When people think of America’s first gas-operated semiautomatic sporting rifle, they don’t instantly come up with the Standard Model G, but it does hold that title and is arguably one of the most unique rifles ever made in the U.S.
It came about at the turn of the 20th century, when a lot of new ideas for semi-auto and repeating rifles and shotguns were introduced, with few of them sticking.
The Model G was invented by Morris F. Smith of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who filed a patent for an “automatic gas-operated rifle” on March 6, 1906.
The concept of a gas-operated firearm wasn’t new at the time and was the technology making the first machine guns possible, but the tech hadn’t yet been widely applied to hunting rifles.
The only other autoloaders available on the U.S. market at the time were the Winchester Model 1903 .22 LR Self-Loading Rifle and the John Browning-designed Remington Model 8. Winchester was also offering the Model 1903 along with the 1905 and 1907 centerfire semis, the last of which was in production until 1957. But they were all based on long-recoil or straight blowback actions, not gas-operated mechanisms.
The first problem with the Model G is that the design is extremely complicated, and as such, soon after its introduction in 1910 by the Standard Arms Co. of Wilmington, Delaware, the Model G got a rep for being a jammer, according to Gun Digest. And when it jammed, it wasn’t easily remedied.
According to the post by Dan Shideler, “The problem with the Model G was that no steel then in general use could withstanding (sic) the ferocious energy of expanding powder gas. In Smith’s design, the expanding gas bled from the barrel via an adjustable port and traveled backward toward the bolt through a gas tube below the barrel. The gas exited the tube to push against a cup-shaped pistol, which was attached with a feeble crosspin to a scissors-like pair of bolt extensions. When all went well, which was too seldom, the pistol thrust the bolt extensions backward, initiating the extraction-ejection-reloading cycle.
“When all did not go well—usually on the third or fourth shot—the wimpy little crosspin sheared off and locked up the entire works. The shooter was done for the day.”
The Model G was supposed to be a market-changing rifle that was easy to operate and quick to reload. It had a flush-mounted, bottom-opening integral magazine that allowed the use of spitzer-type bullets, unlike rifles with tube magazines. Its gas action mitigated recoil and it looked pretty good.
Not only that, but the semi-auto could also be operated as a pump gun. If you closed the adjustable gas port and pressed in on a small button on the rifle’s forearm, you could rack the action manually like a pump shotgun. And what a forearm—it was cast of brass alloy featuring a bas-relief of a moose and assorted scrollwork with a matching buttplate.
The Model G only saw mass production between 1912 and 1914 and was most widely chambered in .35 Remington.
While the concept couldn’t save the Model G, the idea of combining a pump and semi-auto was revived in 1979 with the Franchi SPAS-12, a combat shotgun that afforded semi-auto or pump-action operation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franchi_SPAS-12
The shotgun as sold to military and police users worldwide on the civilian market and, because of its unique looks, was features in a bunch of movies and TV shows.
In 1994, when the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban went into effect under President Clinton, imports of the SPAS-12 were stopped. By the time the ban had expired in 2004, Franchi had already ended production for four years and moved on to the SPAS-15. There was also a pump-only version (the SAS-12) and a semi-auto only version (LAW-12).
The SPAS-12 is still listed as illegal to possess in some states, including California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The Model G did not acquire any such notoriety, but is in important and interesting part of the U.S. firearms development.
For a deeper dive into the Model G, check out the full post from Gun Digest, here. http://gundigest.com/classic-guns/remembering-the-late-model-g