A Deep-Dive Into the AR-15’s History and Modern Use

One of the most popular firearms in history, the AR-15 is an iconic rifle that has generated a massive amount of love and hate. Its virtues have been extolled by members of the shooting sports community since the 60s, vilified by the media within that same time period, and seen countless improvements, evolutions, and modifications within the relatively short lifespan of the weapons platform. These have given both its proponents and detractors ample talking points, but at its core, the AR-15 is a weapon meant to be tailored to the job at hand. With seemingly every firearms enthusiast having their own particular AR-15 build, there is no shortage of potential to create the right gun for your needs.

Defining The AR-15

With such a huge following, it’s understandable why the AR-15’s history has taken on mythic proportions, so let’s start by making a few facts about the AR-15 clear. It is neither a machine gun nor is it an “assault rifle”, a meaningless fictional designation used to promote fear and ignorance of the weapon. The AR-15 style platform is a modular, semi-automatic firearm using a gas-operated bolt and carrier. The alphabetical portion of this designation, “AR”, is short for Armalite Rifle, branding the design after its first manufacturer. It is usually fed by a detachable magazine and has a massive footprint in the aftermarket parts industry.

AR-15 Development

The AR-15’s history began with the popularity of its predecessor, the AR-10. After a series of false starts, the 7.62X51mm chambered rifle had gained a reputation among the international military community for dependability and accuracy. When the United States military was looking for a replacement of their M14 that came in under six pounds, used a high-velocity .22 caliber cartridge, had select-fire capability, and was accurate to 500 yards, Armalite scaled down the AR-10 to fit the smaller 5.56mm NATO/.223 cartridges. This military design eventually became the M16, with other variants following suit into honorable service with the US armed forces.

In 1959, Colt bought the design and trademark of the AR-15 from Armalite and began servicing military contracts. In 1963, a version of the rifle modified for civilian use was offered to the public and eagerly welcomed by firearms enthusiasts who had served alongside this weapon as part of their military duty. Using parts incompatible with the select-fire components of the military branch of the family, the AR-15 designation became the proper title for these civilian weapons. When Colt’s patents expired in 1977, it opened up the popular weapon to a broader market of manufacturers eager to fulfill consumer demand. 

While Colt still produces AR-15 rifles after a brief pause in 2019, the only company that can offer the weapons as a “true” AR-15, they hold a decreasing market share as so many other companies offer AR-15 style rifles, carbines, and pistols. With more than 16-million AR-15 style rifles sold to Americans up to 2018, the platform represents a significant percentage of firearms ownership in the US and has been dubbed “America’s Rifle” for its popularity, origin, and as a further homage to the alphabetical portion of its model number.

Why The AR-15 Is So Popular

  • Modular – The design of the weapon allows for an AR-15 build to reflect the needs of its owner, with a variety of sight options, accessories, and configurations. Barrels, upper receivers, and stocks are easily swapped without extensive gunsmithing knowledge.
  • Aftermarket Support – In part due to this modular nature, there are a wide range of accessories made to support the AR-15. Slings, sights, attachments, modified parts assemblies, and more are ready for shooters who want to fine-tune their experience.
  • Accuracy – The .223/5.56 Nato round provides reliable ballistics, the weapon’s design offers great stability, and match-grade parts allow you to create a true sharp-shooter’s firearm for hunting or the range.
  • Availability – When you have millions of established owners, there is a market for support that encourages manufacturers to prioritize production. AR-15 weapons, parts, and ammunition are some of the most produced and readily available.

The Function Of An AR-15

One of the reasons for its accuracy is the in-line design of the platform’s internal firing mechanisms. When you insert a loaded magazine and pull the charging handle, the bolt retracts, cocking the internal hammer. When the handle is released, a heavy spring pushes the bolt forward, stripping the top round from the magazine and moving it into the barrel extension before rotating to lock the bolt into place for firing. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer is released to strike the firing pin which in turn strikes the cartridge’s primer, detonating it to set off the powder charge which turns into a rapidly expanding gas, propelling the bullet forward through the barrel. 

As the bullet moves through the barrel, it passes a gas tube that feeds a portion of this expanding gas back toward the carrier which houses the bolt assembly. Alternatively, the gas may fire a piston that provides the same function. While the bullet carries forward out of the barrel and toward its target, the carrier moves rearward. Once the cartridge clears the barrel extension, an extractor on the bolt causes it to eject itself from the weapon. The carrier travels far enough back to recock the weapon, before moving forward and loading the next cartridge into the chamber, ready to repeat the process. 

Hitting The Range

While the history of the AR-15 means you’ve most likely seen your fellow shooters use one, either at the range or its military counterpart while in service, popular culture has left a lot of people with some bad shooting habits when it comes to its use. With training, this platform is a delight to use, whether you’re hunting, plinking, or just want to make sure you have the self-defense capabilities you need to protect your family. If this is your first time taking your AR-15 to the range, make sure there is an experienced shooter, armorer, or rangemaster around should you have any questions.

Creating a stable shooting base for firing your AR-15 with a standing stance is similar to that created for most other long guns. When the range is “hot”, stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, left foot leading and pointing down-range, while your right foot is comfortably perpendicular, creating a stable “T” to handle both recoil and any wind. Place the butt of the rifle firmly against your right shoulder, with your right hand on the grip, finger away from the trigger. Your left hand will support the barrel of the weapon from underneath. Keep your elbows in tight. Sight down your weapon using your optics or sights and line up your shot. Remember that the AR-15 uses a high-velocity cartridge, so firm pressure is required to control the weapon against your shoulder and grip. 

Make Your Own AR-15 Build

We’re proud to offer the parts and kits, including 80% Ar-15 lower receivers, that let you build your own AR-15 at home without a background check or federal registration. You’ll get a high-quality firearm and the satisfaction of knowing it was made by your own two hands. Become one of the millions of legal AR-15 owners with JSD Supply.