The AR-15 Is The Musket Of Its Era

By Charles C.W. Cooke
This feature appears in the August ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.

As the standard firearm of its day, the AR-15 does not represent some bizarre over-extension of the right to keep and bear arms. It is the very core of that right.
America’s 1st Freedom
America’s 1st Freedom

Washington, DC – -(  In the middle of June, a self-described radical Islamist ruthlessly gunned down a room full of Americans in the worst terrorist attack on United States soil since 9/11. In response, the Obama administration joined the usual suspects within the media and inveighed relentlessly against the perpetrator of the crime. It was time, the president said, to get serious in fighting terrorism, and that meant “making it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on assault weapons.” Once again, the AR-15 was under the microscope.

If it seemed a touch peculiar that the president would reserve his most vehement words of condemnation for a firearm, rest assured that it was. But, alas, it was also par for the course. In the eyes of America’s ever-zealous gun-controllers, the AR-15 represents all that is wrong with the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and, indeed, with the country’s culture at large.

In consequence, banning it is imperative not only in the fight against “gun violence,” but as a means by which individualism itself can be checked. Time and time again, those who own AR-15s—or similar—are cast as reactionaries, or bitter clingers, or, worst of all, as full-on terrorists.

Why,” the critics invariably inquire, “are we allowing this supergun and its unbalanced owners to destroy the public peace?”

In pushing back against this rather ignorant way of thinking, I could marshal an almost endless supply of inconvenient facts. I could point out, for example, that despite all of the propaganda to the contrary, the AR-15 is not a “supergun,” a “machine gun,” an “automatic weapon” or an “assault rifle”; that it does not “spray bullets” indiscriminately, as one sees in the movies; that it is owned by a fascinating cross-section of American citizens; that it is not especially powerful, especially when compared to rifles that are primarily used for hunting; and that it is used so infrequently in crimes that the FBI doesn’t even bother to keep statistics.

New Guns Black Rifles Ar15 Modern Sporting Rifles
Speak to any gun store owner and he will tell you that the AR-15 is so wildly popular in large part because it is so versatile.

Moreover, I could explain that there are a host of reasons why the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the country. Among them, that its ergonomic design makes it universally easy to use; that its modular structure renders it simple to repair or to customize; and that its pinpoint accuracy makes it the ideal choice for those who are weaker or lacking in training. But I won’t. For now, at least, I shall leave those arguments to those who are more technically qualified than am I, and focus instead on the principle that is at stake in the debate over the AR-15.

That principle? That Americans are in charge of their representatives, and not the other way around.

In most countries, the regnant political presumption is that the government enjoys unchecked power unless otherwise stated. In America, mercifully, the opposite doctrine applies. To review the debates that raged both before and after the revolution of 1776 is to learn not only that our forebears thought of government as a means primarily of protecting liberty, but that they did not believe they were obliged to surrender their pre-existing rights when they entered into the compact. It is for this reason that the federal government was given only certain, carefully delineated powers.

It is for this reason that the framers of the Constitution were so keen to impose hard checks on authority. And it is for this reason that, even today, civil society takes on a much greater role in the United States than it does elsewhere.

Ar15 Gun Magazines
A normal capacity Ar15 Magazine.

All told, there are few better illustrations of this than the Second Amendment—the meaning of which is not at all confusing if one understands the era in which it was written. As the English system of juries was born from a sensible unwillingness to hand full judicial control over to a clique of professional judges, so the right to bear arms came from a general reluctance to put unalloyed trust in the power of the state.

Grudgingly, Americans consented to be guarded by a standing army. But, as a check upon the ambitions of their government and its staff, there would be the militia, which, per George Mason, would be composed of “the whole people, except for a few public officials.”

This arrangement was intended to achieve two crucial ends. The first, Tench Coxe wrote in 1791, was to ensure that there would be a means by which the people could resist should “the military forces which must be occasionally raised” seek to “pervert their power.” The second, as John Locke had confirmed in his Two Treatises, was to affirm that self-defense was an unalienable individual right that “could not be denied the community,” and that to delegate it entirely to Leviathan was a foolish idea indeed. To the founding generation it did not matter whether the question at hand was the protection of the home or the best insurance against would-be tyrants, the answer was invariably the same. “Who will defend me if things go wrong?” came the inquiry. “You will,” came the answer.

