Ask any gun retailer or shooting enthusiast about the most popular rifle in the United States, and you will probably hear the words “AR-15” somewhere in the answer. The popularity of the AR-15 platform is also clouded in controversy, mystery, and misinformation. From the new owner to the seasoned shooter, most don’t know the basic facts about the AR-15 platform.
The AR-15 rifle available to the general public in the United States has its roots in the first design by Eugene Stoner in 1956 and the Armalite company. The rifle was designed to be lightweight, easy to hoot, relatively cheap to produce. Despite media hype to the contrary, the AR in AR-15 does not stand for Assault Rifle. The designation refers to the “Armalite Rifle,” the original designer which carries on today.
Those who own and shoot Ar-15’s find themselves rapidly immersed in a new set of terminology and technical details. Understanding the operation and maintenance of the AR-15 is a critical part of owning this rifle. In addition, AR-15 enthusiasts soon realize that accessorizing and enhancing their AR-15 is a major part of the Ar-15 experience.
There are several misconceptions and myths that seem to follow the AR-15 rifle despite the shooting community’s best efforts to get the truth out. Getting to the bottom of some of these truths can be difficult, especially with the current attitude of a large portion of the progressive media toward the Ar-15 rifle. These are some of the more prevalent myths and misconceptions.
The term “assault weapon” did not enter general use until 1989. Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, in an article for the Stanford Law and Policy Review, wrote:
Prior to 1989, the term “assault weapon” did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of “assault rifles.”
That statement begs the question, “What is an assault rifle?” Assault rifles, like those used by the military forces of the US and most other countries, have some defining characteristics. First and foremost, these are true “automatic” weapons. When the trigger is pulled on an assault rifle, the gun will continue to shoot until the trigger is released or it runs out of ammunition.
The sale of “assault rifles” to civilians has been banned by federal law since 1986. The anti-gun lobby began a systematic campaign against any rifle that resembled a true military assault rifle. The term “assault weapon” was coined to provide a political and media context for arguments promoting the control and prohibition against these firearms.
The words “military-style” firearms are often used in conjunction with the terms “Assault weapon.” The truth is that the anti-gun campaign is based on what a rifle looks like rather than its function. The AR-15 sold to civilians in the US is no different than thousands of other semiautomatic rifles that don’t resemble the true military “assault rifle.”
The AR-15 may look like the M$ Carbine that is the current issue to US military forces, but that is about as far as the connection goes. An Ar-15 is not an assault rifle in the proper terms. The Ar-15’s functions and uses are no different than the Ruger ranch rifle or a Browning BAR Mark II semiautomatic rifle.
If you believe the hype from the media, you might think that an AR-15 can be quickly and easily converted into a machine gun. According to much of the anti-gun rhetoric, all you need is a screwdriver and access to the internet to make this conversion.
In truth, it is almost impossible for anyone who is not an expert machinist with access to a well-equipped machine shop to have any chance of a successful conversion. The Ar-15 and the M16A2, the current US military issue assault rifle, share similarities and look almost identical. However, the internal designs and workings are radically different, making any conversion difficult.
You must also consider that, should you manage to make such a conversion on your AR-15 rifle, you immediately become eligible for some special benefits. Should the BATF get wind of your project, you may become the guest of the US Government at one of any all-inclusive facilities in the Federal Penitentiary System.
If you could take a poll of the types of rifles taken into the field for hunting during seasons across the United States, you would find that the AR-15 is more common than almost any other rifle. The characteristics of the AR-15 have made it one of the most popular hunting rifles in use today. The AR-15 is lightweight, accurate, and reliable in the field. New innovations in calibers and loads for the AR-15 have made the platform a premier hunting choice.
Competitive shooters have also adopted the AR-15 platform. You will find variants of the AR-15 platform plentiful on the range from three-gun match shooters to long-range precision shooters. The wealth of aftermarket accessories and upgrades make the AR-15 rifle as competitive as other styles of rifles for these target shooting uses.
The .223 or 5.56 caliber round is indeed a powerful cartridge. However, compared to cartridges such as the 30-06, the .303, and the Win Mag .300, the .223 cartridge looks puny. There are far more powerful and larger cartridges that have long been available for civilian use. The most commonly chambered rounds for the AR-15 are .223 Remington and the military version of this cartridge, the 5.56×45 NATO.
Even a causal understanding of the history of the Ar-15 and the M1 and M4 Carbine debunks that myth. The original AR-15 was designed by Eugene Stoner and the Armalite company. The AR was applied to the rifle as the Armalite Rifle 15, the series of designs from which the rifle sprang. When Armalite sold the design to Colt, the AR-15 nomenclature went with it. The US military adopted a modified version of the AR-15 for military use, known as the M16. The AR-15 continued through numerous updates and upgrades in the civilian market, always known as the Armalite Rifle 15.
