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home : blogs_old : off the cuff September 14, 2014

Off the Cuff
By Chris A. Porter
WNI Web Developer and PVtrib.com webmaster shares his perspective on technology, local and national politics, and life in the Quad-city area.
Monday, January 7, 2013

Blog: The AR-15 - home defense, sporting rifle, assault weapon or indictment for tougher gun control laws?

 Chris A. Porter
WNI Digital Media

Courtesy photo

In light of several events in which firearms have been used to cause mayhem and tragedy over the last year, AR-15s and AR-15-style weapons have been at the foreground of the debate, seeming to defy description depending on the individual or news organization discussing them. One common consensus refers to them as 'assault weapons.' Another faction insists they are modern 'sporting rifles.'

Just over a week ago, ex-convict William Spengler set fire to his Webster, New York home and then opened fire on responding firefighters using a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, killing two. This was the very same rifle Adam Lanza used to shoot and kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School just ten days earlier. James Holmes also used a very similar weapon when he shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado earlier this year. Understandably, many have deemed the recurrences of use for this one particular weapon-of-choice a rather unsettling trend.

The National Shooting Sports Association describes the AR-15 as such: "while these rifles may cosmetically look like military rifles, they do not function the same way. AR-15-style rifles are NOT "assault weapons" or "assault rifles." An assault rifle is fully automatic -- a machine gun."

Here is Wikipedia's description of an assault weapon: "refers primarily (but not exclusively) to semi-automatic firearms utilizing an intermediate-power cartridge that possess the cosmetic features of a military assault rifle that is fully-automatic."


The latter seems a more plausible description, since this same firearm was commissioned by the U.S. Army in 1957 to gunmaker Armalite, Inc. The Army requested a fully-loaded rifle weighing in at only six pounds that could shoot 5.56 mm caliber high-velocity rounds at 500 meters in either full or semi-automatic modes. Armalite fulfilled this request with the AR-15 rifle. Carrying a 20-round magazine, the firearm entered into service in the 1960s and was renamed the M16 in accordance to the Army Nomenclature System. This weapon has become the standard service rifle issued to military soldiers since the Vietnam War. Rights to the semi-automatic equivalent (AR-15) for civilian use were later sold to firearms manufacturer Colt. Though Colt still owns the trademark, there are current modern variants of the AR-15 made by several independent manufacturers sold under different names. These particular rifles are the ones often referred to as 'AR-15-style' weapons.

Some diehard enthusiasts of these firearms have deemed AR-15s and AR-15-style weapons to be terrific 'sporting' rifles for things like hunting. Perhaps, but the standard NATO (5.56) or Remington (.223) caliber rounds don't seem to offer much stopping power if you're going after anything besides small game. Besides, there are a plethora of better suited single-shot, bolt-action rifles for hunting than one that boasts a maximum rate of fire at 45-rounds-per-minute. A necessity for multi-round magazines would at best be considered overkill even to the most impatient duck hunter. This rifle also seems rather impractical when hunting something larger, like say, an elk.

So then, the AR-15 must be the ultimate rifle for use in home defense? Not exactly. That is, unless your home is located in a war-torn installment in a third-world nation complete with lots of cover (jungle, partially destroyed buildings, etc.) as well as a few wide open spaces for the occasional spray-and-pray. AR-15-style weapons are typically long rifles that specialize in penetration from a distance, which isn't exactly optimal for closed-quarter situations, like say, a home invasion. Even in such a situation, a handgun would seem a much more practical weapon: you might be a bit less likely to have to explain the occasional errant slugs in your walls or air conditioning ducts using a .380 or a .45.

Practical use

Any debate surrounding the AR-15 and AR-15-style weapons should begin with focusing on its initial applied use. What was it created for? Even reading from the possible definitions above, for all intents and purposes, these firearms are truly best suited as weapons for mass destruction: used for controlling threats in a wartime conflict, be it a human threat, animal or heck, even extra-terrestrial if you're open-minded enough. In short, its specialty is being good at killing stuff dead, and namely the former. Thus, police and military forces using weapons like these to control and neutralize said threats makes a whole lot more logistical and tactical sense then permitting every John Q. GunOwner unfettered access to dispatch their own brand of civilian justice with them at will.

