AR-15/M16 Rifles

By Duncan Long

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The AR-15 has gone from being the problem-plagued rifle used by the US military in Vietnam to the most reliable firearm available on the world market. Early AR-15's (designated as the M16 by the US Military) often jammed causing more than a few Vietnam War veterans to have a really dim view of the rifle--if they survived the experience.

These problems weren't too surprising since the US Military issued these guns without cleaning kits, troops were not required to clean the guns, and the rifle's early magazines weren't reliable. Adding to this was the fact that the powder used in the military cartridges was different from that specified in the design of the AR-15, causing it to cycle to rapidly. Worse yet, the calcium carbonate used in the ball powder often clogged the gas tube of the rifle causing it to quit functioning all together. Finally the chambers of these early guns lacked any chrome platting and soon rusted in the humid environment of Vietnam.

Once the AR-15 was modified, troops trained, and a new type of ball powder used, the rifle gradually became more and more reliable. As with other older weapons systems, the rifle has steadily been improved as minor changes in the firearm have been made until today the AR-15 is the most reliable rifle being manufactured.

One good example of how reliable the AR-15 rifles occurred in 1980, during the NATO trials to select new ammunition. Included in the tests were the Galil, FAMAS, FNC, and AR-15 (as the M16A1). The AR-15 rifle proved to be much more reliable than any of the other guns during the extended firing of the rifles. Newer A2-style AR-15s are even more reliable than the guns in these trials.

The AR-15 is also capable of great accuracy. US Army users have also discovered that new rifles taken out of their packing boxes fire with the same accuracy of earlier M-14 rifles that had been extensively reworked by armorers for Army shooting teams.

The human engineering on the AR-15 is also excellent. The safety and magazine release are both in easy reach for right handers (with lefties having an ambidextrous safety available for them as aftermarket accessories); the magazine release button is easily released with the forefinger or, for lefties, with the thumb of the off hand as magazines are exchanged. The charging lever is easily worked by left- or right-handed shooters and the A2 models even have a hump behind the ejection port to keep brass from going rearward toward the face of left-handed shooters.

The AR-15 is available in a number of variations and-- because patent rights have run out--several companies other than Colt now produce parts or even assembled AR-15-style rifles. Among the best of these non-Colt rifles are those produced by SGW, Eagle/Armalite, and Bushmaster/Quality Parts.

The military's new M16A2 model (with a 1-in-7 barrel twist, adjustable rear sights, etc.) has led to a new semiauto version which is now being sold on the civilian market in the US. The original semiauto version sold by Colt was the "AR-15 Sporter" so the new version became the "AR-15 A2 Sporter II." This rifle is a bit heavier than the first version but has a number of good features including a new pistol grip, brass deflector, and the new 1-in-7 twist.

Post "assault rifle" guns lack a bayonet lug and flash hider; internally they may also be modified not to accept M16 parts. Otherwise the guns are mechanical identical to the earlier guns and accept large-capacity magazines.

There are a huge number of accessories and replacement parts available for the AR-15 making it possible to modify it into a variety of configurations with various stocks, pistol grips, and handguards. The AR-15 is an excellent choice for a self-defense or target rifle and many feel it is the most reliable rifle made to date.


For a more detailed look at the AR-15, its history, and accessories for the rifle as well as various models of this rifle, see my book, THE COMPLETE AR-15/M16 SOURCEBOOK, available from Paladin Press at 1-800-392-2400.

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Copyright 1996 by Duncan Long. All rights reserved.