The AR-15 has become the most infamous gun in America in the last few month. The rifle, originally designed for United States troops in Vietnam, has been flying off the shelves since the Newtown and Aurora shootings. In fact, the AR-15, which fans also refer to as the Black Rifle, has been flying off the shelves for years. There are now around five million AR-15s in the hands of everyday Americans.
Exactly why the Black Rifle has become so insanely popular is up for debate, but Wired's Jon Stokes makes a strong case in an article that declares "The AR-15 Is More Than a Gun. It’s a Gadget." Among other revelations, Stokes attributes the AR-15's popularity in part to the gun's hackability. Like the hot rod craze, high definition stereo trend, and the fixed gear bike phenomenon before it, the AR-15 appeals to the American desire for individuality and customizability.
"I always tease that it’s like Legos for grown men," Jay Duncan, the vice president of sales for AR-15 maker Daniel Defense, explained to Wired, “because there’s plenty of guys that get one, two, six ARs. And they’re constantly tinkering with them — changing barrel lengths, changing optics, putting different sights on them. It’s the same reason that a guy gets into remote-controlled cars or fly tying. Because it’s a fun hobby, and it’s a distraction from reality sometimes."
Distraction from reality feels like putting it lightly, which might explain why Congress is so eager to reinstate a 1994 ban on assault rifles, which would likely include the AR-15. These hobbyists are a different breed than than the NRA nuts and conspiracy theorists arming themselves to take down the U.S. government, but they're just as well-equipped.
It's frightfully easy to take the street-legal AR-15 and trick it out with all kinds of gadgets and gear that make it easier and more effective to shoot. In Stokes' words, "The AR-15 industry will one day reach the point at which it will be fair to say that the military is taking civilian technology and 'militarizing' it, instead of vice versa."
So what does that actually look like? I did some poking around in the wild, occasionally world of gun modding forums and came up with some illustrations of just how crazy AR-15 customizing can get.
The Call of Duty
This one just has it all, and represents what a heavily-customized AR can look like. It's right out of a video game, just like the NRA said.
The modded AR-15 above has a mounted iPhone running a ballistics computer called BulletFlight. This is a very high tech version of what snipers carry with them to calculate things like wind velocity, bullet trajectory and flight time. The app is available in the iTunes for only $29.99. It's hardly the only one you can get. Apps for both iPhone and Android do everything from help shooters keep track of their shots at the range to measuring their trigger time. You can even use your iPhone as a scope!
The Disappearing Weapon of Destruction
There's a whole rainbow of these. As some people consider the AR-15 a work of art, others are taking it a stage further and outfitting their rifles with elaborate paint jobs. Above is a nice sandy granite job. Burnt bronze is also a really popular choice. And who could forget the pink themes for Barbie and Hello Kitty rifles?
The Chainsaw Massacre
This looks like a one-off custom kind of project. Instead of attaching a flashlight or a bayonet to the end of the AR-15, you know, just in case you need to chop down some trees after you're finished shooting up the forest. Or in case you run out of ammo during the zombie apocalypse. Either one.