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AR-15 style rifle

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AR-15 style rifles come in many sizes and have many options, depending on the manufacturer. The part shown bottom center is the lower receiver without the receiver extension, rear takedown pin, and buttstock.

An AR-15 style rifle is a lightweight semi-automatic rifle based on the Colt AR-15 design. After Colt's patents expired in 1977,[1] an expanded marketplace emerged with many manufacturers producing their own version of the AR-15 design for commercial sale. They are referred to it as modern sporting rifles by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association, and by some manufacturers.[2] Coverage of high-profile incidents where various versions of the rifle were involved often uses the shorthand AR-15.[3]

Since 2010, AR-15 style rifles have become one of the "most beloved and most vilified rifles" in the United States, according to the New York Times.[4] It has been promoted as "America's rifle" by the National Rifle Association. It has also been the weapon used in many of the largest mass shootings in the United States,[4] and is sometimes legally classified as an "assault weapon" due to its military-like appearance. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban restricted the Colt AR-15 and derivatives from 1994-2004, although it did not affect rifles with fewer features.[5][6] There are an estimated 10-12 million in circulation in the United States.[4]

Terminology

1973 Colt AR-15 SP1 rifle with 'slab side' lower receiver (lacking raised boss around magazine release button) and original Colt 20-round box magazine

In 1956, ArmaLite designed a lightweight assault rifle for military use and designated it the ArmaLite Rifle-15, or AR-15.[7][8][9] Due to financial problems, and limitations in terms of manpower and production capacity, ArmaLite sold the design and the AR-15 trademark to Colt's Manufacturing Company in 1959.[10] In 1964, Colt began selling its own version with an improved semi-automatic design known as the Colt AR-15.[11] After Colt's patents expired in 1977, an active marketplace emerged for other manufacturers to produce and sell their own AR-15 style rifles.[1]

In 2009, the term "modern sporting rifle" was coined by the National Shooting Sports Foundation for its survey that year as a marketing term used by the firearms industry to describe modular semi-automatic rifles including AR-15s.[12][13][14][15] Today, nearly every major firearm manufacturer produces its own generic AR-15 style rifle.[16][14] As Colt continues to own and use the AR-15 trademark for its line of AR-15 variants, other manufacturers must use their own model numbers and names to market their AR-15 style rifles for commercial sale.[17]

Modularity

While most earlier breech-loading rifles had a single receiver housing both the trigger and reloading mechanism, an innovative feature of the AR-15 was modular construction to simplify substitution of parts and avoid need for arsenal facilities for most repairs of malfunctioning military rifles.[18] A distinctive two-part receiver is used by both military and sporting AR-15 style rifles. As civilian ownership of AR-15 style rifles became sufficient to create a market for improvements, numerous manufacturers began producing one or more "improved" modules, assemblies, or parts with features not found on factory rifles; and individuals with average mechanical aptitude can often substitute these pieces for original equipment. Due to the vast assortment of aftermarket parts and accessories available, AR-15 style rifles have also been referred to as "the Swiss Army knife of rifles",[19] "Barbie Dolls for Guys"[20][21][22] or "LEGOs" for adults.[23][24][25] These more or less interchangeable modules are a defining characteristic of AR-15 style modern sporting rifles.[26]

The lower receiver is the serial-numbered part legally defined as the firearm under United States law. The lower receiver is visually distinguished by the trigger guard ahead of the detachable pistol grip, and behind the magazine well capable of holding detachable magazines. The lower receiver holds the trigger assembly including the hammer, and is the attachment point for the buttstock. The lower receiver is attached to the upper receiver by two removable pins. Disassembly for cleaning or repair of malfunctions often requires removal of these pins. Removal of the rear take-down pin allows the receiver to be opened by rotation around the forward pivot pin as a hinge.[18]

The upper receiver contains the bolt carrier assembly, and is attached to the barrel assembly. Sights will be attached to the upper receiver or to the barrel assembly. A handguard usually encloses the barrel and a gas-operated reloading device using burnt powder gas vented from a hole (or port) in the barrel near the forward end of the handguard. The handguard is attached to the upper receiver and may also be attached to the barrel.[18]

