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In defense of semi-auto AR-15s

Prologue: my own position on guns continues to be mostly neutral and 'meh'. Well, nervous around actual guns. But I tend to react to arguments I see, and the current result of that is:

I've seen people ask why people need "military" weapons like the AR-15. Or semi-autos in general; in a more anti-gun phase myself, I'd proposed slashing handguns and semi-autos, leaving bolt-action rifles and such. But I've seen some spirited defenses.

There's a big class of people with hedonic reasons to favor the AR-15, which is veterans and reservists and Guardsmen and such. The AR-15 is the civilian (semi-auto) version of the M-16, and it makes sense to me that you'd want to continue using a gun like the one you trained on, or even continuing training on a gun similar to the one you'd use if called up. You know how to clean it, it feels and shoots similarly, etc.

Also, the AR-15/M-16 sound like good guns, in many ways. Highly modular, so in effect you have the option for many 'guns' by swapping in pieces. Designed for infantry, so lightweight and using light ammo, so easier to carry around -- even for hunting. Accurate despite its light weight, so good for target and varmint shooting. So, various features attractive even to legitimate civilians.

And despite what you might think at first, 'military' doesn't necessarily mean "all that great at killing people". Military tends to want lots of bullets in the air, to strafe crowds of troops or make them keep their heads down, which means being able to carry lots of ammo, which means light-weight bullets and low powder charges. There's apparently some debate about whether the M-16 has enough stopping power. If you really want to put someone down with one shot, get a large game hunting rifle with big cartridges...

Not that the AR-15 is *bad* at killing people, but it's 'military' aspects don't necessarily make it better, because the military also cares about "can our troops march with this all day". The most relevant aspect to (very rare) spree shootings would be the large magazines (and I'm told magazines can be swapped quickly anyway, and the really large -- 100 -- magazines often jam, which in fact happened to some of this year's shooters.) The most relevant aspect to everyday crime would be, uh, none? Which is why most US murders are done with handguns.

As for semi-automatics, I've read that they have less recoil than manual equivalents. I'm not sure why; some say heavier guns, or spreading the impulse over a longer time. I'd have guessed that it's because some of the energy and momentum is diverted into automatically ejecting the spent cartridge; it flies back instead of the gun. Anyway, this makes semi-autos more pleasant to fire, especially for the small or weak.

None of which is to say that guns are awesome and we should all have one, but it does mean I'm unsympathetic at the moment to "only crazy gun nuts would want military style rifles and semi-auto guns" statements that are so common among liberals.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/347767.html#comments

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
laudre
Jan. 17th, 2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
The AR-15 uses a gas system to cycle the action. Some of the gas used to propel the bullet is channelled out of a port in the barrel and, using that pressure, drives a piston that unlocks the bolt, ejects the cartridge, and so on. See here, or here for a more general article on gas systems. The motion of the piston offsets a good bit of the recoil from the bullet exiting the barrel (i.e., a counterweight); firing an AR-15 generates about as much kick as a 9-millimeter handgun, subjectively.
akirlu
Jan. 17th, 2013 07:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, this almost all makes sense to me. I have fired an AR-15, and liked it a lot for target shooting. It handles well, it's accurate, doesn't have too much of a kick. If I were in the market for a long arm (I'm not), particularly for a varmint gun, it would certainly be high on my list simply because it's one I already know and know that I like.

I dunno about the less recoil business, I suspect it may be a bit more complicated. My own preference is using .35 ammo in a .357 revolver -- the light load in the comparatively heavy-framed handgun tends to dampen the recoil pretty well, for me. On the other hand, with a 9mm Glock I find the recoil bounces the weapon all over the place because the gun frame is light and the load heavy, semi-auto or not.
harimad
Jan. 17th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
Ironically, your argument in favor of AR-15s and M-16s - such as lightweight and lots of bullets - are arguments that incline me to be more against civilians being allowed to own them.

Harimad,
close to the military in many ways
mindstalk
Jan. 18th, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
Why so?
w_wylfing
Jan. 17th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
My issue is that I don't think some people getting to use the guns they prefer is more important than decreasing gun violence. I would be happiest if *no one* had weapons that made killing easy, but I'm wiling to compromise, given that people live in areas where they feel guns are necessary for food, enjoyment, and protection. But you only need a few bullets to do any of those things--I just don't see a non-spree murder purpose for large numbers of bullets being released in short periods of time.
mindstalk
Jan. 17th, 2013 11:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can't answer that last point. OTOH, AFAIK AR-15 type guns are used very rarely and kill very few people in the US. Spree shootings are mediagenic, but the actual numbers are very very small. And it's not clear banning them would make that much difference. To me it sounds plausibly like X-raying the shoes of airline passengers.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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