person to decide for themselves.  There certainly can be a case made for why someone shooting for fun would enjoy having a large clip.  Me personally?  I’m too cheap to want to buy that much ammo! 🙂

Glocks should be illegal because they are plastic – They have plastic components but there is more than enough metal to set off a metal detector.  They would be illegal if they didn’t.

Being shot is certain death – Actually outside of being shot in the head you can a pretty good chance of survival.

We are at content peril of being killed by a gun – Your chance of being killed by a gun are about the same as being killed in a car.

Gun violence is out of control – Actually gun violence has declined since the 1990’s in America.  Its worth noting that the most common scenario for gun deaths are suicides (mostly men) and domestic violence.

Gun owners are all “macho men” – 23% of guns are owned by women.

In Closing

So these are things I think you should know if you want to talk about guns.  Its a hot topic these days.  I hope to blog about guns in America in the future.  But please don’t waste my or any of my friends time telling us about whatever it is you think about guns if you don’t know about most of what I’ve covered here.  If you do don’t be surprised if I treat you like I’m not interested in what you think because I’m not.  In my head all I’m hearing is “wa wa wa wa wa” when you speak.  I need your thoughts about guns about as much as I need financial advice from my cat.  So learn a little and join the conversation with some idea what you are talking about.  If you read this and found errors or have ideas of things I should have mention please let me know.  I’d like to keep this around as a resource for folks that haven’t been exposed to guns to know a little bit more about them.




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