by Jason Ross
Off and on throughout history, the military has employed special firearms such as the belt-fed machine gun, the full-auto assault rifle, the short-barreled rifle, the grenade launcher, hand grenades, the rocket launcher and the .50 caliber rifle and machine gun. If the military employs them, shouldn’t we consider employing them, especially if civilization fell apart?
Can we even get them?
As with everything in life, the answer is “it depends.” ReadyMan enjoys a truly rare resource, a definitive authority on virtually every question regarding modern war fighting. There are plenty of special forces operators kicking about from the SEALs, Green Berets, Force Recon and the like. Very few of them have the depth and breadth of experience of Jeff Kirkham — owing to the fact that he’s spent his entire adult life fighting the enemies of America in almost every corner of the globe. If Jeff says it, it’s true* (*except for anything relating to graphic design or fashion.)
In the spirit of the ReadyMan belt-fed machine gun shoot, we asked Jeff to weigh in on every available exotic weapon and to answer the question, “Would this weapon make sense for a preparedness guy, assuming you can get it?”
Belt-fed Machine Guns
(For a full treatment of this question, check out the Belt-feds and You article and video in the ReadyMan blog two weeks ago.)
Jeff: In short, yes. Belt-feds play a critical role in several preparedness situations. Dissuading a crowd of rioters. Stopping a vehicle. Defending a perimeter. Projecting power over great distances. In all of those cases, belt-feds are unequaled.
Jason: Belt-fed machine guns are available in about 35 states as “transferable” weapons, meaning you can own them if you’re a non-felon. However, transferables are incredibly expensive, ranging between $18,000 and $35,000 depending on the model. Semi-auto belt-feds are much more affordable, ranging between $2,000 and $9,000 and, according to Jeff, they’re still very much worthwhile.
Full-auto Assault Rifles
Jeff: Use of the full auto function on a rifle is almost a lost art now days, because of the focus on more precision fire, semi-auto has taken the lead. However there is a definitive use for full auto fire in a rifle, but like any other skill it has to be trained and understood. The immediate use for full auto in a rifle that comes to mind is Counter Close Quarters Battle. Nothing will stop an entry team in a hallway like precision auto fire, yes I said precision auto fire. Spray and pray is of no use, and a waste of resources but just like in the belt fed series that we did in ReadyMan where we were hitting targets out to 400 meters, that kind of accuracy at shorter ranges is essential to rifle full auto fire and is highly effective. It just has to be learned.
Jason: Again, full-autos, like belt-feds, are available in about 35 states as a Class 3 transferable weapon — licensed through the ATF and requiring a lengthy transfer, a background check and a $200 tax stamp. You’ll almost always pay more than $10,000 for a full-auto AR-15, AK-47, FN/FAL or other battle rifle.
Short-barreled Rifles (SBR)
(See Ultralight AR-15 on the ReadyMan blog.)
Jeff: Short barreled rifles have definitely moved to the forefront in rifles that are being used in combat zones. The understanding of the limitations and strengths of a rifle and the solider using it has pushed this in the military, for one reason, the positives are out weighing the negatives. Interesting we saw an up swing in qualification scores on the range when we switched from the 22” M-16 A2 to the 14” M-4, same rifle, same bullet, shorter barrel, shorter sight radius, but easier to shoot.
Jason: As you’ll recall, we like SBRs for prepper guns because of the weight you drop. AN SBR AR-15 is still plenty accurate at normal, self-defense distances — out to around 300 yards. And, starting with a 10 inch barrel, you can build a four to five pound AR-15, which makes it easy to keep it on your person, 24-7. Plus, as Jeff mentioned, they are FAST. Short-barreled rifles, or SBRs, are permissible under the NFA, or National Firearms Act, in about 40 states. However, if you slap together an SBR this weekend, you’ll almost certainly be committing a felony. To build your own SBR, you need to register it with the ATF and pay a $200 tax stamp. This process, if done perfectly, should take around six months to complete. After the stamp is issued, you can then assemble, shoot and enjoy your short-barreled rifle.
Jeff: Super effective in rural areas and sometimes in urban if used correctly. Nothing gets heads down like shooting explosives at the enemy. That being said, explosives are not only illegal but incredibly expensive. We made excellent use of smoke grenades even though we had access to the explosive rounds too, we marked targets with them, signaled other forces with them, and used them to drive out barricaded shooters, don’t discount smoke it has a use but has to be understood.
