What does the “AR” in “AR-15” stand for?

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There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about what the “AR” part of “AR-15” name actually stands for.

Some people might mistakenly label the AR-15 an assault weapon and therefore assume that AR stands for “assault rifle”.

This is incorrect.

In fact, the AR in AR-15 stands for “Armalite Rifle” because Armalite was the company that originally designed the AR-15, and it is, of course, a rifle.

ArmaLite Logo circa 1960s
ArmaLite Logo 1952-1985

It’s not the most original name, but there you have it.

For more info, read on to find out a little more about the AR-15 so you can enter debates and discussions confident in your background knowledge.

What AR Doesn’t Stand For

While many may tell you that AR stands for “Assault rifle” or even “automatic rifle” this isn’t actually the case.

For one, AR-15’s aren’t automatic, they’re semi-automatic and we’ll go over what that means in a second.

Semi-Automatic means one trigger pull = one bullet fired

As far as the “assault rifle” part goes, there’s not actually a formally recognized definition for that term that you can count on from state to state.

Usually, how a state defines “assault weapon” is going to depend on the overall political leanings, and what constitutes a banned assault weapon can change from administration to administration.  Many states and some journalists use certain aesthetic features to define assault weapons, rather than functionality, which has lead to no end of controversy and debate.

The most practical definition of an “assault rifle” is a rifle that is select-fire.  That means you have a rifle that has both semi and fully-automatic fire modes that you can utilize at will via a selector switch

The US Army also has a standard definition of an Assault Weapon:

  • It is capable of selective fire
  • It has an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle
  • It has ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine
  • It has an effective range of at least 300 meters (330 yards).

The AR-15 meets all of these requirements save the first, which is the most important one. No full-auto means no assault rifle.

Only one of these is a military weapon.

Fully-Automatic vs Semi-Automatic

Picture the Uzis, AK-47s and M4s you’ve seen spraying (sometimes improbably lengthy) streams of bullets while the character on screen holds down the trigger, usually while screaming.  

That’s fully-automatic. That means you can just hold the trigger down and the gun will keep shooting until the magazine is exhausted.

MacGruber (2010)

This is how you get the 900 rounds/minute fire rate of things like the M4 (that’s a cyclic rate though, and doesn’t take into account the need to reload…good luck finding a 900 round magazine or even a belt.

Semi-auto, which is what the AR-15 and most other civilian weapons like most pistols are, means you get one bullet per trigger pull. You have to manually activate the trigger each and every time you want a bullet, which dramatically decreases the possible cyclic rate of the weapon, and thus lowers the fire rate.

These days, if you want to buy a fully-automatic weapon in the US, you’ll need one manufactured before 1986 that is civilian transferable, and you’ll be paying thousands of dollars for the gun itself, and also a few hundred extra for tax stamps and paperwork from the ATF.

This legal and transferable M16 sold for $28,750 in 2015 through the Rock Island Auction House

Conclusion

Now you should have a good handle on what the “AR” part of “AR-15” stands for, and you should be able to confidently defend your position without worrying about the fine details.  

The truth is, the AR-15 is not an “assault weapon” by the most common definition, and it is not meant to spray bullets indiscriminately on full-auto. Anyone who tells you this is the case is either badly misinformed or attempting to misinform you.

Now you can set the record straight.

Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments!

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