It’s been a gradual thing. Lubricants got better, and then engineers started monkeying with the surfaces of steel gun parts on a molecular level to make them both slippery and corrosion resistant. In the late 1960s American GIs were dying in Vietnam for lack of cleaning gear and the training to use it. Nowadays we expect better. Gun cleaning is an important aspect of gun ownership.

The Apex Predators

What exactly happens when you fail to clean your weapons? If you are running a Kalashnikov or a Glock, not much. I have a Glock 22 converted to 9mm I have owned for a decade. I have brutalized that poor pistol, most typically with a sound suppressor hanging from its snout. Sound suppressors look cool and cut down on noise pollution, but they will render your guns invariably filthy. Increasing backpressure forces some of the carbon fouling that might otherwise vent into the atmosphere back into the action. The result is copious gunk.

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My Glock doesn’t care. I have a friend who accidentally ran over his Glock handgun with a bush hog, spraying chunks of that unfortunate smoke pole across half an acre of pasture. Short of such an industrial accident, however, it is pretty much impossible to tear one up. While I would be a bit more attentive to a weapon I carried for personal defense, this particular Glock has not been cleaned since it left the factory, and I cannot slow it down.

My RPK was already ragged out mercilessly by some sadistic Romanian grunt before the gun had its receiver and barrel slagged and the rest sold as surplus. I subsequently built the gun up as a post sample machine gun with a new receiver and barrel. For some reason the mechanism doesn’t work reliably on semi-auto. It runs full-auto or not at all. No great loss that. Several thousand rounds later, cleaning the gun is still on my list of things to do — just haven’t yet gotten around to it. I dab a little oil on them from time to time but, despite this most egregious abuse, both my long-suffering Glock and beater RPK have not once hiccupped.

Cleaning Your Carry Guns

I do actually try to pay attention to my carry guns, but we all suck at this. If my RPK chokes while turning ammo into noise, it might elicit some good-natured grumbling. The same thing cannot occur with my Glock 42 while I am standing between some deranged meth addict and my family. Digging into the guts of a well-used pocket gun can be enlightening.

There isn’t a great deal of mechanical energy we are dealing with here, anyway. Let all the lube evaporate out of your favorite slim .380 defensive pistol then pack it to the gunwales with pocket lint and don’t be surprised if it chokes in the clutch. Holstered guns typically fare fairly well over time, but should you be in the practice of carrying a heater in your pocket that thing will get gross quick. I have been on occasion gobsmacked by the sheer volume of sundry grunge that will accumulate in a pocket gun over even a short month or two of regular carry.

Don’t forget the magazine. The box magazine on a pocket gun sucks up filth like crazy. Slide the floorplate off and tidy up the inside of the magazine whenever you strip the gun.

Shoot your carry guns from time to time, and not just with cheap blasting ammo. It can be illuminating to go to the range and run your ready magazine dry in a high-mileage carry piece. I have had several unexpected stoppages during this exercise. There is one gun I no longer rely upon because of some dismal no-notice range performance. Defensive ammo is expensive, but it is worth the trouble to freshen up your primary magazine every year or two.

Strip it down and tidy it up on the first of each month. It won’t take you five minutes. You would willingly devote more attention to some medical machine if it were keeping you alive. If you are serious about packing a gun for protection, you need to keep it properly maintained. Lives could turn on this.

America’s Rifle

The direct gas impingement versus gas piston dead horse has been flogged into sausage. I’ll spare you the rehash. However, I ran my first M16A1 professionally in 1984. I’ve had every type of stoppage imaginable with this weapon, to include blown cases and a failed front sight base. The gun will run and run well, but it needs a little love. The rub is that the direct gas impingement system pumps all of the gun’s sundry funk right back into its entrails.

M16A1 rifles at the Ranger School at Fort Benning back in the 80s had been rode hard, but meticulously maintained. However, I used one during a competition there that would not run more than three rounds at a sitting despite being spotlessly clean and lightly lubed. Stoner acolytes please forgive me, but this is, especially in its earliest iterations, a remarkably finicky combat weapon.

Let an AR get properly dirty and the results will show. Failures to extract, failures to eject, and bolt over failures pepper the fail-scape. The solution is obviously regular cleaning.

Scrub off the bolt, bolt carrier, bolt carrier key, and sundry small parts. Personally, I use a pocketknife to scrape the carbon fouling off of the tail of the bolt. I take a short bit of coat hangar, hammer one end into a little paddle, and use that to scrape the carbon out of the inside of the bolt and carrier. I’ve used that same little improvised tool regularly ever since I made it on a barracks floor with a hammer in 1987.

Gun Cleaning’s Gleaming Exception

Modern surface treatments and Information Age metallurgy can legitimately revolutionize the AR platform. I once partook of a torture test wherein a few pals and I ran 10,000 rounds through a rack-grade M4 from Battle Rifle Company in a single day. Chris and the boys at BRC hand build some of the most rugged AR rifles I have ever seen.

We opened up the rifle at 2,500, 5,000, and 7,500 rounds just to wipe off the grunge. Then we replaced the gas rings at the midpoint. We ran 10, 30-round magazines as fast as we could, poured cold water over the barrel to cool it off, and repeated the exercise for eight hours straight.

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There were three stovepipe stoppages that were easily cleared by the operator and no component failures in 10,000 rounds. A former SEAL in attendance used the rifle to center punch a quarter at 20 meters on the last magazine fired. My shoulder was purple the next day. This is a stark testament to the benefits of Information Age technology incorporated into Eugene Stoner’s 1950s-era design.

Modern guns are not nearly so susceptible to failure as once was the case. Clean the gun your life depends on like your life depends on it — anything less is rank laziness and does not befit a responsible American.

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