To quote Thomas A. Bailey’s textbook The American Pageant, “A few skunks can pollute a large area.” This is especially true of firearms.
While leftist media outlets and politicians alike love to badmouth private gun ownership in general, certain firearms types receive more negative press than others, due to their usage by certain high-profile bad guys.
For example, there’s the Kalashnikov rifle series, painted in a negative light because of its use by (1) Communist forces throughout the Cold War and (2) the vile mass murderer Patrick Purdy. Then there’s the Tommy Gun and Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), excoriated for their use by Prohibition-era and Great Depression-era gangsters. And then there’s the AR-18 Armalite.
The chief source of the Armalite’s bad P.R. is its use by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA AKA “Provos”), who even went so far as to dedicate a song to the rifle. The refrain goes like this: “And it’s down along the bog road, that’s where I long to be/Lyin’ in the dark with a Provo company/A comrade on me left and another one on me right/A clip of ammunition for me little Armalite.”
But the terrorist group’s extolling of the weapon notwithstanding, does the AR-18 and its civilian market semiauto-only version, the AR-180 truly deserve its heinous reputation?
AR-18: Armalite Early History and Specifications
The AR-18 was designed by Eugene Morrison Stoner – the famed inventor of the M16/AR-15 – and Arthur Miller. As noted by Brian Meyer in a June 2014 article for Gun Digest titled “AR-18: ArmaLite’s Other Black Rifle”:
“It would be in a 5.56mm format and easy for unskilled labor to manufacture … [I]t was made largely of stamped metal, and the number of forging and machining operations required for manufacture were minimized … When the rifle debuted in 1964, it was a pretty neat offering—shorter than the AR-15, with an 18-inch barrel instead of the 20-inch AR-15.
“It also had a clever side-folding stock that made vehicle transport much easier than carrying a full-sized rifle. Unfortunately, by the time it was released, the U.S. was entrenched in the Vietnam Conflict and had little to no desire to adopt the new AR-18, although they did test a few. It didn’t seem like too many other nations wanted the new rifle either … The AR-18 had a civilian counterpart called the AR-180. This was designed to be a sporting rifle or a police long arm, and was semi-automatic only. It sold marginally well.”
Actual production started in 1967 and ceased in 1985. Roughly 1,100 AR-18s and 21,000 AR-180s were produced. Specifications include an empty weight of 6.7 pounds, a loaded weight (with a 20-round magazine) of 7.18 pounds, a barrel length of 18.25 inches – which generates a muzzle velocity of 3,250 feet per second – and an overall length of 38 inches. Cyclic rate of fire in full-auto mode is 750 rounds per minute. Magazine capacity is either 20, 30, or 40 rounds.
Battlefield Performance and Experts’ Impressions
The AR-18 was never officially adopted by any country’s military or police forces as its standard service rifle. However, as indicated at the beginning of the article, the PIRA took quite a liking to it, using stolen and illegally purchased batches of the rifle for their insurgency against the British Army in Northern Ireland, affectionately nicknaming it “The Widowmaker.” Reportedly the gun also saw usage in the Lebanese Civil War and the Second Malayan Emergency.
The rifle also influenced many later rifles such as the Japanese Howa Type 89, German Heckler & Koch HK G36, Belgian FN F2000, the Singaporean SAR-80 and SR-88, the American Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR), and the (infamous) British SA80.
The AR-18 also had its moment of cinematic fame thanks to its use by “Aahh-nuld” Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” In fact, it was this movie appearance that influenced the aforementioned Mr. Meyer to buy an AR-180 in the first place. Brian reports that on the one hand, the gun has good ergonomics, is easy to carry, and is very reliable, but on the other hand, leaves much to be desired in terms of trigger pull quality. In addition, he says that it’s fairly accurate with 55-grain bullets, but “The 1:12 rifling would turn heavier projectiles into boat-shaped holes in the target.”
Interestingly, the AR-15 can accommodate the AR-18 magazine but not vice versa.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.
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