The AR-15 Rifle: The Gun Congress Can't Ban

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The AR-15—the type of semi-automatic gun used in the shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook—is the most popular rifle in America. Harper’s contributor Dan Baum talks about why the AR-15’s “modularity” makes the gun incredibly difficult to regulate. His article "How to Build Your Own AR-15: The Gun Congress Can’t Ban" is in the June issue of Harper’s. Baum is also the author of the book Gun Guys: A Road Trip.


Dan Baum

Comments [34]

God from Everywhere

An Ar-15 is no different than any other gun. It's actually a lot less powerful than most hunting rifles. Firing a projectile with a fraction of the energy. Its far less effective on big to mid sized game but let's look at some other differences.
Ar-15s often have flash hiders. Flash hiders don't actually hide the flash from anyone but the shooter. This is only a benefit when shooting at night so that the person's natural night vision doesn't get readjusted to light. Flash hiders also make guns louder like muzzle brakes do. This is since high pressured gases are redirected.
Adjustable stocks are common on ARs but there only purpose is to help accommodate for different sized people. Non-adjustable stocks are adequate for many people. There are also different sized stocks available. Pistol grips help users to hold on to the gun. Guns that don't have these grips have a different shaped stock for better control.
This leaves the fact that AR-15s are semi-automatic. This mean every pull the trigger gets it fires once. This feature is quite common for hunting rifles, hand guns, and shoot guns. These guns are fairly reliable while many low end bolt actions get recalled for accidentally firing. That can lead to medical attention for the shooter or bystander. If the gases system of an AR is removed it is no longer a semi and will need to be manually loaded. The time to do so will only be a fraction of a second like other types of actions.
(Please note that ARs are not the same as M16s/M4s, guns used by the military which are automatic)
So the true question is why ban a far less powerful gun if not by its looks?

Jul. 11 2014 12:41 AM

Revolution is at hand. The chihuahuas of banning are yipping at the heels of reason and trying to replace reality with their own version. We need to ignore those who are so afraid of a gun that they believe even honest, lawful people cannot handle the responsibility of gun ownership. Since they accept the fact that they are too inept to own a gun, they think that everyone is too inept. Therefore, no one should be allowed to own one. Their motto is "Pansies Unite!"

Jan. 20 2014 12:36 PM
Solomon from california

If people didnt have guns they would use bombs like I.E.Ds. I think H.I.V aids and cancer from smoking cighs kill more then any thing. More people are killed with other types of weapons in violet crimes. There to much money being made from ar-15 sales. N.Y city smells like urine instead of gun control they need to focus on sanitation. just my opinon. what do i know.

Jan. 18 2014 02:47 PM

All of you liberals who are so against guns, just shut up and be good little victims. Why don't we ban cars if someone uses it as a weapon?......

Dec. 22 2013 07:33 PM


I understand NYC already is collecting rifles and shotguns from citizens. Looks like you people got the ban you want where you live.

Now stop trying to impose your will on the rest of the country, you don't know best and its just really annoying how arrogant new Yorkers can be.


Dec. 16 2013 06:48 PM
Eric Phipps from 78552

Anyone who thinks that disarming citizens that legally own guns will stop violence either just don't get it or you are just plain stupid. Do you have any idea how easy it is to obtain wepons illegally? I can assure you that most gun violence is not committed by those of us who go through our background checks the majority of gun violence is committed by criminals who don't really care if the guns are banned or not. When anything is banned the only people effected are those who obay the law. I own several guns including an AR-15 and all my guns are legal and are safely locked away so they can not be accessed by anyone but me. I don't know about you but I will defend myself in case of an attack on my home or family. So keep talking about how we shouldn't have our guns. Ill be nice and safe knowing I have a method to defend my self while you sit in your house waiting on the cops to make it there before you are killed. Thanks ill keep my guns.

Sep. 01 2013 09:39 PM
Greg from Atlanta

I love my AR-15's!!!! Leave us alone ,OK?

Jul. 11 2013 09:41 PM
Chris Griffin from Brooklyn, NY

How sad to hear Leonard Lopate fake interest while clearly holding his nose in disgust just so Public Radio can show how "open minded" they are to the right wing. I felt nauseous thinking of all the children and young people who are shot up on a regular basis like targets on a range by Mr. Baum's "Gun Guys." I realize that the only way "Gun Guys" ever come around to the insanity of their deadly fetish with automatic weapons is when they or one of their own children are killed by weapons that never belonged in the hands of anyone but trained soldiers. Shame on Leonard Lopate for his lightweight pandering to Mr. Baum and his far-right fringe agenda, and for allowing him to use this show as a means for broadcasting dangerous information on how to circumvent laws that were meant to protect the innocent and build these killing machines. (Frankly, Mr. Baum and his idiotic "Gun Guys" scare me a lot more than those black government helicopters they are so afraid of.) How will you feel, Mr. Lopate, if just one of your listeners decides to follow Mr. Baum's AR-15 tips and then goes on a killing rampage? Maybe a rampage like the one that occurred the day after this sickening broadcast, in which another of Mr. Baum's "Gun Guys" terrorized and shot up Santa Monica - killing 5 people with the precious object of Mr. Baum's desires; an AR-15. Would you have broadcast this show the night that this shooting occurred? Is there a formula you use to decide how much time needs to elapse after an automatic weapons shooting spree before a fluff piece on automatic weapons can be aired? Shame, shame, shame.

