The AR-15 is more than an assault rifle – it’s a military gadget and Lego for adults

This post was published in SbroyaInfo. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – This rifle, which in its fully automatic version for the army is called the M16, before the events in Sandy Hook beat all sales records.

But now that renewed attempts have been made to ban the use of this and other similar weapons by civilians, the AR-15 market has simply exploded. Rumor has it that in some stores three weeks after the Newtown tragedy [December 14, 2012 – ed.], arms were sold as much as they usually sold in three years.

After the Newtown events, the nation suddenly realized how wildly popular the AR-15 is, a huge number of questions arise, especially about who buys these rifles and why.

Why does an ordinary, normal, law-abiding American need a deadly weapon that is clearly intended for military purposes? Why are AR-15 owners trying to buy as many of these rifles as possible, scouring them everywhere? Maybe they are preparing for a doomsday?

Or maybe these are militias arming themselves to unleash a second civil war in America? Or are they young victims of war fiction who have brains on their side because they play too much in Call of Duty?

Of course, the predictors of the apocalypse, home-grown militias and people who dream of getting into the 6th squad of fur seals are quite widely represented in the contingent of AR-15 buyers.

But the presence of these outcasts cannot explain the fact that people now have five million “black rifles” in their hands (as fans lovingly call them). No, in reality the incredible success of the AR-15 is explained by the fact that this rifle is a “personal computer” in the world of weapons.

Over the past two decades, the AR-15 has been gradually improved, eventually turning into an open, modular system with an infinite number of devices and design options.

Having just a couple of simple tools in your hands and having zero experience in the arms business, you can seriously modify this rifle or even assemble it from scratch from the parts that are always on sale to satisfy any whims and fantasies of each shooter.

In this regard, the AR-15 is the first “home-made” rifle in the world, and for this reason it is not only popular with military enthusiasts, who, according to gun fighters, form the basis of the army of its fans.

Rifle like a gadget

“It’s something mechanical and modular in style.” That is how Daniel Defense Vice President of Sales, Jay Duncan, begins his response when asked to explain the reasons for the attractiveness and popularity of the AR-15.

“And since it has a modular structure, you can create on its basis such a firearm as you need. And no one will have such a rifle like yours. It is an individual incarnation.”

Becoming one of his company’s first employees in the fast-growing market for high-end AR-15 manufacturers, Duncan had the perfect opportunity to watch how a black rifle from a terrible military absurdity turned into the most popular item in weapons stores.

He [and everyone else with whom I spoke] says that the main reason for such a powerful increase in interest is the versatility of the rifle.

Its owner can change calibers, installing new barrels, bolts and stores. It can mount and remove accessories such as Trijicon optics, Surefire lights, and Crimson Trace laser sights.

He can remove the upper part of the receiver, adding some new devices to it. He can change the arms and stocks to perfectly fit them to his own body. He can even order a special tuning with special colors and decals [now themes from the apocalypse with zombies are popular, but I also saw cute pink rifles with the inscription “Hello Kitty”].

And all this can be done by simply ordering new parts and accessories on the Internet or at a local store, or by taking parts from other rifles from your weapons collection. They can be mixed, and then as a designer to assemble something completely new.

“I’m always joking that this is the Lego constructor for adult men,” Duncan says, “because there are many guys who buy one, and then two, three, six AR-15s. And they constantly bother with them – change the length of the barrel, change sights with optics, put different sights on them. For the same reason, people are engaged in remote-controlled machines and invent new fishing lures. It’s a hobby, and sometimes it distracts from reality. ”

In 2011, the National Shooting Sports Fund conducted a survey that confirmed Duncan’s opinion that AR-15 buyers are craftsmen obsessed with all kinds of mechanisms and devices. The survey found that on average AR-15 owners have 2.6 black rifles per brother, and that they spend an average of $ 436 on accessories and custom-made parts.

This gadget rifle is a fairly new phenomenon in the world of consumer goods, which was born after September 11 as a result of the vicious union of the national security mania and America’s many-year obsession with high-quality and modifiable weapons. Americans love to cross the line with their toys, starting with powerful cars and motorbikes, and ending with deafening stereo systems. And AR-15 is an extremely fascinating toy with deadly power and terrifying power.

The rifle even has its own community of fans, turned on its tactical and technical characteristics. They flock to blogs, compose online newsletters, where they share tips, tricks, all sorts of tricks, new inventions, product reviews. They draw up information on individual details, put on public display photographs of rifles with fantastic colors, with monstrous barrels, measure the speed of a bullet in feet per second, and so on.

Anyone who participated in this crazy computer community of enthusiasts in the late 1990s and early 2000s will immediately recognize the wonderful gadgets and strange modifications of the rifle, put on public display on the sites and MajorPandemic.

