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Stop Calling the AR-15 An Assault Rifle or a Weapon of War

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AR-15. Image: Creative Commons.

AR-15, all of the misinformation, explained in 4 minutes: With President Joe Biden in the White House and Democrat control of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, owners of AR-15 and similar firearms have a valid reason for concern. Such guns have been targeted for legislation including registration, increased background checks, and even outright bans.

Many who want to see such firearms banned try to use terms that, while sound scary, don’t really apply to the AR-15.

The Assault Rifle Claim

The AR-15 platform has been singled out by opponents of the Second Amendment, using the worrying phrase “assault weapon,” a term embraced all too often by the mainstream media. The firearms industry has countered by more accurately describing those firearms as “modern assault rifles.”

However, an assault weapon typically is selective fire, meaning it can fire in a semi-automatic mode where the trigger needs to be pulled to fire each round; or in automatic mode where the weapon operates like a machine gun. An AR-15 has no selective fire mode, as fully-automatic weapons are banned by U.S. law.

A Weapon of War? 

Adding fuel to the fire, so to speak, as the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has noted, “Though the semiautomatic design used in today’s pistols, rifles and shotguns was invented in the late-nineteenth century and was popularly sold to consumers in America and Europe in the early twentieth century, the modern sporting rifle has been called a ‘weapon of war’ by those who want to ban them.”

The ‘weapons of war’ moniker is largely based on the general appearance, but there are significant differences.


Additionally, the media – and many politicians – also try to confuse the matter by using the adjective “high-powered” when referring to assault weapons and even modern sporting rifles. This is factually incorrect in both cases.

The first assault weapons developed during World War II actually were chambered in a new “intermediate” round that was larger than the pistol rounds used in pistols and submachine guns, and the rounds used in the main battle rifles of the era. In fact, today in most cases a modern sporting rifle is chambered in calibers less powerful than commonly used big-game cartridges including .30-06 Springfield (.30 caliber) and .300 Winchester Magnum.

Because it isn’t as powerful, it doesn’t have the same “kick” or recoil of those larger rifles, and that fact has made the AR-15 popular with sport shooters.

According to NSSF numbers, there were more than 16 million modern sporting rifles owned by civilians in 2018, and that number likely greatly increased in 2020 with many first time buyers embracing the platform.

Military Guns, A Forgotten History

There is another important component to this story that even supporters of the Second Amendment fail to note. Until the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934, it wasn’t that unusual for civilians to own weapons on par – and even better than – what the U.S. military used.

An argument used by opponents of the Second Amendment is that the founding fathers wouldn’t have allowed private ownership of even our modern sporting rifles, but that fails to understand that those same men expected the citizens to have access to the same weapons as the military.

During the American Revolution, it was weapons such as the Pennsylvania and Kentucky Long Rifles that proved superior to the British Long Pattern Musket (Brown Bess) and other “military” long guns of the era. Throughout the 19th century, civilian firearms were no less accurate or powerful than what the military carried. And while the U.S. Army carried the Model 1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield, a slow to reload single-round rifle, repeating rifles were market to consumers.

It also wasn’t until the late 19th century that rifles carried by the U.S. military were arguably superior to what civilians had access to. Only during the First World War were some weapons, such as the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), restricted to military sales that were by contract and not actually to keep civilians from owning the weapons. In fact, after the war Colt Arms Company did produce the Colt Automatic Machine Rifle Model 1919, which was even made up of BARs intended for the military.

The BAR didn’t sell well because the price was simply too high for most consumers. Other gun makers faced similar issues.

Auto-Ordnance marketed its Thompson Submachine Gun for private sales to ranchers and security companies, but as with the BAR, the cost – which was on par with a new car – was the issue. However, the weapons were still available to those who could afford them.

All that changed with the passage of the NFA, which actually restricted civilian ownership of such firearms.

But the point remains that for much of the country’s history the difference between military and civilian firearms was blurred. Moreover, no soldier today would want to go into battle today with a civilian AR-15 when given the opportunity to use true military firearms such as the M4 Carbine or M249 machine gun. Those are the actual weapons of war, whilst the AR-15 is a gun designed for the shooting range and remains a top choice for home defense.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.



