Guns Magazine .223 Rifle AR Automatic
courtesy Guns Magazine
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I found this little nugget while perusing a copy of Guns Magazine from December 1964 about trying out Colt’s then-new AR pattern .223 sporting rifles. The article was titled, ‘The .223 Becomes a Civilian’ . . .

Converting a semi-automatic rifle of this kind would, for a great many skilled gun tinkerers, be child’s play. In order to forestall objections by the ATU [now known as the ATF] Colt engineers revamped the firing mechanism to such an extent that conversion of the AR-15 Sporter into full automatic is completely out of the question.

So much metal was removed that basement conversion to full auto is impossible, and making a completely new action would be the only way to convert the gun into a fully automatic rifle. The ATU men, according to Del Shorb, were “gratified with the work our engineers had done to forestall tampering with the gun.”

The world’s changed a little since 1964.

Colt AR-15 Sporter .223 Test Guns Magazine December 1964
courtesy Guns Magazine

Note the serial number of the gun they had for testing: SP00118. I sure would love to know where that rifle ended up!


Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.

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  1. So we should blame Colt for what would become Hughes’? /sarc

    Seems seriously like a waste of good engineering minds to take what was(is) a solid design and make it less useable.

    If I’m willing to submit to all of the hassle, paperwork, and most of all, cost, I should be able to do whatever I want. Legally speaking.

  2. 1964. They’ve been around since 1964. They have been in civilian hands since 1964. The American people have been able to get their hands on these “high-powered weapons of war” since 1964. Any 18 year old kid since 1964 could plunk down cash at a gun store and walk out with this gun. 1964!!!
    It is now the twenty-first century… but for some reason, this rifle is a problem… now… but it WASN’T – in 1964.

    • This is the approach I’ve been taking with the antis in my life (and there are a f’ing lot).

      Semiautomatic rifles have been commercially available in the US since the early 1900s. The AR-15 specifically has been available in the US since 1964, and all guns were easier to obtain back then and in to the 80s, yet this supposed rash of school shootings is happening now. So, what changed?

        • this lack of religion may well factor into what we see today…we seem to be raising a generation of moral idiots..

    • Gun store hell! Up until GCA ’68 went into effect you could mail order one without stepping foot in a gun store, and no 4473 either. You sent them the money, and they sent you the gun.

        • Indeed, prompting a law that would have done nothing to stop him. Oswald would not have been a prohibited person and could have easily purchased a secondhand rifle elsewhere.

          Thus creating another law in response to an act which it would do nothing to prevent.

        • Which President was killed in 1968? Robert K. might have become president, but he wasn’t there yet.

        • ‘you’? I remember where I was at when jfk was killed. It wasn’t Texas.

          You’re one of those guys that will machine gun a whole village just to be sure you got the bad guy, right?

          Fukkin’ socialists.

        • I do believe that Oswald would have had to answer ‘yes’ to Question 12B, “Have you ever renounced your US Citizenship?”

          That might have put a damper on his gun-buying abilities. . .

        • He could have answered anything he liked. How would anybody prove anything else? Have I ever renounced my citizenship? How would you know? Faith in crap which is unenforceable and undiscoverable is what gets us all this shit which affects only the law-abiding.

    • Only 18 year olds? There was something blocking teenagers from purchasing one with the money from their summer jobs before 1968?

    • Bloving,

      In 1964 I don’t even think you had to be 18 years old to purchase a rifle. As far as I can determine, a 16 year old could walk into any store and purchase a rifle, cash-and-carry, with no background check nor any other requirements.

    • Back then kids were taught common sense, faith in GOD and responsibility. Nowadays far too many kids have even trouble telling what sex they are. Socialism sucks.

        • Brain tumors are interesting things.

          I’m curious what, exactly, you are trying to point out here; that there were mass-murderers back then? Okay, then why is it that it’s only now that we have a narrative of school shootings happening all the time to the point where kids are given publicity backpacks with kevlar inserts?

