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CA Guns & Hunting: Black Guns

Black guns matter! But what is a black gun?

BY STEVE COMUS/Calif. Guns & Hunting Guns EditorPublished: Dec 06, 2017

The term “black gun” means different things to different folks. Some consider any gun that they perceive as intimidating to be a “black gun,” regardless of color or other attributes. Others suggest that a “black gun” is a tactical gun that can be any color. Still others feel that it is more an individual matter for each gun model and for each person doing the describing.

When someone asks: “What is a black gun?” There is no single, comprehensive answer. A lot depends on perspective. Black is a color. Black is a descriptor. Black can be a state of mind.

The younger the crowd, the more intuitive the term “black gun.” Those in the middle years may have some confusion, while old mossbacks like the author can remember when the term was coined, and have no problem figuring out what is what.


MOSSBERG MMR FALLS into the category that many folks call “black guns.” It is black, for sure. Also features adjustable stock, pistol grip, flash hider and removable magazine.

In the long ago, guns were made of steel and wood. The steel was usually blued or chrome/nickel plated and the wood usually sported a shiny finish. That all began to change in the 1950s with the Armalite AR-10 rifle designed and first built in Southern California. The AR-10 morphed into the AR-15 and eventually as the M16 rifle. All of those rifles and carbines were basic black — both their synthetic stocks and metal parts were matte, non-glare black.

I was in the Army when many units were changing over from the traditional wood-and-steel M14 to the new plastic-and aluminum-and-steel M16. Some embraced the M16, while others still opted to carry the M14. Quickly, the M16 ruled.

There were “black guns” made elsewhere in the world, but they were long to come to market on this side of the pond. That changed when the semi-auto version of the AK-47 was imported during the final decades of the 20th Century.

Interestingly, the concept of “black gun” took a giant step forward when Gaston Glock introduced his polymer frame pistol to the U.S. market. I remember. I was there, and one of the few writers who bothered to talk to Gaston Glock about his “plastic pistol” that many were convinced would fade into obscurity because of fears at the time that it could defeat airport security systems. That fear didn’t last long and the Glock became one of the most prolific guns of its genre.

THE AR-10, as shown here with David Miller, is considered by many to be a “black gun.” Certainly, it is black. It is a semi-auto chambered for 7.62x51mm NATO (will handle .308 Winchester ammo) with pistol grip and removable magazine.

The whole world has changed since those naive times. Back then, the annual SHOT Show prohibited “black guns” from being displayed on the floor. Now, black guns dominate the show.

Oddly, there are guns that are black that are not “black guns.” Because of their utility and economy, many mainline hunting guns have black synthetic stocks and black/blue metal finishes. They may retain the more classic stock designs, but they simply are black guns.

As black guns were gaining popularity, there happened to be a parallel “tactical” concept sweeping the land. Most “tactical” guns also were black, so quickly the concepts of “tactical” and “black” were discussed interchangeably. The discussion became blurred and remains so to this day.

Now, a “black gun” is considered by many to be about any tactical type of firearm — rifles, pistols and shotguns. Yet, not all “black guns” are black. Some are a sandy tan, olive drab, etc. Heck, there are even pink and green ones. Certainly, any variants of the AR or AK lineage are considered by many to be black guns, regardless of their color or stock material. For example, an AK-47 with wood stock is still considered by many to be a “black gun.”

The evolution has advanced so far that these days, when some younger folks talk about guns, they envision “black guns” exclusively. To them, that generically is what guns look like.

PINK BLACK GUN demonstrates that in the end, it isn’t all about color in describing a “black gun.”

In more recent times, “black gun” rifles generally have a straight down pistol grip, removable magazine, flash suppressor/muzzle brake and, in some instances, a bayonet lug where legal. In other words, the attributes that singly or in concert make such a rifle illegal in certain quarters are the factors that detractors consider to be the defining elements of a “black gun.” They equate “black guns” and what they term as “assault rifles,” even though a true “assault rifle” has to be able to fire in full-auto mode.

Traditionally, black gun rifles and carbines were chambered for 5.6mm NATO (.223 Remington) or 7.62mm NATO (.308 Winchester). More recently, however, they also have been chambered for all manner of regular production, and even some proprietary rounds. That mix includes rounds like the .300 Blackout, .243 Win., .260 Rem., 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington and .338 Federal, as well as some lesser known really big bore rounds intended to be used on hard targets. Some these days also are chambered for more traditional pistol cartridges like 9mmP, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

Black gun pistols usually have synthetic frames and stagger box removable magazines. Most common chamberings are 9mmP, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Although some are striker fired and some have internal or external hammers, in recent times the striker-fired models seem to be most common.

Along the way, the industry began to refer to AR types of rifles as “Modern Sporting Rifles,” or MSRs. This was an effort to put a softer edge on rifles that many folks considered to be intimidating. And, the term MSR is precise, because such rifles are used commonly in all manner of shooting competitions, as well as hunting.

NOT BLACK MOSSBERG bolt-action rifle with tactical chassis is actually a brownish color with black accents. And, it is not a semi-auto, so doesn’t fall into the classic “black gun” category, although there are many who would argue that point.

In fact, the “tactical” or “black” gun phenomenon spawned what is now known as 3 Gun competitions. I was there, as well, when longtime friend Col. Bob and his Soldier of Fortune magazine first came up with the modern form of the concept. I think it was around 1980, or thereabouts, if I recall. We did pretty well, but we were all shooting borrowed guns when the concept was first rolled out. It has changed a lot since then, but we had a lot of fun doing it when it was in its infancy.

So, we come full circle to the question: What is a black gun? Technically, any gun that is black is a “black gun.” Philosophically, some would regard any “tactical” gun as a “black gun.” Suffice it to say that most “black guns” are semi-autos in the civilian world. Yet there are pump shotguns that some folks consider to be full-on “black guns.”

In the midst of all of this kind of discussion, there is a singular pistol model that seems to defy description as a “black gun,” yet it is huge on the tactical front. It is the 1911.

Which brings us to the ultimate definition of a “black gun.” It is a state of mind attached to any firearm and is a reality or fiction, based solely and totally on the perception of the person considering the term.

A BLACK GUN was used by author to take this whitetail buck in Oklahoma. The gun is a S&W AR-10 chambered for .308 Winchester.

FOUR BLACK PISTOLS are shown here. The are Glock 34, upper left, S&W M&P, lower left, SIG P250, upper right, and H&K USP Compact, lower right.


THE BLACK GUN shown here is a Ruger AR with all of the features included by those who call black guns black.