All posts for the month June, 2013

The AR-15 is currently the most popular rifle in United States of America.


A Colt variant of the AR-15
Photo courtesy of Colt

The AR-15 conversation?  These days you can’t mention the AR without getting one of three responses from the non-gun crowd:

  1. Why does anyone need that?
  2. What are you getting ready for war?, and finally (my favorite)
  3. Isn’t that an assault weapon??!

Without getting political, my quick responses are as follows:

  1. Take a look around.  This isn’t a country of need.  Besides, “need” is a horrible argument against anything. ‘Nuff said on that one…
  2. Not necessarily, but I bet you’ll be knockin’ on my door if [when??] the shit finally does hit the fan.
  3. Invariably the person telling me the AR-15 is an assault weapon is someone with very little, to zero, firearms knowledge or experience.  They’ve typically never had firearms training, don’t hunt, don’t target shoot and don’t even see the value of guns for self defense.  Additionally, most of the folks frowning on civilian ownership of the AR-15 can’t define an assault weapon as outlined by the Federal Ban that became law in 1994 under Bill Clinton.  Firearms safety has been drilled into my head since I was 5 years old.  I’ve been shooting for 35 years.  Now someone who knows nothing about guns is going to tell me what guns I can and can’t own – mostly because of how they look.  Isn’t that completely un-American, against everything this Country was founded upon?!  (Look for a future post to cover pieces of the original “Firearms Assault Weapons Ban” from 1994, with commentary on why many of the provisions were, and remain, completely ridiculous.)  So then, with that out of the way…

Here are some great reasons why the AR-15 has tremendous civilian appeal:

  1. Military & Law Enforcement Heritage – Let’s face it, some folks just like what the military and law enforcement community use.  Why?   Because it’s a known quantity.  The thinking is, hey, if it’s good enough to pass military testing, selection and use, with a proven, successful track record, then it’s definitely good enough for anything I might run into as a civilian. Put another way, Military and LE use of the AR-15 / M16 platform prove it to be an extremely reliable and effective rifle.  They wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t.  Plus, some people just like what is ‘tacticool‘ – the tactical, cool stuff used by military and police.
  2. Historical Significance & Collectability – Per my previous post in this series (click here if you missed it), variants of the M16, all select fire derivatives of the semi-auto only AR-15,have served active duty in the U.S. Military longer than any other rifle in history – and still continue to serve.  Hell, a version of the M16 killed the most wanted terrorist in the World.  That’s quite a track record and claim to fame.  For most, the AR-15 is the closest thing available to owning an M16.  It’s like owning a working part of American History.  The feelings of nostalgia that exists for “The Guns that Won the West” are exactly what the AR-15 will illicit in the not too distant future.  Historical significance & collectability are great reasons to own an AR.


    A Smith & Wesson M&P15 with Magpul furniture
    Photo courtesy of Shooting Illustrated

  3. Modularity – Just like it’s M16 counterpart, the AR-15 can be configured and adapted to the needs and wants of the shooter.  The joke is it’s “Barbie for men”, and there are even “Build a beAR” workshops you can attend.  The look & feel, the configuration and even the caliber can be quickly, easily and frequently changed.  You can add rail sections, or rail covers or install accessories on those rail sections like sights, optics, forward grips, tactical flashlights or laser pointers.  You can swap complete upper halves to easily change barrel lengths or to perform a complete caliber conversion.  One of the best and most rewarding things is that you can do it all yourself.  There is no need for the time and expense associated with gunsmith performed customizations.  Plus, customizing your AR-15 is downright fun and personally satisfying for the Do-It-Yourselfer.  Additionally, modularity has key advantages from cost and training perspectives.  Buy a basic AR-15 and enhance it as funds allow, or as you grow and evolve as a shooter and have a better idea of what you want, need and will use.  From a training perspective, the modularity of the AR-15 allows you to focus on learning and developing muscle memory for one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.
  4. Versatility – With modularity comes great versatility.  The AR-15 is simply so good, at so many things.  It’s an extremely capable rifle platform.  Changing uppers let’s you change barrel lengths, handrail sections, accessories and even calibers.  Why is this important?  Well, a short, 14.5 – 16” barrel with a tactical light and a red-dot style optic make it a great CQB, (Close Quarters Battle) or home defense gun.  An AR-15 with a long, 20 – 24” barrel and a high quality, variable powered optic can be a precision rifle.  An AR-15 with a 16 – 18 “barrel, a low powered optic or red dot (or high powered optic and offset iron sights) and a tactical light make it a jack of all trades; akin to the the Navy’s MK12 SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) and the U.S. Navy SEAL’s Recon Rifle.  Caliber conversions are important because they let you completely change the capabilities of the gun.  Downsize to .22lr for even cheaper and less recoiling plinking, or for small game hunting.  Upsize to a 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, one of the increasingly popular .300s or even something bigger, and you’ve got a more effective long range rifle, big game hunter, or truck stopper!  Again, all with one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.


