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.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.
32 thoughts on “So How New Are “Assault Weapons”?”
Browning BDA .380 13 rd
It’s not listed in the GD, but the “Beretta” is the same pistol that would be sold with cosmetic differences as the Beretta M81 and the BDA in a year or so.
Gun manufacturers in 1976: “You should buy one of these models and some large-capacity magazines.”
Buying public in 1976: “Why would I want one of those?”
Media and politicians in 1994: “Let’s ban all of these for the children.”
Buying public in 1994: “Dang, I might have wanted one of those someday.”
Media and politicians in 2004: “We should renew the ban on those for the children.”
Buying public in 2004: “I’m going to buy some of those before they get banned again.”
Buying public in 2010: “Hey, those things are cheap, lightweight, have little recoil and are a ton of fun to own and shoot!”
Media and politicians in 2013: “We should definitely get back around to banning those again for the children.”
Buying public in 2013: “Dang, they seem pretty serious, I’d better buy a few more of those.”
Buying public in 2015: “Supply on those has caught up to demand. I’d better buy enough for all of my kids in case they get banned again.”
Media and politicians in 2016: “It’s really, really time to ban those again for the children. Or the gays. Or anybody, just ban them alreadyyyyy!”
Buying public in 2016: “Maybe I should get enough for my grandchildren. Let’s see, three kids times three grandkids each would equal, well, better just make it a round dozen just in case. Plus three more for the kids-in-law. And while I’m here, I’ll take a gross of 30-round PMags.”
Winchester Model 1903. Detachable 10 round magazine.
The media thinks that you have to have a semi-auto with a large cap magazine in order to kill a lot of unarmed people. I think that Winchesters model of 1866 could have done the same amount of damage at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino and probably at most of the other soft targets. Shoot one load one and the shooter would be nearly impossible to rush. With a semi auto the shooter is vulnerable during the clip change. I would not discuss this in a letter to a newspaper editor or other places but I don’t think bad guys come here to get ideas. Feel free to delete
The 2014 Parliament murderer had a Win 94 in 30-30. I have some experience with a Win 94 in .30-30, and I wouldn’t feel undergunned with it anywhere short of a battlefield or a safari. I surmise that the reason the murderer in question didn’t take more out with him is because of an overpopulation of bats in his personal belfry rather than an equipment problem.
No offense intended to Kevin Vickers, the Parliament Sergeant-at-Arms who neutralized him with a 3rd gen Smith. Taking out a murderous rifleman with a pistol is no small feat and not for the testicularly-challenged.
Even a single shot shotgun is fast enough to slaughter a dozen unarmed people in less than a minute. I found this video, and he isn’t even that fast.
Now this champion shooter is fast! 24 hits in 17 seconds with 4 guns.
Rossi Puma copy of a Winchester 92 in .357 magnum here. All the gun you need out to 100m, can be topped off at any time without taking it out of action, and looks like a cute little toy so no “Ooohh a wicked black assault rifle” reactions. I never feel poorly armed when I’m holding that dainty little rifle.
I love .357 in a lever gun. I rather wish dad had chosen .357, though I don’t know if they offered such a thing in the ’50s. .30-30 beats .32 WS, “The Cartridge Time Forgot.” It has all the mediocre ballistics of .30-30 without the ammo availability benefit.
The Winchester Model 1905 Self-Loading Rifle, a centerfire semi-automatic rifle with detachable magazines.
The Winchester Model 1873 Repeating Rifle introduced in [big surprise] 1873 with 18 units,
calibers .44-40 Winchester; .38-40 Winchester; .32-20 Winchester and others with15-round tube magazine.
It was so unfair!
Remington Model 81
Heckler Koch VP70z(9x19mm, 18 rd), 1970-1986
the HK VP70z 9mm pistol
Auto Ordnance / Numerich Arms Thompson .45 Rifles
Wilkinson Terry 9mm pistol
Wilkinson Linda 9mm carbine
WASP 9mm carbines
Mars CETME 7.62 rifles
Commando Arms (and additional manufacturers) carbines and pistols
MAC (and additional manufacturers) 9mm, .45, .380 type pistols
Iver Johnson M1 .30 carbine enforcer pistols and rifles
AM180 (and additional manufacturers) 177 round .22 rifles and pistols
Eagle .45 carbine
SIG AMT .308 rifle
SIG PE57 7.5 Swiss
When did HK91’s and 93’s hit?
Wasn’t there a FAL out then?
I’m sure we’ve missed a few more… Oh for my old shooters bibles!
I came into a large collection of those books when a aged friend died a few years back…probably have four large boxes of them from the 50s or 60s through the 90s or early 00s. Still need to build shelves to hold them, but I”ll be damned if they are getting away from me. Always amusing to thumb back through and see what was THE novelty and what flopped since.
