In most of the 20th century, the antigun movement focused on banning handguns. Rifles and shotguns were said to be good, pistols and revolvers bad. The Colt AR-15 Sporter rifle hit the civilian market in 1964, the same year that Colt made its first deliveries of the M-16 to the Air Force. The AR-15 is semiautomatic, requiring a separate function of the trigger for each shot, while the M-16 is automatic, meaning it fires continuously as long as the trigger is pulled back. Despite that basic difference, they looked similar on the outside, causing the Violence Policy Center [to] see the potential for confusion in the public. The idea of labeling the AR-15 and like rifles “assault weapons” and banning them was born. …
And now comes Bruen, collapsing the house of cards. Conduct within the “plain text” of the Second Amendment is presumptively protected, and a restriction may be valid only if the government shows it to be “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition.” Text-history is in, means-ends scrutiny is out. And the history (or analogues thereof) that matters is 1791 and the initial decades that followed, as long as consistent with the text and early history.
Under the Heller test, as elaborated upon by Bruen, AR-15s and similar semiautomatic firearms may not be prohibited. Indeed, Heller and Bruen together establish the test for any ban on firearms, and that test makes clear that all firearms in common use for lawful purposes are protected and cannot be banned.
AR-15s and other similar firearms come within the “plain text,” because they are bearable arms. Heller and Bruen both establish that the Second Amendment extends presumptively to all bearable arms. Second, banning such firearms is not consistent with this Nation’s history. Indeed, the Supreme Court established that such a ban is inconsistent with this Nation’s history nearly thirty years ago by holding that AR-15 rifles “traditionally have been widely accepted as lawful possessions,” Staples v. U.S. (1994).
What is more, the historical boundaries of protected arms have already been established in Heller and Bruen. Those cases make clear that the only arms that are not protected are “dangerous and unusual weapons,” which necessarily entails that citizens have a right to possess and use arms that are “in common use today.” For this reason, historical analogues have no place here; the Supreme Court has done the historical analysis and set forth the “common use” test.
— Stephen Halbrook in America’s Rifle