    Popular AR-15 Calibers:
    5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf
    Photo courtesy of gunrunnerhell

In short, the AR-15 is reliable, effective, easy to shoot, modular and extremely versatile.  (Those are the same key attributes that have kept the M16 in military service for the past 50+ years!)

So then, How Would a Civilian use an AR-15?

  1. Pleasant Plinker – The low recoiling 5.56 / .223 rounds are pleasant and easy to shoot.  (While often used interchangeably, 5.56 and .223 rounds are NOT the same.  The 5.56 is loaded to a higher chamber pressure than the .223.  So make sure your AR is stamped 5.56 on the barrel before shooting that round in your rifle.)  Either way, you can literally spend a day at the range without physically beating yourself up, and without developing poor shooting habits, like flinching.  (It used to be relatively cheap to shoot…)
  2. Gun For New Shooters – In addition to being very reliable and producing low recoil, the AR-15 has simple, straightforward controls.  The AR-15 is easy to operate.  This combination makes the AR-15 an excellent choice for teaching new shooters the fundamentals of safety and shooting.  You can focus on things like, “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction”, and, “Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot”.  Then it’s simply manipulate the safety, get your sight picture, align the sights with the target, focus on the trigger squeeze and Bang
  3. Home-Defense– In addition to all those things that make the AR-15 great for teaching new shooters, it is generally shorter and lighter than most shotguns and hunting rifles.  The combination of these features make the AR-15 better suited for CQB than say your 28” bird barreled 12 gauge, or your 22 – 26” barreled bolt-action hunting rig.  Chances are it’s also a lot easier for the Mrs. or smaller statured shooters to handle than a larger, heavier and harder kicking shotgun or rifle.  By “handle” I mean physically moving from room-to-room, shooting on target and getting follow-up shots on target as necessary.  Additionally, the standard .22 centerfire round of the AR-15 is more effective than a 22lr rimfire round, and won’t be as likely to over-penetrate as 00-buckshot or a 30-06.  Over-penetration has to be a consideration whenever you’re thinking about or planning for home defense.  Search the Net and you will find some great articles and TV shows within the gun community that argue why the .223 is a great choice for home defense, especially with some of the newer advancements in ammunition and projectiles.
  4. General Defense – All those things that make the AR-15 a great home defense / CQB gun also make it a good “ranch rifle”, a tool traditionally used for outside the home defense or pest control.  Got a large piece of property, boat or RV to defend?  If you do your part, the AR-15 will do the trick out to about 300 yards.
  5. Hunting – In its standard 5.56 / .223 chambering, the AR-15 is a great varminter for pest control against prairie dogs, ground hogs, foxes and coyotes.  Traditionally it’s not much of a hunter beyond that.  The 5.56 / .223 is too much for use on small game you’d want to harvest, but not quite enough for medium sized game, like deer, or bigger animals.  (There are very few states that allow you to legally hunt deer sized game or larger with a 22 caliber bullet.)  However, with the proliferation of caliber conversions comes capability, in the form of new complete uppers.  You can easily change, you’re 5.56 / .223 chambered AR-15 into a 6.5 Grendel (.264), a 6.8spc (.277), a .300 AAC or .300 Blackout (the .30 cals) or even something bigger and heavier– all of which are large enough, and legal, for taking medium and large game.
  6. Training Aid – The AR-15 is a great gun to bring to any type of rifle or carbine training course.  Whether you are learning precision long range shooting, going through a shoot house in low light or learning anything in between, the AR-15 can be configured specific to the course, and it’ll get the job done.
  7. Competition –3-Gun Nation anyone??   The AR-15 is extremely popular all levels and in all forms of the competition circuit, from the casual to the highly competitive and professional.  Your right out of the box, bone stock, entry level AR-15 is a great way to get into the sport.
  8. “Second Kind of Cool” to use a Nutnfancy’s termYou have to admit the AR-15 is one wicked cool looking gun.  For some folks, that cool factor alone is reason enough.

