Merriam-Webster Changes Definition of ‘Assault Rifle’ to Align with Anti-Gun Lobby

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.

SEE ALSO: Face 10 Years In Prison If You Don’t Surrender Your Bump Stock in 90 Days

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.

About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over four years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco. Follow him on Instagram @bornforgoodluck and email him at

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • johnnyraygun January 28, 2020, 9:16 am

    Who cares? The only assault we care about is the one on 2A.

  • Grams July 6, 2019, 12:22 pm

    Merriam Webster has also changed the definition of “homophobic” to include “aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals”

    A phobia is an irrational fear. How Webster’s can include “aversion to” or “discrimination” is beyond me!

    I’m sick and tired of these leftists changing things. History, definitions of words, etc.

  • Krythic February 20, 2019, 4:45 pm

    Has anyone attempted to petition Webster to revert the definition? This is not acceptable. People are going to read that definition and think it’s accurate, despite the fact that it’s not.

  • MadDogMike May 3, 2018, 5:56 pm

    OK, so now even the dictionary morons have bought into, or probably more correctly were paid to, change the definition of a MSR (AR15) to follow the libtards definition. The question is what can we do about it? We’ve got to stop wringing our hands and crying foul while our rights are being diminished and stripped away. Everybody (future generations, etc.) that reads that damn dictionary from now on will think just like the leftist extremists. There was a libtard in our local paper yesterday that cited this very same Webster’s definition, saying that the gun people are trying to twist the definition of what an AR is when even Websters defines it differently. We, the MILLIONS of legal gun owners in this country better start doing something, our own lawsuits, demonstrations, political activism, etc. or we’re going to wind up just like England and Australia.


  • ras April 9, 2018, 11:14 am

    We must stop falling into this trap set by the liberal anti-gun movement, by perpetuating and thereby validating the term, “assault rifle”. The guns that they have and want to ban would be useless as military weapons, which they compare them to. One must first understand that no particular gun can assault anyone. It is the criminal that uses the gun who is the assailant. Assault weapon is a term made up by the anti-gun lobby and politicians. It is a term that morphed from the early 60\’s when these same people wanted to ban \”Saturday Night Specials\”. I\’m sure if they ever succeed to ban the popular semi-auto rifles and handguns, they will come up with another term like excessively powerful firearms aimed at banning centerfire rifles and shotguns. Another point to debate is the anti-gun politicians and faceless bureaucrats categorizing \”assault weapons\” by curtain features like folding stock, threaded barrels, flash hiders, and so called high capacity magazines. Their argument is that they make a firearm more lethal. This is disingenuous because by their nature, guns are lethal when used to hunt or for self-defense. If they were not lethal, there would be no reason to have the Second Amendment. These anti-gun politicians ask for so called, \”common sense gun laws\”, yet nothing they present makes sense, and does not stop criminals from getting, and using guns to commit their crimes. They ask gun owners to \”compromise\”. Well I believe we have compromised too much already. There are over 20,000 gun laws already on the books and they keep asking for more. If they want compromise, let\’s start by cutting the numbers of those laws in half. Lastly, the 2016 presidential election was the most important ever for gun owners and our Constitutional freedoms. Hillary Clinton made it clear that she would have pushed for comprehensive gun control and possible confiscation of guns in her first 100 days if elected. We did not let that happen, but we are a long way from getting unconstitutional, draconian, and tyrannical gun laws repealed at the federal, state and local levels. Anti-gun zealots will continue to use every avenue the can to strip us of our 2nd Amendment rights. Gun owners must counter this with the same passion and focus if they are to win this war. We face a similar crisis in the 2018 mid-terms. If Democrats and Rhinos become the majority and Nancy Pelosi owns the gavel, you can kiss your favorite guns goodbye.

