The Media and the AR-15: Style Over Substance, Fear versus Fact

English: 1973 Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter rifle
English: 1973 Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter rifle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, the poor, maligned AR-15. The American media seem to keep  thick files full of disinformation on this “assault rifle” available for instant use. Anti-AR-15 filler went up on the web and out on the airwaves before law enforcement had even named Omar Mateen as the perpetrator of the June 12 attack on The Pulse, a nightclub serving Orlando, Florida’s LGBTQ community. Here are a few problems with that filler.

Problem #1: Contra early speculation, the weapon Mateen used in his killing spree wasn’t an AR-15. Police initially described it as an “AR-15-type assault rifle.” Now we’re told it was a different weapon, the Sig Sauer MCX.

Problem #2: Some media outlets continue to propagate the myth that the “AR” in AR-15 stands for “assault rifle.” It actually stands for “Armalite,” the company that first produced the gun.

Problem #3: Speaking of which, the term “assault rifle” isn’t exactly meaningless, but it doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. All it means is that a weapon looks ugly and scary and therefore makes a nice juicy target for demagogues. The expired 1994-2004 US “assault weapons ban” was about cosmetic features — bayonet lugs, flash suppressors, pistol grips and so forth — not about the performance characteristics of the weapons it applied to.

Problem #4: In point of fact, as scary as it might look, the AR-15 is actually a fairly under-powered weapon for killing people. Most rifles for hunting large American game animals shoot bullets in the .270 to .308 caliber range. The AR-15 fires a .223 bullet, just a little bigger than the .22 that most rural American 12-year-olds used to hunt rabbits and squirrels with. That’s one reason the US military likes the M-16, its version of the AR-15 — kill an enemy soldier, his buddies keep fighting; wound an enemy soldier, two of his buddies stop fighting to help him out.

Problem #5: There’s nothing new, high-tech or unusual about the AR-15. “Semi-automatic” rifles — rifles which fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled and automatically reload themselves — have been around for more than a century, and the AR-15 itself for nearly 60 years. If someone tries to tell you that the AR-15 is an “automatic weapon” or a “machine gun,” they’re just flat wrong.

No amount of blaming the AR-15 (or the Sig Sauer MCX) for the Orlando attack will make the gun responsible for the attack. The shooter is to blame for the attack.

No amount of fear-mongering about the AR-15 or any other weapon will make victim disarmament — what its supporters call “gun control” — legislation either moral or practical. More than 100 million Americans own more than 300 million guns and are going to keep them.

Too bad a few of them weren’t at The Pulse on Sunday.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Rape, Culture, Responsibility, and Brock Turner

Woman Being Stalked (stock photo from Pond5)

“Rape culture hysteria is devastating society, and it does so even as the rate of rape falls sharply,” writes Wendy McElroy in the preface to her new book, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women. McElroy quotes an anonymous poster:

“‘Rape culture’ did not slip sleeping pills into my drink. One man did. … Don’t let rapists go free of responsibility by saying their choices are made for them by society.”

How dangerous is the “rape culture” construct? Convicted sexual assailant Brock Turner ably demonstrates the risks of blaming collective culture for individual behavior by aiming that weapon in the opposite direction. In his pre-sentencing statement to judge Aaron Persky, asking for probation rather than prison time, Turner writes:

“I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student. … Before this happened, I never had any trouble with law enforcement and I plan on maintaining that. I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school.”

See what he did there? With a few glib turns of phrase, Turner turns the same logic underlying “rape culture” claims to his own purposes. He ceases to be an assailant and becomes another  victim.

Brock Turner didn’t sexually assault an unconscious woman next to a dumpster outside a fraternity house. “Party culture” did that.

Brock Turner didn’t penetrate that unconscious woman with a foreign object (Brock Turner’s finger). Binge drinking, sexual promiscuity and risk taking behavior did those things.

Blame booze. Blame college. Blame culture. Just don’t blame Brock Turner. Poor, poor Brock. Bad culture! Bad! Go stand in the corner, culture!

Well, no. In reality, Brock Turner did what he did, and only Brock Turner is responsible for it. His “culture” excuses are just that — excuses.

And how did our REAL culture — as opposed to the “rape culture” we supposedly live in — respond to Turner’s crime? With universal outrage.

More than a million people have already signed a petition calling for the removal of judge Persky, who sentenced Turner to a mere six months for his crime, from the bench. Stanford University has banned him from its campus, and USA Swimming (which controls Olympic trials) from its events, for life.

Some “rape culture,” huh?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Got Milked? US “Defense” Spending 2017

The Pentagon, headquarters of the United State...
The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The White House said Tuesday [June 7] that President Barack Obama will veto the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill,” Richard Lardner of the Associated Press reports. Why? Lardner cites provisions that would prevent Obama from shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and limit the number of “national security” functionaries he can put on the White House payroll.

Deeper in the story, however, we find meatier objections: The $600 billion bill “denies the Defense Department’s request for a new round of military base closings” and Senate Armed Service Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) “plans to propose an amendment that would add nearly $18 billion to the defense budget to pay for additional ships, jet fighters, helicopters and more that the Pentagon didn’t request.”

If Obama, who doesn’t face re-election, follows through on his veto threat House and Senate Democrats will likely join Republicans in overriding that veto so long as they get their share of that $18 billion and the bases in their districts remain open. What gives? Nothing. It’s politics as usual.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson asserted that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of the governed to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson, to put the best face possible on things, was hopelessly naive. The purpose of government is — and always has been — to transfer wealth and power from the ruled to the rulers. Politicians crave unearned power; plutocrats crave unearned profit. The two groups, broadly constituting the “political class,” prop each other up and assist each other in milking the rest of us.

Since World War 2, the premier American political milking operation  of this type has been what President Dwight D. Eisenhower labeled “the military-industrial complex.” Politicians receive campaign contributions and golden parachutes as corporate directors. In return, “defense” contractors knock down billions in arms sales, base maintenance contracts, etc. All at your expense, and none of it related to any reasonable conception of “national defense.”

It’s not just treasure the political class takes from the productive class. It’s blood as well. Justifying insane levels of military spending requires the occasional war. Not to worry. The political class considers your sons’ and daughters’ lives a reasonable price to pay to keep their gravy trains running on time.

Don’t expect anything different from this year’s crop of presidential candidates. Donald Trump believes the bloated US military needs to be “rebuilt.” Hillary Clinton hasn’t met a war she didn’t love since Vietnam. Even “libertarian” vice-presidential candidate William Weld, running on a second Republican ticket, avers that he and running mate Gary Johnson believe “a bedrock responsibility of the US government is to maintain the most powerful military in the world, by a wide margin.” Given that the US is separated from all credible military threats by two oceans, Weld’s line is clearly the usual political class pandering.

If voting won’t fix the problem this November, what next? Well, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee ( has some ideas for next April.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.