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The AR-15 Is More Than a Gun. It’s a Gadget (wired.com)
44 points by jonnycoder 1524 days ago | hide | past | web | 113 comments | favorite

> Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famously statistics-driven Pentagon was itching to replace the M14, an Army-designed gun that, despite its successful use in World War II.

With information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M14_rifle:

The M14, while "developed from a long line of experimental weapons based upon the M1 rifle" (a semiautomatic rifle which certainly saw widespread use in WWII), did not enter production until 1959. Compared to the M1, the M14 was fully automatic rather than semi-, had a much larger magazine size, shot a different bullet, and was actually significantly lighter -- so even knowing nothing about how the actual mechanism and whatever other properties of a gun that impact its performance were changed, it's safe to say it's not the same gun, and this is a factual error.

The fact that, as someone who has never even seen an unholstered gun outside a museum much less shot one, and has no domain knowledge outside of movies and a single decade-old video game, I could spot this error from a mile away, makes me skeptical about this article. I know this seems like useless nitpicking, but it reminds me of reading mainstream articles about relatively esoteric high tech subjects: in domains I know better, these articles are often so nakedly full of holes and errors that they totally waste whatever argument the author is working towards. So whenever I spot easy errors on topics I know little about, it puts me on higher guard for what else might be bullshit that I don't recognize.

That said, this is a fascinating article, and even with skepticism it has adjusted my perspective on the debate.

There are 2 distinctly different "M1" rifles. The 1st type is known as the "M1 Garand" which fires a Winchester .308 (7.62 mm NATO) round.

The 2nd type is known as the "M1 Carbine" which fires a smaller, .30 cal. round.

The M14 fires the 7.62 mm NATO round, the same as the M! Garand.

A correction: the M1 Garand, designed before WWII, as issued originally fired .30-06; .308/7.62 NATO is a 1/2 inch or so shorter round, using much improved powder and a 147 vs. 150 or maybe 152 (Wikipedia) grain bullet to achieve the same exterior ballistics as M2 Ball I think. I've read that shaving off 1/2 an inch of overall length (the case was quite long because our powder in 1903 wasn't as good as the German's) allows decreasing the receiver length by about an inch ... but I'm now ashamed to realize I never measured them when I had my Garand and a couple of M14 semi-auto investment cast receivers "just in case" for legal grandfathering.

However, the gun will fire any round with .30-06 or .308 dimensions if the pressure profile is a good match. I had my Garand refurbished and rebarreled in .308/7.62 NATO, and it was quite reliable. The Navy started doing that sort of thing the earliest that I know of, with a sleeve fitted into the chamber (!).

I stand corrected. Thanks for setting it straight. I've heard of verified open-sight shots from match-grade M1 Garand hitting targets over a mile distant.

What's the farthest shot you've heard of from credible sources?

Nothing even close to that.

Normal Garand match ammo, at least the typical Federal .308 (don't know about .30-06) Sierra MatchKing match loads, are supposed to have real difficultly reaching 1,000 yards. If you want to stay in the envelope it's recommended to go down to, say, 6.5 mm bullets, a diameter where you can get much higher ballistic coefficients, e.g. the .260 Remington and its ilk.

Note this is all stuff I've just read, I've never been at a range that was longer than 300 yards, and almost always 200 or less.... :-(.

While not using an M1 Garand, the link below says 2 miles!


My only problem with this article is the comparison of the M16 to the AR15. They share some parts but not lower receiver. The M16 is a military rifle with the ability to go full auto. The AR15 is a customizable civilian rifle that only shoots once per trigger pull. AR15 does not equal M16

Considering the difference is one hole, a pin, and some parts, there isn't much difference. If you look up the lightning link, you can make an ar15 full auto without modifying the lower, provided you can use tin shears and a saw blade (or other source of thin, flexible metal)

That mod doesn't make it a M16. It makes it an unsafe, illegal AR15.

Not sure where you're going with this. The lightning link makes an AR15 functionally equivalent to an M16; it requires no modification to the lower; and it's no more or less safe than a "Connecticut M16" (M16 with safe-auto-auto selector).

Illegal, yes, if you aren't an SOT or aren't using a registered lightning link.i

I'm not familiar with this mod, but the BATF has a standard they (in theory, and most of the time) use for what they allow manufacturers to sell to civilians: a trained machinist with a normal machine shop has to take more than N hours to do the conversion. That's why a whole lot of open bolt derived from sub-machinegun designs had to be changed to fire from a closed bolt with a separate firing pin (the normal submachine gun design as I understand it, at least as of WWII state of the art, has a fixed firing pin in the face of the bolt, the H&K MP5 being a notable post-WWII exception).

My "mod" is drilling the sear pin hole (above the selector), removing the semi auto fire control group, installing a full auto fire control group (including sear and pin). You may need a new bolt carrier to trip the sear.

You can buy AR lowers with (IMHO) ill advised fake sear pins to mimic the look.

The lightning link is even easier. Check Quarterbore's website for details.

My impression is that an AR15 lower receiver and an M16 lower receiver are sufficiently similar such that an AR15 lower receiver blank could be machined into either one.

Of course even if that is the case (I'm not so sure it is), the guns are still wildly different things in practice and under the law.

You can modify an ar15 into an m16 with a drill press to add the hole.

Yes, you could modify it, but it is by law different. In fact, try it and you go to prison. They are still not the same.

The M16 was the military designation of the CAR15. The AR15 platform is the semi-auto evolution of the rifle in the civilian market. I know I'm picky, but it's still different. There is one cloudy statement of the difference, but thereafter the author equates the two.

By modifying it, we're talking about disassembling it, drilling a hole through a piece of metal, and reassembling it.

You're telling me that the instant the hacker reassembles the gun, she'll be placed in prison?

Drilling the hole, actually, is the crime. Prison requires being convicted of he crime.

