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If You Could Only Own One Gun, An AR-15 Is A Great Choice Too


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AR-15 rifle with aimpoint red dot
Igor at work / Public domain

While in many respects, a shotgun is indeed a great (the best?) choice if you can only own one gun…but an AR-15 is also a darn good option.

In fact, an AR pattern rifle is a better choice in certain regards, though not as much in others. Shotguns are a little more ubiquitous, it’s true, but America’s favorite rifle, the AR-15 comes darn close.

For starters, the AR-15 is one of the easiest weapon systems to learn. Since it’s a rifle, it is – like a shotgun – easier to be reliably accurate with for most shooters than a handgun, so long as the sighting system (be it iron sights, a red dot, or magnified optic) is zeroed.

Insert magazine, pull back the charging handle, and place it on safe. In case of bad guy, take safety off, aim and fire. Pretty darned simple.

Also, an AR-15 is far easier for most women to handle, which is one area where a shotgun (particularly the most popular 12 gauge variety) falls short. The length of pull on many smoothbores is frequently too long and a woman who isn’t used to the recoil of a 12-gauge (or even some 20 gauges for that matter) may be hesitant with one.

woman shooting ar-15 rifle
Mitch Barrie / CC BY-SA

An AR-15, on the other hand, depending on configuration, can be easily adjusted (if it has an adjustable stock and most of them do) so length of pull can be accounted for.

As for recoil, an AR-15 produces far less kick than a shotgun unless the rifle is chambered in .458 SOCOM or something along those lines. Even .300 Blackout is tame by rifle standards. Typical loads of that caliber produce less recoil energy than even .243. So they’re generally far, far easier on the shooter than a shotgun blast is.

Side note: have you ever done that thing guys sometimes do, where you put a 3-inch turkey shell in the shotgun after a light target shell, and then handed it to your wife/girlfriend/sister? You’re an ass if you have. Funny to watch, sure, but it’s a jerk move and can be dangerous.

AR pattern parts are incredibly widely available. Customization is ridiculously easy. It’s like owning a GLOCK; the world is your customization oyster when it comes to spec’ing the thing out.

As to efficacy, the AR-15 is nothing to sneer at.

AR-15 rifle suppressed
Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson, U.S. Air Force / Public domain

While the classic chambering of .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO is rather paltry compared to heavy 00 or 000 buck loads — or for that matter heavy lead slugs (so is .300 BLK, which is just a .30-30 wearing tactical gear) — a .223 round produces similar muzzle energy to full-house loads of .44 Magnum, with the added benefit of actually traveling fast enough to produce hydrostatic shock.

This is the point where someone typically brings up over-penetration, to which there are three easy rebuttals.

First, over-penetration rarely doesn’t also result in a dead attacker, but under penetration can get a good guy killed, which is exactly what the FBI discovered in the 1986 Miami shootout.

Second, if you think handgun and shotgun rounds won’t go through drywall, you have another thing coming.

Third, that’s why – just as with ANY gun – ammunition selection and marksmanship still matter. A lot. I believe Jeff Cooper said something like the best backstop is the body of the bad guy or at least something to that effect.

There have bee a lot of battlefield enemies and domestic bad guys downed with .223/5.56mm. The efficacy is therefore not in doubt. If you want bigger, you can get bigger by getting an upper in a larger chambering. Again, .300 Blackout is very popular for this purpose.

But the area where the AR-15 is outshone by the humble shotgun is in regards to hunting. While an AR-10 is actually darn good choice as a hunting rifle – you can hunt all across the world with a .308 or 6.5mm Creedmoor (though not always with a semi-automatic) – the AR-15 is a little more limited in its applicability. Obviously, bird and small-game hunting is out.

AR-15-specific calibers aren’t great for longer-range hunting applications, as most tend to fall below the 1,000 ft-lb threshold well within 300 yards, and many inside 200 yards. However, most of the deer hunters here in the US don’t take shots at 300-plus yards, so how much that matters depends a lot on where you live.

This may change, however, with the advent of SIG SAUER’s new .277 SIG Fury cartridge, which promises full-bore rifle ballistics from a cartridge that fits in a mini (.223) rifle action…but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The .277 SIG Fury produces 80,000 psi of chamber pressure, which likely means it will be some time before any uppers or AR-pattern rifles offered in that chambering.

In short, given the availability, the ubiquity, the efficacy and practicality of an AR-15 rifle platform…it’s a darn good choice if you can only own one gun.

But what do you think? Sound off in the comments.

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