Jun. 09 2013 11:51 PM
art525 from Park Slope

@Jim- How far gone are we as a culture when we have a discussion about how best to handle a shootout in an elementary school, ie. the best gun to have and the size ofthe clip.

Jun. 06 2013 08:10 PM


Adam Lanza was killing children. He could have killed as many as he wanted with a double barrel shotgun. The reason gun owners get upset about the constantly shrinking clip size is because they want to be able to defend themselves again armed and/or multiple attackers. Limiting clip size just makes it harder for people to defend themselves. Baby killers never need to worry about being tackled during a reload.

Jun. 06 2013 06:44 PM

Great stats, Stephanie R, thanks. Now if only these 1 in 5 gunowners would tend to their personal arsenals and keep them locked away from unauthorized use - like we all wish that Nancy L had - we would have the problem licked.

Except, of course, that most of these gun stats are about legal guns. Illegal weapons reporting is going to be spotty.

Jun. 06 2013 03:38 PM
Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

Another character trying to propagate the myth that the bill that failed in the Senate was about banning guns. It was not - it was about expanding background checks so that criminals, terrorists, and other people who would do us harm would have a harder time acquiring weapons. Your guest just about admitted that these kinds of laws work when he addressed the issue of fully automatic weapons.

Jun. 06 2013 02:24 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Now he starts this trope about having an armed guy at the site of these various tragedies. What garbage! As Sophia points out there was a guy at the Arizona scene of Gabby Gifford's shooting who had a gun. His name is Joe Zamudio. He started to respond to the guy he thought was the shooter but something made him hold off. It turns out the guy he would have shot wasnot Jared Loughner but was a guy trying to stop the shooter. What about the shooter at Fort Hood? There weren't people with guns at an army base? Baum has his schtick where somehow even though he spouts the same garbage as all the right wing NRA loving jerks he is somehow telling us something more reasonable because he persents himself as a liberal. Nice try. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk.

Jun. 06 2013 01:58 PM

By fits and starts he sounds sensible—automatic and assault weapons are not a particularly big threat in the big scheme—then he says something wacky like people should be able to have guns in movie theaters in case somebody else has one and starts firing, and the logic goes off the rails.

Jun. 06 2013 01:57 PM
dave rittinger from brooklyn

ask him about the unidentifiable gun act

i believe it makes 3d printing guns illegal

Jun. 06 2013 01:56 PM
RJ from prospect hts

When Cong Giffords was shot, there was an armed citizen there and he later said he almost shot the person who was wrestling down the shooter. Armed citizens are *not* the answer to these mass shootings.

Jun. 06 2013 01:54 PM

His major argument feels correct to me...

If we ban the AR-15, another weapon would take its place. If we ban 'assault weapons' (if we could get around to agreeing what that is) we'd have mass shooting incidents with shotguns and hunting rifles.

I'd rather my neighbors did not own an assault weapon but if they do I *definitely* want them to be stored safely.

I don't agree with the sub-premise, that we need more people carrying guns. That's not right.

Jun. 06 2013 01:53 PM

slide fire bump stocks which convert ar 15 to full auto not illegal:

see Slate article:

Jun. 06 2013 01:51 PM
Mick from Inwood

The AR-15 was originally designed as a military weapon with full automatic capability. Many semiautomatic weapon designs can be easily modified to full automatic capability but they are inherently unreliable and prone to overheating when used that way. The difference with the AR-15 is this: if the trigger module is modified or a full auto module is installed then this weapon reverts to a military spec, automatic rifle.

Jun. 06 2013 01:51 PM
Geraldine Perry

Right now, the most incidents with guns occurs in urban areas - digital influence makes little difference.

Jun. 06 2013 01:51 PM
Kate Rose from Brooklyn

What is his opinion on liability insurance for gun owners?

