The ArmaLite AR-7, designed by Eugene Stoner, is the civilian-commercial version of a rifle adopted by the US Air Force as a pilot and aircrew survival weapon. Its main market is as a knockabout rifle for carrying in a backpack, car trunk or pickup truck.
The AR-7 is chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, and measures 35 inches overall when assembled. It disassembles to four sections (barrel, action, stock and magazine), with everything stowing inside the ABS stock. It measures 16 inches long when configured for storage. The rifle weighs in at a mere 2.5 lb so this is even light enough to take along backpacking. Drop it in a lake and it will float, as did the previous AR-5/MA-1 design. The rear sight is a peep sight, which comes on a flat metal blade with two different size apertures. It is adjustable for elevation (up-down). The front sight is adjustable for windage (side-side). Accuracy is sufficient for hunting small game at ranges to 50 yards.
By all accounts, jamming could be markedly reduced through minor reprofiling of the receiver to smooth the transition from magazine to barrel, but reportedly never 100% consistently eradicated. As the rifle is likely incapable of being used in self defence situations, this jamming might be classified as frustrating rather than dangerous. Similarly, since a jammed weapon wouldn't make a particularly loud noise, small game being hunted might not be alerted and make escape if the gun failed to fire, allowing for a followup attempt.
Since Charter Arms sold the design and rights to Henry Repeating Arms in 1980, the AR-7 has regained its reputation for reliability, provided that high-velocity .22 Long Rifle cartridges are used to ensure proper cycling of the action.
Note: Due to NFA regulations the barrels on the rifle and pistol are not interchangeable. The rifle receiver has a notch for the barrel on the top of the fitting whereas the pistol has the notch on the bottom. The rifle barrel notch is wider than the notch on the pistol barrels. The barrels could be used on the opposite platform but the fit may affect proper functionality and the barrels would be upside down. Doing so may also violate local or federal laws.
Another variant was made by Armalite and sold to the Israeli Military for use as pilot/aircrew survival weapons The Israelis further modified these rifles, adding the telescoping stock, a pistol grip from from a FAL-type rifle, shortening the barrel (to 13.5 inches), and adding a front sight based on the K98k Mauser.
Following Israeli service, some of these rifle were re-imported into the United States by the Bricklee Trading Company (the barrels are marked with the BTC identification) for sale on the civilian market, and command a premium among collectors. In order to comply with US Federal law, a 3-inch muzzle brake had to be permanently attached in order to meet the minimum 16 inch barrel requirement.
A complaint sometimes heard about the AR-7 is its lack of a sling, apart from the highly modified Israeli models, although some users have attached slings that do not require modification to the rifle in order to use.
Another issue that was common with the AR-7 was failure to reliably feed flat-nosed .22 Long Rifle cartridges. After many tests, standard and hyper-velocity, round-nosed .22 Long Rifle cartridges were recommended for flawless action. Due to fears of possible illegal use, Henry installed a stronger recoil spring in the action to ensure that subsonic ammunition would not be able to cycle properly in the firearm. However, the hyper velocity (or even normal) loads could warp the barrel of the Henry US Survival variant.
The AR-7 features prominently in From Russia With Love (film) where Q Branch issues James Bond with one as part of his attache case. Q Branch's AR-7 is unique in that Q said it was of .25 caliber (the cartridges appear to be .25 ACP). Bond uses the AR-7 to assassinate a Soviet agent with a suppressor and infrared telescopic sight on the weapon. Bond also uses the AR-7 to shoot a crewman of an attacking helicopter causing the crewman to drop a hand grenade that destroys the helicopter. The AR-7 returns in Goldfinger (film) being used by Tilly Masterson in unsuccessful assassination attempts.
An AR-7 action modified into a pistol configuration (remarkably like the later real-life Explorer II pistol version) was used by Dean Martin as Matt Helm in the spy spoof Murderer's Row (1966). The "gimmick" in this version was that when the trigger was squeezed, there was a "click", as though of a misfire, that was in fact a timer activating, which fired the weapon ten seconds later. The "gimmick" pistol was used several times in the film to trick enemy operatives into shooting themselves with it (usually by stupidly pointing the weapon at themselves or a companion while trying to determine why it wouldn't fire), including the head villain, played by Karl Malden. Note that such a modification of a rifle action into a pistol was and is prohibited under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA34) and the Safe Streets and Crime Control Act of 1968 (aka the "Gun Control Act of 1968" aka "GCA68"), and required a special waiver from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the U.S. Treasury Department, the predecessor of the present-day Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The AR-7 was the recommended rifle in Paladin Press's controversial book, Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors.