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Truly Radical Reloading: Unconventional Fodder for the 40mm Grenade Launcher

By Will Dabbs MD

Grenade launchers fall into a strange niche in advanced American gun collecting. On the battlefield, they are powerful combat multipliers. Traditionally referred to as “the platoon leader’s artillery” in grunt-speak, the grenade launcher fills the tactical gap between hand grenades and an infantry company’s organic 60mm mortars. The standard military issue M433 40mm HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) rounds have an effective casualty radius of five meters and can punch through two inches of steel armor plate at a 90-degree angle of incidence, enough to penetrate the roof armor of many armored vehicles. These rounds are effective and proven in combat. Alas, however, the typical civilian shooter will never even see one in the flesh.

Despite the fact that legitimate high explosive rounds are functionally non-existent in the civilian world, there is still a powerful stigma against grenade launchers in the hands of civilians. The very notion that private citizens could own such stuff, despite the lack of explosive ammunition and the obvious dearth of grenade launcher-related crime, is enough to induce the vapors in the less durable members of our society. That was more than enough reason for me to seek one out to add to my collection. My money has gone toward stupider things in the past. Nowadays, however, there are some new street-legal rounds for the 40mm grenade launcher that will actually justify the purchase.

Really Big Guns

A grenade launcher is a Destructive Device (DD) in BATF parlance. That means it has a bore diameter greater than ½ inch. Destructive Device is the catch-all term used to define large bore guns, grenades, incendiary devices, and poison gas. I suppose how we might go about putting a serial number on poison gas is a question for another day.

Conventional big bore shotguns would otherwise fall into this category as well (the 12 gauge has a bore diameter of .72 inches, for example), but there is a specific exemption that protects these common guns. A live grenade launcher transfers as any other National Firearms Act (NFA) weapon...

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