Kelly D McMillan, Managing General Partner of McMillan USA, with a nice gemsbock. Photo courtesy McMillan USA
Among the many products it makes, McMillan Firearms Manufacturing of Phoenix, Arizona is probably best known for its line of high-end precision rifles. Its TAC-50 sniper rifle is thought by many to be one of the finest sniper rifles in the world. One of its admirers was a Canadian Army sniper named Rob Furlong who was involved in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002 and made what was at the time the longest confirmed kill shot in world history by taking out an al-Qaeda insurgent who was 7,970 feet away. That’s right–over 1.5 miles out and verified by witnesses and a laser range finder. McMillan has been providing incredibly accurate rifles to many of the most elite military units in the world, including the U.S. Navy Seals.
In April of this year, Fox News reported that McMillan Group International had been dropped as a customer by Bank of America (BoA). The McMillan Group has manufactured gun stocks, tactical, and high-end hunting rifles for almost 40 years. According to an email exchange that made its way around the internet, Managing General Partner Kelly D. McMillan said that during two meetings with BoA executives he was told that “his company’s business would no longer be welcomed by Bank of America, because his company manufactures firearms.” McMillan reported that he “was not even offered an opportunity to restructure his debt or make some other deal, though his company had never missed a payment or bounced a check.”
The Fox News article in April also reported that BoA denied the claim and said via email “Bank of America holds in high regard every right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and all of its Amendments, including the Second Amendment.” The McMillan/Bank of America dispute quickly went viral and generated articles and comments from a host of sources, including Facebook and endless emails.
Now, let’s fast-forward several months and see how McMillan is coping. A visit to the McMillan website at www.McMillanusa.com gives us a picture of a flourishing and diversified company. Founded by Gale McMillan in 1973 upon his high-quality gun stocks for demanding benchrest matches, the parent company, McMillan Group International, has the following subsidiaries:
McMillan Fiberglass Stocks, based upon Gale’s high quality gun stocks for demanding benchrest matches,
McMillan Operator Development, which offers advanced tactical training for military and law enforcement,
McMillan Machine Company, which makes precision machined parts, and finally,
McMillan Firearms Manufacturing, that has two divisions:
McMillan Tactical Products, for the specialized needs of military and law enforcement, and
McMillan Hunting Products, which develops and markets custom hunting rifles and gear.
But wait, there’s more! They also book safaris, manufacture custom ammunition and knives, and offer a marksmanship training school!
That seems like a lot of business activity that is being foregone by Bank of America. So how has McMillan coped without BoA? Very well, thank you. I called McMillan’s headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona and asked to speak with Kelly McMillan. Dee Brown, the receptionist, was very polite and said that Mr. McMillan wasn’t available, but asked if I wanted to speak with his wife, Mary Jo McMillan. Mrs. McMillan was delightful to chat with and answered all my questions in a straightforward manner.
McMillan now employs 100 people and banks with the National Bank of Arizona. They are extremely pleased with the service and personal attention their new bank gives them. The National Bank of Arizona has huge resources and it seems that that they have a branch in every town in the state.
When I asked Mrs. McMillan a little more about their company, she said that I didn’t get through to Kelly because he was on safari in Mozambique with Craig Boddington and wouldn’t be back until November. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. When their son Ryan McMillan returned from duty with the Navy SEALs in 2008, he had a real interest in the tactical side of the business, while old Dad got stuck with the hunting end, the poor guy. At any rate, it seems as though McMillan Firearms has weathered their dispute with Bank of America quite nicely and will continue making some of the finest quality firearms in the world for the foreseeable future.
Nearly the end of February and there’s no respite in sight for Second Amendment supporters coast-to-coast. California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois have gotten the most ink, but only a few states don’t have some gun legislation being considered.Those fights may prove considerably more costly than most anti-gun politicians seem to think. As is normally the course, of course, it will be the citizens who pay the fare.
Yesterday, I spoke with senior company officers at more than a half-dozen companies that could be impacted – significantly- by proposed legislation.
Today, representatives from at least six gun companies are visiting states that have rolled out their proverbial welcome mats. Tax incentives, fast-tracking of permitting, worker recruitment and job training and more are only a few of the carrots being dangled for their consideration.
These companies aren’t bluffing, they’re making contingency plans.
One very senior exec told me “if it weren’t for the fact that we’d be devastating the area we’ve called home for a very long time, this company would already be gone Fortunately, for them, we’re still more concerned about the good people who show up for work every day and give us their best efforts.”
Imagine the allure of being able to move just a few minutes away and being free constant hassles with an anti-gun legislature. That’s the case for several gun-related businesses in Illinois. Moving out of Illinois wouldn’t be the equivalent of your moving cross-town.
I don’t expect all of them to move, but if you were looking at expansion, would you be looking at Illinois-or Iowa? That is an easy decision. Of course, if you could work in two locations, why wouldn’t you take your expansion-and future plans- to Texas or Arkansas or Kentucky or any of the other states already calling you with ready-to-go locations.
