As one who was the historian of the Army Weapons Command headquarters and Rock Island Arsenal at the time, I remember well the controversy in 1961 about ArmaLite’s new AR-15 rifle and demands that it be tested against the standard M14 rifle.
I wrote a history of the M14 for the commanding general, noting its merits and its shortcomings. The AR-15 was lighter but had a larger magazine and a higher rate of fire.
It also used a smaller-caliber bullet that was high-velocity and tended to tumble and tear tissue when it entered the body. The rifle was all metal, unlike the M14 that was a successor to the M1 of World War II fame. In tests, the AR-15 also appeared less likely to jam.
The upshot is that the Army decided to adopt the AR-15 as a replacement for the M14 and to standardize it as the M16.
I understand that to make it legal for civilian use, the non-military version must be semi- and not fully automatic. But converting it for the latter is easy, and so virtually anybody can buy an AR-15 type that is designed to kill multiple human beings. Enough said.
Niel Johnson of Independence graduated in 1953 from Augustana College with a bachelor’s in history, in 1965 with a master’s in American intellectual history from State University of Iowa and in 1971 with a doctorate from the University of Iowa in modern American history. He was the historian of the Army Weapons Command headquarters and Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., from 1957 to 1963. From 1977 to 1992 he was an archivist and oral historian at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. From 1993 to present, he has been a Truman impersonator.