The MODERN AR Project: Part 1
This is going to be a long article about a rifle that I have been messing with and am offering to sell in kit form. It has turned into hours of work to boil all of this down to why you might want one and what went into it.
THE SHORT STORY OF THE AR15 (THREE DECADES IN A COUPLE OF PARAGRAPHS):
The idea of the original AR15, as designed by Gene Stoner in the 1950s (yeah, the AR15 is older then you and isn't some new whiz-bang thing contrived by the internet), was to make a LIGHTWEIGHT, low recoiling fighting rifle. In the 1950s, Stoner used lightweight and cutting edge materials and techniques to develop this rifle. Remember that Stoner was a World War Two Vet that grew up without a TV in his house and worked on Browning Machine guns during the war. He developed the rifle at the same time that the '57 Chevy Bel Air was considered state of the art in automobiles and seatbelts and automatic transmissions were still considered cutting edge technology. Think about any other item you use today that can trace it's lineage to the late 50's. It boggles the mind.
If you have never had the pleasure of holding an original 1960s era AR15, like the scared 18 year old men at the time did in the Jungles of Vietnam, you may not know what the hell I am talking about. My generation and the one before it carried an "Improved" version of the rifle. If by "improved" you mean a heavy target version called the M16A2 (that the Colt H BAR was marketed as).
The original AR 15 was light, handy, low recoiling and powerful enough to get the intended job done. It was a rifle that looked like a ray gun compared to what was considered standard equipment of the day. The contemporaries to it were made of wood and forged steel. This thing was mostly aluminum and fiberglass.
After Vietnam the M16A1 was transformed from a lightweight carbine to a heavy beast with the next model, the M16A2. The slim barrel was discarded for a heaver barrel, the sights were upgraded to fully adjustable type, there was the addition of a brass deflector, added materials in the lower receiver and length added to the stock. It kicked ass on the target range, and could sustain longer bursts on full auto (even though it also took that feature away for a three shot burst setting). Stoner himself thought that most of the upgrades were useless and turned the lightweight jungle fighter to a great match shooter, with little practical value for anything else.
The Global War on Terror was my generations war and Stoner was proved largely right in his evaluations of the M16A2. It worked well enough, not having the jamming problems of the early M16A1s a generation before but it was also like fighting with a musket. Many veterans in the early days of our most modern conflict longed for something smaller and lighter for the fight "in the sandbox."
The M4 Carbine was the result. Originally thought of as a small carbine to equip tank drivers and cooks, the M4 was ordered by the container full for the Global War On Terror. It had a much shorter 14.5 inch barrel with some of the heavy contours cut off it, a shorter handguard and gas system and a collapsing buttstock that had been improved to six positions and beefed up for harder use. The sights were also removable, and under them was a rail for attaching optics. This Carbine was more along the lines of what the early AR15 had been, however, it was still, well, heavier then the 6 pound lightweight that had been the standard two generations before.
The M16A1 had now approached the 50 year old mark and some interest in them started to re-appear, as they were considered "retro" rifles. My step father, like many fathers of my generation, had been drafted into a war they seldom talked about and as they approached old age and retirement, they began to show interest in owning the rifle that they had carried in the Jungles all of those years before (or at least one very close to it). My generation was also interested in owning these historical type guns at that point. They had been largely ignored and villainized by the press and the veterans themselves most of our lives, but their lineage was directly related to the most popular rifle in the country that every one wanted (or wanted to ban).
AR 15 history from the last of generation X.....
The first time I actually picked up and handled an AR 15 in any way was probably in 1992 or 1993 when my dad took me to Camp Perry, Ohio where there was a national guard "open house" and many military items were on display there, including rifles. There were real live M16A1 rifles, M60 machine guns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles as well as missile systems, tanks and Humvees sitting openly with National Guardsmen there monitoring them. The visitors were encouraged to look, get into and walk around all of this stuff. Weapons were laid out on tables as the visitors picked them up and checked them out. I picked an M16A1 up, thinking it was going to be heavy. It was not. I commented that it was light, one of the guardsmen said, "Yep, six pounds." That day left an impression on my 12 or 13 year old mind, to say the least.
