WashPost’s Inaccurate AR-15 Hit Piece Paints Buyers as Duped By Ads

March 27th, 2023 4:25 PM

In a Monday hit piece headlined “The gun that divides a nation” about the origins and popularity of the AR-15 rifle platform, The Washington Post spilled ink with over 7,000 words demonstrating the media’s usual proud ignorance of firearms. The paper misstated how these firearms functioned and chalked up the platform’s popularity to consumers being duped by marketing campaigns and video games. They also leaned less on actual gun owners than they did anti-gun rights activists to explain the popularity.

The FIVE writers behind the article (Todd C. Frankel, Shawn Boburg, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, and Alex Horton) set the tone with the sub-headline: “The AR-15 thrives in times of tension and tragedy. This is how it came to dominate the marketplace – and loom so large in the American psyche.” The crux of their report was summed up in their ominous opening line: “The AR-15 wasn’t supposed to be a bestseller.

Ignoring the long history of wildly popular innovations having humble beginnings or being born out of alternative uses of innocuous items, The Washington Post painted the rise of the AR platform as an insidious and nefarious affair (click “expand”):

But few gunmakers saw a semiautomatic version of the rifle — with its shrouded barrel, pistol grip and jutting ammunition magazine — as a product for ordinary people. It didn’t seem suited for hunting. It seemed like overkill for home defense. Gun executives doubted many buyers would want to spend their money on one.


Almost every major gunmaker now produces its own version of the weapon. The modern AR-15 dominates the walls and websites of gun dealers.


This transformation — from made-for-combat weapon to mass-market behemoth and cultural flash point — is the product of a sustained and intentional effort that has forged an American icon.

Much of the report focused on popular gunmaker Smith & Wesson (S&W) and their M&P-15, which this author owns (pictured above).

The letters “M” and “P” stand for military and police. The writers huffed that “the company always had its eyes on the consumer market” and went with that designation because “buyers would be attracted to what they saw professionals using.” As if that was a marketing tactic unique to gunmakers.

How many times do you see commercials for the Ford F-150 (the most popular selling vehicle in America) hauling massive amounts of bricks, lumber, and other construction materials? And many of the people who own them don’t actually work in construction. Many look to taxi drivers and the police for dependable vehicles since they rely so heavily on theirs. It’s about trust in the durability of the product.

This author bought his M&P-15 because, at the time, it was one of the cheaper models from a reputable maker.

Common sense didn’t stop them from listening to former S&W consultant turned anti-gun rights advocate, Harry Falber, who they admit didn’t like the M&P-15 when he was still with the company. They hyped his “study comparing two Smith & Wesson ads” in Guns & Ammo magazine where he obviously played favorites with S&W’s icon revolver and M&P9 handgun vs their M&P-15, huffing they still marketed the rifle.

Interestingly, The Washington Post didn’t care about the M&P being used for the handgun despite the letters also standing for “military” and “police.”

“Smith & Wesson was not alone in adopting messages that made Falber uneasy,” The Post clutched their pearls, noting Bushmaster’s “CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED” line. “It was just appealing to the worst levels of what you can conjure up in someone’s mind,” Falber supposedly responded.

We say “supposedly” because the paper seemed to recycle that comment not just as his response to Bushmaster, but also as his response to S&W’s new “volunteer series” rifles, which the paper claims, without evidence, “evoked scenes of armed civilian patrols along the country’s southern border and at racial justice protests.”

Getting dangerously close to blaming video games for mass shootings, the paper bemoaned that gunmakers were receptive when they were approached by developers like Infinity Ward (a maker of the Call of Duty franchise) when they wanted realistic sounds and insight on firearms. “The firearms industry was eager to help out,” they warned. “The meeting reflected a move by some gunmakers at the time to strike licensing agreements with gaming firms to feature certain firearms…”

There was no such condemnation of movie producers or directors who wanted their films to be realistic when it came to firearms. You know, like Alec Baldwin.

On the political side, they scoffed at the idea that former President Obama was interested in banning the AR-15 and thus was an unreal boogeyman exploited by gunmakers. “In 2008, economic crisis and political upheaval bolstered the AR-15’s market appeal … and the country elected its first Black president, a Democrat portrayed by conservatives as an anti-gun radical,” they claimed. “Obama’s victory created an opening for pro-gun groups to tease the potential for a new assault weapons ban…”

As if the platform’s comfort and performance weren’t credible reasons for consumers to buy it, the paper only allowed 219 words from an AR-15 skeptic turned-consumer. The sub-headline for this section was: “The AR-15 also was winning over new fans in other ways.”

Bill Shanley, “a manufacturing sales manager” in his mid-60s, loved how the platform didn’t hurt his shoulder. “But the black rifle had little recoil. It was fun to shoot. Three shots with his old hunting rifle bruised his shoulder. Fifty rounds with the AR-15 felt like a breeze. Shanley was sold. He soon bought his own, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15,” they noted.

But keeping with the theme of the public being manipulated by ads, The Washington Post lumped self-defense user Kyle Rittenhouse in with the Buffalo mass shooter (Click “expand”):

Rittenhouse, later found not guilty based on claims of self-defense, explained during his trial why he chose an AR-15: “I thought it looked cool.” Rittenhouse could not be reached for comment.

The AR-15 was also especially alluring to the gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo in May 2022.

“The AR-15 and its variants are very deadly when used properly,” he wrote in a manifesto filled with hateful vitriol. “Which is the reason I picked one.”

Firearms news reporter and founder of The Reload, Stephen Gutowski critiqued The Post’s framing of the marketing and rise of the AR-15 on Twitter. “It makes owners out to be brainwashed by advertisers or video games or politicians,” he said. 



Gutowski also pointed out that the paper pushed misinformation and “myth” about how AR-15s worked. They falsely claimed the gas tube was what reduced recoil and that bullets fired from ARs were “unstable when they penetrated a human body, tumbling through flesh to create devastating wounds.”