How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the AR-15

ar-15-carbine-a2

Reader Cole Mayer writes:

About six years ago, while I was still in college, a friend brought his arsenal of firearms to a session of Dungeons and Dragons. A few of my other friends had expressed interest in purchasing handguns, so he brought them for show-and-tell. He passed around his revolvers for us to examine, but I didn’t want to touch them.

Fast forward to June of 2015. I was a newspaper journalist, just about to end my three-year tenure of covering crimes, courts, and fires, and move from California to Idaho, where my wife had accepted a teaching position. My final article was how one of my good sources of information in the community finally convinced me to take his NRA-certified handgun course, something he offered for free.

It was my first time firing a gun, at age 26. I wasn’t quite as scared of guns as I was when my friend brought out his assortment of handguns and his newly purchased Mosin Nagant, but my hands were shaky. We spent four hours shooting various handguns – a snub-nosed revolver that I was surprisingly accurate with (earning the nickname, “The Heart Surgeon”), a Beretta 92FS, and a S&W hand-cannon chambered in .460 – which I only shot once. I nearly hit myself in the face with the gun from the recoil, but by this time, I realized something: I was having fun. And I was fairly comfortable with handguns.

I went out for one more round of training. This time, though, instead of taking the class, I reported on the class. By that point, I was also starting to do research into purchasing my own M1911.

While living in California, with the stringent firearm laws there that have only tightened since I left, handguns were the only firearms on my radar. Something like an AR-15 or AK-47/74 never even entered my mind.

Jump to June 2016. A co-worker, Colin, invited a few of us to go shooting. I was excited, having never shot a rifle. He spread out his collection. A SIG522 rifle, a PAP M92 PV pistol (similar to a Krinkov/AKS-74U), two AR-15s he built, his GLOCK 19, and a few revolvers. It was my first time shooting an AR-15.

There was public outcry at the time after New York Daily News writer Gersh Kuntzman said he’d given himself a temporary case of PTSD after firing an AR-15. He said it “felt like a bazooka,” that he was “terrified,” even calling it “horrifying, menacing.” He was justifiably derided to the point where he wrote a follow-up piece on how commenters questioned his masculinity. I only question, based on his terrifying description of the event, whether he was actually firing an AR-15, and if he was wearing hearing protection.

To me, it’s a tool not unlike a car, a chef’s knife, or a hammer at a construction site. It’s not scary. Yes, it’s loud, though I’ve used both earmuff-style ear protection and good ol’ ear plugs. The AK-74 I fired was louder than an AR-15. And the Serbian-made PAP was louder still, (though the sound levels aren’t bad). In the wrong hands, a tool — any tool — can do many horrible things. He and I clearly had very different experiences.

Let’s take a moment to compare California and Idaho. In looking at some national relocation statistics from last year, Idaho had the second-largest influx of people, 63 percent of moves being inward. For California, it was 54 percent inbound, 46 percent outbound. With California enacting or adding to the ballot new legislation requiring AR-15s to only have fixed 10-round magazines – no more ‘bullet buttons’ – and restrictions on ammunition, plus requiring a background check when loaning a gun to anyone not family or even just buying ammo.

As it is, if there’s a larger-capacity mag, you can’t have a pistol grip, telescoping or folding stock, flash hider, grenade/flare launcher, or forward pistol grip. So it’s much harder to have an AR that’s actually fun to use in California. If the laws are enacted, larger magazines must be turned in. I’ll be interested to see if the migration numbers change, especially if the opponents of “Gunmegeddon” fail to stop the legislation, which looks likely.

The California Attorney General’s report noted that 70.1 percent of the 1,861 homicides were from firearms. Idaho, on the other hand, saw a whopping 77.8 percent of murders done by firearm. But there were only 30 murders reported. To be fair, California has more than 38 million people compared to Idaho’s 1.6 million. Doing some quick back-of-the-napkin math, if Idaho had a comparable population there would be about 1,140 homicides – still far fewer than the Golden State. And yet we have the super dangerous, terrifying full-feature AR-15s here.

There were nine reported homicides in El Dorado County in 2015 alone, where I worked. That’s nearly a third of the homicides reported in the entire state of Idaho. I certainly feel safer here now.

What do all these laws and stats mean for me? First, research in the form of price comparison, and waiting for my chosen manufacturer of lower receivers to restock. It arrived at my firearms dealer on Sept. 21 (for my non-gun friends or anyone who hasn’t ordered a gun online, it’s the one part that can’t be delivered to your front door; it needs to be shipped to a Federal Firearms License holder). I paid extra for an engraving of the cat that kept me company for nearly a year of unemployment.

