The Associated Press Stylebook—what many journalists think of as the dictionary of proper journalistic writing technique—issued updated guidance for reporting about firearms.
“The preferred term for a rifle that fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled, and automatically reloads for a subsequent shot, is a semi-automatic rifle,” the AP Stylebook shared in a tweet. “An automatic rifle continuously fires rounds if the trigger is depressed and until its ammunition is exhausted.”
“Avoid assault rifle and assault weapon,” the style tip advises, “which are highly politicized terms that generally refer to AR- or AK-style rifles designed for the civilian market, but convey little meaning about the actual functions of the weapon.”
It’s a welcome suggestion in a world where, in their haste to make political advances against firearms, it’s common for mainstream-media reporters (and some politicians) to use the jargon preferred by gun-control groups.
While confusing the difference between “bullet” and “cartridge” or “magazine” and “clip” might be understandable to some extent, it’s a big tell when reporters incessantly blur the distinction between fully-automatic, NFA-restricted firearms and the AR-15 or other popular semi-automatic platforms. In fact, the use of the term “assault weapon” when describing semi-automatic firearms seems more by design than lack of technical understanding of firearms.
Congress ran into the definitional issue with its 10-year “assault-weapons ban” in 1994, artificially creating a new class of firearms to fit a political agenda by listing specific models subject to the ban, and adding any other semi-automatic rifles and pistols having both the ability to accept detachable magazines and two or more accessories; such as bayonet mounts, folding stocks, or vertical foregrips. These cosmetic features did not change how the firearms functioned, but made them appear more menacing, apparently, to those either unfamiliar with, or inherently opposed to, firearms in general. Studies found the ban had no effect on overall crime.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others are still pushing such a ban in Congress, once again with outlandish claims, such as that AR pistol braces convert a firearm to fully automatic.
As this was being written, news outlets hadn’t adopted this new AP recommendation, as they were still widely using the “assault weapon” term.
However, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) recently estimating that 24,446,000 AR-type rifles are now in circulation in the U.S.—up 4.5 million in just two years—these popular semi-automatic rifles are clearly commonly owned in the U.S., and they are not going anywhere, no matter what journalists or gun-control advocates write.
All that being noted, it is encouraging to see the AP offer guidance to journalists that may dissuade them from using inaccurate, politically-motivated terminology when writing about firearms.