Why the Second Amendment Protects the AR-15 Assault Rifle

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AR-15 assault rifle with scope. Photo by Janice Marie Foote via Flickr

The push to ban civilian ownership of so-called “assault weapons” such as the AR-15 rifle is predicated on the misconception that these weapons are indistinguishable from those used in the military, according to a law professor at Campbell University.

In a recent article published in 43 Southern Illinois Law Journal, E. Gregory Wallace argues that this misconception is caused by gun-control advocates who spread myths about the AR-15 rifle and similar weapons.

One myth, according to Wallace, who describes himself as a competitive shooter and certified firearms instructor, is that they are solely for combat.

“Any rifle can be used in war, but certain rifles are made exclusively for combat applications,” Wallace writes. “The United States military has never used the semiautomatic-only AR-15 for combat.”

Instead, Wallace notes, the U.S. military uses the M16 rifle and the smaller M4 carbine—both automatic weapons that fires continuously so long as the shooter presses and holds the trigger.

A second myth, according to Wallace, is that the semiautomatic AR-15 is designed to “spray” a high volume of bullets almost as rapidly as a machine gun, even though it and other “assault weapons” do not have such “spray fire” capability.

“This is part of [gun-control advocates’] strategy to exploit confusion surrounding ‘assault weapons’ and make courts, lawmakers, and the public think that such weapons operate like machine guns and are therefore more dangerous than other rifles,” Wallace writes.

In an unprecedented ruling, the en banc Fourth Circuit in Kolbe v. Hogan declared that the AR-15 is not a protected firearm under the Second Amendment because it is functionally equivalent to the military M16. Wallace notes that the court labeled civilian AR-15s “exceptionally lethal weapons of war” that are designed “to kill or disable the enemy on the battlefield.”

Wallace also notes that court made its decision based on an interpretation of District of Columbia v. Heller that excludes weapons that are “like” M16 rifles from Second Amendment protection.

“One flaw is that small arms such as long guns and handguns have never been nicely separated into distinct categories of ‘military firearms’ designed for the battlefield and ‘civilian firearms’ designed for hunting, target shooting, or self-defense,” Wallace wrote.

“Historically, most popular civilian firearms were designed for military use. Civilians have been buying and using ‘weapons of war’ since musket days, with little if any significant differences between military and civilian versions of these firearms.”

Washington state had the only gun-control ballot initiatives in the nation during the most recent midterm elections, and residents passed Initiative 1639, which bars the sale of semi-automatic rifles to people under 21 and to people who don’t live in Washington.

It also requires buyers to pass an enhanced background check and prove they have taken a firearms training course. The NRA is suing the state in response.

A copy of the study can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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