There is more misinformation in the public domain about the AR-15 rifle than there has been about any firearm in American history. The misinformation often comes from the anti-gun “news” media, as well as anti-gun organizations. The intent is to deceive the non-shooting public and gather support for the eventual banning of all privately owned firearms. Once the public is convinced of the media’s lies, it invariably increases the reach through casual conversation or social media.
Continuing the USCCA’s goal to educate and inform, here are some common misconceptions about ARs and their truths. You can pass this information along — in a non-combative manner — to the less informed.
“AR” Stands for “Assault Rifle”
The M16 rifle was created by Eugene Stoner, an engineer at the ArmaLite Division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. The rifle was designed for the U.S. Air Force as a specialized arm for guarding bases in Vietnam. Developed as an ultra-lightweight select-fire rifle — capable of fully automatic or semi-automatic — the mere 6 pounds permitted sentries to carry it for long hours in the tropical climate.
ArmaLite gave the proprietary appellation of AR-15 prior to its adoption by the Air Force in 1964. They re-named it as the M16. So, “AR” is actually short for ArmaLite, not assault rifle. The AR-15 name was later applied to the semi-automatic-only versions of the rifle, which has been sold to civilians by various makers since the mid-1960s.
The AR-15 Is a “Machine Gun”
First, the military M16 is not a machine gun. Machine guns are large weapons mounted on tripods, vehicles, tanks or aircraft that are capable of sustained fully automatic fire. Often, they are of .30 to .50 caliber, which gives greater range and penetration when used against armored troops and vehicles. They are much more accurate at long range than a shoulder-fired arm such as the M16.
The M16 is capable of comparatively limited fully automatic fire, but “full-auto” is used for close-range battle. Manufacturers haven’t made AR-15s capable of fully automatic fire for civilian use since 1986 when the federal Firearms Owners’ Protection Act was passed into law.
ARs Use Larger, More Deadly Bullets Than Other Firearms
Back to Vietnam. While the M16 was initially only used for Air Base security, the Navy SEALS, the Army and the Marines took notice of its light weight and low-recoiling .223/5.56 NATO cartridge. The .223/5.56 is classified as an “intermediate” cartridge — positioned power-wise between pistol cartridges and full-power military battle cartridges for recoil reduction. At that time, the Army’s official rifle was the 11-pound M14, which fired the full-power .308/7.62 NATO cartridge.
The .223/5.56 generates only 1,290 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, while the .308/7.62 generates some 2,450 foot-pounds of energy. I have experience firing both. The recoil difference between the two arms is significant, even though the M14 weighs twice that of the M16. The M14 in full-auto fire was difficult for most military members to control, and accuracy was poor. As the war continued, M14s were fitted with selector locks to prevent fully automatic fire.
There are MANY sporting rifles that outclass the .223/5.56 in terms of power and penetration, including lever-action rifles that chamber the 125-year-old .30-30 Winchester cartridge or the .44 Magnum handgun cartridge. In fact, in most locales, it is not legal to hunt deer with the .223/5.56. Hunters use it for smaller game like groundhogs and coyotes. While currently manufactured AR-15s are sometimes chambered for more powerful hunting and target-shooting calibers, the vast majority are chambered in .223/5.56 — including those very few used in crime.
How Many Rounds Does the AR-15 Shoot in a Minute?
As far as actually firing a round, the semi-auto AR-15 can only fire as fast as a shooter can pull the trigger. The rate of fire is no faster than that of a double-action revolver. Rounds-per-minute rate of fire is actually quite hard to determine because skill level of the shooter and conditions the gun is operated under are major factors. It is important to note that unless one is highly skilled, he or she becomes exponentially less accurate the faster the trigger is pulled. The type of gun being fired doesn’t matter. Full-auto fire is even harder to deliver accurately than rapid semi-auto fire. This explains why only SWAT assigned police officers carry full-auto capable AR-15s (owned by the law enforcement agency). The patrol rifles you see in police hands are nearly all semi-automatic.
Speaking the Truth About AR-15s
It is good to have basic facts in hand when discussing the AR-15 rifle. Hopefully, you can use some of this information to help those who’ve been deceived. You will never convince a rabid anti-gunner, but you may be able to pull those sitting on the fence over to our side.
About Scott W. Wagner
Scott W. Wagner has been a law enforcement officer since 1980, working undercover in liquor and narcotics investigations and as a member, sniper and assistant team leader of a SWAT team. He currently works as a patrol sergeant. He is a police firearms instructor, certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. Scott also works as a criminal justice professor and police academy commander.