Long Guns for Self- Defense: The AR-15 (aka The “Modern Sporting Rifle”)

The semi-automatic AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the United States. There are several reasons for this. One is that following every major conflict that the U.S. has fought, the veterans of that conflict have sought to acquire firearms similar to those they used to fight with. Following World War I, there was a great move in the U.S. to adopt the bolt-action rifle. Prior to that time, the lever-action rifle was the most common variety encountered in the fields and woods during hunting seasons. Following World War II, there was significantly increased interest in semi-automatic rifles. And, following the Vietnam War and the conflicts in the Middle East it is only naturalto expect interest in the AR-15 rifle to grow as millions of veterans returned to civilian life.

A second reason is the flexibility that the AR-platform offers. Unlike earlier guns, the AR rifles can be easily modified by the owner without having to resort to the use of a trained gunsmith to perform the work. Probably the greatest flexibility is a result of using an adjustable stock and the variety of sights that can be used on the gun. The adjustable stock means that it can be easily adapted to shooters of different sizes. In the past when non-adjustable stocks were the norm, each shooter basically had to have their own dedicated rifle or they had to adapt their shooting fundamentals (grip and stance) to enable them to use the unmodified gun. Obviously this does not contribute to good marksmanship like “fitting” the gun to the shooter would.

In addition to the adjustable stock, the pistol grip and location of the other “controls” on the AR-15 make it very ergonomic for the user. Since they don’t have to concentrate on the controls, they can focus their attention on shooting.

The .223/5.56mm cartridge also contributes to the popularity. The rifle is easy for just about anyone to shoot as it does not produce “punishing” recoil when fired. As a result, it is popular among shooters of smaller stature—women and children. But, you are not limited to the .223/5.56mm. You can change calibers easily with the AR-style rifle by simply replacing the “upper” assembly with one in the caliber of your choice—provided it will fit within the AR’s “form-factor”. You may or may not be able to use the same magazines for the new caliber’s ammunition as you can for the original caliber.

Still another factor in the popularity of the AR-15 is probably related to politics. When gun control advocates say they want to ban something, that just serves to increase the popularity of that item as people rush to buy them while they still can. And, once they have them, owners have discovered that the AR-15 is a fun gun to shoot.

Because there are so many of them in the hands of American citizens, it is only natural that they be considered for use in self-defense. Given that it was originally used as a military weapon, the utility for self-defense seems to be assumed. However, some configurations of the AR-15 are more suited to self-defense than others. Those in the carbine configuration with the collapsible butt-stock and shorter barrels seem most appropriate for self-defense as they are easier to maneuver in the narrow confines of hallways and rooms. The caliber is a proven man-stopper. The lack of recoil makes it easier to make accurate follow-up shots if needed. The light-weight bullets do not over penetrate and thus are of less concern in crowded urban environments.

Having a detachable magazine makes the AR-15 rifle easy to reload. Magazines come in 5, 10, 20, 30-round capacity, and some with even larger capacities. (Note, in Ohio you are limited to using nothing larger than a 30-round magazine for a total capacity in your firearm of 31 rounds of ammunition.) The 30-round magazine is the standard for the AR-15 platform.

However, the AR-15 is not something that is easily adaptable for “concealed carry”. It is a little too large for that role, although it works well as a “home defense” firearm.

So, should you consider the AR-platform to fulfill your self-defense needs? It certainly does if you are not concerned about “concealed carry” when you are out in public. With millions of Americans already having one, it should be an easy choice. Plus, it has one other advantage. Unlike most handguns, an AR-15 rifle is adaptable for multiple uses—hunting, predator control, etc., not just self-defense. Just another example of the gun’s flexibility.

Gary Evens is an NRA-Certified Instructor and Range Safety Officer.

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