In the past, a gun like a Barrett M82, which fires a bullet that travels at about a mile per second, could be made to shoot less accurately than the more powerful, less expensive, and more powerful Barrett M109.
But today, a weapon like the AR-15 or the AR556 can hit targets with far more accuracy.
And that’s thanks to a range of components that make it possible to build a gun that’s just as accurate.
The AR-series of rifles, including the AR15 and AR-10, were developed for military use by Remington Arms in the mid-1930s, but in the late 1960s and 1970s, Remington also began to develop its own guns for home defense and law enforcement.
AR-based weapons are often more accurate than AR-platforms, which typically use polymer parts, but Remington didn’t make its AR-type rifles until the early 1980s.
“It was a very good time to be a Remington and to have the AR platform,” says David Menn, a professor of firearms engineering at Northeastern University who has studied AR-related technologies for decades.
AR rifles can shoot a lot more rounds than their polymer counterparts, Menn says.
“They’re more expensive to manufacture.
They’re more complicated to assemble.
And they’re more prone to malfunction.”
Menn also points out that AR-equipped AR-style rifles are typically easier to use, easier to find, and less prone to damage.
“The AR platform and AR guns are fundamentally the same,” Menn tells The Verge.
“You just put a bunch of components together and you make an AR-like gun.”
While AR-types may be more accurate, AR-specific components have a number of advantages over their polymer brethren.
For one thing, AR parts can be readily swapped out, and the AR rifles are built with a “machining kit,” which makes it easier to upgrade parts that break or need to be replaced.
The kits can also be modified to accommodate various features like a scope rail or a bayonet lug.
“If you want a scope, you can get one made from an AR15 or an AR556,” says James Menn of Northeastern, who has written about AR-systems for more than two decades.
“In the end, the cost and complexity of the parts and the tools are not that big of a deal.
It’s all about cost and design.”
For one, parts are cheap, so they’re often easier to replace.
AR parts also tend to be easier to modify than parts that use polymer.
For instance, the AR pistol grip that came with the M16 rifle in the 1980s has been modified with a grip made from a polymer pistol grip, making it easier for people to swap out the gun for a polymer version.
And because the polymer parts can’t be removed, the gun is more likely to fire accurately when fired from a rifle with an AR accessory.
“When you get a pistol grip made by Remo, it’s a different beast,” Mann says.
Remington eventually went out of business in the 1990s, so it’s unlikely that any of its AR components will ever be used again, Mann adds.
However, the company continues to work on AR-compatible rifles and handguns, like the AK-47, that are still widely used by law enforcement and security forces around the world.