cover image American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15

American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15

Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $32 (496p) ISBN 978-0-374-10385-9

Wall Street Journal reporters McWhirter (Red Summer) and Elinson tell a captivating tale of unintended consequences in this deeply researched history of the AR-15. When machinist Eugene Stoner developed a lighter automatic rifle in a garage in Long Beach, Calif., in the 1950s, his goal was to enable American infantrymen to move more quickly on the battlefield—thus maximizing their safety. His employer, ArmaLite, became the first producer of the weapon, marketing it as a counter to the similarly lightweight Soviet AK-47. Bushmaster, the most prominent manufacturer of the AR-15 after Stoner’s patents expired in the 1970s, cosmetically altered the weapon’s design to evade the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, feeding the “sustained and unprecedented demand” counterintuitively caused by the ban. Over the past 20 years, the AR-15 has become the gun of choice in mass shootings, including the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history; the shooter’s many AR-15 rifles, easily modified to be fully automatic with bump stocks, “made the ghoulish feat easy.” Weaving together interviews with Stoner’s family, politicians, law enforcement officials, and survivors of mass shootings, the authors put a human face on a politically charged story. The result is a fascinating genealogy of a weapon that has become the flash point of the contemporary gun control debate. (Sept.)