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America's favorite rifle. (JWT for TTAG)
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The AR-15 platform rifle is the most popular rifle in the United States. Yet somehow, the meaning of “AR” (as in the AR-15 or AR-10 rifles) continues to be the subject of much debate. We’d have thought the matter was settled long ago. Some still claim AR means “assault rifle” or even “automatic rifle.” Some of that is due to ignorance, but lots of people and media organizations have an interest in continuing to spread misinformation about the rifle’s origin and what ‘AR’ really means.

So in the interest of clarity and accuracy we’ll repeat this one more time; ‘AR’ stands for “ArmaLite Rifle.” ArmaLite is the company that developed the rifle back in the 1950s, along with the brilliant firearms design Eugene Stoner.

AR-15 magazine flag

Wait, some of you say. Weren’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 hired 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 was looking for a new battle rifle to replace the aging M1 Garand, Stoner et al. set about making a better gun.

The first design was not, in fact, the AR-15. 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.

what does AR AR-15 stand for
AR-15 rifle via Wikimedia Commons

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.

AR-15 BCG bolt carrier group
AR-15 bolt carrier group (Palmetto State Armory)

The upside is that it makes the rifle simpler, which allows it to be lighter. That was part of what the Army said it wanted in a new battle rifle. The downside is that exhaust gases and particulate matter are 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 thought the design was 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 near uncontrollable under full-auto operation and the M1 carbine was considered 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 anyway) 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 finally 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 relative 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.

Today, the AR-15 is the most popular style of modern sporting rifles among American gun owners. (No, they’re not “assault weapons”…that’s another story entirely). Everyone and their brother now makes them. Colt’s patents lapsed in the 1980s, so any gun company can get into the business and they have.

Long story short, the “AR” in AR-15 never, ever meant “assault rifle” or anything remotely close to that. It always stood for ArmaLite. Pay no attention to what the gun control industry or the media may try to tell you. Just so now you know.

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    • Gene and Mikhail had a nice chat in Virginia in 1990 and discussed the M-16 :

      • Part 2, same guys, discussing the design of the AK :

  1. Email this article to every Newspaper and TV station in your area. In order to spread the facts and educate against the Liberal Democrat politicians and their acolytes in the Media.

    • Yes, Jim Sullivan is the one that scaled it down.

      I’ve posted this before, but here’s the short version:

      Armalite wanted a semi-auto civilian rifle that had military styling. They wanted to capture the growing market for rifles that had a military style and they wanted to based their semi-auto civilian rifle on the AR-10 styling and design. So Sullivan scaled the AR-10 down and started work on a civilian rifle, this was the actual origin design of what later became the AR-15. It was not created as a military only rifle, it was conceptualized and designed originally as a civilian rifle.

      When the military need came to be Stoner took that civilian rifle design that Sullivan had scaled down and designed and changed it for the things the military wanted (e.g. auto fire, smaller round .223).

      That’s how Stoner gets the credit and Sullivan is mostly not mentioned.

      The ‘AR’ stands for ‘Armalite Rifle’ and the ’15’ stands for the 15’th rifle in the Armalite design series. The civilian rifle design that Sullivan had scaled down from the AR-10 was originally slated for a future designation of AR-16 but never made it that far because the attempt by Armalite to initially market the military need version of the civilian rifle to the military froze the design designation at AR-15 designation.

      I got this information from Stoner himself many years ago now before he passed away. A chance meeting at SHOT Show 1990, that just happen to have been the first SHOT show I ever attended. Stoner and C. Reed Knight at Knights Armament designed a prototype lightweight compact handgun. Colt got their hands on it, and started changing things with it and proceeded to transform it into the Colt All American Model 2000 pistol and introduced the pistol at SHOT Show 1990. Stoner was at the show to promote the gun, and I had a chance to talk to him. The Colt All American Model 2000 pistol failed miserably in the market, by 1994, Colt ceased production and the Model 2000 became one of the worst failures in Colt’s history.

      • “Armalite wanted a semi-auto civilian rifle that had military styling“

        Set the article above is incorrect?

        From the article:

        “ …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.“

        “Our father, Eugene Stoner, designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47,” the Stoner family told NBC News late Wednesday. “He died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events.”

        • I wonder if Stoner would have been on board with curtailing human and civil rights because of the shootings?

          Which you are.

        • “designed the AR-15”

          That “design” consisted of ‘converting’ a civilian rifle design which was the real origin.