This idea has been cherished throughout American history. In Europe, ostensibly free people are routinely denied the opportunity to take charge of their own defenses on the grounds that the police and the security services can do a better job. In America, by contrast, these organizations have been seen as an addition to—rather than a replacement of—the status quo. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently confirmed that the police have “no specific legal duty” to protect individuals from threats. Now, as in the 18th century, the prevailing assumption is clear: At all levels, Americans are responsible for their own security—and if the government can help, that’s a bonus.

All of which, ultimately, brings us back to the AR-15. In my view, there is nothing that better symbolizes the proper relationship between the citizen and the state than a robust right to keep and bear arms.

When one stops to think about it, it makes no logical or constitutional sense for the people’s employees (our politicians) to be permitted to disarm their employers (the voters).

And yet Americans fight constantly to prevent their representatives from doing just that. During heated debates, owners of common rifles such as the AR-15 are asked by those in positions of power, “Why do you need one of those?”—to which the appropriate response, in a voice dripping with suspicion, is first, “Why don’t you want me to have one?” And second, “If the IRS and the Department of Veterans Affairs need $20 million worth of firearms; and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service needs shotguns, propane cannons and drones; I think I’m on solid ground with my AR, thank you very much.”

Bluntly put, it is impossible to separate out the structure of the American settlement from the scope of the right to keep and bear arms.

If, as many desire, the federal government were to rid the people of the United States of their most commonly owned rifle, it would be ushering in not just a change in the legal status quo, but a profound shift in the balance of power. Crises, as Edmund Burke observed, are perilous for the free.

Lena Miculek, Lady Pro 3-Gunner
In truth, the AR-15 is the contemporary equivalent of the musket—an everyday gun for everyday citizens. Lena Miculek, Lady Pro 3-Gunner with her AR

Those who wish to avoid such a change must thus ensure that their rifles are cast in the correct light. Day in and day out, the gun control movement attempts to represent the AR-15 as being in some way extravagant or outré—as the unlovely corruption of a worthwhile principle. “Sure,” one hears it said, “I believe in the Second Amendment, but that gun just takes it too far.”

This, of course, is nonsense. In truth, the AR-15 is the contemporary equivalent of the musket—an everyday gun for everyday citizens. Fundamentally, the AR-15 is democratic. It is the yeoman’s gun; the people’s gun; the Brown Bess
of our era. It is what William Blackstone was referring to when he praised private arms; what George Orwell had in mind when he sought to keep the “rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage;” what Ida B. Wells imagined when she recommended that endangered blacks give a rifle “a place of honor” in their homes. As the standard firearm of its day, the AR-15 does not represent some bizarre over-extension of the right to keep and bear arms. It is the very core of that right.

This being so, it is unsurprising that the AR-15 has played a valuable role in ensuring that the Second Amendment can be enjoyed by everybody. The old line that “God created men, Sam Colt made them equal” hit on a key truth: Namely, that the right to self-defense remains largely theoretical absent the widespread availability of easy-to-use methods to provide for that self-defense, like firearms. On paper, both a diminutive woman and a 230-pound criminal have precisely the same opportunities to defend themselves. But unless she can find a way of overcoming the natural disparities in strength, that fight will not be a fair one. The AR-15 provides that way.

Black Rifles, Ar15 Assault Weapons
The Ar15 America's most common weapon.

Speak to any gun store owner and he will tell you that the AR-15 is so wildly popular in large part because it is so versatile. Thanks to its smart design, it can be handled without trouble by men and by women, by children and by the elderly, by the able-bodied and by those with disabilities. Moreover, it can be easily and inexpensively customized to fit any body shape or size, and because its parts are interchangeable, they can be found by the inexpert and fitted without the need for costly tools. Because the media is proudly ignorant on all matters related to the Second Amendment, many members of the general public have come to believe that the AR-15 is unusually “high powered” or that its shooting system functions differently than other commonly used firearms. That, though, is wholly false. The AR-15 is unusual only insofar as it is usefully protean. Want a gun, but have special needs? There’s an app for that.

Which is to say that our present political contretemps is the product less of the fallout from a specific event, and more of a deep-seated and longstanding philosophical disagreement as to how modern Americans should relate to their government and to each other. In our cynical, distracted age it can be tempting to perceive the icons of the past as untouchable heroes, or to regard their grand deeds as one might a tall tale in a fading book of fables. But to elevate those who have stepped into the breach is often to do ourselves a disservice—indeed, if indulged too readily, it is to separate us cleanly from our history.

The United States has always been home to people who filled those roles that the government could not, and who proudly took responsibility for themselves and their security. To deprive them of the most effective, most democratic, most popular tool with which they choose to play that role would be a dangerous departure indeed.

Charles C. W. Cooke is the editor of National Review Online.

