Language and Culture

Other Names for Assault Rifles Mask What They Are

Are there other names for assault rifles besides assault rifles?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, pundits are talking a lot about guns. Are American gun laws too lax? Do we have a culture that glorifies violence? Should certain weapons be kept out of the hands of the public?

Other names for assault rifles include “tactical rifles” and “modern sporting rifles.” Both are euphemisms.

I usually avoid political topics in RedLine blog posts. But there is a language element to the debate over guns. And it makes all the difference. (In fact, the same could be said about other politically charged topics, from abortion to immigration. Less controversial, of course, is euphemistic language in technology.)

Gun-control advocate Tom Diaz was recently interviewed on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. In the interview, he talked about a few other names for assault rifles. (Diaz is a former NRA member and the son of an Army officer. He is now a vocal advocate for gun control at the federal level.)


The AR-15, the type of gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting,
comes in many sizes and with many options.

Other Names for Assault Rifles

Diaz notes that the gun industry has come up with other names for assault rifles. It’s a clear term but one that makes some people squirm.

He cites “tactical rifles” and “modern sporting rifles” as examples of how the industry attempts to attract a wider audience. Listen to “Assault-Style Weapons in the Civilian Market” to hear the whole interview.


The ‘AK’ in AK-47 comes from Автомат Калашникова (‘automatic Kalishnikov’), after its Soviet inventor Mikhail Kalishnikov.

An Assault Rifle by Any Other Name…

So what’s in a name? Well, an assault rifle by any other name would still be as deadly. (Apologies to Shakespeare.) Changing the name to something “safer” is shrewd. In fact, it’s great marketing.

But it’s intellectually dishonest to say that an AK-47 is a “modern sporting rifle.” Why? Because it has a cyclic rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute.

It may be “modern.” But there’s nothing “sporting” about it. No one hunts deer with an AK-47. And no one on the receiving end of this weapon—or any other assault rifle—has a sporting chance of surviving.


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