Addled by the AR-15
The Right loves it, and the Left hates it, just because of its connotations.

The AR-15


Charles C. W. Cooke

And this is the thing: For all the hype, an AR-15 is really just a glorified .223 rifle. It is not a “machine gun;” it is not “automatic”; it does not “spray bullets”; it is not a “weapon of war.” Indeed, it is not functionally any different from a host of other, similar, guns that are not black. It is much, much less powerful than are almost all hunting rifles. (If you don’t believe me, try going hunting with one.)

The AR-15 is not a luxury item, either. In fact, it is the most popular rifle in the country. Why? Because ammunition for it is easy to come by, because it is customizable at purchase, and because it is modular, which means that one can add and remove parts to suit one’s needs. It is light enough for women to carry, but heavy enough to feel comfortable and steady in the hands of the average person. And it is not especially powerful.

This, perhaps, is why it is used in so few crimes. Rifles — not just AR-15s or other scary-looking long-guns, but all rifles — are used in under 3 percent of the gun deaths in the United States. Indeed so rare is it that a rifle is used in the commission of a crime that the FBI reports that hands and fists are more than two times more likely to be used as murder weapons. A savvy criminal wishing to do maximum damage in an enclosed space will not turn to an AR-15, but to a much more lethal (and intimidating) shotgun. And this, of course, is exactly what Aaron Alexis, a Navy veteran, did to such lethal effect in Washington on Monday.

Ironically enough, the cosmetic additions with which the Left is obsessed and which the Right correctly dismisses as being immaterial to the weapon’s power probably help to explain why the AR-15 is used so rarely in the commission of crimes but used so frequently in mass-shootings. Generally, mass-shooters seem to be living out some sort of fantasy: Perhaps this fantasy is based on the movies, in which the majority of heroes’ weapons look like AR-15s; perhaps this fantasy is based on a video game, in which black, modifiable guns predominate; perhaps this fantasy is based on warfare, in which the AR-15’s professional (automatic) siblings, the M4 and M16, are commonplace. Whatever it is, the AR-15 looks like a fantasy gun — it is unsurprising that fantasists choose it.

Aesthetically, then, the obsession with the AR-15 is just about understandable. But from the perspective of public policy, it is unforgivable. It is a curiosity that each and every time that Barack Obama or Joe Biden have spoken in favor of expanded gun-control, they have assured the audience that they have no intention of touching sportsmen’s gear. “We recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation, that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage,” Obama told a crowd in New Orleans after the massacre in Aurora, Colo. In Virginia in 2008, Joe Biden had put this more bluntly. “I guarantee you Barack Obama ain’t taking my shotguns,” Biden said. “So don’t buy that malarkey.”

This, as ever, is welcome news. And yet, given that shotguns are, both statistically and technically, significantly more dangerous than the AR-15, and that Aaron Alexis used a lethal Remington 870, the most commonly owned shotgun in the United States, one has to wonder why . . . 

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.