One claim we keep seeing in the media is that “assault weapons” are something new, either new just before they were banned in the 1990s, or new since the ban expired in 2004. This is nonsense. Sure, the term is a neologism coined by national socialist Josh Sugarmann in the late 1980s, but the sort of rifles and pistols he applied that terminology to were already in common and customary use over a decade prior.
Using the definition in the 1994 law, or better still, using the definition the media seems to fall back on, “anything that will take a double-row magazine,” we see that dozens of such were available even 40 years ago.
What high-cap semi-autos were available 40 years ago?
Beretta DA Auto Pistol (.380, 12-round magazine).
Browning P35 High Power (9mm, 13 rounds). (Several models).
LES P-18 (9mm, 18 rounds)
Smith & Wesson M59 (9mm, 14 rounds)
Universal “Enforcer” M3000 (.30 carbine, 30 rounds).
Armalite AR-180 (5.56mm, 5, 20 & 30 rounds).
Colt AR-15 Sporter (5.56mm, 5, 20 & 30 rounds)
National Ordnance M1 Carbine (.30 carbine, 15 & 30 rounds). (Several models).
PJK M-68 Carbine (9mm, 30 rounds).
Plainfield Machine Co. Carbine (.30 carbine, 15 & 30 rounds). (Several models).
Ruger Mini-14 (5.56mm, 5 & 20 rounds). (Several models).
Springfield Armory M1A (7.62 x 51mm, 10 & 20 rounds). (Several models).
Universal 1002/1003 Autoloading Carbine (.30 carbine, 15 & 30 rounds). (Several models).
Valmet M/62S Rifle (7.62 x 39mm, 30 rounds) (Two models).
Valmet M/72S Rifle (5.56 x 45mm, 30 rounds) (Two models).
Amber, John T., Ed. Gun Digest: 30th Anniversary 1976 Deluxe Edition. Northfield, IL: DBI Books, 1975. pp. 281-329.
There’s nothing new under the sun. Forty years ago, in the throes of the foreshortened Ford Administration, American gun buyers could buy AR-15s, M1 Carbines and clones, an M14 clone, and two different AK clones. They could also buy several handguns which came standard with a magazine holding over 10 rounds. All in all there are 15 models listed with features that would frighten Congress. Some of these weapons were already quite old; the AR-15 SP1 was 13 years old; the various carbines originally had been made from parts surplused after World War II ended some 30 years prior.
On the handgun side, they had 12-, 13-, 14- and even 18-shot capacities to choose from. These were not all entirely new novelties; the Browning High Power was already over 40 years old.
On the rifle side, Sterling began producing 40-round AR-15/AR-180 magazines at this time.
Note also that the 1976 Gun Digest was produced in 1975 (in order to ship before its cover date). In the 1977 Gun Digest, the HKs start showing up.
Since then, these weapons have only multiplied around the nation, and the murder rate, 8.7 in 1976, has dropped to about half that, primarily due to mandatory sentencing removing predators from the ecosystem.
It would be interesting to continue this examination of old Gun Digest annuals, and see whether the “availability” of models of “assault weapon” tracks the murder rate. Murder rate is used as a proxy for crime rate because police managers have become adept at reclassifying crimes, but they have a much harder time making a dead body disappear — a conundrum that has been the undoing of many a nefarious plot.