Consider Remington. Their Ilion, New York location employs around 1,000 people.
Remington has said -repeatedly- even before Governor Cuomo rammed his anti-gun legislation through the state house – they would consider “all alternatives” including relocation if the atmosphere grew any more toxic for them. The long-running disagreements between Remington and New York’s anti-gun legislature would have had me calling for moving trucks decades ago.
But I’m thinking as an individual, not as a corporate officer responsible for keeping a company running. In ideal circumstances a corporate relocation can take upwards of three years.
Apparently, legislators look at these warnings as nothing more than political posturing.
But the stories about the letters and phone calls and visits from the economic development groups from pro-gun states are all true. The opportunity to relocate might never be any better than right now.
One governor was very direct when we spoke: “We want the gun companies. We’re going after them- aggressively.” That’s why states from Texas to Kentucky have development officers on the ground in Colorado, New York, Illinois and Maryland.
Last week a spokesman for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said the governor believed “we can have this (restrictive gun legislation) legislation and keep our companies”. That drew one pretty blunt response: “Berettas do not bluff.”
When your family business has been a going concern for more than 500 years and you already live a continent away, moving a few hundred miles in any direction is only an incremental adjustment.
There’s another question: why isn’t anyone reporting that gun control has always been a key part of racial discrimination?
Prior to the Civil War, blacks were forbidden to own firearms. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 removed that restriction and the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment resulted in many Southern states to either putting high taxes on guns or outlawing inexpensive ones. Effectively, they priced poor former slaves out of the market.
If you think there aren’t politicians who think that way today, look again at Chicago and Washington, D.C.
They’re monuments to the failure of anti-gun regulations. And the United States Supreme Court has already told them to change.
But their politicians continue to work to keep law-abiding city residents, regardless of their skin color, unarmed. Those law-abiding citizens appear to be the only people who don’t own a gun.
And their “elected representatives” seem determined to keep them that way. –Jim Shepherd
A report by the Department of Justice’s National Institute for Justice (NIJ) summarizes their findings for the current wave of gun proposals as mostly “ineffective.” The report titled Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies was obtained by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) and subsequently published on their website.
The report touches on many points in the gun control debate, such as universal background checks, “high capacity” magazines and “assault weapons.” The NIJ memo gives a cursory rundown of these categories, but the overarching message is that the gun control proposals that are being debated now will not work. Below is a snapshot of the NIJ’s findings.
“Gun buybacks are ineffective as generally implemented,” says the report. The weapons turned in through buybacks are just too few and unlikely to be used in a crime to have an effect overall.
“Large capacity” magazines
A beneficial outcome of curtailing “large capacity” magazines could “take decades to realize” under the proposed restrictions. The study finds that the similar 1994 ban also had limited effectiveness.
“Universal background checks”
According to a 2000 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 47 percent of the firearms used by criminals are bought through straw purchasers. Another 26 percent are stolen. In order for background checks to be effective, a way has to be found to reduce straw purchasers.
“Assault weapons are not a major contributor to gun crime,” says the report. “…a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.”
The “assault weapons” ban in its current form is found by the NIJ to have little potential effect on gun violence.
The full report can be read here on the NRA-ILA site.
Image from Joseph Nicolia (irrezolut) on the flickr Creative Common
– See more at: http://www.outdoorhub.com/news/department-of-justice-report-finds-gun-control-proposals-ineffective/#sthash.5q6XSMiZ.dpuf
NEWTOWN, Conn. — The employees and management of three Connecticut-based companies in the firearms industry speak out about their jobs and their combined economic impact on the state in a video released today by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry.
Release of the video featuring individuals from O.F. Mossberg & Sons of North Haven; and Stag Arms and Ammunition Storage Components, both of New Britain, follows the announcement late last week by Gov. Dannel Malloy that he was proposing severe new regulations governing firearms ownership.
Following release of the governor’s proposal, NSSF issued a statement saying, in part, “We are troubled by the Governor’s apparent change in attitude and seeming impatience with the approach of the General Assembly’s bipartisan Gun Violence Task Force and even his own commission. We do not believe a rush to quick-fix legislation is likely to produce real public safety solutions, while it holds the clear potential to hurt good-paying manufacturing jobs in our state.”
The statement continued: “We applaud the General Assembly’s bi-partisan task force for working to fully evaluate all the issues and points of view, including that of our industry, in an effort to craft an effective public policy response. We hope the Governor will give the General Assembly the opportunity to get it right.”
NSSF and member companies based in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts have been working for several weeks to help educate legislators and the public about the economic impact of the firearms industry in the Constitution State as well as what measures are most effective at keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and unauthorized individuals.
The firearms industry in 2011 directly employed nearly 3,000 in Connecticut, while supporting another 2,400 supplier positions in the state, according to a study by John Dunham and Associates. The total economic impact to the state exceeded $1.7 billion.