On one of the branches on, the user boasts a self-made rifle that he painstakingly assembled from scratch, and then painted with an ultra-resistant ceramic coating using Cerakote technology in the color of burned bronze.

Each part was carefully selected to seamlessly interact with other parts. Other visitors to this forum drool over the finished product. Apparently, a different branch on this site, which is full of AR-15 photographs of different configurations and styles, but all the rifles in the color of burned bronze, influenced the user’s decision to paint the rifle in burnt bronze color. Or maybe he looked at another branch dedicated to rifles with black accessories, and decided that he needed something more fun.

But the rifle also has all kinds of hinged components such as belts, flashlights, laser lights and so on. One of the branches on is entirely devoted to photographs of rifle belts. On another branch, only pictures of the bolt group from the same manufacturer. There is also a branch with photographs of flashlights installed on the AR-15, and it has been operating since 2004.

To complete the analogy with a computer, it should be said that the AR-15 community of lovers even has its own online skirmish on the topic of the operating system. Yes, fans call the rifle’s most important components the “operating system,” and proponents of the traditional direct removal of powder gases fiercely argue with fans of the newfangled gas piston with a short stroke, and this dispute spills over into other weapon forums around the world.

The debate on the forums devoted to AR-15 has become so active that most of the threads on this topic end pretty quickly, because the first user to post is simply asked to use Google. “We have a quintillion branches on this topic,” wrote ArtEatman recently on the Firing Line theme branch. “People from both sides place heaps and heaps of posts on this issue and constantly bicker among themselves. But we still have no convincing evidence that one system is better than another.”

The first high-tech combat rifle

AR-15 was born from numbers. In the early 1960s, the Pentagon, led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, became obsessed with statistics and decided to replace the M14 army rifle, which was poorly suited for the Vietnamese jungle, although the troops quite successfully used it in previous conflicts.

The McNamara Ministry of Defense eventually listened to the authors of the army studies, which it had previously ignored, and which indicated that the heavy, long-range bullet cartridge M14 caliber .308 had excess power and was not suitable for Vietnam.

The military realized that they needed a smaller caliber rifle, which would be most effective in close combat, and from which it was easy to fire in short bursts of three to five shots. A soldier who receives a lighter rifle with a smaller caliber cartridge (.223) will be able to take more stores with him, and it will be easier for him to conduct targeted fire, since the return on such a rifle will become significantly weaker.

The solution was proposed by Eugene Stoner, Armalite’s leading weapons designer at Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. This was the most modern design bureau for many years working on a new generation of rifles that used modern materials such as machined aluminum and injection molded plastic. Despite all its ambitions, the Armalite division was able to create only a series of unpromising prototypes, except for the latter. AR-15 (an abbreviation for ArmaLite Rifle) was designed specifically for the cartridge of a smaller caliber.

ArmaLite sold all the rights to the Colt rifle design, which became a kind of IBM in the story with the AR-15 and began to produce thousands of them. The first type of armed forces that took the AR-15 into service was the Air Force, which was called the M16 rifle. After the initial resistance (mainly associated with the syndrome of “we don’t need someone else”), the ground forces also accepted the rifle. They surrendered and ordered several thousand samples for inspection in Vietnam. Field trials were a stunning success.

The troops loved the new rifle for its ergonomic design and ease of use. The soldiers preferred the M16 to the M14 rifle so beloved by army commanders. Newfangled plastic, aluminum, stamped steel rifles – all this looked fantastic, as in the series about Buck Rogers. She was much easier to handle – so much so that on firing many more soldiers began to take the exam for the title of “Marked Shooter”, spending the same amount of time training. Improved performance characteristics of the AR-15 and ease of use allowed to significantly increase combat effectiveness at the branch level. Studies by specialists in the ground forces showed that the five-man squad with AR-15 rifles has the same lethal potential as the 11-man squad armed with the M14.

Vietnam brought Colt commercial success thanks to the M16, but by the time the United States withdrew its troops from Asia, the reputation of the black rifle was not just undermined, but torn to shreds. Moreover, it was criticized not only by society as a whole, but also by those organizations and groups that today defend the rifle, calling it “American weapons.”

The main black mark for the modern miracle of McNamara, as they called the M16, was its terrible reputation as a terribly unreliable weapon. This reputation during the war only intensified. In addition, the stigma was on everything that was associated with Vietnam. The soldiers who came back from the war spat and were called child killers. And M16, being the main rifle of the Vietnam conflict, shared the shame and humiliation of those soldiers who loved her so much.

