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America's rifle: Why so many people love the AR
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — There are a lot of reasons people love their AR semiautomatic rifles, and it doesn't much matter to them what the haters say.
For some, the gun is a tool, a finely tuned machine that can cut down an animal or intruder, or pierce a distant target, with a single precise shot.
For others, it is a toy, a sleek beast of black plastic and metal that delivers a gratifying blast of adrenaline.
And for many, it is a symbol, the embodiment of core American values — freedom, might, self-reliance.
“There are very few things that serve such a great form and function, and look cool,” said Daniel Chandler, 26, an AR owner here in suburban Maryland. When he takes his AR out of its case at a shooting range, he smiles like he just unwrapped a gift. “There are few things you’ll find that are wonderfully appealing to look at, wonderful exercises in mechanical engineering, and that could save your life.”
This is the side of the AR that many don’t see, or ever consider.
Because an AR, or a variant, was reportedly used in several mass shootings — including Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino,California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, in which a total of people were killed — this civilian sibling of a military assault rifle is an exceptionally polarizing product of modern American industry. The AR and its semiautomatic cousins — they shoot one round for each pull of the trigger ─ incite repulsion among those who see them as excessive, grotesque and having no place on the civilian market.
It is the focus of multiple attempts at prohibition, which in turn has prompted people to run out and buy more. Such “panic buying” drove sales of ARs to record levels during the presidency of Barack Obama and the presidential campaign. Gun merchants say some buyers are also driven by a fascination with a weapon used in notoriously heinous crimes.
Fears of a ban have subsided under gun-friendly President Donald Trump, and so have sales; gun makers are in the midst of a year-long slump that has driven down prices for AR-style rifles. Those discounts appear to have driven a record number of Black Friday gun background checks.
Devotees say the AR has been wrongly demonized, arguing that the vast majority of owners never use it in a crime, and that despite the rifle’s use in mass shootings, it is responsible for a very small proportion of the country’s gun violence.
Thanks to that ardent following, and shrewd marketing, the AR remains a jewel of the gun industry, the country’s most popular rifle, irreversibly lodged into American culture.
From Vietnam to the mainstream
The AR was developed in the late s as a civilian weapon by Eugene Stoner, a former Marine working for small California startup called ArmaLite (which is where the AR comes from). The gun, revolutionary for its light weight, easy care and adaptability with additional components, entered the mainstream in the mids, after Colt bought the patent and developed an automatic-fire version for troops in Vietnam, called the M
The civilian model wasn’t mass produced until the s, after the original patent expired and a variety of companies began making them. That transformed a specific brand to a more generic offering on which a mini-industry would flourish.
When the AR and other semiautomatic rifles began to turn up in shootings, a movement began to restrict their manufacture and sale. Much of the outrage stemmed from the militaristic appearance of those guns, and their ability to fire rapidly.
But there was also a more visceral reason, involving flesh and blood. ARs inflict much more damage to human tissue than the typical handgun, which is used in most shootings. That's largely because of the speed at which projectiles leave the weapons; they are much faster out of the muzzle of an AR, or similar rifle, and deliver a more devastating blow to bones and organs. Those projectiles are also more likely to break apart as they pass through the body, inflicting more damage.
“The higher muzzle-velocity projectiles, if they strike an organ, you’re more likely to have severe injury and bleeding and dying than with lower muzzle-velocity munitions,” said Donald Jenkins, a trauma surgeon at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the owner of several guns, including an AR
The backlash peaked in , when President Bill Clinton signed a ban on the sale of many types of semiautomatic rifles deemed “assault weapons,” including versions of the AR Manufacturers continued making versions of the AR that complied with the new law, which was allowed to expire in That set the stage for an explosion in AR sales.
By then, military-style weapons were becoming a more common sight in America, due largely to the response to the 9/11 attacks. Anti-terror police forces began patrolling cities and transportation hubs, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were covered intimately. That higher visibility seemingly fed a desire among gun owners to get what the troops and cops were using.
With encouragement from the gun industry, the AR grew popular not only among people who enjoyed owning the latest tactical gear, but also among recreational and competitive target shooters, and hunters. Many saw it as a pinnacle of firearms engineering — ergonomic, accurate, reliable.
“It’s kind of the standard, de-facto rifle now,” said Evan Daire, 23, a gun-range worker in New Jersey who aspires to become a professional target shooter. “No matter what role you’re looking at, it pretty much fills that role.”
Production of AR-style guns has soared since the federal ban expired. In , , were made. In , the number was million, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), an industry trade association. The organization does not provide sales data, nor does it have production estimates, but says that year's activity likely broke all records.
