Why The AR-15 Was Never Meant To Be In Civilians’ Hands

BY Herschel Smith
3 months, 1 week ago

The Atlantic:

During the Vietnam war era, as a newly graduated mechanical engineer, I was hired by Colt’s Firearms, the original manufacturer of the M-16, and tasked with M-16 related assignments during my employment.

There was no commercially available civilian version of the AR-15 prior to the U.S. Military’s decision to make it the default military rifle replacing the M-14, and designating it as the M16A1. I have significant personal experience with the issues experienced by the M16A1, which were the result of a combined civilian/military screw-up. [JF note: this screwup was the subject of my original article.]

The AR-15 was developed specifically as a military weapon to replace the M-14. It was probably one of the first major weapons systems to be privately developed following the DOD’s decision to privatize the design and development function. This function had heretofore been carried out by publicly funded government operations, most notably, in the case of military small arms, the Springield Arsenal.

The AR-15 derived from a design by Eugene Stoner. His original design using that architecture and operating system was the AR-10, which used the 7.62mm NATO round. Seen today, it looks like an overgrown AR-15. The Armalite Company tasked two engineers with developing a version of the AR-10 that used the 5.56mm cartridge; these engineers were Jim Sullivan and Bob Fremont.

Only after civilian manufacturers like Colt’s made boatloads of money producing M16A1’s and selling them to the government did someone (I believe it was Colt’s Firearms) decide to make and sell a semi-automatic-only version of the weapon for civilian sale. It was, of course, known as the AR-15.

Small but significant changes were made to the architecture of the lower receiver, primarily slight relocation of pivot pins and redesign of the trigger/hammer components that pivoted on them, so that it would not be possible to acquire, legally or illegally, M16 trigger/hammer and fire selector components and thus easily convert the AR-15 to possess the same full automatic capability as the M16.

Like Eugene Stoner, whose mission was producing better equipment for the military, I do not believe that there is any place in the civilian world for a family of weapons that were born as an assault rifle. I am a staunch supporter of properly equipping our nation’s military but also of effective gun control for weapons available to civilians, to include banning those which are inappropriate outside a military context.

The author of this horrible commentary, James Fallows, cites a letter from a reader with no name whatsoever and with no indication that he has done his job of vetting this information.

One thing that makes me hold it suspect is that he gives a bit too much credit to Jim Sullivan and Robert Fremont, who weren’t the “engineers” in charge of the development of the AR-15.  They were the designers, while Eugene Stoner was still the chief engineer behind the project.

But at any rate, even if this report is really from someone who worked as an engineer with Colt, so what?  His statement that “Like Eugene Stoner, whose mission was producing better equipment for the military, I do not believe that there is any place in the civilian world for a family of weapons that were born as an assault rifle” just like the title of this article which is one of the best examples of overreach I’ve ever seen, is a world too far, and even more than that, is an outright lie.

Eugene Stoner never said that.  If you think he did, prove it.  Or shut up.  I’m waiting.


  1. On November 12, 2017 at 11:43 pm, Backwoods Engineer said:

    This is all just so much trash talk and sour grapes. If they want my AR-15’s, they can try to come and get them. But the cowards won’t– they want the government to do it for them.

  2. On November 13, 2017 at 2:08 am, McThag said:

    Wanna know something else?

    Here’s a list of some other guns which weren’t “intended” for civilian hands.

    M1795 Musket
    M1803 Rifle
    M1812 Musket
    M1814 Rifle
    M1816 Musket
    M1817 Rifle
    M1822 Musket
    M1835 Musket
    M1842 Musket
    M1855 Rifle Musket
    Spencer Rifle
    M1861 Rifle Musket
    M1866 “Trapdoor”
    M1868 “Trapdoor”
    M1873 “Trapdoor”
    M1884 “Trapdoor”
    M1892 Krag
    M1899 Krag
    M1915 Mosin-Nagant
    M1917 “Enfield”


    It only became a problem in the past 50 years that the nation’s service rifles would be passed into civilian hands when they became surplus.

