Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, is often credited with popularizing the term “assault rifle” in the media. Technically it is not accurate, but factual accuracy was not his purpose. That purpose can be easily discerned in the following quote:
Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons. -Josh Sugarmann, Assault Weapons and Accessories in America
Sugarmann’s purpose was to take advantage of the ignorance of many people about the nature of these weapons. His usage of the term “assault rifle” has always been a calculated lie. During the debate over the first Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 the media would often show video clips of people firing fully automatic weapons, presumably not due to their ignorance but as a carefully calculated campaign to mis-inform the public about what kind of weapons were being banned.
The term “assault rifle” as used in the media is a carefully calculated deception. It is based on more on cosmetics than fact.
Fully automatic weapons, that is real machine guns and real assault rifles, have been heavily regulated and registered since the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934. These registered guns, mostly owned by collectors, are simply not used in crime. In the few instances where criminals have used fully automatic weapons those weapons were highly illegal and would normally result in a long jail sentence for those found in possession of one.
Defenders of the right to own semi-automatic rifles need to be able to explain the difference between real assault rifles (which the military use) and these semi-automatic rifles owned by millions of law abiding Americans. Defenders of the right to own these weapons need to be able to answer these questions well:
Why does anyone need an assault rifle?
Why does anyone need a 30 round magazine for hunting?
The 2nd Amendment was not written to protect a right to hunt for food or sport. It was written as a last ditch means to defend liberty against oppressive government.
No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms. -Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776.
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, … -James Madison,The Federalist Papers, No. 46.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.
This page will not go into a detailed and lengthy analysis of the real purpose or practicality of the 2nd Amendment. Many others have done that very well, quoting the Founders so as to leave no doubt as to their intentions. This page is primarily about practical reasons to own an AR-15 other than resisting tyrannical government.
One point that always needs to be made is that rifles like the AR-15 are semi-automatic. You have to pull the trigger to fire each shot. They are not “machine guns” that can “spray bullets” like you see in Hollywood violence porn. The military has real assault rifles but the AR-15 and similar rifles only look like the military version.
Some of the features of the AR-15, like the Colt M4 pictured above are largely cosmetic
The bayonet lug in the above picture is largely cosmetic (it is functional, but people want it so the gun looks like the military version, not because they plan to use a bayonet). The same is true of a barrel which has been machined to accept a grenade launcher. People often buy cars, or modify them to look somewhat like race cars. But without a real race car engine under the hood they are still street cars that have some cosmetic resemblance to a race car.
Just like some people like cars that have a cosmetic resemblance to a race car, some people like to own an AR-15 that looks cosmetically like the military version. But the feature that would make an AR-15 like an M16 is a selector switch and military sear assembly that allows fully automatic fire. You can legally buy a powerful engine and have it put in your car, but you cannot legally buy new parts to convert an AR-15 to full auto, and even if you could buy the parts they would not fit in an AR-15 due to differences in design of the lower receiver intended to prevent that possibility.
Some states outlaw the use of a rifle chambered in .223 Remington for hunting large game like deer because it is not deemed powerful enough. That is the cartridge used in most AR-15 rifles. A deer hunter would hope to not need more than 1 or 2 shots, but a person interested in self-defense does need the ability to fire many shots without reloading. More on that below when we talk about self defense uses.
The original semi-automatic AR-15 rifle was chambered in 5.56x45mm or .223 (we will not discuss the slight differences between these), essentially a .22, but far more powerful than the .22LR that many grew up shooting as kids. It has taken a generation or two for the design of the AR-15 to be adopted for use in hunting, but barring laws that ban semi-automatic rifles I see this being the future design of many hunting rifles.
The design of the Remington R25 has a heritage based on the original AR-15 and AR-10 designs by Eugene Stoner. The AR-15 went on to become the M16. The R25 today can be bought chambered in 243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, and 308 Winchester. These cartridges are much more powerful than the 223 and suitable for hunting some large game like deer.
More and more people are coming to the conclusion that a semi-automatic rifle chambered in an appropriate cartridge is their best choice of a hunting rifle. One very popular feature of a design based on the AR-15 is the pistol grip. A lot of people find this arrangement superior to the old fashioned grip on generations of previous hunting rifles like the Mauser pictured above.
