what does AR AR-15 stand for
AR-15 rifle via Wikimedia Commons
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The AR-15 platform rifle is the most popular rifle in the United States. The meaning of “AR” (as in the AR-15 or AR-10 rifles) has been the subject of much debate for a long time. Some folks say it means “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.” Some of this confusion is due to ignorance and some is due to a desire to spread deliberate misinformation by gun control advocates.

Instead, the AR stands for “ArmaLite Rifle.” ArmaLite is the company that developed the rifle in the 1950s, along with the brilliant firearms design Eugene Stoner.

But aren’t they made by Colt?

We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, From The Pages Of Firearm History!

ArmaLite, initially styled “Armalite,” was a small arms concern started by George Sullivan, a patent lawyer who worked for Lockheed. The Fairchild aircraft company realized the potential for small arms manufacturing (with an eye on selling them to the military) and bankrolled the new operation.

They picked up some personnel, including Eugene Stoner, and set to work creating new rifle designs.

euguen stoner what AR ar-15 stands for
Eugene Stoner on the left, Mikhail Kalashnikov on the right. (Photo by Sgt. Chris Lawson) – Marines, Vol.19, No. 7, Page 4, Public Domain, Link

Their first designs were the AR-5 and AR-7 takedown rifles, which found adoption as survival rifles for military pilots in the early 1950s. Since the US military wanted a new battle rifle to replace the aging M1 Garand, Stoner et al. set about making a bigger gun.

The first design was not, in fact, the AR-15 rifle; ArmaLite’s nomenclature is ArmaLite and then the model number, with AR-1 being their first design. The AR-10 came first, with work commencing in 1954/1955.

Stoner and his small team (the company had fewer than ten employees at the time) created some innovative features. The stock was polymer, reducing overall weight. Trigger pull was rather light for rifles of the day. The firing system was changed from a traditional gas piston system to a direct impingement system to simplify the action, along with a rotating bolt.

Without getting overly bogged down in the details (the comments section can fill in the blanks if they wish; this is the elevator version here) a standard gas-operated semi-automatic rifle or shotgun works by using exhaust gases to drive a piston which in turn cycles the action. Direct impingement pipes exhaust gases directly into the receiver, cycling the bolt carrier.

The upside is that it makes the rifle simpler, which allows it to be lighter. (This was part of what the Army wanted in a new battle rifle.) The downside is that exhaust gases and particulate matter is piped directly into the action, making it dirtier and accelerating wear on parts.

Anyhow, the first version – the AR-10 – was chambered for the 7.62x51mm cum .308 Winchester round and submitted for Army trials. That design included features you’d recognize, including the charging handle and carry handle, as well as the hinged upper and lower receiver.

What Does AR Stand For in AR-15?
ArmaLite AR-10 rifle via Wikimedia Commons

However, the Army believed it a bit undercooked and selected the then-T44 rifle, re-designated the M14, as its new rifle instead. But since the M14 was known to be uncontrollable under full-auto operation and the M1 carbine was known to be weak sauce, the US army asked ArmaLite to cook up a version in .223 Remington (later changed to 5.56mm NATO) that would be easier to lay down suppressive fire with.

The rifle had to weight 6 lbs unloaded, had to be effective out to 500 yards, and carry a 20-round (at least) magazine. Stoner and ArmaLite said “No problem!” and came up with the AR-15, which underwent successful testing in in 1957 and 1958. However, the US Army (in fact, Gen. Maxwell Taylor) nixed adopting it in favor of sticking with the M14.

At that point, stymied by the government changing its mind about whether they wanted the thing or not (and knowing they wouldn’t have be able to cope with demand) ArmaLite sold the design to Colt, who re-branded it the Colt ArmaLite AR-15, to honor the company that developed it. When it became obvious that the M14 wasn’t cutting the mustard, the military changed its tune.

The military version of the rifle, eventually designated the M16, was select-fire capable and also added a forward assist. Adoption began in 1963. A civilian version (semi-automatic only) was introduced by Colt (the first was dubbed the AR-15 Sporter) in 1964 during the Vietnam War. It was also sold to law enforcement as well as civilian sport shooters. The M16 underwent a number of revisions and eventually became the modern M4 carbine that’s used today.

ArmaLite, the company, continued developing rifle designs, but fell into obscurity and wound up pushing up the daisies by the 70s. The brand was revived by the late 1990s, and now sells rifles based on Stoner’s designs along with some new stuff such as chassis-based long-range bolt-action rifles.

