‘Time’ for more AR-15 Obfuscation

Spot the error in Time's "AR-15" piece

“How the AR-15 Rifle Became America’s Most Dangerous Weapon”

Time Magazine was once a publication I held in high regard. I remember that it and National Geographic would be delivered to my house and my father, whom I admired as an intellectual, would praise the conveyance of information from them.

Now we get loaded pieces of pseudo-journalism with either base level unhelpful facts, half facts with a side of bias to paint the picture they want, or outright obfuscation like the photo from their piece that I screen capped from theirs to start mine.

That, for those wondering, is not an AR-15. The caption clearly reads “A young boy shoots an AR-15…” implying rather pointantly that the pictured weapon, a German MG-42 which is an NFA regulated automatic weapon, is an AR-15. One could, as I assume Time wishes me to, give them the benefit of the doubt that the caption also says “…and other weapons.” With that proviso I should infer that the author clearly means for the photo and caption to convey that the young boy, shooting a locked down tripod mounted machine gun that can go nowhere and is a glorified noise maker, is actually shooting one of those other weapons because it isn’t an AR-15.

I know that. I’m somewhat familiar with firearms. But Time’s audience is largely not. Time doesn’t address their content to SME’s, they address the public. So what is the public to infer from a photo of a young boy shooting a firearm, that I know is an MG-42, which they likely know nothing about, don’t know the regulations for, and may vaguely recognize from World War II period movies and TV shows when it is captioned ‘Young boy shoots an AR-15…’?

This is known as crafting a message, it is the most insidious form of lying because you use the technical truth to do it. The caption is ‘truthful’ in that the boy probably shot AR-15’s at the 2019 event and that the weapon he is pictured shooting is an ‘other weapon’. But that isn’t what will be conveyed to an casual reader. When you mislead your inexpert audience instead of informing them, you are lying.

So Time, how are we going to do this?

The Allen mall shooting on May 6 was the 199th mass shooting of 2023, marking the most recent incident in which a gunman chose to use an AR-15 style rifle during the tragic event.

Referred to as the “most popular rifle in America” by the National Rifle Association, it has become a staple across the nation, with many believing the AR-15 symbolizes a commitment to the Second Amendment—as evidenced by the numerous lawmakers that have sported the firearm as a pin.

We cannot seem to agree on the mass shooting number, probably because we can’t really agree on what vague definition of mass shooting is. But I’ve talked about that.

The AR isn’t just referred to as the most popular rifle in America, it is. Not only is it light, easy to use, low recoil, moderately powered, and got a massive popularity boost due to the use of them during GWOT and veterans trusting them, but they’re pretty inexpensive now too. The least expensive versions of the rifle are in line with common handguns, although handguns are overwhelmingly the crime gun of choice still.

That won’t stop Time though.

Originally advertised decades ago as a sporting or hunting rifle, its reputation has largely become associated with mass shootings.

Which is entirely your, the media’s, fault. It was a deliberate decision by gun control proponents to shift the focus away from handguns to the scarier rifle.

At least 10 of the 17 deadliest mass shootings in America saw the gunman use an AR-15-style rifle, according to The Washington Post.

Many of those used multiple weapons, including handguns, the third deadliest shooting used only handguns and evidence we have from the second deadliest suggests that the police response in Florida significantly exacerbated the casualty count. The deadliest shooting, Las Vegas, we have repeatedly asserted the evidence that other weapons (to include the explosives the shooter intended to use) could have made the incident every bit as lethal, or more so, without bump firing AR-15’s. The AR-15 is prevalent, not magically more lethal, the same way the Glock is the most prevalent handgun but not more lethal than just because it is a Glock.

The choice of the AR-15 and its ilk is only material if the removal of it would actually significantly shift the available method of injury for these attackers, it doesn’t. Crime guns correlate with the popularity of firearms, the cost, and the ease of access. The AR-15 and its peers are incredibly popular and have been in the GWOT and post-GWOT era and their cost has become very affordable. Cultural views and access, not lethality. Removing the AR-15, removing the semi-auto even if we forget the impossibility of that task for a moment, does not significantly enough shift the available method of injury to be a viable casualty reduction strategy.