Go back to the pictures above and compared the “pistol grip” on the AR-15, R25, and Mauser hunting rifle above. In the past I have loved those beautiful old wooden stocks lovingly built by great craftsmen, but the pistol grip on the AR-15 is functionally superior and the aluminum and plastic in the modern rifles are much superior in the hunting field where mud, rocks, water, and ice are to be found.
The bottom line is this. Features that were pioneered on military rifles like plastic stocks and modern pistol grips are very functional on hunting rifles that are meant to be used and not admired in a gun cabinet.
A semi-automatic is superior in one respect to old fashioned bolt action rifles (like the Mauser above). Let’s say you fire your first shot at a deer and are recovering from the recoil and trying to decide if a follow up shot is required. With a bolt action you have to also cycle the bolt to load a new round. With a semi-auto you just need to recover from the recoil while trying to observe the effect of your first shot.
Probably the greatest thing about an AR-15 style carbine though is that it is nearly a perfect weapon for home defense. Let me add this caveat to that. You do need to get some training on how to use it, how to clear it in case of a jam, and how to use it safely. You don’t have to go to Marine boot camp for that.
An AR-15 is perfect for home defense and here are some of the reasons:
- With collapsible buttstock it makes a short weapon (16″ barrel). That is why SWAT and military like it for use in confined quarters like a house.
- It fires a cartridge more powerful than most handguns with more stopping power at close range.
- You can buy frangible cartridges that do not easily penetrate walls but still will stop a violent attacker at close range.
- It fires a cartridge less powerful than almost any other rifle or carbine with considerably less penetration (with the right ammo, not M855 obviously).
- It fires a cartridge that is inherently accurate and generates low recoil in a carbine.
- It takes a lot less training to shoot a carbine accurately than a handgun.
- With a 20-30 round magazine don’t have to worry too much about having to reload.
- With 20-30 round magazine can afford to fire warning shots to scare away an intruder. I wouldn’t advise that with a 5-round S&W revolver.
- With 20-30 round magazine can partially load them so as not to fully compress the magazine which may set around for years without being changed. Increases reliability.
- You can easily modify an AR-15 to be able to mount a high power flashlight which can be used to blind an attacker and identify them to you before shooting. A lot less chance of shooting a family member by accident.
- You can easily modify an AR-15 to mount a laser for accurate shooting in low light when iron sights are nearly invisible.
- An AR-15 is also a great weapon for community defense, for example if a natural disaster leaves your area without power and police protection for an extended period.
My wife has arthritis in her hands and cannot pull back the slide on my Glock handgun. But she can easily “rack” my AR-15. She is not a gun nut and will only submit to limited time at the range to learn to shoot. If I am away from home and she needs a gun for self defense the AR-15 is the logical choice for her.
My other handgun, a S&W revolver in 357 Mag has way too much recoil and blast for her to shoot with any confidence. The 12 gauge also kicks too much for her.
Finally AR-15 type rifles are used extensively in various competitive shooting sports. Above a young man is competing in a “High Power” rifle match that uses rifles based on military designs. Target shooting is a great sport where young women can compete with young men on an absolutely even basis.
As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. -Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
So when you hear those questions from a gun-banner, or simply an uneducated person, please tell them why you need this kind of gun, and what it is good for. You will have a good argument if you just stick to the facts. There are plenty of valid reasons to own an AR-15 that are not based on the real intent of the 2nd Amendment.
But we should also not forget the real meaning of he 2nd Amendment. Detractors will say that in the 21st century the concept of an armed citizenry resisting tyrannical government is obsolete. If that were true then why do all tyrannical governments universally bar private ownership of firearms, at least among those who are not members of the elite that strongly support that government?
Tactical and strategic factors may have evolved since the 18th century, but the desire of some to subjugate others with oppressive government is no different today than it was then. The few Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943 showed what a few poorly armed men and women could do against the German Wehrmacht. Imagine if most Jews had been armed and had chosen to resist. We might not have a Holocaust Memorial if that had been the case.