‘ASSUALT’ WEAPON? What con­sti­tutes a par­tic­u­lar firearm re­turns as an at is­sue af­ter Or­lando

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

The Sig Sauer MCX semi­au­to­matic ri­fle au­thor­i­ties say Omar Ma­teen used in his shoot­ing ram­page is a rel­a­tively new weapon with sub­tle but cru­cial dif­fer­ences com­pared to the AR-15 ri­fles that have be­come the fo­cal point in the gun con­trol de­bate. Dubbed a “weapon of war” by Pres­i­dent Obama and a “clas­sic as­sault ri­fle” by anti-gun groups, the MCX is a new­comer, in­tro­duced just last year by one of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar man­u­fac­tur­ers to try to cor­rect some of the flaws cus­tomers felt in the AR-15, the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar ri­fle.

“It was orig­i­nally built for mil­i­tary spe­cial op­er­a­tions as a fully au­to­matic weapon, but it was to be used as a sup­pressed weapon and it was ba­si­cally a big sub­ma­chine gun,” said Bob Owens, edi­tor of the web­site Bear­ing Arms.

Semi­au­to­matic ri­fles are back in the crosshairs of an­ti­gun groups af­ter the ter­ror­ist-in­spired night­club shoot­ing in Or­lando, which left more than 100 peo­ple dead or wounded.

Many Amer­i­cans con­fuse semi­au­to­matic ri­fles with au­to­matic ri­fles or “ma­chine guns,” which can spray bul­lets for as long as the trig­ger is pulled and there are rounds be­ing fed. By con­trast, a semi­au­to­matic weapon is one that re­quires the trig­ger to be pulled each time a round is fired — though the next round is au­to­mat­i­cally loaded.

Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates ques­tion why some­one out­side of the mil­i­tary would need to own a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle with a large-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zine.

“The prob­lem with the MCX and guns like it is they are weapons made for war — they have no place in our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Sarah Badawi, who han­dles leg­isla­tive af­fairs for the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “The as­sault weapon used in the hor­rific shoot­ings in Or­lando is the same type of weapon that was used in Sandy Hook, in San Bernardino, in Aurora and in Rose­burg, Ore­gon.”

But gun own­ers say the dif­fer­ence be­tween what’s deemed an “as­sault ri­fle” and a hunt­ing ri­fle is more cos­metic than func­tional: the ad­di­tion of a pis­tol grip, which makes it eas­ier to grasp the mid­dle of the gun; or a fold­ing stock; or the abil­ity to sup­press muz­zle flashes.

Those can make the ri­fles eas­ier to han­dle and per­haps more ac­cu­rate, par­tic­u­larly in high-pres­sure sit­u­a­tions, but they don’t af­fect the ac­tual power of the ri­fle.

Philip Van Cleave, pres­i­dent of the Vir­ginia Cit­i­zens De­fense League, said the AR-15 or the MCX can be used for hunt­ing, tar­get shoot­ing or self-de­fense.

“Re­ally what’s hap­pen­ing here is peo­ple are freak­ing out over how it looks,” he said. We [had] this big lec­ture in the ’60s that we shouldn’t be skin-deep, but peo­ple look at the AR-15 skin-deep.”

In the case of the MCX, there’s lit­tle doubt the ri­fle can look slick and pow­er­ful. It’s heav­ily cus­tom­iz­a­ble and can be pur­chased with a si­lencer, as well as an up­grade kit that al­lows the user to con­vert an AR-style lower re­ceiver to an MCX sys­tem.

But when it comes to firepower, among the most pop­u­lar rounds of am­mu­ni­tion for the AR-15 are .223 or 5.56 cal­iber, which are con­sid­ered medium-pow­ered.

It’s “not even close to be­ing a high-pow­ered ri­fle,” Mr. Van Cleave said. “There are weaker guns like a .22 long ri­fle or .22 mag­num, but most of your hunt­ing ri­fles are more pow­er­ful than an AR-15 — quite a bit more pow­er­ful.”

Mr. Owens said since the AR-15 has been on the mar­ket for some 60 years or so, its ver­sa­til­ity makes it at­trac­tive for ex­pe­ri­enced shoot­ers com­pared to other styles. But he said most ca­sual ob­servers of the gun de­bate mis­un­der­stand them.

“I would be will­ing to bet that at least 50 [per­cent] to 60 per­cent of the peo­ple who are call­ing these things as­sault weapons and as­sault ri­fles re­ally think they’re ma­chine guns, among the me­dia,” he said. “Among the gen­eral pub­lic, it’s prob­a­bly up around the 80 [per­cent]-to-90 per­cent range.”

Ma­teen car­ried both the MCX and a Glock-17 9 mm semi­au­to­matic pis­tol with him when he stormed the Pulse night­club in Or­lando. Ini­tially po­lice iden­ti­fied the MCX as an AR-15-style ri­fle, lead­ing to con­fu­sion.

Po­lice have not said how many rounds of am­mu­ni­tion he fired, nor how much he had with him, though Mr. Obama said the Glock “had a lot of clips in it” — pre­sum­ably a ref­er­ence to ex­tra am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines Ma­teen was car­ry­ing.

In a re­port is­sued af­ter the Or­lando at­tack, the Vi­o­lence Pol­icy Cen­ter de­scribed the MCX as a “clas­sic as­sault ri­fle” and said it in­cor­po­rates “many of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that make this cat­e­gory of firearm so lethal and dis­tin­guish it from sport­ing ri­fles,” such as de­tach­able mag­a­zines.

“The MCX is also de­signed with: a pis­tol grip; a fold­ing, col­lapsi­ble, or tele­scop­ing stock; and, a hand­guard,” the VPC re­port said. “These char­ac­ter­is­tics en­hance the gun’s lethal­ity by mak­ing it eas­ier to shoot, reload, and ma­neu­ver in closed spa­ces such as a dark night­club.”

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