Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The AR-15, What You Should Know

Bushmaster AR-15 .223 'Assault' Rifle.

In the wake of recent tragic shootings, millions of people are suddenly familiar with the weapon, but actually have no real understanding of what they are talking about when they speak of it. The rabble rabble of gun-control advocates has become an ignorant roar. I happen to be against most restrictions on gun ownership myself, but this article is meant to inform, no matter what your stance is on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

To start, the term "assault rifle" is being sorely misused by the media, as always. To be an assault rifle, the weapon must be a selective-fire full-auto capable machine-gun. Which means that when you pull the trigger and hold it, the bullets will continue to fire automatically until the magazine is empty. Or, that you may "select" your fire to a "burst" mode in which (usually) three rounds will be discharged per trigger-pull, preserving ammunition and increasing accuracy, while at the same time putting some serious lead-on-target. Finally, you may select a standard semi-automatic rate of fire, meaning a bullet will fire once each time you pull the trigger. A semi-automatic rate of fire is the most accurate, and preserves the most ammunition. Contrary to the Hollywood perception, standard semi-automatic is the most effective method of fire, whereas full auto machine gun fire is generally the least efficient selection for killing people. Full-auto fire is often referred to as "spray and pray" because you spray a lot of lead, and pray you hit something. You might also pray that you don't run out of ammo before you actually hit your targets as well. 

M-16 Variants
Kalashnikov AK-47
The U.S.-designated M-16 is the standard combat rifle for our military personnel. It is a selective-fire assault rifle specifically designed for combat use. First deployed in the Vietnam War, it was not well-received at all by combat troops at the time. The weapon jammed frequently, was unreliable, and the small caliber round lacked killing power. Despite its initial lackluster performance under combat conditions, the weapon has been continually refined over the years since to become the standard, not only for the United States military, but for military and police forces around the world. "Western" nations in particular favor this rifle over its chief rival, popularly known as the AK-47, which was originally designed by Soviet hero Mikhail Kalashnikov. That weapon is widely circulated among nations with Communist leanings and/or anti-American sentiment. It might be said that the M-16 is to the AK-47 what Kentucky bourbon is to Russian vodka. The pros and cons of each weapon are debatable, but you might see either or both at any real party.

Today, the M-16 is available in a wide variety of configurations with Colt being the leading manufacturer and supplier to the U.S. military. Some other manufacturers have been licensed by Colt to produce the rifle, with many other manufacturers also producing "knock-off" versions of the popular weapon. Colt also produces the M4, which is essentially a shortened tactical combat version of the M16, initially designed for Special Operations use, as well as other military-grade variants. They also produce the now ubiquitous AR-15.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the "AR" in AR-15 does not stand for "assault rifle." It was the original military designation for the version of the M16 produced by manufacturer ArmaLite, who sold the design rights for the original M16 to Colt back in 1959. You see, ARmalite, the first letters of the manufacturer name, not "assault rifle." Colt now uses the AR-15 designation strictly for civilian-use only models of the popular rifle. Civilian-use models are actually stripped of their "assault" capability, and do not have selective or fully-automatic fire. The AR-15 has the appearance of the popular soldier's rifle, but not the same capability. You might say, the AR-15 is like a 4-cylinder Ford Mustang. Looks fast, but really doesn't have any ponies under the hood. The AR-15 is no more deadly than any other rifle on the market, and is certainly no assault rifle.

The name Bushmaster does not refer to any sort of special capability either. Bushmaster is simply the name of the manufacturer who produces a rifle similar in appearance to that manufactured by Colt. The designation AR-15 is now widely applied generically to any rifle of similar appearance, but in truth, rifles produced by companies like Bushmaster are not authentic AR-15's at all. This is sort of like calling any generic aspirin a Bayer, or even like calling a Coke a Pepsi. Same, but different. So despite the menacing-sounding name "Bushmaster," once again we are left with a watered-down generic version of reality.

There's a thinker
Finally, we have the ".223" portion of the rifle's description. To the uninformed, the number sounds like a big technical number that probably makes this rifle more deadly than other rifles. Again, not actually so. Technically, the number .223 refers to the diameter of the bullet. Twenty-twos's are often used for small-game hunting, like birds and squirrel, and for backyard tin-can plinking on summer afternoons. Some BB/pellet guns even come in a .22-caliber design.

Admittedly though, there is some difference between a .22-caliber pellet fired from an air-rifle, and a .223 round fired from an AR-15. The difference here is not about the width of the round but how fast the round travels. It will still make a very small hole, but it will hit a target with a lot more energy, giving it more penetration power, and allowing the round to travel further distances. This is made possible because more gun-powder is loaded behind the projectile than in a standard .22-caliber round, forcing it out of the gun a lot faster.

The .223 is actually the smallest commonly used rifle ammunition, despite a relative high-power gunpowder load like that used in a combat rifle or a hunting rifle. Even when used for game hunting, the .223 ammo is not a large enough caliber to take down commonly hunted game such as deer. As a matter of fact, this small ammunition is used specifically in combat operations to not kill the enemy, but rather to wound the enemy instead. Why would you not want to kill an enemy in combat you ask? Because a wounded enemy will require aid from their comrades, distracting them from the fight, whereas a dead enemy can be left to be dealt with later when the fight is over. Just to make that perfectly clear, the .223 caliber rifle, when used as an anti-personnel weapon, is meant to wound the target rather than to kill it outright. So technically, this would make this rifle the "safest" rifle that a civilian could possibly own. A person is less likely to be killed by an AR-15 .223 round than by any other rifle shot. You can see from the image provided here, the difference between a .223 round used in the AR-15, a .308 round commonly used in bolt-action hunting rifles, and the 7.62mm round used in AK-47 style rifles.

Ammo Comparison

We could talk all day long about the merits and lethality of different sorts of ammunition, from rifle loads, to jacketing, to hollow-tips, to fragmenting rounds, and so forth. You can search for yourself numerous charts which display comparisons of all different sorts of ammunition. No one type of ammo is necessarily any more deadly than the other. It all comes down to how it is used. And the same goes for any firearm.

From the zip-gun to the shotgun, to your grand-dad's hunting rifle, to your brother's combat rifle, no one firearm is inherently more dangerous than the other. It all comes down to how it is used. While the public suddenly panics over the AR-15, we seem to forget that school shootings are not a new phenomenon and that even old-fashioned weapons were used in the past to commit similar crimes by bizarrely deranged individuals, such as Charles Whitman.

Whitman's Weapons
In August 1966, Whitman opened fire from the tower of the University of Texas in Austin, killing numerous people. His rampage actually began with the murder of his mother and wife with a knife, not a firearm. He then mounted the tower killing several people there with a shotgun, before sniping the campus from his accomplished vantage point, with WWII-era rifles. His self-authored account of his own mental breakdown is chillingly familiar to so many mass murders and particularly school shootings. Sixteen people died in that event nearly a half-century ago.

All in all, at the end of any day, there is no single firearm which is truly "safer" or more dangerous than another. Nor are firearms any more or less dangerous than other methods of killing. Timothy McVeigh used farm fertilizer to kill 168 people, many of them children. The Unites States government used fire to kill the inhabitants of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Among the dead there were twenty-one children under the age of sixteen.Your kitchen cabinet probably contains enough bleach and ammonia that would make enough mustard gas to wipe out hundreds of people.

Firearms are just a tool, like any other, in the hands of man. They can be used for evil, they can be used to defend against evil. They can be used for Olympic-grade sport, they can be used to feed your family. Madmen will always find a way to kill innocents, even if they do it by taking away your guns.

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