The AR15 – Isn’t That An Assault Weapon…

The AR-15 is currently the most popular rifle in United States of America.
By Jim Golden

A Colt variant of the AR-15
A Colt variant of the AR-15
Inside the X Ring
Inside the X Ring By Jim Golden

USA –-( The AR-15 conversation? These days you can’t mention the AR without getting one of three responses from the non-gun crowd:

  1. Why does anyone need that?
  2. What are you getting ready for war?, and finally (my favorite)
  3. Isn’t that an assault weapon??!

Without getting political, my quick responses are as follows:

“Take a look around. This isn’t a country of need. Besides, “need” is a horrible argument against anything. ‘Nuff said on that one…”

“Not necessarily, but I bet you’ll be knockin’ on my door if [when??] the shit finally does hit the fan.”

Invariably the person telling me the AR-15 is an assault weapon is someone with very little, to zero, firearms knowledge or experience. They’ve typically never had firearms training, don’t hunt, don’t target shoot and don’t even see the value of guns for self defense. Additionally, most of the folks frowning on civilian ownership of the AR-15 can’t define an assault weapon as outlined by the Federal Ban that became law in 1994 under Bill Clinton. Firearms safety has been drilled into my head since I was 5 years old. I’ve been shooting for 35 years. Its second nature to me and you.

So now, someone who knows nothing about guns is going to tell me what guns I can and can’t own – mostly because of how they look. Isn’t that completely un-American, against everything this Country was founded upon?! (Look for a future post to cover pieces of the original “Firearms Assault Weapons Ban” from 1994, with commentary on why many of the provisions were, and remain, completely ridiculous.)

So then, with that out of the way…

Smith & Wesson M&P15 with Magpul furniture
Smith & Wesson M&P15 with Magpul furniture

Here are some great reasons why the AR-15 has tremendous civilian appeal:

Military & Law Enforcement Heritage – Let’s face it, some folks just like what the military and law enforcement community use. Why? Because it’s a known quantity. The thinking is, hey, if it’s good enough to pass military testing, selection and use, with a proven, successful track record, then it’s definitely good enough for anything I might run into as a civilian. Put another way, Military and LE use of the AR-15 / M16 platform prove it to be an extremely reliable and effective rifle. They wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t. Plus, some people just like what is ‘tacticool‘ – the tactical, cool stuff used by military and police.

Historical Significance & Collectability – Per my previous post in this series (click here if you missed it), variants of the M16, all select fire derivatives of the semi-auto only AR-15, have served active duty in the U.S. Military longer than any other rifle in history – and still continue to serve. Hell, a version of the M16 killed the most wanted terrorist in the World. That’s quite a track record and claim to fame. For most, the AR-15 is the closest thing available to owning an M16. It’s like owning a working part of American History. The feelings of nostalgia that exists for “The Guns that Won the West” are exactly what the AR-15 will illicit in the not too distant future. Historical significance & collectability are great reasons to own an AR.

Modularity – Just like it’s M16 counterpart, the AR-15 can be configured and adapted to the needs and wants of the shooter. The joke is it’s “Barbie for men”, and there are even “Build a beAR” workshops you can attend. The look & feel, the configuration and even the caliber can be quickly, easily and frequently changed. You can add rail sections, or rail covers or install accessories on those rail sections like sights, optics, forward grips, tactical flashlights or laser pointers. You can swap complete upper halves to easily change barrel lengths or to perform a complete caliber conversion. One of the best and most rewarding things is that you can do it all yourself.

There is no need for the time and expense associated with gunsmith performed customization’s. Plus, customizing your AR-15 is downright fun and personally satisfying for the Do-It-Yourselfer.

Additionally, modularity has key advantages from cost and training perspectives. Buy a basic AR-15 and enhance it as funds allow, or as you grow and evolve as a shooter and have a better idea of what you want, need and will use. From a training perspective, the modularity of the AR-15 allows you to focus on learning and developing muscle memory for one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.

Versatility – With modularity comes great versatility. The AR-15 is simply so good, at so many things. It’s an extremely capable rifle platform. Changing uppers let’s you change barrel lengths, handrail sections, accessories and even calibers. Why is this important? Well, a short, 14.5 – 16” barrel with a tactical light and a red-dot style optic make it a great CQB, (Close Quarters Battle) or home defense gun. An AR-15 with a long, 20 – 24” barrel and a high quality, variable powered optic can be a precision rifle.

An AR-15 with a 16 – 18 “barrel, a low powered optic or red dot (or high powered optic and offset iron sights) and a tactical light make it a jack of all trades; akin to the the Navy’s MK12 SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) and the U.S. Navy SEAL’s Recon Rifle. Caliber conversions are important because they let you completely change the capabilities of the gun. Downsize to .22lr for even cheaper and less recoiling plinking, or for small game hunting. Upsize to a 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, one of the increasingly popular .300s or even something bigger, and you’ve got a more effective long range rifle, big game hunter, or truck stopper! Again, all with one action, one set of controls and procedures, one trigger squeeze, etc. etc.

