So CNN is bird-dogging Mitt Romney on his claim that it is “illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.”

Candy Crowley's network helpfully informs us that, in fact, “Automatic weapons, whether semi-automatic or fully automatic, are legal in much of the country.”

Which is about like saying, Jet planes fly fast whether they use jet propulsion or propellers.

There is an important distinction between automatic and semi-automatic weapons, in both the engineering and the law. A semi-automatic requires a separate pull of the trigger for each shot. An automatic will continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed and until the weapon runs out of ammunition. A trivial distinction, certainly, among those for whom all firearms are just "guns," and kind of icky. Ignoring the distinction, however, can get you a stretch in jail under federal law.

UPDATE: Yes, there are people who do "legally" own automatic weapons in this country. And if you would like to become one of them, go here to find out just exactly how many bureaucratic hoops you must jump through. It is a least as difficult as securing a "waiver" from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Semi-automatic weapons, on the other hand, are bought and sold and traded more or less like automobiles. The distinction is far from trivial.

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