I’m an AR-15 Owner, And I Am Not a Threat.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

 I own an AR-15 semi-automatic sporting rifle, and I am not a threat to society.

I am not a kook, ultra-right winger, angry American or a gun nut. My AR-15 is a semi-automatic sporting rifle. It is not an assault rifle designed exclusively for killing. The “AR” in AR-15 stands for “Armalite Rifle”, not “assault rifle”. I did not buy it to overthrow the government or threaten people with. I’ve owned it for 30 years, fired it one time to be sure it worked accurately, removed the bolt and locked it in a safe, installed a trigger lock and haven’t touched it until I shot the photo you see here.

I am mentally stable, I am not a member of the NRA or any other three-lettered organization. I don’t shoot person-shaped targets on weekends or go to gun shows. I vote Democrat, own three books by Hillary Clinton and saw her speak in person. I voted for former President Obama and saw him in person after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nineteen other people were shot in Tucson, Arizona in 2011. I heard the shooting and the sirens from my house in Tucson. I love cats, am mostly vegetarian, don’t hunt, do recycle and I’m a survivor of gun violence.

I’ve tried to save a person’s life who had a gunshot wound to the chest, and watched them die right before my eyes. I come from a family of gun owners and I served in the U.S. Army and the Michigan National Guard. I spent day after day learning firearms safety, and years practicing it without a single accident. I own an AR-15 sporting rifle because it is the safest, most practical rifle for me because of years of training, qualification, re-training and proficiency in owning and operating it safely.

In short, I don’t fit the recent popular media stereotype of an AR-15 owner.

Not one person I know who owns an AR-15 does.

The people who own AR-15 sporting rifles in the United States, all 5 to 10 million[1] of them, are straight, gay, white, black, trans, lesbian, male, female, Asian, Arab, Mexican American, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, conservative, liberal, uneducated, educated, old, young, rich, poor and every combination of those demographic variables and more.

The people I know personally who own an AR-15 are artists, teachers, design students, retirees, university professors, scientists, pilots and housewives. We don’t fit the singular, ugly, lone wolf shooter stereotype conjured by reactionary, emotional responses that are fueled by fear, ignorance and prejudice in mainstream and social media.

Some of us, including me, are gun safety advocates and have taken and taught classes in civilian gun ownership safety.

Know that if I believed banning AR-15s today would stop one single mass shooting fatality, I would be willing to do it. But understand that banning a single model of rifle because of sensation and misunderstanding is to treat the symptom, and not the cause of mass shootings.

Of the 5 to 10 million AR-15s owned in the U.S., thirteen have been used in mass shootings.[2] That is thirteen too many, and now is the time to stop assigning blame and stereotypes in solving the mass shooting crisis and actually act to solve the crisis.

Blaming the 5 to 10 million strong group of AR-15 owners based on a miniscule, fringe ultra-minority of deranged mass shooters is a distraction from solving the real causes of mass shootings. It is time to produce a solution now to stop mass shootings the same way America secured air travel only weeks after 9/11.

Last Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at a student safety community forum put on by the SAFE Substance Abuse Coalition at the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus I heard U.S. State Representative Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) express valid concerns about stereotyping and stigmatizing mentally ill people as being complicit when discussing mass shootings. Her concerns are well conceived. Statistics prove over and over that very few people who suffer from mental disease ever pose any threat to others.

But Representative Dingell did not voice similar concern for stereotyping and stigmatizing AR-15 owners. And lately, AR-15 owners have taken a statistically unsupportable beating in the media and popular opinion. That has slowed down progress toward a solution to the crisis of mass shootings, because lawful AR-15 owners, all 5 to 10 million of them, are not the perpetrators, instigators or facilitators of mass shootings.

When gun critics and especially critics of AR-15 owners make generalizations about people like me for owning an AR-15, they should know that millions of AR-15 owners in the United States don’t fit their stereotypes of lone-wolf, fringe of society, quietly boiling and potentially dangerous persons.

