Automatic vs. Semi-Automatic
I'm not sure where I got the idea from originally, but for a long time, I thought a semi-automatic weapon was one that would shoot more than one, but a limited number of shots per trigger pull. Like say 1 trigger pull, 3 bullets, and in order to fire any more, you needed to release the trigger and pull again for 3 more bullets. Again, not sure where I got that idea, but it was completely wrong. The concept above is actually known as burst fire.
A semi-automatic gun is one that fires one bullet for one trigger pull and automatically reloads. That's it. So...basically most handguns and rifles that you see today. I figured since they had their own term, they would not be as widespread, but most guns today are semi-automatic.
An automatic weapon, also known as a machine gun, is a weapon that has the capability to fire multiple rounds with one squeeze of the trigger. Most of these weapons can be switched between automatic and semi-automatic, but the capability to fire multiple rounds by holding down the trigger is what makes them automatic weapons.
Assault Rifle =/= Assault Weapon
This is a BIG one. I know these are thrown around somewhat interchangeably, but from what I've been able to research. There is a big difference. Assault Rifles are rifles that are capable of automatic fire. Also known as machine guns. An Assault Weapon is a term developed in the late 1980s to describe a wide range of weapons. Mostly it covers weapons that look like military weapons due to cosmetic or ergonomic features. It can also cover some handguns. Many of these weapons have the same capabilities as weapons that are not considered assault weapons.
Automatic weapons have been banned for sale to individual owners since 1986, however this only applies to weapons made after this date. It is still legal to buy, sell, and own a machine gun made before 1986. But since it's been 27 years since the last one has been made for sale, the demand from new collectors and enthusiasts makes them very expensive. From what I've heard, is sounds like the cheapest one you'd find is around ten thousand dollars.
Misinformation is King
This is the internet and anything on the internet has to be true, right? Now, people who know me well can practically see the sarcasm dripping off that last sentence, but for the uninitiated, that was a joke. There’s a lot of misleading and even blatantly false information floating around out there, and this is probably my biggest problem with politics. There’s one side that wants you to think that assault weapons are the same as assault rifles and that the kids in America are in constant danger of being gunned down by machine guns at any time unless we act now. Then there’s the other side that says that congress is on the verge of coming into each and every home in America and taking all guns ever made right out of our hands unless we act now. Both evoke strong emotional responses, and both are completely false.
Vague Information is Also Rampant
What is the picture above saying? My first thought when looking at it is that it's saying that hammers killed more people in 2011 than guns did. Now take a look at the next picture.
Now this picture paints a vastly different picture. It screams that handguns were waaaaaaay more deadly than knives, or hands and feet, or miscellaneous weapons. Blunt objects for 2010 came in at 600 deaths. One tenth that of handguns...but wait a minute. See that column over on the left? Rifles 358. Doesn't that look awfully similar to the 323 number in the first picture? So what that first picture is actually saying is that blunt objects killed more people than rifles in 2011. Bottom line is don't take easy to read charts and graphs for granted. They can easily misrepresent what they're actually saying.
Fact check note: You'll have to forgive me, I couldn't find 2 graphs that were both from the exact same year, but if you want to fact check me, here's a link to the FBI database that shows that 2010 and 2011 numbers are fairly similar. FBI Data
Thanks for reading. Sorry it was so long, hopefully it was informative.