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“AR” Stands for “Armalite Rifle” in “AR-15”: What’s an Assault Rifle?

Wondering what exactly AR stands for in AR-15? We've got all the answers plus what our picks of the best AR-15s on the market.

The AR in AR-15 stands for “Armalite Rifle” after the original designing company.  It does not stand for “assault rifle” but is instead a semi-automatic rifle that shoots one time per trigger pull.

Follow us as we go over what it doesn’t stand for…plus what is exactly an AR firearm and our favorite picks.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
A Few of Our Custom AR-15’s

Or if we already answered your question…how about The Complete AR-15 Guide or our Beginner’s Guide to Guns?

Table of Contents


What AR Doesn’t Stand For

A common misconception is that AR stands for “assault rifle,” but that’s not the case.  And no, it doesn’t stand for “automatic rifle” either.

For the record, the way states legally define “assault rifles” varies dramatically between states, and journalists have a tendency to basically use “scary looking” as their definition or to act like there’s not a standardized definition at all.

CORE Hardcore AR-15
The military style appearance of many AR firearms has fed the controversy

The easiest definition is that an assault rifle lets you choose between semi-automatic and fully-automatic modes of fire.

Semi-auto: one trigger press = PEW

Full-auto: one trigger press = PEW PEW PEW (until you let go)

The US Army also has a standard definition if something meets all the following conditions:

  • It is capable of selective fire;
  • It has an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle
  • It has ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine
  • It has an effective range of at least 300 meters (330 yards).

Rifles like the AR-15, which is widely cited as an example of an assault rifle, fundamentally fail to meet this definition in that they don’t have selective fire capabilities – they can’t be set to shoot automatically as well as semi-automatically.  Only one trigger press = one shot.

M4 vs AR-15
A Military M4 vs. Civilian AR-15

Furthermore, new fully automatic firearms have been banned in the United States since the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, and they aren’t easy to get ahold of illegally for anyone except well-connected career criminals.  

Ones produced before the ban are still legal, but they command a high cost (think tens of thousands of dollars) and are closely monitored by the ATF.

So What Does AR Stand For?

In reality, AR stands for ArmaLite rifle.  ArmaLite is the company that originated the design for the AR style of rifle back in the 1950s.

And while we’re decoding ARs, the number simply refers to the model number of the rifle, not to a barrel length, capacity, or anything else.

A Brief History of ARs

An AR-5

The first widely produced AR rifle was the AR-5, a .22 Hornet survival rifle.  It was adopted by the US Air Force as the MA-1 Survival Rifle.  Shortly after, the AR-7, the semi-automatic civilian version of the AR-5, was released, chambered for .22 LR.  

Both of these guns are still produced today by several companies, including a takedown version of the AR-7 produced by Henry Repeating Arms.

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In the 1950s ArmaLite began designing and producing the AR-10 (shooting the larger 7.62×51)  in small numbers, and in the following decade started producing what is probably the most well known of the AR series of rifles, the AR-15.  

Colt now owns production rights for both the AR-10 and AR-15.  Learn more in AR-10 vs AR-15.


Typical AR-15
A Typical AR-15

Next ArmaLite began production on the less expensive AR-16, and AR-17 shotgun and a smaller AR-18 to meet a variety of different needs, but by the 1970s the company ceased rifle production and in 1983 closed completely.

AR-17 Shotgun
An AR-17 Shotgun

In 1996 rights to the Armalite company were sold and rifle development and production resumed, leading to the introduction of the AR-10, AR-20, AR-50, and more.  In 2013 the company was again sold, this time to Strategic Armory Corps, who also owns AWC Silencers, Surgeon Rifles, Nexus Ammo, and McMillan Firearms.


An AR-20

So Now You Know

Now going forward you know better than to believe people who say that ARs are all assault rifles, and you know what an assault rifle actually is.  

Want to learn more?  Check out our Definitive AR-15 Resource or straight to The Best AR-15s.

Or if you want to start with handguns…check out our Beginner Handgun Course.

What other misinformation surrounding firearms you like to see set straight?  What questions do you have that you would like answered? Let us know in the comments.

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47 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    David T. Fryzel

    Very precise definition of the AR meaning in guns,if only the politicians and general public was better informed,but that wouldn’t sell news papers.

