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The Past Revisited: Life Without Black Rifles

The Past Revisited: Life Without Black Rifles

Still available, Steyr introduced the Scout in 1998, which was developed to Jeff Cooper’s specifications. It features an integral bipod, five-­round magazine and a spare mag stowed in the stock. $1,700 (Mike Ulrich photo)

Imagine if Modern Sporting Rifles such as the AR-15 and other semiautomatic carbines were actually banned. This is already the law of the land in states such as California and New York, so millions of American citizens are currently hamstrung by such prohibitions when considering personal defense. What can the unfortunate individuals who live in those states use to defend their homes and families in place of a magazine-fed semiauto? To answer the question, we need only to look at the past.

For nearly a century, the lever-action carbine filled this niche for the American gun owner, but at least one influential figure felt there was a better way. In 1966, Guns & Ammo’s Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper sought out the ideal all-around rifle in “The Carbine Compromise.” In this article, the Cooper tested a selection of compact rifles, which included the then-new AR-15, a lever-action carbine and others. He settled on a Remington Model 600 chambered in .308 Winchester as his favorite. This choice set Cooper on a path that eventually resulted in the scout rifle, a concept he introduced to the shooting public around 1984. It’s one that remains relevant today. Cooper lamented the abandonment of the accurate rifle in military circles, with arms for the lone rifleman having been replaced with variations of the German Sturmgewehr and subsequent battle-rifle designs.

The scout rifle was spec’d to be light, portable, sufficiently accurate and of adequate power. After several iterations, Cooper partnered with Steyr-Mannlicher to develop the first production Scout model, which took years. The rifle fed .308 Winchester rounds from a five-round detachable magazine with a second mag secured in the stock. A clever bipod folded flush with the forend. The Scout is still catalogued by Steyr, while Ruger, Savage and Mossberg also produce scout-style rifles. But is it the right gun for the job?

Some, myself included, view the scout rifle as a potential 50-state-legal solution for an all-around rifle. It could be used for hunting and personal defense. My thoughts on this topic are purely academic, though, as I’ve never been shot at. In order to get a real-world perspective, I reached out to my colleague Tom Beckstrand who saw extensive combat as a Special Forces officer. Tom’s well-reasoned conclusions are different from mine.

“I don’t think a bolt-action would be my first pick unless I anticipated defending myself in an environment similar to a war zone with the longer- engagement ranges,” he said. “The cartridges offered would have more recoil and muzzle blast than necessary, ammunition would be heavy and bulky, and working a bolt-action under the stress of a potentially close-quarters encounter is a good recipe for failure. Part of what makes the AR-15 my favorite home-defense gun is the low recoil, good capacity, fast follow-up shots and quick reloading. If an AR-15 was no longer a choice, my first pick would be the Marlin Model 1894 Dark Series chambered in .44 Magnum. This rifle gets me three of my four attributes the AR-15 possesses. Reloads would be slow, so I’d plan for that. I also like the Marlin because it comes set up for a red dot optic and a suppressor. Any home-defense rifle should wear a suppressor.”

The Steyr Scout leaned heavily towards precision shooting. If you live in a rural environment, as Cooper did, the scout-type rifles are still a viable all-around rifle. For home defense among urban and suburban individuals, though, there are probably better options. Hopefully those of us living in free states are never faced with having to make such decisions for our families’ safety. If there’s any conclusion to this exercise, it is realizing what wonderful self-defense tools we currently have at our disposal.

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