Today, the AR-15 is the most popular style of modern sporting rifles among American gun owners. (They’re not “assault weapons”…that’s another story entirely). Everyone and their brother makes them. (It’s gotten out of hand if you asked me, but never mind that.) Colt’s patents lapsed in the 1980s, so any gun company can just look up the blueprints and start making them.

Long story short, “AR” never, ever meant “assault rifle” or anything remotely close to that. It’s always stood for ArmaLite. So now you know.

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  1. ARmalite. Duh!

    And the AR-15 was Armalite’s 15th design.

    The Glock 17, while Glock’s first gun was their 17th design. Previously they made other military equipment including lanterns and entrenching tools for the Austrian military.

  2. Lets all day it together; the AR is NOT a direct impingement system. It still uses a piston, just that it is integrated with the bolt and carrier . That’s the brilliance, the piston is in line with the bore. Everything is inline, that’s why it is so good.

    There you go for the comment session, even Wikipedia gets it right (kind of, they STILL really want to call it a DI)

    ″This invention is a true expanding gas system instead of the conventional impinging gas system.″, Stoner

  3. “Ar-15” is a former brand name, and as such stands for “Ar-15”, nothing more. This is no different than a Nissan 300ZX having no acronomical meaning.

    • The AR initials did come from real words though, just like CZ came from the name of a city I can’t possibly spell.

      • CZ comes from “Česká zbrojovka,” which means “Czech Arsenal.” The city name is Brno, in Czech Republic.

      • Just as the various 240, 260, 280, 350, and 370 variants of the Z-car had 2.4, 2.6, 2.8, 3.5, and 3.7 liter motors respectively.

        If you want to hang onto the automotive comparison, “AR15” might be more comparable to Nissan’s chassis codes like Z31 and Z32, or S13, S14, and S15.

  4. Even if it’s not “direct impingement”, the reality is that the gas tube shoots the crap from the just fired round directly into the action. Give it any name you want, but this set up does result in the need to clean the weapon more often than in more “conventional” piston mechanism designs (e.g., AK).

    I’m not an AR basher – the design has a lot of good points – but having carried one in the army and spent many long hours cleaning them after exercises….I’ll keep my AK, thanks.

    • If you are interested, please watch the video from MAC I posted above; specifically the part on cleaning, or the lack thereof, a modern AR-15. It might give you an interesting data point on the current state of the system.

      If you don’t want to wade through the whole video: https://youtu.be/ZYuuFSxcDTs?t=890

      BTW: I use AKs as well and consider them, incorrect or not, to be the go-to, work in most conditions, rifle.

    • The advantage of the Garand system is that it is self cleaning to some degree. I have gone over 1000 rounds on a Mini-14 doing nothing more than swabbing out the chamber and barrel and relubricating it. I know people who have gone twice as many rounds with both Mini-14s and M1As without problems.

    • … , but this set up does result in the need to clean the weapon more often …

      True, it does require a little more cleaning and maintenance, but is there any other design that’s as easy to strip, clean and maintain? Not even close.

      Then there’s the operating ergonomics (runs more like pistol than a rifle). Also, there’s open source nature and more recent commercial developments like low-profile gas blocks, floating hand guards, piston conversions, practically any caliber, etc. The basic design still holds as the state of the art of the modern rifle.

      • Having carried an M-16A1 in the army, and owning an AK patten rifle now, I can tell you that in terms of ease of maintenance – both in terms of needing less AND when you do need to maintain, it is easier to perform – the AK has the AR beat hands down. No military style semiautomatic rifle (or military issue assault rifle in selective fire configuration) is easier to strip and clean than an AK.

        I agree that the AR is easier to run. That is the contrast between the two designs: Do you want easier to run or easier to maintain? I opted for easier to maintain plus I prefer the 7.62x39mm round over 5.56 NATO, but those are my personal preferences. To each their own.

        • 7.62 is superior all around….5.56 just barely gets it done up close and as the range increases it’s effectiveness drops off rapidly…has anyone ever actually been killed at 500 yds with the 5.56.?…shortening the barrel to M-4 specs…while handy…limits its effectiveness even more so…..

    • gotta’ use a pipe cleaner on the gas tube for optimum performance…especially on the “shorty’s”….my 10″ and 11.5” require more maintenance to avoid frequent malfunctions…

  5. From my understanding and experience AR stands for Another Receipt.

    Why? Because when you get one you will do the following…

    1. Buying New Furniture for It
    2. Buying an Optic for It
    3. Donating to Gun Rights Organizations So Certain Political Groups Won’t Ban It

    But some say it stands for Another Republican !!