Today, one of out of every five firearms purchased in this country is an AR-style rifle, according to a NSSF estimate. Americans now own an estimated 15 million ARs, gun groups say. New AR style guns range widely in price, from about $ to more than $2,
'Destined to be a best-seller'
Chandler is an unlikely AR enthusiast. He grew up outside Baltimore, a city plagued by gun violence, raised by parents opposed to firearms and was friends with kids whose lives had been torn apart by them. For much of his youth he considered himself anti-gun.
Then a well-to-do neighbor was shot in a home invasion. Chandler realized that his family had no weapon to defend itself, and decided to buy a gun when he got old enough.
Why millions of Americans — including me — own the AR
Once again, there has been a mass shooting involving a gun that looks like an AR (It's technically a Sig Sauer MCX, which may or may not be an "AR" … more later on this definitional issue and why it actually matters beyond mere neckbeard pedantry.) And, once again, the calls have gone out to ban the "black rifle" from civilian sales. "Nobody needs one of these weapons of war" is the common refrain.
Yet if the statistics from the National Shooting Sports Federation can be believed, some 5 million Americans and counting have decided that they do, in fact, "need" an AR — or, more likely, they determined that they wanted one, so they bought it.
I'm one of those 5 million. I've owned an AR for four years, and I use it for varmint control on my acre Texas estate. Are people like me bloodthirsty savages? Delusional survivalists? Military fetishists? Insecure men with tiny … hands?
If you're prepared to answer "yes" to all of the above and consider the case closed, then please move on and don't read anymore. This article isn't my attempt to justify anything to you — it's not a defense of what's in my gun safe or of the AR itself. If, for you, my AR ownership is prima facieevidence of my mental instability, sexual inadequacy, lack of a conscience, or what-have-you, then I honestly don't care what you think about this issue. You can go back to broadcasting your own moral superiority on social media, and I can go back to tuning you out until your rage therapy session is over.
No, this article is for the genuinely curious — those who assume that 5 million of their fellow Americans are not inhuman or insane, and who want to understand what set of rationales, no matter how flawed and confused they may ultimately turn out to be, could make an otherwise normal person walk out of a gun store with an "assault weapon."
By the end of this piece, you probably still will not believe that I or any other civilian actually needs an AR That's fine — I wasn't really out to change your mind on that score anyway. I get that you still believe that no civilian should have such a gun. My only hope is that you'll go forth better equipped to talk about gun control based on an understanding of how real live people view and use these firearms.
Note: Before I get started, if you're like Rep. Alan Grayson or Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom I admire greatly and neither of whom seems to know the difference between a fully automatic weapon and a semiautomatic weapon, then we should get something straight before going any further: The AR is not an "automatic weapon." As we'll see shortly, the range of firearms that fall (to one degree or another) into the category of "AR" is staggeringly diverse, but one thing they all have in common is that they all fire only one round with each pull of the trigger. In contrast, the AR's military sibling, the M16, is capable of fully automatic fire, which means that the gun will keep spitting out bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and the magazine is loaded.
Civilians have always been drawn to "weapons of war"
The AR was originally designed as a weapon of war, for man-killing and not for hunting or for target shooting — this is an obvious fact. But this is also true of most popular firearms throughout history, including your grandpa's lever action hunting rifle.
The vintage Henry lever action rifle — the quintessential 20th century deer rifle — was originally deployed to devastating effect in the Civil War.
With its high capacity, rapid rate of fire, and popularity with soldiers and civilians alike, the Henry was the AR of its day, and it was followed over the years by the invention of the even more effective semiautomatic firearm, and then by a succession of long guns that we now generally take to be suitable for civilian use.
My point in bringing up the lever action rifle is that civilians have been buying "weapons of war" for a very long time, since the black powder musket days. This is partly because soldiers who come home from wars to enter civilian life often want to buy a version of the weapon they were trained on and trusted their life to. And it's also because "military grade" is widely (if sometimes mistakenly) understood to mean "this technology has been tested in the real world, the kinks have been worked out, and its reliability and effectiveness have been proven in the field by an entity with the resources of an entire nation at its disposal."
Thus it is that since the dawn of the gunpowder age, gun buyers have snapped up military hardware, because that is often the very best hardware they can get their hands on. In this respect, today's AR buyers are no different than yesteryear's lever action rifle buyers.
This is all part of the reason why I, a civilian, own a military-grade combat weapon. I don't want to shoot and miss; I don't want the gun to jam because it's dirty or cold; and when I'm hunting game I don't want to hit my target and then have it run off into the woods and die lost and wounded because I didn't "bring enough gun." Like my grandpa with his "military-grade" lever action rifle, I want a modern firearm that's popular (which means parts and training are cheaply and widely available), ergonomic, rugged, accurate, and reliably effective, so that none of the aforementioned bad things happen to me when I'm shooting.