          For example, if you take a pick-up truck and turn it into a ‘monster truck’ it can be said you “designed” a monster truck but it does not mean you designed the pick-up truck but rather in reality just converted it to a ‘monster truck’.

          The AR-15 was originally designed as a civilian only semi-auto rifle, period. It was not originally “designed” as a military weapon or ‘weapon of war’, period. It is 100% false that the AR-15 was created and designed as a military weapon or ‘weapon of war’.

          What Stoner did was basically ‘convert’ the civilian design, and in that sense, like the ‘monster truck’ example it could be said in a passing broad manner he ‘designed’ the military version but in reality it was simply converting what already existed.

          But in reality, the actual design which was a civilian design was already at the ‘AR-15’ designation for a civilian rifle. When Stoner converted it for the military need the designation stuck with it because that was the current Armalite design sequence number. Had the civilian rifle been marketed at the time and not been converted for a military need it would have had an AR-16 designation because the final touches refinement design for a marketed version would have move the Armalite design number sequencing scheme they used up a number.

        • “Our father, Eugene Stoner, designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47,”

          this is false.

          Aside from what I already posted. The M-16 designation was applied to a Colt re-design of the Armalite patent for what Stoner converted from a civilian rifle design that was designated the AR-15 by Armalite in their design sequencing numbering.

          Once again that word “design” thrown around without context and broadly has created a lot of false information.

        • “Set the article above is incorrect?”

          For cripes sake Miner49er, learn what context means.

          Nothing I posted says the article is incorrect as written. The article is written in broad strokes, it doesn’t go into the detail context.

          “ …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 Army made a request for a rifle. basically, that’s when Stoner (in context) converted the existing civilian design which was already designated AR-15 > (the context being explained here > and here >

        • What I understand is that you had a chance meeting 33 years ago and your recollection is what you are now relating.

          “A chance meeting at SHOT Show 1990“

          The references you list are just your postings on another forum thread.

          And on the basis of this, you have the audacity to state that Stoner’s personal family statements are “false”.

          I think this explains a lot of the bullshit about the big lie of the stolen election, complete denial of reality, even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary.

          “existing civilian design”

          So what evidence do you have, besides a 33 year old hearsay recollection, to substantiate your claim of an existing civilian design of the AR 15?

          Certainly you have a copy of a advertisement regarding this civilian rifle? Or perhaps internal company documentation of the RFP, projected design or finished product?

          Certainly there must be some sort of documentation to support your claim, a hearsay recollection from a gun show casual conversation does not come near meeting the burden of proof for your claim.

        • @Miner49er

          I’m not going to address each of your false or outrageous claims or ignorance, and go into detail as I don’t have the time right now. I’ll just post this for right now to get you started:

          1. >

          “The AR-15 was first developed as a semi-automatic rifle for civilians in the 1950s by Armalite…”

          “In 1959, the design of the weapon was sold to another company, Colt, which soon adapted it into a military, fully automatic version known as the M-16.”

          2. >

          “First developed in the 1950s for civilian use, the AR-15 rifle was named after its manufacturer, Armalite.”

          Even the Poynter Institute, a left wing journalism think tank infamous for its anti-gun stories and its anti-gun bias knows it was originally developed for the civilian market. (link above)

          fact: Today’s civilian semi-automatic AR-15 has never been a military rifle.

          fact: The AR-15 was originally designed as a civilian semi-auto rifle and not as a military rifle.

          fact: my recollection of the conversation I had with Stoner many years ago is excellent. He related to me what I have posted.

          The family statements, not that they deliberately lied, are ‘false’ because of the use of the ‘designed’ in relation to the AR-15 and M-16. It may be ‘designed’ to them in their understanding, but in reality Stoner converted the existing civilian AR-15 design to adapt it for the military market and the AR-15 designation stayed with it.

          Now granted, there was a design drawn up but it was a conversion design. There was a prototype of Stoners conversion creation from the civilian AR-15,. These are the AR-15 ‘points’ in history everyone on the left points to in their ‘trying to re-write history to claim the AR-15 was created as a military weapon of war – they conveniently leave out, as do you, the actual origin as a civilian rifle. The prototype of the military conversion was part of the design patents that Colt bought and later developed by Colt into what became the M-16. (I explained previously why the AR-15 designation stuck with Stoners conversion.)

          Stoner did not design the M-16, Colt did that after they bought the patents of the AR-15 from Armalite.

        • Liar49er, you might want to quote more reliable sources than MSNBC. (Or actually, you wouldn’t.)