This same group of broad stroke finger pointers who believe all AR-15 owners are bad ought to consider that short-sighted, narrow minded fear mongering has a name; profiling. And it is the very definition of prejudice, that ugly tendency to lob a large number of individuals into one narrow group based on a little knowledge and a lot of fear.

Stereotypes of gun owners, and lately AR-15 owners, are as ill-informed, judgmental and counterproductive to solving the very real problem of gun violence as the equally ill-informed stereotypes of poor people, single mothers, people on welfare, racial stereotypes, prejudice against immigrants and other broad, short sighted strokes of reactionary opinion.

“Picking sides” and profiling gun owners while trying to solve the national crisis of mass shootings is counter to the universal goal of stopping the next calamity. It slows the process, obscures understanding, polarizes opinion and builds speed bumps on the way to a real solution. And we need a real solution to the mass shooting crisis today.

I’m an AR-15 owner, and I am working now to help prevent the next mass shooting by meeting with local law enforcement, lawmakers and proposing solutions to educators. I am not using ill-informed, prejudicial opinions on the way to a solution. This national crisis of mass shootings is too urgent and too important for misinformation and prejudice.


Author Tom Demerly has written for Outside, Business Insider, The Dearborn Press & Guide and many other print and internet media publications. He is a former scout/observer in a U.S. Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Team and was the honor graduate from his U.S. Army Infantry School class at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He has visited all seven continents and covered news stories around the world for his current job as U.S. correspondent for the world’s foremost defense and aviation blog, TheAviationist.com published in Rome, Italy.


[1] “The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are roughly 5 million to 10 million AR-15 rifles owned in the United States, a small share of the roughly 300 million firearms owned by Americans.” John W. Schoen, CNBC, Monday, June 13, 2016.


[2] William Cummings and Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, February 15, 2018.

Here is a list of mass shootings in the U.S. that featured AR-15-style rifles during the last 35 years, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries and USA TODAY research:

  • 24, 1984: Tyrone Mitchell, 28, used an AR-15, a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun and a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun to kill two and wound 12 at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles before killing himself.
  • 7, 2007: Tyler Peterson, 20, used an AR-15 to kill six and injure one at an apartment in Crandon, Wis., before killing himself.
  • June 20, 2012: James Eagan Holmes, 24, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber Smith and Wesson rifle with a 100-round magazine, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun and two .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistols to kill 12 and injure 58 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
  • 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, 20, used an AR-15-style rifle, a .223-caliber Bushmaster, to kill 27 people — his mother, 20 students and six teachers — in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.
  • June 7, 2013: John Zawahri, 23, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber rifle and a .44-caliber Remington revolver to kill five and injure three at a home in Santa Monica, Calif., before he was killed.
  • March 19, 2015: Justin Fowler, 24, used an AR-15 to kill one and injure two on a street in Little Water, N.M., before he was killed.
  • May 31, 2015: Jeffrey Scott Pitts, 36, used an AR-15 and .45-caliber handgun to kill two and injure two at a store in Conyers, Ga., before he was killed.
  • 31, 2015: Noah Jacob Harpham, 33, used an AR-15, a .357-caliber revolver and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to kill three on a street in Colorado Springs, Colo., before he was killed.
  • 2, 2015: Syed Rizwyan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, 28 and 27, used two AR-15-style, .223-caliber Remington rifles and two 9 mm handguns to kill 14 and injure 21 at his workplace in San Bernardino, Calif., before they were killed.
  • June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen, 29, used an AR-15 style rifle (a Sig Sauer MCX), and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol to kill 49 people and injure 50 at an Orlando nightclub before he was killed.
  • 1, 2017: Stephen Paddock, 64, used a stockpile of guns including an AR-15 to kill 58 people and injure hundreds at a music festival in Las Vegas before he killed himself.
  • 5, 2017: Devin Kelley, 26, used an AR-15 style Ruger rifle to kill 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before he was killed.
  • 14, 2018: Police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle to kill at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.











