Some notions such as "don't start a new shooter out with a semiauto" sound logical, but when put to scrutiny make no sense at all. If having too much ammo at their disposal bothers you, simply load only as many rounds in the magazine as you like. If you believe that having the ability to just keep pulling the trigger is a bad idea, look at it this way: with a semiauto, the new shooter can focus on shooting and not on working the action between shots.
I think a semiauto might be the best gun for a new shooter. With kids today, I'm almost sure of it. Some 50 years ago, kids wanted to shoot guns that were popular such as lever-, bolt- and pump-action rifles. Today, kids see ARs everywhere—on TV and in video games. And, if you own an AR, they see you shoot it. Youngsters want to shoot an AR, and the best way to learn to shoot is to want to shoot.
I'm sure there's an anti-gun person somewhere who'd declare me irresponsible. That same person has most likely never met someone like my son, who started shooting when he was 4, killed a deer with an AR when he was 7, and continues to shoot and hunt at every opportunity unless there's a basketball handy. He also plays those "evil" video games and is a well-mannered and good-hearted person.
Here's the thing, and as a gun owner you probably already know this: It's not about the type of gun, it's about the character of the person. Starting a new shooter with an AR will not make them evil. Raise your kids right and it will all be okay; raise them wrong and it's a gamble how they'll turn out, regardless what gun you let them shoot.
Due to their compactness, minimal weight and low recoil, AR-15s with collapsible stocks are great, first big game guns for youngsters.
A few years ago a friend called, asking what rifle he should let his 10-year-old son learn to shoot so he could go deer hunting. The problem was his 10-year-old son was small for his age. To be able to shoot a rifle properly the rifle needs to fit the shooter, and all of the so-called youth rifles on the market were just too big for this boy. The answer was easy. When my son was 7 we had the same problem. An AR with a six-position adjustable stock was the answer, and with a little practice and one shot my son had his deer. I suggested my friend do the same, and it worked superbly. In fact, his boy has taken several deer with his AR since his first.
This same logic also applies to many women and even some men who are often a bit shorter than the average guy, most rifles are designed to fit. When my wife went to Gunsite Academy to learn how to shoot a rifle, she used an AR. She's only 5 feet tall, and the AR with its collapsible stock fit her perfectly. And, she learned to shoot it very well even though it was a semiauto.
I do agree that when it comes to new shooters, the .22 LR rifle cartridge is the best place to start, and with the AR this isn't a problem. You have two solid options. You can purchase a dedicated .22 LR upper such as one form DPMS, or you can purchase a rimfire version of the AR. The best example might be the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22, which feels and operates just like a centerfire AR but weighs much less.
Sure, youngsters can learn to shoot with a variety of different firearms. I have two little girls and a semiauto Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22, and that's what they're learning on. And I'll bet that just like their mommy, when they're old enough to graduate to a centerfire rifle, they'll choose an AR-15 because it's most versatile rifle in the world.
Like with any firearm, when teaching young or new shooters about the AR, teach them how to load and operate the gun.
Author's note: This article is a condensed chapter from my new book, "Shooter's Guide to the AR-15." This book is intended for the new or new-to-be AR owner. Signed copies are available online at Empty-Cases.