          Which is it? Is the American psyche unchanged from the 60s and 70s or has something changed?

    • I don’t think anybody wanted them in 1964. They didn’t sell. For one thing, they were expensive. Semi-auto versions of what Colt was selling to the government. IIRC, they ran almost twice the price of semi-autos from Remington, Browning or later on, the Mini-14.

      For another, gun owners were used to having guns made out of blued steel and checkered hardwood, not aluminum and plastic. Or, should I say recycled Schlitz cans and melted Pringles lids.

      Later on, the bad press about them coming out of Viet Nam didn’t help. I don’t remember them starting to increase in popularity until the mid ’80s. Mostly from Bushmaster at first.

      • “… melted Pringles lids.”

        Pringles weren’t invented till ca. 1970. Just sayin’. Actually, Mattel found that kids weren’t using as much of the black plastic in the Vac-U-Form toy line, and they had a bunch of it laying around. So they used it for the grip.

        /sarc. sorta…

        • And…

          “Or, should I say recycled Schlitz cans and melted Pringles lids.”

          Well, I just asked a Vietnam vet what beer cans were made of back then, and he said ‘Steel’. He recalled the aluminum ones started showing up about the time he was cycling out of southeast Asia, about ’68 or so…

        • Sometimes you would see rust streaks down the seams of the beer cans.

    • It was the clipazines. They only held 20 boolits back then. Now they hold 30 a second and you just throw them away when you’re done.

    • Not to mention the often forgotten US vs Miller (1939) that categorically rulled that only weapons that are used by the military are protected by the Second Amendment and are allowed for civilian use.

    • I’m actually starting to get kind of annoyed with my own side being too pedantic. There’s a common strawman that the 2A crowd goes to about a gun that kills someone all by itself which is BS. No anti-gunner thinks that.

      The anti-gunner is afraid of people having a competitive advantage over them when it comes to violence – either the antigunner wants the masses to be easy prey for themselves or they want the masses to be easy prey to the same predators that they themselves are vulnerable to. Their survival strategy is simple numbers – they don’t have to be faster than the gunman when they are fleeing in terror, they just have to faster than you. The odds of their survival increase with the number of targets to choose from increases, so they are hoping with you added to the mix, the gunman will shoot you instead. They aren’t stupid, they’re evil and cowardly and will gladly let you take a bullet for them so that they can cry on TV while calling for usually already illegal guns to be banned even further.

      Because they are pathetic, weak, and cannot fight back, they cannot imagine you being able to. Now they may even believe that what they want is no more shootings, but what they really want is to run away screaming and have you take the bullet for them.

      As for why the AR15 fixation, it’s just what they are most familiar with thanks to media exposure – all the war movies have them, the modern shooter video games have them, and all the news coverage features them, so that’s what they cry about. It used to be AKs, but now the AR is WAY more popular so it gets denounced way more often. They are well aware that the gun goes back to Vietnam and they would have banned it back then if they could have along with everything else.

  3. Great articles in that magazine. Love thbe prices for guns too.
    There was a letter about NYS pistol licence questions and other outrages in new york. Things were bad even back then.

    • Pg 53, introduction of the Buck Folding Hunter. I love looking through some of these old gun mags. Funny too. A lot of the current myth an folklore is nothing new.

  4. I can remember when fully automatic guns were first placed under NFA when I was in medical school.
    Before that, you could buy all the machine guns you wanted.
    My buddy bought a Browning .30 cal with cloth belts and a full auto Tommy gun.
    We still shoot them and it is a blast!
    I wish so much that I had thought to buy some back then.

    • If you were in medical school, that would have made you about 20. In 1934. Do you really expect us to believe that you’re 104 years old?

    • I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, Doc. I bet you were referring to the 86 registry.

      In 85 I walked into a gun store in WV and there was a new in the box Uzi for 350 bucks plus the 200 buck federal stamp.