View the manufacturer and employee video:
A good number of kids tried the old doorknob n’ string method of tooth removal, but one young girl thought that wasn’t good enough. Instead she tied her errant tooth to the end of an arrow and decided to shoot it out. What would her dentist say? Needless to say, don’t try this in the great outdoors.
And especially not at home.
On the production floor of Beretta USA sits a hulking new barrel-making machine ready to churn out the next object of obsession in America’s love-hate relationship with guns: a civilian version of a machine gun designed for special operations forces and popularized in the video game Call of Duty.
Beretta, the nearly 500-year-old family-owned company that made one of James Bond’s firearms, has already invested more than $1 million in the machine and has planned to expand its plant further in Prince George’s County to ramp up production.
But under an assault-weapons ban that advanced late last week in the Maryland General Assembly, experts say the gun would be illegal in the state where it is produced.
Now Beretta is weighing whether the rifle line, and perhaps the company itself, should stay in a place increasingly hostile toward its products. Its iconic 9mm pistol — carried by every U.S. soldier and scores of police departments — would also be banned with its high capacity, 13-bullet magazine.
“Why expand in a place where the people who built the gun couldn’t buy it?” said Jeffrey Reh, general counsel for Beretta.
Concern that the company will leave, and take its 300 jobs with it, is palpable among state lawmakers who worry it could be collateral damage from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed gun-control bill.
Among other restrictions, O’Malley’s bill would ban assault rifles, magazines with more than 10 bullets and any new guns with two or more “military-like” features. Gun experts said it’s a near-certainty that Beretta’s semiautomatic version of the ARX-160, now only a prototype, would be banned under O’Malley’s bill.
“I’m concerned. I think they’re going to move,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). “They sell guns across the world and in every state in the union — to places a lot more friendly to the company than this state.”
In Beretta’s low-slung factory along the Potomac River in Accokeek, where walls are lined with trophy heads of caribou, wild boars and black bears shot by employees, the legislation proposed by O’Malley (D) feels like an affront.
In testimony this month in Annapolis, Reh, who oversees the plant, warned lawmakers to consider carefully the company’s future. Reh pointed to the last time Maryland ratcheted up gun restrictions in the 1990s: Beretta responded by moving its warehouse operation to Virginia.
“I think they thought we were bluffing” in the 1990s, Reh said. “But Berettas don’t bluff.” Growth of a company
The small U.S. division that Beretta started 35 years ago in Prince George’s has added substantial swagger to a company that already billed itself as the “World’s Oldest Industrial Dynasty.”
From behind the modest brick facade of an abandoned gun plant it purchased in 1977 on Indian Head Highway, Beretta won a landmark contract to become the standard sidearm of all U.S. military personnel in 1985. To the chagrin of American competitors, it soon replaced the venerable Colt 45.
More than a half-million of the company’s guns have been shipped to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, each stamped as made in Accokeek.
“We literally are part of the arsenal of democracy,” said Reh, sweeping his hand toward the production floor, where on a recent afternoon more than 1,000 of the military version of the pistol sat in various stages of assembly. “That’s why we consider this so insulting.”
To fulfill the contract, Beretta expanded the plant by the length of a football field, installed an underground shooting range and hired 500 people. By 1990, during the peak of the first Gulf War, the company was the second-largest employer in Southern Maryland and had a supply chain of contractors that employed hundreds more.
Today, the company produces more than 100,000 guns annually, supplying the militaries and police of the United States and its allies, including the Iraqi army. It has shipped an additional million for purchase by private citizens, including some on display at its high-end galleries in Dallas, London, Milan and Paris. There, Beretta has turned firearms into a luxury accessory with its $130,000 Montecarlo shotguns, $1,000 hunting jackets and sweepstakes to hunt with the Duchess of Rutland.
The company’s new rifle, which it is reluctant to call an “assault” weapon, could add to that profile. It would be the first civilian version of a machine gun that is now available only to militaries, and that is configured with a clip-on grenade launcher for many special operations units.
Beretta plans to sell the semiautomatic, .223 caliber version as the ARX-100. It is expected to sell for about $2,000. Uncertain future
The assault-weapons ban isn’t the only part of the governor’s bill Beretta dislikes.
In Maryland, gun manufacturers are required to register as firearms dealers, which some say could expose the company to lawsuits for selling and shipping weapons as dealers do. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the governor’s bill 7 to 4 late Thursday, spelled out an exemption for Beretta and a handful of other smaller manufacturers in the state.
But the company said it is still not clear how it would handle warranty and repair issues for its many lines of guns, which are also serviced in Accokeek. The bill does not specify if the company could charge to fix guns that would be deemed illegal for sale, or if it could legally ship them back to their owners. Lawmakers said intermediary gun dealers would likely have to facilitate the transactions.
O’Malley aides say the bill could have outright banned manufacturing of assault weapons in the state but did not in part because of Beretta, which has agreed to meet with the administration on Monday to discuss the bill.
