Very early AR-15 in a publicity shoot for Colt. The selling feature for this arm was its light weight and firepower. Life Magazine 1962
Responsibility isn’t about percentages. A responsible person and society knows what needs doing or ought to be done and gets it done even if it hurts. Many Americans seem to be forgetting that American Ideal, the courage of true conviction, of being willing to do the right thing. Too many people look at obvious problems through their own narrow perspective and do not consider the welfare of others, they just put their head in the sand. Yet all through American history individuals have sacrificed themselves for a vague idea of responsibility to others in order to preserve and protect the values and security of their countrymen that they know that will never benefit from themselves. Yet today it seems to many that sacrifice, even the smallest sacrifice, is for the other guy to do, not you. You can give lip service to fallen heroes but if you don’t walk the walk yourself you don’t deserve to be called a patriot or even a good American citizen. There is nothing worse than a hypocrite that thinks only of what they want and believes only what they want to hear.
I’ve grown disgusted at the oversimplification of problems in this country and the rejection of common sense ideas by naysayers to any proposed solution because just the solutions are not perfect and have a degree of uncertainty of consequence and result. I am sick of celebrity pundits and commentators tearing apart any proposed solution with nonsensical criticism in order to maintain a status quo that works to their own selfish benefit. I am sick of people posting “gotcha” memes and posts on Facebook or other media that only see things from their perspective and that they think is the bottom line in any argument and that they assume their friends also believe. Many people nowadays keep silent out of politeness and not wanting to appear contentious themselves. However, I think it is better to let a friend know that you disagree with them rather than stay silent and appear to be going along and get along in silence. Standing up and being counted is a sacrifice to do so as you risk the loss of that friend and popularity. I suggest that friends the abandon you because they think you disagree with them even on one subject never were your friends at all. Hence the reason for this article. “Something is rotten in Denmark” in this country when we know we have a problem but refuse to deal with it rationally.
I have my personal opinion about the spate of mass murders by individuals in this country and it is not a popular one. Neither “side” seems to be happy with it claiming my opinion is not strong enough or too extreme, but I would like to think I have looked at the problem rationally and without bias. The first thing that must be admitted are that our mass murders, when you look at the big picture, are relatively few in number and reflect only a small percentage of the unhappy things that occur that are a consequence of our American way of life and our many choices that freedom gives us. But then again, one of the responsibilities of freedom is that the individual be willing to sacrifice by choice some of his or her desires for the good of the community.
We know that some people who find themselves in emotionally unhappy circumstances blindly strike out and murder, maim, and terrorize even children without any thought of their responsibility as Americans to make individual decisions for the greater good. This has always happened in this country mostly in secret, but it happens. For every tragedy posted on the internet there are thousands of other done to individuals that don’t get past the local news or even get reported at all. The perpetrators of these awful deeds we hold in contempt and we try hard to blend them into one type of person that we can consider a sub-American, the evil subhuman whose actions we have no responsibility and accountability. However I am concerned that by doing this we are merely covering up for our own discomfort at seeing in the light of day the consequences of what are our selfish personal interests and the overthinking that some of our “rights” are threatened by the actions of others in response to these statistically insignificant events—these massacres always occur somewhere else, to other people but not to us and ours. But the plain fact is that these are not really statistically insignificant events, these mass-murders of helpless children and others are a majority insult to our American Ideal, like a pebble thrown in a pond, our pond, and the ripple effects go everywhere.
I think, in this country, there is a growing realization that we should start doing something about the rising number of these heinous crimes. This situation has actually happened before in our history an the solution was found that worked quite well for a long time, and our country and our freedoms did not suffer for it. Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a new technology surfaced, borne out of the crucible of World War I, the sub-machine gun, and gave rise to what were then deemed mass murders.
Of course, some boring history is essential to understanding where we came from and why we are here today with this new dilemma and crisis of conscience regarding the use of AR 15 type semi-automatic detachable magazine rifles which seem to be the prime weapon of choice. I will try to make this unwelcome intrusion of historical data as painless and brief as possible. So not be disheartened, after reading this, you will be an expert on the subject you want to defend or decry as your predilections guide you. To understand the problem clearly, you may need some technical and historical enlightenment. A explanation of the history of machine guns and their relationship to the modern detachable magazine semi auto rifle (AR 15 type) is advisable as it allows us to see the modern type weapon in proper perspective.