I had the upper receiver for about a month before my lower arrived. I tested the upper with two range trips, using one of Colin’s lowers. Second, he and I built the rifle on Sept. 24, making what I have dubbed the Catling Gun a reality. Next, I’m going to replace some parts, starting with a free-floating quad rail. And then, because I’m cheap, I want a used locker to keep ammo in, and possibly the guns until I get a proper gun safe.

Far from being scared out of my wits, I built my own AR-15. It’s fun to shoot, and trying to improve my aim gives me a goal. And it makes me feel that much more free, especially compared to my California friends. Freedom smells like gunpowder smoke while test-firing your new rifle in the windy, dusty desert (and remember: operators wear bandanas!). I highly recommend it.

 

comments

  1. avatar peirsonb says:

    Nice article. The only thing is caution against is the assertion that population and murders are linear. It could be, but weird things happen when you cram more people into the same space.

    1. avatar notalima says:

      Yes, they build foo foo coffee shops, stop washing their hair, and start voting to see who can tax each other the most.

    2. avatar Mike Betts says:

      Ethologist John B. Calhoun was a pioneer in the study of severe overcrowding in rat populations and he termed the utter breakdown of their society due to overcrowding as “the behavioral sink”. I’ve not the least doubt that it applies to human society, too.

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Based on the way humans act when crowded into large cities, it might be better termed “the behavioral toilet”.

    3. avatar Publius says:

      Especially if those people happen to belong to a certain race that is responsible for over half of the violent crime in the country despite only being around 12% of the population…

    4. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      Definitely not the intention! It was more of a thought exercise than anything else.

  2. avatar Mk10108 says:

    Gotta love something, might as well be a rifle.

  3. avatar James69 says:

    Up until about a year ago I was very anti-AR. Based on my experience in the Army with A1,A2, and even converted AR-15’s CRAP. WORE OUT JUNK. On a whim I swapped an STG 2000 for a AR15 pistol in 7.62×39. Impressed. Pistol was built by a retired SSG. Runs 100%. Even using PRO MAGS! Just don’t like the charging handle.

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      Ever try a BAD lever? or IP lawsuit aside (damn you MagPul) a Tactical Link bad lever (for those with chunky lowers with ambi-controls)?

      You will grow to tolerate the charging handle on an AR-15 again.

      1. avatar James69 says:

        It had one on it when I got it. But I shoot left so it came off. Tried to sell it on feebay but they kept kicking it off. Unknown why?

        Also the pistol is 100% PSA build. Awesome! I’ve since gotten a 10.5 CHF 5.56 UPPER to go with it. Best of both worlds. GO PSA!!! Love em’.

        1. avatar Scoutino says:

          PSA rules. Last time I wanted to buy a pistol upper in .300 blk from Brownells. But the dumb pop-up ad on this site pi55ed me so much I changed my mind and went with Palmetto. Great stuff for a very reasonable price! The ad just cost Brownells $300 sale. Take it down RF, please. Between the site header popping up and down, video frame ads and the Brownells ad, the text is almost unreadable on my phone when held sideways. I don’t want to install AdBlocker and lower your revenue. Oh, while I’m bitching – why can’t I see who answers to whom in discussion when sideways?

    2. avatar Nanashi says:

      Count yourself lucky. My brother got issued an XM16 older than him at one point.

    3. avatar neiowa says:

      I did realize it at the time, but in the Army late 80s the “Mattel toys” and “lowest bidder” BS was from NCOs (11B) who had never in their short career been issued anything other than an M16. Never had fired/carried a M14 much less an M1. They didn’t know diddly squat about firearms or military rifles (see also most cops today).

  4. avatar Deplorable Timmy! says:

    “I paid extra for an engraving of the cat that kept me company for nearly a year of unemployment.”

    Pix or it didn’t happen! I’m kidding, I’m kidding! But I would like to see pictures.

    1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      Here’s a photo I took of it during the build.

      http://i.imgur.com/hhM7WQH.jpg

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Love it! Did you order it that way from the factory, or did you send it out to be engraved?

        1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

          From the factory (it’s a TNArmsCo nylon polymer lower), though they also do send-ins. I think they can only do the white engraving (actually kind of tan on mine) on hybrid lowers, and black-on-black for aluminum.

      2. avatar Deplorable Timmy! says:

        Very cool. I believe you now. (Again, I kid.) Maybe I’ll get my cat’s face hydro-dipped onto my Tavor! Wait, black cat; black Tavor… yeah, it’s already on there!

      3. avatar anaxis says:

        Catling Gun. I dig it!

        I’m a crazy cat guy, married to a crazy cat lady, and she’d totally go for an engraving like that on her rifle.

      4. avatar Lawrence says:

        Love it!! As a cat parent and later-in-life (11 years now) convert to AR-15 fan-dom, I applaud your dedication to your feline companion. Every time you go to drop a mag, you’ll think of your kitty friend.