The initial design included a tube to vent burnt powder gas back into the bolt carrier assembly where it expands in a variable volume chamber forcing the bolt open to eject the spent cartridge case. A buffer spring in the buttstock then pushes the bolt closed picking up a new cartridge from the magazine. This direct gas impingement (DGI) system has the disadvantage of venting unburned smokeless powder residue into the receiver where it may ultimately accumulate in quantities causing malfunctions. A more recent alternative design has a metal operating rod pushing against the bolt carrier from a gas piston under the handguard near the barrel port. This piston keeps the receiver cleaner by exhausting under the handguard.[27] While both the DGI and piston systems produce semi-automatic fire, an alternative unported barrel assembly includes a sliding handguard connected to a rod moving the bolt by a pump action and eliminating semi-automatic fire.[28]

Most rifles eject spent cartridges from the right side of the receiver away from right handed shooters who place the butt against the right shoulder while sighting with the right eye and using a finger of the right hand to pull the trigger.[29] Right-side ejection is a disadvantage for the third of the population whose left eye is dominant,[30] and for the tenth of the population who are left handed,[31] because holding these rifles against their left shoulder for maximum accuracy causes the rifle to eject hot spent cases toward the chest, neck or face of a left handed shooter.[32] The modular design of AR-15 style rifles has encouraged several manufacturers to offer specialized parts including leftward ejecting upper receivers for converting right handed AR-15 style rifles for left handed use.[33][34][35]

Some AR-15-style rifles have features limiting use of detachable magazines to comply with state regulations.[36][37] A few unusual versions are incapable of semi-automatic fire.[28][38] Nearly all versions of the civilian AR-15 have a pistol grip like the military versions, and some have folding or collapsible stocks like the M4 carbine which reduce the overall length of the rifle.

Comparison to military versions

The semi-automatic civilian AR-15 was introduced by Colt in 1963. The primary distinction between civilian semi-automatic rifles and military models is select fire. Military models were produced with firing modes, semi-automatic fire and either fully automatic fire mode or burst fire mode, in which the rifle fires three rounds in succession when the trigger is depressed. Most components are interchangeable between semi-auto and select fire rifles including magazines, sights, upper receiver, barrels and accessories. .[39][40] The military M4 carbine typically uses a 14.5" barrel. Civilian rifles commonly have 16 inch or longer barrels to comply with the National Firearms Act.[41]

In order to prevent a civilian semi-automatic AR-15 from being readily converted for use with the select fire components a number of features were changed. Parts changed include the lower receiver, bolt carrier, hammer, trigger, disconnector, and safety/mode selector. The semi-automatic bolt carrier has a longer lightening slot to prevent the bolt's engagement with an automatic sear. Due to a decrease in mass the buffer spring is heavier. On the select fire version, the hammer has an extra spur which interacts with the additional auto-sear that holds it back until the bolt carrier group is fully in battery, when automatic fire is selected.[42] Using a portion of the select fire parts in a semi-automatic rifle will not enable a select fire option.[43] As designed by Colt the pins supporting the semi-auto trigger and hammer in the lower receiver are larger than those used in the military rifle to prevent interchangeability between semi-automatic and select fire components.[44]

Production and sales

A custom built AR-15 style rifle with an ACOG sight.

The first version produced for commercial sale by Colt was the AR-15 Sporter, in .223 Remington, with a 20-inch barrel and issued with 5-round magazines.[11] Initial sales of the Colt AR-15 were slow, primarily due to its fixed sights and carry handle that made scopes difficult to mount and awkward to use.[45]

In the 1990s, sales of AR-15 style rifles increased dramatically, partly as a result of the introduction of the flat top upper receiver which allowed scopes and sighting devices to be easily mounted as well as new features such as free floating hand guards that increased accuracy.[45] While only a handful of companies were manufacturing these rifles in 1994, by the 21st century the number of AR-15 style rifles had more than doubled.[46] From 2000 to 2015, the number of manufacturers of AR-15 style variants and knock-offs increased from 29 to about 500.[47] Today, AR-15 style rifles are available in a wide range of configurations and calibers from a large number of manufacturers. These configurations range from standard full-sizes rifles with 20 inch barrels, to short carbine-length models with 16 inch barrels, adjustable length stocks and optical sights, to long range target models with 24 inch barrels, bipods and high-powered scopes.[48]

Estimates vary as to how many of the rifles are owned in the United States. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the U.S. within the broader total of the 300 million firearms owned by Americans.[49]

