Thursday, December 20, 2012


I grew up in a house filled with guns. Dad was in the Army, and so, of course, we had his old Army rifle, an Enfield .30-06 baseball bat of a gun. Grandad was in WWI, and so we had his rifle, too, his having died long ago and left it behind. It was a Krag .30-06 that seemed to me, as a little kid, to be 6 feet tall all by itself. It was a giant rifle.

Actually, I don't think it was the gun Grandad carried. I think it was older than that - Spanish/American War old. But we inherited it from him when he died. And Dad didn't carry the exact Enfield he owned, but he bought it later because he liked the gun. Either way, we took both rifles to various outdoor shooting ranges from time-to-time and shot them. Old .30-06 military rifles had hard walnut stocks with steel buttplates on the end. I don't know what the purpose of those steel buttplates were, certainly not to provide any comfort, but they would leave a mark in your shoulder after you fired a shot. It felt like being punched. And then you'd look inside your shirt and there'd be a reverse stamped imprint of that buttplate marking a bruise in your shoulder.

And loud, man, those guns were loud! BOOOOM! I mean, compared to the BB guns my brother and I grew up shooting a .30-06 was a literal canon. As we got older we advanced to .22 rifles. Crack! They really weren't much louder than our BB guns, although to us they were awesome. When Dad let us shoulder one of the .30-06s and fire it, we thought we'd officially grown up, like having your first beer or something.

Those rifles were SO heavy. I could see how the soldiers could use them for double-duty, firing holes in enemy soldiers and then bludgeoning their heads in with the rifle when the bullets ran out. I'd sure hate to get hit with one. It could take your head off. A baseball bat is light compared to those rifles. Truthfully if I had to choose between getting hit with a bat and an antique .30-06 rifle, I'd choose the bat.

Dad had handguns, too, all revolvers. Well, all except his Ruger 22 LR target pistol. That was his only semiautomatic pistol. He talked a few times about the Colt .45 semiauto that officers in the Army carried, and he himself carried one, having been an officer. But he had no love for them. He never expressed much interest in semiautomatic pistols at all, really. Now that I think of it, other than the 22s, none of his rifles were semiautomatics, either. They were all bolt-action rifles. And he preferred it that way.

Not Dad
My dad was not a hunter. He had hunted as a kid and didn't like it. He didn't say much about it, but he did say one time that he just didn't enjoy killing animals for sport, especially when he wasn't planning to eat it. He had no interest in that area of shooting at all. As a result, my brother and I grew up shooting paper targets, as well as bottles and cans, but never any animals. We were good shots, but the only moving targets we ever shot at were when we threw a bottle in a stream and tried to sink it before it floated away. Or each other.

It never occurred to me until today, following the massacre in Connecticut by a mentally disturbed man carrying an AR15 Bushmaster rifle, that my dad's interest in guns seemed to stop somewhere around the point of Vietnam-style weapons. As far as I am aware, and I haven't researched this, but apparently Vietnam was the first war in which American soldiers carried anything even remotely like the AR15, with its built-in handle on top and very non-wooden appearance. The rifles used in the military from Vietnam onward look and feel nothing like the previous military rifles. Even in the Korean War they carried the wooden-stocked M1 rifle. To this very day, enthusiasm for the old M1 rifle is very high among shooters. They love that gun. But the crowd that likes the more modern military-style rifles, the M16s and AR15s and such, seems to be a very different crowd.

Gun show
At gun shows there is every sort of person walking around looking to pick up a few things that they have a need or an interest in. There are book salesmen and knife salesmen and leather goods craftsmen and western wear salesmen and gun safe salesmen. You can find all manner of antique guns, going right back to black powder, with no shortage of enthusiasts for muskets and the like. You can find swords and suits of armor. You can even sometimes find metal-smiths who will make a suit of armor to fit you, if you really want it. There are lots of bikers, guys with long ponytails and leather vests with "Harley Davidson" written across the back. There are guys in military fatigues who clearly haven't been in the military for a very long time, if ever.

And those are usually the guys who want the M16s and AR15s and the like. Its the guys in military clothing who may or may not have once been in the military. I guess that's fair, considering my dad was in the military prior to the introduction of those type rifles and maintained his interest in the very guns he was trained with, but not much that came after. I suppose it's fair that a man trained by the Army to shoot an M16 would want to buy an M16 for himself when he was older.

A different breed
But somehow, to me, they seem a different crowd. First of all, those types of guns cost twice as much as all the other rifles. You can't walk away with any M16 or AR15 or anything of the sort for under $1000. That's quite a commitment to one gun. Guys like my dad wouldn't pay that for a rifle unless it came with a really nice scope, a carrying case, and some nice extras, like maybe a hooker. But a bare-bones gun costing over $1000? No way, not for my dad, not for Dad's type of shooting enthusiast, and not for me.

The Hello Kitty AR15 is the real thing
I don't know if it's fair to try to paint the type of shooter who pays over $1000 for a purely military-style gun with a broad brush. It probably isn't. But from what I've seen, the same guys who buy those rifles are the guys who'll pay $50,000 for a customized Harley, another $50,000 for a supercharged new Camaro, spend a fortune on leather goods that they wear to ride their bikes so they can look bad-ass, and then live in a dump at home. Those guys, and survivalists, seem to be the main people that I see at gun shows and gun stores buying the modern military rifles. Money is no object, just as long as it looks cool and bad-ass.