Jun. 06 2013 01:49 PM
Stephanie R

The ranks of hunters in the U.S. fell last year to a record low, the government reported yesterday, even as the estimated number of guns soared past one for every man, woman and child in the country. About 13.7 million people hunted in 2011, a drop of 400,000 from 1991, when the nation had 60 million fewer people, the U.S. Census Bureau said. In the meantime there are 370,000,000 guns in civilian hands, an increase of 34 percent since 1991. The survey highlights the power of the firearms lobby, which has successfully blocked major legislation and sold the idea that gun ownership is not only acceptable but a matter of necessity even though the number of hunters and percentage of gun owners have fallen during the past two decades.
Today American gun owners own two-thirds of the nation's guns and as many as one-third of the guns on the planet -- even though they account for less than 1% of the world's population,

Gun Ownership in the U.S.
1973: 1 in 2 households
2010: 1 in 3 households
1980: 1 in 3 individuals
2010: 1 in 5 individuals

The decline in the number of those owning weapons can be understood in terms of the decline in rural population where hunting and target shooting are more common and police presence is far less.
In addition the trend away from the acceptability of firearms among many, especially in the North East, Upper Midwest, and Northwest has narrowed the markets.

Jun. 06 2013 01:47 PM
Jon from Manhattan

Unlike alcohol or cocaine guns are not inherently addictive which is why harsh regulation does work. Japan with a population half that of the US which effectively bans guns had 11 gun related deaths in 2010, a rate the US matches in hours.

Jun. 06 2013 01:45 PM
Kate Rose from Fort Greene

The guns and accessories you are discussing are not the guns that existed when the 2nd Amendment was written. Imagine how long it took to load one bullet at that time, vs having multiple magazine readily available on an AR-15 today.

Jun. 06 2013 01:45 PM
Joe from nearby

Your guest has been brainwashed. He needs to stop drinking NRA koolaid.

Jun. 06 2013 01:45 PM

Is this yoyo KIDDING? He could have walked into a school with a shotgun & handguns & done the same damage??!

Tell that to the 20 little kids and their teachers who were slaughtered BEFORE the police HAD TIME to respond because the murderer's ar15 could shoot so much, so fast.

This is a MILITARY weapomn- we are sick of Rambo wannabes spewing their false rationales on us.

Hey Baum- where there's a will there's a way.

Jun. 06 2013 01:42 PM

Adam Lanza couldn't have done as much damage if he had smaller gun clips.

The reason the Arizona shooter couldn't kill as many people as he wanted is because he had to stop to reload, not because another "gun guy" took him out.

In fact a "gun guy" almost shot the person who tackled the shooter, because real life does not conform to gun guy's fantasies.

Jun. 06 2013 01:41 PM
The Truth from Becky

Way to tell people how to skirt around the law to obtain these weapons Dan....brilliant. Not.

Jun. 06 2013 01:39 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Why oh why do you give more time to this guy? We had to listen to his interviews with his book "Gun Guys". That was a cute little bit of his where by calling these people "gun guys" it attempts to normalize them, makes them seem like your next door neighbor. Eveyone I don't know many people who have guns- certainly no one I knpow in NYC but anyone I have encountered who has a gun is a red neck and fairly creepy. And he has his schtick where he is a liberal and just a nerdy Jewish guy who happens to covet guns. Sorry but gun lust is not something that we should allow to be seen as normal. When I was a kid my father had a .22 and had at one point done some hunting thugh by the time I was old enough to be aware he had put it aside. My brother and I had no interest in going out and blowing away squirrels. Then my 12 year old cousin was accidentally killed by a friend whos stopped by on his way to go out hunting. Everyone's life was ruined by the incident. There are just too many guns and there are too many people who act like it is just normal to have one around. Recently a little boy killed his siter with a rifle available in the house. A father in Pennsylvania was shot by his 7 year old son he had asked to hand him his gun. We know incident after incident, even setting aside the Aurora and Newtown shootings. I find this guy's attempt to normal guns repugnant. He has a good routine and probably made some money off his book and I think maybe it makes him feel bigger and more macho, more like a man. It doesn'tmake someone a man. It makes him tiresome.

Jun. 06 2013 01:38 PM

So what is this guy's proposal to reduce gun deaths while avoiding the way every country which has lower gun deaths than ours has done it?

Jun. 06 2013 01:36 PM
The Truth from Becky

Your argument is flimsy and see through Dan.

Jun. 06 2013 01:35 PM

Countries all over the world have successfully banned guns while being unable to ban drugs.

The only "kneejerk" reactions, are from the gun fetishists who demand the rest of us accept bearing the unavoidable consequences of their hobby/ paranoia/fetish.

Jun. 06 2013 01:33 PM

The AR-15/M-16 design has been around for sixty years. Economies of scale for receivers, barrels and ammo make it pretty certain we'll see it or something like it for many generations.

I don't want to ban a gun or a class of guns. I do want the people who own guns to use and store them safely. How can we do that?

Jun. 06 2013 01:29 PM
Joe from nearby

Guns used by Mass Shooters:

Semi automatics: 68
Assault Weapons: 35
Revolvers: 20
Shotguns: 19

Jun. 06 2013 01:29 PM

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