But, you'll argue, isn't the AR uniquely deadly? Unlike the lever action rifle, isn't the black rifle a weapon of godlike power, suitable only for putting as much lead on the battlefield in as short a time as possible? And in their desire to own one of these turbocharged weapons of mass slaughter, which is clearly overkill for anything but mowing down herds of humans, aren't today's AR buyers uniquely twisted and callous? Isn't it time that gun buyers settled for second or third or fourth best, for the "good of the their fellow citizens"?
The short answer to all of the above is "no."
The slightly longer answer is that your understanding of what the AR is "for" is all wrong, and says more about Hollywood's portrayal of black rifles than it does about how these guns are used in the real world.
The AR is tremendously flexible and adaptable
If the AR were a weapon that's suitable only for indiscriminate, spray-n-pray mass slaughter, then it wouldn't be so popular with police.
There is no conceivable circumstance in which a police officer — not even a SWAT team member — would need to mow down hordes of people. Yet the AR is the "patrol rifle" of choice for modern police departments from Mayberry to Manhattan. And when you understand why police have adopted the AR, then you'll understand yet another reason why I own one.
The AR is less a model of rifle than it is an open-source, modular weapons platform that can be customized for a whole range of applications, from varmint control to taking out pound feral hogs to urban combat. Everything about an individual AR can be changed with aftermarket parts — the caliber of ammunition, recoil, range, weight, length, hold and grip, and on and on.
In the pre-AR era, if you wanted a gun for shooting little groundhogs, a gun for shooting giant feral hogs, and a gun for home defense, you'd buy three different guns in three different calibers and configurations. With the AR platform, a person with absolutely no gunsmithing expertise can buy one gun and a bunch of accessories, and optimize that gun for the application at hand. You can even make an AR into a pistol.
Similarly, the individual members of police and military units can tailor the AR to a specific mission without the help of a professional armorer. Barrels can be swapped out, calibers changed, optics added or removed, and the gun can be totally transformed for every type of encounter, from a long-distance sniper shot at a hostage taker to a close-quarters drug raid in a crowded apartment complex.
So cops and civilians buy ARs because that one gun can be adapted to an infinite variety of sporting, hunting, and use-of-force scenarios by an amateur with a few simple tools. An AR owner doesn't have to buy and maintain a separate gun for each application, nor does she need a professional gunsmith to make modifications and customizations. In this respect, the AR is basically a giant Lego kit for grownups.
Indeed, anyone who tells you that the AR is bad for hunting and home defense has absolutely no idea what they're talking about, because by definition an AR is a gun that can be exquisitely adapted for those niches and many others.
To return to the Sig MCX that was used in Orlando, the "ARness" of this gun is debatable — it takes many of the same accessories as an AR, and it fits on an AR lower, but unlike a normal AR it has a folding stock and a piston-driven operating system. Because of this, the MCX is the perfect example of the degree to which the "AR" is more of a loose collection of standards than a specific collection of parts. Its very existence is emblematic of the adaptability that's a big part of the AR family's appeal.
Why the AR is the weapon of choice for everyone (including mass shooters)
If you're still with me, then maybe you're beginning to understand why the AR platform is the most popular type of rifle in America. The AR's incredible flexibility, accuracy, and ease-of-use combine with its status as the most thoroughly tested and debugged firearm in military history to make it massively popular with shooters of all stripes, from hunters to home defense buyers to competitors to police. Parts for the AR are available everywhere, and the internet is chock full of maintenance information and training videos.
The rifle's popularity is almost certainly the main reason why mass shooters increasingly reach for it when they go on a rampage. Think about it: If you're planning to shoot up a room full of people, are you going to reach for a rare, exotic weapon that you have little experience with, or will you select the familiar option that's easy to train with and that you have plenty of practice time behind? The answer, for anybody who shoots, is the latter.
When it comes to operating a firearm under pressure — whether it's the stress of combat or the excitement of competition — familiarity and muscle memory are everything. It is impossible to overstate the degree to which this is true. I recently got my hands on a Springfield M1A, and I spent my entire first range session with my laptop open to YouTube just trying to figure out how to work the gun and change magazines consistently.
The Springfield M1A above is a modernized version of the heavy, wood-stocked service gun that the AR replaced.
