America’s Rifle: The Case for the AR-15
by Stephen P. Halbrook
Published by Bombardier Books (2022)
This book is the definitive work showing the central place of AR-15s and other semiautomatic rifles in the American story. From the founding to the present, rifles and other firearms have played a pivotal role in American history. The story of America’s rifle is largely the story of American history.
There are over forty-four million AR-15s and similar semiautomatic rifles owned by Americans. Popular adoption on such a monumental scale is indicative of more than a passing fad; only proven utility through long history creates such lasting—indeed growing—demand.
Since the founding of the American republic, rifles—beginning with muzzleloaders and later semiautomatics—have been at the center of American history and pre-history. This book, by renowned historian and attorney Stephen Halbrook, is the definitive account of this centrality of repeating rifles to the American story—from its conception to the present day.
Some factions of state and national politicians now seek to remake America in a different, novel image by rushing to ban and restrict access to firearms that have long been our heritage. As Halbrook decisively shows, theirs is a war against the Second Amendment and the tradition of freedom and self-sufficiency that has sustained our storied past. Our rights hang in the balance—not as lone pillars but, history shows, as dominos ready to fall in quick succession.
Halbrook comprehensively reviews the historical, legal, and policy arguments advanced by gun prohibitionists and demonstrates that these bans are deeply antagonistic to our history, our interests, and our Constitution.
This is the first comprehensive book on the history of the right to keep and bear semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15. Before, during, and after our Founding period, Americans enjoyed the right to possess and carry historically-equivalent firearms for self-protection, defense of the community and nation, and resistance to tyranny. The book refutes the attempt by the anti-gun movement to “cancel” the right by falsely labeling such rifles “assault weapons.”
American’s Founders brought with them the rights of Englishmen and expanded on those rights. In English history, the medieval monarchs required the entire population to be armed to defend the kingdom, and this duty to be armed evolved into the right to be armed. The pendulum swung back and forth between the liberties of the subjects to have arms and attempts by the kings to disarm and overpower the subjects. The Declaration of Rights of 1689 formalized the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense.
From colonial times, American settlers had the duty and the right to be armed with muskets and other militia weapons. The American Revolution was sparked by British attempts to disarm the Americans, and the Second Amendment was intended to prevent future confiscations and other infringements. Firearms that shot multiple rounds were under development as far back as colonial times. During the antebellum era, new states declared the right to bear arms anew as firearms technology developed with the widespread production of repeating firearms. Carrying weapons concealed and the possession of weapons by slaves were the only restrictions on the right. Reconstruction saw the continued disarming of African Americans, including the confiscation of their muskets acquired at the end of their military service. These were injustices the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to do away with.
Semiautomatic firearms have been in production and owned by Americans for over a century. For most of the twentieth century, Congress was careful not to ban firearms even though it enacted restrictions. For over a century, the federal Civilian Marksmanship Program has trained and armed citizens with military firearms.
Traditionally, the Gun Prohibition Movement depicted handguns as evil, but long guns were considered “good.” That would change overnight at the end of the twentieth century. In 1989, California became the first state to ban ordinary semiautomatic rifles that it labeled “assault weapons.” The federal ATF banned the importation such rifles that it previously considered “sporting” based on fabricated “trace” data. Congress passed its own “assault weapon” ban in 1994 but allowed it to sunset after only ten years. Official studies demonstrated that the ban did nothing to prevent crime. Today, six states ban such firearms, which are actually ordinary rifles possessed by millions of Americans.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the individual right to keep and bear arms, including firearms that are typically or commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. But lower courts have upheld bans in disregard of Supreme Court precedent. This book demonstrates that the right to keep and bear semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 is a fundamental right recognized by the text of the Second Amendment and is part of our American history and tradition.
Part One: Modern Rifles, “Assault Weapons,” and the Second Amendment
1. The AR-15 Is as American as Apple Pie—and Not an “Assault Weapon”
2. The Second Amendment’s Text and Supreme Court Precedent Preclude Banning America’s Rifle
Part Two: The Right to Effective Arms Is Firmly Rooted in Anglo-American History and Tradition
3. The English Freeman Had Both a Right and a Duty to Be Armed Proficiently
4. The English Declaration of Rights of 1689 Guaranteed the Right of “Arms for Their Defence”
5. From Colonial Times to the Revolution and Beyond, Arms Were Critical to the Americans
6. Constitutionalizing the Right to Bear Arms to Thwart Oppression
7. The Republic Expands as Firearms Development Progresses by Leaps and Bounds
8. The Fourteenth Amendment Was Widely Understood to Protect the Right to Bear Arms—Including Military Firearms
Part Three: Modern History and Tradition Eschewed Firearm Bans
9. The Twentieth Century Heralds a New Age of Semiautomatic Firearms
10. In the Twentieth Century, When It Enacted Gun Laws, Congress Largely Recognized That It Lacks Power to Ban Firearms
11. The Civilian Marksmanship Program Armed and Trained Ordinary American Citizens
Part Four: The Politically Contrived “Assault Weapon” Hysteria
12. California’s Obsession to Ban More and More Firearms, and the Ninth Circuit’s Mission to Uphold All Such Bans
13. How Imported Rifles Long Recognized as Suitable for Sporting Purposes Were Magically Transformed into “Assault Weapons” by Unaccountable Bureaucrats
14. The Federal “Assault Weapon” Ban: The Short-Lived Experiment That Failed Monumentally
15. Shooting from the Hip: How Five Circuits Got a Fundamental Constitutional Right Egregiously Wrong