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Key Point: This list will suit your every gun need.
5 Best Handguns:
The bustling global arms trade has resulted in many excellent handguns in the last hundred years. Some of the best handguns are more than a hundred years old, while others have been in production for less than a decade. All are excellent weapons for defense, and in some cases offense; they are equally at home in a homeowner’s gun safe or carried as an officer’s sidearm. Here are five of the best handguns currently in service worldwide.
The Colt M1911A1
Designed by prolific gun designer John Moses Browning, and first introduced in 1911, the Colt 1911 pistol was meant to replace weaker .38 caliber pistols used by the U.S. Army during the Philippine Insurrection. The 1911 was the U.S. military’s first semiautomatic handgun, marking a permanent turn away from military revolvers.
The original 1911 weighed 2.4 pounds and had a seven-round internal magazine. In 1924, the gun was updated, mostly for ergonomic reasons, to the 1911A1 standard. The 1911A1, while internally complex by modern handgun standards, is still a popular handgun. The end of handgun’s patent, coupled with the weapon’s enduring usefulness resulted in almost every major U.S. gun manufacturer releasing its own version of the handgun. In 2012, the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Special Operations Command adopted the Colt M45A1, an updated version of the 1911A1, as its standard handgun.
The Glock 17
The Glock 17 was built around three key ideas: simplicity, reliability and ease of use. The handgun is easy to take apart, with a single press of the button removing the slide for cleaning and access to the barrel. The Glock passed the Austrian Army’s reliability test with flying colors, jamming only once in ten thousand firings. And the weapon was expressly designed with an eye on “pointability”—the pistol’s natural ability to act as an extension of the shooter’s hand-and-eye coordination.
From the original Glock 17, capable of carrying seventeen rounds of nine-millimeter ammunition, the Glock line has expanded to cover nearly all semiautomatic calibers, including .45 ACP, and the gun has replaced the 1911A1 pistol in such organizations as Marine Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force.
The Sig P226
Developed by the Swiss-German partnership Sig Sauer to replace the M1911A1 in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Sig P226 failed to win the contract but received a major boost when U.S. Navy SEALs rejected their Beretta M9 pistols in favor of the Sig.
The P226 was an evolution of the Sig P220, a postwar favorite of Western and Western-oriented (such as Japan) armies worldwide. The pistol is a so-called double-action design, meaning a single long pull of the trigger will both cock the pistol and release the firing pin, firing the pistol. Users can also operate the Sig in single action mode, in which the pistol is manually cocked and a shorter trigger pull releases the firing pin. The pistol is equipped with a side-mounted decocker for lowering the hammer without firing.
The Sig Sauer P226 served with the U.S. Navy SEALs for twenty-eight years, before eventually being replaced by the compact version of the Glock 17, the Glock 19.
The Smith & Wesson M&P
Smith and Wesson is one of the oldest names in American firearms. Although the company was mostly known for revolvers, it was inevitable that the company would come out with a Glock-style polymer handgun. The result, the M&P (Military and Police) became highly successful in its own right.
Introduced in 2005, the M&P features a steel-reinforced polymer frame and stainless-steel slide. The M&P was one of the first guns to feature three interchangeable palm swells, allowing the user to configure the pistol to better fit his or her hand. The M&P also features ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. Unlike the Glock, the M&P can be disassembled without pulling the trigger.
The M&P is available in a number of midsize pistol calibers, including nine-millimeter, 357 Sig and .40 Smith & Wesson, as well as .45 ACP. The M&P mostly serves in police forces in the United States and abroad.
The CZ 75
One of the best handguns in the world wasn’t even available to recreational shooters for much of the Cold War. The CZ 75 handgun, introduced in 1975, borrowed a great deal from John Moses Browning’s late model pistol, the Browning Hi-Power, both externally and internally, but is not a copy, and features significant differences. The nine-millimeter pistol could carry up to sixteen rounds, making it one of the largest-capacity handguns of its day.