    • Steven Firman August 17, 2019, 3:41 pm

      I have an older post of mine saying ; there are people on ” The Left ” who wish to Assault our 2nd. Amendment Rights .
      While looking only to “The Left ” we’ll lose them to ” The Right ” !
      The main narrative of gun owners gun owners for more than 20 years has been that; “The Left” want to and will try to take our guns and rights away and this is likely true .
      History however is that during Obama’s 8 year presidency not one gun or any gun right was taken from us . Hillary was not elected a Republican (“The Right” ) Trump was , a Republican and before he has no even finished a full term We Lost at least one of our rights !
      The Truth ( Fact , undeniable History ) is that Bump Stocks were taken from us , and not as predicted or feared by (“The Left”) or by an An Act Of Congress but unilaterally by a directive from a Republican Presidents Directive and as Many of us were myopically watching and fearing Only ” The Left ” !
      Well , ” Bump Stocks ” , not really a common item so we’ll just let that one slide , write it off to ” winning the war , not the battle ” !
      Watch Out ‘ , their are attacking from All Directions and we have choices , we can lay blame on one group or another , we can hang on to our political pride and keep looking ” Left” only but those if we want to keep our rights we better keep our eyes open and accept that history will repeat itself unless we accept that as we were looking to Left were were out flanked by our ” Right ” !

  • Ralph Mareno April 7, 2018, 1:10 pm

    I never have nor has anyone else seen an assault rifle assault anyone. Assault is about the person using it. It has nothing to do with the weapon. I can assault you with a hammer or knife or my fist. Does that make the hammer or knife more dangerous? Assault is all about the intend of the person using any type of weapon. A derange person nor any crimmally minded person cares about whether you changed the definition of a gun, or any other object of destruction. He/she is going break the law no matter what you banned or defined as a dangerous weapon. The problem that no one is dealing with is the problem of evil people. In the history of the world, evil cannot be contained by making a law or changing a definition of an inanimated object. The second problem is the logic behind all this 2nd amendment is totally irrationale and full of emotional nonesense. The real narrative has nothing to do with what kind of rifles or guns are in the open market place. It is all about a Political Idealogy to take over America from within. It is about giving Government power over it’s citizens, it is about disarming every law abiding citizen in the USA. If history is to repeat itself we have to only look to Germany and other countries that had to surrendered because they were law abiding citizens who turned their guns over to a Government who called the young men out into the town square and murdered them in front of their families, then sent their families into labor camps or worst to consentration camps to be gassed. How stupid is it to try to change the definition of a noun or adjective or verb so that people will cave in to tyranny. It was for this reason, that the founding Fathers of this Nation, put in our Contitution the 2nd amendment. Wake up people, stop playing your video games and read some world war history. Know your constitutional rights. Most people haven’t even read nor understood what the 2nd Amendment is all about. They see and hear only what they are told to see and hear by the Liberals Democratic and Liberal Republician. Identify and vote these people out of office and restrict congress and respresentative to limit terms.

  • joefoam April 6, 2018, 8:42 pm

    Citibank doesn’t want me to use their credit card to buy a gun or ammo, my favorite rifles are being banned, I can’t own a 10+ round magazine, now they want to redefine what my rifles are. Will it ever stop?

    • Mike April 8, 2018, 10:09 pm

      I would suggest you tell Citibank to kiss it, and then move to a free state to solve the other issues.

      Many states are passing it so that the feds can’t ban guns in their states.
      We will leave the light on for ya.

  • Steve Attwood April 6, 2018, 1:46 pm

    Gun owners we are all in a battle with gun illiterate people who are not only spreading the wrong information but to the wrong people that are taking it as the honest to god truth!! How can this be stopped before it gets to Supreme Court!!!!!! Saying their stupid or morons is true but it doesn’t help us !!!!

  • Shaman April 6, 2018, 12:52 pm

    Ban all the long guns ! There is still a treasure trove of them out there. It will just give the importers a reason to illegally bring them in to our country which they are so good at and have always been. As a side note, all of the mass shooters had mental problems. As they said in the military “get to the root of the problem and treat it”

  • Atson Reeder April 6, 2018, 12:25 pm

    This is what I sent the company atempting to chang the definition of assault rifle. This is an attack upon our nation.

