In contemporary American society, one of the most controversial and heavily debated issues is the availability and regulation of firearms, and one firearm in particular has been placed in the political and media spotlight; the “infamous” AR-15. On the surface the reason why is understandable, indeed the AR-15 has been used in quite a few tragedies that have unfortunately occurred over the last several years. Its design, to those who are uneducated about firearms, looks similar to that of the full-auto machine guns that are so popular in Hollywood action movies. However, if one takes time to set aside the hype and delve into actual research and experience with the firearm, they’ll soon realize that the AR-15 is actually no different really than any other mass-produced rifle that is available for civilian purchasing and is by no means the “weapon of mass destruction” that the media often makes it out to be (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-23/news/fl-gscol-oped1223-20121223_1_assault-weapons-ak-47-ar-15).
Let’s start with the basics, the AR-15 was designed as a lightweight, semi-automatic support weapon for the military in 1958 by renowned American firearm company, ArmaLite. The design was later sold to Colt, who re-branded the name of the rifle as the M16 for the military, and then modified it for civilian purchasing as the AR-15 in 1963. The key word here though is “support weapon,” because unlike other rifles, the AR-15 was never actually designed to “kill” its targets. Obviously it can, however its full purpose as a support weapon was to wound, and not kill, enemy combatants. It might sound odd for the military to adopt such a weapon, however from a strategic standpoint it makes perfect sense; in a combat scenario if an ally happens to get killed, the whole crew keeps fighting. Though in a situation where an ally is wounded, several fellow combatants will abandon combat to rush to that person’s aid and carry them to safety. Thus the AR-15 has the power to effectively remove several enemy combatants from the battlefield at once.
How does the AR-15 accomplish this task? By firing .223 rounds (though some fire 5.56 rounds, which is actually the same bullet except the 5.56 has a slightly thicker brass. Hence why you can fire .223 rounds in a 5.56 chamber but not the other way around, unless you’re looking for a gun jam). The .223 and 5.56 rounds are considered to be rather weak as far as calibers go, in fact they have a similar force to that of a .22, which is the ammo often used in children’s pellet and BB guns, only the .223 (and 5.56) fire with obvious more velocity. It requires several shots from a .223 to kill someone, making it non-ideal for a home defense weapon (a Mossberg is the much better fit for that), however it is perfect for hunting smaller game and subduing a trespasser or criminal (which is why the AR-15 is so popular among many Police Departments). The AR-15 is also easy to customize, many sights, grips, and other various upgrades exist for the weapon, making it highly popular among firearm enthusiasts.
So how did the AR-15 go from being a simple small-game hunting gun and police utilized firearm to being the modern-day boogie man? After all nobody had any such problems with the gun for 40 years, so what happened? Two things: false political jargon, and misinformed media hype. Let us start with the false political jargon. In 1994 President Clinton, along with the backing of several anti-2nd Amendment special interest groups, introduced and passed an act called “The Federal Assault Weapons Ban” (FAWB). This is the first time that the American public had ever heard such a term, they knew about Assault Rifles (something that is completely different and already heavily restricted), but were unsure of what “assault weapon” actually meant. Many people today don’t know what it means either. The term “assault weapon” refers only to certain cosmetic parts of certain semi-automatic rifles (and long guns in general) that the federal ban placed restrictions on. The restrictions they had in place were rather asinine, for example any rifle or long gun that was painted all black would be considered as an “assault weapon,” regardless of the type of round it fired. A simple ranch rifle, or even a shotgun, could magically turn into an “assault weapon” simply by adding a longer stock to it, despite it being classified as a “normal” gun before. The FAWB Act was bizarre, oppressive to the 2nd Amendment, and seemed like it was created by people who had absolutely no knowledge of firearms in the first place. The ban lasted until 2004 when it finally expired and nobody could find any substantial or factual reasons as to why it should be renewed.
This however did not kill the “assault weapons” term, the media picked it up and began using it to drum up stories and misinform the uneducated masses. Reports and stories about “assault weapons” being used in crimes across the country started to spring up, the media often times didn’t even bother revealing the actual name of the gun(s) involved in the crimes, just that it was an “assault weapon” and that it was somehow very dangerous and scary and was the sole proponent in the committing of violent acts. To those who were uneducated when it came to matters of firearms, the term “assault weapon” conjured up images of fully automatic AK-47s and M16-Carbine rifles, as opposed to the mere semi-automatic weapons that the term was referring to. For those who don’t know, a semi-automatic weapon is a gun that fires each time the trigger is pulled, not automatically when the trigger is held down like a full auto machine gun. A simple handgun is a semi-automatic weapon, many shotguns are semi-automatic, and so are most modern rifles, including the AR-15. The media however does not often reveal this fact, why? Perhaps it’s better for the ratings, I don’t know. What I do know however is that there are a lot of misinformed Americans out there, and many of these misinformed Americans vote (which they certainly have a right to of course), but they often vote on matters they don’t truly understand. And this issue is one of them.
For the last several years our nation has faced a string of unbearable tragedies, and we all want them to stop. The question is how? Many believe that if these weapons were made illegal these tragedies would somehow magically end and the lunatics responsible would simply stop attempting to kill people. But many weapons, including fully automatic, are already illegal and yet criminals have no problem getting a hold of them. This is because criminals obtain their weapons through the black market, and the AR-15 is rarely ever used by criminals in the first place. Most weapons used in crimes tend to be illegally obtained handguns, and according to the FBI, hammers are actually used to commit more murders than rifles and shotguns (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expanded_homicide_data_table_8_murder_victims_by_weapon_2008-2012.xls). When the actual facts are shown, the AR-15 rates low on the scale of being such a deviant firearm. If you think banning semi-automatic rifles will reduce crime then you might as well ban hammers along with them.
Still the fundamental question remains, what is the solution? How do we stop these horrible tragedies from occurring? Ultimately I wish I had a solid answer to that question, I think we all do, but while none of us may have that definitive answer, we still need to try. I do support some common sense gun control measures, such as having better background checks, including on a potential gun buyer’s mental health. I’m also a proponent of requiring all first time gun owners to take Hunter’s Safety courses (also known as Basic Gun Safety), it’s vital for gun owners to be educated about the operation of their firearms and how to avoid accidents. However I am against the notion that banning semi-automatic rifles, especially the AR-15, or any gun currently available for civilian purchase will solve the problem. Firearms have existed in our nation since its birth, and we have a fundamental Right bestowed to us by God to bear them. Past generations have had looser gun control laws, in fact they even used to teach children to shoot in schools. It is only my generation (I’m 24) that has been committing these horrific tragedies, and it is also my generation that happens to live during a time where gun laws have never been more strict in this country than before. So what changed? What has caused a single generation of Americans to begin performing ungodly massacres on their own people? Is it the AR-15? No, that’s been available to the public since the 1960’s, a time period where Americans fought for Civil Rights and against an unjust war, but even during the struggles and violence that many of them faced, not once did they go into a school or theater and start murdering innocents. So I ask again, what changed? Is it our culture? Were we raised by bad parents? Do we have a lack of mental healthcare available? What is it?
It is only when we stop blaming the guns, and start asking those fundamental questions that force us to take a bold look at our society, that we might just find the answer.