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M16 5.56mm Rifle

Civilian/Commercial Variants

The civilian versions of the US military's M16, often referred to as an AR-15, are semi-automatic only. The first of these weapons was manufactured manufactured by Colt Firearms in the 1960s, referred to as the AR-15 Sporter, Sporter 1 or SP1. Private citizens, where able, have used these weapons for everything from deer hunting to plinking at cans. Though originally manufactured by Colt only, a large industry has grown to provide a plethora of civilian variants in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Various laws have applied to the system over the years in the United States, affecting its sale and development.

Any weapon that shoots automatically, that is to say more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger, is a machine gun as defined in 26 U.S.C. 5845(b), of the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. In addition, the definition of a machine gun also includes any combination of parts from which a machine gun may be assembled, if such parts are in possession or under the control of a person. An AR-15/M16 type assault rifle that fires more than one shot by a single function of the trigger is a machine gun under the NFA. Any machine gun is subject to the NFA and the possession of an unregistered machine gun could subject the possessor to criminal prosecution.

The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF or BATF, and subsequently the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) encountered various AR-15 type assault rifles such as those manufactured by Colt, Eagle Arms Company, SGW, Sendra, and others, which had been assembled with fire control components designed for use in military type variants qualifying as machine guns under the NFA (these were generally known in civilian circles as M16s, regardless of their type). The vast majority of these rifles, which had been assembled with an M16 bolt carrier, hammer, trigger, disconnector and selector would fire automatically merely by manipulation of the selector or removal of the disconnector. Many of these rifles used less than these 5 so-called "M16 parts" and would also shoot automatically by manipulation of the selector or removal of the disconnector. These experiences led to modifications by manufacturers to prevent the usage of parts intended for use in fully automatic weapons in semi-automatic weapons and to development replacement components that would prevent fully automatic fire by the removal of standard components.

In 1986, as part of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, it was made illegal to sell newly manufactured fully-automatic weapons to private citizens who were not dealers or manufacturers licensed to trade in such weapons. Weapons produced before 1986 could still be freely transferred under the existing NFA laws, with requirements such approval from local law enforcement and tax stamps. Weapons were produced prior to the enactment of this law designated as "dealer samples," which could be transferred between private citizens licensed to deal in such weapons. Dealer samples were produced after the enactment of the law, but could only be purchased by private dealers with clear proof that the weapon was intended as to be demonstrated for a legitimate interested customer, such as a police department.

With the passage of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, better known as the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), in 1994, an assault weapon was defined under federal law as a semi-automatic (capable of being fired as fast as the operator could pull the trigger) assault pistol or rifle that could accept a detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds and with 2 or more "assault" characteristics; or semi-automatic shotguns fitting this description with 2 or more of these characteristics. These characteristics included a pistol grip protruding below the weapon's receiver or thumbhole stock; folding or telescoping stock; flash suppressor or a threaded barrel capable of accepting a flash suppressor; bayonet mount; or rifle grenade launcher.

The Colt AR-15 was a semiautomatic assault weapon as defined in the Gun Control Act of 1968. Under the AWB, it was generally unlawful to possess or transfer these firearms. This prohibition, however, did not apply to any AR-15 that was lawfully possessed on or before 13 September 1994. The 1994 federal assault weapons ban expired in September 2004, and with it the prohibition against selling this type of semiautomatic firearm. Some states, including California, enacted laws mirroring the federal AWB, preventing the sale or possession of these types of firearms within their jurisdictions.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:45:31 ZULU