Ask a gun control group which firearm it would most like to see banned, and — if it gave you an honest answer — it would probably tell you "the AR-15." For propaganda purposes, these groups talk about "AK-47s," just as they used to talk about "Saturday Night Specials" when they really wanted to ban all handguns. But behind the scenes they're most worried about the incredibly versatile rifle introduced to the general public by Colt nearly a half century ago.
That's because the AR-15's popularity is soaring. About 1.5 million of the rifles have been made in the last five years alone, by manufacturers large and small. Firearm sales are at record levels, and AR-15s are a big reason why.
Gun control groups will tell any newspaper reporter who'll listen that gun ownership is declining. But with AR-15s in their hands, many Americans who had little or no background with guns have become dedicated target shooters or hunters. More than any single firearm today, the "mouse gun" or "black rifle" is helping expand gun ownership and use.
As a trip to any rifle range in most parts of the country will show, centerfire and rimfire AR-15s are hugely popular for recreational target shooting. For more than a decade, .223 Rem. and 5.56mm NATO models have been the leading rifles in marksmanship competitions. And AR-15s are now made in a variety of other calibers, so they're increasingly favored by hunters, a fact even the Brady Campaign has grudgingly admitted.
Like the Mauser '98 before it, the AR-15 has become the platform of choice for customization. User-friendly and easily equipped with the owner's choice of sights, stocks and accessories, AR-15s are arguably the rifle most commonly kept for home protection. A large number of marksmanship schools offer classes that focus on using the AR-15 for personal protection.
When the Supreme Court struck down D.C.'s handgun ban in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), it said that the Second Amendment protects firearms "in common use." All of what I've said just goes to show that AR-15s fit that description — with room to spare.
Our opponents haven't lost hope, though. One in eight Americans lives in California, where the AR-15 and many other types of firearms are prohibited under an ever-expanding "assault weapon" label.
It isn't surprising that California has the most restrictive "assault weapon" ban in the country; California has the most gun control in general. Just to give you an idea, in the BATFE's book of state and local gun laws, California takes up 70 pages, while the second most populous state, Texas, takes up just two.
California, after all, is a state that prohibits family members and friends from selling guns to one another without the transfer going through a dealer, with a $25 background check, a report of the transfer being filed with the state Department of Justice and local police chief or sheriff, and a 10-day waiting period. So it should be no surprise that it also prohibits the sale of any detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifle that has a pistol grip or forward grip; flash suppressor; or thumbhole, folding, or telescoping stock.
The ban doesn't stop there, as it also includes some centerfire fixed-magazine rifles; some pistols not already prohibited by the state's "unsafe" handgun ban; semi-automatic shotguns in certain home defense configurations; and other types of firearms. Changes in the law and its related regulation have gone on for decades now, along with wrangling over confusing and hyper-technical interpretations by the California Department of Justice on issues such as what makes a magazine "detachable."
All this should be taken seriously, even if you don't live in California. Anti-gun groups and their allies in Congress consider California's law a model for a new federal ban and for new or expanded bans in other states. After the Heller decision, the District of Columbia, spitefully imposing whatever restrictions it could get away with after its handgun ban was struck down, copied California's ban.
Ultimately, these groups and politicians would like to build a political majority that could pass more California-style bans, then pack the courts with judges — from the Supreme Court down — who would uphold these and every other imaginable restriction. Then, they could honestly say "As California goes, so goes the nation." Gun owners can only stop that from happening by registering — and voting — in November.
For more information on semi-auto bans, go to www.gunbanfacts.com