Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Isolating `Assault Weapons' Can Be a Tricky Business

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Isolating `Assault Weapons' Can Be a Tricky Business

Article excerpt

Defining a rifle or pistol as an "assault weapon" is a lot like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's line about defining pornography: "I know it when I see it."

Many assault rifles sold are semi-automatic versions of post-World War II military rifles, like the Soviet-designed AK-47 or the American M-16. To those unfamiliar with firearms, assault weapons look sinister.

That thinking drives Richard Feldman up the wall.

"I call it industrial racism - it's because these guns are black . . . people think they are menacing," said Feldman, with the gun industry's trade group, the American Shooting Sports Council in Atlanta.

"A gun is a gun is a gun - any gun can kill you," Feldman said. "I find it easier to accept someone who says we should ban all guns rather than those who argue certain weapons should be banned because (people think) they are ugly."

Weapon traces by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms show that the most common firearms used in crime are small and often inexpensive handguns. But ATF traces also reveal that some assault-style weapons do show up in the hands of criminals - in particular, the TEC-9 (on the Business Plus cover) and the SWD M-10 pistols.

Assault rifles have been used in isolated but extremely bloody mass shootings by deranged gunmen, like the 1989 shooting by Patrick Edward Purdy, who used a Chinese-made AKS to kill five children in a Stockton, Calif., school yard.

But detailed national or local statistics on assault-weapon crimes are surprisingly hard to come by. Most police reports do not list the type of firearm used and police do not request an ATF trace for every gun.

New Jersey is the exception, having kept track of assault-weapon crimes for more than three years. The New Jersey data, however, seriously question the popular notion that assault weapons are the firearm of choice for criminals. …

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