Locked away behind the Iron Curtain and unable to secure contracts with the Czechoslovakian government, the CZ 75 failed to gain adherents until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today the pistol is available in an updated form, the CZ 75BD, featuring a firing pin safety, decocking lever and underbarrel accessory rail, and available in a variety of midsized handgun calibers.
5 Best Shotguns:
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A shotgun is a firearm, typically a long arm that is fired from the shoulder, that instead of a single bullet fires a number of smaller pellets. Shotguns are chiefly sporting arms, useful for hunting birds or other small, fast-moving game, but also have military and civilian self-defense uses. The ability to project a devastating pattern of lead or steel shot to short ranges is also valuable in urban or jungle environments. This makes a properly fitted out shotgun an excellent weapon for home defense or close quarters combat.
Winchester Model 1897
Developed by the prolific American firearms designer John Moses Browning, the Winchester Model 1897 pump-action shotgun was better known as the “Trench Gun” in World War I. Originally designed as a civilian sporting gun, the Trench Gun version sported a twenty-inch barrel, making it easier to handle in the narrow trenches of the Western Front, a bayonet lug for hand-to-hand combat and a heat shield. Trench Guns were used not only to clear narrow trenches during attacks but also, interestingly enough, to shoot down hand grenades flung towards American lines. The six round tubular magazine made it a formidable adversary when fired lengthwise down an enemy trench; a single 1897 shotgun could send fifty-hour .33 caliber pellets downrange in three seconds or less.
One of the most common shotguns in circulation is the venerable Remington 870. A manual, pump action shotgun, the “870” first hit the civilian market in 1950. The 870 is sold in a variety of configurations, with barrel length ranging from eleven inches to thirty, magazine capacity ranging from four to ten shells, and sold in shell calibers from .410 to 12 gauge. The shotgun was quickly picked up for police and prison guard use in the United States and has seen limited service in foreign military forces. Highly modifiable, a stock 870 can be modified by the user into an excellent home defense weapon.
Beretta 1301 Tactical
Self-loading shotguns have been slow to catch on in the United States, particularly in military units, for reasons that are not well known. The Beretta 1301 is one of a new generation of semi-automatic combat shotguns. Beretta claims its Blink gas operating system makes the 1301 thirty 6 percent faster than competing shotguns, enabling it to empty its four-shot magazine in just one second. The shotgun has a barrel length of 18.5 inches, making it handy indoors, and an enlarged charging handle that’s difficult to miss in stressful shooting situations. A combination ghost ring and blade sight is supplemented with a Picatinny rail that allows the 1301 to utilize prismatic, red dot or any number of compact optics.
Benelli M2 Tactical
Manufactured by Benelli Armi SpA, a subsidiary of Beretta, the M2 Tactical is a somewhat larger semi-automatic shotgun than the 1301. The M2 has a 18.5 inch barrel but can accommodate five rounds in the internal magazine. The Benelli shotgun also features a pistol grip, and the manufacturer claims it features up to 48 percent less recoil than comparing shotguns. The shotgun is fitted with a variety of iron sights, including ghost ring and tritium sights, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for a MIL-STD1913 Picatinny rail, allowing the user to install specialized optics. Length of pull is an unusually long 14 3/8 inches to accommodate the user’s bulletproof vest. The U.S. Marine Corps uses a similar version, the M4, designated the M1014.
Mossberg 500 Series
The shotgun with the most recent U.S. military pedigree is the Mossberg 500 series pump-action shotguns, including the Mossberg 590. The 590 is the only shotgun that passed U.S. Military specification MIL-S-3443G, which outlines the standards for U.S. armed forces riot-type shotguns with regards to accuracy, endurance, ability to withstand rough handling and the effectiveness of the supplied heat shield. A typical military grade 500 series shotgun has all-metal construction, an eight round internal magazine, a manual safety and bead sights. Like other shotguns barrel length varies quite a bit but the U.S. military’s shotgun barrels are likely 18.5 inches long. The 500 is used by the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.
