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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are 'Assault Weapons' Suitable for Hunting?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 16, 2013.)

One of the hot topics today is whether the guns people call “assault weapons,” or “ARs,” or “modern sporting rifles” are suitable hunting tools. People are making lots of uninformed statements about them.

So-called “assault weapons” are used 
 in less than 1% of murders with firearms, but 
they’re used on thousands of feral hogs and coyotes

Political arguments, self-defense arguments, and constitutional arguments aside, this is a hunting column. I’ve heard at least four arguments that “modern sporting rifles,” or “tactical arms,” or whatever you want to call them, are not suitable for hunting. Here they are:

“No one needs one of these to hunt deer.”
If “need” is the standard, we might as well ban hunters from using any firearms and make them use bows, because “need” is an arbitrary line and it will keep moving. Deer, the most common big game animal in North America, are not the only species hunters pursue. For hunting some species, “modern sporting rifles” are often the weapon of choice.

“High tech isn’t what hunting is about.”
Semi-autos are not new technology. John Moses Browning developed the most popular semi-automatic handgun more than a century ago. It was dubbed the Model 1911 in the same year Orville Wright flew a glider for 10 minutes at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

“No hunter needs such a powerful gun.”
It’s misleading to say these rifles are especially powerful. Most are chambered in .223 caliber (5.56 X 45mm in military terms). It’s underpowered for animals bigger than deer, and inadequate for large deer. Compared to the most common deer caliber, the .30-06, it’s a pipsqueak. The .30-06 was the US Army’s primary rifle cartridge for nearly 50 years, it’s 2½ times more powerful, and no one ever said it’s too powerful for hunters. Even that has less firepower than an ordinary 12 gauge shotgun with a single load of #1 buckshot – one pull of the trigger launches 16 .30 caliber projectiles all at once, into whatever is in their path. Five shells in a simple pump shotgun – awesome indeed.

“No civilian, not even hunters, should be able to own a military weapon.”
This argument changes the subject. Although these rifles fire the same moderately-powered cartridge used by NATO forces, they are not military weapons. They only look like military weapons. No military in the world uses the semi-automatics commonly available to American civilians.

Besides, civilians actually do own military weapons, though not for hunting, and almost never for crime. The National Firearms Act of 1934 designated “selective fire” weapons, the type militaries use, as Class III weapons. “Selective fire” means they can fire one bullet per trigger pull, and with the flip of a switch they fire multiple rounds with one press of the trigger until the gun is empty. That firing mode makes Class III weapons unsuitable for hunting, but semi-autos lack that firing mode.

History proves that civilians who own Class III weapons have been very trustworthy. Since 1934, only once has a civilian used a lawfully owned Class III weapon to commit a crime – a doctor murdered another doctor. Non-civilians? Also just once – a corrupt policeman murdered an informant.  

One problem with the term “assault weapon” is that it confuses common firearms with Class III machine guns. Yes, they have cosmetic similarities, but semi-autos have more in common functionally with millions of hunting rifles, shotguns and the majority of handguns.  

What are some cosmetic similarities to full-auto military rifles? An adjustable stock – same as my hunting crossbow. A pistol grip – each of my bolt-action deer rifles has a type of pistol grip. A bayonet lug – I’ve never heard of an assault committed with a bayonet on the end of a gun. Most are black; some competitive shooters favor pink; and many hunters prefer camo.

And that brings us back to hunting. Where are semi-automatic “modern sporting rifles” suited to hunting? They’re perfect in the South, where wild pigs are an ecological menace. They’re commonly used in the West for varmints such as coyotes and prairie dogs.  

I’m not arguing politics, self-defense, or the Second Amendment. I’m reviewing facts about the rifles as they relate to hunting – facts as sure as this one: so-called “assault weapons” are used in less than 1% of murders with firearms, but they’re used on thousands of feral hogs and coyotes.

“Are these guns suitable for hunting?” The answer is “yes.” They’re not suitable for all types of hunting. No firearm is, but they are well suited to some types of hunting. In fact, they’re used for everything from hunting to target shooting to competition. They may look as mean as the rifles we see soldiers carrying on TV, but they have more in common with traditional sporting arms than with modern military rifles.

What about here in Pennsylvania? Many hunters use semi-auto shotguns, but no semi-auto rifle is legal for hunting, even if it’s operated Barney Fife style – one bullet at a time. So, I don’t have one. But if I shot competitively, or if I hunted in the South or the West, I probably would.


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