This article tackles a loaded topic: the conversation about the misnomer "assault rifle". There will be some reviews of centerfire semi-automatic rifles available to the general public, but we do take exception with the concept of the "Assault Rifle" as it has been portrayed in the media and popular culture over the past couple of decades.
Firstly, the term assault rifle doesn't actually mean what most of the lay public think it does. In the classical sense, there is such a thing as an "assault rifle", but in the consumer market such rifles do not exist by definition. This is thanks in part to poor media coverage and inaccurate reporting, as well as very specific regulations regarding firearms that fall under the umbrella of a statutorily defined "Assault Rifle".
We want to define what an assault rifle is, then show off some guns more commonly and accurately referred to as battle rifles, which for the sake of brevity, are probably best correlated to a classical "assault rifle" as semi-automatic, regulated, and legal variants of guns in the aesthetic of a Classic "Assault Rifle".
what is an assault rifle?
In California Penal code, the term assault and battery are typically associated with each other. The term assault being the attempt at violence (by definition) and battery being the act itself of violence.
In the section of the penal code that codifies firearm regulations in California, there is a completely different definition for the word "assault". It begs the question: do legislators actually know what they are legislating?
But the term "battery rifle" doesn’t quite have the fear inducing ring that makes for controversial reporting. It sounds more like a cute toy rifle that makes sonic blaster sounds that you might find under your Christmas tree as an 8 year old kid.
There is some brief historical support for the term "Assault Rifle", and it is accepted by even pro-gun contingencies, because the original intent and classification was a genuine thing. The references generally appear to be tied to carbine style versions of rifles that can be carried fast and light, with the ability to offer selective fire (different options for rate of projectile delivery on target), up to and including 2 or 3 shot bursts and fully automatic fire.
The fully automatic part of this equation means specifically that the gun will fire after the trigger is pulled and until the trigger is released all by itself as long as the operator of the trigger is depressing the trigger.
These types of rifles (what we refer to as "classical assault rifles") are considered quite rare in modern warfare because of the evolution of the purpose of small arms in combat since the start of the Cold War.
No longer are troops battling each other in the trenches and facing each other in short distances on traditional battlefields, where the "assault rifle" was developed for and positioned to be used upon.
Warfare is fundamentally different now.
Nevertheless, special circumstances require capabilities that are extraordinary, and law enforcement and military have in fact, fielded classically defined "Assault Rifles" throughout the past 50+ years on "battlefields" of all types, including in urban combat scenarios.
What may most specifically be classified as an assault rifle is the StG 44 (Sturmgewehr 44) which literally translates to assault rifle. This gun had the following specifications:
- An effective firing range of approximately 300m/330yd
- A 7.92x33 caliber
- It would fire 500 rounds a minute and was lighter than most alternatives
- It had a 30 round magazine that was detachable and could be used quickly to reload if pre-loaded magazines were available.
Now it's unfair to classify this as an assault rifle in the sense that it could keep up with today's alternatives, but at the time it was genuinely the fastest, lightest, highest rate of fire rifle that could be reasonably handled by an infantry person.
Note this assault rifle was introduced in 1942 in Germany after the height of trench warfare and during Germany's most prominent era of battlefield control.
what are some other classical assault rifles?
The following list offers some idea of what might be misconstrued as an assault rifle in today's lexicon.
Note: Not one of these firearms is available or legal for purchase in the United States by any normal member of the civilian population. Some versions might be available on the secondary market at prices above $25K USD, and with the Government's approval via a tax stamp, special authorization and a heavily documented transferal.
The process is mindbogglingly tedious and it is unbelievably rare that such a rifle becomes available on the market and actually changes hands thanks to ridiculously high baseline pricing and inability to easily transact the exchange.
- AK47 (Select Fire or Fully Automatic) and some other variants with regional naming differences
- M16 (Select Fire or Fully Automatic) and some variants with different naming conventions
- Heckler & Koch G36 (Select Fire or Fully Automatic) and some other variants under the same umbrella
- Sig 550 (Select Fire or Fully Automatic) and other variants in like style
- Galil (Select Fire or Fully Automatic)
- Some variants of the Steyr AUG (Select Fire or Fully Automatic)
- Valmet Rifles (Select Fire or Fully Automatic)
There are other variants and styles of actual Assault rifles, but all are intended as Government issue, or military specific infantry type rifles.
All of these guns utilize an intermediate sized rifle cartridge and have the ability to be handled by a single person and offer multiple rates of fire by manual selection.
It should further be noted that there has never been a case of a mass shooting in the United States that employed the use of a statutorily defined assault rifle. All politics aside, such a rifle is exceedingly rare in the hands of civilians.
the best assault rifle style firearms that a civilian can buy
Auto Ordnance - M1 Carbine Paratrooper
This is the old school, paratrooper variant of the limited use assault rifle used in Vietnam by American Airborne troops during insertion into dense jungle areas. The resounding opinion at the time (which was early in the life cycle of the Colt M16) was that the caliber 5.56x45 was too lightweight to effectively kill targets in even close range encounters and that a larger diameter, less likely to be deflected cartridge was a better option.