Cartridge variations

Since the upper and lower receivers may be swapped between rifles, forensic firearm examination of bullets and spent cartridges may reveal distinguishing marks from the barrel and upper receiver group without identifying the lower receiver for which legal records may be available.[50] An individual may use several upper receiver groups with the same lower receiver. These upper receiver groups may have differing barrel lengths and sights, and may fire different cartridges. A hunter with a single lower receiver might have one upper receiver with a .223 Remington barrel and telescopic sight for varmint hunting in open country and another upper receiver with a .458 SOCOM barrel and iron sights for big-game hunting in brushy woodland. The dimensions of upper and lower receivers originally designed for the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge impose an overall length limit and diameter limits when adapting modules for other cartridges included in this list of AR platform calibers.[51][48] The same magazine in the lower receiver group may hold differing numbers of different cartridges.[27]

Use in crime and mass shootings

While most gun killings in the United States are with handguns,[52][53][54] AR-15 style rifles have played "an oversized role in many of the most high-profile"[52] mass shootings in the United States, and have come to be widely characterized as the weapon of choice for perpetrators of these crimes.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62] AR-15 variants have been used in mass shootings in the United States including the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, 2012 Aurora shooting, 2015 San Bernardino attack,[4] the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting,[63] the 2017 Las Vegas shooting,[63] and the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.[64]

Following the use of a Colt AR-15 rifle in the Port Arthur massacre, the worst single-person shooting incident in Australian history, the country enacted the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles with a capacity of more than 5 rounds (Category D[65]).[66][67][68]

Religion

The AR-15 style rifle has been identified by Hyung Jin Moon with the "rod of iron" in Revelation 2:27, and has been used in his splinter group's version of the Unification Church mass wedding ceremony.[69][70] Former pastor and Constitution Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin has also singled out AR-15 style rifles as a self-defense necessity to fulfil 1 Timothy 5:8 and its call for providing for the household.[71]

List of models

Examples of AR-15 style rifles and carbines

See also

References

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  8. ^ Bartocci, Christopher R. (July 16, 2012). "The AR-15/M16: The rifle that was never supposed to be". Gun Digest. Retrieved March 18, 2018. These are two of the main reasons why the AR-15/M16-series rifles are considered the finest human-engineered assault rifles in the world. 
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  57. ^ Zhang, Sarah (June 17, 2016). "What an AR-15 Can Do to the Human Body". Wired. Retrieved March 3, 2018. The AR-15 is America’s most popular rifle. It has also been the weapon of choice in mass shootings from Sandy Hook to Aurora to San Bernardino. 
  58. ^ Williams, Joseph P. (November 7, 2017). "How the AR-15 Became One of the Most Popular Guns in America, A brief history of the guns that have become the weapons of choice for mass shootings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved February 15, 2018. They're lightweight, relatively cheap and extremely lethal, inspired by Nazi infantrymen on the Eastern Front during World War II. They're so user-friendly some retailers recommend them for children, yet their design is so aggressive one marketer compared them to carrying a "man card" -- although ladies who dare can get theirs in pink. And if the last few mass shootings are any indication, guns modeled after the AR-15 assault rifle -- arguably the most popular, most enduring and most profitable firearm in the U.S. -- have become the weapon of choice for unstable, homicidal men who want to kill a lot of people very, very quickly. 
  59. ^ Jansen, Bart; Cummings, William (November 6, 2017). "Why mass shooters are increasingly using AR-15s". USA Today. Retrieved February 15, 2018. AR-15 style rifles have been the weapon of choice in many recent mass shootings, including the Texas church shooting Sunday, the Las Vegas concert last month, the Orlando nightclub last year and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. 
  60. ^ Oppel Jr., Richard A. (February 15, 2018). "In Florida, an AR-15 Is Easier to Buy Than a Handgun". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2018. The N.R.A. calls the AR-15 the most popular rifle in America. The carnage in Florida on Wednesday that left at least 17 dead seemed to confirm that the rifle and its variants have also become the weapons of choice for mass killers. 
  61. ^ Lloyd, Whitney (February 16, 2018). "Why AR-15-style rifles are popular among mass shooters". ABC News. Retrieved March 2, 2018. AR-15-style rifles have become something of a weapon of choice for mass shooters. 
  62. ^ Beckett, Lois (February 16, 2018). "Most Americans can buy an AR-15 rifle before they can buy beer". The Guardian. Retrieved March 2, 2018. While AR-15 style rifles have become the weapon of choice for some of America’s most recent and deadly mass shootings, these military-style guns are still comparatively rarely used in everyday gun violence. 
  63. ^ a b "Why the AR-15 keeps appearing at America's deadliest mass shootings". USA Today. Retrieved 22 February 2018. 
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