One part of the debate lost over assault rifles is the history of the weapons. Assault rifles are a far more modern military styled weapon than most people realize, and have only existed since the last days of WWII. During the Battle Of The Bulge in the last months of the war, the German Wehrmacht introduced some late new weapons as a last ditch attempt to either win the war or at least to stop the Allied advance on Berlin in hopes of also stopping the Red Army advance in the East as well. Old men and boys were given antitank weapons to stop Soviet tanks in Eastern Berlin while soldiers in the Wehrmacht fighting the Allies in the West were given the brand new and world’s first assault rifle, the StG44. The new German rifle was capable of firing 550-600 rounds a minute, although the actual magazine capacity was far smaller than that, and only limited to just 30 rounds that were 7.9mm. 425,977 of the new type of rifle were produced and distributed to the German troops.
The Soviets were so impressed with the German StG44, that their own AK-47 was adopted by Soviet troops in 1949 as a successor to tests of the new AK-46 type of rifle. Assault rifles are also known for their selective-fire ability to switch between semi-automatic and automatic mode. Single fire mode is also an option on most modern assault rifles as well. Since 1934, due to the use of Tommy Guns by old time gangsters, the federal government has heavily regulated fully automatic weapons such as the machine guns. Some assault rifles are capable of launching a grenade, have a bayonet stock, and a flash suppressor among other features.
In 1964, the U.S. military began to use the American produced M-16 rifle, which later saw heavy use during the Vietnam War. This weapon was particularly good for that sparse sort of jungle warfare as the nature of warfare had evolved to guerrilla styled warfare and hit and run warfare far more similar to what was witnessed during war with American Indians or even the Revolutionary War tactics of warfare. Compared to the old musket, and later long rifle, the assault rifle was a weapon able to move ahead with the changing nature of warfare, as armies more and more fought in sparse combat situations.
Armies around the world experimented with various weapons including the American M1, M2 and M3 Carbine, some of which had fully automatic fire capability. But, from these old designs came the modern day assault rifles, and now even newer generation weapons exist such as South Korean Daewoo K11 DAW.
Interesting, the United States is one of few countries around the world that allow private citizens to own these military type weapons. But, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland and Switzerland also allow some private ownership of assault weapons as well.
It has been the use of assault rifles in some high profile crime cases that has pushed congress to debate some further limits on the rights of American citizens to own these military purpose type weapons. And the Supreme Court has so far not decided in any test case whether the 2nd Amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms by private citizens also gives private citizens the right to own some military type of weapons as well.
It seems unlikely that congress can actually pass any legislation that bans the sale of assault type rifles. Further, such a ban may not be constitutional as well. However, assault rifles appear to be poorly suited as a hunting type of weapon, so the only real interest in many gun collectors owning an assault type rifle appears to be in their historical nature as a military type of weapon.
Some day, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely have some state case before them, where some state sought to ban the sale of new assault rifles, or like Washington D.C., bans the private ownership of large capacity magazine clips and will have to decide where the 2nd Amendment and private ownership of assault type rifles stands.