The “Modern Sporting Rifle,” Isn’t

Ever since I first heard it a few years ago, I haven’t liked the term “modern sporting rifle.” I thought I’d let things play out before commenting (for the record, I don’t really care what these rifles are called, as long as I can legally acquire and own them).

It seems that I’m not alone, although the NSSF isn’t terribly excited about the opinion of us bloggers.

The NSSF invented the MSR campaign several years ago as a way to sell (literally and figuratively) the AR-15 and its derivatives to the masses, and ostensibly to convince the public that semi-automatic, magazine fed rifles are not the menace that they are portrayed to be by anti-gun folks. I understand the need for, and appreciate the spirit of, their efforts.

I find that there are a number of problems with the program’s execution, however.

#1 – The NSSF entered into the project without proper research or knowledge. Witness their “educational” video where the Remington R-25’s forward assist is pointed out as a “bolt handle. “Simple mistake? Maybe. How about suggesting that the R-25 is the quintessential modern hunting rifle; the practical, if not literal, descendant of the 7400? The 7400 is referred to as “your grandfather’s rifle” even though it was introduced in 1981 and its predecessor, the 740, was developed at the same exact time as the AR-10. It’s as if the NSSF’s history books start only when a major hunting rifle manufacturer started turning out ARs.

#2 – The NSSF’s actions were unilateral. The term “modern sporting rifle” is simply awkward, and I don’t recall seeing any discussion of the term or the plan in major print or digital publications prior to it being set in stone. I’m not saying that they had to seek anyone’s approval – especially those in the blogosphere – but this program has an effect on us all. While the NSSF’s MSR program seems to be in line with sales of Realtree camouflaged AR-15s, it doesn’t have much to do with the sales of other – and “blacker” – rifles, despite its stated purpose.

#3 – The NSSF’s own data shows that even varmint hunting is less popular than other uses among “MSR” purchasers, with self defense being second only to target shooting as a listed use. I’d be interested in the methodology used to collect this data (the appropriate link on their website is dead) – target shooting is a pursuit that both self defense and varmint hunting oriented buyers might also give as a reason for buying the rifle, if given a multiple choice questionnaire. Despite this, the NSSF’s entire campaign seems centered on selling the AR as a hunting and target rifle only.

#4 – Just as the M1 Rifle and the 740 were less popular than the Model 54 and sporterized military surplus bolt action rifles were for hunting after World War II, you’re not as likely to see an AR-10 or AR-15 as you are a Remington 700 when in the field during hunting season today. That’s because the semi-auto rifles are unnecessarily expensive and generally heavier than their hunting-oriented bolt action counterparts. Why would I buy an 8lb R-25 for $1200, sans optics, when I can buy a 6 1/2lb Tikka T3 Lite and put a decent Leupold scope on it for hundreds less?

#5 – Walk in to any gun store, and you’ll see black carbine ARs far outnumber woods camo hunting-oriented ARs. This is because the market wants – or wanted, until things slowed down – semi auto rifles for defensive purposes or general shooting enjoyment. The NSSF ignores this, and, if we judge by text volume, would rather tell you that the “MSR” is a hunting rifle in scary clothing than an effective self-defense weapon.

#6 – The NSSF puts a lot of emphasis on the “MSR” being cosmetically similar to the military M16/M4 type rifles, but completely different otherwise (“The rifles do resemble military firearms such as the M4, but the similarities are cosmetic only”). This is a disingenuous argument. As any regular reader of this blog knows, rifles such as the Colt SP6920 are all but identical to the M4 carbine used by the USMC. Sure, the barrel is a tad longer, and it’s semi-auto only instead of semi/burst. But burst is stupid and useless, and practically no one in the military uses it. Again, the black rifle market has been built up on the concept of selling the most “mil-spec” rifle possible to the masses.

I think it’s a mistake to cling to the defense of “sporting purposes.” Defensive purposes are named only twice on the entire site, compared to literally dozens of mentions for “hunting.” There is no mention of any use other than hunting or target shooting in their very well-produced 5 minute video on the subject.

