fired very rapidly, but they are not fully automatic, likenthe machine gun. They do not fire continuously for asnlong as the trigger is held back or cartridges remain in thenmagazine.nAn assault rifle is a member of a class of weapons firstndeveloped for military use by the Germans in World War II.nAssault rifles are capable of selective fire — i.e., they can benfired in both semi- and fully-automatic modes as thensituation confronting the soldier demands. Assault riflesntypically take intermediate-size cartridges that are shorter innlength and lack the range and striking power found in thenfull-size cartridges used in most conventional bolt-actionnand semiautomatic rifles. The so-called “assault rifles”nmarketed in this country by both domestic and foreignnmanufacturers do not have the built-in capability to producenfully-automatic fire. In this they differ from their militaryproductionncounterparts. Although most semiautomaticnweapons of any type can be altered to be permanentiy fullynautomatic, such procedures are stricfly illegal. In reality thenvarious “assault rifles” being sold in this country are notnassault rifles, for they lack a selective-fire capability. Weaponsnlike the improved AK-47’s are simply semiautomaticnrifles chambering the same intermediate-size cartridges usednby their military cousins. Likewise, the American ColtnAR-15 rifle is very much like the M-16, except that the Coltnlacks the machine gun-like capability to spray bullets at ansingle touch of the trigger.nAt the end of World War II semiautomatic rifles like thenM-1 Garand became readily available in large numbers tonthe American public via sales by surplus arms dealers. Fullynautomatic weapons like machine guns and submachine gunsn(which fire pistol cartridges) were not easily acquired bynprivate citizens, for since the 1930’s such firearms had beennsubjected to severe licensing and registration requirementsnthat made them expensive and unattractive for the casualnshooter or arms collector. The semiautos remained inncommon possession, however, and few authorities at anynlevel of state or national law enforcement questioned theirnsuitability for private ownership by nonfelons.nBy the mid-1960’s attitudes had begun to change. Gunncontrol became a major issue and advocates of morenrestrictive laws governing the acquisition and use of firearmsngained support from the public backlash against the Kennedynand King assassinations as well as such tragedies as then1966 “Texas Tower” shooting spree staged by the brainntumor-maddened Charles Whitman in Austin. The growingnrevulsion against the war in Vietnam and the taint of allnthings martial also aided the anti-gun forces. At the samentime a rising tide of social permissiveness and a legal systemnobsessed with observing procedural minutiae at the expensenof dispensing justice contributed to a steady rise in violentncrime across the nation. (Remember when Attorney GeneralnKatzenbach declared that he regarded the person who leftnhis ignition keys in a car to be just as guilty of a crime as thenworthy who stole the same vehicle?)nDespite their best efforts the hoplophobes failed to winnpassage of their desired restrictive and/or confiscatory gunnlegislation by the time the 1980’s opened. They werenfrustrated by a crime-weary public that remained skeptical ofntheir aims and methods, as well as a national leader whon22/CHRONICLESnnncheerfully defended the rights of honest gun-owners whilenhe lay recuperating from an attempt on his own life. Evennthe shooting and killing of a pop icon like John Lennonnfailed to muster new legions of supporters behind thenstandards of the gun-haters. By the time poor Bernie Goetznchose to defy the prevailing liberal orthodoxy by defendingnhimself with a handgun on a New York City subway, manyncitizens were willing to stand up and cheer his courage.nMany Americans love firearms for the samenreason that they love automobiles. Both arenperceived as guarantors of individualnfreedom.nIn the latter half of the 80’s the anti-gun crowd has hadnbetter luck gaining adherents. The “McDonald’s Massacre”nin California and the string of mass shootings that followednbetween April 1987 and February 1989 triggered a newnwave of public concern about firearms. The January 17,n1989, attack upon a California grade school by an AK-47wieldingnpsychotic left five children dead and 30 othernpeople wounded in a horrifying act of madness. It alsonserved as the rallying point for an attack upon the ownershipnof semiautomatic weapons. Patrick Purdy, the suicide-bentnassailant in the California killings, was armed with an”street-legal” imported semiautomatic AK-47, as well as ansemiautomatic pistol. That much was indisputable. Convenientlynsuppressed or overlooked in the media stories werenthe facts of Purdy’s lengthy criminal record, which includednarrests for extortion, prostitution, possession of narcotics,nattempted robbery, receipt of stolen property, criminalnconspiracy, and two dangerous-weapons charges. This was anman who had once been arrested for shooting at treesnbecause, he explained, “I have a duty to overthrow thensuppressor.” He was subsequenfly described in his probationnofficer’s report as “a danger to himself and others.” PatricknPurdy was cast by the media as a symbol of the tragic laxitynof gun laws in America. He was in reality a symbol of thentragic laxity of the criminal justice system, which left himnfree to walk the streets.nThe system of plea bargaining and the apparent indifferencenof the California legal and public health authorities tonPurdy’s obviously deranged state put him swiftly back innsociety following each arrest and left him free to legallynpurchase firearms. (Purdy’s reputed purchase of the AK-47nfrom an Oregon dealer may have been in violation of thenlaw, although the exact circumstances concerning his acquisitionnare not yet clear.)nThe Purdy killings prompted a spate of municipal bansnagainst the sale of “assault rifles” in California, and a bill wasnintroduced in the state legislature to ouflaw numerousnsemiautomatic firearms. Senator Howard Metzenbaum ofnOhio also announced his sponsorship of a federal bill thatnwould place semiautomatic arms in the same legal restrictivencategory as machine guns and submachine guns.nObviously there is something wrong with a system thatn