National Rifle Association-certified shooting instructor and avid competition shooter Steve Rubalcaba believes that the term semi-automatic, military-style assault weapon causes confusion, because it makes some people think of guns like the ones they see in the movies.
"A lot of people hear the term modern sporting rifle or the assault rifle as it's loosely termed and they think, 'oh, these are machine guns.' Well, they're not machine guns," Rubalcaba said.
Machine guns or fully automatic weapons, where one pull of the trigger fires every bullet, have been banned by the feds for years.
Semi-automatics don't have to be manually loaded. The bullets are automatically fed up from the magazine. But one pull of the trigger still only fires one bullet. They've been around since World War II. Rubalcaba says war weapons once meant to kill the enemy were later converted to rifles for hunting and the same is still true today. He uses the so-called modern sporting rifle in his competitions.
"This is an AR-15. The AR stands for Armalite Rifle," Rubalcaba said. "Not assault rifle. That is a misconception that a lot of people have."
The term assault rifle is never tossed around in the shooting community, but for gun control advocates, it's the focus of the proposed bans. The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16 currently used by the military. It's also one of the guns James Holmes used when police say he shot and killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo., in July. And it's one of the weapons authorities say Adam Lanza brought with him to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Still, assault rifle isn't a brand or an aisle at a gun shop.
Reporter Deanna LeBlanc: So, if I said to you, point out to me the assault rifle section of your store?
Henry Parro/Parro's Gun Shop: I don't have one. I have a semi-automatic rifle section, I have a handgun section, a shotgun section, I have accessories. I don't sell assault rifles.
But those in favor of gun control would disagree. The term assault rifle, to them, is typically defined as a semi-automatic firearm with features similar to a modern military weapon, like a pistol grip or the power to hold a large magazine. Parro believes pop culture plays a role in singling out that style as the most dangerous of deadly weapons.
"Part of the misconception is whenever you watch a violent movie or play a violent video game this is the weapon of choice: a military-style, semi-automatic assault rifle," Parro said.
There's no way to know how popular the weapon is in Vermont or a way to tally guns in Vermont in general, because there's no law requiring gun registration. But we do know that Vermont is tied for the fifth highest number of licensed hunters per capita.
"There are an awful lot of firearms in Vermont, but we've been fortunate that, with limited exceptions, we've had very responsible use of firearms in the state," said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General. "We don't even require a permit for carrying a concealed weapon."
Yet Vermont is consistently one of the safest states in the nation. According to the Vermont Criminal Information Center, from 2008-2010 there was an average of 100 gun crimes each year, which makes up less than 1 percent of all crime in the state.
"The most common form of offense involving a firearm is an assault. The firearm may or may not be discharged, simply that it's produced or even inferred to can lead to that being categorized as a gun crime," said Jeff Wallin of the VCIC.
According to Wallin, it's rare for so-called assault rifles to be linked to the little gun crime we do have in the state. His research shows 48 percent of gun-related crimes involve a handgun, 14 percent a rifle, 12 percent a shotgun and 26 percent falls into the category of other, like a threat made when no weapon is clearly produced.
At Parro's Gun Shop, those in favor of firearm freedom question the possible changes to their right to bear arms when the state is statistically so safe.
"They're saying they should be able to as long as they're law abiding citizens. And I agree with them," Parro said.
And where federal investigators are recovering weapons at crime scenes may surprise you. Some of the top communities in the last six years include Burlington, St. Albans, Randolph, Milton, Franklin and Norwich.
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