The AR-15 for the Uninitiated
As calls for a ban on “assault rifles” ring out, a little knowledge about the most popular “assault rifle” is in order.
The AR-15 replaced the heavier M1 Garand rifle that fired a powerful 30.06 (pronounced thirty ought six) cartridge, in Missouri, the 30.06 is a favorite among deer hunters. The weapon that ultimately became the main battle rifle of US forces fired a much lighter, higher velocity 5.56 mm cartridge.
There is a long spring in the back of the AR-15 that is compressed by a metal cylinder when the gun is fired. This spring and buffer soak up recoil from the fired round. This in turn keeps most of the “kick” of the rifle off the shooter’s shoulder. This innovation makes the AR-15 a relatively painless rifle to use. Being easier to shoot makes it easier to master shooting accurately. A combination of synthetic parts and sturdy, aluminum made the AR-15 rifle much lighter than equivalent firearms.
Over the years, the modular AR-15 platform has allowed various manufacturers to expand what sport shooters and hunters can do with the rifle. The upper receiver can be swapped out to use a heavier hunting round like the .308 or replaced with a .22 Long Rifle upper for cheap target shooting.
Replaceable foregrips and rails on the “flattop” of the gun make adding scopes and other aiming devices easy. Shooters can add all manner of accessories (often to comical extent) to make their rifle uniquely suited to whatever they choose to do with it, from hunting to target shooting to shooting competitions.
The popularity of the AR-15 revolves around the fact that it is a great design, not that it is particularly suited for nefarious purposes. It is comfortable to shoot, very accurate, easy to maintain and easy to customize.
Some non-shooters are put off by its looks, but the bad-assedness of an AR-15 is form, not function. A Ruger Mini-14 is a fine firearm that is generally the equal of an AR-15 in average hands, but looks much more like a traditional rifle. The functional difference is negligible.
Much of the debate revolving around an assault weapons ban is focusing on cosmetic differences and capacity. An AR-15 has an external box magazine that can carry as many as 100 rounds, though these magazines are heavy and unreliable. The AR-15 fires with each trigger pull. Limiting magazines to 10 rounds will do nothing meaningful to impede a spree killer. It takes at most about five seconds to swap a magazine. A high capacity magazine ban will only add ten seconds to the time it takes a killer to fire 30 rounds.
The AR-15 is a great rifle for all sorts of shooters and its ability to take an external magazine does little to make it more dangerous. All guns are dangerous if used improperly. It is improper use of the gun, not the gun itself that is the problem we need to address.