What Does AR Stand For in AR-15?

The AR in AR-15 stands for “Armalite Rifle.”  Follow us as we go over what it doesn’t stand for…plus what is exactly an AR firearm and our favorite picks.

A Few AR-15s
A Few AR-15s

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, depending on their agenda.

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

The US Army does have a standard definition, however.  The US Army considers a firearm an assault rifle if it meets all of 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, such as the 7.92×33mm Kurz, the 7.62x39mm and the 5.56x45mm NATO;
  • It has ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine; and
  • It has an effective range of at least 300 metres (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.

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 and are closely monitored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

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.

Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle

Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle

In the 1950s ArmaLite began designing and producing the AR-10 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.  


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 would 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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18 Comments on "What Does AR Stand For in AR-15?"

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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.


Never hunted jack rabbits huh!..?

Bad Whisky

No body needs a Corvette either…

M Macke

Very informative material. Thank you.


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

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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »

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


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.

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).

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!


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.


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


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!

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… Read more »