Before the AR-15 rifle came to Colt Firearms, before it became the M-16, before anyone even dreamed it would become America’s most popular gun, David E.A. Carson was there.
Carson, a Hartford resident and the retired CEO of People’s United Bank, played a key role in the first testing of the first-ever models of the rifle, which were delivered to Fort Benning, Ga. for Army testing after ArmaLite made the prototypes.
It was a competition to see which gun would succeed the World War II-era M-1 as the Army’s infantry rifle. The AR-15 was a radical design based on a smaller bullet and lightweight materials.
“In 1958 I was Private First Class Carson, mathematical statistician for the Small Arms Division of the US Army Infantry Board,” Carson wrote in an email “There were three rifles in the test, one from Springfield Arsenal, another from Remington Arms and the third from ArmaLite and Gene Stoner.”
“It was a fascinating experience! My job was to take the test data and analyze it using the mathematics of that era. We had no computers and used mechanical calculators.”
Carson’s conclusion: “The Armalite AR-15 was the clear winner!”
Others agreed. But the Army instead chose the Springfield Armory model, dubbed the M-14.
If the ArmaLite had won, it’s entirely possible that a struggling Colt’s would not have bought the design, and it’s possible there would be no Colt’s today.
The ArmaLite lost in part because of a controversial water test, which Carson recalls.
“To some extent all the rifles had a problem with the water test, however the AR-15 had the most severe problem and yet potentially the easiest solution. I have always thought that the water test was not realistic.
“The rifles were put in a fixed mount with the barrel pointing up. A water hose was fixed to shower the weapon for a period of time and then the rifle was fired. This was unlike other user tests where the rifle was fired by a soldier. There was a lot of discussion about this test both its design and the reporting of the results.”
Carson, then age 24, thinks he could be the last person alive involved in that test. He has not, for the record, taken a public position on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed ban of the AR-15.