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    Posted December 24, 2012 by
    Los Altos, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Gun control debate: Background checks

    What an AR-15 is and isn't, and why I own one

    I am not going to provide a picture of my AR-15 since we all know what they look like. The media has them plastered all over the place.

    What I want to try to explain is why I have an AR-15 and try to explain what the AR-15 is, and what it isn't.

    First of all, I'd like to dispel some myths and try to clarify what the AR-15 ISN'T. It isn't a super-gun just because the military uses it. The AR-15 fires a bullet that actually isn't very large. The first image shows a 5.56mm bullet used by the AR compared to a dime and a 9mm pistol bullet. As you can see, it is smaller than a 9mm pistol bullet and is less than half the weight. The Remington 0.223 cartridge from which the military 5.56mm cartridge was derived is actually a small game round used for hunting raccoons, foxes, and other small game. It is not the most powerful rifle round by a long shot.

    Why does the military use such a small cartridge? For a rather boring reason: weight. It is less than half the weight of the 7.62mm round used in the AK-47. For a soldier that carries 60-100 pounds of armor and gear on patrol, every ounce counts. It is still a very lethal round, but it's not the magic bullet that will kill dozens with a single shot like the media portrays it.

    A gun is really only as powerful as its rate of fire and the cartridge it uses and as such, the AR-15 is the same as any other 0.223 caliber semi-auto varmint rifle. It just looks different (more on that later). The big difference is that the military version has full auto fire that is illegal and unavailable in the civilian version.

    So, what is the AR-15 and why is it called an assault rifle?

    It is called an assault rifle because the military uses a version that looks like it and shares the same modular design. That's it.

    Why does the military use this rifle? Again for boring logistical reasons: the rifle is easy to disassemble, clean, service and repair. The components are all of standardized sizes so you can mix and match parts and they will all fit. Not so with other rifles.

    This is also part of the reason why the civilian version is so popular. If you plunked down $1000 for a standard rifle and found that the rifle stock didn't fit you well or you wanted to add something to it, it isn't easy to do. You'd need to get a custom stock which is $$$.

    With an AR-15, the stock adjusts in length instantly with the pull of a lever, and you can take off and replace handgrips, buttstocks, sights, etc. very easily and relatively inexpensively to make it fit your body, i.e. it is versatile.

    The menacing look is admittedly part of its appeal, but it looks that way for practical reasons. All the major pieces come off easily, often without need for tools, so that it can be serviced and cleaned easily in the field. For civilians, the modularity provides easy customization to the look and feel, but has nothing to do with its lethality.

    Why does fit matter and why do I shoot? Some people do hunt, but I think a very good portion of us just target shoot at paper as shown in the second photo.

    The movies and computer game industry rather inaccurately portray shooting guns as a point-and-shoot exercise. Put the crosshairs on the target and you'll hit it. Bzzzzt.

    If you do the math, at 100 yards, to be off by 1-inch, that works out to a deviation of ~0.03 degrees. A very small amount. If you twitch and are off by 1 degree, you're not even on the paper. So you want a rifle that feels right so you can hold it the same way every time or you won't shoot well.

    So, to sum it up, I own an AR-15 because I only wanted to get one rifle. So, it needed to be versatile enough to be decent for 100-200 yd target shooting, but use ammo that is relatively inexpensive so it can be used for plinking cans and plastic bottles for fun. It also needed to be flexible enough so I could modify it to feel and look the way I liked without costing a lot of $$$.

    The AR-15 is popular because:

    1) It looks cool (I'll admit that)
    2) It can be easily customized and accessorized because all the parts are standard
    3) It isn't that expensive (at least it wasn't until recently)
    4) The 0.223 ammo it uses is the among the least expensive center-fire rifle cartridges.
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