      Wish I had bought it instead of the 94 I got. What an investment that would have been.

      • I suspect you’re correct. When I was in college, ’64-69, there was a guy at my school who drove a pickup with a belt-fed .30 Browning in the back in our area, it was not all that difficult. And the tax stamp/ATF background check could even be considered to make some sense, since there was no other check on gun purchases. When we got the current NICS, that should have been dropped and ATF disbanded.

    • there was this thing called the depression…remember?….people bought guns to put meat on the table…

  5. The people at Slide Fire and Mr. Akins before them proved you could over come this 1964 colt design change. It only cost me $174. And its legal. For now.

  6. the reason why the average person can’t possess a fully automatic gun was the Sullivan act that resulted from the Saint Valentines day massacre ,I think that was in 1934.Fully auto guns are fun to shoot ,but they are not for a novice shooter. A M16 on full auto is very hard to control that is why the military preferred 3 round burst

    • The average person still can possess them, as long as they aren’t a felon, are willing to jump through some hoops, and are willing/able to spend some (admittedly) stupid money on them. Which is thanks to Hughes. And Reagan. And our ‘good friends’ at the NRA.

      And while an M16 is a spray-n-pray for most grunts in the field, I find it pretty shootable with 20/30 rounders in it. YMMV…

    • An M16 on full auto is easy to control if you’re an average man (or larger). Find a range with rentals and go shoot one. They’re a hoot! The problem was, and still is, that they are extremely difficult to shoot accurately. When I was in the USMC, only Force Recon had M4s with a giggle switch. I shot those on deployment and greatly preferred my issued M16a2 due to my ability to score hits on target with that rifle.

    • Controlling the m16 wasn’t the problem. Controlling a bunch of kids that went mad minute at every contact with the bad guys was the problem.

      Ask me how I know this…….

    • “the reason why the average person can’t possess a fully automatic gun was the Sullivan act that resulted from the Saint Valentines day massacre ,I think that was in 1934.”

      No, no and no. The Sullivan Act is a New York gun control law from 1911. It required licenses to possess firearms small enough to be concealed. Tim Sullivan was a Tammany politician and hoodlum who wanted to protect his Irish rackets from the newly-emerging Italian mob. The Irish could get a license; the Italians couldn’t, which left them vulnerable to being pinched for possession.

      And the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in 1929. In Chicago. Interestingly, once of the Tommy guns used in the massacre had been stolen from a cop.

    • I disagree. In San Diego (a life time ago) I held a burst in the black with my A2 at 200 yrds. Now if it was in a real caliber, like 6.5creedmore /sarc, it would have been possible at the 500

    • “A M16 on full auto is very hard to control that is why the military preferred 3 round burst”, you just proved that there are some “men” who wish they were half the man their mother is!

      Hey fool, the military went with 3-round burst for economy of fire! The military found that too many soldiers used full auto when it was unnecessary and just plain a waste of ammo. A three round burst also allowed for more accurate auto fire.

  7. 16, 18… The only reason my Dad was along was that I couldn’t get to the gun store on my bike (too far and he wouldn’t let me). I turned 14 in Oct 1967 and with money earned cutting grass for neighbors, I bought a Winchester 1894 .30-.30 “Rifle” with an octagon barrel almost as long as I was tall! Cost me $ 68.00 plus I think $4.00 for a box of shells. This was in what is now Kalifornia. Kept that rifle for over 20 years and still miss it. And an M-16 on full auto is NOT hard to control! the problem was that the troops had a tendency to blow through their too damned fast. 5.56 is a puss round compared to .308/7.62.

    • Totally! And it’s true about wasting ammo. When I didn’t have to pay for ammo (or anything else) I treated it like crap too.

