While many are quick to point fingers at the anti-gun demographic for uninformed firearm jargon mis-labelling AR, plenty gun-friendly folks are guilty of it, too. Common misconceptions are that AR means “automatic rifle,” “assault rifle,” and on the rare occasion “absolutely radical.” But the truth is the abbreviation represents the company that designed the platform.
AR stands for Armalite Rifles, the name of the company that designed the rifle in the 1950s. The Armalite company’s design and subsequent ties to the military M16 rifle has led to endless confusion with AR-15 rifles. In fact, civilian sporting rifles like the AR-15 and AR-10 are mistakenly associated with their military counterparts based on looks alone rather than very different operation.
Neither colors nor furniture nor features make AR-platform rifles any more or less dangerous than other rifles. The designation refers simply to semi-automatic, magazine fed rifles that are most often centerfire, but can be rimfire as well. AR-style rifles are sold at American gun stores every day and used for hunting, shooting competitions, and just general range time merriment.
With debate over AR rifles at an all-time high, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, has tried to correct the confusion by introducing the term modern-sporting rifle into the discussion. The phrase means ARs and other similar platforms. The NSSF estimates there are more than 16 million MSRs in civilian hands.
While ARs share aesthetics and many features, the biggest difference separating them from an assault rifle is a select-fire option. ARs are semi-automatic only, so a single trigger-pull equals one shot. Full-auto, which covers a burst option, can fire continuously by holding the trigger down.
Since ARs function like any other semi-auto rifle – one trigger pull, one shot fired – they’re regulated that way as well, so any U.S. citizen of adult age can purchase one from a gun store after they pass a background check.