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The Washington Post Invents A New History For AR-15s

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A 2018 Washington Post article about AR-15s is recirculating today after senior editor Marc Fisher tweeted it out in the wake of the Texas elementary school shooting. In it, he contends that the AR-15 was “[i]nvented for Nazi infantrymen” and “is a descendant of the machine guns Nazi infantrymen used against Soviet forces in World War II.” The piece is brimming with the customary fearmongering, but as I’d written a chapter about the AR-15/M-16 in my cultural history of guns, the claim piqued my curiosity.

In researching the origins of the Armalite company, reading every book and contemporaneous information I could get my hands on, never once do I recall running across any mention of the AR’s inventor Gene Stoner being influenced by “Nazi” firearms, much less basing his famous rifle on a German assault rifle. Armalite, in fact, was the first company to successfully hybridize American technological advances of World War II airplane design, plastics, and alloys, with small arms. So, I’d love to find out which Wikipedia page Fisher pulled this information from.

The piece — really a column — is misleading in many other ways, like when it conflates AR-15 with the military-grade M-16. Though it’s true that mass shooters often use AR-15s, probably because of their aesthetics and popularity in video games and films, Fisher doesn’t mention that the gun is rarely used in crime despite its popularity. In 2019, the last year of FBI data, we find that more Americans were murdered by fists and kicking than AR-15s.

Handguns are by far the most predominant weapon used in homicides. In Texas 568 murders involved a handgun and 72 involved a rifle (not all of them AR-15s.) In Illinois 564 murders involved a handgun and 7 a rifle — 33 states had five murders or fewer by way of rifle. None of this diminishes the horror of school shootings, but ostensibly journalists are here to inform not crusade.

Now, the most generous reading of the piece is that Fisher means that Stoner — who didn’t even serve in Europe during World War II, but in Asia — and the Nazis both shared some of the same fundamental firearm technology that was developed by people like Mannlicher or Browning. It is true that there was a literal arms race through the 20th century, and inventors are always looking to other technology.

Using that standard, though, we’re driving cars and flying airplanes and launching satellites that are “descendant” from the Nazis, as well. So my guess is that Fisher decided that AR-15 should be placed near the word “Nazi” because demonization trumps journalistic standards at the Post.