Prior to World War I a/k/a the Great War of 1914-1918, machine guns, weapons that fired multiple shots rapidly with a single pull of the trigger and continuing as long as the trigger is held back and the ammunition supply allows, had been made for the new modern armies starting in the 1890’s and were freely available to the public, at least in the United States. Possession by private citizens was limited only by their great cost, great weight, high maintenance needs, great clumsiness, and and the necessity of highly trained operators to be used effectively. They were notably first used in the United States by the US Navy in the 1898 Spanish American War and also by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Rider in the same conflict. They were a major advance in technology, and made the heavy multi-barreled Gatling gun obsolete. It should be pointed out that the Rough Riders two machine guns were purchased by wealthy private individuals and gifted to the unit, and as such they were not government issue although they were identical to the US Navy’s machine guns except in caliber.
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders’ Civilian Purchase Colt 1895 Machine Guns
Despite their availability before World War I machine guns in American in civilian hands saw little use as there was no need for them. However by the end of the first decade of the 20th Century more attention was being paid to them as labor unrest stirred in the land and solutions were sought by Corporations to control the grown of strikes and labor unions. Machine guns became useful for intimidating strikers and unionists, one notable use was an American machine gun made by Colt being the primary weapon of the corporate built Ludlow Death Car, a civilian car or truck which was turned into one of Americans first “armored cars”, and which was part of the sad story of the Ludlow massacre. But that is not germane to the current issue. .
These first machine guns, were heavy monsters, ranging in weight from forty to sixty pounds for the gun alone and attached to wheeled carriages or massive tripods that weighed just as much or more. They needed massive heavy barrels or water jackets to keep them operable due to the heat they generated. They were normally about four feet long, and required crews of three to four to manage them properly, not to mention to carry the heavy boxes of ammunition (belts of 250 rounds in wooden boxes) as these guns used a prodigious amount of ammunition, the same as used by the American soldier with their clumsy slow firing bolt action rifles. Once set up, which was a major endeavor, these machine guns could fire 8-10 rounds a second effectively out to 3,000 yards and some could maintain their fire for hours on end.
German MG 08 Heavy Machine Gun, Typical of WWI Machine Guns
These machine guns, while large and heavy, were also maintenance “hogs”, they required trained operators to function properly and fix them when parts broke with their provided tool kits. These guns were intended to reach out and engage enemy combat formations at long range and make any land they swept “no man’s land”. When the war started they were primarily used to follow the infantry and then, when the infantry stopped they were set up and were used to protect camps and repel enemy counter attacks. The prime tactic at the beginning of the war which had been used for several thousand years was to move large masses of men on foot back and forth in attack and counterattack at first armed with bow and arrows and spears with pointy ends and then long unwieldy rifles with knives with pointy ends attached (rifles with bayonets).
Unfortunately for the military planners of the day, they found out that these big heavy machine guns, once they stopped an attack or counterattack, created what we know today as trench warfare, a type of defensive warfare anchored by heavy machines guns that not only creates a “no man’s land” between the trenches but also a “killing ground” for artillery. Each side became increasingly adept at constantly pounding each others trench systems with heavy artillery creating massive casualties never know before in warfare. These big cannons were aided in no small part by the advent of the airplane which could map the enemy’s trenches from above as well as “spot” for artillery; the little planes eventually carry modified lighter versions of the machine guns as they then needed them to fight off the enemy’s “scout” airplanes which challenged the “observation” aircraft.
If you haven’t figured this out yet we are discussing technological evolution with a big E which will be relevant later in this text. Once you understand that evolution forces change as much as change forces evolution, it is much easier to understand how we have gotten to where we are today. A discussion of weight and how it affected the evolution to the modern AR-15 is a major factor in this discussion, for the evolution of firearms in the twentieth century turned into a search for lighter weaponry.
Weight is everything when you are talking military firearms. The modern civilian hunter of today only needs a rifle and a few rounds of ammunition hunt a deer. The hunters of today drive four wheelers or pick-up trucks to blinds where the bucks the bucks come to the them don’t have to worry about weight at all. Sixty years ago hunting used to be a bit different but that again is another story. What is essential to know that a soldier, be it 200 years ago or today, has to walk carrying a lot of equipment in order to just get to their enemy. Even today, military planners agonize over weights carried by their soldiers. For the WWI soldier fighting in the trenches, a heavy wood stocked rifle with bayonet and only about sixty rounds of ammunition could be carried and military planners had to live with that fact. With an effective rate of fire of about 20 rounds a minute, the soldier could shoot for three minutes in an intense battle before needing replenishment. This was insufficient firepower to overcome entrenched heavy machine guns firing about six hundred rounds per minute as well as the defending soldiers supporting firing their own 20 rounds a minute.
