Few terms have been more politically productive for the anti-gun lobby than “assault rifle.” The title, ironically enough, may have been coined by Hitler, but that hasn’t stopped the anti-gunners from using the designation to strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of the uninformed.
Now Merriam-Webster has fallen in line with David Hogg and his ilk to define “assault rifle” in terms conveniently friendly to the anti-gun agenda.
As The Federalist notes in a recent column, the current definition of “assault rifle,” updated March 31, 2018, reads,
noun: any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire; also : a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semiautomatic fire
The first half of this new definition fits the historic understanding of the term and aligns with Merriam-Webster’s previous entry, which The Federalist retrieved from a cached page from June 31, 2016:
noun: any of various automatic or semiautomatic rifles with large capacity magazines designed for military use
The old definition isn’t great, either, but at least it doesn’t affirm the anti-gun contention that an “assault rifle” can be used to describe appearance rather than function.
In their bid to ban as many firearms as possible, gun control proponents have tried to convince the public that “assault rifles” are just a set of cosmetic features that make a firearm “resemble” a military assault rifle. If anyone points out that these cosmetic features—folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet lugs, etc.—don’t measurably affect function, anti-gunners cry “gunsplaining!” and move on.
Every “assault rifle” ban to date has reinforced this mindset. The 1994 ban, for example, banned semi-automatic rifles only if they had any two of the following five features in addition to a detachable magazine: a collapsible stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor, or a grenade launcher. The bans in California, Connecticut, and New York all make similar prohibitions.
The problem with the anti-gun agenda is that automatic weapons—those that truly can be called assault rifles—are already heavily regulated and virtually never used in the perpetration of a crime. According to rifle functionality, the next logical step would be to push for a ban on all semi-automatic weapons, which House Democrats have proposed. But most politicians are wary of such a ban because they know it would be political suicide and likely force the Supreme Court to rule in favor of gun rights.
That leaves them with only one option: attack appearance rather than function. Which is what the new Merriam-Webster definition aims to do. If a rifle looks like an assault weapon, then it must be an “assault weapon,” and if the dictionary says so, it must be true.