The AR-15: A Second Round (Literally) - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The AR-15: A Second Round (Literally)

I wish to address constructive, informative feedback on my article, “Are Assault Rifles Strictly Weapons of War?” Much of it came in the form of important corrections and qualifications. Some highly knowledgeable friends made great points when I solicited their feedback on Facebook. Obviously, these are personal opinions; as with anything, judge their credibility for yourself. I personally have found their perspectives invaluable to my coverage of gun regulation. James Maier, a writer and avid gun enthusiast with a YouTube channel dedicated to these issues, noted (hyperlinks added):

Most AR type rifles are chambered for .223, but can take 5.56x45mm ammo. The difference lies in the chamber pressures and propellant, I believe.

Most of the ammo I’ve fired from ARs has been .223 if for no other reason than price.

He was drawing a distinction between the 5.56x45mm NATO round designed for the M16 and the .223 Remington (as in 0.223 inches) cartridge specified for some AR-15s, which I overlooked in my article. This was confirmed by a captain in the United States Army who served a deployment in Afghanistan (hyperlinks and bracketed note added):

James is right. Many AR15s are actually chambered in 223. It’s actually dangerous to fire 5.56 through them. The 223 round is slightly less powerful than its military equivalent 5.56. However, I would point out that the civilian equivalent of the 7.62 [fired by the M14] is a 308. Most 308 rounds are more powerful and accurate than the 7.62. The point I am making is that just because a particular rifle fires a military round doesn’t mean that it is more lethal than a rifle that fires a civilian round. Admittedly, however, the difference is minimal. The user is the most important variable.

James noted:

A .30-30 round has more power than a .223/5.56mm round, too. Rifles chambered in .30-30 are ubiquitous in the gun safes of many deer hunters.

And a second Army Captain, recently retired, followed up on his original point:

Exactly what James said. Part of the problem is that 5.56 mm and .223 are identical geometrically, which means that nothing stops someone from loading the wrong ammunition. Most ARs are designated as 5.56, but there are plenty of civilian brands that are labeled .223 only.

Many AR-15 operators fail to distinguish between 5.56 and .223 — to say nothing those who conflate the AR-15 and M16, namely gun control advocates. (And yours truly!) This turns out to have serious safety implications. There are key design differences in rifles chambered for each round. A Human Events piece graciously provided by James explains:

The significant difference between the .223 Rem and 5.56 NATO lies in the rifles, rather than the cartridges themselves.  Both the .223 and 5.56 rounds will chamber in rifles designed for either cartridge, but the critical component, leade, will be different in each rifle.

The leade is the area of the barrel in front of the chamber prior to where the rifling begins.  This is where the loaded bullet is located when a cartridge is chambered.  The leade is frequently called the “throat.”

On a .223 Remington spec rifle, the leade will be 0.085”.  This is the standard described by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, Inc. (SAAMI).  The leade in a 5.56 NATO spec rifle is 0.162”, or almost double the leade of the .223 rifle.

A shorter leade in a SAAMI spec rifle creates a situation where the bullet in a 5.56 NATO round, when chambered, can contact the rifling prior to being fired.  By having contact with the rifling prematurely (at the moment of firing), chamber pressure can be dramatically increased, creating the danger of a ruptured case or other cartridge/gun failure.

The reverse situation, a .223 Rem round in a 5.56 NATO gun, isn’t dangerous.  The leade is longer, so a slight loss in velocity and accuracy may be experienced, but there is not a danger of increased pressures and subsequent catastrophic failure.

How serious is the danger of firing 5.56 ammo in .223 guns?  Dangerous enough that the SAAMI lists 5.56 military ammo as being not for use in .223 firearms in the technical data sheet titled “Unsafe Firearm-Ammunition Combinations.”

The article goes on to note that, anecdotally, many users claim no serious problems firing 5.56 in rifles chambered for .223, though basic prudence (and the stern warnings of my friends) dictate against it. Some readers may not have even gotten to this point because the discussion is so technical and complex. That speaks to the firearm issue in general. Many political leaders seem to lack basic knowledge, particularly gun control advocates like President Obama and Senator Feinstein (D-CA). I have certainly faced difficulty untangling these questions. Two commenters on my assault rifle article noted that 5.56 rounds are characterized by yaw on contact with human tissue, not fragmentation, as I originally stated, which only occurs above a certain impact velocity.

Further minutiae: Some NATO members initially complained that 5.56 was too powerful for the new generation of lightweight assault rifles, arguing they could not handle its recoil, limiting rate of fire. The United States ultimately overruled them, and it was adopted; despite this charge, the M16 exhibits superior flexibility and rate of fire to the M14 it replaced. The 5.56 round has also been refined over time in response to complaints about its lack of stopping power, increasing its armor-piercing ability. However, the basic criticism persists, and Spectator commenters noted that the proliferation of body armor resistant to intermediate cartridges may render the M16 — and many of its potential replacements — obsolete.

Firearms are complicated. Most policy issues are, but machines designed to kill elicit particularly strong emotions. This leads to inflamed, inflammatory rhetoric that confuses a vitally important issue. Another example is the complex history of the M16. It is actually more correct to say that the M16 is a select-fire version of the AR-15 rifle originally developed by ArmaLite, which licensed the AR-15 design to Colt in 1959. Gun critics may respond that such distinctions are meaningless. But is a mortgage-backed security simply a collateralized debt obligation like any other? Should it be regulated differently from a credit default swap? How should it be regulated in the first place?

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, a retired Navy Captain (and  astronaut) are self-professed gun owners, enthusiastic believers in the Second Amendment. I respect their views about assault weapons, but most of their political allies seem woefully uninformed, content to press onward in the name of high principle alone. It is little wonder that many gun owners feel like scapegoats for horrors committed by a few crazed individuals.

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