The AR-15 Rifle: Myth & Reality

During the recent wave of riots, looting, and arson in the U.S. people on both sides have been showing up with AR-15 rifles and other weapons. Naturally, the knee-jerk reaction by the uninformed is to call those AR-15 rifles “assault rifles” or “military weapons.” Sorry, but the AR-15 is neither.

I attempted to clarify this in a post on this blog last fall. Apparently not everybody, including those in the mainstream media, saw it. Too bad. If they had maybe they wouldn’t continue to repeat the distortions and misrepresentations about the AR-15.

So, here is that post again. I hope you find it enlightening and useful the next time some unapprised politician or clueless reporter refers to the AR-15 as an “assault rifle.”

During one of the Democrat presidential candidate debates, Peter Francis O’Rourke famously (or infamously) declared: “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

As it turned out, O’Rourke took himself out of the presidential race instead, and therefore, his threat to sabotage the Second Amendment is now moot.

Given all of the chatter out there about assault rifles—and specifically the AR-15—perhaps a little background is needed to clear the air a bit.

I don’t want to get too technical here, but as a U.S. Army veteran, it irks me when politicians, uninformed television pundits, and anti-Second Amendment fanatics rant on and on about so-called “military-grade weapons” owned by the general populace that should be confiscated by the government.

Let me say right off, I do not own an AR-15 nor an “Avtomat Kalashnikova,” otherwise known as an AK-47. However, I have fired both on rifle ranges. Both are excellent rifles, though one (the AR-15) is normally chambered for the smaller .223 or 5.56 mm NATO round, while the other (the AK-47) is chambered for the larger NATO-standard 7.62 mm or 30.06 round.

                                     Woman firing an AR-15

I should also point out the “AR” in AR-15 does NOT stand for “Assault Rifle,” which is what the unapprised media and lawmakers like to tell you it means. The “AR” in AR-15 stands for “ArmaLite Rifle,” not “Assault Rifle,” or “Automatic Rifle,” or “American Rifle,” or whatever other spurious name Second Amendment opponents have propagated.

ArmaLite is the name of the company that originally produced the AR-15 in 1959. That year, the AR-15 platform’s rights were sold to Colt Firearms, and Colt’s 1963 redesign was adopted by the US Army in Vietnam, tweaked with select-fire capabilities, a heavier barrel, and rebranded the M-16.

As for the other rifle O’Rourke promised to take away from Americans, the “A” in AK-47 stands for “Automatic,” not Assault.

It was invented by Russian weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov in the late 1940s for use by the Russian military. It is a military-grade “select fire” weapon and has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1984. “Select fire” means that it can be fired semi-auto or full-auto.

All full-auto or burst fired weapons are highly regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and are almost impossible to come by via a legal sale. Of course, criminals, drug cartels, and urban gangs can buy fully automatic weapons like the AK-47 from gun smugglers and other illicit weapons dealers—and do!

So, there is a world of difference between an AK-47 and an AR-15. One is truly an assault rifle, the other is not.

But let’s get something straight. Any rifle, pistol, revolver, shotgun, or even pellet gun can be an “assault weapon” if it is used to attack another person. So, calling an AR-15 an assault weapon compared to a 12-gauge shotgun, a bolt-action .30-caliber hunting rifle, or a .357 magnum revolver is idiotic and demonstrates an individual’s complete ignorance of small arms nomenclature.

When I was in the U.S. Army (active duty and reserves), I qualified “Expert Rifle” with the M-1 Garand, the M-14 (the successor to the M-1), and the M-16. I have never fired the rifles currently used by the U.S. military—the M16A2 or the M-4A1. The M16A2 is a semi-automatic rifle capable of three-shot bursts, while the M-4A1 is a more specialized weapon capable of fully-automatic fire.

The AR-15, as we know it today, is a semi-automatic civilian rifle. Semi-automatic means one trigger pull results in one bullet being fired. Automatic means one trigger pull will result in continuous fire until the magazine is empty or you remove your finger from the trigger.

                          A boy firing an AR-15

The AR-15 is most commonly chambered in .223, but some platforms accept .22, .308, etc. The AR-15 is light (6.5 pounds), easy to clean and maintain, exceptionally fun to shoot, and is an all-around versatile firearm.

I have had anti-gun advocates ask why any hunter needs to have an AR-15 with a 20-round magazine. For one thing, the AR-15 IS NOT a hunting rifle. In its standard 5.56 / .223 chambering, the AR-15 is great for pest control against varmints like prairie dogs, groundhogs, foxes, and coyotes.

Traditionally it’s not much of a hunter beyond that. The 5.56 / .223 is too much for use on small game you’d want to harvest and eat, but not quite enough for medium-sized game, like deer, or bigger animals. By the way, there are very few states that allow you to legally hunt deer-sized game or larger with a 22 caliber bullet.

The AR-15 is a good “ranch rifle,” a tool traditionally used for outside the home defense or pest control. Got a large piece of property, boat, or RV to defend? The AR-15 will do the trick out to about 300 yards.

Invariably the person telling me the AR-15 is an assault rifle is someone with very little, to zero, firearms knowledge or experience. They’ve typically never had firearms training, don’t hunt, don’t target shoot, and don’t even see the value of guns for self-defense. The difference between picking up an AR-15 (or any other firearm) or dialing 911 when an armed intruder has just broken into your house quite simply can be the difference between living and dying, as thousands of Americans can tell you from first-hand experience.

Additionally, most of the folks opposed to civilian ownership of the AR-15 can’t define an assault weapon as outlined by the Federal Ban that became law in 1994 under President Bill Clinton.

Firearms safety has been drilled into my head since I was 8 years old. That’s when my father gave me my first rifle—a .22 caliber model 1904 Winchester pump.  I’ve been shooting ever since—in the Army and out. It’s second nature to me.

The Second Amendment, written in the era of muzzle-loaded muskets, does not mention or describe what arms we have the right to keep and bear. But we have an idea, based on how they were used: to protect their owners’ homes, businesses, farms, and families, and to fight the tyranny of the British crown. In the 18th century, the general populace had the same weapons that the British Red Coats and the Continental Army carried.

Today, civilians cannot own the varieties of weapons currently used by our military. I own an M-1 Garand 7.62 mm (30.06 caliber) semi-automatic rifle. This was the rifle used by the U.S. military during World War II, Korea, and even in the early years of Vietnam. It fires a much more lethal round than the AR-15’s 5.56 mm round—and no one is trying to ban it.

                                               My M-1 Garand

In any case, these days I use my M-1 only for target shooting. When I bought it several years ago, I had visions of using it as a deer rifle, but I no longer hunt. When I did hunt, it wasn’t to kill animals for sport. I learned early in life that you don’t kill any animal for sport. You only kill an animal for food. Every rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, duck, deer, or quail I ever killed, I field dressed, cleaned, and consumed.

It’s been said that the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights to protect the other nine. As Fox News contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano notes:

“The historical reality of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us. If the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had had the firepower and ammunition that the Nazis had, some of Poland might have stayed free and more people would have survived the Holocaust.”

Amen, Judge.