As we approach the end of another week since the dreadful shooting in Orlando, I hear more and more talk about gun control and the evils or necessities there of; and I also hear an awful lot of information that's just plain wrong, especially about the AR15 rifle that the main stream media is still claiming was used in that attack. The question on my mind though, is how to get the truth out there without boring my regular readers to tears yet at the same time not insulting those sitting on the fence on the gun control issue.
First off, let me say that I'm not going to get into my personal views on gun control. For those who really want to know, I've talked about enough both here and in other places that you can ferret it out if you absolutely must; but this ramble is aimed simply on educating those who wish to know a little about so called assault weapons, including where the name AR15 came from and just what a MSR is. So let's start with a little history, shall we?
As those who have been following me for awhile now know, much of my love of guns has come from my love of history; and so it shouldn't surprise anyone that that's what I choose to start with. Back in 1948, the Army started looking at ground warfare in the new nuclear era and established a group to research the subject called the Operations Research Office, or ORO for short. One of ORO's first projects was a study of how effective body armor was which lead directly to studying how soldiers in WWII and eventually Korea came to be injured or killed. They decided after looking at all the data they could find that a light weight rifle firing a smaller caliber bullet was needed to replace the M14, so they decided to ask Winchester and a small, almost unheard of company called Armalite to submit designs based around a .22 caliber bullet that would weigh in at around 6 pounds and be capable of penetrating a standard issue army helmet at 500 yards. Winchester came up with a rifle very similar to the M14 that fired a .224 round while Armalite developed a rifle based loosely on a series of rifles they had been making that used a large amount of plastics and aluminum to keep the weight down, one of which interestingly enough was the AR-7 that they had produced as a "survival" rifle for the Air Force where the barrel and action could be unscrewed and stowed away inside of the plastic stock. Another was the AR-10 which was built to handle the same 7.62 NATO round that the M-14 and the M-1 before it used. Also interestingly enough, Springfield, who had been the main supplier of rifles for our military since before WWI, was banned from competing by a group who utterly opposed the idea of going to a smaller caliber round. Using research that had lead to the development of the AR10, a rifle designed to shoot the same 7.62mm round used by NATO, Armalite developed a rifle they called the AR15; which stood for Armalite Rifle model number 15. By combining the use of plastics, aluminum, and an inventive buffer system, the AR15 was lighter than the Winchester entry, and at least according to some records, more accurate and easier to shoot as well. However Armalite found itself in something of a bind. They were too small and too underfunded to weather the political infighting over the new rifle system and attempts to sell a civilian legal version of the rifle proved unprofitable, possibly because the AR-15 was too unknown and too odd looking for the time. As a result they ended up selling their design to Colt in 1959, and in the mid 1960's the M-16 was officially adopted as the standard issue battle rifle despite heavy opposition. Colt also tried to sell the AR15 as a civilian model of the M-16 and the M-16A1, but problems with the rifle during action in Vietnam gave it a possibly undeserved reputation for being unreliable. I say possibly undeserved because through out most of the Vietnam conflict the troops were being issued rifles without cleaning kits, and the early models tended to be rather prone to fouling if not properly cleaned. They also had issues with poor ammunition which definitely didn't help matters any. Improvements such as chrome lined barrels and bolt carriers help tremendously however and by the time the M-16A2 and the M-16A3 had seen solid use in the late 1970's and early 1980's the rifle's reputation had made an amazing turn around.
Today the AR-15 line of civilian legal rifles provide so many advantages that the disadvantage that still exist are almost over looked, and the ammunition available today is absolutely amazing compared to what was given to those early troops slogging through the rice fields of Vietnam. While still having the outward appearance of the M-16's and M-4's in use by todays military, the internal parts are much different and trying to use the parts made for a M-4 in an AR-15 is out of the question unless you're a good enough gunsmith to basically re-machine the gun from the ground up; but it's still an extremely modular design so anyone with a bit of co-ordination and the proper knowledge can customize an AR-15 just about any way they'd like. Want a carbine with a 16 inch barrel that can be used for home defense? Done. Need a 18 inch for improved accuracy while hunting without getting the rifle too long for quick shots? Reach for the proper barrel wrench to loosen the castle nut and you're good to go in minutes. Want an even longer 21 inch barrel for long range competition? It's no harder to arrange. Unhappy with the trigger that came with your rifle? Palmetto State Armory carries no less than 24 different triggers for the AR-15 platform and Cabelas has at least 19. Then there's scopes, lights, forward hand guards, recoil pads, basically everything except a coffee maker. This explains why the AR-15 is one of the best selling rifles on the American market, and explains why it's referred to as a Modern Sporting Rifle. I don't care what sport you need a rifle for, the AR-15 can be configured to meet any of your needs with ease.
