Setting the Stage for the AR Phenomenon

posted on June 28, 2011

Former NRA editorial colleague Doug Howlett recently enlisted me to write the foreword for his latest project, "The Shooter’s Bible Guide to AR-15s." Slated for release this fall, the new book will examine America’s hottest-selling rifle category with all the in-depth coverage that has made the Shooter’s Bible a gun-owners’ staple for more than a half century.

Doug’s introduction recalled the political struggle to preserve Americans’ rights to own AR rifles that raged during the Clinton years when he and I were working together. As a long-time NRA hand, my involvement goes back even further, and in fact I remember all too well when AR-type rifles suddenly became the anti-gun movement’s chief whipping boy. For reasons only they could elaborate—though “scary looks” certainly were high on the list—the gun-banners decided there was more political gain to be had from demonizing so-called “assault rifles” than from tirelessly bemoaning “Saturday night specials,” i.e., handguns. Amazingly, big media fell into obedient lockstep as if national political discourse was all just a grand puppet show. Go figure.

Thankfully none of this fazed my colleagues at NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, and while they had to act fast and act forcefully, for the past 25 years we have been incredibly successful in waging the fight. Winning is great, I’m sure we all agree, and not just for morale and practical reasons. It’s also a critical measure of where our country is headed, even though we all know the final outcome is far from determined. Fortunately our side is stronger than ever thanks to the fact that increasingly more shooters/AR owners now have a vested interest. What’s gratifying to me is to see just how beautifully freedom to choose in an open marketplace meshes with the principle of firearms freedom. Despite all the problems looming out there, I see this as proof that the American way still works.

Interestingly, during that same time frame (mid-1980s) when ARs were becoming the gun-rights hot-button, they were also benefitting from a technological makeover that would pave the way for today’s popularity. Colt’s AR-15A2 H-BAR (heavy barrel) model (click on image below to read the full article), along with corresponding advances in ammunition, transformed the platform from its short- to mid-range effective limits to long-range champion. Both military and commercial models adopted faster rifling twist rates (from 1:12” to 1:7” or 1:8”) that did a better job of stabilizing longer, heavier bullets. Prior to that development, AR-15s couldn’t compete with the older M14s at long range; after it, the ARs became the ticket to victory. Today, in many different venues, if you’re not shooting an AR, you’re just not in the game.

Following that watershed development has been a gush of upgrades that enhanced ballistic performance and reliability and made these rifles more shootable. Shooters can now benefit from adjustable stocks, streamlined operating systems, accessory rails, specially developed optical sights and chamberings in both larger, heavy-hitting calibers and economical rimfires. Today, you can literally do it all with your AR, in part because of ingenious technical upgrades, but also because NRA and its members have never stopped insisting that the right to keep and bear arms extends to AR-15s and similar rifles.


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