This is the grave of Eugene Stoner.
Born in 1922 in Gosport, Indiana, Stoner grew up in Long Beach, California. After graduating from high school there, he got a job with the Vega Aircraft Company, which was a major subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. Stoner’s job was installing armaments and he was good at this. During World War II, he was in the Aviation Ordinance division of the Marines and was in the Pacific. Upon his return from the war, he went back into what was becoming the military-industrial complex, getting a job in the machine shop at Whittaker and rising to become a design engineer.
In 1954, this rising young star of the defense industry got a job as the chief engineer for ArmaLite, a division of Fairchild Engine & Airplane that specializing in, well, light arms. Over the next several years, Stoner designed several Armalite guns that didn’t really go anywhere in terms of getting the military to buy them. He almost succeeded with the AR-10, but the Army went with another choice. He did sell it to the Dutch though, who produced it for a few years.
What makes Stoner famous is, as you have already probably guessed, that he and his team later hit the big time by producing the AR-15 in 1956. This was a lightweight rifle that fired with incredibly rapidity and allowed soldiers to carry more ammunition and kill more people more quickly. ArmaLite was going under though and sold the design to Colt in 1959. Stoner went to Colt too. The military officially adopted it as the M16 rifle in 1964.
Stoner spent the rest of his working career designing high-powered weaponry for the military. I’m less interested in this; none of it seems to have a made anything like the kind of difference the AR-15 did though he was most certainly a huge player in weapons development thanks to his legend. What I’m more thinking about here is the relationship between the inventors of tremendously evil technology and the people who use that technology to engage in even greater evil. It’s not Stoner’s fault that the nation has unleashed his high-powered weaponry for the American people to kill each other with in slaughters that happen on nearly a weekly basis and which barely get any attention anymore unless dozens of people are killed. And then still nothing happens to make the situation any better. This all pretty much happened after Stoner died, though I certainly don’t think he was any kind of political liberal or someone who believed in restricting access to weapons.
Stoner’s family has since come out and said he wouldn’t have wanted everyday people to have his guns. Well, maybe. But the military-industrial complex forced all sorts of people to create or participate in any number of horrible actions, from creating napalm to drop on the Vietnamese to participating in coups against nations that tried to have control over their natural resources. Any and all of this was justified for the needs to fight communism. Even if you think that was a legitimate excuse, it still doesn’t even begin to reckon with the enormous cascading effects of horror that people like Stoner created through these weapons, just to note one particularly awful case of long-term consequences. Again, there are lots of people to blame here. But this is a good moment to consider these larger philosophical questions.
As for the AR-15, Gang of Four laid out the framework for why it’s bad while Stoner was still alive. I wonder if he ever heard the song. Probably couldn’t have understood it if he did.
In 1990, with the Cold War winding down, all sorts of surreal things were happening. One was that Mikhail Kalashnikov came to the U.S. and hung out with Stoner, both recognizing the importance of each other’s work. They went to the Smithsonian, shot some guns, and a grand ol’time.
Stoner died of cancer in 1997. He was 74 years old.
Eugene Stoner is buried in Quantico National Cemetery, Quantico, Virginia.
This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations from my last trip to the South in January. Many thanks! We will be seeing many of these graves pop up in the next couple of weeks and I hope you find them interesting. If you would like this series to visit other architects of America’s horrendous gun culture, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Harlon Carter, the murderer who later was responsible for turning the NRA into the monstrosity that it is today, is in Tucson, Arizona and Charlton Heston, who became the public face of that movement during the increasingly radicalized 1990s, is in Pacific Palisades, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.