Breaking: Jim Sullivan, AR-15 Designer, Makes Some Controversial Statements on HBO Tonight

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

UPDATE: Jim says he was mis-represented by HBO. He responds here.

Jim Sullivan helped design the AR-15 back in 1957, and later the Ruger M77, the Stoner 63, Ruger Mini-14 and the crowd favorite Ultimax 100. Most recently he was the brains behind Surefire’s 60 and 100 round quad-stack AR-15 magazines.

In a few hours an interview with Jim will be aired on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT). Normally I trash cable TV press releases when they hit my inbox, but the release about the interview caught my eye. Jim Sullivan makes some quite controversial statements. Below are some quotes sent to me by HBO.

Jim claims that the 5.56mm was, at the time of its introduction, the most lethal cartridge fielded by any army in history.

JIM SULLIVAN: “The hits on the enemy, were just fatal– almost anywhere. One guy had been hit in the ankle, and it killed him.”


JIM SULLIVAN: “They couldn’t stop the bleeding. I mean, there was just so much damage.”
DAVID SCOTT: “No matter where you hit the enemy, you’d take him off the battlefield.”

JIM SULLIVAN: “That’s right. It was more lethal than any cartridge that was fired by any army in, in history.”

This is controversial because I would argue that the 7.62mm NATO, .50 BMG, 14.5×114mm, 6.5×55mm, 6.5×50mm and 7.62×54mmR to name a few were much more powerful than the 5.56mm/.223 Remington which is essentially a varmint cartridge (I might go as far to say the .45-70 (designed by the US Government almost 100 years earlier was more lethal … although far less convenient .. I know which I would rather be wounded with).

Jim, who also designed the Ruger Mini-14 (a scaled down .223 Remington sporting version of the military M-14), goes on to say he never envisioned the rifle having any civilians applications:

DAVID SCOTT: “Did you ever imagine—“

JIM SULLIVAN: “No. Never even considered that—it had any civilian application.”

DAVID SCOTT: “Concern you at all?”

JIM SULLIVAN: “Of course, everybody gets concerned when there’s one of these school issues where children are killed by an AR-15. I mean, that’s sickening. But that was never the intended purpose. Civilian sales was never the intended purpose.

In 1955, the year before the M16/AR-15 was designed, the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) begun selling military surplus M1 Garands (military semi-automatic rifles) to the public. Therefor it was obvious by then that there was civilian demand for military rifles. Sporting semi-automatic rifles date back long before then to at least 1906 when John Browning’s Remington Model 8 was introduced to the market. Ten years after the AR-15 was designed Jim went onto design the consumer semi-automatic Mini-14.

Now Jim is an old man. His memory may have faded in the last 60 years and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Jim goes onto say that a fully automatic M16 is not more lethal than a semi-automatic AR-15

DAVID SCOTT: “The lethality of the AR-15, is that reduced in the civilian semi-automatic mode?”


DAVID SCOTT: “It’s not?”

JIM SULLIVAN: “Same effectiveness. I mean, in fact, the gun is functioning exactly the way the military model is in semi-automatic.”

This could be interpreted to mean that full auto is just as safe as semi-auto, so why are we not allowed full auto? I ask myself that almost daily!

We as a community have a lot to thank Jim Sullivan for. He is one of the great firearm designers of the 20th century. I will not judge him by a few comments on a cable TV show, anymore than I judged General Kalashnikov for comments he made in his later years. Jim has earned our eternal respect and gratitude.

In 2002 Jim patented a new rifle called the MGX:

L. James Sullivan’s Rifle Patent – The MGX

In 2012, AR-15 designer Jim Sullivan applied for a patent for a new rifle design. Apparently based on his Ultimax 100 light machine gun, the rifle features a quick-change barrel, a guide-rail-less receiver with a “backbone” guide rod attached to the lower receiver, a modular trigger pack, and dual firing modes in the open and closed … Continue reading

Forgotten Weapons did an interview with Jim a couple of years ago that is worth watching

UPDATE: Jim says he was mis-represented by HBO. He responds here.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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  • Lambchowder Lambchowder on May 29, 2016

    "This could be interpreted to mean that full auto is just as safe as semi-auto, so why are we not allowed full auto? I ask myself that almost daily!"

    or it could be "interpreted" to say it's just as dangerous. Rather half glass full situation. I like how you're willing to write him off as a demented old man for not having a sufficiently cavalier attitude about the most sought after gun in the country. I'm sure they're bought up by the millions so people can shoot squirrels during rodentgeddon.

    The Couric thing was obvious bias, but that's no excuse for writing off the whole media or not responding to interview requests because the local nbc affiliate might just be in the international Jewish plot against your gun or whatever crackpot crap.

  • Dggnfool Dggnfool on May 29, 2016

    Wasn't the 5.56mm so lethal because of the slow twist rate on the rifling that the bullets were keyholing throught the enemy? Thus the major carnage.