AR-15: Fact versus Fiction

Posted by Jo Leen on 17th Jul 2018

The AR-15 has been in the news quite a bit lately and mostly inaccurate and sometimes even right out wrong information was shared by main stream media outlets.

Shooting the AR-15 caused one reporter to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. CNN reported that the AR-15 has a chainsaw attachment and others claim that this particular rifle can kill 15 people per second. "AR" stands for Assault Rifle etc.

So what is the AR-15 then and why is it being demonized by the media and gun control advocates?

The AR-15 started it’s life in 1956 when it was designed by U.S. manufacturer Armalite and named it the Armalite Rifle Model 15, shortened to AR-15.  And so the “AR” designation in its name does NOT stand for “Assault Rifle”.  In 1959 Armalite sold the design and patent to Colt Manufacturing.  When the patent expired in 1977, various other manufacturers began producing their own version of the AR-15.


The AR-15 is chambered in .223 Remington or 5.56x45 mm NATO and is a semi automatic sporting rifle.  The AR-15 is a civilian variant of the military M4A1 and M16A1 rifles (Canadian C8 and C7) and that’s where the confusion starts for misinformed reporters and the general public.
Both the AR-15 and its military cousins look alike on the outside.  The upper and lower receiver and furniture such as stock, hand guard and pistol grip look identical.  But what happens inside is what differentiates these rifles.

Canadian soldier with C8 Carbine

While the civilian AR-15 is semi automatic only (and not fully semi auto as CNN stated), the M4A1 and M16A1 are fully automatic.  The difference is that with the AR-15, you have to squeeze and release the trigger every time to fire a single round.  The military variants have a full auto option which allows the operator to keep the trigger squeezed and the rifle will continue to fire until the trigger is released or the magazine is empty, whatever happens first.  The internal components such as the lower receiver, bolt carrier, trigger, disconnector and safety/mode selector are different in the military variant and cannot be installed in the semi auto civilian AR-15. 

So, the reason for all the confusion is that while the semi auto and full auto variants look alike,  they both function differently.  The AR-15 has never been a military rifle and was never intended to be one.  It was meant to be a sporting rifle for target shooting.

It has been very popular with sport shooters in Canada because it can be modified and personalized to fit the operator’s needs and personal taste.  A lot of gun enthusiasts like the look of a military rifle which still conforms to Canadian gun laws.  The AR-15 is a restricted firearm and can therefore only be fired at a licensed shooting range.  It cannot be used for hunting purposes, pest control or “backyard plinking”, unlike non restricted rifles.

The AR-15 is highly customizable and can be outfitted with either Back Up Iron Sights (BUIS), red dot optics or magnifying scopes thanks to a top rail.  Bottom and side rails or M-LOK slots allow for other accessories to be mounted such as foregrips, flashlights, etc.  Basically every part can be changed and customized and manufacturers like MagPul, Mapleridge Armoury and Timber Creek Outdoors offer accessories and components in different shapes and colours.  However, a chainsaw is not an option.

The .223 Remington calibre is a fairly easy round to shoot, with low to no recoil and the AR-15 is very simple in its functionality and maintenance.  The AR-15 can easily be fired by young and old, men and women alike and there is no risk for contracting PTSD.  It is one of the firearms used in 3-gun competition, beside a shotgun and handgun.

So bottom line is that the AR-15 is by no means any more dangerous than any other rifle that can be legally purchased in Canada.  It might look like a military style rifle, but for all intents and purposes, it is and will be a semi auto sporting rifle.  There is nothing evil or scary about it.  It is not an assault rifle, since assault is an action and the AR-15 is an inanimate object.  Any rifle used for offensive purposes can therefore by definition be an assault rifle.  And to use a firearm for offensive purposes is illegal in Canada.