The M1A is an amazing gun (a closely related weapon is actually used by the Marines), but despite the fact that the M1A fires a much larger, deadlier caliber bullet, if I needed to shoot under pressure I'd reach for the smaller AR, simply because I can operate that rifle — engage a target, change magazines, troubleshoot and clear a jam — without much thought or effort. I can do all that because the AR is what I know, and it's what I know because it's what everyone else out there knows.
The meaningless distinction between "defense rifles" and "assault rifles"
At this point, you may be thinking: "But why can't you just buy a defense rifle or other 'defensive' firearm instead of an assault rifle?" The AR, being an assault rifle and all, is for assaulting things, and no civilian should be doing that."
I see this "defense" versus "assault" nonsense a lot, and I just shake my head, because a "defensive" firearm has the exact same characteristics as an offensive firearm.
Specifically, in a defensive situation, you always "shoot to stop the threat," which is a police euphemism for "shoot to kill." I'm not aware of any place in the world where you can go and get professional firearms training and be taught to aim at an attacker's limbs, or to shoot in a manner that is "less lethal." Every defensive handgun class will train you to keep shooting at the vitals until the attacker is down. (And even if you were trained to shoot at limbs, you'd need a gun that's even more controllable and accurate, because moving limbs are harder to hit than center mass!)
To put it another way, there is a spectrum of force, and a firearm of any type is always at the "lethal force" end of it. Once you've gone past fists, Tasers, and batons, and gotten to the gun, you are no longer in the realm of trying to preserve the attacker's life; you're trying to preserve your own.
It's also the case that, contrary to what you saw in First Blood, adrenaline-fueled humans are hard to kill, even with a rifle. The more fast follow-up shots you can get on-target, the better your chances of scoring a hit that will stop the threat. This is why smaller-caliber rifles and pistols like the AR and the Glock 19 are now dominant in police departments and militaries across the globe — smaller bullets mean you can carry more ammo, which means you have more chances to make that fight-stopping shot.
So the "defensive rifle" (as opposed to the "assault rifle") is a nonsense idea that exists only in the minds of people who know nothing about guns. This being the case, you can't fault gun owners for not buying or building such a weapon, because that is not a real thing and never will be. An assault rifle is a defense rifle, and a defense rifle is an assault rifle; these two concepts are identical — such is the very nature of armed combat, in which one person is trying to prevent himself from being killed by killing the other guy first. Anyone who "needs" a defense rifle "needs" an assault rifle, because they are the same.
If you're gonna kill the king, you gotta kill the king
So there you have it: The above represents a few reasons why I and a few million other non-crazy Americans own and shoot so-called semiauto "assault rifles." (For the pro-gun people, I realize that "assault rifle" means "full auto" to you, but it doesn't to most folks; and it's a made-up political term anyway. It really just means "any scary looking gun that we don't like and want to ban," so please spare me the nitpicking for using the term to cover semiauto ARs. We lost that definitional battle a long time ago.)
You may reject all of the rationales offered above, which is fine. It's totally respectable for you to admit that you don't believe the rationales for AR ownership outlined above are legitimate, and therefore we should outlaw civilian ownership of a very large category of weapons. But what isn't respectable is to argue this way, and then to turn around and claim that "nobody is coming for your guns!" That's insulting, and we both know it isn't true. Stop doing that.
If you're serious about banning guns, you can talk about banning all semiautomatic guns, or about restricting guns to a list of approved models or actions. This is may not be politically realistic at the moment, but at least it's consistent and rational. But talk of banning just the "AR" — as if that's a specific model of gun that you can just up and ban — is technologically infeasible and ultimately counterproductive.
All you do when you make a lot of noise about assault weapon bans, noise that you can't even remotely back up with legislative action, is boost sales of the very weapons you hope to eliminate. Truly, if you're gonna kill the king, you gotta kill the king; you can't just loudly threaten to kill the king, then lamely attempt to give him a wedgie (and fail at even that), and then not expect blowback.
What is to be done?
For what it's worth, I do actually believe the fact that this violent nutjob who had been interviewed by the FBI three times was able to get a gun is so obviously messed up that it's foolish to suggest otherwise. In an even slightly less crazy world, this guy would never have had a weapon — not even a Cricket children's rifle.
I'm gonna be super duper honest, here: I think even the NRA is looking at "unhinged Muslim guy who had ISIS sympathies" and also thinking that such a person probably should not have had access to guns (albeit for different reasons than your typical leftie). But just like when you're in the supermarket and you see some awful parent verbally abusing their kids and you think, "this person should have been sterilized before it got this far," but you'd never actually suggest that because you don't want anyone sterilizing you, the NRA is not likely to express this sentiment in public.
