The AR-15: Getting Things Apart

The origins of the gas flow. The gas gets vented out of the barrel, through the front sight housing, and down the tube towards the carrier key.

The origins of the gas flow. The gas gets vented out of the barrel, through the front sight housing, and down the tube towards the carrier key.

Inspect the front sight for tightness to the barrel.

Inspect the sights to be sure all parts are present and that any paint markings to indicate zero settings have not been disturbed.

Visually inspect the rifle to see if there are any obvious signs of having been dropped, abused, altered or parts exchanged. Also, check the serial number to ensure it is the weapon being issued and signed for.

Range Analysis

Range analysis differs from the bench checks you’ve done, in that you are firing the rifle.

A range checklist is done to ensure that a particular rifle functions perfectly, is zeroed and that all accessories on it are working within accepted limits. A range test-fire session is performed to ensure that corrections, alterations or repairs have been correctly performed. As an example, a rifle with a worn barrel that does not shoot accurately enough will require a new barrel.

Once installed, the new barrel must be test-fired to ensure that not only does it shoot accurately enough, but also that the sights are zeroed and that the rifle performs with sufficient reliability. (The only acceptable standard is 100%.) A new barrel is not like changing the oil in a car. The replacement must be tested.

Function-testing a rifle on the range is not the same as getting a recalcitrant rifle working in a shooting incident. On the street, getting the rifle working quickly, or safely disposing of it and using another weapon, is paramount. At the range, uncovering the origins of the fault is the prime consideration. (That, and safety.) When a rifle malfunctions on the range in a testing session, your immediate response should be to stop all activity. Inspect the rifle and note the condition of all parts, the locations of all controls, and the position and status of the bolt and carrier.

As an aside, as I was writing this chapter I happened to have a link to a video on the internet sent to me. I watched as some poor guy was firing an AR. He had a problem, yanked the charging handle and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. So he hammered the forward assist. Nothing happened, so he swapped mags, worked the charging handle and hammered on the forward assist some more.

I thought to myself: “This cannot end well.” Then he pulled the trigger and the rifle disassembled itself. Typically with these events, he was not harmed. But the rifle was trashed. Even if the zombies were pouring over the wall, his problem-solving process was flawed. If you are in a tough situation you may have to get a rifle working again quickly, but on a target range, any problem means you stop shooting and study the situation.

When firing you should note the direction and distance of the empty brass when ejected, as this is important information that can aid the diagnosis.
Officers: In a law enforcement setting, any weapon being “debugged” and serviced should have extensive notes taken on it during the process: ammunition used, to include lot number, firer, magazine type and number if the department gives it one.

Direction and distance of empty brass ejection, location and size of group fired, etc. An attitude that is well-known in the law enforcement and other communities is: “If it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” All testing, changes and procedures used must be documented. For you, the non-sworn reader, that isn’t a career requirement, but the information gained can be very useful.

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