  6. Before anyone slams me, no I don’t own one but don’t have anything against someone who does.

    I went in the army in the 1980s and the Drill sergeants, off hand, called them an Assault Rifle, it may have been wrong but it is what I learned. Either way, the whole point of it was something light, maneuverable and durable, you could get it wet, dump the water out and keep on going. Easy to clean. Let’s face it, most people would not be interested in it if it wasn’t. I remember when every one wanted an Uzzie.

    • Your training may well be correct, but then wasn’t it about the M16 and not the AR-15 of today?. If it had selective fire (M16, M4), either automatic or 3 round burst then yes it was an “assault rifle”. Not that there was such an official designation.

      That does not describe today’s AR-15.

      • There is a official US military designation of Assault Rifle. Mag fed, select fire rifle firing a intermediate caliber.

        • https://www.britannica.com/technology/assault-rifle#ref1251369

          “Assault rifle, military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.”

          “In 1962 the U.S. Air Force adopted the AR-15, and the Department of Defense designated it the M16. Five years later, with units engaged in the Vietnam War finding the weapon very effective under the close conditions of jungle warfare, the U.S. Army adopted it as the M16A1.”

        • John in Ohio – Your source is WRONG! Just because it is Britannica, doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. Colt provided an AR15 design weapon WITH select-fire capability to the military, which is NOT the same as the AR15, because the military requirement was it had to have full auto capability. That select-fire weapon was the M16. Even Wikipedia got it right initially, then screwed up by calling it the AR15. The AR15 NEVER had automatic capability, that option was added when it was given to the military for testing and eventual purchase – the initial military designation would have been XM16 (for Experimental), and once accepted it would have become the M16. Military nomenclature is something these civilian idiots don’t get – when the military puts out a requirement for a weapon system, they already have a nomenclature designation for that weapon, so it is never referred to by it’s civilian counterpart designation!

        • @Rattlerjake.

          It’s amazing how confident you are about something you are completely wrong about. The AR15 as designed was a select fire weapon. A assault rifle. AR15 serial number 1 clearly shows the weapon is select fire. AARs from Vietnam clearly show the weapons being referred to as AR15 and talk about it’s automatic fire. It wasn’t until after the rifles had already been tested in Vietnam with AR15 and not M16 stamped on the side. Then after the M16 designation was given to the AR15. Were semiautomatic only AR15s produced for civilian sale by Colt.

          The AR15 was designed as a assault rifle. Had select fire from the very first gun.

        • “The AR15 NEVER had automatic capability, that option was added when it was given to the military for testing and eventual purchase –”

          AR-15 #00001 with Auto, Safe, and Semi…


          The Air Force standardizes the AR 15 and designates the rifle M-16. 85,000 rifles are purchased by the Air Force. Also this year, the US Army purchases 85,000 more M-16 rifles.”

          “1963: The M-16 is Born

          With the AR-15 in the hands of the Air Force, a standard model of the rifle is born. They dub it the M-16, the most famous service weapon of the United States Military.

          General Curtis LeMay saw a demonstration of the AR-15 in 1960. Impressed by the prowess of this new firearm, when General LeMay became the Air Force Chief of Staff in the Summer of 1961, he placed 80,000 AR-15’s on order for the U.S. Air Force.

          In 1961, ten AR-15’s were sent to South Vietnam, as the United States continued to penetrate into the jungles of Indochina.”

        • About 14000 of the first Colt model AR-15 (Model 01, or 601), were dual rollmarked as Colt and Armalite and were select fire machine guns. Some later Colt models, like the 614, also were full auto and called AR-15 instead of M-16.

    • Uzi had the advantage you could use it as a club..[heavy!]…even had a bayonet lug…..Israelies adopted the russian concept that if you gave everyone an automatic weapon…the training requirements would be minimal….

  7. The AR-15 was first selected as a combat arm by the US Air Force.
    The Army as usual was late.\ but they did get there eventually.

    • Gen Curtis LeMay, USAF, was the driving force behind the Air Force’s purchase of the M-16, I believe. Gen LeMay was a much maligned man by the Left. Figures.

  8. If I may, I’m curious as to the following. Could this rifle have been manufactured/designed for a 30-06 length cartridge? If so, I wonder why it wasn’t.

    • Because 30-06 was already obsolete from a military view. .308 allowed less weight and similar performance. Even that missed the boat though as shown by the 5.56 transition. There are long action ar-10 variants in 300wm so it is possible and I think I have even seen em for sale online.

