Written by Greg Ellifritz
Last week, I read this article in the American Rifleman asking folks to “Reconsider the Mini-14.”
The Ruger Mini-14 is a poor substitute for a good AR-15.
Some back story is necessary. In 1999, my police department was fearful of Y2K and societal collapse. Our chief at the time directed me to form a patrol rifle program, arming and training as many officers as possible with .223 rifles. No other suburban police department in my county had a rifle program for anyone except SWAT officers. It seems strange now that almost every officer in America has a rifle in his cruiser. but back then, no one carried rifles.
I did all my research and prepared a report for the chief. He approved the program, but only gave me $2500 to get it started. He allowed me to make the choice of buying and equipping four Ruger Mini-14 rifles or two AR-15s for essentially the same price. Wanting more officers to be armed with rifles, I chose to purchase the Mini-14.
Y2K came and went without incident. We had our Mini-14 rifles for almost five years before dumping them for government surplus M-16 A1s. During that five year period, I trained up around 20 officers. They each got four full days of rifle training every year and fired about 2,000 rifle rounds annually. Doing the rough math, you’ll figure out that I personally supervised approximately 200,000 rounds fired through Mini-14 rifles during the period we issued them. I think that makes enough of of an authority to make the following statements…
1) Mini-14 Accuracy sucks. The rifles we had were 5-6 MOA guns AT BEST. From a prone and rested position, my officers could rarely keep all their rounds in the chest of a silhouette at 75 yards. Even the newer “more accurate” guns that I’ve seen in my classes haven’t been better than 3 MOA. This is inexcusable when most well-made AR-15 rifles are 1-2 MOA guns.
2) Mini-14s are not as reliable as good AR-15s. The guns aren’t horribly unreliable as far as feeding goes, but they don’t work as well as most of the AR-15s I’ve seen on the range. The real problem isn’t feeding reliability, it’s parts breakage. Our department guns broke extractors and firing pins with incredible frequency.
3) You can’t buy factory parts or repair the Mini-14 yourself. Speaking of broken parts, every time you break something on your Mini-14, you will have to send the entire gun back to the factory. The factory won’t sell most critical repair parts, even to certified armorers. With an AR-15, you can buy any part you want and learn how to install it after watching a 10-minute YouTube video. That can’t happen with the Ruger.
4) No cheap aftermarket magazines will function properly. No company makes a reliable aftermarket magazine. I tried them all. You are stuck with expensive steel factory magazines if you want your gun to work.
5) The safety is unsafe. The Mini-14 safety is actually disengaged from inside the trigger guard. That requires users to keep their fingers inside the trigger guard to quickly disengage it. No one thinks that keeping fingers in trigger guards is a good practice.
6) Availability of Mini-14 aftermarket accessories is a fraction of what is available for the AR-15. Every accessory under the sun is available for the AR-15. Only a fraction of such items are available for the Ruger. If you would like to customize your gun, you’ll have a problem doing it with your Mini-14.
I’ll leave you with an anecdote about the first qualification course I shot with my personally owned Mini-14 as soon as the rifle was approved for patrol use by our police chief….
Besides myself, there was only one other instructor in the county who was certified to sign off on police semi-auto rifle qualifications. Before I could use my gun for patrol, I had to shoot the state qualification course with him. I called up this officer (an experienced Columbus Police SWAT firearms instructor) and he met me at my range to watch me shoot.
He didn’t say anything when I pulled the Mini-14 from its case. Using after market 30 round magazines, I had a hell of a time passing the course because the frequent malfunctions made me late on the time limits. When I finally passed, the CPD SWAT guy looked at me and said:
“You know, that Mini-14 is completely unsuitable for law enforcement. That’s a nutjob militia survivalist’s gun. It’s not anything you should actually carry to protect yourself.”
I was offended at the time, but I soon realized my SWAT friend was right. The Mini-14 shouldn’t be relied upon for any serious social work.