I'm retired from the military, have a BA in English with a minor in Professional Writing, and really enjoy what I'm doing right now.
A Gun Owner's Experience With the AR-15 Rifle
I recently changed from ‘don’t give a damn’ to ‘very involved’ in this gun control debate, and the AR-15 rifle seems to be at the heart of it. Why is the AR-15 rifle such a big deal and why do so many of our elected gub’ment officials want it outlawed?
The AR-15 platform is the very popular civilian version of the U.S. military’s most successful combat rifle design, the M-16. I have a unique perspective on this topic and I want to share it with you.
I’m retired from the military after twenty-four years of service in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. Not as hoo-hah as the infantry to be sure, but still, the M-16 and I are very well acquainted. After I retired, I figured that if the day came when I needed a combat rifle again there would be plenty of them lying around.
To me, the AR-15 modern sport rifles, the civilian versions of the M-16, look like work; I look at them the way a retired plumber might view a toilet plunger. But then one day my brother in law handed me his AR-15 carbine and invited me to pop off a few rounds. I did. The muscle memory flooded back. Although it had been more than three years since I’d retired, the rifle eased right into my hands. I looked through the sights and squeezed off nine rounds in quick succession, each shot aimed and accurate. I smiled. It felt good.
California's Compliant Model of the AR-15
Later, I visited a friend who invited me out to a range near his home in California. He owned a California Compliant model of the AR-15. This was my first practical encounter with civilian gun control laws. The lower receiver was modified so that the magazine release required a pointed object to operate. My friend showed me how the tip of either a bullet or a ballpoint pen worked just fine. With a little practice, I could change a magazine as fast as ever, so that little bit of legislation seemed wasteful.
The magazines in California were restricted to ten rounds maximum capacity. To the annoyance of my friend, I liked the ten round magazines. They were small enough I could fit three of them in my jean's left front pocket and sit comfortably. The ten round magazines also gave the weapon a lower profile, which allowed me to tuck down into a lower, more stable prone firing position. Also, the shorter magazine fit all the way into the magazine well. From a few feet away it looked like there was no magazine in the rifle and this would cause most people to think it was not loaded. We spent half an hour firing at steel targets from 50 to 400 meters away, and soon I was getting a satisfying ‘ding’ from the target each time I fired. The magazine and magazine release restrictions didn’t spoil my fun but I did not like how a “gub’ment committee” had come up with a rather asinine and meaningless design change to America’s most popular rifle platform.
Using an AR-15 to Hunt Prairie Dogs
Back home in Oklahoma, I talked over the fence with my neighbor and he informed me he had put a scope on his rifle and would be bore sighting it that evening. Bore sighting is an important first step in getting a scope dialed in; it saves about a hundred rounds of ammo. Essentially, what amounts to a laser pointer is put in the bore of the rifle and the scope is adjusted so that the cross hairs cross where the laser pointer shines. For best results it should be done in the evening when it’s dark enough to see the laser dot at a distance but still light enough to see through the scope. He didn’t want me to freak out about him pointing his rifle at my house, which was the optimal fifty meters away from where he’d do his bore sighting.
I offered to help him. His AR rifle was a civilian version of the military’s M-4 carbine, with a 16” 1/9 twist barrel. He was mounting a 1x 40mm combat sight, which seemed like a good choice for the varmint hunting he planned to do that summer. Sometimes farmers invite shooters out to their land to pick off certain kinds of pests, usually prairie dogs.
The 5.56mm round, which is very nearly the same as the .223 caliber round but a few grains heavier, is what the M-16 and AR-15 and most other AR variants use. (.223 rounds weigh 55 grains, which is about 40% more than a penny, and go into your typical AR just fine, but I’d be wary of putting 5.56mm rounds in a .223 rifle because 5.56mm rounds weigh 77 grains, about the same as a nickle.) The .223 round was originally developed as a varmint round, specifically for killing prairie dogs at a distance. The previous preferred caliber of choice for prairie dog hunting was the common .22 rim fire. The .22 lacked the energy to ensure a quick, humane kill of anything bigger than a field mouse. The .223 round, however, destroys a prairie dog so quickly and completely, it doesn’t feel a thing.
My neighbor bore sighted his scope at 50 meters. A couple of days later, he returned from an undisclosed location and told me he had used only a dozen live rounds to get it sighted in at 200 meters. During the summer he did very well at shooting prairie dogs, usually at a distance of 200 meters. That fall I showed him how to take apart and clean his rifle. It had been five years since I’d taken an AR rifle apart for cleaning but my hands went right to work as though it were yesterday.