  1. R A Wynn

    November 29, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    As a long time shooter and gun enthusiast, this article is garbage. The AR was initially designed and created in the 1950s for the military for WAR. It lacked sales and later Colt purchased the design; thereby enhancing the design which sold to the military for the Viet Nam war. The AR is indeed designed to be efficient and effective in killing people prior to becoming a platform for the general public. Forgive me for being blunt…but hell Google is you friend before writing/publishing this nonsense.

  2. J

    November 30, 2021 at 12:08 am

    The AR-15 isn’t designed to hunt any game except humans. The author of this article conveniently omits the fact that it was the NRA who lobbied for and drafted the NFA, saying “This isn’t a bill that will affect sportsmen…”

    It’s kind of odd that there was no talk of “tyranny” when the NFA was passed, and it’s even odder that the co authors of the bill (the NRA) knew there was a difference between sporting weapons and military weapons, yet the current NRA has forgotten that understanding and instead prefers to cling to fairytales and mythology.

    The author also asserts that the founders wanted everyone to have the basic rifle of the military, while ignoring that the citizens actually were the military in the absence of a standing army (that tiny “well regulated” detail) in those times. He also ignores that the document originally only referred to white property holding men, and that under the original understanding of the document the states could interpret the 2nd amendment any way they saw fit (Read the United States vs Cruikshank).

    The founders weren’t afraid of the British coming. They had armories for that. They were afraid of slave uprisings and Indian attacks, and you need to sleep with a loaded gun under your pillow when you own the people who are earning your fortune for you.

    It’s disappointing to see people lap up decontextualized historically incorrect drivel like that posed in this article, but I have no doubt that author of this article would have no trouble telling the difference between an AR-15 and a sporting weapon if it had been his kid on the playground at Sandy Hook.

    Peace and Goodwill to all.


  3. Rob Carpenter

    November 30, 2021 at 9:26 am

    The stupidity of the comments above me is baffling. Neither commentor understands the distinction between the civilian AR15 and the military’s fully automatic variant, the M-16 family of weapons. Saying that there is no difference between a semi automatic variant of the AR15 and a fully automatic variant, except for the full auto capability is like saying that there is no difference between a bicycle and a motorcycle, except for the motor. This is just pure stupidity, but it’s to be expected from anti-gun lunatics.

    The civilian semi automatic variants of the AR15 are not weapons of war and are not the same weapon that our military uses. If semi automatic weapons are weapons of war, then why doesn’t any military on the face of the earth issue semi automatic only rifles to its troops?

  4. Darryl Hadfield

    November 30, 2021 at 10:25 am

    1. You’re all idiots, with the exception of Rob who is only.misinformed about his first point.

    2. The Armalite AR-15 is the ancestor of the M16. The Colt AR-15 sp1 is the ancestor of what most people call an “AR-15” present day. The AR-15 SP1 was a REDUCED functionality version of the Armalite AR-15. The lack of sales had nothing to do with the firearm and everything to do with poor marketing – because the same design sold like hotcakes when Colt was selling it.

    3. Machine guns are not illegal – just very expensive due to the artificially restricted supply. The cost to make an m16 or m4 is minally (<$150 in parts and labor in my shop) in excess of what it costs to make a semi-auto AR-15.

    4. The Armalite AR-15 was not created to hunt humans. It was created to enable suppressive fire. No gun on the planet was created to 'hunt humans', you imbecile.

    5. "Well regulated" does not mean restricted, and it never has. Further, that "little detail" isn't about the firearm, it was about the organization and ability of the groups of persons who would be using those weapons.

    6. The NRA are also idiots, and exist more for padding Wayne LaPP's pockets rather than the marksmanship they were originally created to foster.

  5. Evan

    November 30, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Good to see at least someone has some sense.

    Also, “well regulated” refers to the militia, NOT to the right to keep and bear arms. Any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement.

