Semi-Automatic vs Automatic Firearms | What’s the Difference?

Feature | Semi-Automatic vs Automatic Firearms | What’s the Difference?

In a discussion between semi automatic vs automatic firearms, there are always opposing opinions on what they really are. Let's discuss what makes them different below.

A Breakdown of Semi Automatic vs Automatic Firearms

These days, there’s a lot of misinformation going around about the differences between semi-automatic and automatic firearms, especially as the gun control debate rages on.

Let’s simplify the differences between both types of firearms and dispel a few myths you might’ve heard about weapons like AR-15s, “assault rifles”, and more.



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A semi-automatic weapon is a firearm that only fires one projectile per trigger pull.

A single round is loaded into the firing chamber and, as soon as the trigger is pulled, the round is fired and another round is loaded automatically into the chamber via an internal or external magazine.

However, holding the trigger down does not result in firing the next round.



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An automatic (also sometimes called fully automatic) weapon repetitively shoots round after round as soon as you pull and hold down the trigger.

Holding the trigger down engages an automatic cycling function that continually feeds new rounds into the chamber until the magazine empties or the trigger is released.

The only difference between both types of firearms is in how the trigger maintains the firing sequence.

Both semi-automatic and automatic weapons load a new round into the chamber as soon as a bullet leaves the barrel.

Are All Automatic Firearms Machine Guns?

Technically speaking, yes. Any fully automatic firearm can qualify as a machine-gun.

This being said, most people don't consider fully automatic pistols or smaller firearms to be machine guns.

They normally think of stationary or mounted weapons used primarily by the military.

These, too, are fully automatic firearms and machine guns, although they are much more powerful than what the aforementioned automatic pistols can bring to the table.

What About an Assault Rifle?

What About an Assault Rifle? | Semi-Automatic vs Automatic Firearms | What’s the Difference?

An assault rifle is any kind of military rifle that has a switch (normally located on the side of the weapon) that allows the operator to select between three different firing modes: semi-automatic, fully automatic, or three-round bursts.

Functionally, these are normally only used in tactical or military settings, so they are not very common (or at all) among civilian populations.

Note that misunderstanding of this term is why you hear gun control pundits talk about “assault rifles” and how they’re responsible for civilian killings or mass shootings.

In actuality, assault rifles have not been used in these events.

Additionally, the “AR” for AR-15s and the like does not stand for an assault rifle. Instead, it stands for “ArmaLite Rifle,” which is the company that first created the AR-15 and its cousins.

An AR-15 is a semi-automatic weapon, not an assault rifle or a fully automatic firearm/machine gun.

Can You Buy Both Types of Weapons?

Most people can purchase semiautomatic rifles and other weapons at gun conventions, sporting stores, gun stores, and other locations. This does include AR-15s depending on your state.

However, fully automatic weapons are very difficult to purchase. They are only available to military personnel or law enforcement officers.

The only exceptions to this rule are firearms that were previously registered between the years of 1934 and 1986.

Additionally, you have to pay a $200 federal transfer tax to take possession of these weapons, on top of going through a plethora of other background and identity checks.

Don’t expect to purchase a fully automatic firearm anytime soon unless you’re either a cop or part of the military!

Wrap Up

All in all, the differences between semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms are pretty easy to understand when you boil things down to their basics and dispel any misinformation.

Keep all that you’ve learned in mind in case someone presents you with false facts and you need to correct them. Good luck and good hunting!

Do you have a preference between semi automatic and automatic firearms? We'd like to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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3 Responses to :
Semi-Automatic vs Automatic Firearms | What’s the Difference?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have had some conversations with people and heard people on the radio or TV who falsely believe the AR-15 is a fully automatic and/or an assault weapon. I try to correct them, but they strongly argue their false information. The public needs to be educated on differences of semi-automatic, fully automatic, assault weapons, and the availability of the automatic, as well as the laws concerning owning them.

    1. Anonymous says:

      semi-automatic can be modified to become fully automatic.

  2. anonymous says:

    Yes, this article conveniently neglected to discuss bump stocks.

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