Wartime U.S. presidents have taken keen personal interest in picking the most lethal gun for the military.
But in President Obama’s first foray into small-arms procurement for the armed forces, his Jan. 4 executive order on gun control directs the Pentagon to find ways to make not so much more lethal firearms, but safer ones.
His direct order has brought a few snickers among retired combatants who argue that the commander in chief is issuing his directive at a time of more pressing small-arms priorities. The military, critics say, fields a flawed personal rifle and has spent more than a decade selecting a new off-the-shelf pistol, with no winner yet.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, an artillery officer in Vietnam who is steeped in military history, says at least three former presidents immersed themselves in ballistics — for reasons other than safety.
Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War commander in chief, tested emerging “repeater” rifles in the White House “back yard” and championed the Spencer model.
Theodore Roosevelt, the combat-hardened Rough Rider, ordered development of the Springfield rifle.
John F. Kennedy, considered a founding father of the Green Berets, pushed the Army to give up the M14 for the new AR-15, which became the venerable M16. Kennedy envisioned the automatic rifle as the perfect counterinsurgency weapon in South Vietnam.
With that White House history, Mr. Scales said, “I had to laugh” at Mr. Obama’s priority — smart guns.
“Presidential involvement in small arms has been strategic and game-changing in our history,” said Mr. Scales, a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. “Obama comes along and tells the Army that, in this administration, money is going into small arms to build — not a deadly weapon, not an effective weapon, not a dominant weapon, not a lifesaving weapon, not a technological cutting-edge weapon — but a weapon that prevents accidental discharge. Give me a break.”
Mr. Scales is one the Army’s sharpest critics of the primary soldier’s rifle — the M4 carbine, modeled after the AR-15. He believes it is prone to overheating and jamming, and that Germans have produced a better-designed carbine toted by many U.S. special operations troops.
The Washington Times published a two-part series on the M4 in which soldiers who had been thrust into heavy direct combat complained that the magazine jammed, among other flaws. Some admitted, on the record, to breaking the rules and buying off-the-shelf foreign replacement components.
The Army defends the M4 as popular among soldiers. Its critics say surveys should focus on soldiers who have actually fired the weapon in a series of battles. They also say polled soldiers have nothing with which to compare it because the M4 is the only main rifle issued.
In 2013, then-Sen. Tom Coburn, hearing complaints from Oklahoma soldiers about the M4’s performance in the war on terrorism, badgered the Army to conduct a carbine competition.
His efforts led the Army secretary to order a shoot-off. But with a new Army secretary in office, the top brass stopped the competition and proclaimed that no challenging gun outperformed the M4 by a wide enough margin to justify a change.
Full article: Obama’s eye-opening order to Pentagon: Make combat weapons safer, not more lethal (The Washington Post)