I know that NSSF stands for National Shooting Sports Foundation, but just as concealed carry has become legally acceptable (to one extent or another) in an incredible 49 states, the use of firearms for home defense has become more legally and socially acceptable, especially with the introduction of “Castle Doctrine” laws. If we can get rid of the “sporting purposes” clause that limits firearm imports, we’ll be able to purchase new, high-quality rifles from other first-world nations – but that’s probably not something that Remington is very excited about.

The NSSF says this program was meant to correct “misperceptions among gun owners and non-gun owners alike” regarding the AR-15. In attempting to do so, they have introduced an entirely new set of misperceptions.

15 thoughts on “The “Modern Sporting Rifle,” Isn’t”

  1. First, I applaud the NSSF for working to mainstream the AR15 (as if it needs the help). However, I agree with you; the focus of the message seems a little odd given where the center of gravity for AR sales is.

    Why did they do it this way? I think there are a couple of reasons:

    1) The NSSF is rooted in Gun Culture v1.0 (to steal Michael Bane’s term) and haven’t quite figured out how to break out of the mold. They are from an era of hunting, passed down from g-father to father to son. Deer camp, red plaid flannel, PBR in the evening and the north woods (or southern fire trail). THus, their message is going to be centered from that viewpoint. They need to update themselves that the massive growth the gun world is seeing is from young people, women, self defense. Like it or not, Call of Duty is bringing a lot of people into our world.

    2) Where they got it right, is that they are trying to appeal to the hunter that the AR should be considered just as viable as the RemSavChester bolt gun in the field. There are many in that sub-group — yes it is a sub-group given that we are in Gun Culture v.2.0 — that think that an AR is a machine gun and “you don’t need that many bullets to kill a deer”. The problem is of course that the NSSF presents their message as if it is for all, not just the sub-culture. Unilateral in your words.

    3) Political correctness? Even if the NSSF realizes that Gun Culture v.2.0 is here, they might be a tad bit embarrassed. After all, we don’t speak about self defense in polite company, do we?

    I don’t think that the NSSF needs to STOP their message but they need to realize that they gun culture has progressed beyond them. Catch up, don’t apologize for where we are and speak proudly and lead the industry is my advice to them.

    And with that, I’ll get off my soap-box. Good write-up.

    1. This is what makes this blog so great.

      The combination of intelligent, independent, articulate posts paired with (some) equally articulate and intelligent comments such as yours is why I check Vuurwapenblog every morning in the hopes of new posts.

      1. I am really proud of the fact that I see a lot of high-quality comments on my posts – whether they agree or disagree.

  2. I use an M1 Garand for deer, myself; I just associate “deer hunting” with “wooden stock”, I guess. I see these realtreed AR-15s with thumbhole stocks and just automatically think “that looks stupid as hell.” Part of firearms ownership/hunting (IMO) is looking cool, and thumbhole AR with realtree just doesn’t cut it.

  3. Thanks for calling this out. Their intent, I think, is noble (introducing AR-15’s to the father-to-son, deer-hunting-is-all-you-need-a-gun-for crowd). But if they got their facts straight and quit worrying about hurting anti-gun people’s feelings, maybe they’d do a better job introducing them. Outline the real value of modern semi-auto, detachable-magazine-fed rifles to hunters, and explain to them why even if they don’t want one for shooting Bambi, they shouldn’t oppose the legality of them (for reasons of self-defense, competition shooting, hobby shooting, and purely for the sake of the second amendment/freedom/resistance of tyranny). Remind them that firearm owners of all descriptions and interests ought be supported and accepted, and that it may be the AR-15 you’re supporting a ban on now, or the AK-47 tomorrow, or the riot shotgun, or the semi-auto handgun. But five years or fifty years down the road, it will be YOUR hunting rifle that is “the ultimate assault weapon” and “must be banned now, or blood will run in the streets”. It will be your hunting license that “causes children to be violent”.

    Sorry, off my soapbox.

    Thanks again for the great write-up.

