“The AR-15 isn’t a military weapon…”

Time to put to rest this pedantic 'pro-gun' argument.

Ooga Booga Booga - Assault Rifles, apparently

Okay folks, I’ve had it.

The saying always goes something like “The AR-15 isn’t a military weapon, the M4/M16 are totally different.”


They are totally different? So when the US Air Force purchased select-fire AR-15’s they weren’t military weapons? The US Army adapted those into (eventually, after a snag and snafu or two) the Technical Data Package for the M16A1, and in that instant it became a totally different gun?

It magically materialized mystical military might when the ‘M’ designation got tossed on the front of it, eh?

Stop. No More.

The M16 and M4 are AR-15s. They are just specific AR-15s.

M16 Vs. AR-15

It is astonishing to me how many groups online, especially veteran groups full of people who carried these professionally, will shout at the top of their caps lock about how the M16 is totally different than the AR-15. Vastly different. Not even remotely the same. Leagues and leagues apart. Two totally separate machines that bear only surface deep resemblance.

Now if we were talking about the M1 Garand and the M14 you could be onto something. But the M16 and most commercial AR-15’s have nearly universal parts interchangeability. How is that so if they are totally different?

In instances where the parts are not interchangeable, this was usually done for one of two reasons. Reason one, the part is proprietary and looks to enhance a function through its departure from the conventional design. The KAC E3 Bolt for their SR-15’s for example. Reason two is that the company is leaping through hoops of flaming pedantism to separate their product just enough from a ‘military model’ to satisfy some arbitrary rule emplaced upon them by government busybodies, while not altering the fundamental mechanics of the firearm. An example would be the Heckler & Koch SL8, which is just an HK G36 dressed like a dork because a dork makes the export people happy.

I blame the industry’s ‘Modern Sporting Rifle’ phase. Where we went so out of our way to show that these normal firearms are.. well.. normal.. that we avoided certain terms like the plague. We hid so snugly in our “Wellll ACHuaalllllyyy…” rabbit holes that we got lost within.

This is compounded by the fact that people pontificating upon the vast gulf of difference in ARs and M.. Rs? should not be doing so. They don’t know. These same folks will proudly and confidently enter Ye Olde Local Gunstore, grab literally any brand of cheap AR-15 off the wall, and then proudly proclaim how it is “exactly what I carried in _______.”

Bro, that is an ATI. The receiver is plastic and the barrel is steel in mostly a notional sense.

You can get a near 1:1 copy of your issued rifle, from a company that actually makes that issued rifle, using nearly all of the same exact parts. But it isn’t $569.

FN 15 Military Collector M4

What did they change so it isn’t a “weapon of war” anymore?

Well, nothing that makes it any less useful. Just some stuff to make the folks in D.C. smugly happy they did something.


Difference one, lack of auto or burst components. These are a small selection of springs, a lever, and slightly different trigger group parts that allow the gun to fire in full auto safely. Yes, safely. You can totally turn your semi-auto AR-15 into a “fully auto” bullet hose with “a file” like the rumors say, but that is literally breaking the safe function of the rifle and is hellaciously not safe to do. Screw the illegality of it, you’re risking an unsealed detonation of 50,000 psi right next to your face because the auto/burst components aren’t there to safely regulate the automatic setting. Don’t do that. It’s dumb.

Difference two, because the M4 uses a 14.5-inch barrel, per its specification, this consumer facing model must have a “permanently” (not removable by hand or simply a wrench and torque) attached muzzle to make the arbitrary ‘safe’ length of 16 inches. This is to comply with the National Firearms Act.

In every single other respect, that is your M4. Except it is new and hasn’t been dropped repeatedly, stacked, lost, found, left in a port-a-potty, left on a mountain, cleaned excessively because staff had nothing better for troops to do, and so forth.

You can also build out a better rifle than the M4, one that uses higher quality materials, higher quality coatings, is better attuned to commercially available ammunition, better accuracy because you can use a floated barrel, and many many many other personalizations that can enhance how this very simple and effective personal firearm fits into your life.

“But, Keith… War..”

Shut it. Stop. The AR-15 is a personal weapon and we haven’t fought wars with only personal weapons since… ever. Siege engines are in their 28th century. We’ve had siege artillery for about 24 centuries. Even when the personal weapon is the primary method of injury it is using those personal weapons in some manner of coordinated formation that facilitate the conduct of warfare. The AR-15s physical existence does not make it a weapon of war, its use in warfare by regular and irregular forces conducting their operations does.

The use in warfare does not in any way, shape, or form make something unsuitable for use by an individual not participating in a war. The AR-15 is so good as an individual rifle because it is… a good rifle. It is well designed, light, reliable, and simple to learn and use. Well designed, reliable, and simple to use are traits we desire out of every one of our tools, if at all possible. Phones, cars, computers, ladders, DIY furniture items, all of these that are worth the money you spend on them share those same traits with the AR-15.

So… Enough

2024 we stop the mind numbing madness of the M4 being this ‘wholly different machine’ (yet somehow with all interchangeable parts) from the AR-15. It’s an AR. The M16 is an AR. The Military uses ARs and so do we.

We have more of them and a lot of ours are nicer.

Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.