When Teaching a New Shooter, Does the Gun Matter?

By CTD Suzanne published on in Firearms

I’m sure your immediate response is, “of course it does!” Picking the “wrong” gun might just turn someone off from shooting. I took a risk letting a brand new shooter fire a DPMS Classic 16 Carbine as her first .223 Remington, semi-automatic rifle. Fortunately, in this particular case the gun did not matter.

On Spring Break, it was my pleasure to have one of my girlfriends—a brand-new shooter—ask me to teach her how to shoot a gun. Due to the nature of our circumstances, we had available to us a Smith &Wesson M&P 15-22, an S&W M&P .22 pistol and a DPMS Classic 16 Carbine chambered in .223 Remington.

I started the lesson with basic firearm safety rules. We first shot the Smith & Wesson M&P .22 pistol, and then the S&W M&P 15-22. I wanted to make sure she had a good feel for holding and handling both a rifle and pistol, aligning the sights, trigger control and recoil. She took to shooting both .22s very well and by the look on her face, enjoyed it. I asked her if she wanted to give The Big One—as we had nicknamed the DPMS—a go.

The DPMS Classic 16 is modeled after one of the most classic rifle designs in firearm history—the M16 A2. The M16 is the full-auto version of today’s modern sporting rifle. For those of you who have been around longer than me will recognize the Classic 16 A2 configuration. Its fixed carry handle with built-in rear sight, pistol grip, fixed buttstock and heavy barrel characterizes the A2.

My friend complained about the sights before she started shooting. I had to agree. In the classic A2 style, the DPMS has a fixed front sight tower and a A2 rear sight on the fixed carry handle—very different from the S&W 15-22’s Magpul MBUS adjustable flip-up front and rear sights. I concluded it was the fixed stock on the DPMS giving us trouble finding a clear sight picture.

Picture shows a black, fixed stock AR-15 A2 style rifle with fixed carry handle and carbine length handguard.

. In the classic A2 style, the DPMS has a fixed front sight tower and a rear sight on the fixed carry handle.

Neither of us could get our head close enough on the comb to see the rear sight properly. When a gun’s length of pull fits you, the sight picture should be right on target when you shoulder the long gun. Clearly, the length of pull on the fixed stock Classic 16 did not fit either of us—to learn more about why this is important, read, “What is Length of Pull and Why Does it Matter?” We analyzed our video afterward and quickly realized my friend’s poor stance. She had to point the muzzle of the rifle too low for her to get a clear sight picture. Due to where I was standing, I was unaware of her poor aim and unfortunately unable to correct her.

Finally on target, my friend did blast away some cans with a satisfying PLUNK! PLUNK!

She did not shy away from shooting through 10 rounds before she complained the rifle had gotten too heavy. While my friend only had the 5.5-pound S&W to compare it with, the 7.1-pound DPMS Classic 16 with heavy barrel and fixed stock, the extra weight feels significant. On a positive note, the weight of the DPMS absorbs more recoil. We were very pleasantly surprised at how minimal recoil is on the DPMS.

My friend only knows AR-15s through mainstream media. When I pulled out the DPMS she asked, “What is that?” I told her it was an AR-15—what the media has been calling an “assault rifle.” I briefly went into why this was so and let her hold it before loading it. I am thankful my friend, unknowledgeable about guns, was able to look beyond the “scary” perception of the black rifle to just have a thoroughly good time shooting The Big One.

After we were finished shooting, my friend admitted that although she felt entirely comfortable with me and with the rifle, she was still nervous. I told her I was glad she was nervous and it was a healthy response. I told her, “That means you recognized the power you were holding in your hands. I hope you may now be able to make a wiser decision about purchasing your first gun.”

Admittedly, I have very little experience with fixed stock ARs… okay, actually none. However, with the DPMS as my only option, I questioned if it was the right decision for my friend’s first shooting experience. Did I make the right choice?

I wished her first AR-15 experience could have been with the S&W M&P 15-22’s big brother, the S&W M&P 15. However, after reflecting on our lesson, I know now I was projecting my own experience with the AR-15 world on someone who had nothing to compare with the DPMS.

Will she be buying the DMPS Classic? Doubtful, however, this time the particular gun didn’t matter. My friend got a thrill shooting the AR-15, regardless of the lack of fancy optics and an adjustable stock. At the end of the day, what mattered the most—our safety and sharing the joy of shooting.

What do you think of the A2-style AR-15s? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.


Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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