  4. Thanks for pointing this out. I always point out the irony in our society where if you hunt game with the incorrect weapon you can get in trouble, but the moment you use the proper weapon meant for people on a bad guy they can try to portray you as, “The Punisher,” in court. Better you defended yourself with your grandpa’s antique shotgun with the fancy engravings and handsome wood furniture.

    There’s an extensive story out there where someone defended himself with a perfectly legal, full-auto Mini-14 and after a long court battle, settled on how he’d pack an M1 Carbine as his trunk gun from then on.

  5. NSSF also says, inadvertently in a survey, that I don’t shoot more than 5,000 rounds per year. The acceptable answer range was 0-4,999. What a bunch of bull.

  6. After carrying an M-16A1/A2/Car-15 then M-4 for 26 years you would think we had gotten past this. Interesting optic on gun culture V1 vs V2.0. This does resonate with me though.
    And when we talk about passing guns down, my father used a M-16, and now my kids use an M&P 15-22, so where does that wood stock M700 come into this? And both my Sig & Glocks have .22 conversion kits so the boys can tear it up.
    We now have almost 50 years of muscle memory with the AR operating system. We have all those years of muscle memory ingrained in basic rifle marksmanship, immediate action and maintenance.
    And we like the AR platform. No one says you have to mount 10lb rails all the way around, or a M203 flare launcher, or the DBAL laser guided Harpoon ship killer attachment. I normally carry a 10 rd and some times a 20 rd mag when we are shooting coyotes or prairie dogs.
    I whole heatedly agree price is an issue. But IMHO, I don’t know how guns are demanding the high prices they are. There are TONS of them out there. Just cruise gun broker. One of my former teammates (18D) is now a doctor and can afford select Rigby rifles. And well our community should. If I could buy a Merkel Double I would in an instant.
    But I can’t.
    One question, why would you use a .22 centerfire rifle for home defense? I ask folks this question all the time when they come to me for prices. I am leery of a centerfire rifle in a plaster walled house in a residential neighborhood. One of the few true statements I remember is “Every bullet is attached to a lawyer”.
    Great post, and hopefully NSSF and Dick Metcalf are reading this. It is a title that lacks ‘salesmanship’ but is far better than assault rifle.

    1. “One question, why would you use a .22 centerfire rifle for home defense? ”

      As opposed to what? What is better than an M4-type rifle for home defense? The only thing that is better is a shorter barrel (6-9 inch range) such as in 300 BLK.

  7. Never liked the term MSR, bit of a joke if you ask me. The folks that don’t like guns aren’t going to be converted by the term to gun lovers. Never been that impressed with the term assualt rifle either. In fact, the AR15 and I are about the same age. I grew up considering that an AR is what a rifle should look like, just as kids that grew up with the 1903 Springfield no doubt thought that’s what a gun should be. I bet many of them wanted a 1903 as much as I wanted an AR.

  8. Personally, I just use the term “Black Stick” but I can see how the industry might not like that too much. Of course, I’m also fond of “ballistic speculation” so maybe I’m just partial to gun terms that abbreviate as BS?

  9. Firearms in general are becoming more popular, and more accepted.

    Hunting is slowly dying of cancer.

    I see this “MSR” moniker as something of a death rattle from the hunting industry, as they slowly fade away.

    Not that this is a good thing, mind you, but that does seem to be the reality.

  10. Personally, I sometimes use “modern sporting rifle”, but my tiny blog of rants is written for non-gunners so I try to avoid jargon that would confuse the average person. Hence, I often refer to “assaut” weapons where “assault” is always in quotes as a sign of sarcasm.

    My favorite tern, however, is my own “sport-utility rifle”. It seems like a more accurate term than MSR. First, it links to the concept of an SUV – big & scary at first glance, but generally used for mundane purposes. Second, it portrays the rifle as versatile, capable of both light duty (target), off-road (hunting), and serious heavy-duty use (defense). Just as the average SUVs never leaves the pavement, most SURs are never used for violence. Also, just like the SUV which is equally at home on the pavement or the trail, the SUR is equally qualified for sport or defense. It is a very versatile rifle, indeed.

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