Right, but before a person is put into prison, that modification has to be discovered, investigated, and the person charged and convicted of a crime.

Meanwhile, the tool appears identical to an unmodified tool from the exterior.

The risks far outweigh any possible benefits. Perform the modification. Great. Now you have a weapon which shoots expensive ammunition much more rapidly at worse accuracy, and if you take it to a range, you'll probably get arrested. If you ever get caught with it, you will lose your liberty for some period of time, and for the rest of your life be unable to own firearms.

That's why idiot "mall ninjas" (google the term) like to brag about how easy it would be to convert their gun to full auto, but almost nobody actually does it.

Not sure if I'm the idiot mall ninja category here, so I'll point out what I'm trying to do is inject some technical backing into the conversation without much editorial.

I prefer the term "SSDG" or "Space Shuttle Door Gunner", though.

Many of these home mods result in a runaway rifle, where it doesn't stop firing when the trigger is released. It only stops when it malfunctions, or runs out of ammo. Definitely not something I'd want an idiot to be carrying.

Are there mods beyond a lightning link or installing a FA FCG (which requires drilling a hole in the proper place)?

There's the Slide Fire linked elsewhere in the thread, which as far as I can tell is just a mechanical bump-fire assist. Bump firing is a Bad Idea, by the way.

Between the years 1996 - 2007, if you were in possession of a firearm and shoelaces you possessed an illegal machine gun


Sure, they're legally different, but the article as I read it covers that: they describe the M16 as an automatic-fire, military variant of the AR15. Isn't that accurate?

Yes, that is correct.

You are correct that outside of being an SOT it is illegal to make the modification; I am merely pointing out that the difference is trivial, not core.

> Why would normal, law-abiding Americans want to own > a deadly weapon that was clearly designed for military use?

riiiiight. because all the other firearms are designed to open cans and turn off TVs.

Also an AR-15 is an assault weapon as opposed to what the military uses, which is called assault rifles. Those are fully automatic and much more powerful.

Assault rifles are already banned and the AR-15's you can buy in gun stores don't fit into that category, unless legislators invent things to be considered military... like "military grips" which is basically a pistol grip. Which often doesn't make the gun any more lethal.

The assault weapon rhetoric is politically defined. A AR-15 is nearly the same weapon as a Mini-14, which just looks like a normal hunting gun. The features that define a 'assault weapon' were just made up from some committee. The stupid thoughts on that are, if you add a bayonet lug to the gun below, it becomes a assault weapon.


Lawyers love debating language while detaching themselves from reality.

In the US, the AR15 used to be (for ten years) an assault weapon. It still is in some states.

If you ask combat veterans of OIF/OEF how often they use anything other than semi auto on issued M4/M16 rifles, you'll find the frequency is almost zero.

3-round burst was fairly commonly used (less than semi, though). Most issued rifles only had safe/semi/burst, not safe/semi/auto. Mainly from vehicles or in room clearing. SAWs have largely replaced the full auto rifle, though.

(actually, I think something like 95% of troops never fired a weapon at all. There were 1% of troops responsible for most of the combat, and then a few more percent who got engaged by IEDs, etc.)

I can think of only two situations where I ever used full-auto on an M4; clearing a trench and clearing bunkers; i.e. suppressive fire. I would absolutely not use full-auto to clear a room. Room clearing requires highly disciplined and discrete fire; hostages, non-combatents, POWs etc. My friends and I would rather take a bullet than wound or kill a non-com.

Yes, I meant a structure like a bunker/culvert/etc., not a house. i.e. something they would hit with a mk19/at4/grenade/etc. first.

Most use was with people who didn't have SAW or heavier, from vehicles, though, which was the only time I saw it actually used myself.

I was under the impression that 3 round burst was a waste and rarely used. The increased fire rate dramatically reduces accuracy compared to firing three rounds quickly. The army's recent RFP got rid of the 3 round burst requirement:


The big problem with it in the M4 IMO is that it degrades the semi-auto trigger pull.

Firing from vehicles was basically suppression, or very close at a large target from a supported firing position. Contractors were limited to rifles under most contracts, generally (although .30 cal machine guns were allowed in some cases, so the RPK was quite popular), so that's the main reason they used rifles that way rather than what the US Army would do (an M249, M240, or better, M2 or mk19).

The greater argument here that semi auto is adequate for almost all rifle/carbine use, I fully agree with, but there were both US military people and contractors (and most of the indigenous security forces) who used full auto or 3 round burst.

Ah ha! I've heard that, but never gotten confirmation. What I've heard is that on semi-auto mode, the weight of the trigger increases with each pull in a three round cycle.

If true, it again tells us how little the Army cares about individual rifle marksmanship ... which I suppose is another causality of the McNamara DoD regime.

Yeah, I just stuck to my Browning Hi Power, CZ-97B, M14, and various disposable AKMs when possible; M9 when forced.

Also, let's just say Brownell's catalogs were pretty popular :)

[Military M-16s and M-4s] are fully automatic and much more powerful [than civilian AR-15s].

This is slightly misleading. The military weapons fire the same ammunition: the same bullet, at the same velocity. In terms of kinetic energy of the bullet, the weapons have the same power. The fully-automatic capability of the military weapons simply allows many more shots to be fired in a given amount of time.

"Assault weapon" is a term invented by Brady et al. because they wouldn't be taken seriously if they said "scary black gun". Assault rifle, battle rifle, these terms have meaning. Assault weapon is not a real category.

The term has been attributed to Josh Sugarmann, head of the gun control advocacy group the Violence Policy Center. Going by this quote of his, he likely came up with it to intentionally confuse people who aren't knowledgeable about firearms.

"The semi-automatic weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase that chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons."

Unless you define "power" as rate of fire, in this case as noted elsewhere an option for 3 round bursts, there's absolutely no difference in power. You shouldn't put 5.56 NATO rounds in a .223 chamber, that's likely to result in excessive pressure, but besides that the details matter only to those wanting the most in accuracy.