The French, who were suffering the most casualties from 1914-1916, were the first to attempt to find an answer. They designed and introduced the first practical assault rifle, the Chauchat CSRG 1915. This selective fire weapon became the grandfather of all similar weapons to follow. It wasn’t perfect, but it weighed “only” twenty pounds carrying a ridiculously curved (due to the rimmed French rifle round it was firing) detachable magazine that made relatively fast loading possible. It was still more of a team weapon than an individual weapon, usually an assistant would reload the piece while the gunner continued to fire but it had in it the seeds of the modern assault rife. It had a slow rate of automatic fire at two hundred fifty rounds a minute and you could almost fire it as fast in semi-auto mode. It jammed often, usually due to defective magazines, but as a strategic weapon it had considerable impact as it gave the infantry increased firepower when advancing against entrench heavy machine guns.
American Troops in 1918 with The CSRG 1915 Chauchat, the first Assault Rifle
The Chauchat (named for the inventor) was eventually nicknamed the Sho-Sho by US soldiers and is commonly called that today. Although it did not make a big impact initially in trench warfare as the French army was a spent force offensively due to the massive casualties of the first three years of the war, it became extremely important to allied military planners in 1918 as the Allies, re-invigorated by fresh American troops who had joined the war, began to conduct offensive operations again with energy.
I won’t stay on the story of the Chauchat long, it’s history was checkered in the Great War. It was considered at best, adequate for it’s purpose, and because of the Americans unwisely and too quickly attempting to copy it for their own rifle cartridge it became perhaps the most derided weapon in history, not an engineering disaster as claimed by some but a manufacturing disaster. Fortunately for the Americans, they had designed and in late 1918 began to field the far more superior B.A.R. Browning Automatic Rifle, a selective fire weapon greatly superior to the Sho-Sho. But more on the BAR later, it’s WWI history is unimportant to this subject, but it will return in future paragraphs due to it’s impact on the perception of the US civilian population in the 1930’s.
The 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, the BAR
What is relevant is that the Germans belatedly began to figure out the direction they wanted to go with infantry weapons to supplement their own rifles and heavy machine guns. They found themselves in 1917 on the strategic defensive. The British and French had held the line and were opting for mechanized monsters to defeat the trench system and US involvement was on the way. Germany was running out of everything, they were no position to copy the French Chauchat or develop a new weapon of similar sophistication. However they did something that would be of seminal influence on military procurement for the next thirty years. They opted for a fully automatic weapon using a pistol cartridge that would not smother enemy machine guns but would overcome the enemy as they broke into their trenches. The Germans produced the first successful sub-machine gun and with it the idea of combining the large assault rifle with it would come to fruition….but we are not quite there yet.
The German sub-machine gun had no impact on the war itself, only a small number were manufactured and only about one half issued, it was post war where the influence of it’s new technology spurred new development. The MP 18, or Machine Pistol 1918, was a short weapon, about the weight of a standard service rifle (the action required a heavier frame so the weight loss gained in the short barrel was nullified). However this weapon had a large capacity detachable magazine of thirty two rounds of pistol ammunition and a fully automatic rate of fire of about four hundred fifty rounds per minute. This gave the individual soldier, at short range the ability to stop five or six enemy troops (if more than six the seventh would probably kill you anyways) with bayonets with multiple pistol hits, and the capacity to be reloaded very quickly, the soldier being able to carry about one hundred twenty rounds of ammunition if needed. Of course the weapon was a very short range weapon, effective only out to about fifty yards in terms of accuracy. It was a decidedly close range weapon.
The German 1918 MP 18/I, the first practical Submachine Gun
But is was clearly the “new toy” for civilians to play with coming out of the war along with the airplane. To oversimplify because it doesn’t need to be made complicated, an American company, correctly analyzing the impact of WWI on firearms developement, in 1921 developed a sub-machine gun, commonly to be known as the Thompson or “Tommy Gun”, and offered it to the American market. It was chambered for the American .45 automatic pistol cartridge (.45 ACP) that was our military pistol cartridge but was also becoming a popular pistol cartridge with civilians as the production of the Colt pistol became more available to the public now that the military procurement had slowed down.
This Thompson sub-machine gun was a major change in American tastes for weapons and was a new spike in evolution. Prior to world war one the American handgun of choice was a revolver and the rifle of choice was the lever action or bolt action rifle. However a new interest in technology had been spurred by the excitement of the war and returning “doughboys” who were not as willing “to go back to the [technology] farm after they had seen Paree”. The Model T had already made American boys nuts over cars, now what was added to their imagination was airplanes, motorcycles, and the fascinating field of guns. Semi-auto pistols were increasing in market popularity and the sub-machine gun fit right in to the new modern equation of the time.
The only thing keeping the Thompson sub-machine gun from flooding the market was it’s expense. Money has always been a factor in human engineering evolution. We needed the low cost Model T to stimulate car purchasing and highway development. The Thompson sub-machine gun was no Model T, but it did capture the interest of those who could afford it and had a use for it, in America’s case it was the Police and unfortunately prohibition had created a wealthy underclass who also saw a need for it to counter police firepower. Are you getting a sense of what has comes around goes around?
