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ArmaLite AR-180B Rifle

Agencies searching for an inexpensive but rugged patrol gun should check out this update of ArmaLite's standard AR-15.

April 01, 2005  |  by Mike Detty - Also by this author

If your department is like most American law enforcement agencies, it's caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On one side, regardless of size and location, it now has to cope with threats to public safety that range from international terrorists to local drunk drivers. On the other, it must make do on a budget that's tighter than a gnat's urethra.

The result is that many departments are looking for ways to minimize the costs of training and even essential gear, including weapons. Unfortunately, this means that you may have to buy your own patrol rifles.

It's likely that the patrol rifle authorized by your agency is going to be an AR-15 in 5.56mm NATO (.223 Remington). The .223 AR-15 offers everything that you need in a patrol long gun.It's accurate, it loads fast, and it shoots fast. More importantly, .223 caliber ammo has the power to punch right through body armor, unless the bad guy is wearing ceramic plates. But .223 rounds won't overpenetrate as much as .308 rounds, and that makes them safer for police use.

The problem with AR-15 rifles is that there are an awful lot of them. A lot of companies make these guns and, combined, they make dozens of different models that range in price from $500 to more than $3,000. So how do you choose which AR to buy with your hard-earned dollars? The only way to cut through this confusion is to shoulder a weapon. And that's exactly what I decided to do with the ArmaLite AR-180B.

A Proud History

ArmaLite introduced its latest version of the AR-180 about two years ago, but the design and the AR-180 designation date to the 1960s. There were very good reasons to update it.

Unlike the original rifle the new version can use M-16 or AR-15 magazines and boasts a weight-saving polymer receiver. But perhaps its most appealing feature, especially to departments and individual officers on a tight budget, is that the law enforcement price of this .223 carbine is just $660.

"Building a new AR-180 was just a natural progression for us," says Mark Westrom, president of ArmaLite. "We've been making parts for owners of the original guns for years. But what we really wanted was to have a rugged semi-auto rifle that could compete price-wise with the Ruger Mini-14 but provide law enforcement agencies and qualified civilians with a tactically more efficient weapon."

It makes sense for ArmaLite to revisit its AR-180. The company does after all have a direct link to the creation of the original AR-15.

In 1961 Fairchild, the parent company of ArmaLite, was undergoing financial problems. The original principals at ArmaLite got together and bought the company from Fairchild. Unfortunately for the buyers, however, Fairchild's designs for the AR-10 and AR-15 rifles had already been licensed to Colt.

Envious of the huge military contracts that Colt was winning with their design, the ArmaLite design team set about to create a rifle that was cheaper to produce, but every bit as battle worthy as the M-16. Their hopes were to cut themselves a slice of the enormous defense department's pie.

ArmaLite's engineers needed to create a weapon with a gas system that didn't violate Fairchild designer Eugene Stoner's patents, which were now owned by Colt. They managed to do so and, in the eyes of many experts, they also managed to create a better rifle than the M-16.

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