There is only one. They know. They can’t say it too loudly. Total removal of firearms from the civilian population, which is both impossible and has tremendous negative side effects that they also don’t want to say out loud. They will instead point at Serbia, or Australia, or the UK, and without any grounding context state how they reacted to a shooting was the ‘correct’ way.

“Over time, it’s evolved from this thing that was another kind of product on the market to this sort of ubiquitous stature,” Danny Michael, the Robert W. Woodruff Curator at the Cody Firearms Museum, tells TIME.

Again, largely fueled by the media fearmongering over it. We are, of course, once again overlooking the fact the government handed out money during the pandemic in perfect amounts to buy weapons, but whatever. I’m sure that’s had no negative influence on weapons acquisition, suddenly making a misusable resource way more available has never had negative consequences ever afterall.

What is the AR-15?

This should be good.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic self-loading rifle first produced in the mid-1950s. Experts vary in their description of what AR stands for (there’s discrepancy about whether it stands for the company that designed the firearm, “ArmaLite,” or if it’s in reference to the “ArmaLite rifle”),

Why would we bring up whether its ARmalite or Armalite Rifle? Again, for a layman audience that has heard it stands for Assault Rifle that audience is now going to assume that.

but all countered against the misconception that it stands for “assault rifle.”

Oh, that’s fine then. They all countered the misconception.

Whether the AR-15 is considered an assault weapon has become a heated debate.

Because Assault Weapon is a nonsense fear term. Assault Rifle has a definitive mechanical niche. The AR-15, in its select-fire variants, is an assault rifle by the definitive definition. Assault Weapon is a nonsense term meant to invoke fear of a century old technology (semi-auto/autoloading) if it has enough creature comforts attached and is the wrong color.

The National Shooting Sports Association

Foundation. National Shooting Sports Foundation, NSSF. You link to their site but cannot get their organization’s name correct? Well done.

 does not classify the AR-15 as such, instead listing it as a modern sporting rifle.

A term that I do not like either, but was developed as a counterpoint to the media nonsense assault weapon.

Experts like T. Logan Metesh, a firearms historian, tell TIME that historically, an assault rifle was defined as a fully-automatic fire rifle and that today, an assault rifle is defined as a “firearm capable of selective-fire,” which he says precludes the AR-15 from being in that category.

You left out the intermediate caliber characteristic, but essentially correct otherwise. Intermediate caliber would undermine the devastating power that is the gun controllers goal to convey. How could a weapon be so dangerous if it was only in an intermediate caliber?

But Michael says the definition of an “assault weapon” is more legislative than technical, meaning the criteria varies based on the law.

Yes, they made it up to evoke fear. They couldn’t just say semi-auto since that is most firearms.

In states like California and under the federal government’s 1994 assault weapon ban, the AR-15 is categorized as such, per the Giffords Law Center.

ArmaLite originally marketed the AR-15 to the military, but was unsuccessful, leading the company to sell the patent to manufacturing company Colt in 1963, according to Metesh. The rifle was marketed to civilians as a hunting and sporting rifle by Colt, though the “big core concepts” that designers worked on was creating a firearm that was “lightweight and modular,” Michael says.

They, as we do today, look at and market a product based upon market trends. The modern trend and the one that has been the dominant trend of the 21st century is defensive firearms. So the AR is marketed as a defensive fighting firearm, just like most handguns.

The M16, a military rifle used during the Vietnam War, was adapted from the AR-15. But the AR-15 differs in that it was marketed as a semi-automatic rifle, whereas the M16 can also be a fully-automatic weapon and release a burst fire.