Law Enforcement Detectives being issued Thompson Submachine Guns circa 1926
Although there was prohibition, there was a great demand by the people for alcohol and in the 1920’s they had plenty of money to purchase it. While the criminal underclass grew, there was still a good market for all and it was more about business than violence. As long as there was not much violence Law Enforcement tended to look the other way. Unfortunately the gangs started growing and when they did they started bumping into each other….and the violence started and the weapon of choice became the Tommy Gun. Please forgive the oversimplification of history, that is not the point of this treatise to teach history, trust me, we are getting there.
Now we get to more familiar territory as Hollywood then and now became and has stayed fascinated with the story of gangsters and assorted miscreants. Honest law-abiding citizens, the people that actually built the country have never had much impact on the entertainment industry. No background is needed on this subject, only to say that the criminal use of the Thompson Sub-machine gun in the late 1920’s and 1930’s captured the imagination of the public comparable to what we see today with the mass murders of trapped innocents by individuals with detachable magazine semi-auto rifles (its a little more complicated than that but we will get to that later).
There is no question that the number of people killed by sub-machine gun fire in during the gangster period was not great, and many of the victims were other criminals. But there were police officers and civilians also getting gunned down (short barreled shotguns probably killed more than all other weapons combined) and it was getting publicized, and yes it wasn’t just prohibition. The Great Depression brought on the bank robbers moved around constantly to pick soft targets where law enforcement opposition was minimal. But even here the weapon of choice, when it could be acquired was the Thompson sub-machine gun. But here is where the Browning Automatic Rifle gets involved.
The criminals of this era needed firepower. Semi-auto pistols in large and small caliber helped, shotguns with shorter barrels than used for hunting were a mainstay in every arsenal, and the Remington Semi-auto five shot fixed magazine rifle that had been on the market since 1909 but only a weapon for the more wealthy, gained new popularity both for criminals and law enforcement (these rifles would feature prominently in the killing of Bonnie and Clyde), but the Thompson, backed up by stolen Browning Automatic Rifles from lightly secured national guard arsenals gave the roving criminal gangs serious firepower. To counter, some Law Enforcement agencies had added fifteen round detachable magazines to their Remington Model 8’s. These detachable magazines tend to prove the point about the massive increase in firepower that is provided over the slow to reload fixed magazines as they had to be fed from the top with individual rounds or thumb pressed in five round “stripper clips” (remember this, you will want to remember this information at the end of the article).
1930’s Advertisement for the upgrade of the Remington Model 8
5 shot non-detachable magazine rifle to a 15 shot detachable
available to Law Enforcement and the general public
The bottom line is that the civilian firepower and mobility of 1930’s just got crazy. America had evolved from a lever/bolt action rifle and revolver society that rode a horse to a fast moving car using heavily armed juggernaut in just twenty years. That is what sometimes happens in evolution.
What also happened in evolution was the expansion of the new media of radio and film. Not only did we have newspapers but now electricity (and radios) were being brought to smaller towns and rural areas. And of course the movies (with newsreels) became an integral part of American entertainment. It was no longer a matter of local news or only the upper class having an impact on elections or state action like it was in the past, the individual middle class person was starting to have an impact of what went on in this country.
And the call went out that this nonsense needed to stop. Prohibition was repealed and suddenly the gangs lost a lot of financing, and worse for them, Congress acted, passing a series of laws that took law enforcement against the gangs and roving bank robbers and kidnappers from the State level to the Federal level. One of those laws was the National Firearms Act of 1934 which forced the registration and regulation of sub-machine guns and browning automatic rifles but also any machine gun, even those of WWI who by the 1930’s had no use by criminals ever, even the old unreliable Chauchats or German heavy machine guns brought home by many “doughboys” as souvenirs of some action were involved even those most of those were in the attic, basement, closet, or barn, offending no one. Short barreled shotguns were also regulated as were pistols with shoulder stocks.
This event is where the myth that machine guns were banned in America comes from. They were not banned, you just had to register them and follow the rather easy regulation of the Federal Government to own them. Machine guns quickly turned to the collectors and literally fell of the media radar. Criminals no longer wanted them around as any use, even within state lines, brought the Feds down on one’s head.
Literally, problem solved. No civil rights violated. Regulation, not confiscation kept the 2nd Amendment out of the picture and machine guns have never been heard from again although they were manufactured for the public until 1986 when manufacture was banned. Now if you want a machine gun and have the 10-40,000 dollars the collector market demands, you can have one.
Now we can jump to the 1960’s. From 1940 to 1963 things were pretty quiet. No major incidents to drum up interest by the media. We had fought two major wars but things were starting to heat up with the communists. Guns were not much of a subject.