I think the way forward is to forget about the "what" and focus relentlessly and viciously on the "who." We should qualify or disqualify people, not gun designs. That's a tall order, and it requires a ton of care if we're going to respect all parts of the Bill of Rights. But I think if we all start with a few things that we agree on and then work from there, then there may be some hope of keeping guns out of the hands of crazed loners.
Appendix: Further reading
My own journey with the AR began with this long Wired piece I wrote in the wake of Newtown: "The AR Is More Than a Gun. It's a Gadget." This is still the longest and most substantial thing I've written on the AR platform — I attended the SHOT Show in Vegas, interviewed gunmakers and enthusiasts, and generally did old-fashioned reporting. This piece covers the history, development, and present culture around the black rifle.
More recently, I've written on the assault weapons ban in the context of a discussion of smart guns for Tech Crunch: "Why the NRA hates smart guns." (Although, the predecessor to that piece, which is about the general problems with smart guns, is a lot better than the NRA-focused follow-up.)
Finally, if you want to read a frustrated rant that's way too long, needs edits, and should have been broken up into at least three pieces, check out: "Why "Moderate" Pro-Gun Groups like ACRGO Always Fail." This is my attempt to answer the often asked question, "Why is there no moderate alternative to the NRA that attracts middle-of-the-road gun owners?"
Jon Stokes is a co-founder of Ars Technica, former Wired editor, author, and content guy at Second Media.
This article was adapted from a post that originally ran on Medium.
First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at [email protected]
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15 handgun ar
The Pistol That Looks Like A Rifle: The Dayton Shooter's Gun
The gun used in the Dayton shooting (top) has a barrel that's shorter than the federal minimum for a rifle. Legally classified as a pistol, it was fed by a round "double drum" magazine (lower left). A close-up of the gun's lower receiver (bottom right) shows the only part of the gun that is legally considered a firearm. Courtesy of Dayton Police Department hide caption
The gun used in the Dayton shooting (top) has a barrel that's shorter than the federal minimum for a rifle. Legally classified as a pistol, it was fed by a round "double drum" magazine (lower left). A close-up of the gun's lower receiver (bottom right) shows the only part of the gun that is legally considered a firearm.Courtesy of Dayton Police Department
The gun that was used on Sunday to kill nine people and wound more than a dozen others in Dayton, Ohio, inflicted that damage within just 30 seconds. But while the weapon might look like a rifle to many people, it's technically classified as a pistol under federal law.
The ARstyle pistol used in Dayton is capable of pouring a stream of high-velocity bullets, thanks to its huge ammunition magazine. Before it was turned against civilians, the gun was built from easily obtained components — leading to questions about America's gun laws and a gray area that exists between traditional categories such as rifles and pistols.
"You're talking, really, a weapon of mass destruction that you're giving over the counter to anybody," said Joseph Vince, a former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who now works as a gun crime consultant.
Under U.S. law, the only part of a gun that's technically considered a firearm — and must be shipped to a licensed firearms dealer — is the lower receiver. That's the shell-like piece that houses the trigger and bears the maker's serial number. Everything else, from the barrel to the firing mechanism, can be easily bought directly — online or in a store.
"This is a perfect example of how our federal gun laws now have been so convoluted and weakened that we can't determine basic components and what's what in firearms anymore," said Vince, who is also a criminal justice professor at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland.
The gun used in Dayton had an ARstyle lower receiver that was built by Anderson Manufacturing in Hebron, Ky. This week, such receivers were priced at $
When reached for comment, Anderson Manufacturing told NPR via email that the company "recently learned that a lower receiver manufactured by it in full compliance with its federal license was used in the senseless tragedy in Dayton, OH."
While expressing "sympathy and condolences to all affected by this criminal act," Anderson also noted that it has followed all laws and regulations around the products it sells to licensed dealers and customers.
A lower receiver like the one Anderson made can become the heart of either a pistol or a rifle. And it's that flexibility, Vince said, that can create a sort of hybrid: "They'll sell this firearm as a pistol, and then people can go and buy accessories to use the firearm more as a rifle" — but with a short barrel.
Fully assembled AR rifles can be bought for less than $ — and the price goes up sharply from there. While it can be cheaper to build one's own AR, the approach also allows gun owners to customize their guns, from choosing the caliber of bullet it will chamber to trying out unique accessories. And with an AR pistol, the process can result in an imposing weapon in a compact package.
"If a lower receiver is built into and registered as a pistol first, it can be stripped down and converted into a rifle in the future," the National Rifle Association says on its American Rifleman website, where it has published a guide for any people who want to build their own AR pistol.
