AR-15 is not an ‘assault’ rifle

I opened my morning newspaper, reading the news and scanning the advertisements when a gun store ad caught my eye. It was for a storewide sale on guns and accessories, and they had a heck of a hook in the ad.I nearly choked on my coffee at the headline:


The ad showed two silhouettes of AR-15-style rifles, and went on to describe some of the other items on sale.

I couldn’t believe a professional firearms dealer would use such terminology today to describe what has become one of the most-popular types of hunting and sporting rifles in the country: the semi-automatic versions of the U.S. M-16/M-4 carbines that have been carried by U.S. military personnel for decades.

The U.S. military design is usually capable of full automatic or burst, as well as semi-automatic fire. The US Army defines assault rifles as “short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine-gun and rifle cartridges.”

The guns generally sold in gun stores to the civilian populace are semi-automatic fire only.

This does not meet the definition of a true “assault” rifle, which is usually defined as a shoulder-fired infantry rifle with full-automatic capability — and no other country refers to this style of rifle with that name, which has gained much negative publicity in the U.S. through the efforts of the anti-gun crowd.

The connotations of the term “assault rifle” are harsh, and the gun culture has fought the image for years of them being rifles designed simply to kill other people.

It was somewhat difficult to answer the criticisms years ago when anti-gunners would react to the “look” (whatever that is) of a military-style rifle, and demand to know why such an aggressive-looking instrument of death should be sold to the civilian populace.

The most common answer — that many people enjoyed shooting military-style guns, and had just as much right to enjoy their hobby as weekend shotgunners busting clay pigeons — sometimes rang a little hollow, no matter how true.

But every rifle (and handgun) that has been utilized en mass by the military has worked itself into the general populace simply because so many veterans used them while serving. They became familiar with them, enjoyed shooting them and added civilian versions of the military design to their personal collections once they had reentered the civilian populace.

If you are old enough, you remember the craze in the decades after World War II and Korea for the .30-caliber M-1 Carbine.

These light, handy rifles were the “assault rifle” of their day — everyone wanted one, and it was the rare rural police department or sheriff’s office that didn’t have a number of them in patrol units.

As a youngster growing up, I remember a local used car dealer who had special scabbards made, and had a carbine slung on the inside of both front doors of his luxury sedan. I don’t know what he was planning on holding off, but whatever it was, he was prepared.

Probably one thing has caused most of the problems with the misconception of the guns we are discussing — the actual name of the design. The name “AR-15” does not stand for “assault rifle.”

The inventor of the system was a brilliant firearms engineer named Eugene Stoner, and his system — which bled off gases from the exploding gun powder and forced the bolt backwards to eject the fired round and chamber a new one — was known as the “Stoner System.”

In a nutshell, the ArmaLite Corporation produced the Stoner-designed rifle as a prototype that would later be accepted by the U.S. military and be designated as the M-16 rifle. The term “AR” refers to the original manufacturer of the rifle, or “ArmaLite Rifle.”

Later, Colt Manufacturing bought out the patent, and registered the name for the civilian versions of the rifle. Unfortunately, the initials helped propagate the misconception of “assault rifle,” and the battle for the hearts and minds of the American citizenry was on.

But the AR-15-style rifles have become so popular —and have been utilized in so many ways as semi-automatic hunting rifles, superbly accurate varmint rifles and long-range competitive rifles — that the bad connotations have simply, well, gone away.

In an attempt to overcome the negative press, and to emphasize the popularity and sporting uses of these rifles, the industry came up with a new standardized name for them, one that more accurately defines their use and popularity: “modern sporting rifles.”

I like the term; I think it denotes what the rifles have become in the American shooting fraternity, and I think it has removed the aura of resentment brought about by the term “assault rifle” — again, a peculiarly American term not utilized anywhere else to describe the style of rifle.

But if you know the difference — and now you do — I still really prefer, and think the description is more apt, to simply call them “AR-15-style rifles.”

And I still don’t understand how a knowledgeable gun dealer would tempt fate and the anger of the gun culture by using an antiquated and simply incorrect term such as “assault rifle.”

He risks incurring the wrath of the very people he is trying to sell — people who know what a real assault rifle is, and are offended at his simplistic and insulting attempt to reach the gun-buying public.

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