Even if you do not know the difference between the muzzle and butt stock of a rifle, you likely will immediately recognize the iconic silhouette of the venerable AR-15, the maligned moniker given to “black rifles” or the media approved descriptive, “assault rifle”. This image has given rise to a new mental affliction that I now refer to as ARS, or “assault rifle syndrome”. This malady manifests itself in the form of hysteria, rage and blind finger pointing at an otherwise excellent class of firearms that are at once, innovative, accurate, incomparable, controversial, hated, loved and virtually indestructible. This syndrome is born of the images of US soldiers and Marines, carrying these rifles into combat in the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Afghanistan and the heart breaking images of an M-16, thrust into the ground, balancing on it’s bayonet, with a fallen warrior’s dog tags and helmet resting on the butt in the form of a crude battlefield cross. This rifle has become the very image of the American warrior, seriously challenging the hysterical masses who refuse to see the utilitarian side of this firearm. It will never enjoy the crossover love that an old Willys Jeep invokes, reincarnated as the popular CJ series, or less popular Hummer, a descendant of the Hum-V of recent military fame. Folks afflicted with ARS see these rifles with pistol grips, flash hiders, collapsible stocks, exotic optics and “high capacity” magazines as devices designed for the sole purpose of killing our citizenry in mass shootings. Can we take a minute to look at these firearms objectively? If you refuse this offering, I understand, as ARS has proven to be a stubborn and irreversible malady, but I still appreciate your reading to this point.
Black rifles came into being in the early 60’s, having been designed by a fellow named Eugene Stoner who sold his design to a company named Armalite who subsequently sold the manufacturing rights to Colt. This rifle was the M-16. The rifle was introduced to our combat troops in Vietnam who pretty quickly realized they had a problem firearm on their hands. It was poorly made, jammed easily, and was being fed inferior ammunition that was inconsistent in manufacture. It led to a number of unintended combat deaths. Out of this adversity came a steady evolution of the weapon and ammunition which led to subsequent models such as the M-16A2, which then led to the production of superior rifles, the M-4 and M-16A3. Who can question the ergonomics of these newer rifles, now coming equipped with rails to mount optics and other equipment as well as telescoping stocks for rather obvious reasons? Still, the combat history was overshadowing the advancements made, particularly in a civilian adaptation of this platform. The rifle was not popular with the big manufacturers, until Sen. Dianne Feinstein authored the infamous AWB, or assault weapons ban, that was signed into law by Bill Clinton. This “time out” for civilian ownership of this type rifle gave the tinkerers and arms manufacturers the time they needed to begin perfecting the AR concept. The logic behind this law was these guns somehow contributed to crime because of how they looked. In 2004, when the AWB quietly expired, the popularity of a rifle that possessed the incredible utility of the military version exploded and manufacturers began building them in numbers. From a military perspective, the old M-16 had been replaced by rifles with far greater range and reliability. On the civilian side of the market, AR styled rifles were being chambered in a wide variety of calibers and possessed incredible long range capability. The market exploded with innovations in optics and mounting systems that silhouette shooters and target masters loved. In the field, these rifles became excellent hunting platforms, inherently reliable and extremely durable with unbelievable ergonomics. From a market loser, the AR platform became the lifeline of the gun industry, as they are now one of the most popular firearms in existence. This photograph is of the Springfield Armory Saint, currently in my gun safe.
The AWB, of course, resulted in no shift in crime statistics. If your are afflicted with ARS, you will likely ignore this inconvenient truth. The folks who are attracted to these rifles were not the descendants of Al Capone, and did not dwell quietly in basements stoking their hatred of mankind. Instead they turned out to be competitive shooters, bench shooters, hunters, active duty military, police officers and enthusiasts who love to tinker with guns. A case can be made that black rifles are perhaps the most successful innovation in the shooting world since smokeless powder.
A common refrain often heard from folks with ARS, is that we don’t “need” these rifles, and particularly increased capacity magazines. This same logic would apply to the “need” for a Corvette, or the “need” for a motorcycle. I suspect very few folks “need” to own a jet-ski. For the most part, pilots don’t “need” to own an airplane. In America, we routinely cross the “need”/”nice to have” barrier. Are deranged people killing others, sometimes in large numbers, with black rifles? Yes, on occasion they are. Anti-social behavior occurs daily, often with tragic results, such as the killing of 168 folks in Oklahoma by a sociopath with a truck load of fertilizer. It is important to note that drunk drivers are killing far more people, with no demand that alcohol be eliminated (we tried that once and failed miserably). Deranged folks have used vehicles to intentionally run down other people and kill them. The “need” argument cuts across the very fabric of a freedom loving people, which of course, we are. “Need” is a poor test for many activities.
In summary. The AR style rifle is an ergonomic masterpiece. To be an ergonomic masterpiece, it looks menacing for the reasons mentioned above. If you are grappling with ARS, this is the only argument you have against this firearm. At the end of the day, it is only a semi-automatic rifle, used for the same things that less menacing looking semi-automatic rifles have been used for over many years. If you do not suffer from ARS, at least you have a little history to support your position. Beating up this rifle is not moving the football!