To politicians and the media, guns that look bad-ass are scary. And anything that looks scary can be portrayed as being evil and in need of some sort of government action by otherwise worthless politicians. It's easy to call for a ban on "assault weapons", for which there is no actual legal definition, show photos of the AR15, and then go and ban the Ruger 10/22 and other totally unrelated guns instead. That's what they always do. Even more worthless was the ban on high capacity magazines. No one ever died because of a high capacity magazine. Changing magazines in a rifle takes 1 second or less. And you can strap 10 of them to your belt if you feel the need. But the high capacity magazines LOOK scary - especially the drum magazines that remind us of the gangsters with their Thompson submachine guns of the 1930s. Scary makes for good press. Scary gets on the air. Scary gets a US Senator to hold it up over his balding head and shout that he will not rest until it is illegal for anyone (except his own bodyguards) to own one.

But getting back to my non-political point, I have never wanted to own an AR15 or an M16 or anything that costs as much or looks much the same. And my dad never wanted one. And I don't recall my brother ever mentioning the slightest desire to own one. I have never actually known anyone who owned one. Not one single person. And I'm in the NRA. I do remember my brother talking about what a huge piece of crap he thought they were, with their .223 caliber bullets and combination plastic and metal parts. Its not that my brother was any expert, but he knew how to lock onto an opinion that my dad would approve of, which means that he knew my dad had no respect for the modern military rifles either.

Typical rifle collection
Looking around the web, I see a lot of shooting enthusiasts who talk with fondness and respect for the old army rifles, starting with the M1 and going backwards through history. Some mention the M14, which was a variation of the M1, but nothing like the M16. Several people on the net talk with derision of the M16s and AR15s. It seems that these ugly, underpowered, and politically expedient punching bags are not much loved by anyone who isn't a member of a SWAT team or survivalist group. And I'm not even sure about the SWAT teams. They carry them, but they don't buy them with their own money.  The point is, these rifles were made exclusively for governments intent upon waging a war as cheaply as possible. The M16 and AR15 is intended to compete with the communists AK-47, which is far more powerful, but no less cheaply made and quite a bit less expensive to produce. They were never intended to be very marketable or serve any sort of dual purpose between soldiers and hunters and target shooters. They are ugly and cheaply made, but accurate and lightweight - perfect for a weak politically correct modern soldier or a punk wannabe who hopes the Mayans were right and tomorrow really is the last day for civilization.

But for me, and for most shooting enthusiasts, those guns are just ugly, overpriced, glorified .22s that the government mandated to an army that had no say in the matter. And from what I hear, the soldiers that carry them into combat have been begging for something better ever since.

Please bring me a better rifle!

* UPDATE which wrecks my entire conclusion:

I talked to my brother-in-law about this and he said he was considering buying an AR15 to replace his old Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which he uses to shoot coyotes around his property. He heard the AR15 was incredibly accurate and it uses the same ammunition as the Mini-14 he already owns.

Then I talked to my cousin in Texas who has a problem with wild hogs and coyotes invading his property, harassing his animals and crops and endangering his kids. He said he tried shooting at the predators with an AR15 and could hit them with extreme accuracy from 200 yards away with multiple shots before they could turn and run off. He likes the gun so much for shooting wild predators and problem animals that he had a customized version made for his son to use. He used to think like I do, that these guns are useless, but after trying one out he was so impressed that he is now a believer and an owner of 2.

So my conclusion was wrong. Apparently they are great rifles for shooting 'varmints' and super accurate. For someone with a predator problem this kind of accuracy is worth the $1000+ price tag.


  1. "We were good shots, but the only moving targets we ever shot at were when we threw a bottle in a stream and tried to sink it before it floated away. Or each other..."

    Seriously!? You shot at one another?!

    My Dad was also in the services. He was in the Air force in the UK. He handled guns etc. He was a marksman.

    Dad had guns for as long as I could remember as a kid. And my two elder brothers also.

    Dad sold his guns when the Pt Arthur massacre happened. He didn't renew his license.

    I've never held a gun. And due to a restraining order, I'll probably never have the chance.

    I've had plenty of knives. Was absolutely fascinated by them as a teen.... not so much guns.

  2. Ute, we shot at one another with our BB guns. And then we got into trouble. Or I did. Dad didn't care when my brother shot me, but he got upset when I shot back. Favoritism was common in my parents house.

    I've had plenty of guns, but never had much interest in the rifles the US military carries now. The one that the Connecticut shooter carried was never of the slightest interest to me. It's incredibly expensive to buy, greatly underpowered, and yet expensive to shoot. It's an all around loser of a gun to me. I just don't care for it at all.

  3. Wth, Hello Kitty rifle? Okay then.

    I've grown up with hunters in my family, so I've been around shotguns mainly. Never fired one though.

    I can understand the fascination of guns, I just don't understand the stupidity of people.

  4. Annika, I didnt think about it while I wrote, but there are some ultra nice shotguns that cost well over $1000. I guess I underestimated the variety of $1000+ guns out there. I was just thinking as I wrote, trying to figure out why I and most every shooter I know has so little interest in those particular army guns. As for the stupidity of people, it seems limitless.