Two weeks ago I introduced you to the AR-15, “America’s Rifle,” along with some of the reasons that has such a dedicated fan base. Today I would like to explore just who owns these rifles and why they own them.
Again, the designation AR-15 today is a trademark of Colt Industries, but numerous manufacturers produce “clones” all based on the ArmaLite Rifle-15, which was designed in the 1950s, and is what the “AR” in the name represents. In this column I use the terms AR and Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) interchangeably.
According to whom you believe, there may be up to 4 million AR-type rifles in the United States today, which represents enough firepower to arm the entire United States Army, the Russian Army, and the Indian Army combined, with enough left over to equip the U.S. Marine Corps. No matter how you feel about them, that’s a lot of guns and a testament to the popularity of this class of rifle.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s MSR Consumer Report of 2010, recreational target shooting (8.9 out of every 10 respondents) was the number one reason for owning an MSR, followed by home defense (7.7 out of 10), collecting (6.28 out of 10), and hunting (6.23 out of 10).
When it comes to recreational target shooting, the AR is surprisingly accurate, flat-shooting, and boasts a design that recoils straight back into the shooter’s shoulder enabling the firer to get back onto target faster. Magazine changes are quick and easy, and the semi-automatic action doesn’t require the shooter to take his or her eye off of the target.
Some of the factors that make the AR so scary to anti-gunners also makes them popular with recreational shooters: all of these weird little handles, pistol grips, knobs, and projections that make it look black and sinister to the uninitiated were designed to make them readily accessible and user-friendly.
The NSSF report showed that 84 percent of MSR owners have at least one optional accessory on their rifle. Modern fabrication and the interchangeability of parts have helped the AR adjust to the modern age. The customization options are almost limitless – you can literally go from having a lightweight, short-barreled, short-stocked carbine to having a long, heavy-barreled varmint or target rifle with a telescopic sight in a matter of moments. All it takes is money, and collectors and shooters spend lots of it.
Roughly 75 percent of AR owners claim home defense as a reason for ownership. The reason is simple: when you are protecting your castle and family against intruders, who doesn’t want a battle-tested and proven firearm at their disposal?
Women are among the fastest growing group of AR buyers and owners, and I would say that is because countless women have been exposed to these guns through military service; they know how to use them and take care of them. ARs are relatively light and compact, have practically no recoil to speak of, and can fitted with many options including flashlights, laser sights and others. Plus, let’s admit it, they can look pretty intimidating (which may be important if you are a 100-pound woman facing down a 220-pound burglar). A 30-round “standard capacity” magazine gives a mom enough ammunition to fend off a slew of attackers. You can’t have too much ammo when you are defending yourself or your family in your own home.
When it comes to hunting, the longer-barreled versions with flat-topped receivers intended for telescopic sights, are excellent for varmint and predator hunting (i.e. woodchucks and coyotes). Smaller to medium game is where the 5.56 (223 Remington) cartridge really excels, trying to do much more than that is really pushing the limitations of the platform. By the way, it is considered safe to use 223 Remington ammo in guns chambered and marked for 5.56 but not the other way around.
Collectors also really like the AR. It is historical. It represents America. Who doesn’t want a piece of hardware that more than almost anything else has represented the U.S. military over the past half-century? No other long gun has served this country longer in main-line service, and in most free states you can actually own this bit of history.
Who are these AR/MSR owners? Metadata shows they represent a broad cross-section of Americans.
Nearly half (44 percent) of MSR owners are current or former military/law enforcement. Also according to the NSSF, the typical MSR owner is male, 35-plus years old, married, and has at least some college education. More than half have a household income exceeding $75,000 and 58 percent do not have children living with them.
More than anything else, shooting an AR-15 is just plain fun. As one of my daughters explained, the easiest way to convert an anti-gunner is to actually take them out shooting.
A couple of years ago, one of my Army buddies paid me a visit and introduced his children to his new AR-15 by first starting them out with a .22 Long Rifle adapter and then full-powered centerfire rounds, by the end of the afternoon-long session they all understood the safe operation of the firearm and had a great time sending rounds downrange.
My wife also had a grand time showing his daughters how to effectively shoot a handgun, and once they got the hang of it the girls enjoyed the heck out of ringing the steel. I definitely commended her for empowering those young ladies, showing them they can take a more active role in protecting themselves and their families.
One thing for sure, the AR isn’t getting any less popular, and they probably aren’t going away anytime in the foreseeable future.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District, and his column, In the Open, generally appears every two weeks. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org