“We think getting assault weapons off the streets and keeping this company can both be accomplished,” said Raquel Guillory, O’Malley’s spokeswoman.
But some lawmakers said Beretta will have to be a bigger part of the discussion before the bill passes.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), whose district encompasses the Accokeek plant, said he would do everything he could for the company.
“We want to keep those jobs,” said Vallario, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has a key role in approving the legislation.
As he walked along the production floor recently, Reh said Beretta officials say they do not want to leave their U.S. headquarters in Maryland.
Relocating high-tech machining equipment and vats of chrome used to plate Beretta barrels would be costly and out of character for a company that is still based in the Italian town where it began in 1526.
The company’s Italian patriarch, Ugo Gussalli Beretta, visited the plant shortly after O’Malley introduced his gun-control bill, and the two discussed the issue. But Reh declined to say if the two reached any decisions about what would happen if the governor’s bill passes.
“All I can tell you is, Mr. Beretta said, ‘There always seems to be a problem with Maryland.’ ”
An AR-15 on a stand during target practice for law enforcement at a Connecticut range, 2011. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr
I was shaking as I shouldered the rifle and peered through the scope at the small steel target 100 yards downrange. It was officially the coldest day in Las Vegas history, and I was in the middle of the desert, buffeted by wind and surrounded by the professional gun press, about to fire an AR-15 for the first time.
I grew up with guns, and I even own a small .22-caliber target pistol that I take to the range occasionally. But I had fired a rifle maybe twice in the past five years. I was a novice, and I was frozen to the core. I flinched as I pulled the trigger the first time, sending my shot wide of the mark. But the recoil wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared; in fact, the shot was actually pleasant. I fired again with more confidence, and the bullet rang the distant steel plate like a bell; then the next shot hit, and the next.
“You’re doing great,” said Justin Harvel, founder of Black Rain Ordnance and maker of the gun I was shooting.
“It’s not me,” I replied. “I’ve never shot like this in my life. It’s gotta be this gun.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely not your daddy’s hunting rifle, is it?”
In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the AR-15 has gone from the most popular rifle in America to the most scrutinized and, in some quarters, vilified. Also known in its fully automatic, military incarnation as the M16, the rifle was racking up record sales in the years before Sandy Hook, but now, in the midst of a renewed effort to ban this weapon and others like it from civilian hands, the AR-15 market has gone nuclear, with some gun outlets rumored to have done three years’ worth of sales in the three weeks after Newtown.
Now that the post-Newtown nation has suddenly woken up to the breakout popularity of the AR-15, a host of questions are being asked, especially about who is buying these rifles, and why. Why would normal, law-abiding Americans want to own a deadly weapon that was clearly designed for military use? Why are existing AR-15 owners buying as many of these rifles as they can get their hands on? Are these people Doomsday preppers? Militia types, arming for a second American Civil War? Or are they young military fantasists whose minds have been warped by way too much Call of Duty?
Preppers, militia types, and SEAL Team 6 wannabes are certainly represented in the AR-15′s customer base. But fringe groups don’t adequately explain the roughly 5 million “black rifles” (as fans of the gun tend to call it) that are now in the hands of the public. No, the real secret to the AR-15′s incredible success is that this rifle is the “personal computer” of the gun world.
In the past two decades, the AR-15 has evolved into an open, modular gun platform that’s infinitely hackable and accessorizable. With only a few simple tools and no gunsmithing expertise, an AR-15 can be heavily modified, or even assembled from scratch, from widely available parts to suit the fancy and fantasy of each individual user. In this respect, the AR-15 is the world’s first “maker” gun, and this is why its appeal extends well beyond the military enthusiasts that many anti-gun types presume make up its core demographic.
Is the iPhone in this picture, taken at this year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, an AR-15 accessory, or is the AR-15 an iPhone accessory? Photo: Jon Stokes
The Gun as Gadget
“It’s something mechanical; it’s modular in fashion,” is how Jay Duncan, VP of Sales at Daniel Defense, begins when asked to describe the appeal of the AR-15. “Because it’s so modular you can build the firearm the way that you want it, and it can be like nobody else’s firearm. It’s about personalization.”
As an early employee of one of the fastest-growing high-end AR-15 makers, Duncan has the perfect perch from which to observe the black rifle’s transition in shooting circles from a scary military oddity to the hottest item in the gun store. He — and everyone else I talked to — credit the gun’s flexibility for the surge in interest.
Users can change calibers by swapping out barrels, bolts, and magazines; they can add and remove accessories like Trijicon optics, Surefire flashlights, or Crimson Trace laser sights; they can swap out the rail system on the gun’s fore-end to accommodate more or fewer accessories; they can change grip styles and stock sizes to tailor the gun to fit their own body; they can even theme the gun with special paints and decals (zombie apocalypse themes are popular, but I’ve also seen Hello Kitty). And they can do all of this by either ordering new parts and accessories from online or local shops, or by taking parts from different guns in their collection and mixing and matching them to produce something completely new.
