|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2012)|
The forward assist on a firearm is a button found commonly on AR-15 rifle derivatives, such as the M16 rifle, and is usually located near the bolt closure. When hit it pushes the bolt carrier forward, ensuring that the bolt is locked. In order to ensure that the extractor is clipped around the rim of the shell, the forward assist is usually struck rather than pushed. It is commonly incorporated into standard loading procedure to prepare a weapon for a life threatening situation, or to close the bolt when the weapon is excessively dirty. It can also be used to close a bolt that was gently let down, rather than released under full spring compression, to keep the noise of closing the bolt to a minimum.
The forward assist is generally not necessary as a standard procedure on any weapon with the exception of the British version of the L85A1. Having realized the frequency with which the weapon jammed when taken outside of the clean environment of the test range, the forward assist was implemented to save the operator the potential danger of aiming the rifle and pulling the trigger and the rifle not going off because the bolt is not fully forward (a safety arrangement called a "safety sear" stopping the hammer from being released and the weapon firing, because of the dangers of firing with the bolt not fully closed). The design of the L85 makes the forward assist quite awkward as the left supporting arm must come off the hand grip and reach over the top to strike the bolt forward with the left edge of the left hand, much like a "karate chop". A redesign of the L85, known as the A2, alleviated this problem by reducing the number of locking lugs on the bolt and strengthening the recoil spring. However, the "forward-assist" is still often taught simply as a matter of course.
The forward assist had been implemented in 2007 on the MSAR STG-556, an American-made clone of the Austrian Steyr AUG assault rifle, but the usefulness of such device is questionable, since the design is not normally prone to the malfunction that led to the need of the forward assist in other firearms; in fact Microtech Small Arms Research Inc., the manufacturer of the STG-556, has dropped the forward assist on all rifles manufactured since November 2008.
The forward assist may cause the cartridge to become jammed into the rifle requiring a cleaning rod to need to be pushed into the muzzle of the rifle to force the casing back out of the chamber. The high pressure of a round getting hung up when fired could potentially cause a deadly explosion in the rifle. One recommendation is to not use the forward assist at all and dispose of the shell that wouldn't seat properly. The main reason a bolt carrier group (BCG) won't go fully forward is usually due to an excessive amount of dirt, carbon build-up, etc. If one finds their BCG not seating regularly, they should inspect their rifle to determine the cause of the problem before continued firing. Or, if one is not qualified to safely inspect a rifle and perform maintenance, it is safest to take it to a credible gunsmith.