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AP Style Update: Drop ‘Assault Rifle’ Terminology


Updated Associated Press Stylebook guidance called for journalists to stop using the terms ‘assault rifle’ and ‘assault weapon’ in stories.

The Associated Press is advising its members through its Stylebook to stop using the terms assault rifle and assault weapon. The new guidance comes following an ongoing string of mass shootings across the country. Along with the shootings, of course, are politically-charged debates about gun control.

The 2022-2024 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook suggests the pair are “highly politicized” terms that generally “convey little meaning” about the actual functions of the weapons. The assault terms tend to be preferred by gun control advocates.

But AP Style further advises that you should avoid terms preferred by gun advocates and gun manufacturers: military-style rifles and modern sporting rifles.

Instead, AP Style says, you should refer to specific aspects about the weapon’s function like automatic rifle or semi-automatic rifle. There’s nothing charged or diffused in such descriptions; they are merely accurate representations of the weapon’s capabilities.

So what’s the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic rifle?

Yes, the obvious answer is that one’s automatic and the other is semiautomatic. Got it.

But it’s naturally a bit more involved than that. Both types will automatic reload after they are fired.

Beyond that, however, it’s the speed at which they fire. A semi-automatic fires once per trigger pull. The automatic will continue firing as long as the trigger is pulled.

The assault label typically refers to AR- or AK- style rifles, AP says.

AR, it’s important to note, doesn’t stand for “assault rifle.” I suspect many people don’t know that. Instead, it stands for ArmaLite Rifle. ArmaLite is the company that first designed it for military use.

The AK, on the other hand, stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova. That’s Russian for “automatic Kalashnikov,” named for Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, who designed the accepted version of the AK-47 in 1947.

Gun advocate calls change ‘step in the right direction’

Over at TheFirearmBlog, reaction is mostly positive. In a post about the style change, writer Luke C. said the Second Amendment Foundation lauded the style tip as a “smart gun change.”

The blog calls it “a step in the right direction.”

Some of the commenters, however, may miss the point. One complains about the hype over “a change in the language choices of one news company.” The Associated Press Stylebook is used by thousands of newsrooms, both print and broadcast. Newsrooms that follow that style guide, then, will follow these changes. It’s far from just “one news company.”

Another commenter seems to lament the change: “In a sense, it was nice being able to dismiss a news report for its anti-gun bias just by hearing those terms,” one writes. Of course, the writer can’t resist adding this: “But I rarely watch or listen to the news anyway.”

They don’t care one way or the other, but of course they care enough to throw in their little dig, don’t they? Sure…that’s helpful.

 Another jumps to the absurd notion that this is part of an attempt to ban semi-automatic guns! It’s not the weapons being “banned.” The guidance simply instructs news writers to stop describing guns by polarizing descriptors. It’s the polarization that one with this mindset typically blames for efforts to increase gun control.

Fortunately, one commenter had a good answer: “It’s kind of wild to be upset when journalists call them Assault Rifles incorrectly and then be upset when the AP works to correct that.”

Of course, there’s always that little pearl of wisdom: No good deed goes unpunished.

Do you think the style change is a wise change to make?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.