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FACT: The AR-15 Isn’t a ‘Weapon of War’

AR-15 Machine Gun ATF
AR-15. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

As Vice President, Joe Biden once said,”[If] you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.”

Not the best advice, of course, but Biden has long suggested that a shotgun would be his preferred choice for self-defense. 

Biden, who has admitted to owning two shotguns, has also called for a ban on AR-style semi-automatic rifles while describing those firearms as “weapons of war.”

In addition to offering what should only be described as responsible advice on the handling of a firearm, President Biden has also made it perfectly clear when discussing gun control that he doesn’t know much about history.

In addition to making the repeated – and entirely untrue – statement that the Second Amendment wouldn’t have allowed citizens to own cannons, Biden apparently forgets that shotguns were a weapon of war.

U.S. soldiers were actually issued with a number of pump-action shotguns, notably the Winchester Model 1897 – and those firearms quickly earned the infamous moniker “trench shotgun.” The six-shot, single-barreled trench shotguns were equipped with a bayonet and loaded with 12-gauge buckshot.

“The trench shotgun is America’s greatest contribution to the war,” Peter P. Carney, the then-editor for the National Sports Syndicate, wrote in 1918. “Through the expert handling of the trench shotgun the Germans learned that the Yanks were coming. At the first taste of the pellets the Germans began to whine and then to write notes calling us ‘barbarians,’ Germany, too!”

The shotguns were first employed in combat at the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918, where they were used to literally mow down the enemy. The weapon proved so devastating that on September 15, 1918, the German government officially protested its use.

Putting the AR-15 in Context

It was 50 years later that the U.S. military was involved in another war – that one in Southeast Asia – where the M16 was finally overcoming its unfortunate baptism of fire, including jamming issues.

The Armalite design, under the direction of Eugene Stoner, proved to be a revolutionary weapon. It offered select fire, was lighter than the M14 that it replaced, and fired a smaller cartridge than even hunting rifles of the era.

The weight and cartridge size also made it ideal for the civilian market, but with a notable difference. Whereas the military’s M16 was select-fire – with full-auto and burst fire modes – the civilian AR-15 has always only been offered as a semi-automatic firearm.

The AR-15 – in many respects – is no different in terms of capabilities than many other civilian firearms, yet because of its appearance it is erroneously described as a “weapon of war.”

The term was introduced by gun control advocates to confuse the matter.

Of course, it overlooks the fact that slings, bows, clubs, and swords were all employed as weapons of war at various times in history. Yet during the era of the American Revolution, there was virtually no line between civilian and military firearms – and in many cases, the long guns carried by the American patriots were vastly superior to the Brown Bess muskets used by the British Army, considered at the time among the very best soldiers in the world!

The Founding Fathers certainly knew this fact when drafting the Second Amendment.

That line between weapons of war and civilian firearms remained blurred throughout the 19th century. There were certainly times when the U.S. military could be described as outgunned.

General George Armstrong Custer proved to be a bad military leader when he led his men into the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. It wasn’t just his poor leadership, however. What is notable is that virtually every trooper in the 7th Cavalry fought with the single-shot, breech-loading Springfield carbine and Colt revolver, while Sitting Bull’s Lakota warriors were armed with Henry, Winchester, and similar lever-action repeating rifles. The U.S. Cavalry armed with the era’s “weapons of war” were defeated soundly by an opponent carrying civilian rifles of the day.

The point can’t be overstated.

It wasn’t actually until the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934 that there were even any restrictions on what firearms the general public could own. Until that time, there was still no line between what was a weapon of war and what a civilian could own.

Today, however, it is not only much clearer, but one of a legal issue. Due to the NFA, machine guns are highly regulated, while no automatic weapon made for the military can be owned by civilians – with the exception of licensed dealers who regularly sell to the military and law enforcement.

Modern Sporting Rifle

AR-15 Modern Sporting Rifle. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

That fact also can’t be overstated, as the U.S. military uses firearms that have features and functionality that the civilian models do not.

The U.S. Army recently adopted the M5 select-fire infantry rifle and M250 automatic rifle – which replaced the M4 carbine and M249 light machine gun.

Those are the true weapons of war, and will never be available for civilian sales, while the AR-15 is simply a civilian firearm that looks somewhat menacing. Until U.S. warfighters carry the AR-15 into combat it is simply wrong to label it a weapon of war.

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A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. Old flint

    April 27, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    I am sure the fact the AR 15 is not a weapon of war is comforting to the families and victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting where 60 were killed and over 400 wounded by a single gunman with his as well as to the hundreds of school children and their families who have also been victims. I wonder why these gunmen don’t use Winchester 1897 shotguns, trapdoor Springfields or even Garands?

  2. pagar

    April 28, 2023 at 1:21 am

    Mr Suciu,

    Is it possible for semi-autos to be given RF chips embedded somewhere inside the gun handle.

    A public building could be installed with automatic RF chip readers connected to some cctv room observation posts. You get my drift.

    Perhaps that’s for the 22nd century where there’re no more dumbo biden type old old men around. Thanks for the article.

    Shotguns are deadly weapons. A operating room surgeon or doctor wouldn’t want a busload of shotgun victims to deal with.

    That’s why in cashmir, police freely & happily fire shotguns loaded with birdshot.

    The dastardly wounds to the face and most especially to the eyes are highly effective or very pursuasive on street protesters.

  3. Donald Travis Holt

    April 28, 2023 at 9:46 am

    Mr. Suciu,

    I loved your article on the history of weapons of war and am a huge history buff! Nice to see it explained that our 2nd amendment was drafted by our founding fathers of this once great land to stand time and forever as a veteran would protect our freedoms we have. Thank you, God Bless America!

    Your Patriot

  4. Rick Gilmore

    April 28, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    This opinion is a quibble about “weapons of war”. That is not the point of the problem we have, as almost anything can be used or modified to be a more efficient weapon. The point about the “trench shotgun” ignores the fact that the main use of most of the shotguns ever made have been intended for hunting fast-moving game on the ground or in the air. Yes, the shotgun can be repurposed effectively for close combat. The AR-15 style rifles however would not be anyone’s first choice for hunting and they were specifically designed for combat. That is the appeal for men who choose not to enter the military but instead want to be “like the military” without the discipline of the military. Regardless of the nuances of gun design, the fact remains that we have a problem with the way any type of gun and assault rifles, in particular, are misused, especially in school shootings. Why cannot there be a solution found that will preserve second amendment rights while protecting our children from this daily occurring slaughter?

  5. Stoney

    April 28, 2023 at 12:59 pm

    FWIW, Custer had Gattling guns at his disposal, but left them at Ft. Mandan because he thought they would slow him down. I’d always heard the 1897 called the ‘trench sweeper,’ particularly by the Germans. I wonder what our President would have to say if he were told that there are 12 ga shotguns based on the AR and AK receivers? Would that make them ‘assault shotguns’ because they look and function like an AR or an Ak, or would they still simply be shotguns with five round magazines that are used for the very same things that a pump action shotgun is used for? There are also varmint rounds made in pistol calibers that are essentially small shotgun shells. Would a 1911 loaded with a magazine full of 150 grain shotshell make it a legitimate self-protection weapon in the eyes of its critics? All of this is nonsense, it’s the person who holds the weapon not the weapon itself that’s deadly. Until we get serious about mental health problems in the U.S. we will continue to have mass shootings.

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