So there ya have it, a detailed explanation of what makes the AR-15 so appealing to civilians.  It’s easy to understand why almost every gun owner in America wants one.  I’ve also given you plenty of legit, legal reasons for owning one, with a description of how thousands of law abiding civilians across the United States of America are legally and enjoyably using their ARs!  Go get yours while you can.


Be aware!  Be Prepared!  Be Safe!

The story of the AR-15 / M16 is one of Persistence & Continued Evolution.

Introduction of the AR-15

In 1958, the ArmaLite Division of Fairchild Aircraft Corp. introduced the first prototype of what it called the AR-15 (“AR” for ArmaLite Rifle).  It was a scaled down version of ArmaLite’s bigger, select-fire AR-10, and instead of shooting the full-power 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, it shot a.22 cartridge.  The AR-15’s .22 chambering resulted in low recoil, making it easy to consistently shoot accurately in semi-auto, and easily controllable in fully automatic, while still providing terminal ballistics acceptable for the battlefield.  With a 20” barrel and a loaded 20-round magazine, the AR-15 weighed just more than 7 pounds.  This was a big departure from traditional U.S. infantry rifles like the M1903 Springfield, the M1 Garand and the M14, all of which were larger, longer, heavier and for the M14, arguably uncontrollable in full-auto.

The more agile, low recoiling and controllable AR-15 looked like the perfect solution for a U.S. military that wanted a smaller, lighter rifle for anticipated close range combat environments.

Colt Steps In.  Birth of the M16.

In ~1959 ArmaLite sold the rights to the AR-15 rifle designs to Colt, who designated it the M16, and aggressively marketed the design to branches of the US Military.  (Even as far back as the late 50s and early 60s Colt offered a semi-automatic version of the AR-15 to civilians.)  Full-scale military tests of the M16 platform were conducted during the first half 1962 in South Vietnam.  Successful feedback in performance and terminal ballistics resulted in U.S. Air Force adoption of the M16, and small scale testing by U.S. Navy SEAL Teams.  Based on U.S. Air Force findings, the rifling rate of the standard 20” barrel was changed from 1-in-14”, to 1-in-12” which improved accuracy, but may have resulted in reduced lethality.  At some point not long after, (early-to-mid 1960s), the M16 was adopted as the standard infantry rifle by almost all branches of the U.S. Military.

Problems Arise On The Battlefield.


US M16A1

On Feb. 28, 1967, the XM16E1 was standardized as the M16A1 rifle.  It was also the height of a jamming epidemic.  Reports from the battlefield included widespread chronic failures to extract, with cartridge cases seized in the chamber of the gun.  This condition rendered the rifle inoperable, and required a time consuming clearing process that left the soldier extremely vulnerable during the time required to perform the operation.  For too many U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, this became a catastrophic, fatal flaw.  As a result, many troops at the time didn’t want the M16.  Confidence in the platform was at an all-time low.

When word of the problems with the M16A1 reached U.S. Congressional leaders, the House Armed Services Committee of the 90th Congress established a Special Subcommittee in May of 1967 to investigate M16 Rifle malfunctions.  Throughout the summer of 1967, this three-member Special Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Richard Ichord (D-Mo.), diligently researched root cause of M16 malfunctions.

The M16A1 Rifle Comes Into Its Own.

