An American Must Have: The AR-15

Budget AR-15

My budget built AR-15 rifle, made with PSA parts, and an 80% lower.

Americans love their symbols. The American Flag, The Bald Eagle, The Rattlesnake, and of course, America's rifle, the AR-15. And, even though the AR is currently the most popular rifle in these United States, it's also one of the most misunderstood. Rarely does a rifle strike so much fear into the hearts of the uneducated as this modern sporting rifle does.

They believe that “AR” must stand for assault rifle, or, automatic rifle. They believe that it's capable of shooting thousands of rounds per second, with lightning bolts shooting from its arse (err buttstock), and a chainsaw bayonet attachment (lol, couldn't resist). What these highly uneducated folks don't understand is that an assault rifle is one that is fully automatic, and has been highly regulated for many years.

So, if the “AR” doesn't stand for those scary terms, what does it mean? Back in the 195os a company called Armalite built the first one, and the AR stands for the company name. It may be hard to believe, but it really is that simple. We also hear many of these uneducated folks decry the AR-15 as “military style weapons.”

O…M…G…! Who needs a 30-round magazine, anyway? It's a gun used by the military! To kill people! O…M…G…!

Idiots … Seriously.

Matthew has a lot more patience than I when it comes to misinformation. He wrote this article that addresses the common question, why does anyone need an AR-15.

What they don't realize, here, is that the AR-15 was first manufactured in the mid-50s, and the military didn't designate it as a “military weapon,” until 1963. In other words, while they hoped it would be a rifle used by the military, they had to make it, first. Then, in 1963, the M16 was adopted for the military.

They were also selling the AR-15s to the civilian market in 1963, so it's hard to call the AR-15 a “military-style weapon.” The M16? Sure, but they function differently enough, with either a full-auto or burst rate of fire, in addition to semi-automatic, while the AR-15 has just semi-auto fire.

Personally speaking, I have some experience with an M16A2 Service Rifle, and qualified as an “expert rifleman” with it. I was issued one in the Marines from 1999-2003 and even it was not a fully automatic firearm. It had three selections: Safe, Fire, Burst. The burst, by the way, was a 3-round burst that we were told not to use because it made the muzzle climb and it was like spray and pray. You know, shooting and praying that you actually hit your target.

The rifles that we have today are direct descendants of the original AR-15s put out by ArmaLite and then licensed under Colt. There are some differences of course because civilian versions don't have a 3-round burst. We've got safe and semi-auto fire. That's it. In fact, our AR-15s aren't any more dangerous than many of the other rifles out there, especially when you compare the lackluster performance of the .223/5.56  to other, more powerful cartridges on the market.

The argument can be made that they are less dangerous because any good Marine can put a round through a flies rear-end at 500 yards with iron sights, but most people cannot. But, if you give any decently trained individual a Remington 700 bolt action with an OK scope, and you've got an even more deadly option. The only difference, is they don't look scary. But, before I scare some gun-grabber into thinking they can come after our bolt guns next, let's just move on to my next point.

Let me introduce you to my budget AR-15 build (Pictured above). This is something that I'm super proud of because I built it myself, in my basement, for under $500. Trust me when I say that, if I can do it with my limited know-how, so can you. The good thing, for us, is that rifles are incredibly cheap to build right now.

In fact, with one of the rifle kits from Palmetto State Armory, which is who I used for my AR-15 build, you get just about everything you need to build your own budget AR-15 that'll go bang each time you put the steady squeeze on the trigger. On the kit I bought, I ended up with:

  • Barreled upper assembly, that has the gas block, tube, barrel, handguards, etc., already put together
  • Bolt Carrier Group and charging handle
  • Trigger control group
  • Adjustable buttstock
  • Buffer parts
  • Grip

In fact, the only parts you don't get, which are needed to build an actual rifle are the lower receiver and the rear sight. Again, both of which can be found for relatively inexpensive on the good old interwebs. One very important thing to keep in mind is that the only part that is considered a firearm is the lower receiver. You'll have to go through a background check and have that part shipped to your FFL dealer.

Have you ever been asked, “why does anyone need an AR-15” only to see the conversation devolve into a worthless arguing match? We have you covered with some rational points to keep the conversation on target.

What about you? Do you have one of America's Rifles? What is your go-to brand? What do you use it for? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Joshua Gillem

Josh is a lifelong practitioner and student of the gun. He grew up shooting/hunting with his dad, and was given his first gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, when just a small boy. After high school, he joined the Marines where his love for firearms blossomed as he qualified with an M16A2, an M9, and a 240G. Josh has been writing about firearms and tactics for several years, owns the blog Gunners Den, is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and believes that each individual person has the right to self-defense by any means necessary. Currently residing in gun-friendly NC, he carries a concealed gun on a daily basis, even in his own house.


  1. [email protected] on November 22, 2017 at 6:38 am

    Bushmaster. I use it for target shooting as well as deer hunting. Many will argue the effectiveness of the .223 round for deer but over the past 5 yrs of hunting with my AR it is my go to. I’ve dropped everyone with no problem. It all comes down to shot placement.

  2. Bill Key on November 30, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Two Anderson Mfg lower receivers. My first received a Rock River LAR15 upper in multi cal. It is set up as 5.56×45 NATO/.223. Several options like quad rail and Rock River rear sight, etc. Target shooting & sports. The other is one I put together from parts obtained at CDNN Sports in AAC 300 BLK cal. and has little in the way of extra embelishments. Have not shot this one due to gun club membership lapsing. Plan to cure that soon. Target shooting and possibly hog, deer or antelope hunting.

  3. Gary B on November 30, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    AR in 300 Blackout works great for hunting as well as the 6.8

  4. Yogi Bear on December 14, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Well put. I have an AR 15 I built myself and an AR 10 I also put together out of parts. Both are awesome! I can shoot a fist sized group with both at a hundred yards with iron sights.

  5. Doug on July 23, 2018 at 11:40 am

    How about a Radical Firearms AR in 7.63×39 with Anderson upper & lower? A little more juice and the only problem is magazine supply. Didn’t need it for any particular purpose but that I like variety and great price.

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