Letter: Accuracy important in weapons discussion

I appreciated Deputy Managing Editor Neil Holdway's column "Describing weapons accurately" on Aug. 8. The misuse of the label "assault rifle" by politicians, the media and activists to describe Colt AR-15s or one of the 50-plus rifle models manufactured in the U.S. on the AR-15 platform makes constructive dialogue between gun owners and gun-control advocates a real challenge.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (i.e., the ATF) is responsible for classifying firearms available in the U.S. Their website ( reserves the term "assault rifle" for firearms that are either fully automatic (i.e., machine guns) or select-fire (selectable between automatic, semi-automatic or three-shot burst mode). None of the AR-15 platform rifles available to U.S. gun owners meet those criteria because they are exclusively semi-automatic (one round per trigger pull).

In an internal ATF white paper written in 2017, the author proposed that the ATF avoid the term "assault weapon" because, as Mr. Holdway related, it had become "politicized". The paper suggested using the term "modern sporting rifle".

The AR-15 platform rifles are frequently described as a "weapon of war" by politicians and the media. These rifles are not "weapons of war" because the U.S. military does not issue semi-automatic weapons (like the Colt AR-15) to combat troops. Instead, they are issued select-fire or fully automatic weapons for combat.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (the firearm industry's trade organization) estimates that there are more than 400 million firearms in the hands of U.S. residents. Of those, more than 20 million are rifles built on the AR-15 platform. Statista reports that, between 1982 and July 2022, there have been 60 rifles of all types used in mass shootings (three or more wounded and/or killed per incident). That's 60 out of 20 million.

With accurate language and facts, maybe dialogue is possible.

Randy Harris

Campton Hills

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