In fact, not being limited by the Hague convention, we civilians and stateside police can use rounds that are loaded with much more effective expanding bullets.

> In fact, not being limited by the Hague convention, we civilians and stateside police can use rounds that are loaded with much more effective expanding bullets.

That has always really bothered me. I get the point for hunting, having the animal die as fast as possible is good, but I don't buy the argument that they are important for police because they have less penetration power. If we want to reduce the number of people accidentally shot by police, I think we would be better served by training police to actually hit what they shoot at, not giving them bullets that hopefully won't go through as many walls or people.

What if you have to shoot someone and there are "pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders" behind him? I.e. even if they get injured or killed, fewer will die?

Now, that's not likely to happen, i.e. ideally you can follow Rule 4 by changing your angle, but ... well, in the real world your alternative just isn't going to happen. Unless they take personal responsibility (and in anti-gun places like NYC that's very hard since there aren't many places to shoot), most police aren't good shots, don't have to shoot very often, and aren't well trained. At the Connecticut legislative hearing on this, the anti-gun police officer giving testimony had to admit training was on the order of a few hours a year. And then there's fire discipline, you have seen the picture of the pickup truck, wrong model, color and with two Hispanic ladies delivering papers, that was perforated by LAPD cops who were ... concerned that one of the own was hunting them?

However, that's not the main reason for using expanding ammo in self-defense. We, civilians and the police, are not allowed to kill per se, nor is that our objective. If in such a situation, we desperately want to stop someone, and for handguns "stopping power" scales with the diameter of the bullet, including expansion if that occurs, lethality with the number of holes you punch in someone.

For .223/5.56 NATO, Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds have very iffy stopping power (details on request), so using them in self-defense if you have an alternative is a very bad idea.

Either way there are tradeoffs. I would be interested in seeing someone actually work out some numbers.

I figure innocent bystanders who get shot are hit by fewer bullets than the people who are actually being aimed at. Pulling numbers out of my ass, say innocent bystanders that are hit are hit by 1 bullet on average, and crims that are hit are hit by 3 bullets on average.

The questions to me then become:

1) how many innocent bystanders are being killed by those single bullets, and how would that number change if they were FMJ instead?

2) Given the average number of times crims who are shot at are hit, how likely is it that they would still be killed if the police were using FMJ?

I suspect these two factors work out such that FMJ would be slightly more dangerous to police, but vastly safer for the general public despite the increased penetration power. Police are signing up for it, so I am okay with putting them in more danger to keep the public safer; I am sure police unions would throw a fit over that though.

(I think it would also be revealing to examine if perhaps the lower penetration power of fragmenting rounds make police have a more relaxed attitude towards accuracy.)

You should study the history of NYC after they adopted Glocks firing 9 mm. For quite some time they used FMJ, but eventually changed to hollow points despite great political pressure.

The raw facts I've just outlined don't disprove your thesis, but as I understand it the details do. It's also the fact that outside of situations where politics are in play, expanding bullets are the universal choice, all things considered.

Note this includes civilians who carry, there's 7.5 to 8 million as independently estimated last summer by scholar Clayton Cramer and the GAO respectively, plus those who can carry concealed without a license in the handful of states that allow that (Vermont, Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming). Unlike the police, we don't have legal or political protection from accidents, we own every bullet we fire, and a loved one could easily be one of those too close bystanders (or on the other side of a wall or the house, whatever).

Maybe we're wrong, but using hollow point ammo is what almost all of us have decided to do.

Having been through police training, I absolutely agree that better training for police is important, but there are several problems with your argument.

First of all, accurately firing a weapon requires one to relax, breathe slowly, reduce the heart rate, hold still and concentrate. Almost all situations that justify shooting at people involve imminent danger of death to the shooter, the shooter's allies or innocent bystanders. That pressure produces a physical response exactly the opposite of what's required to shoot accurately. Good training can partially compensate, but it's impossible to replicate the psychological and physiological effects of the possibility of imminent death without a significant risk of actual imminent death.

Secondly, non-expanding ammunition will easily penetrate through a person and retain enough power to kill a second person. In most cases, a single bullet could kill three or four people if they were properly aligned. Ideally, the shooter will try to make sure the bullet will stop safely after penetrating the target, but circumstances that require shooting people are rarely ideal. Using bullets that are easier to stop is better for bystanders.

Finally, bullets do a surprisingly bad job of instantly physically incapacitating people. There are a number of cases on record of violent criminals continuing their attempts to murder police officers after being shot multiple times, even after receiving wounds that aren't survivable even with immediate medical treatment. Most people stop fighting when shot for psychological, not physiological reasons; they didn't like being shot and don't want it to happen again, the pain is too severe to continue resisting or they hope that giving up will lead to medical treatment and a better chance of survival. Barring that, there are three ways a bullet can incapacitate a person: damage the brain or spinal cord enough to prevent movement, cause enough blood loss that the brain shuts down, or damage the heart enough that it can't pump blood to the brain. Expanding bullets have a higher probability of causing these effects than non-expanding bullets.

Fair point about the difference between immediately incapacitating and unsurvivable. I think the different amounts of danger presented to a bystander that is only hit once is still worth at least investigating though.

I think it is definitely worth considering if reliance on expanding rounds that are not perceived to penetrate has an effect on the tendency to take risks in situations where there are people behind the target. As I see it, considering the number of shots often fired by police and their poor accuracy, it doesn't really matter that the rounds won't go through multiple people. The more accurate police are, the more fragmenting rounds start to seem sensible to me.

Being concerned about bullets going through badguys and hitting innocents or hitting multiple innocents in a row instead of just one seems like... premature optimization.

