But Second Amendment groups — and many firearm owners — heatedly object to the use of “assault weapon” to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire, like those employed by law enforcement and the military. They prefer the term “tactical rifle” or “modern sporting rifle” for the semiautomatic civilian versions.

They argue that any attempt to ban “assault weapons” is misguided because the guns under discussion differ from many other firearms only in their styling.

“The reality is there’s very little difference between any sporting firearm and a so-called assault weapon,” said Steven C. Howard, a lawyer and firearms expert in Lansing, Mich.

The semantics of the assault weapon debate are so fraught that they can trip up even those who oppose a ban.