The NRA Claims the AR-15 Is Useful for Hunting and Home Defense. Not Exactly.
By Justin Peters
On Dec. 24, in Webster, New York, an ex-con named William Spengler set fire to his house and then shot and killed two responding firefighters before taking his own life. He shot them with a Bushmaster AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle—the same weapon that Adam Lanza used 10 days earlier when he shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary. James Holmes used an AR-15-style rifle with a detachable 100-round magazine this past summer when he shot up a movie theater in Colorado. (Though the AR-15 is a specific model of rifle made by Colt, the term has come to generically refer to the many other rifles built to similar specifications.)
Three makes a trend, as we all know, and many people have reacted by suggesting that the federal government should ban the AR-15 and other so-called assault weapons. Gun advocates have responded with exasperation, saying that, despite appearances, AR-15-style rifles are no more dangerous than any other gun. In a piece today on humanevents.com titled “The AR-15: The Gun Liberals Love to Hate,” NRA president David Keene blasted those critics who “neither understand the nature of the firearms they would ban, their popularity or legitimate uses.” Keene noted there are several valid, non-murderous uses for rifles like the AR-15—among them recreational target shooting, hunting, and home defense—and argued that law-abiding firearms owners shouldn’t be penalized because of homicidal loners who use semi-automatics like the AR-15 for criminal purposes.
I generally consider myself a Second Amendment supporter, and I haven’t yet decided where I stand on post-Newtown gun control. I would own a gun if New York City laws didn’t make it extremely difficult to do so. But I nevertheless find Keene’s arguments disingenuous. It’s odd to cite hunting and home defense as reasons to keep selling a rifle that’s not particularly well suited, and definitely not necessary, for either. Bolt-action rifles and shotguns can also be used for hunting and home defense. Unfortunately, those guns aren’t particularly lucrative for gunmakers. The lobby’s fervent defense of military-style semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 seems motivated primarily by a desire to protect the profits in the rapidly growing “modern sporting rifle” segment of the industry.
The AR-15 was designed in 1957 at the behest of the U.S. Army, which asked Armalite to come up with a “high-velocity, full and semi auto fire, 20 shot magazine, 6lbs loaded, able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters rifle,” according to ar15.com. When it entered Army service in the 1960s, it was renamed the M16, in accordance with the Army Nomenclature System. “AR-15” came to refer to the rifle’s semi-automatic civilian equivalent. From 1994 to 2004, AR-15-style rifles were subject to the now-expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Since then, the rifle and others like it have become tremendously popular. Last month, I estimated that upward of 3.5 million AR-15-style rifles currently exist in the United States. People like the rifle because it is modular and thus customizable (one article calls the AR-15 “perhaps the most flexible firearm ever developed; in seconds, a carbine can be switched over to a long-range rifle by swapping upper receivers”), because it is easy to shoot, and because carrying it around makes you look like a badass.
But the AR-15 is not ideal for the hunting and home-defense uses that the NRA’s Keene cited today. Though it can be used for hunting, the AR-15 isn’t really a hunting rifle. Its standard .223 caliber ammunition doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game. Hunters themselves find the rifle controversial, with some arguing AR-15-style rifles empower sloppy, “spray and pray” hunters to waste ammunition. (The official Bushmaster XM15 manual lists the maximum effective rate of fire at 45 rounds per minute.) As one hunter put it in the comments section of an article on americanhunter.org, “I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. I see more men running around the bush all cammo'd up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR's. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors.”
In terms of repelling a home invasion—which is what most people mean when they talk about home defense—an AR-15-style rifle is probably less useful than a handgun. The AR-15 is a long gun, and can be tough to maneuver in tight quarters. When you shoot it, it’ll overpenetrate—sending bullets through the walls of your house and possibly into the walls of your neighbor’s house—unless you purchase the sort of ammunition that fragments on impact. (This is true for other guns, as well, but, again, the thing with the AR-15 is that it lets you fire more rounds faster.)
AR-15-style rifles are very useful, however, if what you’re trying to do is sell guns. In a recent Forbes article, Abram Brown reported that “gun ownership is at a near 20-year high, generating $4 billion in commercial gun and ammunition sales.” But that money’s not coming from selling shotguns and bolt-action rifles to pheasant hunters. In its 2011 annual report, Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation announced that bolt-action hunting rifles accounted for 6.6 percent of its net sales in 2011 (down from 2010 and 2009), while modern sporting rifles (like AR-15-style weapons) accounted for 18.2 percent of its net sales. The Freedom Group’s 2011 annual report noted that the commercial modern sporting rifle market grew at a 27 percent compound annual rate from 2007 to 2011, whereas the entire domestic long gun market only grew at a 3 percent rate.