    Hi. You have now changed the definition of the term assault rifle. Your new definition smacks of “propaganda.” Assault rifles have always been for the last 70 years full auto machine guns. Now, under your fraudulent definition, even a kids 22 semi auto rifle would be considered an assault rifle. Can it be proved your new definition is propaganda? Yes. Because semi autos were being used 50 years before assault rifles even existed. Why does media use the words assault rifle when It isn’t true? Because it sounds bad which also know as propaganda. Are all your definitions being used for propaganda purposes? One would wonder? Has it ever occurred to you that attempting to disarm ones own people in time of war has always been construed as treason and an attack on ones own nation? Media doesn’t allow that to be heard. Why are you aiding and abetting false information against our nation in time of war? Thanks, Atson

  • kane April 6, 2018, 10:45 am

    After WWII and the war in Korea many veterans and marksmanship wanted military firearms such as the M1 Carbines. This innocent tradition was NOT corrupted by the NRA but instead the “entertainment industry” conducted psych-ops on for generations on the American public.

  • Bill April 6, 2018, 8:03 am

    By websters definition of rifle “noun – shoulder mounted weapon with rifling” I guess the second part of assault rifle definition would now apply to air soft or paint ball rifle if it had rifling? Bwahahahah…. These idiots.

  • FB April 6, 2018, 3:22 am

    It’s only going to get worse.

  • John April 5, 2018, 12:45 am

    I’ve already found a loophole. “intermediate-range” and “resembles a military assault rifle” paint your guns pink and put scopes on those bitches.

  • Blue Dog April 4, 2018, 6:48 pm

    Language evolves over time and the meanings of words change. One particularly poetic way I have heard it explained is that over the course of centuries, language blooms like a flower. Consider the language of the King James Bible – not just the thee’s and thy’s thou’s and -st verb endings, but words like quick (Hebrews 4:12 as a quick ;Þ example) have changed meaning and the English language has lost some of the ablauts (shewn/shown) since then. The American constitution is a lot like a midpoint between then and it won’t be long until the average English speaker would have trouble understanding the constitution without some study of the language.

    The purpose of a dictionary is to define how the word is used. As the way the word is used changes, as the meaning of a word changes, then the dictionaries must be updated to reflect that usage. The usage of the phrase “assault weapon” has changed and I doubt anybody would argue that the phrase “assault weapon” is never used (correctly or otherwise) as the dictionary has described here. The meaning is evolving and the dictionary is changing with it.

    Another example within the firearm hobby of words changing meanings is the magazine/clip pair. Many times, people incorrectly refer to a magazine as a clip. Anybody who hears or reads this incorrect usage of the word knows what is meant, that the speaker or writer meant magazine, which means that the intended meaning of the word came across and the word served its intended purpose effectively, which then begs the question – was the wrong word used after all? If some poor soul says clip instead of magazine and everybody knows what they mean, did they say the wrong word? I would say no, their point was effectively conveyed. So don’t be the gunsplaining jerk who is a little too eager to correct your fellow gun enthusiast’s foible if you knew what they meant. Assault weapons can be semi-automatic now and magazines can be clips.

    The best ones are when some gunsplainer tries to make a correction when someone mentions a clip for a Garand.

    • Steven April 6, 2018, 7:23 am

      Stop “anti-gunsplaining”!

    • markle laws April 6, 2018, 3:50 pm

      Some people still call a stock a grip.

  • Bobs your uncle April 2, 2018, 9:42 pm

    After I got out of the Army in the early seventies I needed a deer rifle, the one I got was also an assault rifle, an 1879 Remington rolling block Argentine army rifle in 43 Spanish, it fired a 385 grain bullet black powder cartridge and would have been considered state of the art assault weapon in the mid 1860’s to 1880’s

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