Adapted from makes it sound like it was a chore, it wasn’t. The M16A1 was simply the corrected specs AR-15 the military wanted. It wasn’t ‘adapted from’ the AR-15 anymore than an off road package trimmed truck is ‘adapted from’ the base model. It is still just an AR-15 with the additional few parts making it safely capable of firing burst or in automatic. It isn’t that different. There is not a requirement that it be different. The core purpose of the 2nd Amendment is firearms to defend yourself and your community, the AR-15 is fundamentally that firearm.

Why is the AR-15 so popular?

This should also be entertaining. Where are we going Time?

The AR-15 has no doubt become a staple for gun owners, as recent estimates show that there are some 20 million of these rifles across the U.S.

Much of the popularity of the AR-15, which one expert describes as a Lego set, is due to its modularity. “It’s gotten to the point today where the design has a lot of refinement to it, so pretty much any feature of the rifle is configurable to some degree,” Michael tells TIME.

You know what, so far so good Time. This isn’t exactly a difficult section but you called an MG-42 an AR-15 earlier so…

Others say that price definitely plays a key role in its high demand. The cost of an AR-15 varies depending on quality, but they are typically priced at $400 and up.

Remember when we handed out checks for $600-1200 dollars to literally everyone, Pepperidge Farms and GAT Daily remembers. Could that have possibly flooded the market with firearms in that exact price range, including the entry grade ARs, all on the government dime? Nah. Don’t think about that ladies and gentlemen, just be mad because ‘gun violence’.

That’s not to say that an AR-15 cannot cost thousands, but by comparison, a pistol may cost around the same price despite its much smaller size and capacity.

It’s almost as if the size and capacity of firearms aren’t the determinant factor in its cost, but rather the overall mechanical complexity combined with the material quality and assembly detail. Weird.

Metesh also attributes part of its rise in popularity to the boom of sales seen once the patent for the gun expired in the 1970s. “Once Colt no longer held the exclusive rights to manufacture AR-style firearms in the United States, dozens of other companies jumped at the opportunity to start making and selling these rifles to the public,” Metesh says.

But it didn’t really take off until the combination of a few additional factors. Firstly, the GWOT generation and veterans specifically started buying personal firearms and they trusted and knew their AR rifles. Second, the rather anemic excuse for a safety law that included the Assault Weapon Ban in 1994 (which saw Columbine and several other mass killings within its purview, great job there) sunset with no discernible influence on violent crime expired as those GWOT vets were nearing their first four years of the new war so they had fresh AR-15 experience and it was the decidedly American rifle. Third, because a ban was passed nationwide in 1994 people flocked to get what had been denied them and the popularity of the rifle rose immensely precisely because the government had said you couldn’t have it.

Now, that didn’t prevent neutered AR-15’s from being sold. I remember Remington R-15’s in camo patterns, with low capacity magazines, fixed goofy thumbhole stocks, and no threaded muzzles being on the shelf at my LGS. But the ban itself helped fuel the demand that followed.

Fourth, video games. The same generation that grew up with GWOT and served in it also grew up with the video games that paralleled the war. Far more people played those games than served and those that served were young and are heavily seeded with gamers. Video games were a vital part of gun culture 2.0 and games with realistic firearms like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Battlefield 2, 3, 4, etc. also influenced market demand.

To this day people build the gun they had in the game or build the gun in the game they own here in the real world because that continuity pleases our brains.

Sure, my M4, X95, and SCAR here just go to classes and sit in my locked office minus the one rifle I have for home defense in my room, but running the guns with similar setups as my own in games like Ghost Recon: Wildlands makes me happy.

Is the AR-15 the leading firearm used in mass shootings?

Well… we’re waiting…

Steve Lindley, program manager of Brady United Against Gun Violence, a gun violence prevention organization, says he would hesitate to call the AR-15 the “weapon of choice for mass shooters,”

So no. It isn’t. Handgun is. Handgun is by a massive margin.

but still describes the AR-15 as a “weapon of war.”

