This answer cites a recent Time story (titled either Florida School Shooting: Why Civilians Started Buying AR-15s or Why Americans Started Buying Military-Style Weapons Like the One Used in the Florida Shooting) which mentions the 2010 book The Gun and cites another Time story from 1989, repeating these claims from it:

The Feb. 6, 1989, TIME cover story tried to make sense of how the gunman got a hold of a Chinese-made semiautomatic weapon in the first place. It reported that as trade increased following the normalization of relations, so did imports of Chinese copies of the AK-47, “which soared from a mere 4,000 a year as recently as 1985-86 to more than 40,000” in 1988. AR-15 sales went up too.

Also boosting sales was another one of the major domestic stories of the 1980s: the crack epidemic. “Law-enforcement officials note that the rise of semiautomatic weaponry parallels almost exactly the virtual takeover of parts of big cities by crack dealers,” the story noted. Robert Stutman, who ran the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York State operation back then, told the magazine that “the paranoia induced by the drug, which most of the traffickers use themselves, makes them pick the best weapons available for protecting themselves, and they have the money for it.”

Then, when the police couldn’t match the dealers’ firepower, citizens who felt unsafe started buying these weapons themselves for self-protection:

The final and most dismaying turn in this cycle: responsible, law-abiding citizens — afflicted by a lack of confidence in the police, reading every morning and watching on TV every night the stories about shootouts endangering innocent bystanders — start arming themselves in case they have to join the battle. It used to be that the great majority of American gun owners bought their weapons for hunting or sport (target shooting, for instance). But recent surveys show nearly 50% mentioning self-protection as their primary reason. Says Mark Warr, a sociologist at the University of Texas: ”It’s a giving up on the system. People have lost confidence in the ability of local government to control crime. There is a growing feeling that ‘We must do it ourselves.'”

  • Did most crack traffickers use the drug themselves?
  • How commonly did use induce paranoia, and how severely?
  • Did crack traffickers favor what Stutman calls "the best weapons available" ("military-style weapons," AR-15s, or AK-47s) over other, more affordable weapons?
  • Was drug-induced paranoia among dealers the major cause of dealers purchasing what Time calls "military-style weapons," instead of other kinds?
  • Were crack dealers/traffickers' purchases a significant factor in the increase in sales of "military-style weapons"?
  • At what point in time had "the great majority of American gun owners" not bought them primarily for self-defense? Did the absolute number of hunters decrease between then and the year 1989, and/or did the number of self-defense-motivated owners increase?
  • Were police outgunned by crack dealers in the 1980s?
  • Was fear induced by media reports a significant factor in the adoption of "military-style weapons"?

Handguns are the weapon of choice of gun gangs. Take a look at the US Statistical Abstract.

Each year handgun murders are 5x that of long guns. In fact knives, hands, feet, bricks and bats are used to kill more people per year than long guns. The stats are remarkably consistent year after year.

(See the US Statistical Abstract Section 5. Law Enforcement, Courts, and Prisons for details)

ARs are liked because they are modular; because their maintenance is similar to what people used when in the military. (Their functionality is not the same as military rifles.) Someone goes to the military, they learn how to break down their weapon. They come back to civilian life and the AR platform is similar. (It's like going to school and getting used to a PC or *NIX or Mac.)

An AR-15 is no different in functionality than any other semi-automatic rifle, whether a .22 or a 30-30. It has a lock, stock and barrel.

  • The color does not make it more capable.
  • The pistol grip is a matter of ergonomics. Some people like it, some don't. It's not good if you're lying prone on the ground. But, in your tree stand, leaning over a big branch it might be very good. (Or it might be in your way.) You decide.
  • The carry handle does not make it more capable. It just makes it easier to carry. (Some people would prefer to carry it with one hand as oppose to slinging it over their back.)
  • The adjustable stock is a matter of ergonomics.
  • The foldable stock allows one to transport it easier.

The AR-15 in a .223 is liked because it is a simple, useful starter rifle. You can shoot longer distance than with your .22; there's very little kick (your 12 year old daughter can shoot it without hurting her shoulder).

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 3
    I like this answer. But this site won't take it because it's theoretical. You need to cite gangs' weapons of choice. – fredsbend Apr 18 '18 at 20:33
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    To echo @fredsbend, Skeptics has a very strong requirement for citing (and preferably linking to) reliable sources to back up claims. Certainly for the "weapon of choice" bit, but also for the similar functionality, for the popularity in civilian markets being linked to military use, and ideally for the recoil claim. I think you can get a pas for "The color does not make it more capable." – dmckee Apr 18 '18 at 22:06
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    Just in your first line you say "Take a look at the US Statistical Abstract." There were over 100 editions, and some editions approached a thousand pages long, so there is no practical way for a reader to follow up and check whether it actually says this. Please give specific references for each of your claims. [The last 80% of the answer has no references and can be deleted without affecting the answer.] – Oddthinking Apr 19 '18 at 1:48
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    If you can't find a specific citation for the Statistical Abstract, you might link to the FBI's murders by weapon type instead. That indicates that the 5x number is low. The actual number is more like 20x in cases where the type of firearm is known. – Brythan Apr 19 '18 at 12:58
  • @Brythan - that's true. But in 1980s and 1990s they don't break down the distinction as clearly as the did the last few years. (At least I didn't see it.) True in the last years of the Statistical Abstract it was over 10x. I didn't want to over state my case. – Mayo Apr 19 '18 at 13:02

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