It's worth looking at. The standard introduced by the FBI and used by many law enforcement agencies is 12-14" of penetration. That's enough to penetrate most people front to back and still be dangerous to someone behind them. It would be unreasonable for anyone in law enforcement to assume that such bullets don't present a risk to bystanders. If anyone does believe that, they need different training.

The issue here, which was introduced by the FBI after their infamous 1986 Miami shootout, is that at worst case you have to shoot through someone's arm and then penetrate to the vitals (especially heart). Obviously that's going to over-penetrate front to back, and it's occurred to me the worst case that way is if you only hit a lung, plus of course whatever happens with the ribs. I would expect most self-defense expanding rounds to go right through with a lot of retained energy depending on what happens around the ribs.

From Wikipedia on the FBI shootout, matching my memory of various accounts:

"As Platt climbed out of the passenger side car window, one of Dove's 9 mm rounds hit his right upper arm and went on to penetrate his chest, stopping an inch away from his heart. The autopsy found Platt’s right lung was collapsed and his chest cavity contained 1.3 liters of blood, suggesting damage to the main blood vessels of the right lung. Of his many gunshot wounds, this first was the primary injury responsible for Platt’s eventual death."

He was functional for quite some time after that, including killing the two agents who died in the shootout. Here's some illuminating details from the end of that section:

"[...] The bullet penetrated Platt's chest and bruised the spinal cord, ending the gunfight.

The shootout involved ten people: two suspects and eight FBI agents. Of the ten, only one, Special Agent Manauzzi, did not fire any shots (firearm thrown from car in initial collision), while only one, Special Agent Risner, was able to emerge from the battle without a wound. The incident lasted under five minutes yet approximately 145 shots were exchanged.

Toxicology tests showed that the abilities of Platt and Matix to fight through multiple traumatic gunshot wounds and continue to battle and attempt to escape were not achieved through any chemical means. Both of their bodies were drug-free at the time of their deaths."

Yikes. And there are more incidents like this one.


Flint locks were deadly weapons designed for military use. Why not want the most modern weapons? There is an entire sport shooting class for these modern weapons. It's also the preferred weapon for varmint shooting such as helping cattlemen clear ground hogs from pasture land.

Hunting is a pretty solid and common use for a weapon that wasn't designed for military use.

Common bolt-action hunting rifes are based on a design that was created for war.

There's a reason most combat troops aren't using bolt-action rifles or shotguns.

I'd hate to defend against an assailant with a bolt-action rifle in my hands. Not only can it take 5-6 shots to take someone down (depending on what drugs they are on, were the shots hit, and the caliber and velocity of the bullet), but I'd imagine that in that specific moment of shock and panic were your life is in danger, it would be kind of difficult to properly operate a weapon that requires more actions over a simple trigger pull.

The only thing that makes an AR15 and similar weapons “assault weapons” is that the general public believes that semi-automatic weapons are the same thing as fully automatic weapons, and they look scary.

I hope to see more mainstream commentary on how AR-15s are beneficial and preferable by a lot of women due to the reduced recoil. Shotguns are good for home defense and so is a 9mm, but both have much recoil compared to an AR-15.

That's why shotguns are popular for home defense, not bolt-action rifles.

Assailants, murders, bad guys, and general criminals can take your life away from you outside your home, through a wall, via a car, and from a further distance than a shotgun could defend you from.

Aside from that, and as I've stated, in that moment of panic and terror when your life is about to end, operating a weapon that requires a pump or a bolt action is not ideal. You'll jam it up, forget to pump it back, etc.

I also don't quite understand how other people can dictate to me that I shouldn't own a one trigger pull / one shot weapon because it looks scary - while being somewhat functionaly identical to a non-scary looking simi rifle or handgun.

Let's not go and pretend surprise drive-by shootings and long-range snipings are the standard case for a home invasion.

So what issue do you have with me owning a single trigger pull / single fire AR15?

I have an issue with folks being able to own one with less vetting and registration requirements than you need to own/operate a car.

I have to prove I can safely operate a car to drive one.

Unfortunately for you, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is an enumerated Constitutional right, and there are strict limits on the restrictions that can be placed on those.

Any analogy with merely owning a car fails hard, in all but really revenue hungry jurisdictions car ownership has no restrictions of this kind. It's only when you want to put it on the road that you have to get plates and a licensed driver. And there's a vast distance between the skill and experience needed to safely drive a car and use a gun; in just accidental deaths, this shows in the ratio of 58:1 from memory when I last calculated (> 30,000 vs. a bit over 600 annually; I can look that up if you want).

From what I've read, the M16 wasn't that popular in early Vietnam use -- it might have been preferred to the M14 for size, but the AK-47 (AKM or Chinese equivalent, usually) of the enemy was more highly regarded than either. More reliable mechanically, and still more lethal (and less likely to be deflected by light cover) than the M16's 55gr bullet.

I was in the Army in the mid-80's, when most of the NCO's and officers were Vietnam vets. The critical importance of keeping your weapon clean was stressed because the M16 was prone to jam. The vets said the AK-47, on the other hand, could be dropped in the mud and still keep on firing.

If it is gear used in a hobby (and shooting is a big hobby for a lot of people), it will have modifications / upgrades sold. Cars and gaming being two big examples.

Interesting read, thanks. I was completely unaware of the whole customization/hobby/gear subculture around the AR-15.

Indeed, it's well illustrated by the caption "Is the iPhone in this picture, taken at this year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, an AR-15 accessory, or is the AR-15 an iPhone accessory?"

And other gun designs are taking more and more advantage of this. The dimensions of the rails are standard so I can e.g. put sights like the holographic EOTech you can see in the first photo on my originally designed in Switzerland, parts from Europe and the US and assembled here "semi-automatic assault rifle".

I'm a software developer but my hobbies extend into shooting & building guns and woodworking - activities akin to tinkering and assembly. As somewhat of a non-political article, it's nice to see a mainstream showcasing of why we love our AR15s instead of just being called names (whacko, redneck, etc).