"Okay" I hear you saying, "so it's versatile. That's why the military loves it, but there's no place in civilian life for a militarized rifle like most assault weapons. Every one knows that!" Well let's just take a look at that for a minute, shall we?
First, there's no legal or technical definition for an "assault weapon" even though pundits from CNN to MSNBC and Rolling Stone use the term frequently. There is a definition for an "Assault Rifle"; but of the 4 requirements for a gun to be considered an Assault Rifle, even if you do argue that it meets the other 3 (and I know plenty in the trade who will only allow that it meets 2), the AR-15 still fails the fourth and final requirement. To be classified as an assault rifle, the rifle in question must be capable of select fire; meaning that you must be able to switch between safe, single shot mode, and some form of burst mode, whether that be 3 rounds fired with each pull of the trigger or full auto where the rifle keeps firing as long as the trigger is pulled and there's ammo in the magazine. And I'm sorry my friend, but no AR-15 ever made for the civilian market has ever met that requirement. Thus, not an assault rifle.
Then there's the bit about the military loving the AR-15. Ummm, sorry my friend, but the military wouldn't have the AR-15 if you gave it to them as a gift. Why? Because it is not select fire. Pure and simple, with no ifs, ands, or buts. To perform it's missions in today's world, our military absolutely requires a true assault rifle that can fire either single rounds for carefully aimed fire, or full auto for when the proverbial fecal matter has truly hit the rotary impeller. True, there are times when they need something special; and those are the times when the shotguns, machine guns, and grenade launchers come out. But for everyday use, they need something that can do the work of two rifles, and since the average infantry man is too loaded down to actually carry two different rifles then the one he or she is carrying had better be able to fit both bills; and the AR-15, unlike the M-4, can't.
Finally there's the part about it having no place in the civilian world. Excuse me, but didn't I just get through explaining why some many civilians love their AR-15s? When I was a teenager way back in the dark ages, it was the norm for the average hunter to have three or four different guns for different game. Today, while most hunters will still have a couple of choices, if you are really strapped for cash then the AR-15 can replace them all. Maybe not well mind you, which is why most hunters still have at least a couple of rifles, but it will do the job in a pinch. Whether you're hunting varmet, small game, deer, elk, bear, or wild boar, there's a configuration of the AR-15 which will do the job. And since it's modular, you can change out the one you own and reconfigure it for whatever you might need. Or maybe you want it solely for home defense. With all the options available you can take an off the shelf AR-15 and have it set up to fit you perfectly. Hell, you can even reconfigure it as a pistol if you wish; though at a minimum of just under two feet it's way too big to conceal and you'll have to file papers with the BATF to tell them that you've done so. I could go on for days listing all the ways it fits into civilian life in one way or another, but this ramble is already getting way too long.
The one item I can't argue away is that what the news media loves to call an assault weapon is the most commonly used gun in most mass shooting in this country. But why is that? The question is the one very few reports answer, and the answer is rather simple. The AR-15, and similar guns, have an image of being bad ass thanks to the way they are portrayed in movies, TV shows, and other popular entertainment media; and the one thing most mass murders want is to be seen as being a bad ass. The fact that they could rack up just as large a body count with other guns doesn't even enter into it in the end. The image is all, and the ones who do their sick thing in the open with no thought of whether they might die in the act think that an "assault weapon" will give them that image. So now the question we must ask is, is making it harder for them to bolster that image worth denying the Modern Sport Rifle to all the people who love it for what it really is? I promised at the beginning of this ramble I wouldn't bring my feeling into this, so I won't tell you how I feel. But I do want you to think very carefully about my question.
But in the meantime, I'm a day late and a dollar short with this ramble; and that's at least in part because I tried so hard to keep my opinions out of it. Did I succeed? Probably not as well as I would have liked, but I think I did better than many. So until next time dear reader. My the wind be always at your back, and remember as always; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!