The history of the AR-15, is a fascinating story of an attempt to save American lives that turned into one of the most destructive elements of current American society: Fascinating, but also a stern message.

     In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. Army wanted to replace its M-1 rifle with a lighter, faster-shooting rifle. The Nazis had produced an “assault rifle” and, in 1949, the Soviets produced the first AK-47. The U.S. lagged behind as they concentrated on the nuclear arms race, and pretty much ignored the needs of the individual soldier. Enter Eugene Stoner, who worked for the ArmaLite gun manufacturer. He was an inventor, who wanted to help save American lives.

     He first fabricated what became the AR-15 in his garage. He replaced the heavy steel of the M-1’s central mechanism with aluminum and made its stock out of fiberglass. He used gas to eject spent rounds and load new ones, which allowed a much greater rate of fire – 45 rounds per minute. ArmaLite took on the design and then sold it to Colt, another gun manufacturer. The design became important with the advent of the Korean and Vietnamese wars. However, the development of the AR-15 was not without its problems.

     The U.S. Government decided to use cheaper, dirtier powder for the bullets than Stoner had originally specified. That resulted in many guns jamming which, in turn, resulted in many unnecessary American soldier casualties – the exact opposite result of what Stoner had intended with his design. Eventually this mistake was corrected and the weapon became reliable.

     Slowly, as with all military weapons in the United States, the AR-15 moved into the private sector. The ridiculous gun-rights movements, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), fought all attempts to ban these AR-15 assault rifles from entering the public domain.

     Initially, however, even the public did not accept the AR-15. It had a 0.223 caliber bullet, which was too small to bring down a deer: After all, it had been designed to bring down a man. People who bought them were often called “couch commandos” because the NRA diehards thought they were a “sissy” weapon.

     Sales increased rapidly after the “911” attacks in the U.S. Heavily promoted by the NRA, a new breed of gun owner emerged who were convinced they could defend their families against terrorists with an assault rifle – a totally illogical and dangerous idea. The chances of the average American encountering a terrorist, knowing how to use an assault rifle, and actually hitting anything with it are ridiculously remote. The history of the AR-15 was about to take a very significant and dangerous turn…..Eugene Stoner must have been turning in his grave, and still is, probably..

     Statistically, there is a direct relationship between the increase in the sales of AR-15’s and the increase in the incidence of mass shootings, many conducted with variants of Stoner’s gun.

     Unfortunately, controversy and media attention has only boosted the popularity of the AR-15. Today more than 20 million AR-15s are in the hands of American civilians. Let me repeat that: today, over 20 million AR-15s are in the hands of American civilians. Astounding and very frightening.

     I said that Eugene Stone must be turning in his grave. His incentive for designing the AR-15 was to save American lives, soldiers in battle, and the end result of his efforts, many years later, is the indiscriminate slaughter of American citizens going about their daily business in their home environments.

     NRA money to “buy” politicians, is the one major factor that prevents any legislation to control gun violence in the United States from even being considered, let alone passed into law. There was a ray of hope in 1994, when a federal assault-weapons ban was passed. It expired in 2004 and responsible, non-bought, legislators have tried for almost twenty years to get it re-authorized, without success.

     I guess Americans will just keep killing each other – the government doesn’t seem to care, and the American citizens who vote seem to have little interest in voting out the “bought” politicians. Is there any hope?   

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