So no, but we’re going to imply yes.

But so is a handgun. Our troops carry handguns too. We just bought hundreds of thousands of them from SIG, for war. We still have hundreds of thousands of them from Beretta and Glock too, still for war. A weapons suitability for individual combat is precisely the weapon someone wants for self defense, which is… individual combat! Shocker.

You cannot divest a weapons ability to be used offensively from being used defensively, this includes less lethals such as pepper spray and taser guns. They are just as useful to disrupt someone offensively as they are defensively.

That does not deflect from the fact that mass shooters often utilize an AR-15, likely for the factors mentioned above.

They also often utilize Glocks as another available and convenient methods to carry out their attacks, I notice Glock isn’t under attack despite being a full on 20% of the criminal firearm market share. They are the world’s most popular handgun brand.

We don’t have to rehash the lethality gap between the two, there is one yes. However they and all the firearms like them are so far above the base force of ‘lethal’ that it doesn’t much matter that the AR-15 is roughly three times as powerful as a Glock because anyone out gunned by either gun is in deep deep trouble.

Besides the Las Vegas shooting, which was carried out from a long distance, “mass shootings are relatively close up,” Lindley says. He says the AR-15 has such a strong capacity that gunmen “don’t really need to aim, they just need to shoot at the crowd of people.”

That’s what the Las Vegas shooter did, he just sprayed into a massive and densely packed crowd. That, instead of aimed fire, actively saved lives at that event. The, ‘you don’t have to aim’ line is such atrocious bullshit that it is beyond tiresome to keep answering. Yes, if you are in close with literally any firearm and a densely packed group of people in front of you, that is an easy thing to hit, injure, and kill.

That works for cars too, as Texas found out that same weekend. As a Christmas parade found out in Wisconsin. Nice France found out too. It’s easy to injure or kill a densely packed group of people.

Have there been any attempts to ban the AR-15?

Okay, now we’re just going for a word count and some SEO… *sigh*

In 1994, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, a federal assault weapons ban that prohibited the manufacturing of more than 100 firearms for civilian use, including the AR-15. That ban sunset in 2004, as Congress failed to secure sufficient votes to renew.

Because no evidence worthy of the title could be brought forth to say the ban did anything. After the ban’s expiration crime continued to decline and stayed down until the pandemic. The summer of 2020, the pandemic and the riots, saw the spike.

Since the early 2000s, there have been calls by prominent Democrats to renew a similar ban. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is credited as the politician behind the assault ban, introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2023 in late January. No progress has been made on the bill.

Well last time it cost them their decades long hold on both houses of congress so… yeah it’s probably more profitable for them to whine about an assault weapon ban than actually pass one.

Some states, including Washington, California, and New Jersey, have restrictions on assault weapons that impact the possession of firearms like the AR-15. And in Texas, state lawmakers on Monday advanced a gun control bill that would increase the legal age to purchase an assault-style weapon to 21.

Those assault weapon bans are on borrowed time under Bruen. Part of me sincerely believes they just want to pass as many as they can, including a Federal one, just so they can pass the responsibility to the Supreme Court and stop getting yelled at by their constituents for it. Once SCOTUS says, ‘no, a ban is unconstitutional’ the pressure on Democrats relents.

President Biden also showed his support for an assault weapons ban on multiple occasions, including a 2019 New York Times op-ed, and most recently after the shooting in Allen, Texas on May 6. “Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” he said in a statement. “I will sign it immediately.”

Of course he is going to say that, why would he change the tune of a popular line that has kept him in the political machine for decades? That’s like asking an artist who is only doing shows in Vegas why they don’t go through the hassle of touring, they make more than enough with the gig they have.

Gun control is dead, it just doesn’t know it. What we can do, what we’ve only ever been able to do with any connection to realism, is punish the criminal or negligent misuse of the thing and educate for proper safe use. We cannot uninvent the rifle anymore than we can the wheel. Let’s stop crying about it.

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.