“I always tease that it’s like Legos for grown men,” Duncan elaborates, “because there’s plenty of guys that get one, two, six ARs. And they’re constantly tinkering with them — changing barrel lengths, changing optics, putting different sights on them. It’s the same reason that a guy gets into remote-controlled cars or fly tying. Because it’s a fun hobby, and it’s a distraction from reality sometimes.”
A 2011 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation backs up Duncan’s portrait of AR-15 buyers as accessory-obsessed tinkerers. The poll found that AR-15 owners possess an average of 2.6 black rifles, and spend an average of $436 on accessories and customizations.
This is the gun-as-gadget, a relatively new consumer phenomenon born from the unholy union of the post-9/11 national security state and America’s decades-old obsession with hackable, high-performance hardware. From muscle cars to motorbikes to ultra-high-wattage stereo systems, Americans love to take their toys way over the top, and for all its deadliness and terrifying power, the AR-15 is a terrifically fun toy.
A modified AR-15. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The AR-15 even boasts a performance-oriented enthusiast community that flocks to blogs and online bulletin boards to share tips, tweaks, hacks, new builds, product reviews, individual component reviews, photos of fancy new paint-jobs and blinged-out barrels, and benchmarks measured in FPS(feet per second, for bullet velocity). Anyone who was part of the PC enthusiast community of the late ’90s and early 2000s will instantly recognize the brand of over-the-top hardware geekery on display like AR-15.com and MajorPandemic.
In one thread on AR-15.com, a user shows off a newly built rifle, meticulously assembled from scratch and coated in a burnt bronze cerakote. Each part was carefully chosen to work with all of the other parts, and the rest of the forum’s denizens check in to drool over the finished product. The user’s decision to go with burnt bronze might have been influenced by this earlier thread, which is dedicated to pictures of AR-15′s of different makes and styles with burnt bronze coatings. Or, maybe he took a look at the picture thread dedicated to ARs with flat dark earth-colored accessories and decided he needed something with a little more bling to it.
Then there are the add-ons, like slings, lights, lasers, and so on. There’s a whole thread on AR-15.com devoted to pictures of users’ AR slings. Another thread is only for pictures of rail systems made by a single manufacturer. Here’s a thread with nothing but pictures of lights mounted on AR-15′s, and it’s been active since 2004.
Completing the gun-as-PC analogy, the AR-15 community even has its own operating system flame war — users literally refer to a critical part of the gun as the “operating system” — with proponents of the traditional direct gas impingement operating system facing off against newfangled piston operating system fanboys in gun forums across the internet. The debate has become so played out on AR forums that most threads on the topic now end fairly quickly, with a plea that the original poster just use Google. “We have had a gazillion threads on this comparison,” writes user ArtEatman in a recent Firing Line thread on the topic. “So far, there is no ‘preponderance of evidence’ after bunches and bunches of posts on both sides of the squabble that either one is better than the other.”
A U.S. paratrooper holding an AR-15 signals to his squad to form a defensive perimeter during a patrol near Duc Pho, 330 miles northeast of Saigon, Vietnam, June 5, 1967. Photo: AP
The First High-Tech Battle Rifle
The AR-15 was born from data. In the early 1960s, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famously statistics-driven Pentagon was itching to replace the M14, an Army-designed gun that, despite its successful use in earlier conflicts, had turned out to be a poor fit for the jungles of Vietnam. McNamara’s Department of Defense was finally paying heed to previously ignored Army studies indicating that the M14′s heavy, long-range, .308-caliber cartridge was overkill on the battlefield.
The military came to realize the need for a smaller-caliber rifle that would be primarily effective at close range and could be easily fired in controlled bursts of three to five shots. Soldiers equipped with a lighter rifle and a smaller .223-caliber cartridge would be able to carry more bullets per pound of weight, and would be able to control their fire more easily because of the gun’s considerably lower recoil.
The solution came from Eugene Stoner, the lead gun designer at the ArmaLite Division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation — a cutting-edge gun-design shop that had been working for years on a next-generation rifle that would use modern materials like machined aluminum and injection-molded plastic. For all its ambition, ArmaLite had produced only a string of dead-end prototypes, until its last one. The AR-15 – for ArmaLite Rifle — was designed specifically for the smaller-caliber cartridges.
ArmaLite licensed the AR-15 to Colt — the “IBM” of the AR-15 story — which began turning out guns by the thousands. The Air Force was the first branch of the military to adopt the new rifle, which it dubbed the M16, and after some initial resistance (mostly attributable to NIH syndrome) the Army, too, broke down and ordered a few thousand rifles for testing in Vietnam. The field trials were a smashing success.
