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THE FACTS: Among combat rifles, two weapons stand out: the M16 with its modern variant, the M4 carbine; and the AK-47. The M16 and M4 model of rifles are the standard-issue combat weapons in the American military. This generation of rifle has seen action from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and the valleys of Afghanistan. It's known for being deadly accurate, though perhaps prone to jamming. On the other end lies the AK-47, a rifle of Russian design that has changed little over the better part of a century, and has spread to every corner of the world. It is known for remarkable durability and ease of use. But what makes the better battle rifle, the M16 or the AK-47?
Billy BirdzellHost, Remington Country TVU.S. Marine Corps, 2001–2008
A rifle is useless if it does not enable the operator to hit his target. The AK-47, with standard 123 grain ammunition, only holds a 5.9-inch group at 100 yards. The M4 on the other hand, the modern carbine variant of the M16, with currently issued ammunition, is capable of making head shots at ranges in which the AK-47 can barely keep 10 rounds on a E-Silhouette. Go U.S.A.
Lethality is the second most important point of comparison between rifles, and for all that is written about 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, the Russians replaced it in 1974 because diameter cannot compensate for shot placement and small, high-velocity projectiles enable higher volumes of fire with more favorable ballistics. Advantage, U.S.A.
AK-47 advocates usually place reliability above all else and most people concur that Kalashnikov designed a beast. However, is the spread enough to favor the AK-47? The 2006 U.S. Small Arms Study concluded that 89% of American soldiers are satisfied with reliability of the M4 and only 3% of soldiers reported a stoppage that took them out of a fight. Given that only 66% of surveyed personnel were issued cleaning kits and clearing stoppages quickly is a function of training, M4 reliability for trained personnel is incredibly high.
Ergonomics and modularity are the final point of comparison because in close quarters and on a modern battlefield, shooting quickly, reloading rapidly, and being able to use optics and lasers creates advantages. The M4 is hands down the most ergonomically sound battle rifle ever made and its superiority with respect to accessory attachment and manipulations is so much better than an AK-47 as to be beyond further discussion.
The M4A1 the most accurate and reliable modern rifle ever fielded to the military; it is a performance tool for professionals.
The AK-47 is the most iconic infantry fighting rifle ever produced. Millions have been produced, and AK-series weapons have been present in conflicts on every continent since the rifle was introduced in 1947. The AK-47 has a legendary reputation for reliability and durability due to several factors. First, the AK uses a gas piston system as its operating mechanism, which eliminates leftover gases from entering the chamber. On most AR-style rifles, such the M16 and M4, a direct gas system cycles the bolt carrier group. Excess gases can build up over time, fouling the chamber and inducing malfunctions.
The AK-47's bolt has plenty of mass, with more than enough energy to push through any debris or dirt inside the gun without jamming. The loose tolerances of all the AK-47''s moving parts allow space for sand, ice, mud, and other junk to settle without freezing the operating mechanism of the firearm. The design ensures that the AK-47 needs less preventive maintenance than an M16 or M4.
Not that maintaining the AK is really that difficult. Pop off the receiver cover, pull out the six basic components of the operating system, and the AK-47 is field stripped.
Variants of the AK-47 differ in construction and configuration, but most stick to the design of the most common version, the AKM. The stamped steel receiver is durable, as are the standard sheet-metal magazines. The standard general-issue magazine for the M16 is generally regarded as a disposable item, and its feed lips can bend easily if dropped.
The ubiquity of the AK platform worldwide means than ammunition and spare parts will never be hard to come by. If it really can't be fixed, well there's a hundred million replacements available. The AK's elegant simplicity demonstrates why it has endured for over a half century.
THE FACTS: The right of all Americans to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. And bear them we have — an estimated 300 million guns exist in the United States, nearly enough for every man, woman, and child to each have one. From 1994–2004, federal law banned semi-automatic weapons with certain features and capabilities. Guns are a big part of American culture, but as a society, have we crossed a line? Terrible mass shootings riddle the news cycle and corners of this country are plagued by gun violence. America was reminded of this fact just recently, when a gunman opened fire at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon; killing nine and wounding nine more. Should we rethink what kinds of guns are in the hands of everyday Americans? Should America ban assault weapons?
Shawn VanDiver President, VanDiver ConsultingU.S. Navy, 2001–2013@shawnjvandiver
Not only do I believe we should ban assault weapons, we need to define them more broadly. I propose we define "assault weapons" as any semi-automatic weapon capable of firing rounds size 9mm or higher, to include shotguns, with a magazine capacity higher than 10. I believe this because whether for hunting, home defense, or sport, civilians do not need more than 10 rounds to accomplish the mission. Regardless of this ban, we should require a minimum of background checks, mental health screening, and firearms safety and employment training (on a five-year recurring cycle).
Many opponents will say that criminals don't follow the law, which is true. However, most of the shootings we are seeing in the news are not being committed with firearms obtained illegally. These are weapons that are being purchased legally either by the shooter or someone close to the shooter. Almost invariably, we find that the shooter is suffering from some sort of mental illness and that there had been warning signs. The efforts listed above would make some progress on the issue, without being overly restrictive or violating the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but gives the reason to maintain a well-regulated militia. It does not say that citizens should be able to keep and bear any and all type of arms. Further, the training and screening requirements would go very far to keep the militia well-regulated.
Billy Birdzell Host, Remington Country TVU.S. Marine Corps, 2001–2008
Yesterday's ideas will not solve tomorrow's problems, especially those we've already tried, and seen fail. From 1994 to 2004, assault weapons were banned in the United States via federal law. In 2013, Eric Holder's Department of Justice concluded, "A Complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides." Last year, the New York Times and the Center for American Progress agreed with the Justice Department's conclusions. For some perspective, in 2013, 285 people were killed with rifles, 1,490 were stabbed to death and 5,782 were murdered with handguns. As far as mass shootings, the largest in American history was committed with a handgun, as was the attack on Gabby Giffords along with the massacre at Ft. Hood.
Assault weapons, which are semi-automatic and function the same way as a pistol, absolutely, positively have legitimate civilian uses that range from self-defense to sport. Obviously, the naysayers fail to mention that virtually every firearm ever devised was originally designed for the military, such as the now-traditional lever and bolt-action rifles.
If we are to address persistent issues, especially those that disproportionately affect minorities and our most at-risk communities, reason, research and respect for rights must trump emotion and debunked political memes. Gun violence has more to do with education and economic opportunities than a specific kind of weapons technology. It's time for us to move beyond failed policies and regulate guns for reasons other than their appearance.