The Washington Post Misfires—Again

A man fires an AR-15 a a shooting range on October 12, 2019, in Greeley, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When it comes to the AR-15, the Washington Post keeps getting it wrong. A piece headlined “The Blast Effect” makes various claims about the rounds fired by AR-type rifles, some of which are untrue, the rest of which are common to almost all centerfire rifles. The Washington Post’s claim that the AR-type rifle is “uniquely destructive” is categorically false. The journalistically responsible thing to do would be to retract these claims, but the Post is not engaged in journalism—it is engaged in culture-war propaganda. 

I have been annotating some of the errors in the Post’s hysterical and error-ridden series on firearms and firearm-enabled violence, and today I will look at the claim that AR-pattern rifles are especially dangerous because the 5.56mm bullet moves so fast: 

What makes the weapon so deadly is the speed of that bullet,” the Post claims. 

(If you will forgive a little prologue: I will set aside, for the moment, the fact that there are lots of firearms that fire the 5.56mm NATO round and its fraternal twin, the .223 Remington. The bullet does not go extra fast when fired from an AR-style rifle; in fact, it typically will be going a bit slower than when fired from a traditional hunting rifle, because AR-style rifles usually, though not always, are outfitted with shorter barrels. The math isn’t exactly linear and there is a point of diminishing returns, but, generally speaking, a bullet will achieve a higher velocity coming out of a longer barrel, because the longer barrel allows more of the propellant to be burned before the projectile exits the muzzle. That is one of the reasons rifles are generally, though not in every instance, more powerful than handguns. You can see this phenomenon illustrated with cartridges that are commonly fired from both handguns and from rifles, e.g., the .357 Magnum, which will add about 40 percent to its velocity when fired out of a rifle compared with firing it out of a handgun. The 5.56mm is often fired from handguns, notably AR-style handguns, which are pretty common; the AR-style weapon used in the Nashville massacre was, technically, a handgun chambered in the .300 AAC cartridge. From the photos, it appears it was a “pistol” fitted with one of those phony “arm braces” that are, in practice, shoulder stocks, meaning that it was a de facto rifle even if it was a de jure handgun. The other weapons were a 9mm handgun and a pistol-caliber “carbine,” meaning a small rifle, in this case a KelTec rifle chambered either for the 9mm or the .40 S&W—I don’t have a definitive answer for which of those it was at this time.)

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