Tuesday, October 3, 2023
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[Guide] Civilian-Legal Versions of Military-Only Guns

Whether you’re a gun collector, or you just love to pop a few off at the range, one thing unites all gun lovers…military-grade firearms are pretty freaking cool.  

And while we all wish that we could hop behind a Mk 19 and start shooting, realistically, that’s just not a level of awesomeness that most civilians will experience.

While most of us won’t ever lucky enough to play with the big toys, there are plenty of guns based on military-issued firearms that we can get our hands on.  

US Marines firing the Mk 19 grenade launcher
U.S. Marines firing the Mk 19 grenade launcher

Today, we’re going to have a look at some cool military weapons (that aren’t AK-47s and AR-15s), and are perfectly legal for civilians like you and me to use.  

Summary of Our Top Picks

Table of Contents


Best Civilian-Legal Versions of Military-Only Guns

1. Steyr AUG

The Steyr AUG is hands down, the most iconic bullpup rifle ever created.

This Austrian-made weapon has seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and is used by countless defense forces around the world, including Taiwan, Ireland, Austria, Australia, and Argentina.  

UN Peackeeping troops Irish Army marching with Steyr AUG rifles
UN Peacekeeping troops from the Irish Army marching with Steyr AUG rifles

We even got our hands on one to review! Our complete review of the Steyr AUG.

The original Steyr AUG is a combat rifle that shoots 5.56x45mm NATO rounds.  

It’s known for its integrated 1.5x telescopic sight and unusual stock design, which can be configured for both right and left shooters. The military-grade Steyr AUG has three different firing configurations — semi-auto, 3-round bursts, and fully automatic.

AUG taking a nap on a tree
AUG taking a nap on a tree.

The civilian counterpart to the Steyr AUG is the AUG A3 M1. 

It’s a semi-automatic version of the Steyr AUG carbine that was designed for the American market. This means that instead of the 20-inch barrel length that comes with the standard Steyr AUG, the A3 M1 is fitted with a 16-inch barrel for better maneuverability in close spaces.

While the civilian version of the Steyr AUG has a hefty price tag, the AUG A3 M1 is a great gun for anyone who loves tactical weaponry. And with an overall length of 28.15 inches, it’s easy to maneuver in close spaces like hallways and around corners.


Despite its unorthodox look and feel, the AUG A3 M1 is quite comfortable to shoot. And since it can be configured for left-side ejection, southpaw shooters don’t have to worry about casings being ejected directly into their face.

brass in face meme
We’ve all been there, but lefties are always there, not with this gun though.

The AUG A3 M1 fires the same 5.56x45mm NATO/.223 Rem cartridge as its military predecessor and also comes with your choice of a 1.5x or 3x integrated scope.  

If you don’t want to use the factory scope, you can also choose a short rail (11 slot) or high rail (16 slot) configuration and mount your own scope or optical device.  

Overall, the AUG is an all-around great gun. Its versatility makes it useful whether you want a gun for home defense, for competitive shooting, or you just want to shoot something different from the AR platform.

Love bullpups? Check out more rifles and shotguns in our Best Bullpup article.


With a name like Special Operation Forces Combat Assault Rifle, you already know the SCAR is going to be a top-of-the-line military weapon.

Created by FN Herstal, the SCAR comes in two variants: light — which shoots 5.56x45mm rounds — and heavy, which fires 7.62x51mm.

Navy SEAL with SCAR-H/Mk 17
Navy SEAL with SCAR-H/Mk 17

Both SCAR variants are successful battle rifles which saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and are used by militaries in a number of countries around the world, including South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Germany.  

Additionally, some of the United States SOF forces also use the SCAR-H (Mk 17) in Afghanistan.


The civilian variants of the SCAR-L/H are the SCAR 16S, which shoots 5.56x45mm/.223 Rem and the SCAR 17S, which fires 7.62x51mm/.308 Win.

While neither of these guns come fully automatic or with a grenade launcher, they are excellent guns for civilians and law enforcement alike due to their accuracy and easiness to shoot.

When it comes to design, there’s not much difference between the 16S and the 17S. Both are lightweight, have mil-spec barrels with a length of 16.25 inches, and are equipped with an integrated MIL-STD-1913 rail on the receiver for optics, as well as three other accessory rails for flashlights or laser sights.  

The 16S comes with either a 10- or 30-round magazine, while the 17S comes with a 10- or 20-round variant.

We reviewed the SCAR 17S recently….come see what we thought in our full review or watch the video below!

3. HK MP5

There aren’t many modern submachine guns as iconic as Heckler & Koch’s MP5.

This combat weapon is one of the most popular submachine guns in the world, having been used by a number of different militaries and law enforcement agencies across the globe, including the German Army, the United Kingdom’s Special Forces, and the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

MP5 Maglite Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher posing beside some MP5s.

The original MP5 took 9x19mm rounds and was capable of firing full auto at a jaw-dropping rate of 800 rounds a minute. The MP5’s success spawned a number of different variations, including versions that fired 10mm and .40 S&W ammo.  

The most original civilian version of the MP5 is a semi-automatic pistol-caliber carbine called the HK94. Since it was only manufactured between 1983 and 1989, you might have a hard time finding an authentic version floating around on the market.

MP5 Die Hard
The only way to shoot an MP5, am I right?

The good news is that HK introduced a new generation of civilian MP5s in 2016 under the name SP5K. While the price tag is a lot of money for an oversized 9mm, the SP5K is an excellent gun for defense and sporting purposes.

The “K” in SP5K stands for Kurz, the German word for short. This is because it’s a little shorter and more compact than its MP5 predecessor.  It also doesn’t come with a buttstock like the MP5, but instead comes with a one-point sling and has a sling loop at the endplate of the gun. However, if you’re set on having stock similar to the MP5, you can pay extra for a foldable buttstock to be added to the gun.

