Modern Sporting Rifle


The modern sporting rifle is widely misunderstood throughout the country because they are aesthetically similar to military rifles. However, these rifles do not function the same as military firearms and have distinctly different practical uses and technical specifications. Efforts to ban modern sporting rifles often focus on emotion, cosmetics, and appearances, yet ignore the technological differences. Today, modern sporting rifles are commonly found in the hands of hunters and recreational shooters throughout the nation who value them for their durability and reliability.


The modern sporting rifle (MSR), the most common examples being based on the AR-15 platform, is widely mischaracterized. These rifles have a similar appearance to military rifles, but they do not function in the same way. This has sowed much confusion around the applications and uses of MSRs.  Groups wanting to ban MSRs have, for many years, spread misleading information about the AR-15, and MSRs generally, to support their cause.

The AR platform is a semi-automatic rifle, most often chambered in 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, .308 Winchester, and other varieties of calibers. This platform is designed for versatility and made to accommodate a vast array of modifications and accessories including: scopes, sights, slings, lights, and many practical hunting tools. Folding and telescoping stocks, as well as pistol grips, can customize cosmetic appearance, but the core function of the firearm remains identical to traditional semi-automatic rifles with wooden furniture that look more similar to the traditional bolt action hunting rifles.

Modern sporting rifles and their accessories are a booming trend within the firearms industry. Sales statistics are difficult to report accurately because many manufacturers are privately held companies, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) statistics do not distinguish between rifle types. However, anecdotal evidence is plentiful. Firearms manufacturers across the nation are working to meet growing customer demand, with modern sporting rifles at times outselling traditional rifles.

Points of Interest

  • The AR in “AR-15” stands for ArmaLite Rifle. ArmaLite is the firearms-engineering company that first developed the modern sporting rifle in the 1950s. AR does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.”
  • AR-style rifles are not “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” An assault rifle, as defined by the United States Army, is a short, compact firearm that fires a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges, which has fully automatic capabilities. The AR-15 platform is not fully automatic. Automatic firearms have been heavily regulated by the National Firearms Act since 1934 and are difficult to obtain and cost-prohibitive (often in the tens of thousands of dollars) for civilian ownership.
  • Although modern sporting rifles may look like military rifles, such as the M-16 and M-4, they function like other semi-automatic firearms, firing only one round with each trigger pull. Versions of modern sporting rifles are legal to own in all 50 states, with varying degrees of regulation, provided that the purchaser passes the mandatory FBI background check required for all retail firearm purchases. Some states have passed legislation prohibiting the purchase of MSRs or are in the process of banning MSR variations due to the misunderstanding that they are “assault weapons.” Additionally, some jurisdictions place arbitrary bans on the standard capacity magazines commonly sold with and designed to operate in modern sporting rifles. More information can be found in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) and Standard Capacity Magazines issue briefs.
    • Most recently, Illinois’ HB5522 passed banning all “assault rifles.” This bill specifically defines “assault rifle” as “(A) any rifle…detachable magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition (B) A semi-automatic rifle that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has any of the following (i) A folding or telescoping stock (ii) A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned (C) A semi-automatic pistol that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has any of the following: (i) A folding or telescoping stock (ii) A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles the barrel, that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned (iii) A manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded (D) A semi-automatic rifle with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”
    • This language is specifically tailored to apply to MSR’s and their pistol length variants. The statute is currently in litigation with a number of pro-gun organizations.
  • AR-style rifles can be chambered in a wide variety of rifle calibers including .22, 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, 6.8 SPC, .308 Winchester, .300 BLK, and, in states that only permit the use of straight-walled cartridges for deer hunters, 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster, among others. Pistol calibers, such as 9mm, .40, .45, and others are also available, as well as AR-style shotguns.
  • Modern sporting rifles are commonly used by participants in “3-Gun,” one of the most popular and fastest growing recreational shooting disciplines.

Moving Forward

Elected officials should ensure that firearm legislation is based on evidence, rather than emotion, cosmetics, or appearance. Semi-automatic firearms like the modern sporting rifle are now one of the most popular types of firearms in America and are used for a wide variety of legitimate purposes, including hunting, varmint control, shooting sports, and personal defense. The sportsmen’s community must continue to find ways to educate the populace on the modern sporting rifle and its role in recreational shooting and hunting to avoid the negative and misguided stereotypes and images commonly associated with these firearms.

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