Ever since I first heard it a few years ago, I haven’t liked the term “modern sporting rifle.”Â 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 theirÂ very well-produced 5 minute videoÂ 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.