Engineering ‘The Black Rifle’: Why the AR-15 Is the Most Popular Gun in the U.S.

The AR-15 is a trademark, and since its original patent, the machine has gone through many iterations. Here’s what you should know about where it is today.

Lately, you’ve seen the AR-15 in the news a lot. These firearms elicit emotions for millions of Americans. Some want these weapons to be available and unrestricted, some want to regulate them, and some want to ban them outright.  But what do you know about these rifles? How do they work? And why did they become so widespread?

The AR-15 weapon is hotly politicized, with some saying the data and equipment is just “too complicated” to properly debate. Which has been made even more complicated by emotion and propaganda. So let’s try to cut through that.

The AR-15 is  a gas-operated rifle that the US military adopted in the 1960s. They named it the M16, and that has variants -- the M16A1 A2, and A4. There’s also the shorter (carbine) version called the M4. Or its variants like the CAR-15 or Colt Commando or versions with different systems and markets like the HK-416 Canada C7 or Danish LSV M/04. And on top of THAT Colt bought the design and uses the trademark the AR-15 which just makes things even more confusing.

This one firearm family has scores of cousins and configurations which is one reason people call it “too complicated” -- and why many just call this firearm family, “The Black Rifle.”  So that’s what it is, but what made it so popular? You can trace the success of this weapon to a few things: First: Engineering. Second: U.S. Patent Law. And Third: More engineering.