Now we come to the “cool” ones. The rifles that action heroes have been using to sow destruction for over 50 years now. Let’s define some things.
I know there are legal definitions of what makes an “Assault Rifle” but the groups that came up with those definitions for the laws, and the people who understand what an assault rifle is don’t have a lot of overlap. Case in point: During the “Assault weapon ban” many gun makers were able to turn out guns that looked like an M-16 in every discernible way. If a legal and illegal weapon were placed on the counter, the average person wouldn’t be able to spot the differences. In fact, what few differences there were tended to be small parts on the inside of the action. Either that or the “pistol grip” stock was hidden by adding another strip of material that ran along the bottom but changed absolutely nothing about the way the weapon operated. So, here are my own, personal, definitions of what makes a weapon an assault rifle.
It must accept a detachable box magazine that holds more than five rounds. Just because I have a 5 round magazine for an HK91 to make it legal to hunt with does not mean I can’t slap in a 20 round one in about a second.
It must use rifle ammunition. A Tommy Gun, is fired like a rifle, has a box magazine and can fire semi or fully automatic, but it is not an assault rifle. It is a submachine gun.
It cannot use rim fire ammunition. Rimfire is used in .22 longrifle and .17 WMR, and not much else. A lot of .22’s use a detachable 10 round magazine, and some can take a 50 round magazine, but they would be nearly useless on a real battlefield.
It must use a semi or fully automatic action. This is where I get into trouble. The real definition of an assault rifle used by everyone that isn’t a politician or newscaster is fully automatic fire or burst control. Semi automatic isn’t enough to really make it an assault rifle. I understand that, and I actually agree with the reasons others say it, but for the purposes of this blog and guide, I’m considering the semi-auto versions of military rifles to be assault rifles.
Now, by my definition, an M-1 Garand is not an assault rifle. It doesn’t have a detachable magazine. A Ruger 10-22 is not an assault rifle. It uses rimfire ammunition. Of course, that means that the US Marine Sniper rifle based on the M-14 is an assault weapon, even though it’s not used in that capacity. It also means that the American 180, a fully automatic .22 caliber submachine gun isn’t one either.
My description of loading and firing an assault rifle will be based on an M-16/M-4 but the basics will be the same for nearly all of them. Where there is a big change, I’ll note it.
The first step is to load the magazine. These can have a capacity as low as five or as many as 30, or even 50. Some may even have more. To load the magazine, you press the big end of the cartridge onto the plate on the magazine until it goes down far enough to slide it back until it stops. This will make sense if you see it done. With practice, and in good conditions a 30 round magazine can be loaded in 30 to 50 seconds.
When the magazine is loaded, you want to tap thin side to be sure the primer side of the rounds are all the way back. This is important because it’s possible for the rounds to slide forward far enough to have the bullets hit the front edge and cause a malfunction, or jam.
Next, the magazine in inserted into the Magazine Well. There is only one possible way for this to fit. Push it in gently, but firmly, until you hear and feel the click. Then you tug on it slightly to be sure. If the magazine is not all the way in, the rounds won’t stick up high enough to be picked up by the bolt.
Pull on the Charging Handle. On an M-16 this is a T shaped thing on the back, right under the real sight. On most H&K rifles, it’s on the left side of the barrel. On an AK anything, it’s on the right side of the gun on the bolt. Wherever it is, it’s the only thing on the gun other than the trigger that is obviously meant to be pulled.
This will draw the bolt back. Releasing the handle will let is slam forward, picking up a fresh round as it goes. The weapon is now “hot,” or ready to fire. Pulling the trigger will make it go off.
When the last round is fired, the bolt on most will lock to the rear position. If this happens pulling the trigger WILL NOT MAKE A CLICKING SOUND! You hear that Foley Artists and sound people? The hammer can’t fall so there’s nothing to click. Stop doing that. It’s wrong, like sound in space or tires squealing on a gravel road is wrong. Stop it.
The shooter puts in a new magazine and does whatever is needed to release the bolt. On an M-16, there is a small paddle lever on the magazine well that can be hit with the left hand. Others may require pulling back on the bolt. However it’s done, once the bolt closes, the weapon is once again ready to fire.
The Safety on an assault rifle is different. At least it is on the ones that have more than one setting. Most firearms that have safeties will have safe or fire. It’s binary. On or off. When a weapon is capable of firing bursts or fully automatically, the safety will be called a Selector Switch, and have 2 or more settings. On the M-16 (original) there were three positions. Safe, Semi, and Full. Full meant the weapon fired as long as the trigger was held down or it ran out of ammunition. Others have a Burst setting where each pull of the trigger fires three rounds. On the Heckler and Koch (H&K) line, safe is a white bullet with a line though it. Semi is a single, red bullet, and Full is a line of red bullets and an ellipsis …
The safety switch is nearly always accessible by the thumb of the firing hand, though most weapons were designed to be fired right handed and not all controls are ambidextrous.
Modern assault rifles come in standard calibers. The reason for this, is their primary purpose is military. It’s best if they only need to make one or two sizes of ammunition.
The NATO (North America and Europe) standard is the .223 Remington round, also known as the 5.56x45 or 5.56 NATO. This is used in the M-16 and M-4, as well as every other front line assault rifle in Europe. The only other rifle size in NATO is the 7.62x51 known to civilians as the .308 Winchester. It’s been around for decades and was the round used in the M-60 machine-gun.
On the Warsaw Pact side of things is the Soviet AK-47 and everything that came from it. This uses a 7.65mm bullet in a case that is smaller than the 7.62 NATO. Nothing about either one in interchangeable. Because of the popularity of the AK family, any story set in just about any place in the world could have one around.