        From the AR I’ve realized that guns don’t have to be made solely of blued steel and walnut – or designed more than a century ago – to be cool. Of course, if somebody were to design and AR-15 revolver….that’d be the best of both worlds!

        Congratulations on your new rifle AND on writing such an eloquent account of your conversion to responsible firearm ownership. Excellent!

  5. avatar Joe R. says:

    This sounds like fear of being Gersh’d, like the article started Gersh, and swerved to the right, just missing the center.

    Done at his previous journo job at 26? Retired knowing everything.

    1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      Nah, I love guns too much now to be Gersh. He “got PTSD” while I ran a couple drills with a career military friend last weekend.

      And I only know most things! We moved for my wife’s job, and it’s hard to write for a local paper when you’re 500 miles away. And man, I wish I was retired…

      1. avatar Joe R. says:

        Ok, fair enough, good review, I retract the rest.

        Do another one after a few 1000 rounds through the polymer lower. I haven’t seen enough long-term reviews on them. I want to know if there’s any droop/bend in them from heat / placement of the stock mounting, etc.

  6. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

    You should have switched to GURPs a long time before six years ago!

    1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      People keep saying that, but I don’t know anyone who plays GURPs, and I’m too lazy to learn by myself.

      1. avatar Ing says:

        GURPs is fine, but Rolemaster is where it’s at. I’ve been using that system since it came out in the early 90s (when it grew out of the old Middle-Earth Roleplaying/MERP system), and haven’t seen a better one in all that time.

        1. avatar Z says:

          Ha, never expected to see rolemaster come up here. My favorite system, though I mainly play pathfinder recently.

  7. avatar Art out West says:

    Welcome to the United States. Idaho is a great place. Try not to screw it up. I don’t think you will, since you are an AR15 guy now.

  8. avatar ACP_arms says:

    Skip the locker (any locker) for guns and look for safes on sale.

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      I agree about skipping the locker and going straight to the gun safe.

      What do you guys think about the idea of locking up ammo?

      I see no need for locking up ammo, if my firearms are secured in a safe (which they are). Plus, my safe is crammed full of firearms, and has little room for ammo anyway. I generally just keep my ammo in the metal ammo cans.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Personally, I don’t.

        After experiencing a house fire years back and seeing the results first-hand, I store all flammables as low as practical…

      2. avatar ACP_arms says:

        I use metal ammo cans like you.

      3. avatar SouthAl says:

        Lock it in the house or lock it in the shed outside. If you can lock it in a gun safe with your guns, you need more (of both). I just use the cans, too.

    2. avatar Darrellp says:

      I kept my guns and ammo locked up in an old refrigerator for years until I got a safe, redneck af but it worked.

      1. avatar Clear Thru says:

        Dude!
        I love it.
        Ammo fridge!
        I see a future weekend project…

      2. avatar ACP_arms says:

        Not a bad hiding place. It’s not a gun safe but I don’t think most thief’s would want to open up a old, crappy looking unplugged fridge.

  9. avatar Accur81 says:

    I really like the AR platform. It was my first politically incorrect rifle, and certainly won’t be my last. I’ve got multiple copies in multiple calibers, now. I recommend getting an AR-10 (I like DPMS Gen 1 pattern). It’s tough to go wrong with a quality 18″ barrel in either platform. The 5.56 and .308 are great rounds and easy to find / stockpile.

    Either that or a 6.5 or 6.8 or 300 BLK upper / dedicated AR. The 6.5 has good range, the 300 BLK has great compatibility and subsonic performance, and the 6.8 Spec II has pretty good power. It’s like a 2/3 scale .308 with less recoil and weight.

  10. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    Quad rails are so 2010…

    Seriously, no one needs that much rail on their gun. Get a free float handguard that you can actually get your hand around comfortably, with M-LOK or Keymod holes so you can put the rails where you need them.

    Thank me later.

    1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      Ha, people keep telling it’s 2012. I’m not a fan of M-LOK as I don’t want to limit my choices to just Magpul, and I’m just not a fan of Keymod. Though, frankly. I’ll take either one over the hand guard I have now.

      1. avatar Lupinsea says:

        You don’t have to be limited to just M-Loc, though. If you can’t find the accessories in the M-Loc standard, you can alway bolt on a segment of pic rail and run whatever else is on the market.

        Personally, I like the M-Loc better. Significantly better aesthetics, so much more elegant. Supposed to keep things fastened down better than Key-mod. Easier to manufacture.

        Key-mod . . . when ever I see it on a hand guard I either think industrial shelving hardware or it looks like the profile of a bunch of penises (your welcome for not being able to unsee that now).

        Anyway, get something with a smooth ergo form on the hand guard and add rails / accessories as needed.

