Ok, this time I’m talking about the future of semi-auto rifle designs. Currently, the single most popular semi-auto rifle design in the US is probably the AR-15 style rifle. (I can’t 100% guarantee it unless I can prove it, but I’d bet on it). Why? Why is this ‘military style’ rifle so popular? Well, many reasons.
First and most important to me, it is adaptable. Simply pull out 2 pins and the entire top half of the rifle just comes off in your hands. This makes it very easy to change your barrel length, barrel weight, and/or caliber. Fortunately, these spare upper halves are not legally a ‘gun’ (the lower half is the registered gun), so there’s no paperwork to buy spare barrels. This way, a single rifle can be reconfigured to serve many roles, depending on which upper half is equipped.
Second, is that the AR-15 style rifle is ubiquitous. It’s popular because it’s popular. It’s poplar, so there are dozens of different companies. These dozens of companies make hundreds of parts. These huge piles of spare parts guarantee that if anything ever breaks, you can easily replace the broken part. Also, the AR-15 is popular, so there are a lot of accessories. People like accessories, so they buy more AR-15s. It’s a little like early iPods. Even if there are better systems, people will buy the most common system because they want the accessories, too.
Third, it’s light and easy to use. It is NOT a powerful rifle. Sure, it’s more powerful than a typical handgun, but what isn’t? Seriously, look at the numbers: handguns suck. They only good thing about them is that they’re small & convenient … but that’s another topic for another day. Anyway, the AR-15 is popular because it is NOT very powerful. In other words, it doesn’t kick very hard. It’s easy to shoot. It also usually weighs only 7 or 8 pounds (unloaded). So, let’s summarize. It’s lightweight, soft-kicking, and not too powerful.
Fourth, it’s generally pretty accurate, especially for a semi-auto rifle. Some of them are capable of punching out a 1/2″ pattern at 100 yards. Some of them are capable of hitting targets at 800 yards. Even the typical “rack grade” AR-15 is capable of shooting a 2-3″ grouping at 100 yards. Today’s AR-15 is more accurate than yester-year’s bolt action hunting rifles. (And remember, it does this with less kick, too.)
Fifth, it is similar to the current US military rifle. This is important in terms of ‘gun fashion’ as well as familiarity. ‘Gun fashion’ refers to people’s interest in the guns used in pop culture. The gun community often laments the ‘Call of Duty effect’. Basically, young guys start thinking they’re gun experts because they play CoD. I actually had a guy try to convince me that sound suppressors make the bullet go slower. There’s also the issue of familiarity. Many Americans have served in the armed forces and are therefore already familiar and trained with the M-16 and M-4 rifles. When they leave the military, these veterans often want guns that feel a lot like the rifles they already know. Finally, the military has spent a lot of time and money improving the M-16 design over the last 50 years, like a chrome-lined barrel, a faster rifling rate of twist, improved feed ramps, and an integral scope rail. Those improvements have also been copied by civilian AR-15s. The end result is a gun that is safer & more reliable than an untested design.
So, know we know that AR-15 style rifles of popular because they are adaptable, modular, ubiquitous, easy to shoot, and stylish.
The best option would be something like the Ares Defense Herring MSR. Don’t bother searching for it, it was vaporware a few years ago. It was basically a traditional style hunting rifle … that was compatible with any AR-15 style upper half.
EDIT 2016: The MSR is back, now called the SCR.
A lot of guns use common magazines. As discussed below, the AR-15 magazine is also used by the Benelli MR1, Kel-Tec SU16, and Mossber MVP Predator (bolt action) rifle. That’s just a few. I’m sure there are more ban-compliant designs that also use AR-15 magazines.
Heck, I bought magazines for guns I don’t own, just for that reason. Most 9mm carbines use Glock, Beretta, or Uzi magazines. Those magazines border on the universal. Future ban-compliant carbines will probably also use these same mags. Hence, I bought several Glock, Beretta, and Uzi magazines. Also, I think I can use pre-ban Glock magazines in a post-ban Glock. I also bought a few AK-47 type mags, because someone will probably eventually design a post-ban rifle that uses pre-ban AK-47 mags.
Of course, we could look at currently existing rifles that wouldn’t be (or rather SHOULD NOT be) banned.
For example, look at a typical SKS. Yes, it was a Russian war rifle … almost 70 years ago. Take a serious look at the design. The standard SKS doesn’t have a pistol grip, folding stock, threaded barrel, or even a detachable magazine. Yes, they usually do have a bayonet, but that can be removed. They don’t have a removable magazine, but they can be reloaded quickly by shoving ammo down into it from the top when it’s empty (like a hunting rifle). In theory, the SKS should be the perfect post-ban semi- auto rifle. As long as semi-autos are legal, the SKS should be the perfect post-ban rifle.
Except it isn’t. For some reason, Feinstein wants to ban the SKS by NAME, even though it doesn’t have ANY of the scary, evil features that define ‘assault’ weapons. It’s really hypocritical. Pistol grips? Bad. No pistol grip? Also bad?!?!? Huh? That makes no damned sense.
The M-1 Carbine is another perfect example. It’s small, light, and not very powerful. It has a detachable magazine but has NO banned features. Again, it seems like the perfect post-ban self defense rifle, except it is also listed as an ‘assault’ rifle in Feinstein’s ban bill.
A good option would be something like the Kel-Tec SU-16 rifle series. They look and work like a traditional semi-auto hunting rifle, but they use any AR-15 magazine. It’s especially great if you have pre-ban AR-15 magazines sitting around. The SU-16 also has the advantage of folding in the middle of the rifle. It won’t fire when folded in half (that would be banned as a folding stock), but it does make the rifle a lot more portable. I don’t know if the SU-16 is listed in Feinstein’s ban.
Also, take a look at the Benelli MR1. Some versions come with a traditional style stock and no banned features. The MR1 also uses standard AR-15 magazines. However, I’ve handled a MR1 without a pistol grip, and it just feels wrong to me. The magazine release button is really far forward, which makes reloading awkward. I have no idea if the MR1 is listed in Feinstein’s ban, either.
Of course, I would be a fool if I didn’t mention the Ruger Mini-14 rifle. It’s based on a Springfield Armory M-14/M-1A scaled down. Unfortunately, the Mini-14 has a bad reputation for accuracy and is not as easy to accessorize with self defense tools (red dot sight, flashlight, maybe a laser) as the SU16 or MR1. It’s also unfortunate that the Mini-14 uses special, proprietary magazines. Mini-14 magazines are much less common and cost about 5 times as much as similar AR-15 magazines. That was before. I can’t imagine how rare and expensive they are now that everyone is buying everything in a panic.
Hopefully, we’ll see rifles in the future that are specifically designed to comply with the ban while still being effective self-defense tools. One flaw with the SU-16, MR1, and Mini-14 is that they’re only available in a few calibers. An AR-15 can be modified into dozens of different calibers. Hopefully someone comes up with a more universal platform in the near future.