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The faulty M16 rifle in Vietnam and Mattel's toy gun

As the US ramped up its involvement in the Vietnam War, the Pentagon ordered tens of thousands of military versions of AR-15s, renamed M16s and manufactured by gun maker Colt. As detailed in American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15, modifications ordered by a military committee  — such as changes to the ammunition’s propellant — caused many rifles issued to soldiers and Marines to jam during combat. Inadequate cleaning supplies and training also led to jams. Many Vietnam veterans grew to hate the weapon, which was made chiefly of plastic and aluminum, unlike traditional rifles made of steel and wood. During the war, the toy company Mattel made a plastic version of the gun (shown below) to sell to kids in America. A rumor spread among the troops that in fact, the faulty weapon they were issued for war had been made by the toy company. Some Marines started calling the M16 "Matty Mattel," after a cartoon character that hawked Mattel's plastic toys. For years afterward, Vietnam veterans dismissed the M16 as a toy.

Matty Mattel M16 AR-15 American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15 by Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson


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