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Hopefully, Part I of this series successfully dispatched the common-but-wrong notion that the AR-15 is merely an “assault rifle” with few practical applications for the non-government shooter. With the civilian-use merits of the AR now established, let’s take a look the gun from a potential buyer’s point-of-view. To get some real-world perspective on the matter, I visited The AR Bunker in Newnan, Georgia.  In addition to being a full-line gun store, they specialize in selling and servicing custom ARs for both individuals and government agencies (such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation). I started off by asking proprietor Rusty Morris about some of the reasons folks give as to why they’re buying ARs.  “It varies,” he said.  “Everything from hunting, to target shooting, to personal defense.” The whole “personal defense” thing sounded odd to me.

I’ve always considered a rifle less than desirable in the home-defense capacity, due to its size and the length of time needed to deploy and aim the weapon in a tense situation. As someone living in a single-story home, I feared a powerful rifle round’s potential for over-penetration, which could possibly injure or kill those sleeping in other rooms of the house.

The AR’s unmatched flexibility seems poised to overcome anything (even my skepticism). I soon learned that a collapsible-stock-equipped AR with the shorter 16-inch barrel, a laser sight and a flashlight would deploy quickly. Equally important, it would provide quick aiming options even in a lights-off situation. By chambering it in 9mm (one of many popular AR calibers), the over-penetration concern is ameliorated (if not alleviated).

Personal/home defense was my primary concern, but the astounding array of AR add-ons addresses the needs of nearly any rifle customer. Two of the most popular options fall into the categories of lasers and lights.

Laser sights, though nothing new, represent the advancement in mainstream military-grade technology. From business meetings, to college lecture halls, to construction sites, straight lines courtesy of laser beams are a normal part of modern life. It’s that way for guns, too. As you no doubt know, once switched on, laser sights place a red or green laser dot on the target, marking exactly where your round will land. In the AR-15’s case, there are plenty of options.

Although typically mounted to the optional accessory rail surrounding the AR’s hand guard, gun-builders can mount laser sight modules in a number of places on the rifle. While some lasers require manual on-off switching at the module itself, other (typically more expensive) models include a pressure switch that is either affixed or made into the gun’s pistol grip for instant-on status anytime the shooter squeezes.

Once zeroed, laser sights are extremely accurate. However, Rusty at the AR Bunker urges his customers to consider the fact that the laser beam will never be on the exact same axis as the bore of the weapon. Because of this, the distance at which the laser dot portrays an accurate destination for your round varies (e.g. a laser zeroed to 100 yards won’t be accurate at 20 yards unless it’s re-adjusted for that range).

Gun-mounted LED flashlights are more forgiving (unless they’re suddenly shined into your eyes in dark room). Mountable in just as many locations around the AR as their laser cousins, these range from tiny modules no bigger than the smallest lasers to nearly-full-sized models, quickly detachable for hand-held use. Like lasers, some gun-mounted lights are available with pressure switches. Other options (such as colored filters) are available as you ascend the price/complexity ladder.

As I gazed at the dizzying selection of ARs and accessories behind the counter (not to mention those on the shelves) at the AR Bunker, it was easy to see how the industry has stepped up to equip the world’s most versatile rifle for any purse or purpose. But it all starts with a good basic design. As we discussed last time, the AR’s modularity and adaptability comprise the foundation for the gun’s stunning dexterity.

“The nice thing about the AR,” Rusty said, “is that almost all parts from one will work on another one.” Just stay away from cheap parts, he cautions. “Garbage in-garbage out” applies in the world of custom rifles as it does everywhere else.

The AR-15 is not without an inherent weak point. Rusty confirmed that the direct gas impingement action of the AR does cause it to foul worse than some other designs. However, this greatly depends on the quality of ammo used (the cheaper stuff tends to be dirtier, obviously).  Fortunately, field-stripping and cleaning an AR is a breeze, something for which our combat troops likely still thank Mr. Stoner. As Rusty demonstrates in the video, the major components come apart in a matter of seconds for routine cleaning.

Visiting the AR Bunker really drove home the fact the AR is the average rifle consumer’s quickest route to a true custom gun: a weapon built specifically for them (and/or by them), tailored to meet their needs. A rifle that’s priced right and shoots tight. Even if you think that “assault rifles” should be banned, you have to admit that the AR-15 represents American engineering—and marketing—at its finest.

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