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the “lobbying” arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Visit:

  • 27 thoughts on “The AR-15 Is The Musket Of Its Era

    1. Yes the alt o Hil is trump, and one must really hate and fear Hil to vote for this guy who attacks anyone, has little to no knowledge of much, he only appeals to other lessor bullies, paranoids and fools. His insult to the Muslim family, his nearly total lack of facts on most any subject is disgusting.. but I suppose some so fear a women in WH, they would prefer this fool. And on the AR, no issue with it, but as with way to many of the modified military killing machines, we do not need 30rd or greater mags. If someone wants to play Rambo or such, fine with me.. but not drums, high capacity mags and such, every shoot out we had over last few years would have resulted in far less killed/wounded if we had 5-10 rd mags..

      Must note that the military guns did not get popular until draft ended, and the dodgers then wanted to impress all with there gi guns..Note never met one WW2/Korea and most NAM vets who ever wanted to see another military gun again…And if you think these things and others are sold for sport target etc… well why names that reek of military hero stuff/. And again, am vet and why anyone would ever consider lowering values to vote for trump, must be classic example of their own failed education, his insults and ignorance is beyond disgusting, but seems to just thrill his supporters who think the same…how sad they are…

    2. The upcoming election makes me think of a movie called Idiocracy. Powerful Women are not frightening, Hillary on the other hand is. If she wasn’t married to a former President she wouldn’t be one of the top candidates for the “Throne”. I almost want to see her win, just to see what kind of Clusterf#%k she’s going to create. If she’s actually going to win & the Country doesn’t get nuked(not necessarily because of her) during her term then maybe next Presidential Election will be Jerry Springer vs. Britney Spears. As absurd as it sounds, sadly, apparently anything goes on the “Land of the free” . . & what’s with all the quotes? Freedom of speach is about expressing your personal beliefs & opinions & not repeating what someone else said once upon a time.
      & yes the Government has Tanks, Planes & whatever else you can think of, they even got Pokeman HaHa. But are the Guys & Gals who operates them really going to unleash the Beast on their own Families & slaughter their Civilian friends. & revolution will never happen, oohhh no, just like it never happened all those other times all over the Planet & if it does all we have to do is re-wright the History books, but i guess that never took place either. Bottom line is anyone can get gotten.
      It sickens me that in the Country where anything is possible when one applies himself/herself, people rather cry, moan & complain instead of doing something about what they are whining about. It’s much easier & safer to do nothing, hide behind a computer while eating sausages wrapped in chocolate chip pankake & blog about how Horrible everything is & how the common faulk don’t stand a chance against the All Mighty Government. AR’s are only as bad as the people who own them. Guns don’t have Political opinions, nore are they racist or have their own agenda, they are simpy Tools of the trade.
      Jerry . . Jerry . . Jerry . .

    3. Right on time FFF published:

      There Will Be No Second American Revolution: The Futility of an Armed Revolt

      “Anyone who believes that they can wage—and win—an armed revolt against the American police state has not been paying attention. Those who wage violence against the government and their fellow citizens are playing right into the government’s hands. Violence cannot and will not be the answer to what ails America.

      “Whether instigated by the government or the citizenry, violence will only lead to more violence. It does not matter how much firepower you have. The government has more firepower.

      “It does not matter how long you think you can hold out by relying on survivalist skills, guerilla tactics and sheer grit. The government has the resources to outwait, out-starve, outman, outgun and generally overpower you.

      “This government of wolves will not be overtaken by force.

      “Unfortunately, we waited too long to wake up to the government’s schemes.”

    4. I think the “lack of power” and the ease of use are two not-so-good answers. The first one would make a lot of people incredulous since the gun was designed for military use. The second is one more reason people want them banned, because they are so easy to use.

      I know that changing the rhetoric of other pro-gunners is wishful thinking. But, I still think a campaign of education versus vitriol directed at gun controllers is in the long run, a better idea. Anti gun people do not “hate” individual gun owners (just the NRA). They are afraid, however. Screaming wolf (gun controllers are going to take away our guns tomorrow) does not help. Referring to this large swath of Americans as morons doesn’t help move the conversation in the right direction, either.

      Rather, a steady drumbeat of countering misinformation is in the long run (not the short run) a better way to reduce the fear of non gun owners.

    5. Responding to Darren’s otherwise interesting comments: the victory of the North Vietnamese in 1975 was not over the United States; we had left two years earlier. And the North Vietnamese Army was not armed with crude weapons, they had thousands of tanks, towed artillery pieces and ample supplies provided by China and the USSR–at the same time the South Vietnamese had been cut off from U.S. aid and air support in 1974. Unfortunately, this story that we were beaten by a bunch of rag-tag Vietcong is what now passes for history.

