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“Considering the longstanding reliability and lethality problems with the M16 design, of which the M4 is based, I am afraid that our troops in combat might not have the best weapon,” Mr. Coburn wrote to the Army in April 2007. “A number of manufacturers have researched, tested and fielded weapons which, by all accounts, appear to provide significantly improved reliability.”

The senator fought a lonely battle the next five years. No other lawmaker joined his campaign for a better basic rifle, but in the end, he forced the Army to change.