  8. By the way, one of my drill sergeants put an M-16 ( not an A-1) on his nuts and fired a 30 rnd. mag full-auto in 1972. Wasn’t wearing a cup either…don’t ask how all us recruits found this out…:)

    • I groin-fired an M16. It wasn’t painful, although it wasn’t fun either. If I did that with an M14, generations of Ralphs would never have been born.

  9. In 1963 my father said “nothing good comes from a toy company” . He worked at ARADCOM, He described the poor engineering, specificly the inability of the bolt to properly lock into place with the slightest debris. Then went on to describe the
    [ proposed ] forward assist, which was too costly, during first production runs.
    What was costly, were the men killed needlessly by this rush to produce this gun.

    • You forgot to add the lack of cleaning kits when the M16 was first issued. A combination of factors that were caused by the eggheads in the Pentagon. The Air Force security teams did not have any problems with the AR15s that they were issued.

      • How is an “Air Force SecurityTeam” going to get their M16 dirty? They don’t even get their boots dirty! (sarc).

  10. “the reason why the average person can’t possess a fully automatic gun was the Sullivan act that resulted from the Saint Valentines day massacre ,I think that was in 1934.Fully auto guns are fun to shoot ,but they are not for a novice shooter. A M16 on full auto is very hard to control that is why the military preferred 3 round burst”

    There is a lot wrong with this post. The Sullivan Act is a NYC statute that controls handguns, it went into effect in 1911. The act was named after Timothy Sullivan, a corrupt Tammany Hall politician. The National Firearms Act is a federal law that went into effect in 1934. As an aside the M16 series is one of the more controllable assault rifles. The military no longer prefers burst control, all current M16 variants are full auto. The M16A2 and original M4 carbines had burst control. The current M16A4 and M4A1 are full auto.

    • Bingo. And the Massacre was in 1929, not 1934.

      I don’t believe that any gangster activity really prompted the ’34 NFA, although Roosevelt used that paranoia to promote his anti-2A agenda. The real driver was the attempted assassination of Roosevelt and the murder of Anton Cermak in ’33, after FDR’s election but before he was inaugurated.

      The original purpose of the NFA was to ban handguns, but along the way somebody actually read the Constitution and decided that banning handguns was unconstitutional. Interesting, because later on in his regime, FDR couldn’t have cared less about the Constitution, but as a new President he didn’t have time to consolidate his power.

      • Meh. The original purpose of the NFA was to justify continuing employment of thousands of jackboots who had been chasing demon rum for the past decade, now that prohibition was dead.

      • they called it the “gangster gun act” because too many police dept’s found themselves outgunned…as union’s muscle began to take hold…many company’s and corporation’s “goon squads”…were forced to divest themselves of these weapons and the recipients were usually local police dept’s…some still have them to this day…

  11. I have an SP007XX.

    The old sp1 BCG sucks. The modified bolt wears prematurely and causes endless jams.

    I swapped it out with new BCG and runs error free now.

    Kept the original bolt for a sake of this antique.

  12. On the morning of my 16th birthday in 1964, I took a bus to the DMV and took my drivers license written test. After passing and getting my Learners permit I went to a local gun store and using my learners permit as ID I purchased a Ruger 10-22 for $40.i had read about the 10-22 in a gun catalogue that I had purchased in a book fair at school. I was off from school so I walked with the gun in a soft case, to my job in a city with a population of 250,000 people. All the other workers, including the owner wanted to try it so we set up a .22 bullet trap in the basements the store and everyone took turns trying it out. It was really accurate. After work at 9pm I walked to the bus stop with the gun and took the bus home. No one even raised an eyebrow! The next day I brought the rifle to a Catholic high school were we had a rifle team and were instructed by the priests and lay teachers at the rifle range in the basement of the church. Everyone had a ball trying it out. It was a lot different than the Mossberg and Savage bolt actions .22s we normally shot in school competitions. Even the school bus driver on the ride home asked if he could come to the range one day to try it. Again no one even raised an eyebrow!


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