Is it possible for bad domestic law to be a detriment to our fighting forces overseas -- even to the point of getting some soldiers killed? Absolutely, say veterans, who want lawmakers to fix the problem ASAP.
According to a report in the July issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine, many of the ammunition magazines for the M-16/M-4 family of rifles used by troopers, along with 9 mm magazines for sidearms, are increasingly failing because they are either old or of poor quality.
The result, say troopers, is that ammunition fails to feed properly -- a situation which can turn deadly in a hurry during a firefight.
'Varmint' Rifle Needs to Go
Add to the problem the fact that the M-16 family of weapons utilizes .223 caliber (5.56 mm) ammunition, which has proven too small and light for war.
"Sometime, before we get into a big war, the U.S. military needs to get rid of our current generation of 'varmint rifles' and start issuing real rifles," one small arms expert told John Farnam, author of SOF's "Combat Weaponcraft" column, a firearms instructor and a Vietnam vet who saw a lot of combat as a U.S. Marine.
Firearms maker Barrett has developed a 6.8 caliber rifle for civilian and police use, Farnam said, in anticipation of a military need. But so far, procurement of the weapon -- or a similar, larger caliber rifle for troops -- hasn't been publicly discussed by the Pentagon.
The M-16, which first appeared during the Vietnam War, replaced the M-14, a heavier rifle that was also a larger caliber (.308). Currently the Pentagon is testing a weapon called the XM8 Lightweight Modular Weapon System, "a new, lightweight assault rifle that employs many of the technologies already developed for the planned objective individual combat weapon, which would combine an infantry rifle with a grenade launcher," says National Defense Magazine.
Army Lt. Col. Mathew T. Clarke, who is in charge of testing the rifle, has so far been impressed with its performance. "I'm very excited about how the weapon has performed," he told the magazine.
The problem some critics see, however, is that the new rifle is chambered for the exact same lightweight .223 (5.56 mm) round.
Another rifle being examined is the XM29. But it fires a kinetic energy 5.56 mm round, and also comes with a 20 mm launcher that fires air-bursting grenades (to reach enemies behind defensive positions).
Another problem with the XM29 -- its weight. At 18 pounds, it was deemed too heavy for infantry. So Clarke has decided to speed development and cast the rifle and air-burst grenade launcher as two separate weapons for the time being. "Quite frankly, we have to wait for technology to catch up," he told the magazine.
But will it? Some weapons developers aren't so sure.
The small arms expert told Farnam few domestic weapons manufacturers want to make a new, larger-caliber rifle for the military alone. "With no prospect of civilian sales, there is zero interest in this undertaking among American manufacturers... " the weapons expert said.
The small arms maker and expert said a government official recently met with a group of manufacturers. The official said the Pentagon wanted to build some M-4 carbines chambered for a Russian caliber -- 7.62 X 39 mm -- noting that the smaller .223 caliber "has never met our [military] requirements."
The government official then produced a 30-round magazine, which held the Russian caliber ammunition but would fit an M-4 carbine. He then asked if any of the manufacturers present could make such a magazine, as the "magazine ban" of the early 1990s had driven the original maker out of business.
Said the small arms expert: "We all expressed our opinions about the magazine ban and the politicians who supported it and, to a man, assured [the government official] that none of us were interested, in the least, under present laws. He nodded his head in reluctant acknowledgement."
The small arms expert continued: "We thus see how the 'magazine ban' is significantly harming our troops and the nation's ability to successfully prosecute a war."
Existing magazines being used by U.S. troops are also faulty.
"A police officer and friend, just deployed to Iraq, is serving there now as a Marine officer," Jeff Chudwin, an associate of Farnam's, wrote.
"He is in the thick of the fighting. He has only two Beretta M9 magazines, and both have weak springs. Pistol magazines are in short supply there. Ones that actually work are in even shorter supply," Chudwin said.
In an attempt to get better magazines, the police officer/Marine attempted to procure some from his home department, but was unable to do so "due to the ban on purchasing high capacity (normal capacity) magazines," said Chudwin.
He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms [BATF] was asked to intervene, to approve the sale, but "they arrogantly told us, 'The military must take care of their own.'"
The result, Chudwin told Farnam, is that "the Marine officer cannot obtain additional magazines through the military, and we cannot support him from our end unless we send him 'Clinton clips'" -- 10-round magazines (instead of the normal capacity 15-16 round magazines originally made for the M9) or magazines that were manufactured before the law banning them was signed by President Clinton.
In his column, Farnam also included comments from a U.S. soldier, currently on assignment in Iraq. The trooper related some of his experiences with the magazines, as well as a recommendation of how to overcome problems:
"If you are carrying an M9 when you go over [to Iraq], purchase some good magazines," the soldier writes. He recommended OEM or Beretta magazines.
"'Checkmate' magazines that the Marine Corps is currently issuing with your weapons are crap," the soldier continued. "During our first run in the desert, if I did not clean the magazines at least twice a day, it was a guaranteed failure to feed.
"It was rare to get off more than two shots without a feeding issue," the soldier continued. "Unacceptable. I personally don't want to find myself with a non-functioning pistol with the shooting starts."
'Stupid Gun Laws'
Writes Farnam: "Stupid gun laws, designed from the beginning for harassment and little else, are now interfering with our war effort, and no one at BATF, indeed the whole federal system, seems to care. While our Marines die, bureaucrats and politicians dither."
He recommends a course of action.
"When the 'magazine ban,' 'assault rifle' law was enacted, it had a built-in sunset clause so it could be allowed to die a natural death after it did not perform as promised," he wrote. "Not only has it failed to perform as promised as any sort of deterrent to criminal activity, we see where it is having ill effect on national defense issues. Contact your senators and congressmen today and tell them to let it sunset."
Unless Congress reauthorizes the ban, it will expire in September 2004. Republicans in both Houses have expressed an interest in allowing the law to die, while most Democrats have pushed for a renewal of the ban.
During his 2000 presidential campaign, President Bush has said he would sign a reauthorization of the bill if it reached his desk. Gun rights advocates -- as well as a number of U.S. soldiers -- are hoping it doesn't get that far.