  1. mike said:

    Excellent post. I’m gonna share this wit others.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Kevin said:

    Excellent Post Tom. I am a father, husband, veteran, triathlete and also, an AR-15 owner. I am not pidgeonholed in one political party or left or right. I am an independent thinking man who likes to ride my bike a lot & shoot my AR-15 a couple times a year. It is an inexpensive rifle to shoot & very accurate and customizable. I like shooting pistols more because they are more challenging for me to master (and easier to carry for personal defense, where legal) Eventhough I obtained my pistol instructor ceritification From the NRA – The NRA is also not homogeneous. I am a member and don’t agree with ever fear mongering utterance from Wayne LaPierre, but I do agree with their education and training programs for civilian marksmanship. No one does more for teaching civilian firearm safety than the NRA. In Short, we are all very hard to classify & should seek to understand others regardless of “affiliations.”

    • Kevin, thank you very much Sir for your thoughtful response. I certainly appreciate it. -Tom D.

  3. grenadierguardscampaigns said:

    If you don’t mind me saying… as someone who enjoys shooting and guns, who has a room full of them hanging on walls, who has many friends who own a wide variety of firearms, from Brown Bess muskets to fully kitted out AKs… I thought your article was a bit illogical and straw man-esque.

    First, just about nobody is stereotyping AR owners. I haven’t seen anyone of note say “AR owners are crazy murderers.” That’s a straw man. What people HAVE said is that the AR is one of many tools that is simply too dangerous and inappropriate for largely unfettered civilian ownership.

    Also, you present yourself like you are just some “average” AR owner, when you CLEARLY are not; not only did you serve in the military and are a firearms safety instructor, but I haven’t met a single AR owner, ever, who fired their gun once and then removed the bolt and locked it in a safe… and I know a lot of people who own them. In fact, I’ve witnessed far more completely unsafe operators and owners of ARs than truly responsible ones, unfortunately… people tend to be careless even when driving, and I fin carelessness with firearms, even once, totally unacceptable.

    Finally, you try to make the argument that, because such a small number of AR owners have committed mass killings that the gun itself cannot be seen as PART of the problem. That isn’t logical. I mean, the vast majority of Tylenol bottles are safe, but after the ’82 case where seven people were killed by someone tampering with them, we created anti tamper laws and impoved bottle safety, and voila, no more people poisoning our medicines. From one instance we created effective law that likely saved lives. Well, there have been over a half million gun deaths in the US since 1999… yet many, including the majority in our government, maintain this gun-control stance that is so absurdly inflexible that even common sense stuff, like putting real safeguards on private sales and getting rid of things like bumpstocks (which are hardly important in any meaningful way, but still!) cannot get passed. Our strange national obsession with unrestricted gun ownership and paranoia involvings guns (that the need for guns to protect from home-invading criminals and an overreaching government as we did back in 1776) is somehow more valid than reacting to all of these firearm deaths has made America, and its people, less safe. Just look at the raw statistics of US gun deaths compared to other countries, or even gun deaths in states with stricter gun laws compared to gun deaths in states with less gun control; you can see that more control of firearms results in fewer civilia deaths.

    Guns aren’t evil or bad or whatever, but we also need to recognize they are a tool like no other, the most deadly tool in the history of humanity, and one whose essential non-human-death-causing uses (such as hunting to keep your family fed and alive) have either largely dried up or exist in such a small number that they do not counter the sheer number of deaths caused with these tools, and we need to advance some legislation to reflect both this fact and also the great advances firearm technology has made.

    (PS sorry if I posted this twice… not sure the first time worked, or if comments just need approval:) )

    • Thank you very much for such a thoughtful and well-conceived reply. I appreciate it. -Tom D.