Even the cowboy and conservative icon Ronald Reagan disliked the black rifle. He believed that in civil society she did not belong. And when they aimed at the AR-15 during the first wave of bans on assault weapons in 1994, the National Rifle Association, albeit with reluctance, supported this measure. (True, she did this only after the inclusion of the provision on the duration of the ban, and thanks to this, the rifle was again allowed when this period expired.)

The fact that the National Rifle Association supported the first ban on offensive military weapons shows how deep a split exists between a crowd of fans of hunting and amateur shooting at banks and fans of a black rifle. For such a hunting and fishing enthusiast as I grew up in Louisiana like me, weapons are not just “cool”, like motorcycles and fast cars. A weapon is a dangerous but necessary tool that should be respected and feared.

Beautiful weapons are considered a heirloom, inherited, and the theme of American folk art. But for a hunter, weapons are primarily a tradition. The tradition of fathers and sons, who spent time together in the forest and on the river, the tradition of courage, decency and respect for the prey. Thanks to this tradition, a single-shot rifle with a long barrel lives in our era of semi-automatic weapons. Thanks to this tradition, the grooved butt wood and polished steel on my gun are exactly the same as on my father’s gun, as on my grandfather’s gun – and so on, down the generations.

There is nothing traditional in a black rifle. For many years, it owes its growing popularity to the very same video games and films that the head of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre criticized after the events in Newtown. Ultimately, a black rifle culture that follows the trends, hungry for innovation and driven by a thirst for entertainment, is the exact opposite of traditional hunting culture. Therefore, the leadership of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Federation once did everything possible to distance themselves from fans of the AR-15.

According to these hardened conservatives, the AR-15 is simply not like a hunting rifle, and this blocks it with an insurmountable barrier. She looks unconventional, the aforementioned brand of shame has not yet come off her, and the small-caliber cartridge AR-15 makes it unacceptable to many hunters.

Accustomed to beating big game with a powerful thirty caliber, they laugh at the AR-15, calling it a “mouse fart”, and are afraid that its .223 caliber bullet will only injure the animal instead of dumping it on the spot with a single accurate shot. Other hunters, whose opinion on the AR-15 was mainly influenced by Hollywood movies, hate the black rifle for the exact opposite reason. They fear that the hooting redneck waving these rifles, pouring powerful fire on everything that gets in their way, will tear to pieces and game, and trees, and other hunters.

One way or another, traditionalist hunters believe that this modern “tactical” weapon is intended exclusively for military operations, and therefore it does not have a place on the hunt, where animals cannot return fire.

In 2004, when the National Shooting Sports Foundation did not yet allow the AR-15 manufacturers to demonstrate its combat properties at the sites of the main annual exhibition of the SHOT arms industry, the rifle could only be shown as a hunting rifle.

“When we first started participating in the SHOT exhibition, we were not allowed to exhibit anything military,” says Trey Knight of the Knight’s Armament Company. At that time, his company supplied modern weapons and accessories only for US special forces, and it had practically no civilian buyers. “I had to make fictitious posters and leaflets, showing them my weapons as hunting,” Knight says. “We were not allowed to show anything that was in camouflage or at least somehow reminded of the army.”

“If you took the picture, then the man with the gun could not be in a helmet,” recalls Jesse Starnes of DoubleStar, a company that manufactures AR-15. “He definitely had to wear a hunting hat or something like that.”

In 2012 we will quickly move to the next SHOT exhibition, where the black rifle has definitely become the star of the show, and where military stands of various types and purposes are shown on all stands. Now the National Two-Handed Rifle Fund is behind AR-15, as is the National Rifle Association. In a fairly short time, a black rifle in weapons circles from a destitute loser and poor relative turned into the most popular small arms in the world in history.

From rogue to authority

Most of all, the fate of the AR-15 was influenced by the military’s response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. After the attacks, the Rumsfeld Department of Defense developed a counter-terrorism doctrine in which special forces were given the role of “spearhead” in the global war on terror. This war could not be waged by general forces on a clearly defined battlefield, despite the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Such a war had to be fought in the gloom by the forces of small, rapidly moving elite units with names such as “delta” or “seals”.

These special forces have a passionate love for highly effective, custom-made weapons. When the number of special forces after September 11 began to increase at an explosive pace, the AR-15 rifle market with wide functional capabilities and a large number of accessories and gears chased after them.

And then in 2004 the ban on assault weapons ended. This meant the complete opening of the AR-15 fixtures and accessories market, the civilian part of which was limited in development due to highly controversial prohibitions on what could and could not be attached to a black rifle.

