What’s more important: One 1337 looking “assault rifle” in the hands of an incompetent civilian, or a quality .22 in the hands of a competent, confident, and cool headed rifleman?
Step back for a moment to consider more than what gun to get. Any Joe on the forums can get a million opinions. Think about the rifle not as an end product, but as opening a door to your future.
One choice opens the door to a project, where your time and money will be spent, but also that defines who you are and how you view yourself. You will build up an AR, end up with very cool looking gun, with all kinds of aftermarket this and custom that, tip toeing on the verge of illegal, and you will lose focus of what I feel is the big picture. What is your purpose in owning a rifle? Its cool. So?
Your other course of action: Keep your .22, and with all that money and time you could have spent on your AR, spend it on bettering yourself. With the $800 that you would spend on an AR, how much good quality .22 LR ammunition could you buy at 3 cents a round? (i spent $1500 on my plain jane m4 becuase i bought it peak season. To this day, of all my guns, I am still most familiar and most comfortable with one rifle-my 1960s vintage marlin bolt action .22. Simple, cheap, my rifle.)
With that time and energy, and money, get a membership at your local range. Go there once a week, go to a Project Appleseed course, then practice for 6 months, then go again. Go and learn and practice until you can qualify Rifleman on the AQT. (a shooting test) Go look up California Precision Rifle Club, attend their rimfire tactical matches regularly, hang out with the old shooters. You will know your rifle inside and out, you will know exactly how it shoots, and how it feels, how it sounds, and most importantly how well you shoot it. You will be able to ease into your worn, soft leather sling and drop down to prone, reload without taking your eyes off target, and put accurate well placed rounds on target, all under time pressure.
Instead of sitting at home playing with your tacticool gun, thinking about that last action movie, sling that .22 on your back, grab a few tin cans, and walk out into the woods to practice. Sit in the shade of a tree, read “Marine Sniper”, or Jeff Cooper, or Bill Jordan, and really feel inspired to take on the legacy of riflemen.
Get a hunting license, and go out to the woods to hunt squirrel, rabbit, grouse, pheasant, quail. Watch your prey spasm and shudder as it dies, realize that life is precious. That rifle that you hold in your hands is the equalizer among men. Thus armed, the poorest of the poor, and the riches of the rich, are all equally mortal. Realize that as a Man, you have both the wonderful and mysterious power to give life, as well as the awesome and solemn power to take it.
Know how to, do it when you need to, but never, ever, kill in vain. Kill only what you will eat, eat what you kill, do not waste a scrap. Learn to skin hides, and make small things out of them, or sell them on ebay to someone who knows how to tan and work leather.
Feel proud that you have joined your forebearers and our legacy as men, as hunters, warriors, and protectors. Wake up in the morning with that amazing confidence that together with your rifle, you can go anywhere, do anything. You are an expert in your craft, and it is a skill that will never leave you.
Then, when you are ready, buy that AR15, or whatever else, and learn how to use it.