Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ugly Guns

For those readers who may have felt that the baby posting lately is tilting our editorial line too far in the estrogen direction, here's one for you...

Once upon a time, military rifles (despite their grim purpose) had a certain beauty. Smoothly finished walnut, dark blued or parkerized metal and the smell of gun oil definitely hold a place somewhere in pantheon of that which is true and beautiful.

Here, for instance, is a British Lee Enfield No1 Mk3, the battle rifle carried by Lewis, Tolkein, Graves and Sassoon in the trenches of World War I. A dark and terrible time, certainly, but still a rifle with a certain beauty.

This is the German K98 Mauser carried by the grey and black clad columns that overran Europe with darkness and terror. Still, the rifle itself is definitely a work of fine craftsmanship.

The US M1 Garand is perhaps one of the more well made and revolutionary military rifle ever produced. It was the first standard issue semi automatic battle rifle, and was carried with pride by the GIs who liberated Western Europe and the Pacific.

And last of an already dying breed of full size, wood-stocked battle rifles, the M14 rifle built only from 1957 to 1964. It's a beautiful rifle and still loved by many target shooters and service men. (In fact, M14s are still in use. A number have been reissued for use in Iraq.) However, it was still too heavy to serve as an assault rifle, and too light to keep from bucking hard when fired in burst.

So along came the age of the ugly rifles. In 1964 the US adopted the M16, a lighter rifle shooting a lighter cartridge (the .223 is pretty much the smallest centerfire cartridge out there) with a plastic stock and a modern look. It's not a pretty gun, but it is at least not as ugly as...

The AK-47, originally a Russian design, but supplied to leftist revolutionary movements throughout the world. It was one of the main weapons aimed at our soldiers during Vietnam, and continues to be used throughout the world to this day. (The newly reconstituted Iraqi army is being issued AK-47s.)

Now, I'd kind of assumed (in a typical America-is-the-whole-world kind of way, that the M16 and the AK-47 were pretty typical of the military rifle in use today.

Then the other day I happened to stumble across a picture of the British Enfield SA-80 (actually built by the German company Heckler & Koch). The current version of the SA-80 was designed in the 90s, thirty years after the M16, and it shows. This is definitely a futuristic looking rifle, though it's also butt-ugly. To make it shorter, it has a 'bull-pup' design, meaning that the received (the part of the gun where the shell is actually fired) is back in the stock instead of above the trigger. This allows the barrel to start well back from the grip and allows an overall shorter design while retaining a 20" barrel.

So I got curious. Are most military battle rifles like this futuristic creature, or do they look more like the '60s era M16?

It turns out one fairly popular battle rifle design is the Steyr AUG. Originally developed for the Austrian army in the late '70s, the AUG is now used not only by Austria but also by Australia, New Zealand, Oman, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Ireland. Like the M16 and the SA-80, it fires the NATO standard .223 round, and like the SA-80 it has a bull-pup design with the receiver and magazine in the stock. It has an aluminum frame and high impact polymer housing. For no extra charge, it also looks like it escaped from the Star Wars prop lockup...

The FN SCAR, designed by the Fabrique Nationale company of Belgium at the request of the US Special Forces is (if it meets final approval) supposed to go into production within the next couple years. This particular example has a 40mm grenade launcher mounted beneath the barrel. One of the primary design requirements for the weapon was that be able to swap out parts to fire different calibers, mainly .223, .308 and the plentiful 7.62x39 cartrige fired by the AK-47 and stocked by insurgents everywhere. I have to say, I appreciate the military's taste on this one. It doesn't look silly, and the last thing you want to do is have to shoot an assailant while he's laughing at your weapon.

Finally, in our tour of modern battle weapons, is the Heckler & Koch G36, originally designed for the German Bundeswehr in the early '90s. The weapon has since been adopted by the Spanish army, and it is also used by a number of international law enforcement agencies and police department SWAT teams in the UK and US. It is also the basis of the XM8 replacement for the M16 which was developed by HK but has now, apparently, fallen victim to the complexities of the government bidding process.


Rick Lugari said...

Wheh! Thanks Darwin. That was a sorely needed post.

Not that I have anything against uteruses and stuff, it's fine talk for chicks, but sometimes a guy wants something sexy. And you can't get much more sexy than the M-14.

Of course, the M-14 can't cook for you or satisfy other physiological needs, so I guess the other stuff has a place.

...but then again, there's nothing saying that just because someone can cook and 'you know'...that they will. So, I guess the M-14 is still a pretty desirable thing.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Stop posting these pornographic images! Or else I'll come "gunning" for you.

Sen. Charles Shumer
New York

Anonymous said...


Rick Lugari said...

What a disturbing photo. It's a total paradox.

Evil gun hating bastard enjoying blasting off a few caps.

Looking effeminate while doing something masculine.

Usually has a stern hateful stare in his eye, now having a joyful, albeit simpleton, look on his face.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I'll have to be shot for laughing at the FN SCAR . . . that dirty mustard color looks exactly like a 60's kitchen appliance.

Anonymous said...

. . . Not that I don't appreciate it. I am, in fact, rather charmed by an assault rifle that looks like it came out of my grandma's kitchen.

Fidei Defensor said...

Great post Darwin, I spend a few days out of the blogsphere and already you move in on my vintage rifle turf!

Seriously though, nice job, I obviously don't have much millitary know how, but I still don't understand what is so great about the .223 cal.

Anyway the next generation of guns does have a star-wars look. They lack the class and craftsmanship of their great-grandfathers.

I suppose if your engaging a guy at 1000 yards an Enfield or Mauser is the way to go, but they just can't do it in intense room to room fighting.

I will make one prediction though, in 40 years or so when this "next generation" of weapons is junked and melted down, there will still be a huge percentage of the original run of Lee Enfield Rifles (and other old time rifles) out there. Some still being used by irregular forces, some in the hands of hunters/shooters/collectors, and some for parade use.

We can only hope the same for the M-14, but we are probably one democrat president away from seeing them all melted down into man-hole covers.

By the way, your thoughts on the SKS? Part of the old dying breed, or a piece of communist mass produced junk?

Rick Lugari said...

LOL Rose.

FD, IMO...a class of mass-produced well-designed junk. ;)

Darwin said...

Hmmm. I think it might have to be a slightly brighter shade of yellow to fit in the 50s kitchen, Rose. But it's an interesting thought. Reminds me of my suggestion of designer colored razor wire to add sparkle to urban areas...

FD, no question that everyone says the SKS worked even under terrible conditions. (I seem to recall reading about a Marine in Vietnam digging one out of the mud, kicking the slide lever until the rust broke off, and then successfully using it against the Viet Kong -- having run out of ammo for his M16. But I think I'd have to rule the things as ugly. Not as ugly as the SKS, but definately ugly.

Darwin said...

Not as ugly as the AK, that is...

Bernard Brandt said...

Lovely post. Let's go blast the heads off of some prairie dogs.