It's not just the AR-15. Check out the sub-culture of the Russian rifles. There's AK47 & SKS modification nuts as well as others.

This is a great book about the AK-47, the big "alternative" to the M16: http://www.amazon.com/The-Gun-C-J-Chivers/dp/0743271734

The Author, C.J. Chivers, writes an interesting blog for the NY Times where they attempt to ID munitions from the battlefield in Africa, Syria, etc. http://cjchivers.com/

I used to think that the most dangerous thing about the AR-15 was that it had the capacity to hold 30 round magazines. I don't have a good opinion of 100 round drums, because they jam too easily.

Then I learned about the Slide Fire [1], a stock that legally gives the AR-15 full auto capability. The loophole is that the stock uses the gun's recoil to pull the trigger again, instead of the gun's internal mechanism doing it.

A good analogy to computers would be an interface that does not allow clicking a button to send multiple requests, but allows a script to click the button much faster than a human would.

[1] http://www.slidefire.com/

Full auto is frankly a stupid feature. It wastes ammunition, it's inaccurate. There is a reason soldiers rarely use fully-auto except in specific circumstances. Bump firing, which is what the Slide Fire does, is even worse because it throws your accuracy to utter hell--look up the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bump_fire)

Oh, and most rifles with removable magazines can accept 30 round magazines, it's not a magical AR-15 capability.

So, the military teaches troops to almost never use full-auto on their rifles.

Why is having full-auto mode so much more dangerous? Seems that in a mass-shooting situation, the person's more likely to blow the whole clip and be out of ammo.

And spend most of that ammo up in the air vs. on target.

Look at the case of criminal negligence where a young boy was handed a Micro-UZI to shoot and the path it traversed ended up shooting him in the head.... Or the various combat veterans in this discussion attesting to the limited utility of full auto in an AR-15 pattern rifle. Or the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where one of the kibitzers was shouting "Short, controlled bursts!" ^_^.

In a firefight between two militaries, it is not more dangerous. The danger is that the regular police that only carry sidearms would be seriously outgunned.

Not really. The point is that in fully automatic mode, you can blow through a backpack full of ammunition in about a minute, probably not hitting anything because the continual fire and your efforts to control the gun are throwing the barrel all over the place. Now the cops are standing there, they're pissed, and you're out of ammunition. If you were a typical "crazed killer", this is the point where you'd shoot yourself, but you just sprayed all your bullets down the street.

Bump firing the rifle would be inaccurate if the shooter went through the whole clip with one or two pulls. This stock attachment allows for reasonably accurate burst firing.

A gunman with an automatic weapon will not necessarily waste all of his ammunition with continuous, inaccurate fire. With very little training, he can learn to burst fire. This capability blurs the line between a military and civilian rifle.

There is a video of the stock in action here [1]. It seems to me that someone with limited training would still completely outgun a regular police officer armed only with a pistol.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvLt8-Wf7r0

... so? If someone is well enough trained to fire controlled bursts, they're probably well enough trained to be just as effective double tapping in semi-auto.

> I used to think that the most dangerous thing about the AR-15 was that it had the capacity to hold 30 round magazines

Yep. I'm gonna feel so much safer when I'm murdered with ten 9mm bullets instead of seventeen.

Oh wait, not so much.

An automatic rifle is much more dangerous than an automatic handgun, because of the physics involved. When a bullet enters yours body, the rapid deceleration of the bullet creates a shock wave that creates a micro-cavity in your body that lasts for milliseconds. This micro-cavity does enormous damage to your internal organs. That is why rifles (which fire bullets with much more kinetic energy) are so much more dangerous than pistols.

In general, you are much more likely to survive multiple pistol wounds than you are multiple rifle wounds.

Sidenote: Rifles used in the Civil War and modern rifles fire bullets with roughly the same kinetic energy. Improvements to gunpowder have allowed smaller bullets to be fired with larger velocity.

There is a great deal of argument over that theory of terminal ballistics vs. the "permanent crush cavity" favored by Dr. Martin Fackler, who I follow.

I'm sure some organs are subject to serious damage that way, but he believes that in general tissue is fairly willing to be pushed and squeezed and snap back, without significant damage compared to what is crushed.

He's also the guy who figured out the significant wounding mechanism of the original AR-14/M16 FMJ bullet: if it hits at enough velocity, as it tumbles the bullet breaks at the cannelure. The higher the velocity, the more the back half disintegrates.

Now, he was doing this in calibrated ballistic gelatin, but it seems to match the observed in the field results, which is how he got started in all this as a battlefield surgeon.

Thank you for this information.

One of the difficulties of research in this field is that acceptable tests materials (gelatin blocks) have different densities and structures then battlefield targets.

Out of curiosity, what would be the characteristics would be for ammunition that is designed to inflict damage on non-organic targets of almost uniform density? In other words, ammunition that is designed to destroy the steel or aluminum of airplanes or buildings.

Aluminum strikes me as a very poor choice, one reason it's so popular is it's strength to density ratio, i.e. it's a lightweight metal. It's also catches on fire very easily, is the fuel in typical thermite and and various rocket motors including the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster, and pretty clearly played a role in the Hindenburg disaster (hydrogen doesn't burn like that).

It has a role in e.g. GAU-8 (A-10's) PGU-14/B ammo, cast around a depleted uranium perpetrator, acting somewhat like a sabot in allowing the bullet to be lighter in weight and therefore faster, but outside of that sort of thing I don't see it having a role in ammunition.

What I meant to ask is whether there is a type of ammunition that is specifically designed to damage a structure (the structure is what might be made out of a metal or metal alloy, or something else such as kevlar) rather than cause physiological damage. I wasn't suggesting that aluminum is a good material for a bullet.

