'America's gun': Truths, myths about AR guns

ByChuck Goudie and Ross Weidner, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel via WLS logo
Saturday, August 6, 2022
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The name "AR" is not an abbreviation for "assault rifle" or "automatic rifle," as commonly misreported.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There is an AR obsession in America. It prevails on both sides of the gun debate.

AR-15 rifles are beloved by gun enthusiasts and despised by gun opponents; objects of both fury and fiction-frequently, mischaracterized as a military weapon and often wrongly called an assault weapon.

The I-Team sorts out some AR-15 truths and myths about what's become known as "America's gun."

In an image-enamored society, it's a gun that may get so much attention because it looks like a battlefield weapon, even though the name "AR" is not an abbreviation for "assault rifle" or "automatic rifle," as commonly misreported.

AR stands for "Armalite," the name of the company that first made the rifle in the 1950s.

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"There's so many manufacturers now it's really become the choice of everybody for everything because it's so modular," said Rick Robertson, a firearms and tactics instructor.

Recently retired Aurora police commander Rick Robertson said the gun is popular with sportsmen and small game hunters because so many accessories are available, from special stocks and grips to extended magazines and ammo.

"That's what's really made it attractive. I don't think it's made it any more lethal or dangerous," Robertson said.

"It really is the Mr. Potato Head of the gun world," said Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooters Supplies & Indoor Range. "Where you can put on it whatever you want. Take off whatever you want."

"The common misconception that we're talking about with regard to hunting is that these platforms are not suitable for hunting, which is just factually untrue. There are dozens of species that are hunted with an AR platform of various calibers," said weapons instructor Sarah Natalie.

"In no way is this a military weapon. It may resemble, in some ways, a military weapon but it is not a weapon of war," Eldridge added.

"You don't need an AR-15 to defend your home," said Senator Tammy Duckworth, (D) Illinois.

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Duckworth is an Iraq veteran and Purple Heart recipient. She said AR-15s should be among the guns subject to an assault weapons ban, like the one that expired in 2004.

"An assault weapon is designed to tear up the human body," Duckworth said. "We have to get rid of these, these weapons of war, that can fire so many rounds so rapidly by using these high capacity magazines."

ARs don't fit many dictionary definitions of an assault rifle: "A rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle for infantry use." Nor do they fall into the category of high-powered or heavy weapons, even though experts say ARs can fire with more than twice the velocity of most pistols and strike with more force.

Also, combat rifles and long guns used by law enforcement can fire full-auto continuously with one trigger pull.

Full-auto machine guns have been outlawed for general public use since the 1930s.

But the war of words aside, in the wrong hands, AR-15s can and do wound and kill, just like any other gun that is misused.

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Consider mass shooters at Sandy Hook, the Las Vegas sniper, classrooms in Uvalde, Texas, and during the July 4th parade in north suburban Highland Park where seven people were shot dead and more than 30 wounded.

"It isn't the firearms that have changed. I think it's something in the minds of certain individuals and society itself," said Robertson. "And really, the question would be is: 'What's changed in a generation of people where this has become more acceptable for them to act this way; do this type of behaviors?"

Millions of semi-automatic AR-15s are now in legal use-by gun owners who say they practice shooting safety first and foremost. Although handguns remain the overwhelming weapon of choice for criminals, ARs remain the friction point in America's mass shooting gun conversation.

And lost in the clamor is a simple and obvious fact, whether it's an AR-15 rifle, a 9mm pistol or an old-style six-round revolver, if you get shot with any of them, you will be wounded and maybe killed.