AR Derangement Syndrome

In the wake of the Uvalde tragedy—which was committed with an AR-15-type weapon—The Atlantic published an article by Ryan Busse with the title “The Rifle That Ruined America,” that rifle of course being the AR-15. Busse, who identifies himself as a former executive at a then up-and-coming gun company, states that most people in the gun industry used to regard the AR-15 as “distasteful and dangerous,” and as a “creepy, fringe interest that had no place in a complex democratic society.” Now, however, the gun industry is selling the things hand over fist, “arming civilians with weapons of war in that same complex democracy it once knew to protect.” So according to Busse, the gun industry had formerly been protecting democracy by its refusal to promote the AR-15. Busse goes on to say, “These guns are different from most others. If they were not so uniquely deadly, why would they almost invariably be mass shooters’ weapon of choice?”

Although the original AR-15 was indeed an assault rifle, the A in AR doesn’t stand for assault but rather Armalite, the company that developed the weapon. The concept behind the assault rifle was a weapon that could be fired on fully automatic like a machine gun but that would fire cartridges smaller than those fired by the older standard-issue battle rifles. The smaller cartridges made the assault rifle easier to control when fired on fully automatic and also allowed the person armed with it to carry more rounds of ammunition per pound/kilogram. The cartridge developed for the AR-15 was the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, a small caliber, high velocity round; even a tiny bullet, if propelled fast enough, can do damage that belies its size. The AR-15 was transformed into the military’s M16 and its subsequent incarnations for use by the US armed forces. Versions of the AR-15 for the civilian market are semi-automatic only, one trigger pull required for every round fired. Most discussions of the AR-15—such as Busse’s article—actually refer to the semi-automatic civilian versions of the weapon, which might better be described as AR-15-type weapons, AR-15-style weapons, or weapons built on the AR-15 platform.

Busse doesn’t seem to understand that the Second Amendment isn’t about deer hunting; it’s about the right of citizens to arm themselves in order to be ready to defend their freedom. And what could be a better expression of that right than for citizens to be able to arm themselves with the civilian version of an iconic weapon used by their own armed forces? Given the widespread popularity of the weapon among responsible gun owners, it would not be unheard of, unfortunately, for it to also attract the attention of those few deranged individuals who would use it for a horrific purpose. But it is the height of irrationality to demonize an inanimate object because it is misused by a deranged individual.

Furthermore, Busse’s assertion that the AR-15 is “uniquely deadly” is hysterical nonsense. There is nothing any more deadly about the AR-15 than there is about any other semi-automatic rifle that is chambered in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO. A Google search on “AR-15 alternatives” will turn up multiple lists of semi-automatic rifles in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO other than AR-15s. One of those that will turn up on the lists has a full-length hardwood stock and looks like a traditional sportsman’s rifle; yet it could wreak every bit the same carnage as the Uvalde shooter’s weapon.

Something else that needs to be addressed that has cropped up in other articles is the sensationalistic citation of grisly wound ballistics reports from the time the original AR-15 was introduced into the Vietnam conflict—heads and arms blown off, big holes blasted all the way through bodies, and the like. This damage was caused because a bullet that was just stable enough to spiral through the air would immediately destabilize upon hitting a solid target, tumbling and fragmenting instead of boring straight on through. Getting a bullet to be just stable enough is a function of the spiraling grooves in the barrel of the rifle, a relatively loose spiral spinning the bullet more slowly, a tighter spiral spinning the bullet faster and increasing its stability. The function is typically expressed as the number of inches the bullet has to travel down the barrel in order to make one complete revolution. The original AR-15s had a twist rate of 1 in 14, the bullet having to travel 14 inches down the barrel to complete its first revolution. But the weapon had to meet other bureaucratic military specifications that demanded more bullet stability in flight, so faster twist rates were adopted. The twist rate of the Uvalde shooter’s gun was twice as fast at 1 in 7. The twist rate of Kyle Rittenhouse’s AR-15-style gun was 1 in 9; had it been 1 in 14, it probably would have blown Gaige Grosskreutz’s forearm clean off.

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