How to Spend Your Fourth of July
The Fourth of July is the Big Bang of celebrating America. Conceived and signed by patriots, the Declaration of Independence set into motion the United States of America. In addition to eating incredible barbecue, to celebrate during this "long" weekend, I'll be going to the gun range to shoot my M1 Garand rifle.
There are a bunch of reasons that make this fitting. There's the history of this American icon, carried by millions of GIs defending this country from foreign enemies. This rifle generated high praise from Patton when in 1945 he opined, "The M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised." Last but by no means least, shooting is fun, and it'll be more so with my daughter.
Consider that the Garand's appearance has stood time's test. Its "Made in America" walnut stock and forged receiver project a svelte profile compared to today's sea of black assault weapons. And then there's the historical character the Garand earned -- one great source on this is The M1 Does My Talking: The U.S. M1 Garand Rifle in Pictures by Robert Bruce.
The M1's official government moniker was "U.S Semiautomatic Rifle, Caliber .30 M1," and it was developed by Canadian-born civilian engineer John C. Garand, working at the federal government's Springfield Armory. Development started in earnest in the '20s, and the rifle was adopted for service in 1936. During WWII and Korea, besides at the Springfield Armory, Garands were also produced by Winchester, Harrington & Richardson, and even International Harvester.
This was the first semi-automatic battle rifle issued to any armed forces. For gun-phobic media editors who might be reading this, "semi-automatic" means that one round is fired for one trigger pull. Gas-operated, the gun automatically reloads the next cartridge, unlike a bolt-action, where shooters have to break their aim concentration by operating the bolt.
Even the Springfield-developed cartridge is special. It's a .30-06, pronounced "thirty-aught six," developed in 1906. The bullet diameter is actually 0.308 inches, and it remains one of the best-selling calibers to this day. As Bruce relates, during the rifle's early development, Garand was using a smaller .276-caliber bullet that offered improved ballistics and reduced recoil. In 1932, Chief of Staff Douglas McArthur interceded and ordered that the rifle utilize a .30-caliber round. Besides some ballistic issues, another likely reason for the switch was that the War Department had a huge surplus remaining from WWI.
Since about 1950, high-velocity, small-caliber cartridges have become the military standard. A typical .30-06 utilizes a 150-grain bullet, while today's military 5.56mm/.223-caliber is 62 grains. Both are lethal, but it's likely that the old fashioned aught-six would also knock an enemy down after impact.
M1 loading takes a bit of practice to be seamless. Eight rounds are inserted into a metallic clip. Slide the operating rod back, and the bolt clicks into its the rear position. Push the clip downward into open breach, which then allows the bolt to slide forward, chambering the first round. As the bolt springs forward, watch your thumb, or it can get painfully pinched. Ask me how I know.
Shouldering the M1, you feel its 10-pound, 8-ounce heft. Compare that to today's M16A4's 8.5-pound weight. At the firing line, ear and eye protection in place, you aim through the rear aperture sight, align it with the front post, and squeeze the trigger, and the gun fires with an authoritative recoil. The rifle ejects shells to the right, so since I shoot left-handed, I get to see it eject past my face. After the eighth round, the clip is ejected. This is also interesting because more than once, it's bounced off the side of my head or right shoulder.
My daughter will be joining me at the range, so I'll be taking immense pride in teaching shooting skills and safely while enjoying quality time with her. Afterwards, we'll no doubt discuss the importance of the Second Amendment.
Also while shooting, I'll reflect on our soldiers' -- current and millions before them -- display of genuine combat courage to be able to take aimed shots at an enemy trying to shoot them.
Over a half-century has passed since the M14 replaced the M1 in 1957. Today, it might be considered a relic, but I know that if I had a ranch along the U.S. southwest border, my M1 would be more than equal to the task of defending my family and property.
I can't think of a better way of celebrating the 4th than by shooting this or any other rifle I please. There are very few countries in the world where we could do this. Summed up, the genesis of my day at the range enjoying my constitutional right to bear arms started on that hot, humid July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Happy birthday America -- you're still a hell of a country.