Another great practical use for these weapons is sport-shooting. I don't think many amateurs or serious enthusiasts would argue that these particular rifles really shine when used for outdoor target and range shooting. Although personally an AK-47/SKS man when it comes to my target shooting kicks, I think the AR-15 is definitely a more than suitable substitute. For the more professional enthusiast, both weapons can deliver loads of satisfaction in that they are both rock-solid durable, easy to use and assemble, very customizable and are extremely accurate for distance targets, I.E. inanimate objects.

Impractical use

Some sporting enthusiasts insist on broadening the definition of the AR-15 and AR-15-style weapon's practical uses, if only to conceal them from the radars of gun control advocates. But when you start to truly examine the weapon's specifications, those efforts seems akin to utilizing a tactical knife for cutting logs, or driving a Ferrari around to deliver pizzas. Feasible, but practical? Not so much. As I said above, these broader definitions can be hard sells even to most devout second amendment proponent.

To ban, or not to ban?

In our current media-infused society, some of us become bent on rushing straight to banning the instrument for destruction, like AR-15s and AR-15-style firearms, rather than try to discover and heal the key motivators behind their use in the aftermath of several recent national tragedies. Depending upon an individual's outlook, it is important to distinguish whether this behavior is more an irrational knee-jerk reaction or a fairly cogent solution.

Should we really begin sacrificing basic rights in exchange for an illusion (but never a guarantee) of security? If so, then I believe founding father Ben Franklin had a few words to say on that subject. Instead of making reactive decisions today that are mostly based on emotions that could blossom into negative effects that will backfire on us tomorrow, perhaps we should try suspending our fears for a bit and allow cooler heads among us to prevail.

The topic of establishing new restrictions to obtain firearms for private ownership in future sales is going to be a hot button debate for a while. As with any issue revolving around a constitutional right, not all parties are going to be satisfied with the eventual result. But it's going to be a difficult, but necessary question as America moves ahead. One that is certainly not going to go away anytime soon. Whatever the outcome might be, it should be ultimately decided at the state level, but federal mandate needs to establish a clear blueprint first.

History of prohibition

Prohibition in America is usually derived from political or religious pressures, where lawmakers attempt to provide a 'catch-all' solution for a myriad of epidemics and/or perceived problems. Unfortunately, these attempts to address the symptoms rather than the root causes of the problems are hardly ever successful.

In America's entire history of prohibition, bans have never resulted in total eradication of anything. To the contrary, they sometimes make things worse because they create infinite new black markets resulting in more subversive ways of distribution. Alcohol was banned via the Volstead Act from 1920 to 1933. Throughout these years, prohibition opened up the market for underground 'speakeasy' clubs, organized crime and moonshining. Today, post-ban, the alcohol industry still thrives as much as it ever did. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) estimates over $4 billion dollars worth of alcohol was sold throughout the country in 2011.

Nixon's War on Drugs policies in response to a heroin epidemic post-Vietnam War began in 1971. They gave birth to the DEA, the eventual creation of the drug czar and to date the country has spent $1 trillion dollars on prevention of controlled illegal substances. Still mostly in effect today, illegal drug cartels are as powerful as ever, over a million people are currently incarcerated for drug law violations, and the US has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world. In 40 years, these policies have failed to fully eradicate even one illegal controlled substance from our nation's soil.

One alternative

If outright bans of the AR-15 and AR-15-style weapons isn't a practical solution to address the prevention of mass shootings, then perhaps a more formal vetting process for purchasing firearms along with an expanded monitoring system should be adopted. For example, to possess a firearm in Japan applicants must go through very rigorous licensing procedures in place for gun ownership. Beyond a thorough police background check and family investigation, prospective gun owners must attend classes and pass a written test followed by a range class and shooting test. Then following a safety exam, they must take a 'mental test' at a local hospital. Candidates may further be denied possession for mental illness or drug addiction. License holders are limited to a few thousands rounds at a time and all transactions are registered.