Bullets that are designed to fragment upon impact because this causes damage to living things. My question is whether frangibility is desired when the purpose is to cause the most structural damage, e.g when the target is an airplane or tank.

I suppose depleted uranium or tungsten carbide bullets match this description, because they are designed to go through armor before they start to disintegrate. But these types of bullets are still meant to eventually hit humans.

Actually, most non-FMJ bullets who's targets include animals including humans aren't designed to fragment on impact, but to expand, and therefore transfer more of their energy to the target once they get inside. The useful fragmenting of the latter half of M16 FMJ ammo was unknown until Martin Fackler conclusively demonstrated it in the '80s, a couple of decades after its design. And we've switched bullets since then (see below), although the new one is thought to have the same wounding mechanism.

It's "useful" because all that, the breaking in half and possibly fragmenting, provides much more stopping power to an otherwise not very effective round. If that doesn't happen, the effect is more like getting stuck with a pencil, except that the bullet will turn 180 degrees and likely exit back first; the M16 is infamous for inconsistent stopping power.

Note that according to the Hague Convention, our military isn't allowed to design bullets to do this....

Fragmentation is very much not a desired feature for creating any type of structural damage; there you want all energy possible to be transmitted to the target. Even expansion is undesired, because the physical work done to deform the bullet is not available to penetrate the structure and then do further damage once past it.

This often gets into the realm of armor piercing (AP) ammo, which has steel or harder metals inside the bullet, sometimes comprising almost all of it, sometimes as a smaller penetrator, like the steel rod inside the .30-06 ammo that I've read became the standard for the US towards the end of WWII (although that was in part because steel was cheaper than lead), or the steel pellet that's in the 5.56 NATO SS109, M855 green tip for the US, design bullet (which is really machine gun ammo/designed to satisfy a silly requirement of piercing a metal helmet at a very long distance, it's not really good ammo for rifles for a whole bunch of reasons).

With the exception of 5.56 NATO AP, there should be no differences in wounding capability, larger caliber bullets don't depend on deformation for wounding. Our M995 black tip ammo ... well, look at this picture: http://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=3&f=16&t=56...

I assume the bullet is not as likely to break at the cannelure, that the aluminum boot in which it sits is no more likely to cause damage ... but that would have to be tested. Certainly gunners would try to avoid wasting ammo by using AP on humans....

Then we get to exotic stuff that includes an explosive payload, normally 20 mm ammo and above, generally intended for aircraft until we get into serious anti-armored vehicle ammo. You're really not supposed to use that on humans, but of course that's not so well observed in wars. And there's this exotic and inherently expensive .50 BMG round that's intended to provide the destructive power of a 20 mm shell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raufoss_Mk_211 ; see the Legality section on expected effects on humans.

Here is some more perspective on high capacity magazines. Regular 9mm Glocks and Berettas such as Glock 17 and Beretta 92fs are designed to hold 17 or 15 round magazines, stock. The FN 5.7, the same gun used in the Fort Hood shooting and also reported to be in use by Secret Service, and legal for citizen ownership, has a 20 round stock magazine. The California legal version requires a 10 round magazine.

A few corrections or comments:

McNamara and company forced the AR-15 on the Army (the Air Force was already buying them for guarding planes and the like, a much less demanding duty) because the small arms procurement part of the Army at the time was utterly corrupt, preferring inferior US designs like the M14 (too much operating stuff out in the open, otherwise a great improvement on the M1 Garand) and the M60 machine gun (details on request). They biased tests by e.g. replacing screws holding a rifle together with springs while they had custody of them before the official tests (or at least I've read that about the trials that selected the M14, the AR-10, original big brother of the AR-15, was said to be sabotaged that way).

The NRA never, ever, supported the "assault weapons" ban, with the sole exception of one off-script or trial balloon radio interview with Carleton Heston (take your pick, he and other Western actors cut commercials to support the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968). This was much noticed in the community because Clinton's AW ban was the first piece of Federal anti-gun legislation that passed without the NRA's approval, however grudging.

"Accustomed to taking down trophy bucks with a hefty .30-caliber round, they ridiculed the AR-15 as a “mouse gun” and feared that its smaller .223-caliber bullet would only wound an animal, instead of taking it down with a single, clean shot."

A bit of an exaggeration, higher energy narrower than .30 caliber (7.62 mm) rounds have long been used to take deer sized animals. Prior to recent tremendous developments in bullet technology .223 was iffy except for smaller critters, it was in fact derived from the .222 Remington, a target and varmint shooting cartridge, at least in the US.

Any correlation with the expiration of the 2004 "assault weapons" ban and the civilian market's response is bogus. It was sufficiently weak that the only effect was an increase in the cost of magazines, and since it had been our issue rifle for a quarter century there were plenty used ones to be had. Otherwise you could buy one as long as you were willing to forgo e.g. a bayonet lug.... I think the big event was 9/11, and the feckless domestic response, e.g. Bush telling us to go out and buy stuff to support the economy. Many people realized they were on our own, at least in terms of initial response, and plenty of subsequent events like hurricanes emphasized that. E.g. there's the saying that "When seconds count, the police are minutes away". After a hurricane for many it will be more like weeks.

That Hello Kitty rifle is real, there are some very nice modern gun finishes that come in many different colors, like DuraCoat which was used for that one and which the article has a photograph of a SHOT Show advertising display for it.

I can't speak to the author's emphasis of all this coming from the gaming "and others who had fallen into the post-9/11, SpecOps-inspired 'tactical lifestyle'" ... but I'll note there wouldn't have been a 1994 "assault weapons" ban if these weren't already popular guns. I personally know they were popular in the '70s, and as Cam Edwards put it, "The AR was designed in 1957 and sold to the public beginning in 1964. Perhaps we should go ahead and ban that newfangled rock and roll too."