Troops loved the new gun because of its ergonomic design and easy handling, vastly preferring it to the Army brass’ beloved M14. The newfangled plastic, aluminum, and stamped-steel gun, which looked like something out of Buck Rogers, was so much easier to use than the M14 that in marksmanship tests troops were able to qualify as expert marksmen at a dramatically higher rate given the same amount of training time. The AR-15′s step-function improvement in individual usability gave a significant boost to squad-level battlefield performance. Army studies showed that a five-man squad armed with AR-15′s had as much kill potential as an 11-man squad armed with the M14.
Vietnam made the M16 a commercial success for Colt, but by the time the U.S. pulled out of Asia the black rifle’s reputation was in tatters — and not just with the general public, but with the very same groups who now defend it as “America’s gun.” The main mark against McNamara’s modern marvel was the terrible reputation for unreliability that it had gained as the conflict wore on. Then there was the stigma associated with Vietnam itself — returning soldiers were spit on and tarred as “baby killers,” and the M16, being the iconic rifle of that conflict, shared in the ignominy.
Even cowboy and conservative icon Ronald Reagan had no love for the black rifle, and didn’t think it belonged in civilian hands. And when the AR-15 was targeted in the first assault weapons ban in 1994, the NRA actually lent its grudging support to the measure. (Though only after the insertion of a “sunset clause” allowing the ban to expire years later.)
The NRA’s support for the original assault-weapon legislation highlights the often-hostile divide between the hunting/casual shooting crowd and black-rifle enthusiasts. For the outdoorsmen that I grew up with in Louisiana, guns were not “cool” the way that motorbikes and fast cars are. They’re dangerous yet necessary tools, to be respected and feared. Nicer guns are also viewed as cherished heirlooms and objects of American folk art. But above all, for the hunter, guns are about tradition — the tradition of fathers and sons sharing the outdoors together; the tradition of sportsmanship and respect for prey that keeps the single-shot long gun alive in an age of semi-automatics; and the tradition of checkered wood and polished steel that makes my gun much the same as my father’s, and his father’s, and so on back through the generations.
Nothing about the black rifle is traditional. For years it owed its rising popularity to the very same videogames and movies that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre recently lambasted in his post-Newtown rant. Ultimately, the trend-following, innovation-hungry, entertainment-driven black-rifle culture is the exact opposite of traditional hunting culture, and the hunting-oriented leadership of the NRA and National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF) once went to great lengths to distance themselves from the black-rifle crowd.
To these old-timers, the AR-15 just didn’t seem like a “hunting rifle” in any meaningful sense of the word. In addition to its non-traditional look and the aforementioned stigmas attached to it, the AR’s small-caliber cartridge ruled it out for many hunters. Accustomed to taking down trophy bucks with a hefty .30-caliber round, they ridiculed the AR-15 as a “mouse gun” and feared that its smaller .223-caliber bullet would only wound an animal, instead of taking it down with a single, clean shot. Other hunters whose opinions of the AR were formed mostly by Hollywood movies hated the gun for the opposite reason, fearing that machine-gun-toting yahoos would be out shredding game, trees, and possibly other hunters with a spray of uber-high-powered bullets. Either way, traditionalist hunters felt that these modern “tactical” rifles were designed solely for armed combat, and therefore had no place in a sport where the prey can’t actually shoot back.
As recently as 2004, when the NSSF still had the policy of disallowing AR-15 makers to display any “tactical” imagery on the floor of SHOT, the gun industry’s main annual trade show, the AR-15 could be shown off only as a hunting rifle.
“When we first started coming to the SHOT show, you weren’t allowed to have anything tactical,” says Trey Knight of Knight’s Armament Company. At the time, KAC was strictly a boutique supplier of advanced weapons and accessories for U.S. Special Operations Forces, with no civilian customer base to speak of. “I had to make fake flyers that showed our guns in a hunting context,” Knight said. “They wouldn’t allow you to show anything that had camouflage or any military aspect to it.”
“If you had a picture, you couldn’t have [the model] in a helmet,” recalls Jesse Starnes of DoubleStar, one of the mid-range AR-15 makers. “It had to be a hunter hat or something.”
Fast-forward to SHOT 2012, where the black rifle was clearly the star of the show, and tactical gear of all types was on display everywhere. The NSSF is now fully on board the black-rifle train, as is the NRA. In a fairly short amount of time, the AR-15 has gone from an up-and-coming underdog in gun circles to the hottest-selling firearm anyone has ever seen, anywhere.
The single biggest force affecting the AR-15′s destiny has been the U.S. military’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After 9/11, the Rumsfeld Defense Department’s counterterrorism doctrine made U.S. Special Operations Forces “the point of the spear” in the global war on terror. That war wouldn’t primarily be fought by general-purpose forces on a well-defined battlefield, never mind the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it would be fought in the shadows by small, fast-moving, elite groups of specialists with names like Delta Force and DEVGRU.
These Special-Ops groups have a legendary appetite for high-performance, custom hardware. As the ranks of the special operations forces exploded in the wake of 9/11, so did the market for high-end AR-15′s and accessories.