It is literally the original Vietnam Era Assault rifle and it lives on today at least in aesthetics with an intermediate cartridge (.30 Carbine); easy to use magazines 15 and 30 round versions and a small, easily handled size. Unlike the original version of the M1Carbine used by American Airborne troops during some campaigns in Vietnam, this is not a select fire firearm.
This is a newly produced, semi-auto version with the same basic looks and many of the original parts of the original assault rifle version.
It is made as a replica, but the design is timeless; the caliber r is fun to shoot and potent and the gun is so classic looking that it is a perennial favorite among nostalgia seekers.
- Relatively lightweight
- A proven performer
- Great caliber that is approachable, fun and not particularly expensive to shoot
- Not the most comfortable stock
LWRC International IC SPR Rifle
More in line with what modern day media outlets define as an assault weapon, the LWRC is a top tier gas driven version of one of the most beloved sporting rifles in the history of the world, if not the most beloved. This is the quintessential Carbine variant of the AR rifle.
It has some features that truly make it a standout option in the crowded field of AR15's, including the top quality fit and finish from LWRC factory. The gas system makes it easier to count on in dirty or unmaintained scenarios for longer. The finish quality is a nice touch because it adds obvious wear protection and weather protection – some options allow for a cerakoted variant from factory.
The fluted barrel gives aggressive looks and great heat dissipation for long outings at the range. The fore end also allows a lot of heat removal for the gun which means it operates cooler, and last longer between cleanings without malfunction. The furniture is basically industry standard; including the magazines which are polymer PMags by Magpul.
The BCG (bolt carrier group) is nickel born coated allowing further maintenance ease and extends usable time frames when in dirty conditions, or where you cannot maintain the gun for longer than normal. It makes the gun easily used with a rag to wipe down the components, even after several hundred rounds instead of an intensive cleaning regimen.
Aggressive looks, showstopping performance; excellent mobility (14 inch barrel and 32 inches overall with stock in shortest configuration) and time tested durability – it's hard to go wrong with this assault rifle look alike.
Note: this barrel is too short to be owned in certain states. Your jurisdiction may not allow this variant, but LWRC makes other models which could be applicable for your needs. Check out here.
- Easy to use and carry
- Great looks
- Extreme reliability
- Long cleaning intervals relative to peers
- Starting to get pricey for the segment
- Short barrel not allowed in certain jurisdictions for ownership
DS Arms - SA58 FAL Pistol
Another storied firearm, the SA58 *(based on the original FN FAL rifle) is a look alike rifle that pays homage to a gun that was adopted by more than a dozen militaries around the globe during its heyday, in competition with the HK G3 and the AK47.
The FAL (and by extension the SA58) show what was at one time, an extreme firearm for an infantry person. The heavy recoil; thin barrel, small size and heavy ammunition made for an absolute beast of a rifle on paper, but one that many normal soldiers simply didn't like to lug around and liked even less to shoot in a sustained fire role.
It is perhaps the best indicator on this list as to why the "assault rifle" is no longer a thing. The idea that warfare was always a man vs. man fight, where superior firepower was the deciding factor simply isn't realistic, especially in the age when air superiority had begun to become the motto for warfare.
The modern battle rifle is more about preservation than pushing an offensive. Soldiers are not put into harm's way in most encounters like they were at the advent of the "assault rifle" and therefore, the best examples of what is an best assault rifle has become something of an obsolete relic in realistic terms.
That said, the SA58 is a comprehensively built, and legitimately fun to shoot, high power battel rifle that is excellent for those who have a taste and the deep pockets for the ammunition it requires – the 7.62x51 (.308 is suitable in these rifles as well – generally speaking).
37.5" OAL with stock unfolded; 20 rounds of 7.62x51 and an overall weight of only 8,76 lbs., considering this is an all-steel firearm, makes this a lean mean, fighting machine with legitimate battle proven credibility, even if it does kick like a mule.
- Very shooter friendly from a design perspective (with the exception of the recoil)
- Proven track record
- Excellent intermediate caliber
- Fine craftsmanship for what amounts to a surplus style gun
- It kicks because it's lightweight and the gun is built right at the limits of engineering for the caliber
Czech Small Arms - VZ. 58
We didn't include a traditional AK variant on this list because it's the obvious choice and it feeds into the hype that assault rifles are weapons of mass destruction. However, the VZ58 is a substantially similar rifle that has been used in a substantially similar role historically, and in its own right, is a top tier performer.
Based on the battle rifle issued to several different militaries, the Czech made "cousin" to the AK is different but has similar characteristics, including the same base caliber: 7.62x39. It is manufactured to exceptional tolerances for the style of gun, and mostly because the Czech Republic makers are passionate about making really great guns.
