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It appears not to be possible for a reporter to just write the word "rifle". The elements of style evidently require that the word be proceeded by "assault" or "high-powered".
As you infer, it's part of the style book. Of course sometimes one of the talking heads on the local "eyewitness news" reveals a lack of brain cells. I remember one SF Bay Area infobabe pattering on about semi-automatic machine guns for about half a minute of air time.
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