    May 25, 2022 12:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve Holloway

    I agree that the "AR" in AR-15 means Armalite Rifle and that the AR-15 sold to the public is not an assault rifle or weapon. However, the early 1960s AR-15 (Pre-M16) did have selective fire and were used in combat in Vietnam by South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. So, one could reasonably argue that it was born a combat assault rifle, but to those of us in the know, it'll always be a "shoulder weapon."

    July 15, 2019 2:04 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    If I have an AR15 and use it only to protect my family and my life does the name change from asualt rifle to " defense rifle " ??

    October 28, 2018 12:12 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      The name isn’t assault rifle it’s armalite rifle

      April 11, 2019 11:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Doug Mann

    Yes, tell Nancy Pelosi, but she wouldn't listen, right? I know there is a move to call them Modern Sporting Rifles, but I would love for the designation to be changed to HDR = Home Defense Rifle or Homeland Defense Rifle exactly in keeping with the 2nd A ! If the Dem get back into power might be good idea and time for a change.

    October 17, 2018 5:43 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      If that's what you think, you might be happier in a different country where the rest of the US Constitution doesn't limit your rights, describe separation of powers, provide for changes in political power via the choice of the people. You're all for the 2A but not for the rest of our great experiment.

      April 15, 2021 9:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. (infringed - limited or undermined) pretty straightforward even for this obtuse person.

    October 16, 2018 7:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Bump stocks should be banned, I'm all for that. But we need to remember that the gun isn't the issue, it's the person pulling the trigger. And they are widely ment for either home defense or fun shooting. We just need to make sure that bad people don't get them, and better age limits and background checks are put in place. We should make places like school,airports,train stops, and most other public places can be more secure and safe. It is very important and I urge anyone else who might read this to do some more research on the subject and then join the discussion. Because in order to make the decisions and give opinions you need to Know the subject and what you are talking about. Thanks for reading.

    September 25, 2018 6:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tom Smith

      YES!! We need GUNS in places like school,airports,train stops, and most other public places we can be more secure and safe!!! GUN FREE = SHOOTING SPREE

      October 17, 2018 8:14 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Did you know that prisons are built keep bad people inside. They are god at keeping wild eyed gun crazed bezerkers out. Should all public places be built like prisons ??

      October 28, 2018 12:18 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      So take your own advice-lol. We already have background checks(NICS). Maybe you heard of it? All gun laws restricting citizens should be abolished. Criminals do not care about laws and restricting law abiding citizens does not stop criminals. Here's another you might have heard of. You give an inch and they take a yard. It is the intention of many to disarm Americans one shaving at a time. Any compromise on gun owners puts gun control advocates one step closer to their ultimate goal and agenda. You need to open your eyes.
      And remember: registration leads to confiscation. Universal background checks means you can't loan or give your gun away to another law abiding citizen without a record of it. None of this will prevent criminals from breaking our laws. Wake up already-lol.

      August 16, 2019 6:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ric young

    Limiting the magazine size would help. Nobody needs 30 rounds to hunt Game. We have rules on how many cartilages can be in some hunting weapons. Why not just make it a law that saids how many rounds a gun holds. I am not referring to Military.weapons.

    March 2, 2018 4:59 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Never hunted jack rabbits huh!..?

      March 7, 2018 1:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Bad Whisky

      No body needs a Corvette either...

      March 19, 2018 5:02 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      The capacity of the magazine is not the problem, neither is the gun. It's the users intent and state of mind!

      March 30, 2018 10:15 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      There's cartilage in hunting weapons? Wouldn't bone be a stronger material to work with? OH! I just re-read your post. You're not talking about "Militaryweapons". Of course. cartilages for hunting weapons, bone for military. SMH.

      March 31, 2018 1:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tom Smith

      WE don't need Ric Young squawking about that which he has no clue either, but yet, HERE HE IS!! I'll keep my drum mags, stripper clips and whatever else I desire.

      October 17, 2018 8:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tony Long

      Hunting is NOT why I want 30 round magazines. I hunt with a single shot gun. I want a large magazine for home defense in the event a number of lawless looters & rampagers try to do my family harm. I prefer "flight over fight" but if cornered, I will defend my family, friends and neighbors. Not to sound like a cliché but "when seconds count the police are only minutes away". This is a real concern in the modern world of home invasions, rampant drug addiction and civil unrest. It is not about being afraid, it is about your duty and responsibility to those in your charge.

      November 18, 2018 10:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    M Macke

    Very informative material. Thank you.

