Modern Sporting Rifle: The Facts

The term “modern sporting rifle,” aka MSR, was coined to describe today’s very popular semi-automatic rifle designs, including the AR-15 and similar variants.  These rifles are used by hunters, competitors, millions of Americans seeking home-defense guns and many others who simply enjoy going to the range. The modular nature of the platform allows it to be configured for various applications and body types. Despite their popularity, modern sporting rifles are widely misunderstood. Why? Confusion exists because though these rifles look like military rifles, they do not function the same way. Also, groups wanting to ban these rifles have for years purposely spread misinformation about them to aid their cause, including using the terms “assault rifle” and “weapons of war.” MSRs have been utilized by law-abiding Americans since the 1960’s. They are functionally similar to any other semiautomatic rifle and the cosmetic misnomers do not change that fact. MSRs are not machine guns and are subject to all local, state, and federal regulations including the 1968 Gun Control Act and the 1934 National Firearms Act.

Understanding America's Rifle

Remember, if MSRs like the AR-15 are banned, traditional-looking hunting or target shooting semi-automatic guns could be banned, too. Modern sporting rifles are a modern representation of old technology. It has not been replaced largely because the platform is reliable, accurate and operator-friendly for recreational target shooting, hunting and for self-defense purposes.

Fast Facts

To dispel the myths about modern sporting rifles so that we can have honest and factual discussions about them, here are the facts about these rifles.

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America's Most Popular Rifles

Though MSRs are increasingly popular, they are too often misunderstood. Here are the facts about these rifles.
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NSSF Fast Facts: So-called “Assault Weapons”


What has erroneously been termed an “assault weapon” is a semi-automatic firearm that fires just one bullet with each pull of the trigger.  To dispel the myths about modern sporting rifles so that we can have honest and factual discussions about them, here are the facts about these rifles.

  • AR-15-platform rifles are among the most popular firearms being sold. They are today’s modern sporting rifle.
  • The AR in “AR-15” rifle stands for ArmaLite, after the company that developed it in the 1950s. “AR” does NOT stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle.”
  • AR-15 and other semi-automatic rifles are NOT “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” An assault rifle is fully automatic — a machine gun. Automatic firearms have been severely restricted from civilian ownership since 1934.
  • If someone calls an AR-15 or other semi-automatic rifle an “assault weapon,” he or she either supports banning these firearms or does not understand their function and sporting use, or both. Please correct them. “Assault weapon” is a political term created by California anti-gun legislators to ban some semi-automatic rifles there in the 1980s.
  • AR-15 and other types of semi-automatic rifles may look like military rifles, such as the M-16, but function like other semi-automatic civilian sporting firearms, firing only one round with each pull of the trigger.
  • Versions of modern sporting rifles are legal to own in most states, provided the purchaser passes the mandatory FBI background check required for all retail firearm purchasers.
  • Since the 19th century, civilian sporting rifles have evolved from their military predecessors. The modern sporting rifle simply follows that tradition.
  • These rifles’ accuracy, reliability, ruggedness and versatility serve target shooters and hunters well. They are true all-weather firearms.
  • Chamberings include .22 LR, .223 Rem (5.56 x 45mm), 6.8 SPC, .308 Win, .450 Bushmaster and about a dozen others. Pistol calibers such as 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are also available. There are even .410 shotgun versions.
  • These rifles are used for many different types of hunting, from varmint to big game. They’re used for target shooting and competitively in the national matches.
  • AR-15-style rifles are no more powerful than other hunting rifles of the same caliber and in most cases are chambered in calibers less powerful than common big-game hunting cartridges like the 30-06 Springfield and .300 Win. Mag.
  • The AR-15 platform is modular. Owners like being able to customize the firearm to suit their lawful needs.
  • And, they are a lot of fun to shoot!


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