What is Mil-Spec?

milspec1

I still cringe when I see a so-called "expert" on TV put in a position to discuss firearms, how they are used or the Second Amendment. And when someone I want to like starts dropping gun terms popularized on the silver screen to sensationalize events, I put hands to my face and begin leaking a whiney shrill of disappointment while melting to the floor like Oz's Wicked Witch of the West.

Working at the National Rifle Association, I became a believer in the doctrine to advance people's understanding of their gun rights. Unfortunately, many people are turned off by what is being said if what they hear triggers emotions.

Though as a young Marine I used the word as frequently as those of the four-letter variety, I learned to avoid saying "weapons" as a label for firearms. With an added awareness, I began noticing that people arguing for an anti-gun position insisted on using the word for its negative connotation, even if to describe a hunter's shotgun or plinker's .22. When I began to think of the meaning of the word, it wasn't hard to understand the negativity behind it.


A weapon can be a knife, a hammer — or even a fork! A weapon can be anything used to inflict harm or cause physical damage. When someone in the media uses the word, they are intentionally avoiding an opportunity to specifically describe something that is otherwise an inanimate object or tool. Our choice of words does matter.


In August 1998, I graduated the U.S. Army Ordnance Training Center's armorer school in Aberdeen, Maryland. There, small arms repair instructors stressed the importance of using proper nomenclature to describe each assembly, sub-assembly, small parts and their operation in making up a firearm.

I was trained to build, troubleshoot and repair several variants of the M16 rifle and M4 carbine, all of which I came to know in further detail before leaving the military. Embarrassingly, I unintentionally placed an order for a rush shipment of 136 FN-made M16A3s before leaving Iraq.

I was trying to get my company's rifles up to condition code A before my unit lost its combat priority status. Rather than relaxing before shipping home, a misuse of nomenclature on my paperwork resulted in a rotation of exhausted and upset Marines having to share two weeks of guard duty for a container of brand-new rifles that had arrived to my attention in Kuwait. For me, that was a lesson learned: Pay attention to the details.

Now, more than a decade later, I'm still tripped up when I see or hear the misuse of a word. Perhaps "Mil-Spec" gets to me the most because it is so often used incorrectly to describe a component that was never approved for military use. Wait, let me back up.


Mil-Spec is an abbreviated term that stands for "military specification." For a firearm to be Mil-Spec, every aspect has to meet criteria defined by the military to often include dimensions, materials, testing of parts, etc. A Mil-Spec part and/or small arm system is ultimately approved by a U.S. government inspector.

A Mil-Spec firearm and its components must be evaluated and certified by the government for it to be Mil-Spec. In the case of false advertising, I loathe gun manufacturers who apply the term to parts or firearms that mislead consumers for marketing purposes. It's easy to see that companies are not offering civilian-legal Mil-Spec ARs because the military's feature Mil-Spec select-fire automatic or burst trigger systems.

I see and hear a lot of gun experts label a company's basic trigger as Mil-Spec. Even some of my colleagues do it. What they are describing is a semiautomatic-only trigger assembly that is not in the military's system. There are several different makes and designs of these basic triggers, so it is unfair to generally describe a heavy or gritty trigger as simply being Mil-Spec. There's more to a Mil-Spec trigger assembly than a single disconnector.


To this day, I love working on ARs and creating clones of all types of modern-day small arms. Though I tend to go deep in the minutia of finding correct government-issued bolt carrier groups and accessories, all I ever end up with is a copy that's not Mil-Spec. The closest civilian-legal clones to a current-issue Mil-Spec AR are the Colt LE6920 starting at $999 (colt.com) and the new FN 15 Military Collector M4 and M16 models for $1,749 (fnamerica.com).

Email your pet peeves to gaeditor@outdoorsg.com.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

In this segment of "Guns & Ammo TV," Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr head to the range to wring out the Umarex Air Ruger 10/22.

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

Shooting 600 Yards with .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout cartridge was developed to provide greater effectiveness than a 9mm at short and medium ranges when fired from a short-barreled suppressed firearm. Just because the cartridge wasn't designed to go long doesn't mean Rifles & Optics Editor Tom Beckstrand won't take it there, using a large-format pistol, no less. Armed with SIG Sauer's 9-inch-barreled MCX Virtus Pistol loaded with Black Hills' 125-grain TMK ammunition, Beckstrand attempts to ring steel at 600 yards with help from Hornady's 4DOF ballistic calculator in this segment of “Long Range Tech.”

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light takes on EDC illumination segment.

Guns & Ammo TV: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .375 H&H

Guns & Ammo TV: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .375 H&H

The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .375 H&H are almost complete opposites, or are they? The 6.5 Creedmoor is a newer and popular cartridge that transcends long-range precision rifle shooting and hunting big game. The .375 H&H is more than a century old, but still a popular and versatile choice for hunting big and dangerous game. For this shoot, Pro Tom Beckstrand, former U.S. Army Special Operations officer and sniper team leader, faces off against Guns & Ammo TV cameraman Ben LaLonde in a challenge that highlights the differences between these two cartridges.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle. Historical

The Story of Civil War Sniper Jack Hinson and His Rifle

Kyle Lamb - January 12, 2018

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle.

The Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan is arguably the best production-grade precision hunting rifle available. Rifles

Review: Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan

Joseph von Benedikt - March 25, 2019

The Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan is arguably the best...

The one glaring weakness in the .30-­caliber magnum cartridge lineup is best highlighted by examining the requirement around which Hornady designed the .300 PRC; the requirement came from the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Rifle

.300 PRC Review

Tom Beckstrand - March 12, 2019

The one glaring weakness in the .30-­caliber magnum cartridge lineup is best highlighted by...

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light takes on EDC illumination segment. Tactical

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Jeremy Stafford - September 10, 2020

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light...

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Jeremy Stafford explains why drop leg holsters are less than optimal for today's law enforcement officer, soldier, sailor, Marine, and others. Tactical

Drop Holster Drawbacks

Jeremy Stafford - March 16, 2020

Jeremy Stafford explains why drop leg holsters are less than optimal for today's law...

With a few tricks and changes to your shooting position, you should be able to eliminate enough glare to make a successful shot. How-To

How to Eliminate Glare While Shooting

SGM Kyle Lamb [Ret.] - July 14, 2020

With a few tricks and changes to your shooting position, you should be able to eliminate...

An interesting solution for nearsighted shooters is the Meprolight FT Bullseye, a tritium and fiber-optic-powered green or red optic that appears as a front-light dot centered within a rear ring. How-To

Meprolight FT Bullseye for Nearsighted Shooters

Eric R. Poole - May 04, 2020

An interesting solution for nearsighted shooters is the Meprolight FT Bullseye, a tritium and...

Hardened warriors don't rely on luck; they make their luck. Rely on your training. Don't rely on superstitions or a lucky rabbit's foot. How-To

Good Luck Comes With Good Training

SGM Kyle Lamb [Ret.] - June 22, 2020

Hardened warriors don't rely on luck; they make their luck. Rely on your training. Don't rely...

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now