Jason: You can own a grenade launcher in two forms: a 40mm military grenade launcher (like the M79 in Viet Nam War movies or the M203 underslung on an M16) or a 37mm after-market grenade launcher (like you often see at gun shows.) True military grenade launchers are transferable AOW (any other weapons) and are controlled by the ATF, they’re permissible in about 38 states, they require a transfer process and tax stamp and they run about $5,000 to$7,500. Here’s the rub: you can almost never find live explosive rounds. They're also AOWs and any of them made after 1986 are not transferable. You CAN buy chalk rounds, smoke rounds and a couple kinds of “fireworks” rounds. Same goes for the 37mm grenade launchers, only the 37mm launchers themselves aren’t controlled and can be owned by anyone. They go for around $900 or less. Basically, all consumer-available grenade launchers amount to toys, except for the application of smoke, as Jeff mentions. But, making explosive rounds would be a felony (if you could even figure out the fusing.) With that said, shooting chalk rounds and smoke rounds from an M79 is a kick in the pants. Just don’t set your range on fire.
Jeff: Hand grenades are an essential piece of kit in combat zones, that being said if you do not know what you are doing it is one of the quickest tickets to the morgue I have seen. Even soldiers that have been trained screw up using hand grenades and end up loosing arms and life sometimes. Very effective, very dangerous.
Jason: I’ve never seen a transferable, live hand grenade, so I’m guessing if any exist, there are very few. Making your own hand grenades would land you in jail. Yes, you can find “de-wat” bodies of hand grenades, relieved of their explosives and fuse, at almost any Army/Navy surplus store. But even if you were to unwisely and illegally try to restore them to operational status, you’d have to figure out the fuse by yourself. That would be tricky (and illegal) in the extreme.
Jason: You can buy rocket launchers and LAW rocket launcher bodies, but you can’t buy the actual rockets. I’ve seen training rounds that would fire (once) but I’ve never seen explosive rockets. Trying to manufacture these would require C4 (or equivalent) and a fusing mechanism. And, the whole process would be dangerous and illegal in the extreme. Any monkeying around with explosives violates a list of federal laws and will land you in the clink, compliments of the ATF. If you feel like making a rocket, lay down until the feeling goes away.
.50 Caliber Rifle and Machine Gun
(For a full treatment of belt-feds, check out the Belt-feds and You article and video in the ReadyMan blog two weeks ago. All of that info applies to the .50 caliber machine gun, otherwise known as the “Ma Deuce.”)
Jeff: The .50 Rifles were used to great effect during the recent conflicts, the original idea of the .50 rifle, originally was to disrupt IEDs, then it did not take long for them to start getting used in sniper work. Why the big bullet? Physics really, big bullets will travel long distances and not get effected as much by the environment (wind, temp, range) and still hit like a sledge hammer. In combat you may end up shooting through an enemy’s cover.
Jason: .50 Caliber rifles are available and legal in roughly 45 states. You can buy a Barrett 82A1 (seen in action in the Middle-east) for around $8,000. Bolt action .50s are available just about everywhere you look and cost much less.
So, there you have it. Exotic weapons are a mixed bag — most of the ones you can get are pretty useful. The most practical value in exotic weapons are probably the short-barreled rifles and the .50 caliber rifles.
For relatively little money, you can lighten and quicken your AR. In around 35 states, you can get a Form One filed with the ATF and then build your SBR for a $200 tax stamp. It takes a little time, but the SBR is a useful addition to your gun safe.
Likewise, the .50 Caliber rifles have many combat applications. They’re widely available and are only banned in a couple states. Frequently, you will hear noise about banning their sale or manufacture. I wouldn’t wait too long to get one if you’re thinking about it.
The best exotic weapons are force-multipliers — where one man does the work of many. Better still, some exotic weapons, whether powerful or not, can serve to dissuade a possible attack. If your team has inert hand grenades on their kit at a checkpoint, it sends a message. Nobody knows they’re inert, anyway.
Final analysis: most exotic weapons make sense. They’re scary, and many are downright effective. The best fight is the fight you win without ever firing a shot.
Exotic weapons contribute to peaceful solutions.