The SP5K with sling loop and with buttstock
The SP5K with sling loop and with buttstock

One of the cooler features of the SP5K that is actually a step up from the MP5 is the removable Picatinny rail that’s attached on the top of the receiver.

This makes mounting optics much easier than it would be for other MP5 variants, including previous civilian models and 9mm modifications.

Cheap Red Dots, Side
We like optics around here.

While it may look a little different than the MP5, the SP5K is built with the same overall design as its combat-grade predecessor.

It has the same roller-locking bolt mechanism, non-threaded 4-inch barrel, and fluted chamber of the original MP5. It also shoots just as smoothly, albeit a little bit slower.

If you’re into pistol-caliber carbines, the SP5K is one of the best on the market. It’s accurate, easy to handle, and incredibly fun to shoot. And with all HK products, you’re guaranteed quality craftsmanship every time.

MP5K…the sibling to the SP5K

What do you think of the MP5? Rate it below!

4. FN 15 Military Collector M4 and M16

FN got some major military contracts before, during, and after the Global War on Terror. They produced the M249 and M240 famously, as well as the M16A4.

They know AR-15s well and have embraced the world of Military Collectors with the FN 15 Military Collector Series.

FN 15 M4

This series is made up of the M4 and M16 series rifles. Obviously, they are semi-auto-only clones of the original rifles.

The M4 features a 16-inch barrel as well. Other than that, these guns are dead on the money for those looking for an accurate clone of the M4 and M16 series.

They rock the heavy metal quad rails, the classic polymer black furniture, and the A-frame front sight base.

FN makes them to military spec, for better or worse. Both guns give the military collector an accurate, out-of-the-box replica of the weapons our soldiers and Marines have carried into conflicts across the globe.

5. Benelli M4

The Benelli M4 serves as the M1014 Joint Service Shotgun with the four branches of the United States military. Since 1999, it’s been the premier combat shotgun for close-quarter fighting.

Benelli M4
Benelli M4

Benelli makes an M1-14 clone, but unfortunately, the stock’s fixed, and the magazine tube is cut off at five rounds.

I would purchase the Benelli M4 with the field stock and the necessary parts to make the weapon 922R legal — then purchase a collapsing stock and 7-round tube. I used Freedom Fighter Tactical for my 922R needs and hunted down the stock painstakingly.

The M4 uses a gas-operated system with two pistons to cycle the action. It’s a self-regulating and self-cleaning system that works in the worst conditions possible.

This shotgun changed the perception of combat shotguns and the perception of semi-auto shotguns in general due to their raw reliability.

6. Mossberg 590A1

Mossberg built the 590A1 to specifically address the needs of the entire military. This pump-action shotgun features a number of features that make it soldier-proof, for lack of a better term. This includes a thick-walled barrel, a bayonet lug, and reliability in harsh environments.

Mossberg Retrograde 590A1
Mossberg Retrograde 590A1

When it comes to hall of fame combat shotguns, the Mossberg 590A1 ranks highly. It’s super simple but incredibly powerful.

Mossberg happily makes numerous variants of the 590A1 shotgun to represent the various models employed by numerous military forces.

Mossberg Retrograde 590A1 Shooting Front
Mossberg Retrograde 590A1

My favorite is the full-length, 20-inch, 8-shot model with a bayonet lug and ghost ring sights. It’s hard to get meaner than bayonet equipped 12-gauge shotgun.

The Mossberg series are the only pump-action shotguns to pass the Army’s 3443 shotgun testing.

7. Sig M17/M18 Series

I remember meeting with Sig at SHOT the day after the U.S. Army declared the P320 the winner of the modular handgun contest. Needless to say, they were excited, and Sig’s booth was buzzing.

The M17 and M18 series are the official names and configurations of the United States military.

The M17 is a formidable weapon designed to operate in the military theater

While the M17 gives shooters a classic full-sized duty pistol, the M18 is a more concealed model with a shorter slide. The only difference is the black controls on the civilian models and the coyote controls on the military variants.

A little Cerakote, and you’ll have a one-for-one replica of the military models.

The P320 and M17/18 series are polymer frames, striker-fired, 9mm handguns with optic compatibility and a rail system. It’s a very modern handgun series well suited for a modern military force.

8. Barrett M82A1

Oh, when you wanna go big, you wanna go Barrett.

Barrett’s famed .50 caliber rifle series have been big hits in the military world. They serve as anti-material rifles capable of taking out lightly armored vehicles and heavily entrenched targets and reaching out quite far to deal with threats both big and small.

Barrett Mk22

Barrett is a very 2A-friendly company and has no problems selling its firearms to the civilian market.

What the military calls the Special Applications Scope Rifle, the rest of the world calls the M82A1.

Barrett M82A1
The Barrett M82A1 is my happy place.

What we get with the M82A1 is a semi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated, ,50 BMG rifle. The Barrett provides 30 pounds of fun.

If you’ve never shot a .50 caliber rifle, you should find a way to remedy that. It’s hard to picture a time when I smiled more when shooting than when I hit a steel target nearly a mile out with an M82A1 and the help of a very skilled (and patient) spotter.

Final Thoughts

The truth is that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of civilian conversions of military-grade firearms.

There are a number of different pistols, rifles, and carbines out there. Which type of combat weapon is your favorite?

Travis M240B Machine Gun Military
Yours truly manning the M240B

How about you, what military-grade hardware do you love? Let us know in the comments! Interested in some more military gear you can own? You’ll want to read How to Buy a Tank! Or check out our recommendations on military surplus guns!

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