Do current restrictions equal infringement upon the right to keep and bear arms in accordance the Second Amendment of the constitution? If mandatory background checks are an indicator, then that answer should be a definitive no. Going a step further, If our nation merged similar policies already in place for obtaining things like a simple drivers license, becoming a foster parent or even a mental health professional along with background checks, then 'law abiding citizens' shouldn't balk at them because these weapons were engineered for one specific purpose: to maim or kill another living thing. Thus, this responsibility should naturally have higher regulatory factors attached to it.

Evil abounds

Many arguments protesting gun control revolve around the adage that 'if guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns.' This slogan may ring true, but doesn't really address anything substantial. Outlaws were initially defined as criminals withdrawn all legal protection, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute or kill them. In pre-habeas corpus and due process times, they were considered exiles, and this class of individual existed long before the invention of firearms.

In modern societies with systems of law firmly established, we now commonly refer to these people as criminals or lawless individuals. They fall under the legal protections of the nation in which they are citizens, or the countries they reside, but they make mindful decisions to ignore certain laws. Said decisions may be affected by an individual's life situations, mental health and may even be spurred by an outward contempt for laws themselves. When a person gains the means and becomes motivated enough to create evil and mayhem upon the unsuspecting, there is very little that can be done to deter it beyond pure dumb luck. The odds are even slimmer for prevention when the individual(s) carrying out said acts have no interest in their own self-preservation.

To further clarify the last statement: All the gun control and all the prohibition in the world will do little to stop someone bent on causing death at all costs. If not a gun, then another suitable weapon will be used to do the job.

The road ahead

Will banning certain firearms, or even establishing stricter gun control change the attitudes of unlawful individuals? Not likely. Will it change how their future actions may be carried out? Perhaps, but the prevalence of firearms in America will always permit the unlawful to gain access to them through legitimate and illegitimate means. Enforcement is an ever finite resource. The same could be said about smoking, illegal drugs and many, many other things.

Conceding that new laws for firearms purchase may act as a deterrent, what can we do about the guns that already exist? Aside from voluntarily surrender for destruction or buy back programs, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to be done. New restrictions at the state level will need to grandfather in existing firearms. Authorities going door-to-door to citizens' homes to confiscate firearms isn't a practical reality, no matter what certain conspiracy theorists may say. It would be considered constitutionally unsound, authoritarian, it would create more underground markets and there isn't nearly enough law enforcement manpower to facilitate such a fruitless mission.

It will be crucial for our medical industry to continue doing its best to keep abreast of new mental health issues, diagnoses and signs that could lead to manic, destructive and antisocial behavior in patients. Even now they continue to make strides in isolating these kinds of symptoms for public awareness. This might be very beneficial to preventing similar tragedies in the future.

Off The Cuff - My Take:

Passions run high on both sides of the gun control debate, especially when discussing firearms widely considered assault weapons. With the recent tragedies of late, each side has very good reason. But I think we need to try and keep our heads about the issue. I think an outright ban on certain firearms defined as 'assault weapons' is simply reckless decision-making at its worst, but also believe our current forms of gun regulation, especially in the state of Arizona, are far too lax.

If you ban assault weapons, then we will see future massacres carried out with handguns. Ban handguns, then it will be done with shotguns. Ban shotguns, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum until we're back to throwing rocks at one another.

I'd elect to see new legislation for ALL firearms to be licensed AND registered along with a thorough background check and basic aptitude test for competency given by a law enforcement official upon purchase. NO GRANDFATHERING. Existing owners of firearms should get a one-year grace period to become compliant. Should the period expire, or the owner refuse, there may penalties, possible fines and their weapon could become subject to confiscation until compliance is met. Any law enforcement incidents involving said unregistered firearms would incur additional charges per infraction.

Any felony convictions would result in automatic mandatory suspension of all firearms licensing. Prohibited possessor laws would remain in place and would be monitored and enforced on as-needed basis. Those convicted of a felony in violation of said laws who do not willfully surrender their firearms prior to conviction within a time frame mandated by the state would be subject to arrest and have their weapons seized.

Some may consider these suggestions a pretty harsh form of gun control, and it would be precisely designed to be that way. I think it is a much more reasonable compromise to outright prohibition.

More comprehensive testing, a drug test along with a mental health exam could be a requirement for military spec firearms, such as a the AR-15 and AR-15-style firearms. All said licenses would be subject to expiration and renewal just like any others using the same requirements. Refusing to renew may also result in penalties and confiscation of firearm. Personally, I think this would add a whole new badly needed level of accountability and responsibility in firearms ownership.

