AR-15 Gun Review: The Ruger SR556

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Within a couple of months of the first industry peek, I was seeing Ruger SR556s in training classes and in matches.

Within a couple of months of the first industry peek, I was seeing Ruger SR556s in training classes and in matches.

Traditionally, Ruger has not been known as a “tactical” gun maker. Part of that is due to Bill Ruger and his background. Growing up in New England before WWII, he basically came to business with the old-money blueblood attitude, and took that attitude into politics. (Or, at least as much politics as a gunmaker gets dragged into.)

He designed machine guns during WWII, and after the war he designed and built products for the sporting market that were breathtaking in their utility, and used production methods that didn’t just “bend the cost curve” but hammered it flat. The Ruger Standard, later the Mk 1, a .22 LR pistol that sold for half of what the comparable Colt product did, was just the start.

The SR556 comes with Magpul PMags, and they feed everything .223/5.56 I could lay hands on.

The SR556 comes with Magpul PMags, and they feed everything .223/5.56 I could lay hands on.

Focused on making better and more-affordable hunting rifles and handguns, he really wasn’t plugged into the defensive market. And, to be fair to the late Bill Ruger, the defensive market as we now know it really didn’t exist for the first couple of decades he was designing and making firearms.

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As a result, when it came time to confront the growing plague of gun control efforts, he simply (from my view, anyway) fell back on the educated upper-class N’Easterner attitudes he’d grown up with. To whit: men of good intentions can get along, and learn to compromise, and everyone will be happy and benefit. Too bad he was in a back-alley knife fight with uncompromising opponents.

After the infamous “I don’t know why a law-abiding citizen needs a magazine bigger than that” episode, Ruger was off the buyer’s list for a lot of shooters. I know of shooters who for a long time would not allow a Ruger firearm into their home. Not only would they not buy them, they wouldn’t have any of them where they exercised control: their castle. And when they did move into the new-to-them market segment, Ruger didn’t move into the defensive arena with much authority, certainly not with the authority it had brought to the struggle with Colt, Remington and S&W.

That has changed recently. With the introduction of the SR9, a striker-fired hi-cap 9mm pistol meant for defensive carry, and its follow-up the SR9c, plus the LCR and LCP, Ruger clearly was taking the defensive-arm struggle to its competitors. Even with a thorough game plan and preparation, Ruger was unprepared for the reaction to a proper entry into the defensive firearms market. They announced the LCP (Light Carry Pistol), a compact .380, at the SHOT show. A four-day national industry convention, it is where many manufacturers unveil new products.

By the end of the show, Ruger had orders for some 50,000 pistols. A month later, they had orders for over 100,000. When they announced the SR9 a year later, the demand was so great that Ruger stopped production of all other products at the Prescott, Arizona, plant except for the LCP and the SR9.

Those two pistols alone were requiring more production capacity than the entire plant, devoted to the entire rest of the Ruger pistol line beforehand, could provide. Ruger spent quite some time even getting close to catching up. So, it was with great interest that a bunch of us gun writers recently gathered at a private range for a writers-only retreat. There, we had manufacturers showing us the guns, gear and ammo that they’d be unveiling for the public months or nearly a year after our little soiree.

Everyone was waiting to see what new bombshell Ruger would unveil. A new snubbie revolver? A pistol in .40 S&W? When the SR556 came out into view, the crowd was stunned nearly speechless. (And when you consider the crowd, that’s quite a feat.) Not at the sheer technical prowess of the product, but rather at the amazing fact that this was a Ruger-made AR-15. Not something someone else made, re-branded, but a Ruger rifle, from the large to the small parts.

And for those who live in states where such things have to be neutered, Ruger makes an SR556 that lacks a flash hider, and the stock does not move.

And for those who live in states where such things have to be neutered, Ruger makes an SR556 that lacks a flash hider, and the stock does not move.

And a Ruger design in the heart of it, too, for it is a piston-driven gun. At the range session later that day, we took turns doing the obligatory “piston gun demo” where we each shot a magazine or two quickly, removed the bolt, and held it in our hands to show how cool it was. When it was my turn in front of the camera, I quipped, “We now know that the end of the world is near. This is a Ruger.”

And it is quite the blaster, too. When it comes to entering the AR market, Ruger did not do as others had done, and enter at the basic-gun end of the market. As a manufacturing and marketing decision, that was a good one. The AR buying craze was in full swing when Ruger brought theirs to market, but anyone with any business sense knows that balloons don’t last forever. When the bubble bursts, the low-margin basic (fill in the blank) segment of the market takes more than a beating; it becomes a bloodbath.
So Ruger pulled out all the stops when it came to the SR556.

First of all, no, it is not the HK416 in US-made guise. Not that I have any feelings, good or bad, towards the HK 416. While I’m admiring of the engineering that went into it, I also think they (in typical HK/German fashion) over-engineered the thing. Had Ruger copied the design, and if HK had any patents on it, then by all means, HK would sue Ruger and I’d be in favor of it. If HK hadn’t patented any of it, and Ruger copied it, well, too bad/so sad. As much as I’m a proponent of the defense of intellectual property rights, if you don’t patent it, too bad.

Were we to declare otherwise, the late Soviet Union, via their agent Mikhail Kalashnikov, would have owed the estates of John Moses Browning and John Garand money for every AK-47 and -74 they’d made. (And since Garand was a government employee, any of his designs belonged to the US, and thus the Soviet Union would have been paying us.) Short answer: it isn’t any kind of patent infringement.

The Ruger design is a short-stroke non-venting system that uses an internal piston in the gas block and a spring-loaded transfer rod to drive the carrier. It is their own design.

This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest Book of the AR-15, Vol. 3. Click here to get your copy.

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