    February 27, 2018 5:17 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Thanks for the informative article. Although I believe gun control needs to be discussed, I wanted to have some knowledge about this issue before I had discussions with people. A couple questions, when putting a bumpstock on an AR-15, how much is the firing time increased? Is the term “assault rifle” only used to describe military weapons? Would you ever use an AR-15 to hunt? Sorry for my lack of knowledge but I am honestly just trying to educate myself on the situation. Thanks

    February 24, 2018 8:28 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Hey Lauren, no need to apologize...getting the facts straight is awesome. I'll try my best to help:

      A bumpstock makes it easier to reach the maximum fire rate (usually in rounds per minute) of a rifle by using the recoil of one shot to move the rifle and hit your finger to shoot again. In the case of the AR-15 it can vary from 400-800 rounds a minute. A regular capacity magazine holds 30 rounds so it enables it to be emptied in a few seconds.

      Here's some examples from a news segment (a good shooter can empty a regular magazine in 6 seconds; with a bumpstock it takes 4 seconds; and with a full-auto it takes 2 seconds).

      "Assault rifles" are select-fire guns (able to shoot semi or fully automatic). There's probably some non-military guns out there that are genuine assault rifles.

      I personally haven't used an AR-15 to hunt but I know they have been successfully used to take down deer, etc.

      February 25, 2018 9:39 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Bad Whisky

        That is incorrect, it increases the rate of fire to roughly 1 round per second (60 rounds per minute) depending on the individual, a fully automatic military variant rifle will exceed that, firing at around 200 Rounds per minute, and is worth noting these rifles sustain damage at these rates which is why they are typically fired in 3 round burst.

        Make note before you bury me in troll doo that I am not pro bump stocks, I think the difference between Auto and a bump stock is semantics. Automatic weapons, which the civilian AR-15 is not, are for suppression to keep your enemy's head down in their fox hole, it really isn't what most folks think it is about (spraying a crowd down).

        March 19, 2018 5:14 am
        • Commenter Avatar
          Eric Hung

          I'm going off this surprisingly good news segment clip.

          March 26, 2018 3:10 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Matthew Collins

      Hey Lauren, great questions. A bumpstock on an AR-15 allows the gun to be fired at fairly near fully-automatic speed depending on which particular rifle and bumpstock you have. A bumpstock generally pushes a rifle's fire rate to between 400 and 800 rounds a minute, but that's just the actual rate the rifle will cycle at. In reality, once you factor in the time it takes to reload, the rounds per minute count is much lower. In comparison, the cyclic rate of a fully-automatic m4 is 700-950 rounds per minute, but again, that doesn't factor in the time it takes to reload. As for the term "assault rifle", technically it only applies to select-fire weapons, meaning a weapon that can be switched from safe, to semi-auto, to full-auto. Select-fire rifles are only available to the military, and certain civilians who have gone through the NFA to get special licensing. You can read more about the NFA here. Finally, many people can and do hunt with AR-15's and AR-10's. I hope this information helps!

      February 26, 2018 8:27 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Hi Lauren! I'm here to learn too so I'm going to piggyback so I can view responses. My husband's family are gun owners and hunters, and I'm your typical City Girl. :)

      March 26, 2018 3:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thank you for asking questions in a forum like this one, rather than just buying into pre-packaged gun control arguments. It's refreshing to see people on the other side of the argument thinking for themselves. :-)

      March 31, 2018 1:15 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      It is essentially made automatic, and that is why we should ban them. It only makes mass shootings easier, even if it's meant to be for fun.

      September 25, 2018 7:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    This is what I found on definition. I'm not saying your wrong, but it's damn confusing.
    noun: Armalite; plural noun: Armalites

    a type of light automatic rifleTranslate armalite to
    Use over time for: armalite

    February 18, 2018 1:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      The Word "automatic" is used incorrectly much of the time when referring to both rifles and shotguns. Semi-automatic is the correct description of most guns, which means the trigger has to be pulled each time the weapon is fired. Fully automatic weapons, which continue to fire if the trigger is held, cannot be purchased by most individuals.. The AR-15, which is Armalite Model 15, is almost always a semi-automatic, except for the military.

      February 19, 2018 7:27 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      This might be a case of proprietary eponym (where a brand name gets so popular it becomes the generic regular term, like Kleenex or Dumpster).

      February 20, 2018 11:42 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Armalite is BRAND NAME, not a type of weapon, just as Chevrolet is a carmaker, not a type of vehicle. Get it?