The Colt H-BAR was the "M16" rifle back in those days, I would go to gun shows with my dad (and dream). It was a semi auto variant of the US service rifle, the M16A2 specifically marketed to the US civilian. Many armed forces veterans of the early 80s to the early 2000s were issued the M16A2 rifle and, when they completed their service, decided that they wanted one for themselves. This is nothing really new, many veterans in the prior generations felt the same way going back all the way to the revolutionary war. The Colt H BAR was a heavy target gun more then a lightweight jungle fighting carbine that the Vietnam vets had originally been issued the generation before and were still commonly issued to national guard units as they were considered the older model.
I was too clueless to know the difference. In fact, I was more interested in handguns and airguns as a kid and didn't pay these things to much mind. Most other people at the time didn't either. Many folks in that era wanted hunting rifles and shotguns with wood stocks and pretty bluing. There were a few "survivalist" types out there who were into semi auto only versions of their military full auto counterparts, but that was the exception, not the rule.
The year I turned 14, those "Assault" rifles (the AR 15 in any form lumped into that category) suddenly became much more popular, as the Clinton Administration pushed through the "Assault Weapons" ban. This law banned them from further manufacture (although you could keep what was already out there). The common sentiment among people in power (and even some gun owners and "sportsmen") at the time, was that they "should be banned" because "you don't need one." As soon as one group of people tell the other group they "don't need" something and then ban it, you can bet your ass that the other group of people are going to want it. Human nature.... it is a bitch.
Guns that you couldn't give away for two hundred bucks before the 1994 assault weapons ban shot up to the north end of two grand after it. "PRE BAN" equaled dollar signs, people wanted "them Military Guns" as I overheard an old timer at a gun show call them. Thus was the way it was as I got my first job, car, girlfriends and eventually my first child and college debt.
But gun people are a crafty lot, the industry found a way to make them anyway, with some (mostly) cosmetic changes. The Colt H BAR never stopped being made (slightly differently) and they were all of 800 bucks, a crazy amount of money to me at the time and a rifle I could never own because it was just too expensive.
Then in 2004, as it would work out, the ban died due to a self destruct provision after 10 years. This allowed things such as collapsing stocks, flash suppressors and bayonet lugs (yeah, there were so many drive-by bayonet attacks that were prevented during those ban years) to be manufactured again.
I was 24, life was good. I wanted EVERYTHING that I couldn't get on a rifle before. I stuck a Bayonet on my rifle dammit! I made it longer or shorter by folding or collapsing the stock! I put a flash hider on it!
And then after a while, the "fuck you" fun of it kinda wore off....
Some of us got ahold of the older Colt AR15s that were essentially M16A1 clones in semi-auto that had been made decades before. Others, like me, started to piece together rifles from old parts that had been surplus after they were declared obsolete and cut into pieces. A small cottage industry began to pop up with folks building these older "Retro" rifles.
Some of us shot them after shooting our M4 clones and started to ask the question...
What the hell happened to the AR15?
How did this light, handy, awesome little carbine wind up becoming a heavy bitch that you can hang a bunch of crap on and need a sling to carry it?
Which brings me to today.
WHAT WOULD STONER DO?
So I have been working on a new rifle as of late, actually a few new ones, but there always seem to be endless projects in my mind bouncing around.
Thus is the life of a "Gun Guy."
As an utter gun nerd, I have been sucked in to a few deep dive gun channels that are academic and interesting to me. Most of the gun content on the internet consists of click bait crap such as "How many dildos will stop a bullet" or some other nonsense. This is fine with me actually, as it brings new and younger viewers into the gun world, so no harm and some of it is marginally interesting. ( I AM kind of curious how many dildos it would take to stop a bullet now... damn it).
One of these gun channels is http://www.inrange.tv/. Now, as gun nerds go, these fellows are even above my level. That is what keeps me coming back to look at what they are up to. If you are not familiar, I suggest you browse around on there. Some of the stuff they do is fascinating.
One of Inrange's prolonged projects came to be known as the What Would Stoner Do? rifle. The Boys over at Inrange were asking the question:
If Stoner had set out to build his lightweight AR15 rifle today, what materials and parts would he use to get there?
That led me down a rabbit hole.
Oh the rabbit hole.....
Which brings me to part 2.....