Obviously, the "NRA’s dire warnings of an Democratic gun grab should Obama win the presidency" were accurate, if the timing was a bit off. And Sen. Joe Manchin is a poser who doesn't know the difference between a magazine and a clip, unless his shooting experience up to now has been with single shot rifles and double barreled shotguns.

>Obviously, the "NRA’s dire warnings of an Democratic gun grab should Obama win the presidency" were accurate, if the timing was a bit off

I don't see how this is true, unless we massively redefine "gun grab" from "confiscating private firearms that are currently legally owned" to "limiting the production and/or commercial sale of some types of firearms and firearm accessories".

Obviously you missed e.g. NY governor Cuomo and Senator Feinstein calling for outright confiscation, along with many less prominent Democratic politicians (and probably a few Republicans as well). Or various laws that have been introduced to do that, like one in my home state of Missouri.

And "gun grab", at least in the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (RKBA) community, includes lessor things that confiscation. NY state's "no new 10 round magazines, and it's a crime to load more than 7 rounds in the ones you have, worse if you're outside your house", might not precisely match the words "gun grab", but English isn't a precision language. For example, NY state residents wanting to buy new guns face very constrained choices right now.

ADDED: Constrained in that most semi-auto guns come with > 7 round magazines. Manufacturers or 3rd parties will have make new ones limited to 7 rounds, and if you want to buy one, you'll have to get that SKU, or find a cooperative out-of-state dealer who will swap magazines. Read Emily Miller's adventures in getting her preferred gun model into D.C. for an example of this; there the limit is 10 rounds.

A long time Democrat senator in Washington State recently introduced a bill that authorized yearly police inspections inside the home of gun owners - directly in violation of the 4th amendment in the Bill of Right.

That's worse than a 'gun grab' in my opinion.

Actually, he's been introducing that bill for years. This is the first time anyone's paid attention to it, because it has a real potential for passing. Or did before this discovery....

This is the only thing that can get "the ACLU" (the national HQ and most but not all state units of it) against "gun grabbing", the realization that it can't be accomplished without gross 4th Amendment violations.

It would appear to be contagious: such a law has been introduced in Oregon, although people are focusing most on its true gun grabbing requirement that only one banned gun could continue to be possessed: http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Ore-gun-control-bill-s...

I'd just like to add that the M60 is a dog and always has been a dog. The 240G and 240B were and are superior in every way. It's been a long time but I remember, in Ranger school, discovering the that gas piston (hazy on the actual part) would fit in backwards.

Yes, I've read that was perhaps its most lethal flaw. You could assemble part of it backwards, and you'd only discover this after firing a round, at which point it would jam. Also had a soft sear that would go round perhaps after 20,000 rounds, after which it would continue firing without your pulling the trigger. And the idea of having to use an asbestos mitten to change barrels.... Everything I've read says all the competing designs, FN's MAG which the 240 is derived from, the German MG42/MG3, and the Soviet one, are vastly better.

Asbestos mittens, or a derivative, are not unique to the 60. It's pretty much crew served with barrel changes that require the mitten. Most gun teams would carry the barrels in a heat/fire proof case. After you swap out a hot barrel you lay it on the case. It's a bad idea to start a fire next to your ammo.

These barrels get so hot that, with night vision and at night, you can actually catch a glimpse of rounds traveling out the barrel. In retrospect is seems crazy to say that you can 'see' a round. Perhaps the night vision goggles are producing artifacts (not sure now).

Hmmm, I was lead to believe by the account I read, by someone who used one in Vietnam at least a little, and had tried out many other guns of other designs, was that the M60 was uniquely lacking in not having a handle off the barrel. He was focusing on the "get the barrel off" without a mitten problem ... ah, and depending on where he and his friends were in Vietnam setting a fire was less of a danger. But I do see your point.

OK, I've looked up the source (http://www.amazon.com/Testing-The-War-Weapons-Machine/dp/087...); this was a problem with early ones. "A friend of mine burned his hands to the bone pulling out the barrel of an M60 with his bare hands when the North Vietnamese infantry attempted to overrun his position in South Vietnam. He did not feel it at the time, but after the battle was over, he discovered the condition of his hands." They did add a handle later, and it sounds like by the time you tried one (and probably when I would have, if eyesight hadn't kept me out of the military).

Other points: Early ones had fixed front sights on the barrel.... Then he gets into reliability, and notes machine guns fire a lot more rounds than pistols and rifles. Some crazy guy put 10,000 rounds through a MG3 in 7.5 minutes, and 500,000 (!) through a FN MAG in one sitting. Obviously the soft sear is an issue there. He also says "a number of parts" can be put in backwards. Then he gets into ergonomics, the weight of the tripod (more than the less complicated one for the MG3, which also isn't made out of lightweight metal), the original bipod being barrel mounted (!!!) ... yep, your summation of it being a dog sounds spot on.

I served as an Assistant Gunner for awhile and we learned to LOVE our M60's. It always seemed that the skinniest guys were AG's, loaded down with ammo, extra barrel, tripod, and T & E mechanism, while also having to carry an M16, and its ammo.

In all of my time in service, the only time I ever burnt my hand on a hot barrel was during OSUT, when a dickhead Drill Corporal had us all stand at attention after we'd formed up after being cleared from the firing line. It taught me a valuable lesson about how hot a weapon could get.

I have also seen an M60 barrel warp & bend after firing 1500 rounds non-stop.

As for putting the gun together incorrectly, I can see doing so in the heat of battle, or the fog (20+ hours a day on your feet, except while in the "front-lean-&-rest") of Ranger School, but have never seen such occur in normal training.

All in all, the M60 is still a venerable gun, and when proper tactics are employed (inter-locking fire) it is a more than capable weapon.

So much that, in one of my assignments, our platoon had 3 gun crews instead of the usual 2, because our PL had served multiple tours in Vietnam, and he knew the effectiveness of these guns - especially with 3 crews while doing a bounding overwatch.

"Fire a burst of six to nine."