There are almost as many myths about buying an AR-15 rifle as you can find about the rifle itself. Some of these common misconceptions concern the actual purchase of the rifle. Many people are ill-informed about choosing an Ar-15. Before purchasing an Ar-15 rifle, you should understand good and bad advice.
Buying a gun in the United States is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Ar-15 are NOT exempt from any of the rules, regulations, or laws that govern the purchase of any other firearm. It is neither harder nor easier to purchase an AR-15 than any other legal pistol, rifle, or shotgun.
This is the process for purchasing a new firearm from an FFL dealer. This applies to rifles, shotguns, and pistols of all kinds. There is no shortcut or exemption for AR-15 rifles.
I hate to burst your bubble, but it is very difficult to build an AR-15 yourself without filling out a Form 4473 and passing a criminal background check. You can indeed buy most parts for an AR-15 on the internet without any question. It is perfectly legal to buy these parts without the seller having a Federal Firearms License. (In truth, most retailers who sell AR-15 parts also hold an FFL.)
However, when it comes time to buy the most important part, the lower receiver, you must purchase this part from a holder of an FFL, fill out a Form 4473, and pass the criminal background check. You can purchase an AR-15 lower on the internet. However, you must have it shipped to a local FFL who will handle the transfer and Form 4473.
A good quality AR-15 costs about what any quality rifle costs.
In general, a well-built AR-15 rifle made by a reputable manufacturer will cost between $800 and $1500. You can buy a reasonably priced bolt action rifle somewhat cheaper. You can also pay thousands of dollars more for specialty rifles or custom-built guns. As with many other products, you can spend as much as you want.
Typically, the lower-end AR-15’s are what we consider bare-bones rifles. For this price, you can expect to get an AR-15 carbine with a plastic stock, a plastic foregrip, iron sights, and very little else. This is not necessarily a bad option. If you are like many AR-15 enthusiasts, your intention is to add aftermarket parts and accessories to customize your AR-15 rifle.
At the upper end of the price range, you may expect to get the rifle, better stock and foregrip, additional accessories such as enhanced magazine releases or ambidextrous safeties, or a higher quality trigger kit. You may also receive a hard case to go with your rifle. Again, this may not be a bad option for someone who wants a rifle ready to go to the range or the field and doesn’t have aspirations of customizing their rifle.
This part of an AR-15 article almost always wants to run to great length. My wife, bless her heart, refers to my AR-15s as “Barbie Dolls for Men.” There are so many accessories, upgrades and enhancements for the AR-15 platform that it is impossible to list them all. However, there are a few that any AR-15 owner should consider.
Iron sights are a necessity on any rifle, in my opinion. Iron sights are durable and hard to break. They don’t quit when the batteries run down and, for the most part, don’t get seriously off aim point if you drop your rifle. A rifle with only a scope or optics device is prone to becoming almost useless if the optic fails.
On the other hand, a good scope or another optical aiming device can enhance your shooting and hunting. Over the past few years, advancements in scopes and optics have made them almost bulletproof for most users. Many include drop compensation and range calculators built into the scope.
I recommend purchasing and mounting a good scope or optic on your AR-15 in addition to the iron sights. Beyond that, you should practice with both sets of sights to ensure that your skills stay sharp. A scope or optic will enhance your shooting and hunting enjoyment, and iron sights ensure that you won’t need to abandon your hunt if your scope fails.
By and large, AR-15’s are much lighter and easier to carry than comparable hunting or target rifles. Even so, a long day in the field or on the range can be tiring. A well-made two-point sling can be invaluable when trudging over rough terrain with your rifle and can make keeping your rifle safe and secure on the range much easier.
In addition, if you understand and practice how to properly use a two-point sling as a shooting aid, you may find that your accuracy improves considerably. Again, this takes practice and range time to master. In the end, you will appreciate how much a good two-point sling will aid your shooting.
A good Ar-15 is machined to very tight tolerances. This tight tolerance ensures a gun that is accurate and reliable. The downside to small tolerances in the machining process means that AR-15’s tend to need a bit more maintenance than most other semiautomatic rifles.
Your range bag should include a cleaning kit designed for an AR-15 rifle. We routinely carry a cleaning kit with the following items.
These tools and parts can keep you in the field or at the range if a mishap occurs. AR-15’s are easy to disassemble, clean and reassemble. However, springs, detents and pins are prone to going missing at the most inopportune time.
The AR-15 rifle has become the focus of a deliberate campaign of misrepresentation and misinformation. The AR-15 rifle is no more dangerous than any other semiautomatic rifle. Many pro-gun control advocates consistently attempt to pant the AR-15 as an evil and vile tool useful only to miscreants and terrorists. In truth, the AR-15 is a tool and is only as dangerous as the person who owns and wields it.