m16 rifle

The M16, also known as “black rifles” was developed in May 1957 by Eugene Stoner at the Armalite Company as a military grade rifle for the troops in the Vietnam war to replace the heavier and less reliable M14 model.  

The M16 officially met the military standard of shooting a five-inch group at 100 yards which is an inch smaller than the M14.  It also fired the newer 5.56 mm round with an official range of 550 meters for point targets and 800 meters for area targets. 

The M in M16 does not stand for “military” or “machine gun”, it stands for “model” as in model 16 where the 16 is the variation.  M14 is the 14th model.  

Fun fact: There is no M15 because this model was only a slight variation of the M14, and not modified enough to become the M16 we know today.

The M16 wasn’t introduced to the battlefield until May of 1964, almost 7 years after its creation and well into the war.  This is because the M16 and M16A1, encountered reliability issues due to inadequate training and maintenance procedures, as well as the use of a different powder in the ammunition and its ability to support a bayonet, including the newer M9.  

This model has a clip-point blade with saw teeth along the spine and can be used as a multi-purpose knife and wire-cutter when combined with its scabbard. For soldiers on the field, this versatility can come in handy for defense, building a shelter, hunting food, and other necessities.

After the initial introduction, Armalite worked hand-in-hand with the military and advisors to fine tune the model and in June of 1968, the Department of Defense, Defense Information Technical Center declassified the review and report on the new M16. The new M16 was over two pounds lighter than the M14, and had a greater magazine capacity of 10 bullets (20 in the M14 and 20 – 30 in the M16).  You can see why the military was excited to replace the M14 with the new M16.

Fun fact: In Stanley Kubric’s film “Full Metal Jacket” they paid extra close attention to detail and feature both the M14 and M16, however the film used the Colt Model 604 vs. the accurate M16A1 which was the model used by the Marines.  “Apocalypse Now” by Francis Ford Copolla did use the correct model, but both films used replicas vs. a real firearm.

There have been four main iterations of the M16 including the standard and models from A1 to A4.  This latest version is the most widely used as it has a carbine (gas fired) magazine, and four picatinny rails which can be used to mount scopes, bipods, and lasers.

And there has been a strong evolution of this model. Some of the most notable moments include:

  • November 1963, Secretary of Defense McNamara approved the U.S. Army’s order of 85,000 XM16E1s.
  • February 1967, the improved XM16E1 was standardized as the M16A1.
  • The 1980s when the M16A2 featured a more robust design, a heavier barrel for sustained automatic fire, and a switch to a three-round burst firing mode instead of full automatic.
  • Early 2000s when the M16A4 adopted a removable carrying handle with an integrated Picatinny rail for mounting optics and other accessories.

Now that you know the history and background of the M16, lets jump into why they’re helpful, some commonly asked questions, and some more fun facts.

Everything You’d Want to Know About M16 Rifles

As we said this model is lighter than the M14 predecessor, and offers more versatility and accuracy making it the superior firearm for the military.  So here’s how it stacks up, the ammo you can use with it, and some commonly asked questions about ownership.

The M16 Specs Include:

Weight unloaded



38.81 inches

Barrel Length

20 inches


5.56mm NATO

Rate of Fire

700-900 rpm

Effective Range

550m point target

800m area target

Maximum Range


Magazine Capacity

20 – 30 Bullets


7075 Aluminum alloy, buttstock plastic, steel 


Semi-automatic and automatic settings

You’re probably pretty excited if you’re a collector, a veteran, or are just getting into firearms.  Well good news, you can purchase an M16 legally in the USA.  But it isn’t as easy as walking into a store.

How to Buy an M16

yes you can buy an m16 legally in the USA

Yes, you can legally buy an M16 rifle in the USA if you pass department backgrounds checks by the DOJ and follow the process including purchasing from an authorized dealer.  

The Process and Steps to Buy an M16 Rifle:

  1. Apply with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and go through the background screening process.
  2. Once approved you’ll receive a tax stamp and be provided with paperwork that allows you legal ownership.
    1. Due to states rights, some jurisdictions have banned M16 and AR-15 Models regardless of federal tax stamps, so check your local laws before you try to buy.
  3. Now you’ll need to find an authorized and licensed dealer who has a permit to sell machine guns.
  4. Once acquired, you’ll need to register the firearm with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).

These guns are rare, so be prepared to pay a lot if you’re lucky enough to find one.  Some go as high as $30,000.  You’re better off choosing an AR-15 with a price tag like this.  But don’t be sad if this price tag is too high, you can still try one out.

Some shooting ranges like the machine gun adventure companies in cities like Las Vegas or in states like Arizona allow you to rent and shoot firearms like these on premise and with a firearms instructor.  It’s the next best thing to being able to own one.  And if you’re lucky enough to buy one, you’re going to want to learn proper cleaning and care.

How to Clean an M16 Rifle

The process is easy, but take care as they’re rare.

  1. Disassemble the gun.
  2. Sprayed with a cleaning solvent.
  3. Scrub the interior and exterior of the gun.
  4. Wipe all surfaces clean.
  5. Oile the rifles moving parts.
  6.  Reassemble the rifle and function check.

Ever since it made its way to the battlefields of Vietnam, the M16 has been an icon of military might and American ingenuity.  And now you know the history of the M16, the process to buy one, and some fun facts for trivia night.

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