Getting the terms right: semiautomatic vs. automatic rifles

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica website defines the term assault rifle as a “military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.”

The latter part of the assault rifle definition, “the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire,” is significant.

A semiautomatic firearm will shoot a single bullet when someone depresses the trigger. Semiautomatic rifles take many shapes, including the traditional hunting rifle that responsible outdoorsmen have been using since 1885.

An automatic firearm, on the other hand, will rapidly shoot bullets until it runs out of ammunition or the trigger is released. Automatic rifles take on many shapes but are primary designed for war and have been around since 1887.

Automatic firearms are prohibited in Canada and are expensive and highly regulated in the United States.

Some modern semiautomatic firearms appear similar to full automatic versions, much like many sports cars have similar appearances.

What is under the hood, however, determines their real performance. Although two sports cars may appear similar on the surface, the engineering inside one car can greatly outperform the other.

Unlike upgrading sports cars, however, it is often difficult to modify legalized semiautomatic firearms to automatic.

Many of these firearms may appear the same on the surface to the casual observer, but experts are usually involved in determining which are legally appropriate for civilian circulation after studying their internal engineering.

If you see a military stylized rifle in the hands of a civilian, rest assured it is likely to be a semiautomatic and not truly an “assault rifle.”

Unfortunately, some members of the media seem to ignore or are unaware of these facts when reporting news relating to firearms.

Frequently we find non-automatic rifles and shotguns described as assault weapons. It would seem that if journalists were to be credible news sources, they must report clearly and concisely on the facts of a story.

It is equally important to think critically about what is presented by the media. If a story gains your attention, you should diligently consider it before drawing substantial conclusions. It could be misleading to accept things at face value.

Firearms are serious subjects. They deserve respect when discussing and handling them. Treating them without logical sober thought is dangerous both for the individual and society. This responsibility should ex-tend to the news media.

Firearms are also incredibly useful tools. Like the individual pieces of gear in a handyman’s toolbox, each firearm has a different specialization. There are firearms that aid in national security, some that help put food on the table, others that protect farms and remote homes from predators and others that are used in sports competition.

Each kind of firearm has an appropriate time and place to be used, much like a hammer is used for one task while a handsaw is used for another.

We need to be concise if we are to treat firearms with the respect they deserve.

Kim Quintin is a Saskatoon outdoor enthusiast and knife maker. He can be reached for column content suggestions at

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