Well-designed, versatile AR-15 gets a bad rap.
I am a liberal, and I own an AR-15.
If you're still reading after that jaw-dropping revelation, you may find this to be a different kind of gun story. The question is often asked, "Why the AR-15?" as if there's something inherently wrong with this rifle.
The history of guns in this country follows a natural and understandable pattern. Guns always have been designed and manufactured to be the most effective weapons possible. They've always represented the state-of-the-art technology of their day: the flintlock rifle of the Revolutionary War, the lever- action Winchester of the Old West, the bolt-action rifle of the First World War, or semi-automatic rifles since World War II - all these nostalgic and venerable designs were originally "military- style assault rifles."
When soldiers come home, they often adopt the small arms they used in military service for personal use: hunting, target shooting, personal defense and yes, even for the possibility of defending the nation, as provided for by the Second Amendment. Law enforcement also adopts these new weapons because they allow police to be as effective as possible when responding to crime.
The AR is a lightweight, semiautomatic rifle that fires one round every time the trigger is pulled. The AR rifle is a modern, modular design that allows the user to customize it for a variety of applications by using interchangeable parts. Even after 50 years, the AR remains the pinnacle of small arms design.
The demonization of the AR began with the assault weapons ban. The ban defined the cosmetic elements of the "assault rifle" as threatening and associated "military-style weapons" with anti-government militias.
Under the ban, rifles couldn't be sold if they had a majority of the following: flash-suppressor, bayonet lug, pistol-style hand grip, collapsible butt stock, and magazines with capacity greater than 10 rounds.
However, none of these features affected the basic function of the rifle. By 2003, the militia scare had faded, and so did the feckless assault weapons ban.
When I took up shooting several years ago, I was looking for a rifle that could do it all. I wanted to be able to target shoot in a caliber that used inexpensive, low-recoiling and readily available ammunition. I wanted a rifle that was handy and reliable. I wanted a rifle I could hunt with, but that could also function as a possible survival rifle in the event of natural disaster: a small-game getter with which I also could defend my family.
I eschewed the AR for a long time because it wasn't politically correct. The assault weapons ban had scared me away from the AR as a somehow unsuitable or "bad" rifle - unacceptable in polite society. I tried shotguns, lever-action and bolt-action rifles, searching for a rifle and a caliber that could do everything that I wanted it to do.
The truth is that the AR is the closest thing to a rifle that can do it all. I know there's a segment of the public that may never accept this, but the AR is the best general purpose rifle ever designed.
I grew up as a liberal in Minneapolis and moved to the western United States as an adult, settling in Coos Bay 12 years ago. As a liberal living in an isolated, rural, almost wilderness environment, I've come a long way toward understanding gun owners and gun culture. Legally armed citizens are squared away folks. They use and store their guns with discipline and responsibility. I don't always agree with their politics, but I've come to understand their views on guns.
If the overwhelming majority of gun owners weren't disciplined, the streets would run red with blood every day. And while headlines may lead you to believe there is an escalation of "gun violence," statistics show crime and violence actually diminishing in the United States.
The rate of blame assigned to the "assault weapon" compared to the culpability of the person committing the massacre seems to run about 50-to-1 in the media. The general public has been led to believe that the guns used in mass shootings are themselves evil, and somehow bear more responsibility for the crime than the criminal.
Weapons don't jump into the hands of criminals and pull their own triggers. We may be deeply affected by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but intellectual honesty demands that we focus on the man who committed the atrocity. Despite recent events, mass shootings are still statistically rare in this country and have little or no correlation to guns owned by legally armed citizens.
They do have a very high correlation to young males with a rare type of mental illness, who often obtain guns through illegal means.
It is a fundamental distinction to understand before we demonize a weapon and rush to well-meaning yet ineffective legislative solutions.
James Fritz is an associate professor of art at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.