In the weeks since the Parkland massacre, liberals and anti-gunners have launched a blistering attack on the AR-15. The rifle has been demonized as a weapon of war with no legitimate purpose other than killing large numbers of people. If only AR-15s could be banned, the anti-gunners argue, mass killings could be stopped. It isn’t that easy and a ban of AR-15s would not satisfy the anti-gun movement.
Contrary to popular anti-gun opinion, the AR-15 is not markedly different from many other types of rifles. It is not a “machine gun.” It is a semi-automatic rifle. For those unaccustomed to gun terminology, that means that it fires only one bullet for each pull of the trigger.
“AR” does not stand for “assault rifle.” It stands for “Armalite Rifle,” a reference to the original manufacturer in the 1950s. The patent for the design has since expired and the gun is now manufactured by a number of companies under different names.
The AR-15 is also not an especially large caliber rifle. Although there are several different versions, most AR-15s are chambered in .223 caliber or 5.56 mm. The caliber refers to the diameter of the rifle’s bore in inches.
There are a number of other rifle calibers that are larger than that of the AR-15. Other popular hunting rifles include .308 and .3006 calibers. The M1 Garand carried by GIs in WWII was a .30 caliber rifle.
Nor is the AR-15 singularly dangerous in terms of muzzle velocity as some anti-gunners claim. Depending on the cartridge, a.223 bullet fired from an AR-15 typically has a muzzle velocity of about 3,000 feet per second. This is faster than a handgun bullet due to the rifling, larger cartridge and longer barrel, but is not abnormal among rifles. Muzzle velocities for the .223 are not markedly different from the .243 or the .3006, two other popular hunting rifle calibers.
Likewise, the AR-15 is not imbued with a mystical quality that turns anyone who holds it into a remorseless killer. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that there are approximately 15 million AR-15s in civilian hands in the US, but they are only rarely used in crimes. Assault rifles account for only about two percent of annual gun deaths noted the Huffington Post.
They also are not ubiquitous in mass shootings. The Virginia Tech shooter used 9 mm and 22 pistols to kill 32 people. The Washington Navy Yard shooter used a 12 gauge shotgun and a 9mm pistol to kill 12. The Fort Hood shooter used two pistols of different calibers to kill 14 people.
On the other hand, AR-15s can save lives. An NRA instructor, Stephen Willeford, armed with his AR-15 stopped the massacre at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church and saved the lives of many in the congregation.
An AR-15 ban would not resolve the problem of school shootings and it would not be the end of the gun ban movement. The gun is not markedly different from a large number of other sporting rifles. If AR-15s were banned, these similar guns would soon be in the sights of anti-gun groups. Gun owners know this instinctively.
Fears of broad bans are not unfounded. Many anti-gun politicians have openly stated that an end to civilian gun ownership is their aim. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of her 1994 “assault weapon” ban, “If I could have gotten...an outright ban – ‘Mr. and Mrs. America turn in your guns’ – I would have.” Barack Obama advocated laws similar to the ones in Great Britain and Australia that totally banned private ownership of guns and required them to be surrendered to the government. A bill already introduced would ban 205 rifles, pistols and shotguns that the Democrats deem “semiautomatic assault weapons.”
The leftist quest to ban AR-15s is a distraction. Anti-gun groups are using the Parkland tragedy as an excuse to go after popular semi-automatic rifles rather than focusing on ideas that could actually make schools safer. The dishonest rhetoric and overreach contributes to the distrust that gun owners feel and ultimately makes the problem of mass shootings harder to solve.