    6. Well said Michael. Lenin is another great example, he overturned the Government leading common farmers.
      & Darren, for the sake of the argument, it’s not going to be a Gorilla War, Gorilla War is happening all over the globe as we speak. Guerrilla Tactics is basically terrorism, you plan an attack & execute it. Resulting in panic & followed by Marshall Law if it’s a Civil issue. That is not how you overturn the Government. Revolution is. That doesn’t happen overnight & would take a lot of organized, like minded, suppressed, fed up people who share the same principals & true hatred for their Government. And America is not even close to that state. & if it gets to that point, people will rise up & History will repeat itself, it always does when it comes to War, Civilizations collapse, new ones emerge, Countries Devide. There’s always going to be War & Fighting, i highly doubt it’s going to go down over AR15 though.

    7. @Darren,is peaceful resistance handing over your firearms with a smile on your face ? We don’t roll like that in Texas.

    8. @Darren, I too would like to see peaceful resistance, at this point. Anyone saying anything on this site will already be known, and therefore a target. We are less prepared than in 1861. We have no secure communications. We have no intelligence apparatus. We have no logistical system. No state backing. No mutual aid agreements. Sooo… until we have those things, and more, peaceful resistance is a better option, for now. Withhold taxes and we get picked off one by one.
      However, barter is not illegal, but is very difficult to tax. Hoarding cash is the basis of the under the table free markets (what the government will call black markets) is not illegal. Hoarding gold, silver, canned goods, and fuel for future trade or other purposes is not illegal. Mutual aid agreements (I can do for you. What can you do for me. If the BATFE comes to your house, I will show up with my camera. Can you do the same for me?) All legal, untraceable, preparations.

    9. Ron, you may want to make a vainglorious stand but I have better things to do. In the mean time how about we start talking about not paying taxes? Unless you want to hand them a check & a tax return as you shoot at them I’d like to see people resist peacefully by not paying taxes rather than taking up arms. When you agree to pay taxes you agree to be a slave. Are you with me that all taxation is theft & the root of all tyranny? Are you ready to start talking about abolishing taxation?

    10. @Ron, Darren, Mike, Michael, FBI, DHS, SS, and others, This of course is just a hypothetical discussion. I just completed a terrain analysis of my neck of the woods and discovered that (presuming that the Feds would not use artillery in this hypothetical rebellion), I would need a minimum of four fire teams (16 persons). I can supply sufficient firearms, and (currently) 7,000 5.56 rounds. Food is the rub. I have saved up sufficient food for 2 persons for one year, not 18.

    11. Darren, your a defeatist. Your one of those who will sit on his behind and let the ALL POWERFUL GOVERNMENT take your weapons and herd you into a FEMA CAMP.

      If hillery gets the W.H. we’re SCREWED royally. She’ll stack the Supreme Court, and they will say the 2nd Amendment is what ever they say it is. At that point, the ONLY OPTION is Rebellion! You ain’t got no other choice. Unless you like Fema Camps.

      1. IF the government was to attempt to take all guns, the situation would be such that the taking of guns would be minor issue of any number of radical changes going on… with the support of the people as that would be required as any basic pol sci 101 can explain. To get to that point such rules would before hand require coordination of organized armed forces and all levels of law enforcement. Getting the guns would be minor issue at that point as radical changes would be made across the board.

        So all you would be hero’s armed to “Save the nation” blah blah, are really quite amusing as seems victims of seeing to many movies or simply paranoid… and facts do not rest well with you. But fun to read and pretty much states the level of USA education, where demigods promote fear, hate and paranoia…Note SCOUS has already ruled on guns and they cannot confiscate or change 2nd..yet amusing how some are so fearful… setting in their dark little rooms stroking there weapon…who seem very fearful of women in power..and trying to live their joke able little fantasy of “me hero(s).

    12. Ron, having the advantage in organization & intel goes a long way in the govt’s favor. For all of the successful insurrections there are also many failed ones. The militarized police that control us can nip any insurrection in the bud. Our best bet is to defund & disarm the police & military so they no longer pose a threat.

    13. A reply to Daren. The assumption that the American public cannot stand up to the Police and/or the Military is not quite on the money. Initially there will be some disparity in weapons available to each side, I.e. the Police/Military will have full automatic weapons, grenades, armored vehicles, artillery, and aircraft.

