Why Do People Own AR-Platform Rifles?

Preliminary: “AR” is an abbreviation for ArmaLite Rifle, the company that developed the rifle, not “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.” (H/T McThag)

Also, the question here is why DO people own ARs, not why SHOULD they. I am dealing with the empirical issue not the normative one, although normative considerations would probably benefit from understanding the situation empirically.

I saw about 5 minutes of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning. One of the guests was former Reagan speech writer and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. Noonan asked, quite sincerely in my judgement, why do people have AR-platform rifles? Good question.

I have argued, following up on James Wright’s work from the 1990s, that sociologists have largely disregarded the lawful use of firearms by legal gun owners in favor of studying guns strictly from criminological and epidemiological perspectives. (Download and read my full argument about “The Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture” here.)

This disregard is exemplified by the fact that I know of no systematic social scientific studies that address the question of why people own AR-platform rifles.

So my response to this question is more speculative and based just on my anecdotal observations. In no particular order, people own these rifles because. . .

1. They have been the official service rifle of US armed forces since the 1960s. Descendants of the M16 and M4, they are the equivalent of the Springfields and M1 Garands and M14s of earlier generations.

2. They are more than guns, they’re gadgets. That’s not my take. That’s from an article in Wired magazine of all places. The author of that article Jon Stokes elaborates:

“the real secret to the AR-15’s incredible success is that this rifle is the ‘personal computer’ of the gun world. 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.”

Because of this they are sometimes referred to as “Legos for grownups” or “Barbie for men” (see Chapter 1 of Dan Baum’s travelogue Gun Guys for more on this).

The same people who like ARs are people who like to change their own spark plugs, read Popular Mechanics, and watch “Top Gear.” Reading Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft recently actually made me think of building my own AR, even though I already own one that I have never shot (see #4 below).

3. They want to defend themselves. For some people, a pistol is just the weapon you use to fight your way back to your rifle. Although it may seem like overkill to many, AR rifles are often recommended as good home defense weapons because their capacity and shootability.

4. Because they can. I remember immediately following the Sandy Hook massacre, people flooded a previously schedule gun show in Winston-Salem. I asked one person in the long, long line what he was planning to buy. “An AR rifle,” he said. Why, I asked. “Because I can.” I personally bought an AR-style rifle because the opportunity to get it at a very good price (at the time) came along. I almost never shoot rifles and so it remains new in its (locked) box. But I didn’t know whether the opportunity to buy would go away at some point, so I bought one. Because I could. Not a profound reason, but a real one.

Kevin Creighton of the Misfires and Light Strikes blogs offers another two reasons:

5. They are an excellent sporting rifle. They are an essential part of CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program) matches, as well as 3 Gun and increasingly, precision rifle matches.

6. They are an excellent gun for beginners. This isn’t too surprising, considering that they trace their roots to a gun that 18 and 19-year-olds learn how to shoot in the military. They also are accurate, have low recoil and are easy to teach the fundamentals of marksmanship with.


Additional Re/sources:



  1. My experience says that number six is the main argument, “They are an excellent gun for beginners.” The AR-15 has low recoil. It is light and small compared to the classic battle rifle. Today, it is adjustable to fit smaller shooters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. #4 and #5 are the main ones for me, but as a mechanically-inclined person who does nearly all the work on his cars and makes his own parts for various machines in his home workshop, #2 is quite appealing as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think #1 could be expanded. The kind of people who like guns are often also vets. Vets often like to buy the gun they carried in the Service. I’d have to look but I’m pretty sure the CMP has never had a lot of stale inventory after any war. For the AR-pattern, that’s potentially basically every man and woman who served born after, what, 1950, but who couldn’t get one via CMP due to them being FA, so no CMP sales, and the domestic version being disproportionately expensive.

    I’d guess the percentage of purchases really only started picking up with the all-volunteer military and the AWB (#4) bringing the issue that those more-likely-to-be-into-guns vets might not be able to get one. Demand led to supply and prices dropping and made them available to vets and #’s 2-6-type buyers.

    This is all speculation of course.


  4. For me, it’s because it’s fun to shoot and offers me a path to personal marksmanship improvement via many classes and workshops that are low cost and high quality. If I want to learn to shoot a rifle, the AR platform is widely regarded as the fastest and easiest way to get started on a center fire platform.

    Note, the other answers are all valid too. In a CC permit class in my state, the instructors (one Federal the other local LEO’s) both said they and most other police keep an AR as their home defense gun, provided it’s loaded with appropriate ammunition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I own an AR-15 for the following reasons, in no particular order:

    1. I can buy the parts and build it myself. This lets me configure it just how I want it.
    2. Since I built it myself, I can also repair it myself if it breaks. Unlike most guns, I can even replace the barrel without expensive tools (like a big metal turning lathe).
    3. Compared to other center fire rifles, ammo is cheap and easy to find.

    There are other reasons as well, but those are the main ones.

    Liked by 1 person

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