It’s no secret that gun people love the AR-15.
Ever since Colt redesigned this rifle for mass production, it’s been a favorite among law enforcement and civilians alike.
Conservative estimates put the number of AR-15 rifles in the U.S. somewhere between 5 and 10 million. The NRA called an estimate of 11 million “lowball.”
Realistically, there are likely to be a whole lot more AR-15s out there than that. In truth, though, we don’t know exactly how many are out there.
What we do know is that the AR-15 is incredibly popular.
If you have an AR-15 of your own, or even if you’ve just shot someone else’s, you probably understand why. But if you’ve never handled one of these rifles, you may be curious about what makes AR-15s just so appealing.
Well, let’s break it down.
Table of Contents
First, the AR-15 is well-suited for an array of purposes.
Many competition styles even have classes specifically for PCC AR-15s.
It’s also a popular choice for hunters, with .223 Remington a suitable cartridge for a variety of game, from small varmints to — with the right bullet — deer (though you should check to make sure .223 is legal to use for deer hunting where you live).
The self-loading aspect of the design is useful for quick follow-up shots when hunting dangerous game like feral hogs.
It’s also a good rifle for tactical purposes — both CQB and long-range situations. And it’s the civilian version of the M16, which is a popular military rifle around the world.
The AR-15 itself is used by both civilians and law enforcement. Civilians tend to favor it for home and property defense.
And, of course, some people just like to plink with AR-15s. The affordability of .223 and the ease of operating AR-15s makes these rifles great for recreational shooting.
Next, the AR-15 offers a modular design, which means that individual pieces of the rifle are built to be interchangeable.
You can take one part from an AR-15 and put it in most other AR-15s. There are exceptions, sure, but interchangeability is the general rule.
This provides a few advantages.
For one, it makes it super easy to build your own AR-15. Build kits make it even easier, but you can also pick out each piece individually.
Similarly, there’s a huge market for professionally made custom guns, so you can get a fully personalized AR-15 without even having to do the building yourself.
Alternatively, you can easily customize an off-the-shelf AR-15 with the upgrades you want.
And there’s no shortage of aftermarket upgrades available for you to use to create the AR-15 you want.
It also makes it very easy to repair and maintain your AR-15 since it’s easy to track down replacement parts.
This modular design also has some interesting legal implications for those trying to avoid doing extra paperwork.
Only the lower has a serial number, so you can use the same lower with different uppers, and it still only counts as one firearm for legal purposes.
Multiple uppers allow you to use different calibers, so you’re not stuck with just .223. (We’ll talk more about the advantages of that in a minute.)
Furthermore, 80% receivers allow you to build a rifle without serializing it (for now) since an 80% receiver isn’t technically a firearm.
It requires more work and knowledge than making an AR-15 from a completed lower, though.
We’ve already talked about ammunition a little bit, but let’s go into a bit more detail.
The standard ammo round for the AR-15 is .223 Remington, but most also tolerate the higher pressure of 5.56 NATO, a military round that is otherwise almost identical to .223.
.223 Remington is appealing in that it is very affordable, offers light recoil, and is as versatile as the AR-15 itself.
Your caliber options don’t end with .223 and 5.56, though, and alternative calibers can expand the uses of your AR-15 beyond even what we discussed earlier.
For example, an AR-15 chambered for .458 SOCOM allows you to hunt much larger game than .223, even up to moose and bear.
.22 LR is ideal for the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s even easier to shoot than .223 and is ideal for varmint hunting, new shooters, and plinking.
.300 BLK is perhaps the most popular alternative caliber for AR-15s. This round stands out as it’s designed for a shorter barrel and because subsonic ammo is hearing safe when combined with a suppressor.
And let’s not forget pistol caliber carbines. 9mm is the most popular for these guns, followed by .45 ACP.
And remember: the AR-15s modular design allows you to use those different calibers with the same gun, just by switching out the upper. Conversion kits are an easy, convenient way to use the same AR-15 with different calibers.
The AR-15 platform is also just plain easy to use.
The simple design is simple to operate and, again, .223 offers very light recoil. The shape of the rifle is ergonomic and comfortable to shoot compared to other rifles, like the AK-47.
Many AR-15s have adjustable stocks, allowing smaller-framed shooters to set a shorter length of pull, working with their size.
And plenty of ambidextrous models and parts for left-handed shooters exist to make things easier. Companies like Stag Arms even specialize in left-handed AR-15s.
The design also tends to be pretty reliable (though no gun is totally failure-proof). So, you shouldn’t deal with a lot of malfunctions as long as you properly maintain your weapon.
There’s something of a cyclical relationship between popularity and accessibility in general. The more popular something grows, the more manufacturers will make it, and the more stores will sell it.
Then, that thing gets even more popular because it’s so easy to get. And that goes on and on and on.
AR-15s are a textbook example of that.
Almost every rifle manufacturer out there makes some version of the AR-15 (and many make more than one). You’d be hard-pressed to find a gun store that doesn’t stock at least a few different versions.
And it’s not just the guns themselves that prove easy to get ahold of.
The popularity of the AR-15 platform means that there are also many companies making compatible parts and accessories at all price points.
Most of us gun people love an AR-15. Just look up #AR15 on any social media site for proof. On Instagram alone, the hashtag approaches 3 million posts.
Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of why we have so much enthusiasm for this iconic rifle. And to be honest, the fact that it’s iconic only feeds back into the AR-15’s popularity.
The AR-15 isn’t just a gun anymore; it’s a symbol for both the firearms community and the gun rights movement. And people sure love a good symbol.
Have we convinced you of the appeal of the AR-15? Let us know in the comments below. Also, see our definitive guide to the AR-15 for more info, or take a look at our list of the Best AR-15s to find an AR-15 to make your own.