Sometimes called a civilian version of the military M16, the truth is the AR-15 was actually a precursor to
the M16, and was a design that was ultimately adapted into it. These early versions of the AR-15,
designed in 1957 and refined after the original maker, ArmaLite, sold the rights to Colt in 1959, were
fully automatic assault rifles, unlike the current generation of AR-15 civilian semi-autos. The US military
awarded the contract to colt to design the new general service weapon, and they furnished the AR-15.
After testing the government asked that certain changes be made, and these changes led directly to the
M16 in 1964.
The current crop of AR-15s are, as mentioned, all semi-automatic rifles designed for civilian use. They
are chambered in 5.56 x 45mm with a gas-operated rotating bolt. They are based upon the original
design, but are not fully automatic or select fire capable. While many people are under the mistaken
impression that the AR stands for ‘assault rifle’ this is not accurate, it actually stands for ArmaLite, the
company that originally designed the weapon. The AR-15, although commonly called one by the media,
is not actually an assault rifle at all. To be technically considered an assault rifle, a weapon needs to have
fully automatic or selective fire capability, neither of which are true of the AR-15. The media also
sometimes causes confusion by calling any semi-automatic rifle with a ‘military look’ an AR-15, which is
not the case, the AR-15 is a specific line of rifles manufactured by Colt.
AR-15s are fairly light, generally weighing between 5.5 and 8.5 pounds, are accurate, and have a large
ammo capacity, which can be made even larger with an extended magazine. For these reasons they are
a very popular rifle among both people looking for home or personal protection and sport shooters.
They are also favored in the survivalist and prepper communities, along with some militias and other
‘fringe’ groups. Customization is another drawing point, and there are a huge number of ways to modify
the standard AR-15. Some states have laws prohibiting hunting with semi-automatic rifles, and even
more have laws about minimum bullet diameter to hunt big game, and in most of these states a stock
5.56 x 45mm chambered AR-15 is not a legal hunting weapon. However, modified versions chambering a
slightly larger round can make excellent hunting rifles. Customizing details at AR15 website.
All in all the AR-15 is an excellent weapon that can perform a wide variety of functions for its owner. A
civilian, semi-automatic rifle, it has often been given a bad rap by the media who seem to be confused
about its nature and even identity, despite this it is one of the bestselling rifles in America. The AR-15
has an exceptional history, and far from being a watered down version of the M16, it is actually the
weapon that gave rise to it.