(The opinions expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Popular Military)
In the past few weeks, a lot of controversy has been stirred up in regards to what many call “America’s Rifle,” and what role it plays in American society.
For over half a century, the AR-15 (short for ArmaLite, the original designers) has been available to the public, starting with the venerable Colt AR-15 Sporter that hit the shelves as early as 1963. A semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull) variant of the military M16 (which was in turn derived from the civilian AR-10, available to civilians since ), the AR-15 is a lightweight, reliable and proven platform that has served both civilian law enforcement and Armed citizens for at least two generations, and is the most popular rifle in the United States, with estimates at least 5-10 million circulating in the population.
In the light of recent mass shootings, many have called for an all-out ban on the rifles, claiming that they are “weapons of war” and often using the (loaded and vague) political term “assault weapon” to reinforce the notion that such rifles have no place in civilian hands. From banning AR-15s to standard-capacity 30-round magazines and all semi-automatic rifles, the groups desiring such action tend to firmly believe that “nobody ‘needs’ an AR-15.”
So, why would an average person “need” an AR-15? If they do, what sort of chaotic situation (minus a Red Dawn-style foreign invasion of the American homeland) would warrant such a weapon?
Being a lightweight rifle that is chambered in an intermediate-sized cartridge, the AR-15 has little recoil. It’s easy to use, relatively easy to maintain and is modular enough to be customized to each individual user. These features have made it incredibly popular, even in states where traditional stock AR-15s are heavily regulated (magazine size, features and whatnot).
As such, there are multiple cases where an AR-15 has proven to be a useful tool for the average American, be it dispatching passels of wild hogs, training as the “unorganized militia” defined in the US Code or holding off multiple attackers.
Last Tuesday, an Illinois man used his AR-15 to stop a deadly knife attack in his hometown, lauding the rifle as his “weapon of choice” for defending himself and others.
“The AR-15 is my weapon of choice for home protection,” the AR-15 owner said. “It’s light, it’s maneuverable. If you train and know how to use it properly, it’s not dangerous.”
Last year, a group of three home invaders were killed after they came face-to-face with the son of the homeowner, who was armed with an AR-15 in Oklahoma.
In the Sutherland Springs church shooting that rocked Texas in November of 2017, armed citizen and NRA firearms instructor Stephen Willeford ran from his home -in bare feet- to engage the attacker with an AR-15, wounding him and causing him to flee, potentially saving more lives.
In 2012, a fifteen year-old son of a Texas Sheriff’s Deputy engaged home invaders defending his twelve-year-old sister. The following year, a man in Detroit defended his tax office from heavily armed criminals.
Contrast this with two women at a liquor store earlier last week, who were barely able to neutralize an armed robber with handguns.
With anywhere from 80,000-4.7 million defensive firearms uses each year in the United States, there is little doubt that many cases involve semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, particularly in terms of home defense or rural areas.
Contrary to what is depicted in ADT commercials, the average home invasion, robbery or attack rarely involves just one assailant. While it is largely impractical (and by most gun owners’ standards, in poor taste) to walk around town with an AR-15 on your back, the same mechanical principle applies to the semi-automatic handgun, the most popular (and sensible) type of carry weapon in the US.
However, as the old adage goes “your pistol is there to get you to your rifle.” In terms of home or property defense, this mentality bears fruit.
So, what other cases exist where a semi-automatic rifle such as the AR-15 (because if the currently proposed legislation targets virtually all semi-automatic rifles) would be useful?
Ask the Korean community of Los Angeles, namely those who endured the hellish landscape of the 1992 LA Riots- an incident so bad that the military had to be called in.
Affectionately referred to as “Roof Koreans,” these individuals found themselves abandoned by a beleaguered Los Angeles Police Department, who quite literally left them on their own in the face of rioters bent on looting and burning just about any territory they could reach.
Armed with semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, handguns, the Roof Koreans, many of whom in their community served in the American or South Korean armies, held down their community against hordes of lawless looters.
Lastly, let’s be honest with ourselves and address the Second Amendment in the manner and intent for which it was written: resisting tyranny by offering the common citizen contemporary arms to maintain a “free state,” even if it means creating an insurgency. To do this, we will have to go back before the AR-15, but not the semi-automatic rifle.
In 1946, many Tennessee World War II veterans from McMinn County returned to find a corrupt, racist government that not only extorted people but rigged elections (often with lethal force and threats of violence) to ensure the political machine remained in place.
After an African-American man (who was trying to vote) was shot in the back by a corrupt lawman and the ballot boxes seized by police to “count the votes,” enraged veterans took up their personal arms -including “weapons of war” that were brought home, such as the M1 Garand and other war trophies- and raided the local National Guard armory before surrounding the county jail. A firefight ensured, reportedly lasting several hours and ending after some of the veterans managed to blow a hole in the jail. By the dawn’s early light, the corrupt officials surrendered, democracy was restored and all “borrowed” military weapons were cleaned and returned to the armory before sunrise.
As a native son of the very same state, I too have stories of using a semi-automatic weapon (albeit not an AR-15) to defend myself. Living out in a rural community at the time with only a German Shepherd to keep me company, I was taking a shower when I heard my dog whining and barking with an audible tinge of fear. Leaping into a pair of government-issued “silkies” and grabbing an AK pattern-rifle from the hallway, I soon turned a corner and found myself face to face with an armed intruder who was attempting to pry open my door. My dog and I dispatched him, only to find that he was not working alone- his cohorts awaited him in his getaway car on the nearby road. His back now turned in fleeing terror, I adhered to the state rules of engagement and did not fire. Scanning the large area and calling the police, it took them nearly 45 minutes to arrive.
In the paraphrased words of the arriving lawman, “I do believe you had the right tool for the job.”
That’s all these things are, really. Tools. Tools are neutral- they can be used for good or evil. The important thing about the tools is that we as Americans have (provided we are not legally prohibited from doing so) a birthright to defend ourselves from man, nature and yes, government.
Of the 12,664 murders recorded by the Department of Justice from 2007-2011, 8,583 were committed with firearms and only involved 323 rifles (of any type, from an Old West lever-action to an AR-15), just shy of four percent. Contrast that with the previously mentioned numbers of defensive gun uses and instances where such a firearm played a major role in winning the day, it becomes pretty easy to see that guns might not be the major issue at play, let alone a semi-automatic rifle that has been in civilian hands for over half a century.
So why does the average, law-abiding American “need” an AR-15? Because when you’re outnumbered, stranded in the aftermath of a hurricane, caught up in a riot, being charged by a wild animal, too far away to be helped by the police or facing off against a corrupt government, it pays to have a contemporary equalizer that is not only proven but reliable. In every one of these cases, the odds would likely have been stacked against the defender- having the right tool, however, helped make up for the handicap.
As far as the “weapons of war” argument, the AR-15 bears little difference from contemporary rifles of each era. Many colonial rebels at the time of the Second Amendment’s creation had rifles superior to those of their British enemies. In the Civil War and westward expansion of the 1800s, the lever-action rifle was frequently purchased by soldiers because it was superior to issued weapons at the time. The Springfield bolt-action of World War I and the M1 carbine of World War II was found in the home of many a family after respective hostilities had drawn to a close. It was always meant to be thus, and a simple perusing of the Federalist Papers or letters at the time of the Constitution’s creation (including confirming that cannons were okay for personal use) can confirm as such.
If nothing else, the AR-15 is a homage to the American spirit- that we’re all equal, we’re all responsible for our own safety and that we’re all involved in the timeless effort that is maintaining the freedoms we often take for granted.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, the inventor, statesman and all-around man of his time : “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
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