The gun debate is in full swing right now but there is still a lot of confusion surrounding a few, specific gun terms. Given the way a lot of people today consume news — Facebook is not a great way to consume news — it’s not surprising that an informed, intelligent, civil debate about guns is nearly impossible.
In order to have an effective discussion about guns, we need to be talking about the same thing, using the correct terminology. If you are not a “gun person,” having a solid, technical understanding of the following few terms will greatly improve your ability to effectively discuss the issue with a gun person.
Semi-automatic firearms will only fire one round per pull of the trigger. The term “semi-automatic” means that when the trigger is pulled, one round is fired and the next round is automatically chambered to be fired on the next pull of the trigger.
Most modern guns are semi-automatic. Non-semi-automatic guns are called “single-action” guns and examples are bolt-action rifles and some six-shooter guns with a cylinder, a.k.a. wheel guns. Single-action guns fire only one round per pull of the trigger and the next round must be manually chambered by working the gun “action,” i.e. using a rifle’s bolt to chamber the next round or cocking the hammer on a wheel gun.
Fully automatic firearms will fire and chamber rounds for as long as you hold the trigger and have rounds available in the magazine or cylinder.
Full-auto firearms are highly regulated in the U.S. and are very difficult to obtain. In a nutshell1:
In the following video, you can see the confusion that is caused by using the wrong term:
Burst-fire or sometimes burst-mode is a term designated for firearms that can fire short bursts of two or three rounds per pull of the trigger. The shorter burst, compared to full-auto saves ammunition and provides for better control of the firearm.
This term identifies a firearm that is capable of firing in two or three of the following modes: semi-auto, full-auto, and/or burst-fire.
This is a purely political label, which varies greatly in use but mainly includes firearms that have cosmetic features that make the firearm appear similar to a military firearm. However, despite their appearances, “assault weapons” are still semi-automatic firearms and are no more lethal than non-assault weapons.
The two rifles pictured below can fire the exact same round at the exact same rate and can have the exact same round capacity. The rifle in the bottom picture could be classified as an “assault weapon.”