Story & Photography by Will Dabbs, MD
The day was hot, Africa hot. The CIA asset sweated like a harlot in church as he took in the motley crowd at the outdoor café through his Oakleys. Luanda, Angola, was the largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world and a surprisingly expensive place to live. Regardless, this part of Baixa de Luanda remained a rathole. When one hunted rats, one frequented ratholes.
The rat this day was an al-Shabaab bomb maker named Abdirahim Amiri. Amiri was a psychopath’s psychopath. He once traded his favorite daughter to a transient Laotian arms merchant for a Czechoslovakian rocket launcher and a flagon of Cockspur rum. That very same psychopath now took a seat two tables over alongside a pair of unsavory mal-contents.
The asset’s garish shorts and Mr. Bubble® t-shirt would not hide a proper pocket pistol, so he looked harmless. “Reuters” was splashed across the front of his ball cap. You can find anything on eBay.
His camera case was about the size of a large lunchbox. He had stenciled “Press Corps—Camera” across the side in case anybody cared. The asset excused himself and retreated to the restroom.
Once alone, he popped open the case. The gun resembled a compact M4 Carbine split into two halves. With practiced hands the asset snapped the barrel assembly in place and then quietly chambered a round. He turned his ball cap around backwards and pushed back into the sunlight.
Their eyes met in an instant, and Amiri had his pistol out and clear. The asset thumbed his selector, centered his sights by rote and squeezed the trigger twice, sending the psychopath off to meet his 70 dark-eyed virgins. A pair of perfectly placed double taps queued up his two companions right in line behind him. That’s when the screaming started. There was always screaming.
The asset used the resulting chaos to melt into the crowd. Half an hour later, he was sipping an ice cold Coke in an air-conditioned hotel room being debriefed by a pair of flabby guys in suits. The excitement passed, the ringing in his ears abated, and his pulse returned to the low 60s. It was a weird way to make a living, but somebody had to do it.
The concept of takedown guns dates back more than a century. John Moses Browning, the most gifted gun designer in human history, contrived his Model 1897 shotgun to break down readily into two pieces. This feature allowed the gun to be more easily shipped, stored or hidden.
The barrel assembly on the 1897 mates to the receiver via a set of fine interrupted threads. To take the gun down you slide out a retractable peg at the front of the magazine tube, give it a partial turn and pull the tube forward and clear of the receiver. This frees up the barrel to twist and slide free.
The Japanese Airborne
Though they were used only infrequently during World War II, the Japanese maintained a robust airborne capability. As a result the Japanese military fielded several fascinating takedown guns. The TERA Type 2 was a break-apart version of their bolt-action Arisaka Type 99 infantry rifle. The gun was held together via an interrupted thread and wedge system.
The Japanese Type 99 machine gun was a magazine-fed support weapon not conceptually dissimilar to the British Bren gun. Though a nightmare to mass produce and a boat anchor to hump, this gun soldiered on reliably until the very end of the War in the Pacific. The Japanese also produced a take-down version of this weapon for airborne use, albeit in very small quantities.
The Arisaka Type 99 Paratrooper machine gun features a removable finned barrel held in place via a calibrated wedge. The buttstock is retained by a pin affixed to the end of a short length of steel chain. The steel pistol grip folds forward to encompass the trigger guard. When fully broken down, the Paratrooper Type 99 collapses into a remarkably small package.
In 1956 Gene Stoner and the design team that ultimately produced the AR-15 were occupying themselves trying to conjure a new survival weapon for USAF aircrews. The result was the AR-5, a bolt-action takedown rifle chambered for the .22 Hornet cartridge. The AR-5 was a solid design, but the Air Force already had M4 and M6 survival weapons in inventory, so the new gun sort of fizzled. However, many of the AR-5’s radical attributes found their way into the AR-7, a .22LR autoloading design intended for the civilian market.
The AR-7 fed from a detachable box magazine and came apart via a large screw that fed through the wrist of the stock. Loosening a threaded collar removed the barrel, and the whole shebang stored inside the bulbous butt-stock. The gun would even float. The Israelis used a slightly modified version of the AR-7 operationally as an aircrew survival weapon in the 1980s. Sean Connery’s James Bond used one to shoot down a helicopter in “From Russia with Love.”
These days Henry offers the same AR-7 design as the U.S. Survival rifle. Modern mass production techniques and Information Age materials science keep the gun inexpensive. Henry makes it cool. I once tied a cord to mine and left it floating overnight in a lake. It sank eventually but took hours to do so.
KelTec makes weirdly awesome guns. Their SUB2000™ pistol-caliber folding rifle is a radical bullpup design that pivots just ahead of the trigger guard. Tugging the trigger guard downward releases the gun to fold. A spring-loaded catch secures the gun in its folded state. Deployment takes less time to perform than to describe.
The SUB2000 has plenty of rail space for accessories, and the muzzle is threaded for a suppressor if desired. The gun can be configured for either GLOCK, SIG SAUER, Beretta, CZ, Canik or Smith & Wesson magazines, so you can maintain magazine compatibility with your standard handgun. The trigger pull is a bit on the heavy side at 9.5 pounds, but the SUB2000 is indeed exceptionally clever.
Tactical Solutions makes their X-RING VR™ precision .22 rifle in a takedown version that splits easily into two pieces. The barrel is retained via an interrupted thread and secures to the bottom of the buttstock when collapsed for storage or transport. The gun holds its zero and shoots like an extension of your own anatomy.
Cry Havoc Tactical
Cry Havoc Tactical produces a Quick Release Barrel setup that allows you to transform any M4-based weapon into a covert takedown spy gun. A proprietary collar on the upper receiver mates with a similar component on the barrel extension and secures via a pair of throw levers. The USAF recently bought more than 2,000 of these weapons for use in every combat aircraft in the inventory. When mounted atop a standard M4 lower, the resulting gun is actually small enough to fit into a fighter plane’s ejection seat.
Takedown guns represent the pinnacle of the gun designer’s art. Capable, rugged, radical and neat, these novel tools seem right at home tucked behind the seat in James Bond’s Aston Martin. There are also quite a few options available for us normal folk as well.
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|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N1 (Jan 2020)