When did HK91’s and 93’s hit?
The first semi-auto G3 and HK 33 brought into this country by Golden State Arms Co. were the HK41 and HK43, the first semi-G3s getting here around 1962, with more arriving in 1966. In 1974 the importer changed to Security Arms Company [SACO] in Arlington VA and at that time the HK91 designation came into common use, and also saw the introduction of a semi-automatic version of the HK33 by H&K and designated the HK43 and shortly after that time the *HK91* and *HK93* designations came out, with Heckler & Koch USA, also in Arlington, VA taking over the importation and US distribution in 1976.
The HKs weren’t the first such shooters on the US market: at least as far back as early 1966 the MARS Equipment Co of Chicago was offering a *Santa Barbara CETME SPORT semi-auto sporter rifle,* effectively a Modello C CETME in 7,62 NATO. Pricey though: They cost $219.95 back then…why that’d buy you two Garands and a nice ’03 Springfield.
I bought my first HK91 about 1975. It was a lot cheaper than the Valmet, FNFAL or M1A and used a Real Mans cartridge, the 7.62 x 51. You know, something that can hit a man at 800 m and knock him dead.
Few used them – but the point was that the Valmet, FNFAL, and M1A were commonly shot for competition at 3 Gun matches when the HK came along in semi auto.
I’d give just about anything for a Browning marked FAL import.
Are you sure improved trauma medicine had nothing to do with that? There was a resident grumpy nurse-something angry dude around at times, I’m sure he could chime in on this.
I’d also say that the significant advances in technology ( CCTV etc) and forensic science may have shortened the odds on identifying offenders, limiting their damage.
Oh, I’m sure it did. A lot of 1966 murders are 2016 aggravated assaults thanks to the strides made in first response, patient transportation, and emergency department life support and surgery. But we can’t use agg assault statistics because they’re not uniform and, absent a dead body, major metro departments can lie about them. (Chicongo? NYPD? We’re lookin’ at you.)
I’d add the surplus Garand and Johnson rifles you used to be able to get for dirt cheap, and, shipped to your door before ’68. They helped win a war after all so you can’t get any more “assault” than that.
You can still get Garand shipped to your door; as long as leftist don’t know about the CMP it will stay that way.
In the early 60’s I bought a brand new M1911A1 and a brand new M1903A3 Springfield from what was then the Director of Civilian Marksmanship. They were around $17 bucks each. A little later M1 carbines went on
sale but they were $20. A little too steep for me as I was only 18 years old at the time!
Gun Digest typically releases their annual in August of the year preceding their cover date. They’ve been pretty consistent about this timing since the early 1950s.
FYI: Gun Digest offers a full collection of their annuals in DVD format, going back to the first edition in 1944. When the new annual edition is published, GDI typically clearances their remaining DVD sets to make room for an updated version. So start watching later this month for their 1944-2016 DVD collection to be heavily discounted.
I didn’t know that and I just spent maybe $200 assembling a set from 1970-now in paper. Thanks for the heads up.
I have a full dead tree collection along with the 1944-2009 DVD set. Alas, only the Pdf for the more recent volumes were run through an OCR program.
Since my earlier post, I noticed that GDI didn’t release a 1944-2016 DVD collection. Even at full price, the 1944-2015 DVD set will cost less than original dead tree copies of the 1944, 1945, 1947, and 1949 editions.
Thanks again, Daniel. I have several excellent OCR tools here. The Fujitsu software has an abominable interface, but great power.
In 1974, the Numrich Arms incarnation of Auto-Ordnance began manufacture of a few full auto Thompson submachine guns and numerous semi-automatic only replicas of the Thompson gun for the collectors’ market, including .22 LR caliber. I’m not certain what year production of the .45 caliber M1927A5 Tommygun pistol commenced, but I’m pretty certain that it was available in 1976.
Also: it was around 1975-’76 that ole’ Hank at Pac West Arms began commercial sale of copies of the AR-15 lower for building into rifles or pistols by the purchaser. At a time when Colt’s AR-15 SP-1 still had the slabside lower and no forward assist, Hank’s lowers had the mag catch fence and front pivot reinforcement, even if they did arrive from the anodizing shop with sand still in the takedown and pivot pin detent spring holes. I built up my first XM177E2 semi in ’76 on one of them, with a 4-digit PWA lower. Hank dropped out of the business around 1980, sold his tooling to a new upstart outfit calling itself Rock River, and from there on it’s been history.
The Progressive/Cosmo/Tranzi crowd wont be happy till the citizen’s are disarmed of everything but there hands, feet and minds and they will still want that registered.
Girardoni .46 Cal with 22 rounds in a gravity-fed, tubular magazine, 1806 Assault Rifle. Grizzly bears were not impressed though.