As the NRA’s David Keene notes, a lot of people do use modern sporting rifles for target shooting and in marksmanship competitions. But the guns also appeal to another demographic that doesn’t get nearly as much press—paranoid survivalists who worry about having to fend off thieves and trespassers in the event of disaster. Online shooting message boards are rife with references to potential “SHTF scenarios,” where SHTF stands for “shit hits the fan”—governmental collapse, societal breakdown. (Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, has been described as “a gun-hoarding survivalist who was stockpiling weapons in preparation for an economic collapse.”) An article on ar15.com titled “The Ideal Rifle” notes that “the threats from crime, terrorism, natural disaster, and weapons of mass destruction are real. If something were to happen today, you would need to have made a decision about the rifle you would select and be prepared for such an event. So the need to select a ‘survival’ rifle is real. Selecting a single ‘ideal rifle’ is not easy. The AR-15 series of rifles comes out ahead when compared to everything else.” Depending on where you live, it’s perfectly legal to stockpile weapons to use in the event of Armageddon. But that’s a far different argument than the ones firearms advocates have been using since the Newtown shootings.
As I said, I generally think of myself as a Second Amendment supporter, and a month ago, I would’ve probably agreed with the NRA’s position. But the Newtown shooting caused me to re-examine my stance—as is, I think, fitting—and to question some of the rhetoric advocates use to defend weapons like this. In his piece at Human Events, Keene ridiculed the notion that AR-15-style rifles ought to be banned just because “a half dozen [AR-15s] out of more than three million have been misused after illegally falling into the hands of crazed killers.” But the AR-15 is very good at one thing: engaging the enemy at a rapid rate of fire. When someone like Adam Lanza uses it to take out 26 people in a matter of minutes, he’s committing a crime, but he isn’t misusing the rifle. That’s exactly what it was engineered to do.
Last edited by Edwina's Secretary; 01-06-2013 at 05:12 PM.
AR-15s are highly accurate and are used for hunting coyotes and other animals. They are also not limited to the .223 caliber listed in the article, but are available in 9mm carbine versions which would be ideal for home defense, as well as other calibers.
Would the writer ban the firearms because they look like a military weapon? He certainly seems hung up on appearances. Re-enacting the 1994 AWB would do just that, and accomplish absolutely nothing. It did nothing to restrict the sale of high capacity magazines, as there are many available on the civilian market. They aren't serial numbered items and are frequently found at flea markets, and many find their way into civilian hands accidentally after being lost in the field or on firing ranges in the military. It didn't really ban any weapons, as manufacturers retooled slightly to make the firearms meet the restrictions. Out went the plastic pistol grip stocks, in came wood stocks with thumbholes.
Are they going to ban 3-d printer files of magazines? Given the seamless nature of 3-d printing, I'd bet they'd be less prone to jamming than their stamped metal brethren in addition to being nigh impossible to ban. The only thing you'd need to purchase would be a spring, and a really industrious person could easily make even that piece.
The one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind wasn't king, he was stoned for seeing light.
I fear hot brass down my shirt.
Gun Deaths vs. Car Deaths
A new Violence Policy Center (VPC) state-by-state analysis of government data comparing firearm deaths and motor vehicle deaths shows that gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 10 states in 2009, the most recent year for which state level data is available. Nationally, there were 31,236 firearm deaths in 2009 and 36,361 motor vehicle deaths according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Alaska: 104 gun deaths, 84 motor vehicle deaths
Arizona: 856 gun deaths, 809 motor vehicle deaths
Colorado: 583 gun deaths, 565 motor vehicle deaths
Indiana: 735 gun deaths, 715 motor vehicle deaths
Michigan: 1,095 gun deaths, 977 motor vehicle deaths
Nevada: 406 gun deaths, 255 motor vehicle deaths
Oregon: 417 gun deaths, 394 motor vehicle deaths
Utah: 260 gun deaths, 256 motor vehicle deaths
Virginia: 836 gun deaths, 827 motor vehicle deaths
Washington: 623 gun deaths, 580 motor vehicle deaths
Now...watch the red herrings that will be tossed into the discussion! Always good for a laugh...albeit a sad laugh...
But it does mean that in 40 states, car deaths outpaced gun deaths.
I've Been Frosted
In addition, until you look at precisely what statistics they looked at (which isn't precisely referenced in the footnotes) the stats are relatively meaningless.
The Postal Service used intentionally misleading statistics to show that closing certain processing plants saved them money. Pay a good statistician enough and they'll prove whatever you want them to.
The one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind wasn't king, he was stoned for seeing light.
Let's talk about Eric Holder and 'fast and furious', then Rahm Emanuel and the "Chi-Town 500"
I guess that is why the call him Wiley. The coyote that is. Certainly not the "marksman!"
And yes Karen - there may be 40 states where gun deaths don't yet outnumber auto deaths. Just give the NRA time.
When you consider the number of people exposed to autos vs the number of people exposed to guns...well...it is embarrassing, isn't it?
Of course there is this...once again...the irrefutable fact - a vehicle that kills is not being used as it is designed. A gun that kills is being used as it is designed.
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