Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Anderson: Gun debate not definitive

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 21, 2013 - 6:52 AM

This is not a column about gun control -- everyone seems to have his or her mind made up about that topic. Instead, the subject is guns, specifically the AR-style shown here commonly referred to by the media as an "assault rifle."

Whether this type of "firearm" (the proper term for a gun used to hunt game or critters such as foxes and coyotes) or "weapon" (which more typically refers to guns used for self-defense, war, etc.) is in fact an assault rifle, or an assault-style rifle, depends on who's doing the defining.

New York state, for instance, now classifies the gun shown here as an assault rifle, because it has a number of features (telescoping stock, detachable magazine, pistol grip) that officials there have determined fit the description.

Similarly, this semiautomatic rifle would be an assault rifle under the federal ban that defined certain firearms/weapons as such between 1994-2004.

That said, let's take a look at the rifle, which is somewhat commonly used by hunters nationwide, particularly those seeking varmints and hogs, but also deer, that is the subject of so much attention, including that of President Obama, and perhaps some Minnesota legislators as well.

• • •

Some background:

The first version of the AR-15 was developed in 1956 by Eugene Stoner and other engineers at the Fairchild ArmaLite Corp. (thus the "AR," which does not stand for "assault rifle") of Illinois. Gas-operated and chambered in .223 (5.56 millimeter), the gun had very little recoil.

In 1959, ArmaLite licensed the AR-15 to Colt, which subsequently sold the rifles to the U.S. military (as well as to armed forces of other nations) for use in Vietnam.

Soldiers quickly dubbed the weapon "the little black rifle" while the military named it the M16, replacing the M14.

Importantly -- to draw distinctions with current civilian AR-style rifles, which are semiautomatics -- the M16 could be fired either fully automatically or semiautomatically.

Problems followed. The Southeast Asian environment wasn't kind to early versions of the rifle, and cleaning it meticulously was required to keep it operational. Additionally, the 5.56 mm rounds were smaller than the 7.62 mm NATO rounds previously used by the military, and some soldiers complained they lacked stopping power. Accuracy of the rifle beyond 200 meters also was questioned.

Improvements followed, and by 1966 more than 400,000 M16s had been delivered to the military. Updated versions are still used by the military today.

Vietnam was a huge operation for the United States, involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen. For many, their familiarity with the M16 followed them home, and they picked up on civilian versions of the firearm/weapon (which appear similar to their military counterparts but are configured differently internally). Some wanted the rifle for hunting, some for home protection, some for target shooting or other purposes.

A watershed moment in the history of this type of rifle occurred in 1989, when Patrick Edward Purdy used a Type 56 assault rifle (a Chinese knock-off of the Russian-made AK-47) in a Stockton, Calif., school shooting.

Five people were killed (six, counting Purdy's suicide) in Stockton and 30 were injured, a tragic toll that helped set the stage in 1994 for the 10-year federal ban on "assault rifles" that -- as with New York's most recent action -- focused largely on the rifle's appearance. Its semiautomatic action is the same one used in many hunting rifles and shotguns.

• • •

At least a couple of occurrences led to the popularity today of what are referred to by many as "ARs."

One is that the federal ban was lifted in 2004, in part because of politics and in part because data were lacking that showed the ban had any effect on crime. Also, the ban was circumvented in some cases when manufacturers altered the rifle's appearance.

Secondly, some patents attending design and manufacture of the AR-15 expired, making room for new versions of the rifle, along with new accessories.

Concurrently, generally, America (in my view) and some of its gun owners have become evermore fascinated with things military, or military-like. The Hummer, a Jeep-like vehicle first produced by General Motors, is an example of the phenomenon, as are civilian versions of the AR-15.

So while sales of many types of traditional hunting rifles (bolt action as well as semiautomatic) have stalled in recent years, sales of ARs have been strong. Many hunters, plinkers, target shooters and other gun enthusiasts consider ARs neat and fun guns to own and shoot, whether outfitted with 10-round magazines or 30-round magazines.

But that's not why more recent AR sales are through the roof. Instead, the reelection of President Obama, who is feared by many gun owners, together with the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, have prompted many gun owners -- even some who previously didn't want an AR -- to fear their ability ("right") to own such a rifle might be legislated away by the state or federal government.

So strong are AR sales now that they can barely be found. When ARs do arrive at retailers, they sell out virtually in minutes (a shipment of 30 ARs arrived in one Minnesota Cabela's store Thursday and was gone in less than an hour).

Ammunition for the rifles is equally difficult to find -- at any price.

Which leaves us where?

Certainly many state and federal officeholders want to restrict, if not outright ban, ARs, or at least some of their accessories, including high-capacity magazines.

Maybe they'll succeed, maybe not.

But if you're a betting person, bet that the nation that gave the world its best gun designers, builders and marketers -- among them Oliver Winchester, Benjamin Tyler Henry, John Moses Browning and, yes, Eugene Stoner and his ArmaLite team -- will produce still more of the world's best gun designers, builders and marketers.

Ours is a market economy, after all, and demand for these products is strong.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Firearms sales mean big bucks to states

    Saturday January 19, 2013

    Excise taxes on increased gun and ammunition sales goes back to state DNRs for wildlife projects and hunter education.

  • Inventor aims to help shooters

    Tuesday January 22, 2013

    Oakdale man's shotshell tracer is being marketed by Winchester.

  • John Jackson, co-owner of Capitol City Arms Supply shows off an AR-15...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close