- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My daughter enlisted in the Army not too long after Sept. 11, 2001. Before she was through, she managed to survive two tours in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan. Upon her return, she bought herself an AR-15, the semi-automatic version of the rifle she carried while on active duty. She takes it to the range and enjoys shooting.

She shoots the AR-15 today because, like most veterans since the 1960s, she relied on a version of it for her very survival. The familiarity of those men and women who have served with the rifle helps explain why it is the most widely owned and purchased long arm in the United States today. It may also go a long way toward explaining why proposals to ban its sale, ownership and use generates such public backlash that Congress and most states have refused to pass such bans even though they are backed by the president, most liberals and much of the media.

There are something on the order of 4.5 million AR-15s in private hands today. They are used by competitive shooters, plinkers, hunters and are kept by men and women who rely on them for home defense.

Moreover, the AR-15 is in the tradition of the most popular firearms since our nation’s founding. As veterans have returned to civilian life, they have always brought with them a fondness for the arms on which they depended while in the service. Toward the end of the Civil War, Union soldiers began receiving Spencer Repeating Rifles which, unlike most of the guns used during that war, could fire as many as seven rounds without reloading. After the war, the lever action rifles from Winchester that followed became the most popular civilian rifles of their day.

The lever action is still popular today, but things changed when veterans began returning from service after World War I. They were issued, trained on and carried what was known as the 1903 Springfield, a bolt action repeating rifle which after the war became the iconic hunting arm of all time and is still the favorite of most hunters today. Each of these firearms was adopted by the military for very good reasons, as each incorporated the best technology available at the time. They also proved rugged, reliable and accurate.

World War II saw the advent of the semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms that have been popular ever since. The legendary Garand and the little M1 carbine were superior to the weapons of our adversaries and beloved by those who carried and survived the war because of them. After the war, semiautomatic or “autoloaders” as they were known began to appear on the civilian market. Youngsters in the 1950s began finding semi-automatic .22 caliber rifles under the family Christmas tree and first learned to shoot and hunt with them.

It wasn’t until later in the century that semi-automatic versions of the new lighter rifles first issued to those serving in Vietnam began appearing on the civilian market. The military versions of the new rifles could be fired either as autoloaders or as fully automatic weapons, but since fully automatic weapons were off-limits to most civilians, the ARs available for purchase were all semi-autos. They became popular through the 1990s, and for the same reasons their predecessors had proved so attractive to civilian shooters and hunters.

Today there are perhaps as many as a hundred companies that produce various versions of the AR platform for civilian use. More Americans _ civilian and military alike _ receive their long gun or rifle training with ARs than any other rifle. The AR “platform” can be customized in dozens of ways and the resulting firearms dominate competitive shooting and specialized hunting. It is a rifle that women can shoot with ease and its millions of users enjoy and value. Its popularity is a tribute to the rifle itself and to the influence of returning veterans on the shooting sports.

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