Then things started happening. I can remember as a youth in the sixties drooling over the WWI and WWII military surplus guns being offered for sale to the public direct mail order in the back of the NRA magazine, the American rifleman. The 1960’s saw a time when many nations started cleaning out their military houses and selling these old surplus guns to an American market which had become re-interested in history and always looking for a bargain. This interest was from the Civil War through WWII and suddenly America was flooded with these old military surplus weapons, many of which were converted to deer rifles as some, especially the German Mausers were of very high quality and could be easily “sporterized”. These were five shot rifles that could be reloaded one round at a time or by a stripper clip (5 rounds being pressed down by the thumb–which was unpopular–soft handed civilians didn’t like stripper clips–we aren’t done on stripper clips yet).
To regress a moment, there was a reason that so many military weapons came to the US market in the 1960’s. Military needs had change and with it a new weapons technology was being borne. During WWII, due to the rush to war with most national economics still suffering, weapons not that different from WWI were being rushed into production. The US was an exception having just brought into use a modern eight shot semi-automatic that loaded from the top with all eight rounds going in at once. Not accepted was a competing design called the Johnson after the inventor and this rifle featured a ten shot rotary fixed magazines loaded with stripper clips. The M1’s ” en block” clip was preferred, as it was faster than stripper clips. Also coming to the fore was a small handy, just a little more powerful than pistol cartridge, fifteen shot detachable magazine M-1 Carbine. These proved popular and effective weapons in the war that were superior to the small arms of any other nation.
The M-1 Garand (top) and the M-1 Carbine (bottom)
The Johnson M941 Rifle failed to replace the the M-1 Garand but was used by the Dutch Army in the East Indies….interestingly it was the locking system of this rifle that would be used in the later M-16/AR-15 Rifles. This rifle featured a ten shot non-detachable rotary magazine that could be fed by using two 5 round stripper clips or individual rounds. Slower to load than a detachable magazine rifle, yet a significant increase in firepower over a bolt action rifle.
The Germans, despite their vaunted engineering skills, dropped the ball on making a good military rifle for WWII and merely used, to their detriment, a lightened and shortened version of their WWI M98 bolt action five shot rifle. Belated realizing that they were being outgunned by even the Russian (Soviets) who had developing a good semi-auto rifle with a detachable magazine and who used sub-machine guns in great numbers, the Germans came up with the bugaboo of Assault Gun haters today, the first true assault rifle, the MP-43, capable of full auto and semi-auto fire with a detachable 30 round magazine, made of stamped metal an pretty much the inspiration for every Assault gun made today. The ammunition was more powerful than a pistol and yet less powerful than an old style military rifle round. You could carry a lot more ammuntion and still engage your enemy out to what was the “new” combat range, about 300 yards. You are probably wondering why we didn’t start this article here with this gun but you will find out, this article is not a gun history but how history has impacted to the dilemna we have today.
Nazi Germany’s MP-43 (aka STG 44), the first practical Assault Rifle, a semi- automatic replica is now being made today for history enthusiasts
The effect of the MP-43 on the victors thinking was variable. The Russians took the lesson to heart and although they were excellent copiers of foreign technology they did not copy the German weapon because they already had a good action to build a similar weapon on. However the Soviets did adopt an intermediate sized cartridge and after designing a successful ten shot fixed magazine rifle they then developed the famous/infamous AK-47 Assault Rifle, the most produced weapon in history to which our soldiers had the misfortune to meet in the Vietnam war.
The ubiquitous AK-47 captured in Vietnam
The US on the other hand, decided that the select fire option and reduced size cartridge was a good concept for a modern infantry rifle, However they compromised their weapon. They shortened the fifty year old service cartridge and pretty much forced it on all of Nato and called it the 7.62 Nato, it was still on the powerful side of the intermediate cartridges but it adapted well to a conversion of the M-1 Garand with it’s eight shot top loading clip to a twenty shot detachable magazine with full auto fire capability. The M-14 as it was called was not really an assault rifle, it was big, powerful, and yes, clunky but it was cheap, accurate, and had the reliability of a hammer.
The US Army’s first attempt at an Assault Rifle in the late 1950’s,
the M-14, it proved still too much a rifle, too little a submachine gun
Unfortunately the nature of war was changing and so was the civilian concept of gun ownership. 1963 saw the assassination of one of the most beloved Presidents in history by an individual malcontent with the cheapest military surplus rifle that could be found on the mail order market, an old Italian short rifle that was obsolete before the start of World War II. His brother was also assassinated in 1968 while running for President in the Democratic Primary with the perpetrator using a handgun. The public insisted that Congress do something. It is the gun control act of 1968 that ended the direct mail order firearms industry and for a while the importation of military surplus firearms.
