Assault Rifles

The term "Assault Rifle" refers to an auto-loading rifle having a large capacity (20 rounds or more) detachable magazine, capable of full automatic fire and firing an intermediate rifle cartridge. This term has been corrupted by the media, politicians and the bureaucracy to include virtually all self-loading weapons that look "ugly" and/or "mean". Weapons that fire pistol ammunition, e.g., Intratec Tec-9's, Cobray M-11's, are not assault rifles by virtue of their firing pistol ammunition and that they were not designed for full-automatic fire. Nor are weapons that while firing an intermediate rifle cartridge have fixed magazines and were never intended for full automatic fire, e.g., the SKS-45. In the United States, civilian versions of true assault weapons, such as the AKS-47, MAK-90 and AR-15, that can only deliver semiautomatic fire, are widely available. Strictly speaking, these are also not assault rifles as they are designed for semi-automatic fire only. Conversion of these weapons to full-automatic fire capability is rare. Use of assault rifles in crimes is uncommon as they are not concealable.

The first true "Assault" ("Storm") rifle was the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44).1011 This rifle was developed as a result of the experience of the German Army in World War I. They wanted a short reliable rifle chambered for a mid-range (intermediate) cartridge. In 1938, the firm of Polte was given a contract to develop this cartridge while the firm of C.G. Haenel was awarded a contract for development of a weapon to fire it. The cartridge, the 7.9-mm Kurz Patrone (7.92 X 33 mm), completed development by late 1940-early 1941. The weapon, called a Maschinenkarabiner (machine carbine), completed initial development by 1940. The first prototype apparently appeared in late 1941. By July 1942, the first 50 test weapons were produced. In January 1941, Walther was also commissioned to develop a weapon. By July 1942, only two prototypes were developed. Mass production was to begin by Haenel in November 1942 and Walther in October. The Haenel weapon was designated the Maschinenkarabiner 42(H) and the Walther the Maschinenkarabiner 42(W). By February 1943, less than 2000 weapons of both types had been delivered. Also by this time, the Haenel design was selected over the Walther. Full-scale production of the Haenel weapon, now the MP 43, was begun in July 1943. The MP 43 was a simplified version of the MKb 42(H)

with a modified gas system and the internal hammer firing system used on the Walther design. These weapons were first used by German troops on the Russian front in the winter of 1943. By January 1944, the Army had received more than 19,000 MP 43's. The name MP 43 was changed to Sturmgewehr

44 in late 1944. Total production of all weapons is estimated at approximately 425,000.

As can best be determined, in 1939, Russia began development of an intermediate-power rifle cartridge, probably independent of the work in Germany. The new cartridge the 7.62 x 39 mm was developed by 1943. The first weapon to utilize this cartridge was the SKS-45, a traditional semiautomatic rifle and not an assault rifle. The rifle synonymous with this cartridge, and which was to symbolize assault rifles throughout the last half of the 20th century, the Avtomat Kalashnikova Obrazets (AK-47) was adopted in 1949. It was not until 1957, that the first AR-15 chambered for the 5.56 x

45 mm cartridge was to appear and it was not until 1963 that the first "onetime" order was placed for this weapon by the United States Army. In the early 1970s, the AK-47 was replaced in the Russian Army with the AK 74 chambered for the 5.45 x 39-mm cartridge. Table 7.2 compares the assault rifle cartridges.

One of the common fallacies about assault rifles is that the wounds produced by them are more severe than those due to regular military rifles and hunting rifles. In fact, the wounds are less severe, even when compared to such venerable hunting rifles as the Winchester M-94 (introduced in 1894) and its cartridge the .30-30 (introduced in 1895).

In dealing with rifles, the severity of the wound is determined to a great degree by the amount of kinetic energy lost by a bullet in the body. The intermediate cartridges used in assault rifles possess significantly less kinetic energy than traditional military cartridges as well as rifle cartridges designed for hunting. Therefore, it is impossible for a intermediate-power rifle cartridge to produce severer injuries than a full-power rifle cartridge, all other factors being equal.

In the past few years, the author has had extensive experience with deaths due to the 7.62 x 39-mm cartridge loaded with full metal-jacketed bullets having either a mild steel core (standard Russian and Chinese military design) or a lead core. In a review of 50 cases involving this cartridge, the following observations were made:

1. All primary head wounds were perforating.

2. While entrance wounds of the head, and usually the exits, can easily be mistaken for wounds inflicted by handguns, internally, there are very severe injuries with multiple fractures of the skull and extensive lacerations of the brain. The severe nature of the internal injuries clearly indicate that one is dealing with a centerfire rifle and not a handgun.

3. Tangential and shallow (superficial) perforating wounds of the head, are extremely mutilating. Evisceration of part or all of the brain is common. These wounds cannot be mistaken for handgun wounds.

4. In distant wounds of the trunk, the entrance wounds appear similar to small caliber handgun wounds. Exit wounds are variable in size, sometimes indistinguishable from those from handgun bullets, though at other times too large. The wounds to the internal organs (chest and abdomen) are often no more severe in appearance than those from 9 mm or .357 Magnum handgun bullets. In many cases, especially involving bullets with a mild steel core, after examining the wounds internally and externally, one can not say whether the individual was shot with a centerfire rifle or a handgun. The wounds are not anywhere as severe as those from hunting ammunition.

5. Most tangential wounds of the trunk, and some shallow (superficial) perforating wounds, are obviously too severe to be from handguns and thus have to be of rifle origin.

6. If the bullet has perforated an intermediary target, it may be retained in the body even if it does not appear deformed.

7. Wounds of the extremities are perforating. They usually cannot be differentiated from handgun wounds unless they are tangential.

That entry wounds of the skin from the 7.62 x 39-mm bullet are not different from wounds due to handgun bullets is not surprising. What is surprising is the relative innocuous appearance of the internal injuries to the trunk and extremities. The explanation for this has to due with the stability of the 7.62 x 39 bullet in the body. Most of the shootings seen by the author involved Chinese ammunition loaded with bullets having a full metal-jacket and a mild steel core. This construction is typical of military ammunition of this caliber. In ballistic gelatin testing, these bullets do not undergo significant yawing until 25 to 27 cm of penetration.12 Thus, a 7.62 x 39-mm bullet with a mild steel core may pass through 25 to 27 cm of tissue, perforating vital organs, without production of a significant temporary cavity, with resultant injury no greater than that from a handgun bullet.

The M-16 rifle chambered for the 5.56 x 45 cartridge is considered by many to be more effective in its wounding ability than the AK-47. With either the 55 or 62-gr. full metal-jacketed military bullet, the average distance of penetration before significant yaw develops is 12 cm.12 Thus, on an average, these bullets begin significant yawing in half the distance of penetration of the military AK-47 round (25 cm). The effectiveness of the 5.56 x 45 bullets is further enhanced by the fact that as the bullet reaches maximum yaw, it tends to deform and fragment while the 7.62 X 39 bullet with a mild steel core does not.

The 7.62 X 51 cartridge (.308) with a full metal-jacketed bullet begins to yaw after 15 cm of penetration. The yaw progresses until the bullet ends up traveling base forward.

Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

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    What kinds of wounds are produced by AR15 rifles?
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