Meet the AR-15: reckless killer or America's rifle?

Phil Briggs
February 22, 2018 - 1:45 pm

First, let me preface this article with an important fact- I'm not a combat veteran. (While I was in the Navy, I mostly shot a camera.)  

So, during this week of heated gun control discussions, I thought firing an AR-15 for the very first time, may help illustrate whether this weapon is an illegitmate killing machine with ridiculous power or simply, another type of semi-automatic rifle.  

I headed 50 miles north of Washington DC, away from the gun related protests outside the US Capitol and the White House, to The Machine Gun Nest in Frederick, MD. It's name implies, you can rent everything from handguns to fully automatic machine guns. Before my introduction to the ominous AR-15, I filled out a detailed questionaire, (designed to detemine my sanity, criminal history and level of experience with firearms) was given a safety briefing and training on the rifle. 

I admitted it was my first time shooting an AR, and based on what I've heard, I was ready for a pretty intense experience. "The AR, like all guns, is designed for shooting. And that requires you to be safe and follow the rules when doing it. That's what I'm here for," explained Kyle, Marine Corps veteran and TGMN safety instructor, "Like a paint brush, you can give one to me and one to Davinci, but only one of us will make real art.  It's all in how you use it."

The safety brief was sufficient enough to show me how to load the magazine (holding 30 rounds) and perfom the basic functions required to safely load, engage and fire the gun.

Also, how to properly sight the target and safely fire it down range. Equipped with the right protection and confident that I could use it safely, I went through two heavy doors and entered the range.

A range safety officer pointed me in the direction of my lane, where I removed the rifle from its case and began to load the magazine.  I put 10, .223 brass rounds into the mag and slowly repeated the steps I had just learned to fire the gun. I'll admit, I had some jitters- a combination of my expectations (based on what I've heard about this gun), my inexperience with it and the sounds of gun fire coming from the lanes on either side of me.

Sweating a bit, I took a deep breath and calmly switched off the safety, shouldered the rifle and did my best to align the red center of the target just above the sight on the barrel. Now, with the target about 20 yards away, I braced myself and gave the trigger a steady squeeze. 

"Kapow!" the shell bounced off my forearm and the smell of gunpowder became apparent, but the recoil was minimal. I had previously fired 12 gague shotguns and other hunting rifles, and this really had the same (or less) kick than a .22. 

I reset my stance, raised the AR-15 to my shoulder, only this time I wanted to see what it would be like to fire the rounds quickly. So once I felt confident with my sight, I quickly squeezed off four to five rounds in a matter of seconds, "bang-bang-bang-bang-bang!"

Now, came the ultimate test--accuracy. As I pressed the button to bring the target back, I recalled a recent Washington Post article that described the AR-15 as a weapon designed to, "efficiently mow down the enemy." This would certainly prove whether I was, with little training, capable of that.

I looked closely at the target and found only one bullet had hit the outer ring of the target, leaving four rounds outside the circle entirely. Sadly, I was a horrible marksman.

I shot a few more rounds down range and then exited, with a little more experience and a lot less pride. 


So, here's what I learned from my first time shooting an AR-15:

  • It's a light weight rifle that has very little recoil. It's a comfortable gun to shoot.
  • When I fired in rapid succesion, I was not accurate... at all! (I clearly am not a marksman)
  • The larger capacity magazine did not feel more dangerous or deadly. It just allowed me to shoot at my target more times, without having to reload. (I did some target shooting with my Father in-law last Fall, and we spent far more time re-loading, as his rifle only chambered 3 rounds at a time)

Driving home, I heard more reports on the radio of people calling for greater restrictions on assault rifles, specifically the AR-15. Later, I scrolled my social media and saw more people declaring we need to ban sales of the AR-15.   

But, the AR-15 I fired felt no more dangerous than other guns I've shot. Whether I could fire rapidly or not, didn't make me feel like I was holding a killing machine. 

Whether it was the AR or my dad's shotgun, I've always understood that guns shoot bullets...and bullets kill.

In an attempt to make our world safer, we will have to discuss a lot of things including, security measures in public places, access to mental health and even our constitutional ammendments. 

Now, having shot the villainous AR-15 for the first time, I mostly remember the words of my safety instructor Kyle: "There are no assault rifles, just assault people."