    And it’s only a handful of models we’re talking about.


  3. On November 13, 2017 at 7:15 am, Fred said:

    Are we a nation of men or a nation of the history of manufacturing? Oh wait, something’s not right.

  4. On November 13, 2017 at 9:26 am, Pat Hines said:

    As far as I know, the only differences between the Colt AR-15 production and the M16 were these:

    Bolt carrier

    Colt did produce quite a few with larger pins, stopping when the market of standard AR-15 receivers with M16 pins became ubiquitous. I think Colt is also responsible for the “commercial” receiver extension tubes, with mil-spec becoming standard anyway. M16 bolt carriers are readily available and nearly the de facto standard as well. Too bad, that, Lightning Links only work with AR-15 carriers.

    Colt AR-15s were available at least in the early 1980s. I wish I’d sprung for one of those $900.00 Belgian made FALs back then.

  5. On November 13, 2017 at 9:43 am, Duke Norfolk said:

    They’ve trotted out this kind of B.S. before, of course. I believe another narrative is about how Stoner’s kids say similar meaningless tripe.

    They’ll never stop trying to assault this hill. So far we’ve held it.

  6. On November 13, 2017 at 10:35 am, Jack said:

    Why do gun banners and statists think the rest of us don’t know about this google thing?

    It took me less than 5 minutes to learn that Colt produced the first commercial AR-15s in 1963, and produced about 2,500 in 1964. While the Army fielded M16s in 1964, the M16A1 replaced the M14 in 1969, putting lie to the claim that “There was no commercially available civilian version of the AR-15 prior to the U.S. Military’s decision to make it the default military rifle replacing the M-14, and designating it as the M16A1”

    Equally important, why do gun banners focus on AR15 style rifles?

    The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch rifle is an M14 clone that fires the same .223 round from the same length barrels, using the same capacity magazines firing at the same rate of fire (as fast as you can pull the trigger). Ballistically, the rifles are identical.

    It must be those ‘evil’ features such as the chainsaw bayonet that make AR15s bannable.

  7. On November 13, 2017 at 1:01 pm, Archer said:

    @Jack: Equally important, why do gun banners focus on AR15 style rifles?

    The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch rifle is an M14 clone that fires the same .223 round from the same length barrels, using the same capacity magazines firing at the same rate of fire (as fast as you can pull the trigger). Ballistically, the rifles are identical.

    Yes, but the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch rifle has a “traditional” straight stock, and no EEEE-VILLE “assault” pistol grip. (And yea, it doesn’t come equipped to accept the chainsaw bayonet. ;) )

    The Controllers don’t give a rip about the ballistics. If they did, they’d be forced to admit that AR-15s are NOT “high-powered assault weapons”, and to maintain any semblance of consistency they’d have to go after every .30-caliber-or-larger (e.g. .300 WSM, .300 Win Mag, .308, .30-06, 30-30, 7.62mm, etc., for starters) bolt- and lever-action rifle in America (read: “dangerous long-range sniper rifles”). Not to mention the damage a .58-caliber soft lead ball does to flesh when fired from a smooth-bore musket (which is what “the Founders intended”, right?).

    Their “assault weapon” narrative goes right out the window when consistency demands they have to start trying to ban antiques and Granddad’s deer rifle.

  8. On November 13, 2017 at 2:11 pm, Jay Eimer said:

    I’ve got a Mini-14. And it has a black plastic stock with separate pistol grip and telescoping length of pull adjustment! I took it (and the original wood stock) to a city council meeting once – just to demo that the the EBR was just a $100 accessory that can be swapped out in 2 minutes.

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You are currently reading "Why The AR-15 Was Never Meant To Be In Civilians’ Hands", entry #18052 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s,Firearms,Guns and was published November 12th, 2017 by Herschel Smith.

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