If a short barrel is used, like on the Dayton gun, it can be easier both to conceal and to handle in close quarters. And by omitting a traditional shoulder stock, the owner can maintain the gun's status as a pistol — while also keeping the barrel length under the inch minimum that's required for rifles.
In general, the ATF says, "an AR pistol is not a short-barreled 'rifle' under the statutory definition in the National Firearms Act because it does not have a shoulder stock, and is not designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder."
In a statement sent to NPR, the ATF said such a gun is commonly defined as a pistol "because it is made with a pistol grip and designed to be gripped and fired when held in one hand."
On the Dayton gun, the stabilizing brace is the roughly triangular piece that resembles a shoulder stock. Under the ATF's rules, the idea is that shooters would use Velcro straps to secure the gun to their forearm — making it easier to shoot with just one hand, like a pistol.
Among gun enthusiasts, Anderson is known as a budget parts-maker. In touting its low-priced receiver, the company says the savings allow customers to spend more money on other accessories and parts. In the case of the Dayton shooter, the receiver was paired with a simple brace, a short barrel — and a round "double drum" ammunition magazine.
To build a gun like the one used in Dayton, a lower receiver is paired with a "pistol kit" that frequently sells for as little as $ Because they lack a lower receiver, those kits are legal to ship directly to customers, rather than to registered dealers who possess a federal firearms license.
Mourners view flowers and other mementos left in honor of the people killed or injured during Sunday's mass shooting outside Ned Peppers bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio. John Minchillo/AP hide caption
Mourners view flowers and other mementos left in honor of the people killed or injured during Sunday's mass shooting outside Ned Peppers bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio.John Minchillo/AP
The deceased Dayton shooter bought his gun's receiver online and picked it up from a licensed dealer in Ohio, where the rest of the gun was assembled, according to Suzanne Dabkowski of the ATF's field office in Columbus, Ohio.
"Any other components that the individual would have purchased aren't regulated," Dabkowski said, because unlike the lower receiver, those components aren't considered firearms.
In Sunday's shooting in Dayton, the gunman fired dozens of rounds before being taken down within 30 seconds by police. Dayton Police Department Chief Richard Biehl said the gunman had the capacity to fire rounds, given the ammunition magazines and loose ammo he was carrying.
The Dayton gunman's weapon was chambered to fire caliber rounds, similar to the standard military round used in the M4 and M16 rifles. He was also wearing a bulletproof vest, hearing protection and a mask. He was shot and killed as he rushed to follow a crowd of people who were fleeing the sudden burst of gunfire. At the time, his AR pistol's drum still held dozens of rounds.
Occurring on the heels of another tragic shooting in El Paso, Texas, the violence quickly gave new urgency to the push to adopt new gun laws in a number of areas, from extensive and universal background checks to limits on ammunition magazines. It also prompted talk of reviving the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in
At a news conference Monday, Biehl was asked about the gunman's ability to easily acquire a powerful firearm that could send a barrage of bullets at throngs of people who had been enjoying a night out in Dayton.
"It's problematic," Biehl said. "It is fundamentally problematic to have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated. It is problematic."
While Vince, the former ATF agent, criticized the current state of federal gun laws, he also said he doesn't think guns like the one used in Dayton should be outlawed.
"I really believe that the answer here is not banning these weapons," he said. Instead, he believes they should be registered, in the same way machine guns, short-barreled rifles, silencers and other items have been required to be registered under the National Firearms Act. Those items were singled out, the ATF says, because Congress deemed them "a significant crime problem."
Vince proposes a registration process that would require any American who wants to own an AR pistol or assault-style weapon to first pass a comprehensive background check. Citing the example of gangland-era machine guns, Vince said, "a person wanting one of these firearms really had to demonstrate that they weren't a person that had violent tendencies."
Weapons such as AR pistols pose a deadly challenge to law enforcement officers, Vince said, because in one compact package, they have the ability to fire a bullet that can penetrate many types of body armor, are easily concealed and can be fed by a high-capacity magazine.
"You talk about law enforcement being outgunned," he said. "This is ridiculous, what they have to face, when they carry a handgun."
In the ATF's annual release of data on guns made in the U.S., it breaks down categories such as pistols and rifles. But the report doesn't specifically list numbers for receivers. Instead, they're classified as "miscellaneous firearms" — a category that includes other items such as pistol grip firearms and starter guns.
In the past three decades, sales of miscellaneous firearms have grown exponentially. In , only 4, were made. By , the number had grown to , And by , the ATF says, it had grown to ,
As for why AR pistols have caught on with gun enthusiasts, Vince said it's partly due to market forces in a country where there are now more guns than people.