          The inventor’s surviving children and adult grandchildren spoke exclusively to NBC News by phone and email, commenting for the first time on their family’s uneasy legacy. They requested individual anonymity in order to speak freely about such a sensitive topic.

          Adult grandchildren? Why?

          He designed the original AR-15 in the late 1950s, working on it in his own garage and later as the chief designer for ArmaLite, a then small company in southern California. He made it light and powerful and he fashioned a new bullet for it — a .223 caliber round capable of piercing a metal helmet at 500 yards.

          The Army loved it and renamed it the M16.

          The article won’t go as far to say that Stoner designed it “in the late 1950s … in his own garage” for the military. And they left out the steps between the late 1950s civilian rifle and the military M-16, which is a different weapon.

          “After many conversations with him, we feel his intent was that he designed it as a military rifle,” his family said, explaining that Stoner was “focused on making the most efficient and superior rifle possible for the military.”

          — “Tony Dokoupil is a reporter for msnbc … Prior to NBC News, Dokoupil worked for The Newsweek Daily Beast Company, where he was a senior writer.”

          MSNBC? Daily Beast? Now there’s some Pulitzer-worth journalisming right thar.

  2. Stoner looks like he’s feeling covetous toward what St. Mikhail clearly knows is superior.

      • so in reality the civilian semi-auto MSR (AKA AR-15) is really the semi-auto civilian rifle Armalite envisioned just in a different caliber and with evolutionary refinements.

        • What’s it called when you ask a question to which you already know the answer? I did have a method to my madness.

          Thanks .40 cal — you always explain this subject well.

    • And so what if it was designed as a weapon of war. The Right To Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.
      It was writ so we the people had the weapons needed to stop a tyrannical government or protect our country.
      The Second Amendment is so watered down it’s a wonder a person can
      even read it,,,, oh wait, I need to correct myself. The BATFE cant read it, Congress cant read it and our president cant even read a teleprompter let alone make sense of the words Shall Not Be Infringed.

    • The AR15 was not designed to be used by the military fighting in a declared war.

      But it does get used as a weapon in war.

      • Yes and it and the phrase W.O.W are both exploitativly used by the “Takers”
        My point the constitutions 2nd amendment does not limit what weapons we can bear. .the takers have brought that can of worms to the table as to facilitate what the givers can compromise, regulate and ingringe to We the Citezens Militia of The United States of America with their idea of the limits of RKABA.
        Laws only work against us, not against them.
        In their eyes the Constitution of the United States of America limits the people not the giverment.

        • And naturally, the intent of 2A was to ensure that we the people could keep and bear weapons of war.

  3. Americas
    15 times better than the ak
    and yes there are 15 reasons why
    dont make me list them

  4. Mattel and Hasbro were already taken so they just used the “AR” out of “Toys R Us”.

  5. It stands for ASSUALT RIFLE and our Constitutional Second Amendment declares We The People can pocess ASSAULT RIFLES.
    This bullshit is it isnt it pistol grip bayonet lug folding stock full auto whatever.
    Nope We let our giverment decide what is and what isnt. I’ll tell you what our giverment is going to give us when it comes to weapons, nothing, because even a feather can be used as a weapon, so says the DOC.
    Armalite Rifle technically.

  6. This thing has been with us since the 50’s and this country STILL does not understand it and trembles in fear (the left completely flips out in fear).

    We live in a time when men are toxic and women…well, no one seems to even know what women are.

    We are told to follow the science from people that know nothing of what science actually is.

    This whole this is so laughably absurd, upside down, and backwards.

  7. now that all the bugs have been worked out of the 7.62×39 in the ar platform
    there really is no need for the ak or the mini thirty anymore

    • Absolutely, and there is no need for the Model T Ford in the rotting garage either.

      • What I mean is as crude as an AK is it will develop a cult following if they become difficult to acquire. Some gunms loose value, some dont. I believe the AK will increase in value, I hope 😉

  8. The AR stands for ‘Account Rifle’ – on account it can become a money pit.

  9. “So in the interest of clarity and accuracy we’ll repeat this one more time; ‘AR’ stands for “ArmaLite Rifle.” ”

    False. It just stands for “ArmaLite”. The AR line includes shotguns (AR-9, AR-17) and non-firearm firearm accessories (AR-22, AR-23).

  10. The AR actually stands for “Amendment Rescinding” as it was designed to be abused and instrumental in the rescinding of second amendment rights. A very clever strategy introduced by the radical left many decades ago. The brilliance is how it continues to do it’s intent.

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