Popular Ar15 Calibers
Popular AR-15 Calibers: 5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf. Photo courtesy of gunrunnerhell

In short, the AR-15 is reliable, effective, easy to shoot, modular and extremely versatile. (Those are the same key attributes that have kept the M16 in military service for the past 50+ years!)

So then, How Would a Civilian use an AR-15?

Pleasant Plinker – The low recoiling 5.56 / .223 rounds are pleasant and easy to shoot. (While often used interchangeably, 5.56 and .223 rounds are NOT the same. The 5.56 is loaded to a higher chamber pressure than the .223. So make sure your AR is stamped 5.56 on the barrel before shooting that round in your rifle.) Either way, you can literally spend a day at the range without physically beating yourself up, and without developing poor shooting habits, like flinching. (It used to be relatively cheap to shoot…)

Gun For New Shooters – In addition to being very reliable and producing low recoil, the AR-15 has simple, straightforward controls. The AR-15 is easy to operate. This combination makes the AR-15 an excellent choice for teaching new shooters the fundamentals of safety and shooting. You can focus on things like, “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction”, and, “Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot”. Then it’s simply manipulate the safety, get your sight picture, align the sights with the target, focus on the trigger squeeze and Bang…

Home-Defense – In addition to all those things that make the AR-15 great for teaching new shooters, it is generally shorter and lighter than most shotguns and hunting rifles. The combination of these features make the AR-15 better suited for CQB than say your 28” bird barreled 12 gauge, or your 22 – 26” barreled bolt-action hunting rig. Chances are it’s also a lot easier for the Mrs. or smaller statured shooters to handle than a larger, heavier and harder kicking shotgun or rifle. By “handle” I mean physically moving from room-to-room, shooting on target and getting follow-up shots on target as necessary. Additionally, the standard .22 centerfire round of the AR-15 is more effective than a 22lr rimfire round, and won’t be as likely to over-penetrate as 00-buckshot or a 30-06. Over-penetration has to be a consideration whenever you’re thinking about or planning for home defense. Search the Net and you will find some great articles and TV shows within the gun community that argue why the .223 is a great choice for home defense, especially with some of the newer advancements in ammunition and projectiles.

General Defense – All those things that make the AR-15 a great home defense / CQB gun also make it a good “ranch rifle”, a tool traditionally used for outside the home defense or pest control. Got a large piece of property, boat or RV to defend? If you do your part, the AR-15 will do the trick out to about 300 yards.

Hunting – In its standard 5.56 / .223 chambering, the AR-15 is a great varminter for pest control against prairie dogs, ground hogs, foxes and coyotes. Traditionally it’s not much of a hunter beyond that. The 5.56 / .223 is too much for use on small game you’d want to harvest, but not quite enough for medium sized game, like deer, or bigger animals. (There are very few states that allow you to legally hunt deer sized game or larger with a 22 caliber bullet.) However, with the proliferation of caliber conversions comes capability, in the form of new complete uppers. You can easily change, you’re 5.56 / .223 chambered AR-15 into a 6.5 Grendel (.264), a 6.8spc (.277), a .300 AAC or .300 Blackout (the .30 cals) or even something bigger and heavier– all of which are large enough, and legal, for taking medium and large game.

Training Aid – The AR-15 is a great gun to bring to any type of rifle or carbine training course. Whether you are learning precision long range shooting, going through a shoot house in low light or learning anything in between, the AR-15 can be configured specific to the course, and it’ll get the job done.

Competition – 3-Gun Nation anyone?? The AR-15 is extremely popular all levels and in all forms of the competition circuit, from the casual to the highly competitive and professional. Your right out of the box, bone stock, entry level AR-15 is a great way to get into the sport.

“Second Kind of Cool” to use a Nutnfancy’s term. You have to admit the AR-15 is one wicked cool looking gun. For some folks, that cool factor alone is reason enough.

So there ya have it, a detailed explanation of what makes the AR-15 so appealing to civilians. It’s easy to understand why almost every gun owner in America wants one. I’ve also given you plenty of legit, legal reasons for owning one, with a description of how thousands of law abiding civilians across the United States of America are legally and enjoyably using their ARs! Go get yours while you can.

About Jim Golden:
Jim is an NRA Certified Instructor who was introduced to firearms safety and shooting sports at 5 years old by his Dad, a NJ State Trooper. Since then, Jim has safely enjoyed shooting sports for over 35 years. He loves to educate new shooters, and enjoys generating interest in the sport. His primary goal is to promote safe handling and use of firearms for ALL LEGAL PURPOSES.  Be Aware. Be Prepared. Be Safe. Visit:

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Bill Baker

Chen: Odds are no, not in NY City, but I’m not a lawyer. I would say your first move to get one for home defense should be to move to a real american state, not one ran by liberal nazi’s totalitarians. So, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, etc. Not leaving out any states on purpose, just put ones in there I’m familiar with.

Roy Chen

can NY city resident(me) buy AR-15 in NY?
if not, how can I buy that kind of rifle for home defense?

Richard L Jones

I have heard that the 6 Circuit Court has decreed that a replacement part, some type of sear, makes this fine weapon a full automatic and therefor not legal. Can this be verified?