  6. bushwacker

    November 30, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    My rifle is a Stoner because that’s who designed and built it.Ugene stoner an arospace engineer
    AR stands for Armalight rifle comp.and like a Browning or Colt mine is a Stoner
    All so it’s in 308 like the original except the Army wanted a smaller cal so he scaled it down to the 5.56
    Are you a stoner ?

  7. Doug McKenzie

    November 30, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    Whatever you think about the present NRA, if it hadn’t been for the NRA every firearm that could accept a detachable magazine of over 7 rounds would have been classified as a machine gun. That was the language of the first draft of the 1934 National Firearms Act. It would also outlawed all hand guns. The NRA was offered the possibility of their members being exempt from the NFA if they supported it. If it hadn’t been for the NRA we would be living in a very different world.All firearms are weapons of war if it’s the only thing you have. There are places in the world where you will find .303 Enfield in the hands of people making war.

  8. Lord Mir

    November 30, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    J is probably one of the kids who took remedial classes in high school, this loser is writing his own history 🤣 it’s all a bunch of bull used to keep in informed ppl in the dark and dumb, but anyone with a high school diploma who reads his non sense will see it, and to the moron who said the ar was made in the 1950s 🤣🤣🤣LOOOLZ the fire arm ur making a failed attempt to describe is the m-16 which has a switch for full auto,burst fire, and semi, the Ar15 is the civilian version of that with only a semi auto function.🤣🤣 Not even the same ammo the mil uses. Ar15 are responsible for less then 1% of deaths in the u.s.a, car accidents, death by knife, or handgun is WAY high, but u here none of the lib scum talking about it, they use tragedy for political gain, they care NOTHING about you or ur family, don’t be fooled by these kinds of ppl.

  9. Brain Call

    November 30, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Lot of inconsistent in the article. Also, in legal speak the constitution states that a militia is necessary and that it should be well regulated. Then there is a period. A PERIOD. The second sentence says the right to keep and bear arms “SHALL NOT BE INFIRINGED”. The first sentence speaks to the necessity of a “well regulated military”, the second sentence addresses the right of the people to bear arms. It also does not say ” shall not be infringed much”. It is crystal clear to anyone who understands the bill of rights and the context of the times.

  10. Kyle

    November 30, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    Assault Weapons only belong to the Taliban under this administration. Less we forget the past we armed them while fighting law abiding citizens on the very definition of what constitutes a firearm. Less we forget.

  11. Noel Mellen

    November 30, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    A lot of half troughs and errors here mostly by well intentioned parties and a few idiots. I personally knew Eugene Stoner and his original Armalite 15 was intended as a sporting weapon in the middle 1950’s. It was intended to hunt not any large animals but smaller animals such as varmints, Prairiedogs and similar types. This followed his Armalite 10 a 7.62×51 weapon brought out as an alternative to the M14 which was not then available for foreign sales. Manufactoring problems deemed it not successful and countries such as the Netherlands were remiss in this.
    Today’s AR15. the civil version, has normally an 18” barrel while most M16’s had 22” barrels. The so called military M4 was different also from civil models. The cartridges: 5.56×45 and the .223 rounds mostly differ in pressures to the various firearms produced in these various firearms. Most rifles from a few bolt action in these types of cartridge to the vary many simiautomatic rifles can and often shoot both types of this cartridge.
    Personally I find both the 5.56 and the 7.62×43 rounds lacking. The 5.56 might kill an animal as large as a deer but largely it would wound them and leave the animal to a lingering death. Their bullet weight is light and the trajectory is not necessary great at any long ranges. The AK47 round is fired from a weapon that is notoriously cited for a lack of accuracy and again not a particularly long ranged weapon. They were designed to be hardy weapons that the least accomplished person could learn to operate and keep operative. There exist so many more items to be discussed but at some latter time.

    I have not posted this before !

  12. YouMamma

    December 1, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    It’s Lest. Not less

  13. Andy Breglia

    December 1, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    Assault rifle has a MILSPEC definition and is selective fire. Modern sporting rifle is a semi-automatic-only AR15 clone slandered by “assault weapons”, an open-ended POLITICAL term created by anti-American senator Dianne Feinstein.

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