For an Audio Version of this article click here:
Can we agree that before one votes to ban something, one should have a nuanced understanding of that thing or the category of things it belongs to? That’s missing from the gun debate, where people seem ready to issue bans on certain firearms without the slightest understanding of them. Ignorance of any topic or issue is no sin, but ignorance of an area one wishes to legislate on, must yield results that are not optimal at best, and horrible at worst. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what an AR-15 is and what makes it so deadly.
Semi vs. Full
How does an AR-15 operate differently from other firearms to make it so deadly? It doesn’t. AR-15s are semi-automatic. This means they fire one time each time the trigger is depressed. This type of firearm design became common in the 1800’s, and by the early 1900’s, were wildly popular with the gun-owning public in the United States. Often, out of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to mislead, news stories about AR-15s use footage from fully-automatic machine guns. These guns are not similar:
Why are AR-15 bullets deadlier than those fired from regular guns? The answer is, they are not. Rifle bullets are more deadly than handgun bullets because of simple physics – they are usually larger and travel faster than handgun calibers. AR-15s are typically manufactured in 5.56 caliber. That means the diameter of the projectile is 5.56 millimeters. While again, out of ignorance or attempt to mislead, the AR-15 is often in the wake of “newsworthy” shootings, referred to as a high powered rifle. It is not.
Rifle calibers commonly available in the United States range from .22 which is .22 inches in diameter through .50 caliber, which is a half inch in diameter. (There is often confusion because of metric/standard measurements, and the term “gauge” which is used chiefly for shotguns, a firearm that is not a rifle or handgun) The aforementioned 5.56 of most AR-15s is on the middle lower end of the spectrum for rifle calibers. This caliber is not especially deadly, it doesn’t have an especially long range, and is not especially powerful. In fact, it is popular for precisely these middle of the road qualities – it is a lightweight, modular, mid-range, mid-power firearm that looks cool. These qualities have made it the most popular firearm in America.
To Be Rather Than To Seem
Because of its appearance that seems consistent with military usage as well, the mistruths spread about it, and widespread ignorance of so many, it is easy to make the AR-15 out to be a villainous object. The name itself has been used to do so, incorrectly referring to the AR as standing for “assault rifle” rather than ArmaLite, the small arms engineering company who designed it in 1956.
One of the main reasons Second Amendment defenders fight so hard on this point is that we know the following: A ban on a specific firearm due to cosmetic attributes and scary reputation will yield no safety benefit. Murderers will simply choose another firearm. Then what, we’ll go after that one, and the next, and the next? The murderer himself must be stopped as there will always be tools to aid a malignant actor. The AR-15 does not present a tool so effective or unique that it must be singled out or banned.
Which of these two cars is more powerful, the coupe or the station wagon?
If you said the coupe, you are as incorrect as someone who claims the AR-15 is especially bad. The Fiero on the left has 140 horsepower, while the Cadillac wagon has 556!
Let’s say there was a road near you plagued with cars racing so far above a reasonable speed as to constitute a serious threat to public safety. If most of those were red sports cars, would banning red cars help the problem? Aren’t the drivers of those cars the problem, rather than the cars themselves?