On Monday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) became the latest in a string of Republican presidential candidates to attempt a viral video challenge to Donald Trump‘s absolute domination of the newshole when he filmed himself making and eating something he called “machine gun bacon.” There’s just one problem with Cruz’s demonstration (aside from the obvious overcompensation), which is that this ain’t a machine gun:
As anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of firearms can tell you, that’s a semi-automatic rifle. In fact, Rachel Maddow‘s show even contacted the gun range where the spot was filmed to confirm that the weapon used was an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, but the fact that Cruz had to pull the trigger to release each round was already a dead giveaway. If Cruz had been using a “machine gun,” then he would have only had to depress the trigger once to empty the weapon’s magazine.
This is no minute distinction, and yet all of the conservative blogs who published Cruz’s video went right along with his error, even Guns.com. I mean, if your name is Guns Dot Com, you should know the difference between “a machine gun” and “not a machine gun.” You’re a gun website, not the First Lady, or some gay news anchor.
Yet it was just this sort of “mistake” that led conservatives to lambaste First Lady Michelle Obama for allegedly misidentifying the weapon that killed 15 year-old Hadiya Pendleton in 2013, and to pillory CNN anchor Don Lemon for a similar transgression. They called Michelle Obama “ignorant” for using the term “automatic” to describe the handgun that killed Pendleton barely a week after performing at President Obama’s second inauguration. The president made an impassioned reference to her tragic killing during his State of the Union address, urging Congress to vote on the gun regulations he proposed in the wake of the Newtown shooting tragedy. According to police, Hadiya was most likely killed with a semi-automatic handgun.
But here’s the thing: unlike Cruz’s gaffe, Michelle Obama’s terminology was correct, at least according to the NRA.
The term “automatic” is commonly used to describe semi-automatic handguns like the one which killed Hadiya Pendleton, as well as to describe machine guns. Every gun owner knows this. It’s a shorthand, one which is actually more commonly understood than the technical definition that was used to smear the First Lady. No gun owner would ever refer to a fully automatic gun as an “automatic” in conversation, they’d say “machine gun,” or “machine pistol,” or “fully automatic.” That’s because when discussing guns people can actually own, people assume that “automatic” is a reference to a semi-automatic. Everyone knows this.
Don’t take my word for it, however. Just ask NRA certified handgun instructor Carrie Lightfoot:
AUTOMATIC – A firearm designed to feed cartridges, fire them, eject their empty cases and repeat this cycle as long as the trigger is depressed and cartridges remain in the feed system. Examples: machine guns, submachine guns, selective-fire rifles, including true assault rifles. A fully automatic firearm is capable of sequentially firing two or more cartridges with a single pull of the trigger. A fully automatic firearm is also called a machine gun.
Automatic can also refer to a semi-automatic firearm.
And here’s what the National Rifle Association says about the term:
A term used often to describe what is actually a semi-automatic pistol. It is, technically, a misnomer but a near-century of use has legitimized it, and its use confuses only the novice.
One thing the NRA would never say is that it is legitimate to call a semi-automatic rifle a “machine gun,” so I look forward to a raft of apologies to First Lady Michelle Obama, and a concurrent rash of Ted Cruz denunciations featuring the words “ignorant” and “embarrassing.”
In Cruz’s defense, though, his gaffe does serve to highlight an oft-overlooked aspect of the gun control debate, which is the differing capabilities of fully-automatic weapons (which are effectively banned from private ownership) and semi-automatic assault weapons, which gun rights advocates insist couldn’t really be effectively banned even if we wanted to. Cruz made it easy, but see if you can tell the difference between semi and fully automatic gunfire:
Some of the people in these videos are using an accessory, called a “slide stock,” that helps the shooter to fire more quickly, but none of the semiautomatic weapons in that video were modified for automatic fire. If this is what legal assault weapons can do, then what’s the point of banning machine guns? More to the point, though, if these weapons have virtually the same capability as banned machine guns, then why aren’t we banning these, as well? This would be a great time to do it, because it seems Ted Cruz and Guns Dot Com wouldn’t even notice the difference.
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