The assault rifle replaced the long distance, high powered, bolt action, low capacity infantry weapon that had been standard issue to most of the world’s armies for the First and most of the Second World War. The assault rifle was designed for close work, fighting in thick woods, jungle or blasted urban landscapes, carried many rounds in an easily replaceable magazine, and could be fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled (semi-automatic) or even in fully automatic mode (bullets spit out for as long as you can hold the trigger until the magazine is emptied). They were small, light, and usually cheaply built; stamped, not forged or machined. Many even carried a selector switch to choose between auto and semiauto mode. Soldiers fought at closer ranges, so high powered and highly accurate weapons and munitions were not necessary. The assault weapons consumed smaller cartidges, so infantrymen could carry a lot more of them. Soldiers were no longer trained to conserve ammunition and fire accurately. The new doctrine is to spray him with fire until you can call in heavy weaponry.
The assault weapons in today’s gun debate are essentially built on this concept, although they usually lack the capability for fully automatic fire, because fully automatic weapons are illegal, even in the United States. However, most are designed so that they can easily be converted to fully automatic mode by any competent gunsmith, or even a typical shooter. The parts needed for this, and instructions on how to carry out the conversion, are readily available, often legally. Make no mistake, these weapons are marketed deliberately to people who want the capability to engage other soldiers. They are not for sport, or hunting, or any legitimate use, in fact, they are totally unsuited for sporting use. They are military weapons. The people who buy them fantasize themselves as warriors, and many actually believe that they will someday need these weapons to fight enemy troops, either foreign invaders or agents of their own government. Most of these people will never actually try to do this, in fact, most are perfectly law-abiding and rather meek citizens, but they feel better owning weapons that can do this. If I were going into combat on a modern battlefield I would select a weapon like this. If I were going deer hunting I would have something very different. If any gun nut tells you differently they are lying.
For a first step in gun control I would suggest no weapon would be legal that was capable of full automatic fire, or could easily be modified for it. I would also enable size restrictions, so that no rifle under a certain size could be manufactured or marketed. There are already regulations like this in force in many states for sporting arms. That’s why there are laws against “sawed-off” shotguns and rifles, it makes them too easily concealable. Most important, magazine size must be restricted. There is no reason for a sporting rifle to have an ammunition capacity exceeding 5 rounds. If you miss that deer after taking two or three shots you can kiss him goodbye.
There are other things you could do; firearms training, background checks, restrictions on bulk gun or ammo sales, banning mail-order sales, mandatory waiting periods, registration, and banning of munitions designed specifically to defeat police armor and the surgeon’s skill. Most of these things are already done, although numerous loopholes exist to get around them. But there is nothing here which would be extreme or unprecedented in American law. And most legitimate sportsmen would support these actions, as they already do. Similar actions could be taken to control other classes of firarms.
I personally do not believe guns should be banned. Not only do I believe it is wrong, it is probably impossible. Prohibition did not work for liquor or drugs. Even handguns have their place. I also have no illusions that gun control will eliminate gun violence, even gun-shy Europe has its occasional mass shooting, or accidental death, or domestic argument gone out of control. But it will curtail it. Although I don’t believe in a constitutional right to bear arms, (that is a flagrant misreading of the Second Amendment), I do believe we have a human right to bear arms, subject to certain common sense restrictions and regulations. The grotesquely politicized gun policy advocated by people like the NRA is designed to feed a malignant human pathology and support a cynically profitable industry. It has nothing to do with sport or self-defense, and it certainly has nothing to do with freedom.