If AR-15's Are Assault Weapons, Emeryville Residents Might Not Want Them
Battle lines are being drawn in town over the definition of the term 'assault rifle' after the children of Yuvette Henderson filed suit against the City of Emeryville for her February 3rd wrongful death at the hands of the Emeryville Police Department using such a rifle. Chief of Police Jennifer Tejada has entered into the fray with a campaign to assure Emeryville residents the AR-15 assault rifles carried by the Emeryville police and specifically used in the shooting of Ms Henderson, are merely regular rifles, with nothing 'assault' about them.
While firearm nomenclature may seem arcane, Emeryville's foray onto the battle ground for control of the term assault rifle is also a consequential nation-wide phenomenon breaking along familiar pro-gun right and anti-gun left positions. The issue it would seem is a matter of opinion with each side using the definition to bolster their side. Cal Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakeoff notably says it's not really possible to settle on a definition because guns in America have evolved into an issue of personal identity.
Chief Tejada's rejection of the word assault to describe the AR-15 squarely places her in the company of the NRA, the Republican Party as well as Fox News and many other right wing pro-gun groups and radio personalities. On the other side, those arguing that AR-15's are assault rifles is the 1994 United States Congress and the Democratic Party. In Emeryville the issue has split the blogosphere; the pro-business opinion blog the E'Ville Eye has sided with Chief Tejada and the NRA, insisting that AR-15's are not assault rifles while the Tattler has sided with the Democrats.
'Emeryville's Police Chief
and the NRA Agree:
These are NOT Assault Rifles'
Interestingly however, early on, it was the gun industry itself that started calling the AR-15 and other semi-automatic weapons like it assault weapons. The industry started a program in the 1970's for the militarization of civilian weapons in look, feel, operation and branding. Later after Congress attempted to reauthorize the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, the NRA and the gun industry attempted to re-brand assault weapons as "modern sporting rifles". Now, the NRA defines an assault rifle as "a selective-fire rifle chambered for a cartridge of intermediate power". To ward off anyone trying to define an AR-15 as an assault rifle, the NRA kicks in the following in their official definition, "If applied to any semi-automatic firearm regardless of its cosmetic similarity to a true assault rifle, the term is incorrect".
The change at the NRA to redefine assault weapons it should be noted followed the Congressional ban on these weapons. Early on in its effort to support the gun industry who had interest in increasing sales of these military style guns, the gun lobby was happy to call them assault weapons. They later sharply reversed themselves after it became clear the assault designation would drive public opinion against them as Congress sought a ban.
The suit filed against the City of Emeryville (see below) will presumably harden Chief Tejada's insistence that AR-15's are not assault rifles but it should be noted she made these claims before the initiation of the October 29th suit.