The public into the 1980’s, by making gun control one of the top lead issues in political campaigns, however the emphasis shifted against handguns as the technology of those weapons was changing faster than rifles and handguns now appeared to be the murder weapon of choice. The concept of single issue voting was gaining ground and many candidates were elected solely by their position on gun control. The NRA started to become a lobbying group first and an organization of enthusiasts second.
But something more ominous than the assassination of John F. Kennedy was going on that would affect American society more greatly. By 1965 the US military had realized that the M-14 was just too big and too clunky for modern warfare and had been working on a replacement. A new rifle was urgently needed that carried soldiers to battle in helicopters where space and weight was at a premium and jungle fighting where the range was in the dozens of yards rather than the hundreds of yards.
The M-16, first issued in Vietnam
Hence the introduction of the M-16 Assault Rifle and the modern age of American firearm technology. The M-16 was a throwback nod to the old German MP-43 but was built far better and the cartridge was a very modern .223 caliber that still had some impact out to about 300 yards but was more effective than a pistol caliber sub-machine gun and lighter than a rifle or a sub-machine gun. It was a weapon that was about four times as effective for the military than the M-14 although in some long range use with the US Navy the M-14 is still considered superior.
Although it had a checkered beginning, the M-16 was eventually carried with great fondness by several million US troops which also faced the Soviet AK-47 in battle. With these soldiers going back into civilian life in the 1970’s, just like in WWI, a new appreciation of modern technology was born and a market for the semi-automatic variant of the AR-15, a rifle so unlike any other American rifle as a phaser weapon will be to a rifle of the future.
Initially, the AR-15 very expensive and somewhat exclusive weapon in the 1970’s due to a small market as although the soldiers had a interest it took a while to get the bad memories of a lost war out of their systems, but eventually the interest and financing increased for these soldiers and their children and with the internet we now a whole new generation of young persons wanting the firepower that the AR-15 and its variants can give them. The AR-15 has turned into a cult weapon, a weapon of status and endless fascination. The aftermarket accessories for these rifles is nothing short of amazing, although to the layperson these rifles are all the same, yet there are innumerable bells and whistles to make them different from your buddies even though the basic concept is retained, a weapon suited for military use but having little practical or legitimate use in civilian hands.
What goes around, comes around, Thompsons in the 1920’s, AR-15’s in the 1970’s, note that Colt stated that as compared to the M-16 that the weapon does not sacrifice performance or weight characteristics, the AR-15 can still be bought at local gun shops by civilians while the old 1915 Chauchat (see earlier photo) is still heavy regulated by the Federal Government
For a while a semi-auto variant of the Ak-47 competed and obtained some notoriety, but the AR-15 and it’s variants have changed the entire concept of gun ownership in America, partially fueled by the internet. There has been a major break between hunters, target shooters, history buffs, and wealthy collectors who tended to influence the NRA in days past, but the new generations of gun owners are AR-15 devotees and the type and it’s variations dominate the firearms markets and firearms media. Now the NRA just gives lip service to collectors and sportsmen while kowtowing to the wishes of a younger and much more aggressive generation, a generation bred on the frenzied violence of computer games and film where firepower is everything.
This Advertisement Pretty much Sums up much of the modern market for the AR-15 and it’s variants, a harmless fantasy for most, but not for all
So it’s easy for Liberals to hate the new generation of AR-15 cultists who have taken over the gun market and certainly it is easy for the AR-15 people to hate “snowflakes”.
Conservatives are caught in the middle as are the moderates. Even though many gun owners can make the distinction, the GOP cannot, for the GOP all gun owners are the same and for Liberals all gun owners are held in contempt.
Interestingly, just like the days when the Thompson became the hated weapon of the gangster, the AR-15 has become the hated weapon of the lone-wolf mass murderer. The fact is that 99.9% of AR-15 owners users are harmless hobbyists with no desire to hurt anyone but with a passion for ownership and dressing up the rifle like a doll. But that doesn’t change the fact that children are being murdered in an unacceptable to a civilized society.
But what makes the AR-15 (or a similar designed weapon–there are foreign import equivalents) such a deadly weapon in the hands of a mass murderer? No expert will rationally state that the AR-15 is not the deadliest weapon we have in civilian hands, far outstripping the efficiency of the obsolete machine guns being still so rigorously regulated by the Federal Government. Grandma beware if great-Grandpa’s old Chauchat that has been sitting in the attic for seventy years is found and wasn’t registered during some of the amnesty periods of the 50’s and 60’s or if Grandpa dies and the registration paperwork is now obsolete. There is the irony here. The AR-15 is deadlier in civilian hands, equal to even the newest assault rifles carried by the US Military. I kid you not and I can prove it, actually anyone can.
