The Aesthetics of the AR-15 Rifle and Its Role in Public Discourse

By: Barry Brummett  

As public discourse expands beyond models of expository and argumentative discourse, theories of visual and aesthetic rhetoric have been developed. Over the last few years, the United States has witnessed a number of terrible incidents of public, mass shootings. In many if not most of these incidents, the kind of rifle known as the AR-15 has been the weapon of choice. This essay argues that a central feature of both the attraction and opposition to the AR-15 is aesthetic, and largely visual. In other words, the essay will show that both those attracted to and those repelled by the weapon are likely motivated by aesthetic factors. The paper examines the aesthetics of the AR-15, and references to those aesthetics, in public discourse to show a strong visual appeal both for and against the rifle. In making the point, the paper places the rifle in aesthetic dialogue with another widely available weapon, the Ruger Mini-14, which has essentially the same practical function as the AR-15 but has a completely different aesthetic. The Ruger seems not to attract the interest of either mass murderers or gun control advocates, and therefore can ground an aesthetic argument. The essay tries to shed some light on the gun control controversy at the same time that it illustrates the potential and importance of aesthetic critique.

Rhetoric, Aesthetics, AR-15 rifle
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Barry Brummett

University of Texas at Austin