By Frank Iannamico
According to most of the statistics available, seven to ten percent of the world's population is left-handed. Unfortunately for those folks most machines and other devices are engineered with right-handed individuals in mind. Firearms are one of those devices.
During the mid 1960s the U.S. military officially adopted the small caliber 5.56x45mm M16 rifle. The M16 immediately began to replace the M14, which had served for less than 10 years as the primary U.S. infantry weapon. Although the M16 encountered many initial problems during its baptism of fire in Vietnam, the weapon was upgraded into the reliable M16A1 in 1967, the M16A2 during 1982 and the M4 carbine in 1994. The M16 has continued to evolve and has remained the preferred weapon of U.S. forces for over 40 years making it the longest serving "Standard" infantry rifle in continuous U.S. service.
The M16 was a revolutionary design made of aluminum alloys and composite plastics. The ejection port of the M16 and its variants was located on the right-hand side of the upper receiver, primarily designed with the right-handed shooter in mind. For left-handed troops, the position of the ejection port proved to be both distracting and annoying as the weapon ejected spent, hot cartridge cases directly across the front of the shooter's face. Knowing of the problem left handed troops were facing with the M16, the military made available to recruits a brass deflector made of plastic. The deflector had a spring-loaded ball that secured it to the top of the carry handle of the M16A1. The device deflected the spent brass forward and down away from the shooter's face. When the M16A2 was designed, a brass deflector was added to the upper receiver. The deflector consisted of an integral triangular shaped block just aft of the ejection port and it was designed to deflect spent cases forward away from the shooter's face.
In 1964 a semiautomatic version of the M16, designated the AR-15, was introduced by Colt, who was at that time the primary contractor of the select-fire M16 for the military. (AR-15 was the original ArmaLite Company's and later Colt's designation of the M16 prior to being adopted by the U.S. Military). Like its counterpart the M16, the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle was primarily designed for right-handed shooters. Since its introduction and subsequent expiration of its patents, the original AR-15 rifle has spawned many clones with numerous companies marketing them. While a few companies have come and gone, new companies continually spring up to cash in on the popularity of the "black rifle." Because of the rifle's growing popularity the civilian aftermarket has created an enormous amount of upper receivers, heavy barrels, sights, forearms, buttstocks, optics and other accessories. Making the AR-15, and its many clones, one of the most popular and accessorized firearms since the 1911 pistol, with a following of dedicated enthusiasts.
Unlike the military, the aftermarket manufacturers did not forget the left-handed shooter. Stag Arms was the first to introduce an AR-15 type rifle specifically designed for lefties by relocating the ejection port to the left side of the upper receiver. The left-hand rifle proved to be quite popular, and Stag was soon joined by several other entities offering left-hand AR-15 type rifles and upper receivers.
In the past few years, several economic factors have come into play that has increased the cost of surplus and commercial centerfire ammunition to nearly double that of their former price levels. Many calibers have become difficult to find in any quantity. Making matters worse was the 2008 election of an anti-gun president. This touched off a panic among gun owners the likes of which had not been seen since Bill and Hillary Clinton were running things. The buying spree saw the prices of both firearms and ammunition escalate to unheard levels, due in part to the free enterprise system's law of supply and demand. Following closely behind was reloading components; powder, bullets and especially primers. During this period there was renewed interest in .22 caliber firearms, and .22 conversion kits for centerfire rifles and handguns.
The .223 AR-15 rifle is a natural for conversion to .22 rimfire caliber due to its bore diameter. However, .22 caliber conversion kits for the AR-15/M16 family are nothing new. The Military Armament Corporation, best known for manufacturing the Ingram/MAC submachine guns, marketed a .22 caliber kit for the M16 rifle back in the 1970s. The kit was designed by MAC engineer Max Atchisson and, proving to be quite successful, the kits are still manufactured and sold today. Currently there are several entities that offer .22 rimfire conversion kits for the AR-15 type firearms, however, as before, the left-handed shooters of the world have been ignored...until now.
Christie and Christie Enterprises, Inc.
The name Christie is probably familiar to most NFA firearm enthusiasts. Ken Christie became well-known during the 1980s when he introduced the 30-round magazines, replacement firing pins and other accessories for the Reising submachine gun. Since those early days, Ken has kept busy creating new products expanding in the accessories for the 10/22 Ruger rifle. Ken has become famous for making quality products and standing behind them. Now there is another Christie, Chance, who is Ken's son. Like his father, Chance has jumped in the aftermarket accessory business with both feet fulfilling a need with quality products. Being a left-handed AR-15 shooter, Chance Christie saw a need for a left-handed .22 conversion kit for the oft-neglected left-hand AR-15 owners of the world. With this idea, he set out to develop just such a kit. Initially progress was slow, fraught with many unforeseen problems, but Chance kept at it, and when the dust finally settled he had perfected the first .22 caliber conversion kit specifically designed for use with the left-hand AR-15-type upper receivers.
Chance Christie offered to demonstrate one of his conversion kits to SAR magazine. Arrangements were made and a shooting session was scheduled in Pennsylvania, to coincide with Ken and Chance's trip to the SAR East show in York, PA. Chance brought several brands of .22 caliber ammunition to demonstrate his device's ability to function with just about any brand on the market.
The kit includes a .22 conversion bolt unit, two 26-round magazines, take-down tool, cleaning brush and an instructional DVD. Most of the unit's components are made of 316 stainless steel, with the exception of the extractor and firing pin, which are made of titanium. Apart from for the material used for the travel rails of the bolt, which had to be imported from Germany, the kit is made in the U.S.A. The unit is easily installed. First insuring that the rifle is not loaded, remove the rifle's rear take-down pin to separate the receiver halves, then simply remove the .223 bolt assembly and replace it with the Christie .22 caliber bolt assembly, close the receiver halves and reinsert the rear pin. The polymer magazine used with the kit are made by Black Dog Machine, LLC. No adapter is required as the outside dimension of the magazines are the same as a standard .223 mag and fit perfectly into the magazine well. Also tested was the optional 50-round drum magazine also manufactured by Black Dog Machine, LLC. Like the standard magazine, the drum preformed without a hitch.
During the testing, over 500 rounds of various brands of .22 caliber ammunition were fired without a single stoppage; quite impressive considering how dirty and inconsistent .22 ammunition can be. Chance recommends field-stripping and cleaning the conversion unit at 500 rounds and, at this point, it is highly recommended that the original .223 bolt be reinstalled and three to four rounds of factory .223 ammunition be fired - this practice is to keep the barrel's relatively small gas port and gas tube free of lead build up. After firing 1,000 to 1,500 rounds, a more detailed cleaning is suggested that includes removing the extractor and firing pin. All of the maintenance procedures are clearly demonstrated in the DVD that comes with the kit. Currently the kit will only function in a semiautomatic mode, however, if there is enough interest, a left-handed full-automatic kit maybe the Christie's next project.
Christie & Christie Enterprises, Inc.
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