The tricked-out [AR-15 from BCM]( is an MSR—a semiautomatic modern sporting rifle, and not an “assault rifle.”
The tricked-out AR-15 from BCM is an MSR—a semiautomatic modern sporting rifle, and not an “assault rifle.” web photo

The term “assault rifle” is often bandied about carelessly by those who either don’t know any better, or who seek to purposely spread misinformation in order to make the civilian versions of these rifles seem more scary. The difference between military assault rifles and the civilian look-alikes is significant. Military assault rifles possess the option to go fully automatic, meaning that a single press of the trigger will fire the rifle multiple times. An automatic rifle can empty a 30-round magazine in just a few seconds.

The civilian versions (called Modern Sporting Rifles, or MSRs) do not have this capability. Instead, they are semiautomatic rifles, which means that each press of the trigger will fire only a single bullet. Although they might look a great deal like their military cousins, these civilian sporting rifles operate just like other semiautos that are used for hunting, competition, recreation, and personal protection.

The term “assault rifle” entered the lexicon with the advent of the German Sturmgewehr 44 in World War II. This rifle was the first successful assault rifle to be employed in significant numbers. By having a look at the StG 44 in profile, it is easy to see its DNA in today’s battle rifles, like the M16, M4, AK-47, AK-74, and others that are employed by military forces around the globe.

The StG-44, developed by the Germans during WWII, g
The StG-44, developed by the Germans during WWII, gave birth to the term, “assault rifle.” It was a fully automatic rifle firing the 7.92 x 33mm Kurz round. The gun’s full name, SturmGewehr, literally means assault rifle. photo from Rock Island Auction Company. web photo

The StG 44 and its kin were game changers because they put a significant amount of firepower in the hands of individual soldiers. These rifles are easy to carry due to their light weight, are chambered in relatively mild cartridges that make them easy to control under recoil, and their excellent ergonomics and design make them easy for raw recruits to master.

Accuracy was not a primary concern. Advocates of the assault rifle concept recognized that most infantry combat engagements take place over short distances, and that it was more important for a group of soldiers to be able to deliver withering weapons fire en masse rather than having fighters place well-aimed shots downrange one at a time.

The Soviet Union was quick to adopt this philosophy with the development of the AK-47. The United States lagged behind, mostly because of an attachment to the concept of individual marksmanship that dominated the training of our military. However, after extensive testing of small-caliber firearms throughout the 1950s, and in light of the Soviet Union’s adoption of the AK-47, that attitude shifted.


Mikhail Kalashnikov

Mikhail Kalashnikov with his invention, the AK-47 assault rifle. photo from