The call to “ban all assault weapons” has come around again. There are many reasons why that is a bad idea, but I would like to focus on just one . It has to do with closing the door after the horse leaves the barn.
When people speak of “assault-style rifles” they generally mean the AR-15, a semi-auto-only version of the military M-16 rifle. It is, by far, the most popular rifle in America.
You can see them in almost every gun store in Tucson and at any number of the shooting ranges in Pima County. Two ranges are operated by Pima County Parks and Recreation along with others, including the Tucson Rifle Club and the Pima Pistol Club.
I occasionally participate in a service rifle (military-style) match at the Tucson Rifle Club. Service rifles, mostly AR-15s, are fired from prone, sitting and standing positions at targets 200 yards away. I’m not particularly competitive, but it’s good practice and fun.
There are a number of reasons for the popularity of the AR-15. First, the standard AR-15 cartridge (5.56 NATO) is small compared to traditional military rifle cartridges and incorporates a small (.224-inch diameter) bullet. This not only results in a low level of felt recoil, but one with relatively low-cost ammunition.
The biggest attribute, however, is the rifle’s versatility. It is better thought of as a rifle platform rather than a particular model. For example, an owner can change the configuration of his rifle by swapping out the top half for a different one — a process that takes about five minutes and requires no tools. Owner modifications are not limited to swapping upper halves. Stocks, foregrips, sights, pistol grips, you name it, can be changed out — the key being “customization.”
As with any product, increased popularity resulted in even more variety and options. For example, in addition to the original cartridge, AR-15s are now available in a broad spectrum of chamberings (cartridges used). I checked the website of a popular manufacturer and counted nine alternatives to the small standard cartridge.
What does all this diversity have to do with anything? Well, one myth is that the AR-15 rifle has “no legitimate sporting purpose.” May I mention that the venerable .30-06 bolt-action hunting rifle, considered a legitimate non-military rifle by many, is derived from the 1903 Springfield .30-06 bolt-action military rifle. So it is with the AR-15, which can now be found not only in target-shooting matches but in all forms of hunting. Pick your game, then select the appropriate cartridge, sights, etc. The AR-15 has become everyone’s “every-rifle.”
So, what does this have to do with a ban? Recall that there was a nationwide “assault rifle” ban from 1994 to 2004. It was allowed to sunset because most realized that it changed the cosmetics of the rifles but little else. Today, the banning action, where it exists, is at the state level. A number of states limit a rifle’s features to varying degrees. AR-15 manufacturers respond by offering a given model, then a New York-compliant version, a New Jersey-compliant version, a California-compliant version, etc. Some of them look pretty goofy, but they all function the same.
People think that banning the AR-15 would prevent people like the perp who attacked the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, with an AR-15 from committing murder; yet, it was Mr. Stephen Willeford next door who stopped the attack with his AR-15. Trust me, we AR-15 shooters identify with Mr. Willeford, not the perp.