(rev. 5/2/03)

The firearms the laws and control advocates call "assault weapons" are all semiautomatic firearms.  Only one bullet comes out of a semiautomatic for each time the person pulls the trigger.  So, any semiautomatic can be fired only as fast as the person holding it can pull and release the trigger.

A person can pull (and release) a trigger about three times per second.  A rare person might be able to pull four times per second.  But a person firing at these rates will not be able to hit specific targets more than a small portion of the shots, unless the targets are close to each other and stationary at a distance of ten feet or less from the shooter.  The reason for this is that one third of a second per shot is not enough time to allow the shooter to AIM.

A shooter can actually hit more specific targets by taking the time to aim at them than by shooting as fast as possible in the general direction of the targets.  A person aiming at nearby, stationary targets moderately separated from each other can effectively shoot only about one shot per second.  Far targets and moving targets require considerably more time per shot.

With a semiautomatic firearm or revolver, firing rates two to three times greater are possible without aiming, but it is well established that such higher rates result in much lower accuracy.  So the moderately higher rates would be effective only in situations in which the shooter is indiscriminately shooting into a group like a gang, mob, army or crowd of innocents.  None of the high profile shooting incidents used by gun control advocates to further their agenda has involved this type of situation.

Each type/model of firearm has a little different speed than every other, due to design differences, and each individual firearm has a little different speed than every other due to the variations in parts made to the same requirements, and due to differences in lubrication, wear, etc.  However, these differences are all small in comparison to the time it takes for a person to pull a trigger, and especially in comparison to the time it takes for a person to aim at a target.

At the 1997 NRA annual meeting in Philadelphia, a Chicago Sun Times reporter interviewed a lady who said her husband can fire five shots in less than three seconds and can do so with a revolver or a .44 magnum semiautomatic.  She didn't say anything about range or accuracy.  The point is that a semiautomatic firearm is essentially no faster shooting than a double-action revolver such as available 100 years ago.

Using a bolt-action rifle requires less than a second more per shot.  A semiautomatic shotgun can shoot six shots in 2.5 seconds without aiming.  A pump action shotgun can shoot the same six shots in 3.0 seconds.

The shooting rates explained so far apply for situations in which the person shoots no more cartridges than the capacity of the gun's magazine.  With a six-shot revolver, for example, this would mean shooting no more than six shots in succession.  What happens to the average firing rate possible if larger numbers of cartridges are fired?

In the case of a revolver, when the cartridges are gone, the person loads again and can start shooting again.  Loading cartridges individually would take something like one second each.  This means the average firing rate would be about one-half cartridge per second rather than one per second.  The time to reload can be reduced somewhat using a device called a "speed loader" which permits all the cartridges to be loaded simultaneously after ejecting the empty cases and retrieving the speed-loader full of cartridges.  So the average firing rate with a six-shot revolver would be between one-half and one aimed shot per second.

With a semiautomatic handgun, the magazine is detachable and all of them can hold at least six cartridges, and often up to 15 or 20.  The person with this type of gun may carry additional magazines already loaded.  When the magazine in the gun is emptied, the user just presses a button and that magazine is ejected.  With the other hand the user reaches into a pouch, retrieves a full magazine, inserts it in place of the empty one, and pushes a button on the gun to make the gun load the first cartridge into the firing chamber.  All this can be done in two to three seconds.

So a person who is aiming shots would find that the average firing rate is reduced about 17 percent using 10-round magazines, in comparison to having no magazine limit.  The rate would be only 9 percent greater (than with a 10-round magazine) when using a 20-round magazine; and only 13 percent greater than with 10-round magazines when using 30-round magazines.

The reduction of firing rate with 10-round magazines would be about 37 percent for a person firing without aiming.  Hence the reduction in possible firing rate, AND the resultant reduction in firepower, from limiting magazine capacity is only minor.