The Media and the AR-15: Style Over Substance, Fear versus Fact

By Thomas L. Knapp

Oh, the poor, maligned AR-15. The American media seem to keep  thick files full of disinformation on this “assault rifle” available for instant use. Anti-AR-15 filler went up on the web and out on the airwaves before law enforcement had even named Omar Matteen as the perpetrator of the June 12 attack on The Pulse, a nightclub serving Orlando, Florida’s LGBTQ community. Here are a few problems with that filler.

Problem #1: Contra early speculation, the weapon Matteen used in his killing spree wasn’t an AR-15. Police initially described it as an “AR-15-type assault rifle.” Now we’re told it was a different weapon, the Sig Sauer MCX.

Problem #2: Some media outlets continue to propagate the myth that the “AR” in AR-15 stands for “assault rifle.” It actually stands for “Armalite,” the company that first produced the gun.

Problem #3: Speaking of which, the term “assault rifle” isn’t exactly meaningless, but it doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. All it means is that a weapon looks ugly and scary and therefore makes a nice juicy target for demagogues. The expired 1994-2004 US “assault weapons ban” was about cosmetic features — bayonet lugs, flash suppressors, pistol grips and so forth — not about the performance characteristics of the weapons it applied to.

Problem #4: In point of fact, as scary as it might look, the AR-15 is actually a fairly under-powered weapon for killing people. Most rifles for hunting large American game animals shoot bullets in the .270 to .308 caliber range. The AR-15 fires a .223 bullet, just a little bigger than the .22 that most rural American 12-year-olds used to hunt rabbits and squirrels with. That’s one reason the US military likes the M-16, its version of the AR-15 — kill an enemy soldier, his buddies keep fighting; wound an enemy soldier, two of his buddies stop fighting to help him out.

Problem #5: There’s nothing new, high-tech or unusual about the AR-15. “Semi-automatic” rifles — rifles which fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled and automatically reload themselves — have been around for more than a century, and the AR-15 itself for nearly 60 years. If someone tries to tell you that the AR-15 is an “automatic weapon” or a “machine gun,” they’re just flat wrong.

No amount of blaming the AR-15 (or the Sig Sauer MCX) for the Orlando attack will make the gun responsible for the attack. The shooter is to blame for the attack.

No amount of fear-mongering about the AR-15 or any other weapon will make victim disarmament — what its supporters call “gun control” — legislation either moral or practical. More than 100 million Americans own more than 300 million guns and are going to keep them.

Too bad a few of them weren’t at The Pulse on Sunday.

Sig Sauer MCX

Sig Sauer MCX

 

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Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.  He is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

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BobH
BobH
5 years ago

Right on!
And the media never points out that nearly all the recent mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones (or, more accurately, defense-free zones).