There’s a lot of good to say about Wired’s defense coverage. It’s generally well-written, and couched as it is for a non-wonky kind of audience, it’s usually fun to read. However, they can get a little awestruck, and that makes for some really, well, technically speaking, I think the term is “icky” writing. This is one of those times. Editor’s Note: It was fully my intention to talk about something else this week besides guns. Really. I had topics, articles, drafts, all kinds of stuff. OK, so I had a few Post-It notes and a vague idea that words were involved. But that’s not the point. The point is, guns weren’t on the menu. Thanks to Wired, however, this had to happen. Oh, and the post’s featured image? From the article. Ain’t death cute?
This is the kind of writing that made Twilight such a painful series of films:
I was shaking as I shouldered the rifle and peered through the scope at the small steel target 100 yards downrange. It was officially the coldest day in Las Vegas history, and I was in the middle of the desert, buffeted by wind and surrounded by the professional gun press, about to fire an AR-15 for the first time.
I grew up with guns, and I even own a small .22-caliber target pistol that I take to the range occasionally. But I had fired a rifle maybe twice in the past five years. I was a novice, and I was frozen to the core. I flinched as I pulled the trigger the first time, sending my shot wide of the mark. But the recoil wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared; in fact, the shot was actually pleasant. I fired again with more confidence, and the bullet rang the distant steel plate like a bell; then the next shot hit, and the next.
“You’re doing great,” said Justin Harvel, founder of Black Rain Ordnance and maker of the gun I was shooting.
“It’s not me,” I replied. “I’ve never shot like this in my life. It’s gotta be this gun.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely not your daddy’s hunting rifle, is it?”
The article heads the only direction it can from that point, and if you’re expecting a reasoned analysis of the AR-15 as a useful possible option for home defense, you’re better off checking out the blog over at Cheaper Than Dirt. As an interesting (and by “interesting,” I mean somewhere below Christmas sweaters and only slightly above a Monsters Inside Me marathon) look at how ‘merica has absolutely lost its mind over what is essentially a military weapon designed to kill people, it’s a read that…uses a lot of words.
In the past two decades, the AR-15 has evolved into an open, modular gun platform that’s infinitely hackable and accessorizable. With only a few simple tools and no gunsmithing expertise, an AR-15 can be heavily modified, or even assembled from scratch, from widely available parts to suit the fancy and fantasy of each individual user. In this respect, the AR-15 is the world’s first “maker” gun, and this is why its appeal extends well beyond the military enthusiasts that many anti-gun types presume make up its core demographic.
This is where the article loses me worse than Magnolia. But since I paid for the DVD rental from the Blockbuster (remain when those were a thing? Yeah…no one could have seen this digital thing taking off, right?), or, in this case, opened the webpage, I kept reading. Distilling down a weapon designed solely to kill other human beings to a “hackable” platform and equating it with your personal electronics detracts from the fact that, well, the damn thing’s meant to kill people.
I’ll try to refrain from further commentary and just post some more quotes. If the article suddenly trails off, it means the stroke finally hit.
“It’s something mechanical; it’s modular in fashion,” is how Jay Duncan, VP of Sales at Daniel Defense, begins when asked to describe the appeal of the AR-15. “Because it’s so modular you can build the firearm the way that you want it, and it can be like nobody else’s firearm. It’s about personalization.”
As an early employee of one of the fastest-growing high-end AR-15 makers, Duncan has the perfect perch from which to observe the black rifle’s transition in shooting circles from a scary military oddity to the hottest item in the gun store. He — and everyone else I talked to — credit the gun’s flexibility for the surge in interest.
On the great American tradition of tinkering:
A 2011 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation backs up Duncan’s portrait of AR-15 buyers as accessory-obsessed tinkerers. The poll found that AR-15 owners possess an average of 2.6 black rifles, and spend an average of $436 on accessories and customizations.
This is the gun-as-gadget, a relatively new consumer phenomenon born from the unholy union of the post-9/11 national security state and America’s decades-old obsession with hackable, high-performance hardware. From muscle cars to motorbikes to ultra-high-wattage stereo systems, Americans love to take their toys way over the top, and for all its deadliness and terrifying power, the AR-15 is a terrifically fun toy.
Terrifically. Fun. Toy. Must. Not. Comment.
On the history of the weapon:
Troops loved the new gun because of its ergonomic design and easy handling, vastly preferring it to the Army brass’ beloved M14. The newfangled plastic, aluminum, and stamped-steel gun, which looked like something out of Buck Rogers, was so much easier to use than the M14 that in marksmanship tests troops were able to qualify as expert marksmen at a dramatically higher rate given the same amount of training time. The AR-15′s step-function improvement in individual usability gave a significant boost to squad-level battlefield performance. Army studies showed that a five-man squad armed with AR-15′s had as much kill potential as an 11-man squad armed with the M14.
FYI, the word “kill” is used exactly three times in the article. But it wasn’t always as much fun as it is now:
As recently as 2004, when the NSSF still had the policy of disallowing AR-15 makers to display any “tactical” imagery on the floor of SHOT, the gun industry’s main annual trade show, the AR-15 could be shown off only as a hunting rifle.
“When we first started coming to the SHOT show, you weren’t allowed to have anything tactical,” says Trey Knight of Knight’s Armament Company. At the time, KAC was strictly a boutique supplier of advanced weapons and accessories for U.S. Special Operations Forces, with no civilian customer base to speak of. “I had to make fake flyers that showed our guns in a hunting context,” Knight said. “They wouldn’t allow you to show anything that had camouflage or any military aspect to it.”
“If you had a picture, you couldn’t have [the model] in a helmet,” recalls Jesse Starnes of DoubleStar, one of the mid-range AR-15 makers. “It had to be a hunter hat or something.”
The good old days, when guns weren’t about how many bullets you could spray at opposing zombies.
Sorry. That had to happen, or I was going to start bleeding out of an ear.
And the big finish:
From the morning that ArmaLite opened its doors in 1954 to the present, most of the innovation that has gone into the AR-15 has been aimed at making the gun as accurate and pleasurable to shoot as possible. The result is a gun that really is an order of magnitude easier to use effectively than many of the traditional wood-stocked rifles that black-rifle-hating hunters grew up with. For someone who enjoys shooting a $2,500 AR-15 from a company like Lewis Machine and Tool, Black Rain Ordnance, Daniel Defense, or KAC, is like a driving enthusiast sitting behind the wheel of an Italian or German supercar. It’s a revelation, and the experience doesn’t wear off quickly.
GUNS ARE NOT SUPER FUN GADGET TOYS THEY ARE TOOLS SPECIFICALLY BUILT SO YOU CAN KILL SOMETHING! OR SOMEONE!
Stupid caps lock. Broken, or something.