Because of it’s military antecedents, the AR is a weapon exclusively designed to kill people in the most efficient manner possible. It’s lethality is growing due to technological improvements, “bump stocks” being the most recent bizarre technological innovation. The AR-15 semi-auto is a very short throw action with a small cartridge that operates very fast, must faster than the human with the trigger can pull. Bump stocks work by turning the energy of recoil usually absorbed into the stock in pushing the trigger forward again into the fixed trigger finger so the trigger is pulled only one time by the finger of the shooter, after that the trigger is bumped forward against the stationary shooter finger. Bump stocks create the ability of the AR-15 or it’s variants the ability to fire up to 800 rounds a minute, and that faster than any military sub-machine gun ever made and equal to the latest variant of the M-16 but full automatic fire is not really the real problem. Although Bump stocks allow for spray firing over a large area and that can be bad in crowds in exposed areas as we saw in Las Vegas, but as we know, most of the mass murders that have been perpetuated have been done so with the regular semi-auto AR-15 style weapon with trapped victims in small areas.
What gives the AR-15 and it’s variants weapons (and to a lesser extent the olderAK-47 style) so much effectiveness is that it can sustain controlled semi-auto fire for thirty rounds at a rate of about 3-4 rounds a second (180-240 rounds a minute–about the same as that old WWI Chauchat) for ten seconds and can be reloaded in about three seconds especially if two magazines are taped or have one of those add on accessories that allow you to do it. This trick was learned by American GI’s in World War II and is commonly used today. This gives the shooter sixty rounds he can fire in a controlled manner in about 20-25 or so seconds. This allows him to shoot down dozens of people and then finish off the wounded at relative leisure. Once shot with one of these cartridges it is not like it is in the movies. The body often goes into total shock. You just lie there in terror or a stupor until you are shot again.
The comparative differences with the old World War I Chauchat is not just theoretical, it is real. The Chauchat is guaranteed to give you temporary stoppages and glitches, these early machine weapons were not perfect, so that slows down the rate of fire. The AR almost 100% reliable. The Chauchat is four times as heavy as the AR and it can’t be lifted to your shoulder to aim without great personal effort (it was designed to be fired from the hip or preferably prone). The AR is easy to shoulder and easy to stay on target. The Chauchat as a long ponderous recoil, the AR is gentle and short. The Chauchat is physically long and clumsy while the AR is short and handy. The Chauchat needs a team to reload fast and cover the shooter with addition firepower while all this is going on. Not so the AR-15, magazines can be dropped and loaded with great ease. Yet, despite the differences, unregistered Chauchats and it’s early brothers are today still being remorselessly hunted by the Federal government and people are going to jail for having the dust and rust covered family heirloom, and at the same time I can go down and purchase an AR-15 type at the gun shop or gun show today and show it off to all my friends. And the ammo for the AR is cheap and easy to get. Try finding some old French 100 year old ammo that will function in the Chauchat. Yet I can go to a Federal prison (not club Fed) for having an unregistered Chauchat in my attic? Now are you beginning to see the absurdity?
When Charles Whitman committed his massacre from the UT Tower in Texas he had several weapons but the one’s he used most was a scoped bolt action deer rifle and an M-1 carbine. He used the M-1 and the deer rifle because the AR-15 wasn’t available. His mode of killing was not shooting trapped people but sniping exposed people while he fired from a protected location. He killed and wounded 48. This proves you don’t have to have an AR-15 to commit mass murder. The M-1 carbine is not a weapon of choice for a criminal, modern handguns are far more lethal. Yet had Whitman had an AR with a telescopic lens, how much more catastrophic would his rampage been?
With the AR-15 type weapon you have a unique package of death, even though it is rarely used for such when percentages are taken into account but when mass murderers occur the AR-15 or it’s friends are generally the weapon of choice. It is a bomb in the hands of a vicious unhappy malcontent that he can go buy locally or he can get a friend to buy from him or he can buy a used one at a gun show. Gun shows are not the problem…get that out of your head. The problem is the easy availability of a particular class of weapon Yet, the killings can be slowed down over time with a minimum of inconvenient to the 99.9% of users who do not misuse it. It is just about finding the right way to catch a lot fish.
The best way to catch a lot of fish is with a net, but when use a net it is liable to catch other things you don’t want to have to deal one. The problem of gun legislation in the past is that the net has either been too big or too small. Small nets try to solve the problem with the minimum of area, but they are easily avoided by the fish. The problem with too big a net you catch a lot of fish waste your time saving the sea turtles and having to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Mixed metaphors aside, the problem with gun legislation is how do you fix the problem without violating the civil rights of gun owners or engaging their full opposition?