      May 13, 2018 10:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Margaret Cronin

    Isn't this.a semi automatic weapon designed for military use, ?? I am sure the victims of this shooting are not discussing different guns because they are suffering from the horrible damage this gun did in seconds!

    February 16, 2018 12:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Read the article again. No one here applauds the use of an AR-15 style weapon for killing high numbers of people. It simply explains rather well what this weapon can and cannot do.

      February 17, 2018 3:01 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      idiot the gun didnt shoot those people a person decided to pull the trigger guess you blame the car that a drunk driver was driving for a fatal accident

      February 18, 2018 1:56 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        dewayne, you are the real idiot. Your comparison is not only as old as dirt but also a pathetic one. You are comparing the irresponsible utilization of a vehicle which is for transportation, not crashing into things thus causing injury or fatality TO THAT OF AN WEAPON CREATED FOR THE USE OF FIRING A PROJECTILE -
        CREATED TO BE USED ON ORGANISMS TO INJURE OR KILL.. Is that better for you. It's a broken down in layman's terms for ya!

        Now please, tell anyone quick to use that stupid example that it isn't valid!

        February 21, 2018 9:01 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          Here is a comparison for you; during 9/11, the terrorists used box cutters to overpower the other people on the planes. Since you are Mr. Know It All about all things weaponized, do you plan to ban box cutters too? And, since you are ALL about how vehicles are for transportation and are not dangerous, how about you tell that to the families of the over 10,000 people who died in drunk driving accidents in 2016 and the families of the eleven teens that die PER DAY from texting and driving? Sir, if you think that a car cannot be weaponized and be a killing machine far more dangerous than ANY gun, then you, Sir, are the idiot.

          February 25, 2018 6:24 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          And what is your point, again?

          March 30, 2018 10:27 am
        • Commenter Avatar


          I respect and share your disgust at the Las Vegas, Florida, and all other mass shootings of innocent people. I'd ask the gun rights proponents on this forum to at least understand your motivations, if not your conclusions.

          However, to use/paraphrase your own words:

          "Irresponsible utilization of a vehicle which is for transportation"
          "Irresponsible utilization of a firearm which is for hunting/protection/target shooting"

          are basically the same thing.

          They're both irresponsible at best, and terrifyingly evil at worst. The intent of the user is key: a driver intent on getting from point A to point B is a responsible user of a car.

          A driver that wants to inflict harm has changed the intended utilization of his/her car. Example: (https://www.cnn.com/2015/12/21/us/las-vegas-strip-pedestrians-hit/index.html)

          I am an owner of a car. I drive it responsibly. Bugs that fly toward my headlights at night should fear me.

          Law abiding citizens that respect you, my family, and me should not.

          I am an owner of multiple firearms. I use them responsibly. Paper targets, cans, and other inanimate objects should fear me.

          Law abiding citizens that respect you, my family, and me should not.

          March 31, 2018 1:33 pm
        • Commenter Avatar


          June 21, 2018 11:59 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          dewayne was correct, in the sense that some crazies drive 2000LB. autos into crowds of people to kill them. what is the diff? they are both nuts and should not be using what they had!!!

          November 11, 2018 8:41 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Tony Long

          NostradaNus - Step back from the ledge. He is simply making the point that it is not the tool, automobile or gun, that is responsible for the horrible action. Maybe you could comprehend his augment better if he had compared the gun to a hypodermic needle. It too is made to be used on organisms. In the hands of medical personal, the needle can save lives but in the hands of a drug addict, it can bring suffering to so many. As much as you might not like to admit it, you live in a free country because of guns. Once again, step back from the ledge.

          November 18, 2018 11:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      lets imagine that we do away with all AR's. The crazy loons will just select a different weapon, Lets say its a shot gun or rifle so then we ban them, now the crazies move to hand guns so we ban them, now they move to knives. At what point do we realize its not the weapons its a mental health problem we have.

      March 25, 2018 6:30 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        I realize that I must think the worst of people because I have always assumed that banning AR's would make "the crazies" move up to things like vehicles, homemade bombs or techno music.

        May 17, 2018 9:58 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Yes Margaret, they are. In fact the victims and all the anti-gun crowd like yourself who have latched onto them as poster children for "the cause" are doing exactly that.

      May 13, 2018 10:51 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tony Long

      Definition of Margaret Cronin: TROLL

      November 18, 2018 11:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Alex D

    Oops ... I thought AR stands for @$$ reaming !

    January 25, 2018 4:05 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      it does lmao

      March 19, 2018 8:14 pm
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