Sure a properly maintained M60 may be reliable. The M60 just does not compare to the 240 in any way. The 240 is so reliable you can hold a belt of ammo, pull the trigger and watch the gun pull its-self toward the belt of ammo!

The point is I should be able to pick up any weapon, take it apart and put it back together without knowing much about it. I, of course, was well trained. There's no telling how much training the next person has and we should expect that they will have little to none. I also spent time in a platoon with three gun teams.

It sounds like you used it after the initial critical modifications were made, e.g. did your barrels have handles? If so, and if you managed to avoid the assembly problem---which you have to admit could be rather lethal in combat---and replaced the sear before firing 20,000 rounds, it sounds like it wasn't awful.

Unless compared to its competition. In many ways its infamy is that while everyone else got it right (the Germans in 1942!) or at least a lot better, we didn't.... And I'd like to see what you say about the even longer list of problems in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M60_machine_gun#Design_flaws ; I not that it doesn't mention the barrel handle and bipod fixes, or the assembly problem.

Our barrels had no handles, they had bipods. The M60 wasn't too bad of a light machine gun, and, yes there are better alternatives, but we made do with what we were given, and once you became familiarized with the gun, it was actually a solid weapon.

The worst part was filling out range cards. (lol)

Wasn't that a small price to pay for being paid by the government to shoot off all that ammo ^_^?

(I certainly appreciated the government supplied ~3,000 rounds/year of .22LR I shot on my JROTC rifle team.)

The most fun was firing at balsa wood target RC planes for anti-aircraft target practice. We'd lie on our backs and fire the M60 at flying targets. This was at Pohakuloa Training Area, in Hawaii.

After a couple of hours doing online research, I've found very little supporting evidence for the claim, made by others, and myself, that there were indeed M16A1 select fire rifles which carried the "Mattel" brand name, which, on the ones I've seen, had the logo stamped into the lower receiver group, specifically, on the magazine well.

It was early November, 1982 when I graduated OSUT at Ft Benning, GA, USA (1st Platoon, Echo Company, 7th Battalion, 1st Infantry Training Brigade, AKA "Sand Hill,") and I distinctly remember being quite disappointed that the rifle I first checked out of the Armory had a "Mattel" logo on it. We quickly compared our rifles, and there were some with the Mattel logo, and some with other markings, but we all had a good laugh about "toy" rifles.

Back in '82, in OSUT (One Station Unit Training)all weapons were kept in the Armory, under lock and key, and we'd check a rifle out of the Armory for target practice, do some shooting, then clean our assigned weapons before checking them back into the Armorers, who would raise holy-hell if you had not thoroughly cleaned the aforementioned rifle.

For those who doubt my (and other's) assertion(s) regarding the "Mattel" logo, I had no camera while going through boot camp, and doubt that any of the other recruits had carried a camera while training. Our company Commander was Captain G. Tronsrue, a West Point graduate, as well as an Airborne Ranger. He's on Facebook, and I've conversed with him there. He said that he remembers my name, and that only a few other "Echo Outlaws" had contacted him via FB.

What a walk down memory lane!

Heh, I smell a hack at least slightly in the spirit of this article.

I'm not familiar with working on finished (anodized?) aluminum; did the stamp appear to have been applied after the original finish? Were these perhaps refurbished lowers, allowing an armorer perhaps unenamored of the design and/or round to apply the stamp and then properly refinish it? (Were M16s refurbished in such a way?)

I couldn't tell you how the marks got there, only that I wasn't the only one who saw M16's stamped with the Mattel logo. I didn't consider the logo thing to be important at the time, it being boot camp, and all that. We weren't "issued" a specific rifle the way we were the rest of our TA-50, we'd go down to the Armory and sign out a rifle, and that rifle wasn't always the same one you used last time. Ft Benning (Sand Hill) was the only place I saw the Mattel stamped rifles, and I highly doubt that an Armorer there took the time to add the logos as a joke. These were old rifles, definitely used condition, but I still qualified Expert using them.

From what I've been researching, Mattel had a short contract during the late 70's to manufacture M16 rifles for the US military. Unfortunately, I have no credible verification of said contract. Perhaps someone will dig a bit deeper to get to the bottom of this aspect. As for the Mattel Marauder, replica, I had never even heard of it until today.

Interesting, the NRA cult trying to infiltrate the "tech" community with this novel yet absurd "lol guns are for nerds because they are customizable" line.

Although there are admittedly a lot of neckbeard libertarian types that this argument would appeal to, I think most "hackers" are interested in building things that are productive and beneficial to society, and do not impose massive societal costs. The marginal social cost of household gun ownership is in the range of $100 to $1800 per year. http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/JPubE_guns_2006FINA...

First that is a very narrow minded stereo type.

Secondly you attempted to support your stance by research that was done on only 200 counties over 14 years ago. This paper is nothing more then corollary drivel dressed up as research. Their findings are easily debunked, gun ownership has been steady or increasing the last 10 years and homicides have been in decline. Feel free to peruse http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats.

Since this portion of the comments went political, I will post this comprehensive list of Gun Myths I saw posted on reddit.com/r/progun: http://imgur.com/a/WiikM

As a liberal who shares your derision of neckbeard libertarians...

The AR-15 is a cool gadget. If you don't think guns are cool pieces of mechanical engineering, I suggest going to the range and firing a few.

While you are there shoot a Glock, Sig, and a nice bolt action rifle.

I honestly have never known anyone who didn't tone down their anti-gun hate after having gone to the range with a knowledgeable, capable, and safe chaperone. I have taken several and everyone always had an enjoyable time, just stress the safety aspects consistently!

Never shot a bolt-action, but did get to shoot an AR-15 and an AK once. The AR-15 was so smooth, had a holographic sight and a stock that collapsed to take off the recoil, felt like I was reaching out and poking holes in the target with a sharp pencil.

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