      • Thanks for “approving” what I wrote; I hope it didn’t come off too abrasive (and sorry for the typos!) I totally get the larger point, that not all gun owners are nutjob militia types… I’m a leftie liberal teacher, and yet I enjoy shooting, collecting, and all of it. I think the best conversations about what to do with guns in American happen between people, both left and right, who use guns and “enjoy” them, you know? And I think the majority of Americans agree something can, and should be done… just a matter of what combination of approaches will effectively lower the number of Americans killed each year.

  4. I think part of the current focus on the AR-15 is illustrated by the timeline you posted. There’s a cluster of large scale killings in the last 5 years. People (and the media) have difficulty of perceiving a larger history – for example, do you remember how you felt about this weapon 35 years ago in the context of civilian ownership? I would also argue that the presence of the AR-15 in public (with police forces) and media (entertainment specifically) has also increased significantly, hence raising its profile and making it a more likely target for activism.

    On a side note, curious why you haven’t touched it in so many years until taking the picture.

    • Hello VARA Cyklar, thank you for reading and for your comments and question. Part of the reason I never touched my rifle was I was just too busy. Another reason was I lived in California for a year, where the rifle was not compliant with California specifications. Again, thank you for reading. -Tom D.

  5. Steve Fleck said:

    Tom – as a Canadian, I will never understand, the reason/needs for gun ownership. However, your point that the REAL root causes of this gun problem you have in the U.S. is rooted elsewhere, is correct. Canada also has reasonably high gun ownership, but we have a fraction of the homicide gun deaths and over-all gun deaths per capita, that you have in the U.S. Why? There are deeper, bigger issues at work here.

    • Steve, thank you for reading and for your comments. For the record Sir, I wish we didn’t have this problem in the U.S. and I am often envious of the civil nature of Canadian culture.

  6. Bryin Sills said:

    I own guns and I shoot regularly. I used to hunt regularly but have not for several years because of poor access and time constraints. I come from a family where gun ownership is as normal as owning a hose or an axe or a hammer. There were always guns in the house and you used and respected them.

    I will never understand why anyone needs an AR or other assault rifle. In fact, it is obvious that Tom does not need one, for he has not used it in the entire time he has owned it.

    Assault rifles have become a fetish for the “gun culture”, they are symbols of being “bad ass”. Our “heroes” carry assault rifles, movies and television glamorize them repeatedly. It is the symbolic nature of the weapon that creates a lust for them. The glamorization and idolization of violence has become enshrined in American media. And we wonder why unstable young people commit heinous acts of violence. It is because we have accepted murder on a grand scale in our entertainment and that pervades the thinking of those that are troubled and susceptible to such messages. Assault rifles are very symbolic of the violence in movies, TV and video games, after all these do not often feature hunting rifles or shotguns as weapons.

    Of course, you can buy a hunting rifle in the same caliber and with the same capacity as an AR… but is not interesting that our young villains do not choose such weapons even though they are cheaper and easier to obtain?

    Through out my life I have had close relationships with men who fought in WW2. After seeing the worst violence humanity could fathom, all they wanted to do was come home and move past it. They did not want Tommy Guns even though many of them carried them during the war. They wanted to put violence behind them and the tools of war held little appeal. Toady, American society (as a whole) has lost the lust for peace. Mainly, because they have not seen real violence close at hand. I remember that a local sports show took a huge hit for banning assault rifles at the show (a number of years ago) and to man, I could not find one of the old timers (all fought it WW2) that were pro assault rifle.

  7. Ray Stainback said:

    Tom, First of all, thank you for a great and thought-provoking article. What I think would be helpful; and, what in my opinion is missing from your essay, is an explanation as to WHY you at some point acquired, and still (even though it’s locked in a safe with a trigger guard) own a AR-15. As you realize, you are a dichotomy when it comes to the usual stereotypes associated with AR-15 ownership (and, for that matter the stereotypes some associate with veterans). I’m very interested in your reason(s) for owning such a weapon. Although ownership of such a weapon may be “incomprehensible and grotesque” to many, I think I understand your motivation, but would really appreciate hearing yours. Thank you- Ray

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