I believe the right to bear arms is a right that should be taken very seriously, and I don't believe the interpretation is mutually exclusive to just firearms. In today's constantly evolving society, it is important our government clearly communicate to every citizen that exercising said right comes with consequences. Firearms should be no exception. Some may vehemently disagree with this, and that's certainly their prerogative. Nonetheless, it is my opinion on the matter.

Please bear in mind, these are simply suggestions, and in no way should they be considered a complete fix, but I think policies like these would keep a crucial constitutional right intact for the law abiding, and might be enough of a deterrent to make the unlawful reevaluate their actions before choosing a firearm to aid them in breaking laws. These ideas might not completely prevent future tragedies, but it certainly couldn't hurt.


Happy New Year, Thanks for reading, and as always, your thoughts are very much appreciated.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
Article comment by: M Soldier

Again, Our founding fathers knew that a government out of control would run into a wall of firepower if they tried to control its citizens. Wake up!!!! We are close the end!

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article comment by: chris log off your computer

people will use what ever rifle or handgun they choose for sporting, target practice they choose,plus let me tell you..come into my place uninvited, first gun closest is the one the uninvited will get to meet

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Article comment by: Look to other industrialized nations

As someone who has traveled the world, I have to say citizens of other industrialized nations think that we are absolutely bonkers. The gun-loving in this country is a sickness, and weapons that can do a lot of damage in a short period of time should no question be banned. Look at Australia there was one incident over 15 years ago (a school shooting). As soon as that occurred, there was a ban on those weapons and the country united together and willingly forfeited their guns. Guess what? There has not been a mass shooting since. Here are the facts: we ARE the most violent industrialized nation on the planet. No matter how you slice it, by supporting this insanity you have contributed to the deaths of far too many of our fellow citizens.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Ryan Burch

"AR-15-style weapons are typically long rifles that specialize in penetration from a distance, which isn't exactly optimal for closed-quarter situations, like say, a home invasion. Even in such a situation, a handgun would seem a much more practical weapon: you might be a bit less likely to have to explain the occasional errant slugs in your walls or air conditioning ducts using a .380 or a .45."

The AR-15 in 556 will punch through fewer walls than a 9mm or 45 handgun, or 12 gauge buckshot.

It is in fact often recommended as a home defense weapon because of this. The Military and Police are switching to carbine length ARs for urban clearing for the same reason.

My AR is one of the shortest rifles I own, and the mounted light and holographic sight make it an excellent home defense weapon.

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Article comment by: Citizen At Large

The Ar is a red herring, firearms are not the problem. Crazy people and the fact the the ACLU fights for their right to be crazy in public, is the issue. The Over dependence of self administered psychotropic drugs is part of the issue as well. Sandy hook is simply a pretext for the LEFT to haul out their tired old gun grabbing ploys, to further entrench themselves in power. You Chris, are just one of the many useful idiots, proffering up ideas to take our civil rights away by degrees. Shame on you.
Everyone Join the NRA, sign up a friend or loved one too. Call your Senators, wright your local papers and go out and get some more training and buy more guns and ammunition. ,

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Article comment by: Think B4 Speaking

Let us all not forget that this rifle was found in his car trunk, and not in the school itself, or was it used to kill those innocent children! He used hand guns to do this! On top of all this trying to ban stuff, we are also forgetting that all of these items are aready in play? So even if banned SICK people will still be able to get them for years to come. We are only hurting the one's who will follow the rule's?

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Article comment by: Derek Huffman

Allow me to retort:



Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Article comment by: Phil Whitehead

Let's not forget one VERY important matter here folks. An OP-ED piece is based on OPINION, just as much as FACT. In this man's case, more opinion than fact. Consider the source. As for me and my house, my AR15's (Yes, PLURAL), are very suitable for home defense, as well as other practical uses. That is MY opinion, as one who has used this type of rifle professionally for over 35 years with absolutely no problems, harmful side effects, skin conditions, injuries to myself or others, or accidents of any kind. Also, as a RESPONSIBLE firearms owner, when my rifles (and other weapons) are not in my immediate possession, they are secured in one of two 800lb safes. As they should be. So, instead of recommending draconian rule making, instead help people with safer storage and ALL will benefit. Not everyone can afford a gun safe. If a program is put together, using some of the vast monies spent on a plethora of worthless handout giveaways, (like government paid cell phones for people who won't get off of their a$$ and work) why not provide a subsidy for safe purchases to provide the protection against theft for the weapons people already own? Money is thrown away for far less worthy purposes, I assure you...

Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Article comment by: Chris is Crazy

Where do they find these bias writers? Its plain to see that Chris is just another Obamabot that has that ear to ear Kool Aid smile. Obama followers are zombies.....that roam the earth with no purpose....with NO intrest in BRAINS!

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Article comment by: Meredith Brunel

I appreciate your level-headed comments and informative review of the AR-15.

Still, I think though the cause of Newtown is a stew of societal problems, had Adam Lanza had only a knife, or a shotgun or handgun, and not a semi-automatic gun and mountains of ammo to place himself behind, he may not have even bothered and just killed his mother and himself instead.

The gun he used was his mother's anyway, and he passed completely under the radar of any gun or mental health restrictions.

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Article comment by: AR-15 Calibers are Available

The AR-15 likely can be, and has been built in more variations that any other rifle known to man. They are great for hunting and match target shooting, contrary to much of the B.S. spewed by the uneducated.

FN 5.728mm
7.6225mm Tokarev
919mm Parabellum
10mm Auto
.357 Sig
.40 S&W
.400 Corbon
.41 Action Express
.45 GAP
.45 Super
.45 ACP
.45 Winchester Magnum
.50 Action Express
5.5645mm NATO
6mm TCU
6mm PPC
6mm Whisper
6mm WOA
6mm Hagar
6mm BR Remington
6.5mm Whisper
6.5mm Grendel
6.5mm PPC
6.5 WSSM
6.5 WOA
6.8 mm Remington SPC
7mm Whisper
7mm TCU
.17 Remington
.17 HMR
.17 HM2
.204 Ruger
.20 Tactical
.20 Practical
.20 VarTarg
.221 Fireball
.22 LR
.22 WMR
.222 Remington
.222 Remington Magnum
.223 Remington Ackley Improved
223 WSSM
.243 Winchester
243 WSSM
.25 Winchester Super Short Magnum
.30 Remington
.300 Whisper
.30 Herrett Rimless Tactical
300 AAC Blackout (7.6235mm)
.30 RAR
300 OSSM
.30 Carbine
.35 Gremlin
.358 WSSM
.450 Bushmaster
.458 SOCOM
.50 Beowulf
Single shot .50 BMG

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Article comment by: Common Senzi

The last time something went bump in the night I called the police and grabbed my AR-15. I had a choice of pistols, shotguns and hunting rifles. The AR-15 however had been equipped with a mag light and bayonet. It worked very well for hunting down and detaining a tweeker recently released from prison and off his meds. It took about an hour for the police to arrive.

The idea that an AR15 is not suitable for home defense is nonsense.

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Article comment by: Well done!! !


Well done. Thoughtful and realistic. AND I READ THE WHOLE OPINION PIECE.

What many people forget is that JOE PUBLIC has the right "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I am an owner of guns. 80% of the mass killing events were committed by individuals who legally obtained guns, or could have. 80%. That is crazy!

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Bowden

Why does everyone that so obviously doesn't support the 2nd Amendment always feel the need to say they do?

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Article comment by: Ignorance is not bliss, it's just ignorance

Another in a long line of uninformed blah, blah, blah. Yeha, quote Wikipedia when you can't find the defintion you wish to use anyplace else. You can submit it and then reference it. Pretty revealing about the bias that permeates this drivel.


All rifles (not just semi-autmatic ones) account for less than 1/2 the murders done with bare hands in 2011. All rifles of all types account for only 325-350 murders per year in a country of what 50M rifles and 310M people.

Chris: here's a thought: Inform yourself, then lecture, not the other way around. Start with reading the Harvard study that found banning firearms does not result in less murders or suicides worldwide. If you can't figure out how to find it on your own, that would explain a lot.

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