I have a confession to make. I’m counting down the days until my odometer flips over the half century mark. That means I grew up and came of age in a time when revolvers and steel framed semi autos were still king. Heck, I took my driving test with a state trooper who was carrying what looked like, to my young eyes, a HUGE Smith & Wesson revolver. I couldn’t tell you which model it was, but it could have been anything from a Model 19 in .357 to a Model 25 in .45 Colt. It was all deep blue steel, walnut stocks, stuffed into a well-worn but cared for leather holster. He was HUGE too. It was my sixteenth birthday, I was a painfully skinny 6’4” and, at time, barely 145 pounds soaking wet. He was at least a couple of inches taller not including the Trooper Stetson and had 100 pounds of muscle on me easily.
Yes, sir. No, sir. Did I pass, sir?
It’s really a shame that kids today don’t have to take all or nothing driving tests sitting next to a humorless state trooper who is, in fact, armed and willing to defend him/herself if necessary from some snot nosed kid’s feeble attempt to commit vehicular homicide. I digress though.
I have written before about my love for the shooting sports and guns in general. After about 40+ years of exposure to the hobby in one form or another, I have reached an epiphany of sorts. It’s nothing earth shattering really, but I’m a sucker for the classics. I love revolvers and lever guns and 1911s. Before anyone gets their Underoos in a tizzy, I have nothing against the modern polymer semi-auto pistols or the somewhat long in the tooth AR-15 rifle platform. I have owned and/or currently own both. Each has their place and fill a niche.
I will readily grant credit where credit is due: the AR-15 is about as close to a do it all firearm as has ever been invented. It can do everything from door kicking combat to home defense to precision target shooting to plinking to hunting and a lot of other tasks in between. It can be a pistol or a rifle. It can be a .22LR plinker all the way up to a .50 Beowulf thumper. If you can dream it, someone has probably already tried it. If I could only have one gun, it would be an AR with an assortment of uppers to cover as many options as I could ever foresee. That’s cheating just a little, but the ATF defined the terms. So, it’s all fair as far as I’m concerned.
That’s not to say I don’t have a few hang ups with polymer pistols and the AR rifle platform. The main two are aesthetics and legality.
Aesthetics are really a deeply subjective issue. I’ve seen some really cool looking ARs and some that look worse than a hot mess of dog vomit. Even the really cool looking ARs all share the same bones which is lots of rails and angles and pins and buttons and lions and tigers and bears oh my. Functionally, it’s great. It’s one of the most ergonomic rifles I’ve ever handled. It’s just about infinitely adjustable for shooters large and small. But, put it next to a nicely stocked lever action, and suddenly it’s the ugly stepsister.
The same could be said of the (insert the name of your favorite polymer semi auto here). Up until recently, you could get them in any color you wanted as long as it was black. Now, you can pretty much get any polymer gun to look like anything you want. Heck, people are even customizing HiPoints. Want a red dot? Factory optics ready, gunsmith slide cut or dovetail mount? Lights and lasers? There’s someone that makes it. Caliber conversions? What do you want to shoot? To be fair, there are a few other pistols that can do some of those tricks (Sig P22x, EAA Witness, etc). But, it’s hard to beat the modularity of the modern polymer pistol (or the AR) except on a purely aesthetic level. A deeply blued 1911 or Smith revolver with a nice set of grips is a beautiful work of art.
The other hang up I have with ARs and polymer semi autos is legalities. This is normally a non-issue for me here in Texas, but that is not true for everywhere. Further, the changing demographics in Texas along with the constant drumbeat for more and harder gun control means that you can’t assume that won’t change. No one (so far) has threatened to ban revolvers and lever action rifles. But, magazine restrictions and “assault weapon” bans/restrictions are a thing in several states. We like to travel as a family, and I really don’t want to have to be concerned about committing an instant felony just crossing a state line while carrying a gun that is legal for me at home. The Constitution is supposed to address this, but over a hundred years of spineless jurisprudence has made it confusing at best to navigate the country while exercising your God given right to keep and bear arms.
In the grand scheme of things, my hang ups are really minor and do not outweigh the value and utility that ARs and polymer semi autos bring to the table in the slightest. Having said, that I have an irrational attachment to classics like the Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers, 1911s and lever action rifles. Put a Glock 21 next to a 1911, and I will pick the 1911 almost every time. Ditto for the AR next to a Marlin 1894. Likewise, I will generally take a .45ACP pistol over a 9mm pistol and a .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum lever rifle over a .223 AR.
Why? The Glock and AR are objectively better in almost every way over their classic counterparts (though the 1911 generally has a better trigger than the Glock). Glocks and ARs have more capacity, are easier to reload, are at least as accurate if not more accurate than the classics. In a word, “because”. Because I like them. Because I prefer bigger bullets over smaller bullets. Because I’m too old to go kicking in doors or play Cowboys and dead terrorists in the sand box. Because I like my guns like I like my wife: beautiful with curves in all the right places. Because ‘MERICA!!!
None of this means I don’t have a use for a Glock or an AR. I generally shoot Glocks better than most other pistols. For a woods walking gun that you don’t have to worry about getting scratched up, it’s hard to beat a Glock 20 in 10MM for a balance of shootability, power and capacity. The AR was originally developed as a target rifle which makes it very accurate and suitable for a wide range of applications. Like the Glock, you can carry an AR in the woods and not worry about the finish getting dinged. These, to me, are tools. Function over form. The classics are also tools, but they are tools which form and function have been carefully blended into mechanical art.
If high speed/low drag is your thing, knock yourself out. Long range gnat shooting float your goat? There’s plenty of options to suit your tastes. Cowboy action or fast draw gives you the giggles? Good for you. The gun community has never had it so good in terms of manufacturers willing to fill so many niches. You do you, I’ll do me, and we can all nod in appreciation that we all enjoy the same hobby in different ways.