5 Best Military Rifles
Warfare in the post-9/11 period is primarily infantry-focused, with ground troops taking part in small-unit actions against insurgents and guerrillas. Fought on a wide variety of terrain, from arid desert regions to jungles and even cities, infantrymen have relied on their service rifles to get the mission done. Here are five of the best weapons, and how the wars of the twenty-first century changed them.
Originally developed by Colt to fulfill a contract for the UAE, the M4 carbine was later accepted into U.S. Army and Marine Corps service. The M4 carbine is very similar to the M16A2 assault rifle, but features a shorter 14.5-inch barrel as opposed to the twenty-inch barrel of the M16. Like the M16A2, the M4 carbine fires the 5.56-millimeter round from a thirty-round magazine and has both semiautomatic and three-round-burst modes. Recently, as a result of battlefield experience with the M4, the U.S. Army decided to upgrade the weapons to the M4A1 standard. The -A1 carbines have thicker barrels for accuracy retention during sustained fire, an improved trigger, ambidextrous safety controls and the ability to fire on full automatic.
The primary service weapon of the UK’s Army, Navy and Air Force, the SA80 assault rifle was first fielded in the 1980s as a replacement for the L1A1 battle rifle. The rifle is a bullpup-configuration weapon, with the magazine and action positioned behind the trigger group. This allows for a more compact weapon system. Like the M4A1, the SA80A2 fires the 5.56-millimeter round and can accept the same magazine. Unlike the American carbine, the British one uses a short-stroke gas-piston system. In 2002, the weapons were upgraded to address a variety of shortcomings, including a modified bolt, extractor and hammer assembly, vastly increasing weapon reliability. In addition to the UK forces the SA80 has been sold to a number of Commonwealth countries, but overseas sales largely never materialized.
The Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, or FAMAS assault rifle, was adopted by France in the late 1970s. The assault rifle was a bullpup configuration, like the SA80A2, that came standard with twenty-five-round 5.56-millimeter magazines. Manufactured by GIAT, the rifle had an overall length of twenty-nine inches with a nineteen-inch barrel—nearly rifle length. The weapon weighed only 7.96 pounds. Intriguingly, unlike standard infantry assault rifles, FAMAS has radioactive tritium sights for night firing and a built-in bipod with arms that swivel up and store above the barrel. FAMAS’s blowback action gives it greater recoil than other weapons in this category. FAMAS is currently being replaced in French Army service by the Heckler and Koch 416.
The Heckler and Koch 416 assault rifle is arguably a step up from the M4 carbine. Outwardly similar to the M4 in appearance, internally the rifle uses a gas-piston operating system, not the direct-impingement system used by the M4. This allows the rifle to run cooler and require less cleaning of the upper receiver, although it does reportedly make the 416 slightly front heavy. While the M4 and HK416 both share the same ammunition magazines and 5.56-millimeter round, the 416 has a longer sixteen-inch barrel, imparting a slight increase in range and velocity to the German-made weapon. The 416 is designated the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle in U.S. Marine Corps service, and is being issued to all Marine infantrymen.
The standard weapon of the Russian Ground Forces is the AK-74M. Developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the iconic AK-47, the main difference between the two weapons was the use of smaller, lighter 5.45-millimeter ammunition. The weapon, equipped with a thirty-round magazine, saw extensive use in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was issued to frontline Soviet Units, particularly airborne, naval infantry and Germany-based conventional army units. The rifle has a side folding stock, 16.3-inch barrel and an overall length of thirty-seven inches. In 2015, the Russian Army adopted a number of Western-style upgrades to the AK-74M, including a skeletonized stock with adjustable cheek weld, a rail accessory mounting system similar to that on the M4 developed by Piccatinny Arsenal, foregrip and improved muzzle brake.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter:@KyleMizokami. These all appeared separately during the last eight months and are being republished due to reader's interest.