Before there was an assault rifle ban (1994), before there was the Bush executive import ban (1989), before there was even the Hughes Amendment that distorts the NFA market (1986), there was The Complete Book of Assault Rifles, a 1980s annual magazine that claimed to be an Expert’s Guide to the Most Versatile Firearms you can Legally Buy. We’ve got a few of these in the still somewhat chaotic Weaponsman Reference Library section of the [Soon to be Named] Unconventional Warfare Reference Library, including at least Vol. 2, No. 1 (1985) and the issue you see here, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1986).
The front cover is a splash of pictures and text, promising gun tests, comparisons, controversy and a “Complete buyer’s guide to all assault rifles.” The back cover is a hilarious posed picture with two meaty dudes with HK33s. Both are wearing ERDL camouflage and unshaped, badgeless black berets right from the surplus store. One of them appears to have a knife sheath — without a knife — on his web gear. In other words, if this is your rescue force, you’re probably going to die. Sorry ’bout that.
Despite the cornball covers, the magazine was quite good and contains 98 pages of content with no advertising (that’s a double-edged sword, as gun ads of this vintage are usually fascinating period pieces). The articles vary in quality, and in how they’ve withstood the test of time.
An analysis of the M16A2 by Gary Paul Johnston is particularly notable. Johnston heartily welcomed almost all the changes in the Deuce version of the military AR as practical improvements: reinforced lower receiver, heavier barrel, better sights, vastly superior handguards and slip ring, another 1″ of trigger pull. But he liked the three-shot burst as little as we do, proving himself a genius. (And the Army finally $#!+-canned it recently, proving all of us prophets. Kneel before our greatness!). Johnston goes into the history and function of the burst device at some length, and provides comparison photos and descriptions of its antecedents, like the four-position 1960s-era burst device (which rotated 360 degrees through safe, semi, burst and auto settings).
Some of the articles aren’t as convincing: the one about the awesome M1 Carbine, or the CAR-15 and Ruger Mini-14 comparo that never mentions the elephant in the room, accuracy. (At the time, a good M16 Carbine with M193 was a 1.5 to 2 MOA gun; a Mini-14 was maybe a 5 MOA gun. Both have since been improved and the gap’s been closed somewhat).
There are bargains lost — the $495 Chinese AK — and weapons that never really caught on, like the Australian Leader or the excellent but expensive AUG. Some prices are not that far out– Springfield Armory was selling their SAR-48 FAL clone for $899, $1883 in 2012 dollars. There’s in-depth on the then-new Daewoo K2 and the then-elderly Beretta BM59.
Two of the most interesting articles cover guns that never caught on, the FN CAL, and the even more exotic, FARC-3.
The FARC-3 was the “assault rifle of tomorrow” in 1986, and we guess it still is. The resemblance to the AR-18 and Stoner 63 is come by honestly enough, for the FARC was also a Gene Stoner design. Funded by DARPA and built by the Ohio company ARES, the FARC acronym stood for Future Assault Rifle Concept, and the gun used an AK-ish operating system, with striker rather than hammer fire, and then-novel plastic magazines. The article predicted that the idea of plastic magazines, at least, was here to stay.