In my assigned duties in the Army I started out with just a plain old M16A1: .223 caliber, 55 grain bullet, 1/12 barrel twist, a real prairie dog killer indeed. Later, I carried an M16A2; 5.56mm, 77 grain bullet, 1/9 barrel twist. It felt awkward compared to the M16A1. It was front-heavy, the front sight was a relatively wide block, the rear peep sight was bigger and the trigger was two-stage with a stout 8-pound pull. Forget using the tip of the finger, best to use that second finger bone to pull that beast. And then I had to release the trigger all the way or it wouldn’t shoot again. It took some practice but I finally figured out how to accurately fire the M16A2.
After I retired, I felt free and unfettered and saw no need for me or anyone else to have a rifle of any kind. From what I saw of civilians, even the heavily armed ones, they just didn’t look like a threat. My ability to seek immediate cover and then maneuver and close with and destroy your typical hood rat gangster seemed more than adequate. But then I got sick. I had cancer, real bad. Colo-rectal cancer. My strength was already fading. There would be copious amounts of radiation and chemo and multiple surgeries and rehab ahead. Painful, too…once treatment began, I’d not be fit to fight so much as a toddler for at least a year.
How Cancer Changed My Perspective
That’s when I decided to arm myself. Losing my good health changed my perspective on gun ownership real quick. First I looked at pistols. I was familiar with both the Beretta M9 and the Colt M1911. The .45 was certainly a top choice but after shooting one at the gun store range I realized it would be difficult to fire accurately with one hand. I looked into revolvers and soon settled on the Colt .45 single-action revolver, 7½” barrel Cavalry model. It’s simple, rugged and reliable. No fumbling with a safety or making sure my hand or whatever is clear of the slide before I fire. It’s a six shooter but I put in just five rounds, leaving the chamber under the hammer empty. It’s so safe to carry, it’s ridiculous. I use 250 grain Long Colt bullets and I get three inch shot groups at twenty five meters firing one-handed. Resting the barrel on a sandbag, I can get similar shot groups at fifty meters. It’s a good gun.
I also got a shotgun. I chose a Mossberg 500 because I was familiar with it from the military and it’s relatively inexpensive. That took care of my open carry and home defense but I still felt there was a gap in my capabilities. What if a neighbor a quarter mile away had an angry mob bashing at their door, what could I do to help them?
Obviously, I needed a rifle. I chose the AR platform because I was familiar with it. I didn’t have another twenty years to develop the same degree of muscle memory with another design. However, I felt nothing but disdain for the 5.56mm cartridge. My days as a machine gunner gave me a chance to become familiar with the 7.62mm (.308 caliber) cartridge and I liked it, mostly because the bullets weigh more than two quarters, more than three times the mass of .223 rounds. For my neighborhood defense rifle, I chose the LR-308 from Panther Arms. (It’s like an AR-15 but for grown men.) It fires my favorite .308 caliber round, the 168 grain hollow point boat tail, like a champ. It does have a little kick to it, about the same as a 12 gauge shotgun firing rifled slugs, so it’s not for everyone.
And that’s how I went from ‘don’t give a damn’ to ‘very involved’ in this gun control debate. It’s the weak, the infirm, the elderly and the disabled who need guns. They need a way to defend themselves from the able-bodied. The AR offers a very good tool for people to do just that. A civilian AR-15 carbine chambered for the 5.56 caliber round is effective and has very little recoil. The proverbial “Little Old Lady” can use it effectively.
I can take an AR-15 rifle and place it in the hands of veterans as old as 70 years and they will find the weapon familiar because they’ve had training and experience on how to maintain, operate and accurately fire it and could still do so today.
It took me a while to figure out why the AR-15 is such a big deal and here it is: America’s rifle is the AR-15. It’s a source of national pride and represents the American spirit of freedom and independence. That’s the big deal with the AR-15 rifle.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Ruth Fisher on June 22, 2016:
As a senior citizen who had only handled a gun once before,i received a conceal and carry clas from my wonderful husband for Christmas. As a novice the instructor kept telling me to put both my thumbs to the left of my sig sauer p238 which he got me for our 25th wedding anniversary. My first shot misfired and the bullet ejected onto the ground. All my other target bullet holes hit the 11x8 target paper. If it were a human, I would taken out the aorta punctured the left lung and heart ,stomach and spleen. I only shot 2 magazines worth of 7 bullets worth. The instructor commented " perfect" and asked if I wanted to practice more. I'm frugal and didn't see the point of wasting money on ammo since I am a naturally good shot.
Jack Burton from The Midwest on June 19, 2016:
Thank you for your service and your common sense hub.