      • The principle driver was the shorter cartridge length which allowed for a faster cycle time in full auto mode. The .308 was an existing hunting cartridge that offered similar performance to the 30-06. Had Winchester not introduced the round in 1952 it is very likely that the M-14 and its competitors would have been chambered in 30-06

        • NATO conformity dictated .308…(and 9mm)…..even the MG-42…or at least its modern variants… were rechambered for it….

    • One could use the conceptual design for nearly any cartridge. The issues to be addressed are size, materials, strength of components and so forth, just like for any firearm design.
      There are certainly cartridges that are better suited to and more poorly suited to the basic configuration but the concept could be applied to virtually any small arms cartridge.

    • Alan
      It probably could be but you run into the same reasons the .308 was developed from 30-06.

      -Basically lengthy round so long action adding weight.

      -30-06 shoulder is 17 degrees and .308 is 20 so it feeds better in semi and full auto.

      – Would be uncontrollable on full auto in a 6 pound rifle. It’s bad in an 11 pound FAL or M14

    • Cause multiple studies showed 5.56 is a superior fighting cartridge to both 30-06 and 7.62. And it even killed people better.

      • No it’s not. It lacks the lethality and penetration of the heavier rounds. It’s main advantage is weight but that’s only true if you use it like a M1/M14/FN FAL, i.e, semiautomatic. Otherwise you consume your ammunition so fast that you have to carry proportionately more. After Vietnam the Army rejected spray and pray for traditional aimed fire. They adopted tactics that German Army developed for the STG 44 — principally semiautomatic fire with select fire for suppression or covering fire.

        • Well first of all. M193 from a M16 had superior terminal ballisitcs than either 30-06 M2 or M80 7.62×51 inside typical combat engagement ranges. This is due to the fact the round would fragment. This is supported by AARs/photographs. And live tissue and gelatin testing. Which isn’t suprising considered the US military new since the 1920 with the Pig Board testing that small high speed light weight projectiles would outperform heavier and slower rounds when it came to terminal ballisitcs. Which is one of the reasons the original design of the M1 was going to be .276 Pedersen.

          Also M193 had more than sufficient penetration for the jungles of Vietnam.

          And guess what. Most soldiers weren’t spraying and praying in Vietnam constantly. Most fire was actually semiautomatic. Which still 5.56 is vastly superior for than 7.62. Soldiers are more accurate with it. Can fire follow up shots faster. And can suppress for far longer with the same amount of weight.

        • One of the reasons the Army wants a new chambering is the lack of lethality of the 5.56 cartridge. Explain.

          Enough penetration for Vietnam sure didn’t translate to enough penetration for any place else.

          It wasn’t until the end of the War that Army started reemphasizing marksmanship and semiautomatic fire. They went into the war buying off on SLA Marshall’s faulty conclusions

        • Afterthought. You must be a fan of the G2 RIP. Rounds that fragment aka frangible rounds are less lethal than normal rounds. There are designed to trade lethality for penetration to prevent collateral damage from over penetration. That is not a concern on the battlefield. Next thing you will be telling me is the early 80s excuse that wounding someone is more effective because it takes two soldiers to deal with a wounded man and nine for a dead man. That would only true if your opponent cared which no US adversary has done since May 8rh, 1945.

        • It’s amazing how little you know what you are talking about. The Army is wanting a new round specifically for defeating modern body armor at 500 meters. That’s the driving force. Not a lack of lethality from our current 5.56 general purpose round. M855A1 which is receiving amazing reviews due to the fact that it fragments extremely well even at extendeds range from the 14.5 inch barrels and is not yaw dependent. While also having excellent penetration against barriers.

          The issues with lack of lethality with 5.56 was a specific round. M855 which due to it’s design had a high fragmentation speed requirement. And was extremely yaw dependent. Which meant from M4s had a extremely short fragmentation range and even inside this range was unreliable in it’s wounding patterns.

          M193 the round used in Vietnam fragmented well. Again it killed better than M80 and 30-06 M2 cause they just went right thru guys and left small holes unless hitting bones. Which is validated by ballistics testing and AARs.

          And no I don’t believe it’s better to wound than kill. Which means you want tissue destruction. And that is best achieved in rifle caliber rounds from fragmentation unless or expansion for older rounds and shorter barrels. Unlike pistol caliber rounds like RIP that don’t have enough energy to reliably incapacitate thru fragmentation.

        • had a couple of accidental discharges with an AR in my house…neither of which exited the building…best it could do was punch a hole in one side of a concrete block in the first instance…and was apparently stopped by a plastic multi-outlet strip and a stack of tax forms in the second not even reaching the wall…so much for penetration….by the way, it went off right after cocking it and without me touching the trigger…something I attributed to the installation of one of those fancy over-sized target grips…something to be cautious of….