Then in 2004, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban expired. That meant the AR-15 accessories market — the civilian side of which had been held back by the ban’s fairly arbitrary restrictions on what could and could not be attached to a black rifle — was unleashed. By then, the entertainment and videogame industries had begun to glorify the exploits of special ops groups, and gamers and moviegoers were delighted to learn that they could get their hands on substantially the same gear that their on-screen idols use to take down terrorists. In the years following the expiration of the ban, the once-tiny AR-15 corner of the firearms market grew at a healthy clip as the manufacturers who got their start selling guns and accessories to U.S. Special Operations Forces began serving the elite troops’ growing civilian fan base.
Daniel Defense, for instance, has seen 100 percent year-over-year growth in the number of guns shipped since it began making complete rifles in 2003. The company, which was founded in 2000, went from being a part-time hobby for its hacker founder to a full-time business when it was asked by Special Forces to put in a bid for a new AR rail system. Today, over 70 percent of Daniel Defense’s rapidly growing business is civilian.
Black rifle? Not so much when you give the AR-15 a Hello Kitty motif. Photo: Courtesy of David Christian
No other company that I talked to could boast 1,000 percent growth over the past decade, but they all told similar (if less dramatic) stories of strong growth from 2004 to 2008, and they tended to fit the same pattern. They were started prior to or during the 1994 ban; they were founded by a hacker who had innovated in some small aspect of the rifle; as the ban lifted and the platform’s popularity began to build, they got into making other accessories and parts, and, in some cases, whole guns.
The military, in turn, has benefited directly from the fresh civilian money flowing into the AR-15 market. As companies and innovation multiplied in the AR-15 space, the AR-15 platform as a whole became even more modular, ergonomic, and effective. Much like the military, civilian AR shooters are on a never-ending quest for improvements in accuracy, reliability, and comfort, and there are a few orders of magnitude more of the latter group than the former.
Thus the locus of innovation in the AR-15 ecosystem is now moving to the civilian side of the industry, as shooters in new niches take up the rifle and leave their own mark on it through tweaking and innovation.
Indeed, much like a certain other product of Cold War-era research that was first used for business, then for pleasure, and now sees its business users looking to the consumer market for the latest innovations, the AR-15 industry will one day reach the point at which it will be fair to say that the military is taking civilian technology and “militarizing” it, instead of vice versa.
No, these are not toys — at least, not toys for children. They’re real guns that have been “themed” with custom paint jobs at the Las Vegas SHOT Show, January 2013. Photo: Jon Stokes
Gun Salesman of the Decade
Despite its ease of use and adaptability to different shooting niches, the AR-15 was only slowly catching on outside of its initial core demographic of gamers and others who had fallen into the post-9/11, SpecOps-inspired “tactical lifestyle” when the 2008 election of Barack Obama changed everything. Whipped into a frenzy by the NRA’s dire warnings of an Democratic gun grab should Obama win the presidency, gun enthusiasts from every demographic slice of American gun culture flocked to the stores after election day to fill out their arsenals ahead of the ban that they believed to be coming. As the item most likely to be banned, the AR-15 had particular appeal to panicked gun buyers.
All of the AR-15 and accessory makers I talked to told me that their business had grown steadily from about 2000 until 2008, at which point it went supernova. But not even the 2008 panic can compare to the post-Newtown frenzy, in which some gunmakers claimed that their orders went up by 1,000 percent.
Both of these panics have brought a massive influx of new shooters to the AR, people who would never have considered a black rifle before. I visited a number of gun shops in the Bay Area and in Houston, Texas in the days and weeks after Newtown. As the walls grew more barren and the lines longer, I heard the same story again and again from first-time AR buyers: “I never really wanted one of these before. I’ve only owned and shot hunting rifles and shotguns. But now that they’re about to be banned, I’d better go ahead and get one while I can.” The SHOT attendees I spoke with all had similar stories of empty gun store walls and panic-buying doctors and lawyers paying $5,000 for what would have been a $2,000 gun just a week earlier.
In bringing new, non-”tactical” shooters to the AR, the twin panics of 2008 and 2012 have also done much to heal the aforementioned schism between the black rifle and hunting crowds. For every hunter like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who shares the NRA old guard’s hostility for all things tactical, there’s another who hates the idea of the government banning the black rifle even more than they dislike the gun itself. Some of these hunters have gone out and bought an AR-15, and when they shoot their new toy, they’re most likely hooked for life.
From the morning that ArmaLite opened its doors in 1954 to the present, most of the innovation that has gone into the AR-15 has been aimed at making the gun as accurate and pleasurable to shoot as possible. The result is a gun that really is an order of magnitude easier to use effectively than many of the traditional wood-stocked rifles that black-rifle-hating hunters grew up with. For someone who enjoys shooting a $2,500 AR-15 from a company like Lewis Machine and Tool, Black Rain Ordnance, Daniel Defense, or KAC, is like a driving enthusiast sitting behind the wheel of an Italian or German supercar. It’s a revelation, and the experience doesn’t wear off quickly.