Czech makers take firearms seriously – they always have, and this is one of the most historically celebrated designs.
A shorter barrel (just over 16 inches); an overall length of 34 inches and large capacity magazines that shoot easily available cartridges that are proven to be one of the best intermediate rounds in the history of warfare makes this a jewel of a battle rifle, and an exceptional copy of the original assault weapon it's fashioned after.
This more modern version fixes some of the basic flaws that had been uncovered over the years in used surplus and retrofitted semi-automatic variants of the VZ.58 including the misfire issue that made it a lesser quality version of the AK spectrum. In fairness, it's never been an AK – there are many differences; and it's never been lower quality, it simply had some things that had to be ironed out.
In a lot of ways, this gun is superior to the AK and other European style battle rifles; especially with the Czech's attitude towards fit and finish, where this gun shines.
- A fun gun to shoot – relatively inexpensive ammunition
- Great fit and finish
- Unique and yet, familiar
- It's not an AK, so for many people it's just not the preeminent rifle of its era
Auto Ordnance - Tommy Gun Summit
The original Gangster gun, this is the assault weapon made for the streets of 1920's and 1930's America. Often the criminals outgunned the law enforcement, and this is more often than not because the Tommy gun was in the hands of criminals. It's not a traditional assault rifle in the sense that it utilizes an intermediate sized rifle round – it uses a .45 ACP.
It is also not an assault rifle in the sense that it's a carbine and considered, in its original form, a sub machine gun – but it's close enough. The reason this one makes so much sense is that it shows the movement of designs originally intended for the battlefield in the late trench warfare era and early years of World War 2, into the streets of high crime, mafia-controlled cities.
The Tommy Gun literally changed everything for the Assault rifle. It is because of the Tommy Gun that we have the NFA rules (The National Firearms Act), which came as legislation to put control of the streets back into the law enforcement corner.
This is also a perfect example for the modern day enthusiast of Assault Rifles, because not only is the Tommy Gun the biggest catalyst for the NFA rules, but it incorporates a silencer in this variant, and it is true to the original format of the gun with very minor tweaks (one being it is not a select fire gun). You still need a tax stamp to buy it and own it.
That means that it is literal living history with regards to what civilians would refer to as assault weapons. In the most real sense this is as close to an assault weapon as you can buy as a civilian, without massive transference fees and a long waiting period. It is also as true to the original law that spelled out the restrictions on select fire and fully automatic weapons as any gun on this list.
It is a historical marker for the genre, no doubt; and it doesn't even have some of the traditional characteristics associated with the "assault rifle".
An 11 inch barrel also necessitates NFA rule compliance; the stick mags hold 20 rounds and the drum holds 50 rounds. The case is in the shape of a violin case, which pays homage to the early gangster era concealment scheme that allowed people to be gunned down in the streets a little more easily. It's historically relevant to the story of the Assault rifle, and it is a collector's item while also being a fun to shoot closed bolt, blowback operated 45 carbine.
It's the most fun you can have while telling a story with a firearm in America as a civilian.
- Historically relevant even if it isn’t a true to life replica of an great assault rifle
- Incredibly fun
- A collector's item
- Needs NFA paperwork and tax stamp – this is a highly regulated firearm
Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM CQB Semiautomatic Rifle
Another great American firearm that is based almost exactly off a former military rifle that shot in select fire modalities and was considered a behemoth in its era. This is the modern version of the classic Assault Rifle the M14, which was a select fire, high capacity, box mag driven rifle that shot the 7.62x51mm rifle round, one of the best intermediate rounds by battlefield prowess standards in history.
The cartridge is still in wide use today by the United States military and is just now only starting to see replacement potentiality with more modern cartridges (like the 6.8 or the 6.5 depending on the scenario). It’s relatively cheap to shoot compared to the larger end of the 30 caliber spectrum, though it is not cheap per se.
The M1A is the Springfield Armory designation for the semi-automatic variant of what is mostly an M14. Springfield being the largest producer of wartime rifles in that designation. They are the godfather of this rifle and they own it not only from a trademark perspective, but in that they have made this gun into a mainstream firearm, where before it was a surplus picked up by a few people.
Springfield has delivered a fine rifle to the masses and they deserve praise for resurrecting one of the most iconic firearms in American military history, if not one that suffered due to heavyweight and heavy recoil.
This is the best tactical variant available at factory today, and the short barrel (16.25") and the adjustable stock means while this gun is heavy, its' stout, durable and now, maneuverable. It's a great play on the original battlefield assault rifle that was the M14, but it also plays on the manual interaction and mostly non-modular design platform that Springfield has made the M1A into.
A superior trigger makes this a great gun for the range, while the size and utility of the gun make it great for CQB (Close Quarters Battle).
- Easy to maneuver
- Built to durability standards that most guns cannot match
- Great modularity for a gun that was built as the anti-modular gun
- Excellent accuracy
- Price is hefty, but the value can be found if you look hard enough
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