While Mikhail Kalashnikov may have expressed doubts about his postmortem fate, it’s unlikely that Eugene Stoner would have said much about the AR-15.
When family members spoke to NBC News in June 2016, they were putting words in his mouth. Words that if they had expressed his true feelings, he would have had ample opportunity to express on his own.
Eugene Morrison Stoner died on April 24, 1997 at the age of 87. By that time, an AR-15 had already been used in a mass shooting in a church in Daingerfield, Texas and an elementary school shooting in Stockton, California. In addition, he was no doubt aware of multiple mass shootings involving military-style rifles, including Kalishnikov’s AK-47 and the M1 Carbine designed by convicted murderer David M. “Carbine” Williams while he was serving time in a North Carolina prison.
Stoner left Armalite in 1961 and became a consultant for Colt’s Patent Firearms (now Colt’s Manufacturing, LLC), which bought the rights to the Armalite Rifle from Fairchild, Armalite’s parent company. Part of his work was the development of the semi-automatic version of his rifle, which went on commercial sale in 1964. The advertisement below appeared during his tenure at Colt, so it is obvious that he knew of the intended civilian market.
Moreover, the first Assault Weapons Ban went into effect nearly three years before his death. When the AWB was being crafted and debated, there is no record of Stoner making any statements, one way or the other, on the AR-15.
Stoner spent his adult career designing weapons, including a proposed design to replace the M16. As late as 1990, he developed the SR-25, which was adopted as the Mk 11 Mod. 0 by the military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in 2000 as a Designated Marksman or sniper rifle. Some of these weapons, including the SR-25, were far more lethal than the M16 or the AR-15 yet Stoner never expressed regrets about them.
Kalashnikov wasn’t expressing regrets about the fact his rifle has been used in mass shootings in the U.S. or even that it has been the rifle of choice for terrorists for years. He didn’t even really regret his designs. In a letter written to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, he said was worried about the potential conflict of his beliefs as a Christian and his career as a weapon designer. Kalashnikov was concerned that his designs had probably ended the lives of more than a million people. He was afraid he would be judged on that. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow assured Kalashnikov that his work was in the defense of the mother country and acceptable under the Scriptures.
The Patriarch’s response apparently soothed Kalashnikov’s concerns; I wasn’t able to find anything after that that indicated he had regrets.
I wasn’t able to find any record of Eugene Stoner’s faith but I was able to find records of his meetings with Kalashnikov in 1990 and 1996. The two were never friends, but they did admire each other’s accomplishments.
The fact that Mr. Stoner never owned an AR-15 might well be more a matter of preference than a matter of conscience. Many hunters preferred, and still prefer, more traditional rifles, especially when it comes to game like deer. The AR-15 is too underpowered to be a good rifle for deer hunting and the use of its .223-caliber bullet is prohibited for hunting in some states.
In the final analysis, it might have been politically correct for Stoner’s family to say he would have regretted designing the Armalite Rifle but it wasn’t necessarily honest. They may well have regretted the link between their family and the AR-15 but that doesn’t mean that he regretted designing it. Their claim that he never intended the AR-15 to be sold to civilians is patently and demonstrably false.
The fact that Stoner was designing weaponry almost up to his death shows he believed what he was doing was good. He invented weapons to help the good guys win in combat (Stoner also designed a new handgun for police). As a byproduct of his military work, he developed a rifle for civilians to use that was an improvement over existing designs.
Apparently, Eugene Stoner was able to separate the responsibility for those weapons from the responsibility for how people used them.
Note: While Stoner’s family was expressing their regrets, I have never seen any indication that they snubbed the money. Eugene Stoner received a royalty on ever AR-15 ever made. The royalties made him a millionaire.