      On our side we will have a vast majority in the small arms area, along with reasonable expertise in their use. The other advantages enjoyed by the P&M, can be overcome by many and assundry means. The rebel/insurrection forces we see fighting their governments across the globe seem to be able to overcome this problem.

      For one thing you can steel the equipment/vehicles in question (there are thousands of exmilitary personal who are well trained in their use and repair. There will also be Military units that will mutiny because they will not fire on U.S. Citizens.) So you see it’s not as one sided as you might think.

      I have also seen statistics stating that many states have more gun owners within their borders than all of the military branches and police combined!

    14. Mike G, keep dreaming about this guerrilla war that will never happen. So-called patriots (really just blind nationalists) will not take up arms against the govt. The govt’s propaganda machine will make sure they think the right, submissive thoughts.

      Your idea of “…coordinate on a massive scale and do so without fear of discovery.” is another fantasy. The govt is already organized & ready for them. That’s the problem. That’s why we have to disarm the govt. They can’t be allowed to have standing forces of their own. Inevitably those forces will be used to oppress.

      “The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom…Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans.”

      –Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

    15. Hmmmmmmmm…given Charles C.W. Cooke’s obvious fascination with firearms and respect for the Second Amendment, why are he and his fellow editors at NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE doing everything in their power to elect Hillary Clinton? There’s a real disconnect here…

    16. Incorrect, Darren. We would not be talking about a few people. Secondly man gun owners ARE LEO and military or former LEO or former military. Along with civilians they would BE part of the armed rebellion.

      Imagine even a mere 3% of gun owners taking up arms–which surely would include military and police–we would be talking about 2.8 to 3 million nationally. That is more than 54,900 in each state and DC, distributed equally.

      Don’t think there would be military and LEO in on that fight? One police organization CSPOA boasts some 465 Sheriffs departments that most certainly would. Then there is Oath Keepers. And the war would be fought asymmetrically. The skill sets these warriors would have would be considerable. They could coordinate on a massive scale and do so without fear of discovery. X.509 certificates with RSA 4096-bit as well as RSA 4096-bit PGP encryption going across VPNs (also encrypted) would mean secrecy.

      They could coordinate shadow governments to make a smooth transition when they take over local, state and eventually the Federal government.
      government can handle 10,000 or so Asymmetrical war fighters in Afghanistan and you think they can take on some 54,000 plus in each STATE here? You don;t have any idea what you are talking about.

      A former military officer

    17. Tell that to our forefathers who won independence from the British, the superpower of that era; or the Vietnamese people fighting against the French and the United States, or how about the Afghanistans running the Russians out in the 1980’s? History is rife with examples of supposedly unbeatable “super powers” being brought down by commoners armed with basic weaponry. And of course, once “the fight” begins, civilians have a habit of “taking” the necessary weapons away from their enemies in order to finish the job.

    18. A way too long article on simply saying the AR is America’s Rifle! And let’s face it, America will not be invaded by any land force from this planet–that is what nuclear weapons will do. So the real boots on our dirt threat is or certainly could be an INTERNAL threat and that is what the framers of the Constitution meant and were concerned about when they wrote the second paragraph in the Constitution and the Second Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

    19. A good article but it misses a crucial point. The idea behind a militia & the RKBA is to not give the govt the power to oppress. Gun owners today can’t stand up to the law enforcement establishment much less the military. People that advocate civilian guns to counter-balance the government’s weapons are engaging in a dangerous fantasy that is rightly ridiculed. In the US since the government can’t disarm us completely they have armed themselves to the hilt. This has a similar effect as disarming us. One only needs look at the militarization of the law enforcement establishment to see this. There is only one answer and that is institutional change shutting down those agencies while building up the private means of defending ourselves.

      This principle is well covered by John Trenchard in “An Argument Shewing, that a Standing Army is inconsistent with a Free Government, and absolutely destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarchy” :

      “It’s the misfortune of all countries, that they sometimes lie under an unhappy
      necessity to defend themselves by arms against the ambition of their governors, and to fight for what is their own; for if a prince will rule us with a rod of iron, and invade our laws and liberties…we…must patiently submit to our bondage, or stand upon our own defense; which if we are enabled to do, we shall never be put upon it…”

    20. Easy to use, easy to maintain. easy to shoot, easy to hit the Target, easy to find parts, and FRIENDY in every way! What more can you ask for?

    21. It’s the state-of-the-art of the modern rifle, and has been for more than 50 years. Just as the Mauser style bolt-action was the state-of-the-art of its time, and the Winchester lever-action before that, and the musket before that.

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