1. M16: First, it’s the most modular, versatile, user-friendly weapon system ever fielded by a major military force. Second, as a Marine, I had it ingrained in my very soul that the M16A2 service rifle was critical to my well being, and that of my fellow Marines. Until my eyes close for the final time, I will look upon the M16 as the enduring symbol of American might and freedom.
2. AK-47: The numbers don’t lie. The AK-47, designed for the peasant army, arguably has had more social and political impact than any firearm in world history. If the M16 is the symbol of freedom, then in my eyes, the AK will forever be a symbol of the Soviet Union’s oppression. It’s rugged and reliable, but then again, 100 plus million Chauchats might have made an impact, too.
3. M1 Garand: John Garand’s M1 proved to be the singular best infantry rifle of World War II, as it was the only standard-issue arm to incorporate a self-loading system. I talked myself out of voting for it at the number 1 spot; although I’m sure I believe it to be the greatest, most important infantry rifle ever devised.
4. Mauser ’98: While the Garand was the greatest semi-auto of its time, in practical terms, it has since been eclipsed. Not so with the Mauser. Not only did it rule its day, it survives as the high-water mark for the form. As such, it’s the bolt-gun by which all others are judged, and the starting place by which all new bolt-actions are created.
5. StG 44: Obviously, the Germans were on to something. Though its lifespan was brief, the StG 44 stands as the spark that ignited much of the small-arms development in the 20th century. While the Garand provided the benchmark for self-loaders, the StG 44 blew it up and reintroduced an entirely new classification of shoulder-fired arms.
6. FN-FAL: When the United States chose the M14, basically a product-improved version of the M1 Garand, the rest of the free world adopted the FN-FAL. So for most Americans, we hold onto the M14 for Garand’s legacy, Springfield Armory’s history, or America’s signature on it. However, the free world probably got the better gun.
7. Lee-Enfield: A century of service to an Empire on which the sun never set. Enfield freaks such as my fearless leader (Mark, IV) love to place the Lee-Enfield above the Mauser in terms of combat effectiveness. I always scoffed until I worked the action on one. In any light, the Lee-Enfield’s service record is second to none.
8. Brown Bess: Our voting criteria excluded smooth bore muskets and the like from contention; we decided rifling was a must for this list. But I don’t care, my number 8 goes to the Brown Bess—without it, there would be no Empire for the Lee-Enfield.
9. Dreyse Needle Gun: If there would be no British Empire without the Brown Bess, then, arguably, there would be no Nazi Germany without the Needle Gun. In terms of innovation, the Dreyse was way ahead of its time, providing a clear battlefield advantage at the time of its fielding.
10. Charleville: Like the Brown Bess, I guess I wasted another vote here. But this arm is forever linked to the American Revolution, as this gun armed many in Washington’s Army. As such, the Charleville formed the basic pattern for some of the first muskets turned out by Springfield and Harper’s Ferry Armories—the U.S. Model 1795.