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Smyth Busters: Does the AR-15 REALLY Need a Forward Assist?

In ‘Smyth Busters: Does the AR-15 REALLY Need a Forward Assist?’, we take a rigorous look at a debate within the enthusiasts’ community surrounding the seemingly controversial, yet paradoxically fundamental feature of the popular firearm – the forward assist. This comprehensive analysis seeks to not only explore the origins of the forward assist, detailing the reasons behind its initial implementation but also to examine its continued presence today.

Expressing multilayered perspectives, with viewpoints from both the proponents of this particular feature and the detractors who consider it largely superfluous, the discussion sheds light on the overarching question of the forward assist’s relevance in modern firearms. With a touch of controversy courtesy of the late Eugene Stoner – a renowned figure in firearm design – this dissection of a long-standing argument endeavours to clarify the ambiguity surrounding the necessity of the forward assist feature on the AR-15 rifle.

Smyth Busters: Does the AR-15 REALLY Need a Forward Assist?

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Table of Contents

Understanding the AR-15 Forward Assist

Explanation of what a forward assist is

The forward assist is a component found on some firearms, specifically certain models of the AR-15. This device was part of the design modifications made to the original AR-15 model. Now, looking at an AR-15, you’d notice a small button-like structure, which is the forward assist.

The function of a forward assist in a firearm

Significantly, the primary role of the forward assist is to ensure that your firearm’s bolt is fully forward, establishing a vital connection between the firearm and its ammunition. It helps push the bolt carrier group fully forward if it fails to do so during the firing cycle, ensuring that the round is in the battery. It’s particularly useful when your firearm has to operate in unfavorable environments where dirt and debris could hamper the bolt’s normal operation or when there are issues with the ammunition itself.

Examining its visibility and detectability on different versions of AR-15

Forward assist varies in visibility across different AR-15 models pending on the specific designs in different makes or versions of the firearm. For instance, you can easily notice the forward assist in some of the earlier versions of the AR-15 as a conspicuous piece protruding from the side of the gun. But with modern versions like the forward control design, most of that bulk has been reduced, making it less visible, yet equally operative and efficient.

Origins of the Forward Assist

Background on the creation of the forward assist

The forward assist device came into existence due to specific issues encountered during the initial field testing of the AR-15 in Southeast Asia. The first set of AR-15 had no forward assist, but after observing some failures in the older models, the forward assist was developed to address these problems.

Discussion on the AR-15 creators’ stances on the necessity of a forward assist

Interestingly, this new inclusion sparked debates around its necessity. Eugene Stoner, the creator of the AR-15, was not in favor of the forward assist. He argued that it added unnecessary costs to the production of the gun and found it to be unnecessary to the firearm’s functionality.

How field testing shaped its inclusion in the AR-15 design

Despite Stoner’s stand against it, the military found the forward assist necessary. They argued that the difficulties faced during field testing, which resulted in early failures, necessitated the forward assist. Since then, it has become an integral part of the AR-15 design and has, to a large extent, countered the issues encountered during field testing.

Rarity of Usage

Discussing how often the forward assist is used by troops

In terms of actual use, it is worth noting that the forward assist is very rarely used, especially with modern M4 and M16 firearms shooting modern ammunition. Some of this rare usage can be attributed to improvements in the design, ammunition, as well as firearm training and maintenance protocols.

Arriving at the ‘cleaning factor’ misunderstanding about the need for a forward assist

One common misunderstanding that led to the rare use of forward assist is the ‘cleaning factor.’ Initially, troops were issued the AR-15 with no instructions nor cleaning kits. And popular misinformation was that these guns didn’t need cleaning, resulting in the less frequent use of the forward assist. But in reality, cleaning is necessary for all firearms.

Highlighting the importance of forward assist despite its little use

Despite its scant usage, the forward assist holds significant functionality for those rare occasions when it is needed. It serves as a preventive measure, ensuring that the bolt is fully forward and ready for the next round of fire. Hence, its importance cannot be underestimated.

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Need Vs Elimination

Explaining the ‘better to have it than not’ argument

From one perspective, the principle of ‘better to have and not need than need and not have’ applies to the presence of a forward assist on your firearm. While they are not used frequently, the few times they might be needed could be crucial in the field.

Assessing the minimalist design and weight arguments against the forward assist

However, opponents of the forward assist argue on the lines of minimalist design and weight-saving. They contend that the inclusion of the forward assist adds unnecessary weight and bulk to the firearm, even if minimal.

Discussion on the personal preferences for and against the forward assist inclusion

Like many design features, the inclusion or exclusion of a forward assist often boils down to personal preference. Some firearm users appreciate the extra security it provides, even if they rarely utilize it. Others prefer a more streamlined profile without the extra feature.