By that time, the entertainment and video game industry began to glorify the exploits of special forces, and gamers and moviegoers were happy to learn that they could now essentially own the same weapons that their idols use on the screen, destroying terrorists. In the years after the ban, the once tiny nook of the small arms market, where the AR-15 was sold, began to unfold at a rapid pace, as the manufacturers, who initially supplied arms and accessories to American special forces, now began to serve the growing civilian army of elite army fans.

So, Daniel Defense, which began to manufacture rifles in full in 2003, annually increases production by 100% in a number of categories of weapons. This company, created in 2000, from a hobby for its founder-hacker, turned into a full-fledged and powerful enterprise when special forces invited her to submit a tender for the production of a new shutter frame for the AR-15. Today, more than 70% of Daniel Defense’s products, which are rapidly expanding, have a civilian purpose.

None of the profile companies I know can boast of 1000% growth over the past 10 years, but in each of them I was told similar (albeit less dramatic) stories of rapid growth from 2004 to 2008. And they all had similar trends. All of them arose before or during the prohibition of 1994; they were all created by people who perfected a particular part of the rifle. And when the ban was lifted, and the popularity of these weapons began to grow, they engaged in the manufacture of other accessories, devices and parts, and in some cases, the assembly of the rifle as a whole.

The military, in turn, directly benefited from the fact that civilian money floated on the AR-15 market. When companies started innovating and began to expand the AR-15 product line, the rifle as a whole became more modular, ergonomic and efficient. Like the military, civilian black rifle shooters are constantly on the lookout for improved accuracy, reliability and ease of firing. Currently, civilian orders are placed on the AR-15, which are larger in volume than military ones.

Thus, the innovative trajectory of the AR-15 and its accessories is shifting towards civilian customers. The arrows in this new niche take on the black rifle and leave their markings on it, correcting something, perfecting something.

Like many other types of products from the Cold War era, which were primarily used for business, and only then for pleasure, the production of AR-15 will someday reach a level where it can be justifiably said that now the military is taking civilian equipment and “militarize” it, looking for the latest innovations in the consumer market, and not vice versa, as it was before.

Decade Leader in Sales

Despite the ease of use and adaptability to different shooting needs, the AR-15 very slowly went beyond its initial demographic base of consumers in the person of gamers and other people who, after September 11, began to lead a “military lifestyle” under the influence of special forces.

But then came the 2008 election, which won Barack Obama, and everything changed. Arms lovers from all walks of life, driven into a frenzy by the gloomy forecasts of the rifle association that the Democrats will rob them of rifles and pistols if Obama becomes president, rushed to the shops the day after the election and began to replenish their arsenals, fearing a ban that in their opinion, was inevitable. Since the AR-15 was the most likely candidate for the ban, panicked buyers first began buying black rifles.

All manufacturers of AR-15 and its accessories, with whom I had a chance to talk, said that their business was developing steadily from 2000 to 2008, when the collapse occurred. But even the 2008 panic is no match for the frenzy after the Newtown massacre. Some arms manufacturers claim that their order volume has increased by 1000%.

The old and new panic led to the fact that the AR-15 had a lot of new adherents, and among them were people who had never before thought about buying a black rifle. After the events in Newtown, I visited many weapons stores on the Gulf of Mexico and in Houston. The shelves there gradually empty, and the lines grew longer, and again and again I heard the same story from the lips of new AR-15 buyers.

“I used to have absolutely no need for it. I had exclusively hunting rifles and shotguns, and I only shot from them. But since they are going to ban the rifle now, I better buy it while it’s still possible.” Visitors to the SHOT exhibition, with whom I spoke, once told similar stories about empty shelves in gun shops and panicked doctors and lawyers buying rifles at a price of $ 5,000, although a week ago they cost $ 2,000.

The panic of 2008 and 2012 not only forced new, “non-military” shooters to take on the AR-15. She helped reduce the aforementioned split between hunters and black rifle fans. For every hunter, like Senator Joe Manchin, who shares the hostile attitude of the old guard from the National Rifle Association to all military weapons, there is another hunter who hates the idea of ​​a government ban on a black rifle even more than the rifle itself. Some hunters even purchased AR-15 for themselves, and when they shot from this new toy, she captivated them for life.

From that day in 1954, when ArmaLite opened its doors, and to date, most of the innovations in the AR-15 are aimed at making this rifle as accurate and enjoyable as possible. As a result, a weapon appeared that was much easier to use effectively than many traditional wooden-rifle guns that hunters grew up hating with a black rifle.

For a person who likes to shoot a black rifle for $ 2,500 produced by companies such as Lewis Machine and Tool, Black Rain Ordnance, Daniel Defense and KAC, the AR-15 is like an Italian or German supercar for the first time an enthusiastic driver sat behind their wheel. This discovery, this revelation, and this is a feeling that will be forgotten very soon.


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