"When you start to see the saturation of firearms in this country," Vince said, "the industry has to produce things that are different, that are going to make people want to buy something that they don't have. And that's what you're seeing here: It's to expand the market."
Correction Aug. 8,
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, happened on Saturday. It actually happened early on Sunday, Aug. 4.
7 Things You Need to Know Before Buying an AR Pistol
The vast majority of shooters, myself included, have historically viewed AR pistols as nothing more than a noisy cricket; a fun-gun range toy to show off to friends. That, or a way to maintain excitement until your short-barreled rifle (SBR) Form 1 has been approved by the understaffed examiners that call the ATF’s NFA branch home.
AR pistols are not all that easy to shoot accurately due to their size, weight, and poor ergonomics. They shoot rifle rounds that produce sharper felt recoil, which makes off-hand shots shaky, at best. But the AR pistol of yesteryear is not the same platform shooters are enjoying today for one reason: the stabilizing brace.
The introduction of the pistol stabilizing brace deserves full credit for the surge in popularity of this once decadent variant of the AR SBRs have always had a certain sex appeal, but the cost of admission and draconian rules associated with them have been a turn off for all but the most dedicated consumers. With braced AR pistols available off the shelf, the ultimate compact, semiautomatic truck gun was reborn, and continues to enjoy an ever-increasing level of popularity.
It all sounds great, but there are a few things to know about pistol braces and their use. First and foremost, a pistol stabilizing brace is a device that typically attaches to the receiver extension (buffer tube) of your AR pistol and is intended to improve accuracy by using the shooter’s forearm to support and stabilize your AR pistol (when fired one-handed).
Now, the ATF has previously determined that attaching an arm brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject it to National Firearms Act (NFA) control. With that said, the classification is based upon using the device in the manner in which it was designed—to assist the user in stabilizing the platform for single-handed firing.
The ATF has also concluded that adding a stabilizing brace to a handgun does not make it a short-barreled rifle, unless the user configures the device for use as a shoulder stock, such as permanently affixing the brace to the end of the receiver extension to excessively increase length of pull, removing the arm strap, or some other modification that would reconfigure the device for use as a shoulder stock, and unusable as an arm brace.
Now for the last part, if the user happens to be firing their AR pistol with an unmodified stabilizing brace from a particular position and places the brace on or against their shoulder, this act does not change the classification of the platform.
If you want further clarification, SB Tactical released a statement in regarding the matter.
With the fine-print and legalese out of the way, let’s dig into what features and components should be on your short list as you browse the market for the right AR pistol.
Choosing a Brace
A myriad of braces are available today, with more set for release. The most notable and largest manufacturer is SB Tactical, a company offering braces for nearly every platform you can think of and originator of the stabilizing brace. Braces are available in a variety of configurations that include friction fit, fixed, telescoping and folding flavors that are constructed of plastic, rubber, polyurethane and/or aluminum—all in differing shapes, sizes, and weights. The most popular braces today are of the telescoping variety such as SB Tactical’s SBA3 and SBM4, Maxim Defense PDW Brace, Gear Head Works Tailhook or AR and MCX/MPX pistols from SIG Sauer.
Lighter is Better
The benefits of an AR pistol are many, but two of the most appealing are compact size and light weight. When choosing a barrel, go with a lightweight barrel profile, fluted if you can. The reduction in weight is substantial and the balance of the platform will be improved. Other ways to reduce weight are a lightweight, free-float handguard (I like M-Lok), lightened upper and lower receiver sets and not over accessorizing. It’s a pistol after all.
When you shorten the barrel, you’re going to lose velocity, it’s just Internal Ballistics But that doesn’t mean you’ll lose capability; just as long as you choose wisely. Grendel performance for an inch barrel is amazing and capable of taking down mule deer-sized game (Hornady’s grain SST is a great option), even at what are considered mid-range distances.
The Blackout was optimized for short barrels. A 9-inch barrel gets a complete powder burn and is going to get the most out of Blackout rounds. In fact, going much longer than that provides little enhancement to the exterior ballistics of the cartridge. Most of us know (but it’s OK if you don’t), Blackout suppresses well, which is a great reason for going short; even with a suppressor attached, the overall length of the platform will still be shorter than a inch barreled carbine.
Also, Rem/ NATO continues to be a popular chambering in all AR configurations, including pistols. Once you drop below an inch barrel, the platform quickly runs into reliability issues and terminal performance becomes less predictable as distance to the target increases.
Choosing the Right Cartridge
In the case of the Rem/ NATO cartridge, choosing a heavier grain weight is generally choosing right. My preference is the grain TSX by Barnes, but Black Hills also loads it. Ensure your barrel twist rate is a , which offers greater stability of heavier projectiles, leading to increased accuracy.