    • Noreen Firearms makes 30.06 AR pattern rifles. As well as 308, 308WM, 270, 408 Cheytac…all the bigger rounds. Never pulled the trigger on one (shot/buy). They look like fun.

    • Closest you can get in 30-06 is the hcar rifle from Ohio Ordnance. It’s based on the BAR. It’s been chopped down to look like an AR-10. And they even make 30 round magazines for it!

  9. According to the old guys back in the day we had a DC3/C47 do an emergency landing on a crop duster air strip on the west side of the county. Upon there arrival they found three things. An airplane, an ass load of pot and an interesting rifle. The first time the Captian showed up on the range with it I said, “Holy shit! Where did this come from?” (See above.) It was marked Armalite/Colt AR-15, pencil barrel, three prong flash suppressor, OD green forend and pistol grip. Stock is black. Full-auto. I did some research. Last record of this rifle was in the possession of the U.S. Navy. Key West, FL. Reckon it saw some shit?

  10. ArmaLite Rifle

    Only Leftard Morons,would be tyrants would come up with something else totally out of leftard field.

    • It’s also the most popular rifle amongst the wannabe minutemen of the 21st century.
      Whether you are getting ready for the day of the walking dead, that famous incoming Russian and Korean invasion (I cannot wait to take those Mig and Sukoi with my rifle), or the government coming to lock you in a FEMA Camp.
      Ricky Bobby complains all the time, healthcare is too pricey, he will never be able to afford college for his kids…yet he spends thousands of $ every year in ammo, AR rifles and parts, wannabe Bear Grills commando ninja survivor doomsday bull****. And all of that to get droned or taken down by a trained professional military or police unit the day “stuff hits the fan”. Sad.

      • Look on the bright side. It’s less people commies have to exterminate and send into death camps when y’all come to power.

        Don’t worry, they outright execute the useful idiots early on so you won’t have to see it.

    • .223 is generally viewed as inadequate for deer hunting in most states…which speaks to its lethality…or lack of same….it’s basically a .222 magnum….which is a varmint cartridge

  11. I remember the M-16 as an ArmaLite. I was in the Marines in Vietnam. I loved the M-14. It was very reliable, solid and accurate. You could dive into a wet sandy, rocky mud pit, jump out and keep firing. It was indestructible and it could reach waaay out with those thirty caliber rounds. It had a nominal muzzle velocity of 28-hundred fps. Then we got the M-16. At first there were problems with dirt and of course the ever-present mud clogging the chamber and bolt, but a spring loaded door got added and that seemed to help.
    I could shoot the M-14 on full auto and keep nearly all the rounds on target, which is one of the reasons I loved the M-14. But, the M-16 was a dream on full auto. The recoil buffers in the plastic stock kept it from dancing around. I loved the Mickey Mouse rifle too. (By the way the muzzle velocity was 32-hundred fps, smokin.). You tended to carry only four or five of the 20 round M-14 magazines and even that seemed to bog you down. You could carry two, ten magazine bandoliers of the .556 ammo into a combat area without breaking a sweat. Now, that’s a big plus.

    • And what happened when that piece of junk of 5.56mm hit thick leaves in the jungle? 30 cal all day everyday especially in jungle warfare. Yes magazines are a lot heavier.

    • which remains its primary appeal…something only an infantryman can appreciate….the M-14 would have been a better fit for Afghanistan….

  12. AR for Arkansas, because it was designed by Cletus in a trailer park somewhere near Little Rock. That’s one of the reason why it is a piece of junk and got many boys killed in Vietnam.

  13. So I guess the AR-7 is also an assault Rifle? Of course James Bond used one to take out a helicopter. So it must be true!

  14. “…It’s gotten out of hand if you asked me…”

    We didn’t.

    And that is part of the beauty of it. With a pile of parts you can assemble your own with few special tools and very modest skill. If that is upsetting, perhaps you write for the wrong type of publication.

  15. I remember in my youth being assigned an M16 riffle with the Mattel symbol stamped in the grip. The handle on the top of the upper receiver was also a part of the rear sites 1 – 2 clicks up or down makes a world of difference not to mention the barrel was usually bent from wrapping the sling around your arm for the feeling of better grip and support.

  16. I hate to break it to some of you geniuses, but you’re wrong. According to the American Gun Association, “AR” stands for:

    “Despite what anti-gun pundits might tell you, AR (as in AR 15, 10, etc.) does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.” Instead, AR stands for ArmaLite.”


    Until you mental midgets actually know what you’re talking about, you have no business even talking about the topic.


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