In October 1967, the “Ichord Committee” published a 51-page report on M16 extraction failures.  Root cause was identified as the gunpowder used in the ammunition.  Specifically, the gun powder resulted in high chamber pressures and significant carbon fouling.  (In layman’s terms, gun powder residue built up enough in critical areas of the gun to seize what should have been moving parts.)

Remediation included changes to the gunpowder used in M16 ammunition and chrome chambers, which were more resistant to powder fouling.  These recommendations were immediately put into action and soon after reports of malfunctions dissipated.  The M16A1 rifle began to prove itself in the violent battles of the A Shau Valley in 1969 and the incursion into Cambodia during the summer of 1970.  Battlefield reports then indicated the M16A1 as a highly effective infantry weapon and it served U.S. Armed Forces through the 1980s.

Continued Evolution.

The M16A2

In 1980, NATO member nations formally adopted the 5.56×45 mm cartridge as the chambering for all NATO rifles.  In November 1983, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted an improved version of the M16A1 chambered for the 5.56×45 mm NATO round.  The rifle is called the M16A2.  In addition to being chambered for the new round, significant M16A2 improvements included improved rear sights, a brass deflector, a heavier barrel, 1:7” rifling and a “BURST” setting delivering three rounds with every trigger pull instead of full-auto.  The U.S. Army follows the Marines Corps adoption of the M16A2.

Colt’s XM4: The Army’s M4 Carbine, and the M16A4

For Special Operations Teams Colt experimented with shorter and lighter “Commando” variants of the M16 platform as far back 1966, but in 1984 they focused on an M16A2-based carbine for wider use.  That carbine was designated the XM4 and combined the compactness of a 14.5” barrel and collapsible stock  from the “Commando” series with the new 5.56×45 mm NATO chambering and other M16A2 improvements, like “BURST”, the brass deflector, 1:7-inch rifling, a bayonet lug and the ability to mount the M203 grenade launcher.

Although at first equipped with M16’s signature carrying handle, the XM4 was later produced with a removable carry handle and a flat-top upper receiver, used for easily mounting optical sights.  In September 1994, the Army standardized it as the M4 Carbine and began distributing it to combat units. Not long thereafter, Colt began to produce M4 carbines equipped with the Knight’s Armament Rail Accessory System in place of the standard forward hand guards.

This forward rail system allowed easy mounting of more accessories like tactical lights and laser aiming devices.  The flat-top M4 Carbine with rail system proved so successful that a new a full length rifle with the same features was soon adopted as the M16A4 Modular Weapons System (manufactured by Colt and FN).

The Rest Is History…

Today, M16 variants, like the M16A2, the M4 Carbine, and the M16A4 Modular Weapons Systems remain in service, equipping all branches of the U.S. Military.  They are the rifles protecting our shores, helping ensure freedom for others, and fighting the global war against terrorism.  AR-15 / M16 variants are also currently used by many Law Enforcement Agencies across the country.



The M16 earned what will likely be its greatest distinction on May 2, 2011, when a variation of the M4 Carbine (the HK416) was used to kill terrorist leader, September 11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden during the heroic SEAL Team raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

So from the first field tests in the early 60s, through a tenuous time in 1967, to making history in 2011, variations of the M16 platform have served the American military for 50 years – persevering, evolving and continually improving along the way.  With 50 years of service, the M16 platform remains in service longer than any other rifle in U.S. military history.  It has also been named No. 2 Top Combat Rifle of All Time by the Military Channel.

50 years of history have proven that the AR-15 / M16 platform is relatively small, fast, light weight, easy to shoot and battlefield effective.  Yet perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to be quickly and easily tweaked to fulfill a variety of different missions.  The basic modularity of the gun, the ever popular flat top and forward rail system and the extensive variety of available accessories allow the AR-15 / M16 to be configured to satisfy just about any requirement.  It is the platform’s ability to easily change configuration that has kept it in service for so long, and it continues to evolve today.

(Special Thanks to American Rifleman, Heckler & Kock USA and Colt for much of the background information and pictures.)