By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Florida, some students and parents want a ban on assault weapons.

After a teenager used an AR-15 style rifle to kill 17 people, some advocates say a ban seems like one logical fix.

But there is a debate about how assault weapons should be defined.

So, what is an assault weapon?

Some call them weapons of war, while other say it is just a term to instill fear in others.

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“It’s an age-old debate,” said Todd Lundstrom, firearms department manager at Capra’s Sporting Goods in Blaine.

First, there are automatic weapons — also known as machine guns — that fire for as long as a person holds down the trigger. Those are legal in the United States, but very highly regulated.

ar 15 assault rifle What Are Assault Weapons?

AR-15 Assault Rifle (credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Then, there are semi-automatic weapons, which reload automatically, but fire only once when the trigger is pulled. That category includes most kinds of pistols, shotguns and rifles.

The federal government defined assault weapons as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. That part was known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

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That law included a ban on high-capacity magazines of anything more than ten rounds.

It considered an assault weapon certain semi-automatic weapons that had two or more military-style features.

In regards to semi-automatic rifles, those features included a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor and a collapsing stock that could change the size of the rifle.

Regarding semi-automatic pistols, the features included a magazine that attached outside the pistol grip, a suppressor, a barrel shroud and an unloaded pistol that weighed more than 1.4 kilograms.

That 1994 ban also exempted hundreds of different firearms and grandfathered in any of the assault weapons that people owned before 1994. The law expired after ten years in 2004.

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