People who are disgusted by gun violence get peeved by gun nuts' finicky insistence on the correct use of terminology like "automatic" versus "semi-automatic." The gun nuts are just trying to derail the conversation and delegitimize the people who are disgusted. They're not acting in good faith. Booman says:
I don't remember a mass shooting incident in this country where fully automatic weapons were used. I haven't studied them all, and maybe there have been some examples of people using fully automatic weapons to murder people. But certainly the most recent and notorious examples in this country have involved semiautomatic weapons.
That's right; the number of crimes committed with fully automatic weapons today is probably zero; even in the heyday of the Thompson submachine gun, when you could buy one at your local hardware store, the number of crimes committed with machine guns were vanishingly small.
One of the solutions that people who are disgusted with gun violence like are assault weapons bans. Here's where the problem of distinctions come in. "Assault weapon" was a gun-industry marketing term coined in the 1980s when gun makers decided to dress up their plain-vanilla semi-automatic rifles and pistols to look like military weapons by painting them black and adding things like pistol grips and flash hiders. These "assault weapons" look scary, and they're meant to, because the target market wants to own a mean-looking killing device to make themselves feel powerful and dangerous. And it's no wonder then that that the people who go on shooting rampages are also attracted to these guns, for the same reason.
Functionally, however, an "assault weapon" is indistinguishable from any plain-vanilla semi-automatic gun. So gun nuts have a point when they say assault weapons bans make no sense. Banning cosmetic features like foregrips and pistol grips and flash hiders doesn't make the gun less lethal. One of Booman's commenters makes the same point by quoting a member of Congress on West Wing who thinks the proposed legislation is stupid:
No, this is for show. I think it's an unconscionable waste of the taxpayer's money to have it printed, signed and photocopied, to say nothing of enforced. No, I want the guns, Leo. You write a law that can save some lives. I'll sign it.
So, assault weapons bans are for show. The gun nuts know this. People who aren't gun nuts but are familiar with guns know it. And people who know how guns work also know that the only way to reduce gun violence is to confiscate semi-automatic weapons. There are just too many guns out there already for a ban on new guns to have any effect.
But the public at large is not in favor of confiscation. The vast majority of gun owners are not military fetishists carressing "external death penises" and the vast majority of weapons are not used in crimes. Most people who own guns do so because it's part of their culture; they own guns for the same reason they drive a certain kind of car, wear certain kinds of clothes, and even vote for a particular political party. These non-crazy people regard the idea that their guns should be confiscated because of mass shootings the same way a car owner would consider the idea that she should lose her car because someone else intentionally caused a massive, fatal traffic accident.
If you want to make a real reduction in gun violence, you have to start a multi-decade program to make guns culturally unacceptable. It's going to be a long road and you have to make it clear where you are trying to end up. Acknowledging that that is your goal and explaining why it's a goal that people should get behind is the best way to begin.