Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” panel that the term “assault” weapon doesn’t have a clear definition, and that guns are defined by their machinery rather than their appearance.
Thornberry, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, faced a grilling from “Morning Joe” panelists after 14 were killed in an office shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. (RELATED: Shooting Suspect’s Dating Profile Shows He Liked Reading ‘Religious Books,’ Target Practice)
NBC’s Willie Geist asked Thornberry what the “practical use” of a .223 semiautomatic rifle is.
“I do remember when Joe and I were first elected to Congress, there was a big hubbub about assault-style rifles, and actually what it was was just the cosmetic look of those guns. It didn’t have anything to do with the way it actually functioned,” Thornberry explained.
“I think we’re looking too much for simplistic answers to problems that are much more complex, and in a world that is increasingly dangerous where you do have terrorists that are trying to attack this country, we need to look a little deeper and a little more serious at the root cases, not the superficial ones,” he said.
Geist pressed Thornberry again on whether a semiautomatic rifle like the .223 has a practical daily use.
Thornberry replied that his shotgun is also semiautomatic. “Semiautomatic means that I don’t have to cock it every time.”
Scarborough jumped in. “But see, this is the argument, Mac, with all due respect that is so frustrating,” he said. “If you say, ‘you shouldn’t have assault rifles in America,’ then you hear, ‘they were banned in 1933 or 1934.’ Then you go, ‘OK, let me clarify my definition,’ and then you say, ‘we shouldn’t have semiautomatic weapons in America,’ and then the argument comes back, ‘well, now you’re trying to take my handgun or shotgun away.'”
“There’s a big difference between your shotgun and a Bushmaster that was used to slaughter little first graders in Newtown or the .223 that was used to slaughter the people at a Christmas party yesterday,” Scarborough continued.
“Joe, I think you hit the point at the beginning. You said ‘assault’ weapon,” Thornberry emphasized. “Well, that doesn’t really have a definition. Fully automatic weapons have been outlawed since the 30s as you point out. Semiautomatic is my shotgun where I don’t have to reload or cock it every time I want to hit another quail flying over.”
“So I do think we get into definitional issues and also just the style of the guns,” the congressman continued. “So people start throwing labels. ‘Well, this is an “assault” weapon.’ Well, what does that really mean? It is the functioning of the machinery that defines an automatic vs. semiautomatic weapon.”