My absolute favorite short barrel cartridge is the Blackout. If you’re going to go short, go short. With that said, ensure you choose the right load. The best in the business is Black Hills grain TTSX, a.k.a. Black Magic. The projectile is known by several names, including TSX, TTSX and Vor-TX. This black polymer-tipped, all-copper projectile has become the standard by which all others are judged and was developed by Barnes Ammunition.
Read Next: Why the AR Is the Greatest Rifle Ever
So, what makes the round so special, aside from being the Outdoor Life Ammunition of the Year? Barnes published data states the projectile will reliably expand in soft tissue down to around 1, feet per second. The round rips out of a 9-inch barrel at about 2, feet per second, and given the expansion threshold, nets you reliable terminal performance in-excess of yards. Going a step further, that same round fired from a inch barrel at feet above sea level was chronographed at 1, feet per second, which translates into reliable performance at a little over yards away. You might be asking what kind of performance we’re talking here. Well, at that distance, the round immediately expands upon impact and retains nearly percent of its weight, penetrating to a depth of plus inches in 10 percent ballistic gelatin. Not bad from a 9-inch barrel, and simply astounding performance from a inch barrel. The TTSX, without question has no supersonic peer, when we’re talking Blackout.
Picking a Muzzle Brake
There are many muzzle devices available on the market today. You might be tempted to install a muzzle brake on your AR pistol to reduce muzzle rise and help manage recoil.
A short Rem/NATO barrel coupled with a muzzle brake equals increased concussion and noise, both of which quickly become unpleasant for both shooter and spectator. If you’re after a light show, the combo does produce a huge fireball visible with each round fired at low light.
On the flipside is the flash hider. Reduction in flash is a desirable feature for most short-barreled AR pistols. If you’re undecided, or must have some type of muzzle brake, take a hard look at SureFire’s WarComp. Not only is it a rock-solid mount to accept their suppressors, it’s a hybrid muzzle device that effectively reduces muzzle rise, and the amount of flash leaving the barrel is comparable to a sushi stick.
The Right Optic
Use your head wisely when choosing an optic to equip your AR pistol. A red-dot sight equipped with a small dot, and a large window is a good choice. Leupold’s excellent LCO or an EOTech EXPS come to mind. If magnification is needed, several optic manufacturers offer quality 3-power magnifiers that will greatly extend your AR pistols usability at distance. In the proper mount, these magnifiers can be flipped to the side or removed when not needed.
Low power variable optics in the x range with good eye relief, true one power and illuminated reticles are also excellent choices. They can add some ounces to the platform, especially when accounting for the weight of the mount, but a brace certainly helps with that.
Depending on your expected usage, you may be tempted to mount a x or x optic. If you choose to go that route, be sure you can explain how you plan on effectively aiming, supporting and shooting it with a single hand, if questioned. Just food for thought.
The last component to consider is the pistol grip. The standard A2 pistol grip and aftermarket replacements, such as Magpul’s popular MOE and MIAD grips, are fantastic additions to carbines and rifles with longer hand guards and traditional length of pull measurements. Once you shorten a platform, a more vertical pistol grip will be much more ergonomic. Magpul offers its K2 and K2+ grips, and BCM has its Gunfighter series, both of which will provide a much more enjoyable and effective shooting experience, as they allow you to keep your wrist straight and locked.
The AR Pistol Afield
The AR pistol is a platform of many uses. Sure, they are a ton of fun at the range, teaching children how to shoot, and for use in defending the homestead, but consider them for hunting applications as well. A light, compact AR pistol in the right caliber is easy to carry for long distances and over challenging terrain. It’s also painless to haul up into a treestand or pack into camp. When it comes time to take the shot, they’re typically fast-handling, well-balanced and very ergonomic.
As the AR pistol continues to evolve, expect to find more of them chambered in Win, Creedmoor, Bushmaster and other heavy-hitting cartridges ideal for medium-sized game or camp defense against bears and other predators. Next time you head off into the backcountry, consider bringing one along.
Once you’ve settled on an AR pistol, take the time to intelligently accessorize it to better fit your intended use. White lights, slings, aftermarket triggers and ambidextrous controls are all upgrades worth considering. Most importantly, get out there, have some fun and share the experience with someone new to shooting.
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Shame on me. Small knees, each slightly larger than my elbow, nicely rounded. They look out from under the edges of their short trousers, like two sisters - and they don't know how they excite me with. Their mere appearance. It would be bliss to kiss and caress them, even get in the ass with such a knee.