        1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

          Those are the exact two reasons I don’t like keymod. The shelving in my garage uses it. And that isn’t the first time I’ve heard the comparison.

          M-LOK, maybe. I’m not sure why I’m resisting Magpul – it’s what most of the current furniture is now anyway.

  11. avatar William says:

    I want to hear more about the D&D game. You guys weren’t playing 4th edition, were you?

    1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

      It was a high seas adventure…in 4e. I was a dragonborn with a mordenkrad. A friend had a subscription to whatever they used to call it on Wizards’ site, and we’d abuse the character creator. The majority of my experience, however, is in 3.x. We tried out 5e, and it just lacked something for me.

  12. avatar Nuke_road_warrior says:

    While I applaud your newly discovered appreciation for the fun you can have with firearms in a mostly free state, I caution the author to not Californicate Idaho (for the uneducated a Califoricator is a former resident of the “Golden State” who relocates to a freer/lower cost state and then works hard to make their new locale more like the cesspool they just left). Most of us like Idaho the way it is and don’t feel the need for California style anything and can get a bit grumpy towards the perpetrators.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      Down South we still call people like that “Carpetbaggers.”

      It angers the Yankees that have moved here, but seriously, if they would stop trying to sh1t all over our home, we’d stop calling them names like that. I know one popular NC centric web site that has banned the use of the word “Yankee” much like many other sites ban actual racial epithets.

      It’s the ‘open borders’ argument on a geographically smaller scale.

    2. avatar Stinkeye says:

      “Californicator” is a perfectly descriptive term, since those people fuck up every place they move to.

  13. avatar Mark N. says:

    I had a similar experience. I started with an 80% polymer lower a couple of years ago when California Senator DeLeon first proposed the “ghost gun” ban. It was a political statement. I wasn’t going to do anything with it, but it was just too tempting to just let it sit there….so I bored it out. And then there was the lower kit (no trigger) (and unfortunately a California mandated Bullet button). That was fun! So I added an ALG trigger. Then, one piece at a time, I bought the upper, then the barrel, then the bcg, and finally the hand guard and A2 flame suppressor. Voila! The only problem I had was that the chamber didn’t want to chamber anything longer than a 55 gr pill, do I had to have it bored out to take 62s.

    Now the really sad part. Because of the laws just passed and signed by Brown, I will be required to register my AR as an “assault weapon” sometime during the next two years. Being an attorney, I can’t afford to be caught with an unregistered assault weapon, as it would probably cost me my license–and what use is a gun that just sits around never being shot? Which means that I have to comply with the California onerous conditions for serializing a polymer lower–probably destroying the lower in the process. So I broke down and bought a Spikes lower the other day to avoid the hassle. The only upside is that it will be fun to build another lower.

  14. avatar Swarf says:

    I’ve never been in to ARs, but I’d like to learn more about them with an eye towards doing my own build, what books do you all recommend? This seems like a good thread to ask in, and hopefully will be seen as in the spirit of the conversation, not a threadjack.

    My tastes tend to run more to the historical levers, revolvers and bolts (although I own modern semi-auto pistols for self defense and fun– I’m no Luddite), but I’d like to be up on the inner workings of the more popular platforms, just for curiosity’s sake. Any book reccomendations there?

    1. avatar SouthAl says:

      For my first build, I think I found videos from Brownell’s and Midway. Not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be. I did it as a father/son project with my teenager. I learned lots from AR15.com. Never cared about them before then. Been hooked since.

      1. avatar Cole Mayer says:

        I used Larry Potterfield’s video, so +1 to Midway. All told, it took about 2 hours to build the rifle (though I bought a full upper; it’s possible to buy the parts, but you need the right tools and know-how to put it together, and I wasn’t going to mess with that). Colin had punches, a vise, a block that subs in for the mag, and had put together three ARs already, so it was a pretty smooth build. Without him, it probably would have taken another hour or so.

  15. avatar MouseGun says:

    ARs are like IPAs and Cowen Brothers movies; I want to like them, but I just can’t bring myself to do so.

    1. avatar Swarf says:

      And for the same reasons; they are somehow boring and overly showy at the same time.

  16. avatar James Wilson says:

    Just bought my first AR-15 and I absolutely hate it. Oh, well. Only bought it as a trunk gun anyway.

    I’m an AK guy. The ergos just work better for me.

    EDIT: MouseGun said it perfectly. And I also hate IPAs (bring me a hefeweizen any day) and (most) Cohen Brother movies.

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      Using the word “ergonomics” to describe an AK is being very generous… 🙂

  17. avatar Lotek says:

    You do realize your love for cats is a result of the parasites in your brain. Having said that , I also love cats, just can’t have any right now , my dogs think they are chew toys ? . Loved your post, wish it would get as much play as Kuntzmans.

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