Potential Issues with a Forward Assist

Discussion on Stoner’s argument against the forward assist

Stoner’s argument against the forward assist was primarily from a user’s angle. He believed that it held the potential risk of a user forcefully jamming rounds into the chamber, creating more problems.

The potential risk of jamming rounds into the chamber

Stoner’s concerns were not unfounded. The unnecessary utilization of the forward assist could lead to a round being wedged into the chamber. This situation could potentially cause a malfunction, which may not be easily rectified in the field.

Contemplating problems stemming from new gun rigidity versus used gun functionality

Another potential issue relates to gun rigidity. New guns equipped with forward assists have tight tolerances; hence they function excellently. But as the firearm ages and the working components start to wear, issues may arise, which the forward assist is designed to solve.

Benefits of Having a Forward Assist

Exploring situations where forward assist can be beneficial

There are specific scenarios in which having a forward assist proves beneficial. For instance, when using firearms in harsh or dirty conditions, the forward assist can push the bolt fully forward if not properly cycled due to debris or dirt.

Sharing personal hunting experiences with use of forward assist

Even in environments that seem controlled, such as hunting, the forward assist can prove handy. Even though you may be loading only a few rounds in the magazine, if for some reason there’s a slight hitch in the firearm’s cycling process, the forward assist can help rectify it, ensuring a successful shot.

Analyzing the debate on using forward assist in high use firearms

High-use firearms are more prone to wear and tear, increasing the chances of incomplete cycling. In these cases, the forward assist can help ensure that the firearm continues to function effectively even with substantial use.

Exclusion of Forward Assist in Some Firearms

Investigating guns without a forward assist like some nine-millimeter carbines

Interestingly, not all firearms are designed with a forward assist. Some models, like particular nine millimeter carbines, don’t have one. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is less effective or reliable as a firearm.

Contemplating on whether non-inclusion is based on gun type or user’s inclinations

The decision on whether a gun includes a forward assist might come down to the type of firearm, operating mechanisms, intended use of the weapon, and sometimes even user preferences. For a nine-millimeter carbine, for instance, the non-inclusion can be a design decision since it uses a blowback operation, reducing the need for a forward assist.

Forward Assist Working Mechanism

In-depth look into the functioning of a forward assist

An understanding of the forward assist’s functioning requires a look into its interaction with the bolt carrier. A forward assist is essentially a button on the side of your firearm that, when pressed, engages notches on the bolt carrier group, exerting forward push.

Explaining how a forward assist engages with bolt carrier to function

The forward assist doesn’t interact with the bolt carrier on a constant basis. It only does so when manually actuated by the shooter. When you press the forward assist, it pushes on the serrations on the bolt carrier, driving it forward, and ensuring that the bolt is completely in battery.

Importance of positioning for effective use of forward assist

One key consideration for using the forward assist effectively is its positioning. It is located in a place where it is easily reachable. This design allows the shooter to use the forward assist quickly when necessary without having to significantly adjust their grip or shooting stance.

Absoluteness of the Forward Assist Necessity

Addressing the ‘forward assist is obsolete’ myth

There’s a growing conversation around the claim that the forward assist feature is obsolete, due to the rarity of its use. However, this notion can be misleading as the necessity for a forward assist might be less frequent but its relevance and functionality when needed make it far from obsolete.

Dependence of the forward assist necessity on the user’s firearm utilization

The priority of the forward assist’s necessity can highly depend on how a firearm is utilized. If you’re using your firearm in a controlled environment, such as a shooting range, you might hardly find the use for a forward assist. However, in more intensive conditions like military usage, the forward assist can be a vital component.

Speculation on the necessity of forward assist in military scenarios

In military scenarios particularly, where firearms are subjected to harsh conditions and rapid, continuous firing, the functionality of a forward assist can be crucial. Even a little sand can inhibit the bolt from going the rest of the way into the battery, making the forward assist valuable.


Recap on the necessity and usefulness of the forward assist

In recapitulating this discussion on the forward assist in AR-15, it’s important to understand that, while its use seems rare, its significance remains valid. Its presence as a ‘backup’ to ensure that the gun’s bolt is fully forward adds a degree of reliability and assurance to the shooter.

Acknowledging varying opinions on the need for a forward assist

Indeed, opinions may vary regarding the necessity of a forward assist. While some find it superfluous, others view it as an essential feature that contributes to the effective and reliable operation of their firearm. The decision to use, or not use, the forward assist ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the specific situation or environment you’re operating within.

Highlighting future topics and inviting reader comments

We’d love to continue this conversation and delve deeper into related topics such as the influence of firearm maintenance on the necessity of a forward assist. Your experiences, questions, and criticisms about the forward assist and its operation are welcomed. Let’s foster this discussion to enrich our collective understanding of firearms and their operation.

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