DFW Gun Range is now a prime example of why you do not shoot tracer rounds at indoor firearm ranges.
The following news report comes from KHOU in Houston TX
DALLAS — The four-alarm fire that engulfed the DFW Gun Range at 1607 West Mockingbird Lane in Dallas Sunday afternoon was apparently triggered by unauthorized tracer rounds.
By Sunday night, the concern had shifted to the weapons that remained in the smoldering wreckage of the one-story building.
Heavy black smoke was visible from downtown Dallas soon after the first alarm was sounded at 2:37 p.m.
About 50 people were inside the gun range when the fire broke out, but all were able to escape safely.
The company’s Web site listed a number of classes on Sunday, including an “Introduction to Handguns” scheduled at 3:15 p.m.
“It was pretty scary,” said one range patron who gave his name as Brett. “There are a bunch of bullets in there, and there’s not telling how far or when they’re going to go off.”
Franco Alvarez was also inside. He said he heard “many multiple small explosions.”
One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation.
Police kept onlookers at least a block away due to the threat of exploding munitions.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said a shooter at the range admitted firing unauthorized tracer ammunition. The small flare that is part of the round makes it easier to follow the path of the bullet, but the pyrotechnic component apparently triggered the inferno when it hit the target.
“It flares up a little bit, and whenever you fire the insides of that backing at a gun range, they can easily catch that backing on fire,” Evans said.
Evans said the man who admitted to firing the tracer bullet will not be prosecuted, because it is considered to be an accident and no laws were broken. The man may still face civil action from the owner of the gun range.
By nightfall, bulldozers carved away at the wreckage, but security wasn’t far away. One regular patron at the gun range told News 8 there were at least 100 handguns amidst the debris, along with assault rifles and ammunition —attractive targets for looters.
The fire was less than a mile-and-a-half south of Love Field Airport, but there was no report of flight delays due to the heavy smoke in the area.
Runoff water from the fire was an environmental concern, and a storm water agency was scheduled to arrive at the scene for testing.
Mockingbird Lane, which had been closed to traffic during the firefighting operations, was reopened around 6 p.m.
Seven years ago, strong storms damaged the same gun range.
Thirty-five people were inside when heavy rain caused the roof to suddenly collapse.
The problems didn’t stop there; flood waters also washed through the building. One person was injured.
DFW Gun Range cleaned up the mess and later reopened.
It’s one of the hottest debates our country has seen in years. Aggressive new gun control measures have sparked outrage from some law abiding gun owners. They’ve responded in mass numbers.
Our state is seeing a record amount of people wanting a gun license. In January 2013 alone, OSBI received almost 5,000 initial applications. That’s about two and a half times as many as January 2012.
Are fears the federal government could take our guns away breeding life into a militia movement?
“I’m scared, like everybody,” Gun owner Craig Huxman said. “Just because of the talk of putting any kind of ban on guns.”
Huxman has been shooting guns since he was 7 years old.
“I love shooting targets. I love shooting every kind of gun,” Huxman said. “If it makes a bang, I like shooting it at things.”
Now he teaches his grandkids gun safety.
“Gun responsibility is very important,” Huxman said. “That doesn’t mean gun control. That means owner control.”
Gun enthusiasts are coming out in droves. Stores can’t keep weapons or ammo on the shelves. Some people fear a collection of guns in a home is a sign there’s a revolt coming against the government. But Tecumseh Assistant Police Chief J.R. Kidney said he’s not worried.
“It’s something we do keep in the back of our mind,” Kidney said. “I don’t think people are running out trying to get these because they want to start a war. I think they’re out there getting them so they can exercise that right through the second amendment, so they can keep their arms and bear their arms.”
Rose State College History Professor Dr. Aaron Bachhofer says revolutions typically begin where there’s either an economic or philosophical disagreement between the public and our government. While he believes our country will see changes to gun laws, he doesn’t anticipate a revolt.
“Have I gained the perception people are talking about picking up their guns and literally shooting at folks? No, I don’t see that happening,” Bachhofer said.
Bachhofer said history proves revolutions usually don’t work.
“The idea that people would pick up arms and challenge the government is not a winning proposition historically,” Bachhofer said.
For Huxman, he just wants the freedom to protect his family.
“Would I ever shoot anybody? I hope I never, ever, ever have to be able to answer that question,” Huxman said. “I would like to know that I have the right to protect myself if I can.”
In an interview with UK’s Channel 4 Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, shot a warning over the bow of President Obama reminding him of the fate of King George III. Pratt stated: “When the colonists said you’ve become a tyrant, stop it, and when he wouldn’t stop, we shot, and we got rid of your king,”. “President Obama should remember King George III’s experience as he seems to forget that he was democratically elected.” Pratt said that he is “not calling the President a tyrant yet, but the President certainly has indicated he has a low regard for the law and a low regard for the Constitution.”
Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America compares President Obama to King George III