The National Firearms Act of 1934 was a big net trying to take care of a perceived big problem and while it did some good, it also created a near useless self-perpetuating bureaucracy which decade after decade mindlessly enforces what has become an obsolete law. It gave law enforcement no flexibility to separate the wheat from the chaff and over the last fifty years has caused more problems than it has fixed because it focuses Federal resources on old obsolete technology that could use a lot less regulating.
It’s time to write a firearms law that sits in the “Goldilocks Zone” and balances protecting the public and gun owners retaining their freedoms. That is only going to happen if we work together like rational people and start drafting common sense legislation. A law that has to catch the AR-15’s and it’s variants, including AK-47’s and foreign imports has to be broad. At least the old National Firearms Act did something useful back in the day when it regulated the technology that was advanced in its day. It was because people came together and got something done that needed to be done.
It seems that with the virulent political partisanship we see today and the careful, almost scientific political strategies of the today forcing us into one extreme camp or another that nothing useful seems to get done. When something does get done it almost always creates a reaction that just sets off another partisan knee jerk explosion. What must be done is to recognize that a problem exists and find the broadest common denominator and then create a consensus on how to fix it.
In this case the common denominator is the semi-automatic rifle with detachable magazine. With examples of exceptions below, these weapons need to be treated the same as machine guns with a ban on future manufacture and importation to go into effect, the requirement of registration with a reasonable grace period of one or two years, and for the Federal government to regulate them the same manner as machine guns. I am not talking confiscation, I am a talking regulation. Machine guns were never taken away from the public, there was just a requirement that they be handled with care and that citizens take personal responsibility for the possession of these weapons while recognizing their power and potential for abuse. It is a community acknowledgement that these weapons, due to their greater capacity for abuse, be handled with greater care to ensure that they do not get into the wrong hands.
I can hear the people saying that requiring registration and regulation of these special weapons covers too broad a type as there are several sporting weapons that are never used in crime that usually use five shot detachable magazines and are not readily adaptable to large size mags due to the type of ammo they use. A rational law can easily filter those exceptions out of the net. For example, any semi-auto rifle made before 1960 can be made exempt, these are almost all collector guns and they are old technology. This is a law that deals with modern technology. Any rifle with a full cartridge weight of so many ounces or with a certain long can be exempt (big cartridges just are not practical in AR type weapons). By the cartridge legislation we remove almost all semi-auto game rifles from the list like the Brownings and Remingtons that have been around for half a century and haven’t hurt anyone. And we don’t ban cartridges. The deer might be upset but they have bigger problems. An of course, yes, .22 rimfire rifles can be easily excluded. Want a .22 rimfire rifle to look like an AR-15? No problem, currently there is a 30 shot .22 caliber WWII MP-43 “replica” and it’s not hurting anyone. There are other examples an possibilities for a fair law that does a lot of public good with little harm.
And what of the poor manufacturers and importers who will lose all that business? Necessity is the mother of invention. The great majority of AR and their variants can be made with non-detachable magazines of ten shots and a receiver could also be made to convert current AR’s to the system if one did not want to register his or her current detachable magazine lower receiver. The lower receiver could be registered or destroyed at ones choice and the lower receiver with the ten shot fix magazine could be substituted so the weapon could be retained as a non-registerable gun. The could be designed to be loaded singly or with “stripper clips” (remember when I told you that the subject of stripper clips would come up again)? And the Johnson rifle and the Johnson rifle with its ten shot non-detachable magazine is another.
Intelligent people can be rational and fair and take into account all reasonable needs of people willing to compromise. The time of the demagogues using guns as a guns as a political tool has to end else we are going to wind up with a society with no freedoms at all. And while we are at it, let’s stop picking on the poor old Chauchat and all those WWI era machine guns that the Federal government spends a lot of time and money regulating and tracking down. Let them be registered and regulated when found and their possessors not threatened and the guns not confiscated or thrown in the back of a museum.
Let’s get our American mojo back, drop this conservative and liberal posturing, and start being Americans first again. Let’s bring back the American Ideal.
Copyright 2018 Alan K. Sumrall
Alan K. “Al” Sumrall is a retired Attorney at Law in Texas with an undergraduate degree in Law Enforcement/Police Science. He is sixty-three years old. He has had over thirty-five years in practice as a Prosecutor/Defense attorney in Criminal Law and a Government Attorney in quasi-criminal law. Additionally he has significant experience in family violence cases. He is an history enthusiast with two published works and has significant experience in firearms history as well as having experienced a wide variety of historical firearms over his life. Although very much a Jack-of-all-trades history buff, his current historical interest is American History in the first four decades of the 20th Century. His forte is historical research of primary sources of history.