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Molly Stevens was a cute, slight woman with a gentle disposition. She enjoyed the occasional recreational trip to the range with her husband but, for the most part, was content to homeschool her two young kids, Mitch and Marni. Her minivan was littered with old French fries and smelled pervasively of children. Between church responsibilities, tee ball practice and volunteer time at the homeless shelter, she was always on the go. A day in the shelter would likely be good for the kids.

The turn into the long alleyway had been an accident. Her exasperation flirted with fear as a muscular young man in a red bandana stepped in front of her van and slapped the hood loudly, forcing her to stop. She glanced behind only to find two of his comrades closing in. One carried a hammer. The other had a baseball bat.

She felt her heart beating in her chest as the first man casually raised his shirt. Underneath were rippling muscles, a large “MS” tattoo in gothic script and the butt of a heavy revolver. Molly recognized the MS-13 gang symbol. She stole a glance at her kids. They looked back at their mother wide-eyed and afraid.

Molly took a deep breath and opened the door. The young man with the gun smiled and said, “Hey there, pretty lady. Want to come out and play with us?” His comrades snickered loudly behind the vehicle, and one suddenly smashed the back window with his bat.

Molly’s hand slipped to the grip of the cut-down M203 grenade launcher she carried in her custom Kydex thigh holster. Her finger pressed the safety forward as she drew the weapon, centered it on the big man’s chest and stroked the trigger. The grenade just had time to arm before impact. When the smoke cleared, all that remained of the gangbanger was a pair of charred boots, a few scattered gold teeth and a smoldering bandana. The other two gangsters sprinted away, their weapons discarded and their low-slung trousers moist.

“Yay, Mom! Get some!” shouted Mitch.

“Mom rocks hard!” squealed little Marni.

With that, Molly smiled, extracted the empty case and replaced it with a fresh 40mm M433 high-explosive dual-purpose (HEDP) round from her purse. She dialed her friend the police commissioner and sighed at the mess. She found that she was much more assertive and self-confident since she started packing a grenade launcher as her everyday-carry gun. The bulk and heft got tedious, of course, but it took all the ambiguity out of these little exchanges.

Your Own M203 Grenade Launcher

If you’re like me, then you might agree that grenade launchers in the hands of vulnerable young women with the will and skill to use them would likely put a dent in violent crime rates across our great republic. Alas, while high-explosive 40mm rounds might never be available to us mere mortals, it is a surprisingly practical thing to add a live M203 grenade launcher to your personal firearms collection. Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT) makes the genuine mil-spec article, as well as gobs of cool-guy accessories. And, unlike most defense contractors, the company also values the business of individual American citizens.

The M203 was the only part of the 1960s-era Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) that saw active service. Introduced in 1969 and widely issued to U.S. forces starting in the early 1970s, the M203 combined the indirect-fire capability of the grenade launcher with the point-target efficiency of an infantry rifle. Grunts typically referred to the system as the “platoon leader’s artillery.”

The M203 is a slide-action design wherein the barrel slides forward to accept a round. The single-action trigger is nicely crisp, and the host gun’s magazine serves as an ad hoc pistol grip for firing. The manual safety consists of a pivoting toggle located within the triggerguard.

The launcher has been produced by at least seven major manufacturers and has been adapted to fit dozens of weapons ranging from the M4 Carbine to the HK MP5 submachine gun. The M203 can also manage dozens of different lethal and non-lethal rounds and is gradually being supplanted by the HK M320 in active military service.

In Civilian Hands

Grenade launchers are fairly inoffensive in the absence of high-explosive rounds, something that is quite literally unobtainable on the civilian market. However, “grenade launcher” sounds scary, so the federal government has deemed them “destructive devices” (DDs) in legal parlance. This means that owning one involves the same onerous paperwork, $200 tax stamp and interminable wait time that purchasing a registered machine gun or sound suppressor might.

Additionally, these delightful toys must be transferred through a licensed DD dealer; something that is about as common as fiscal restraint in Congress. However, the BATFE will allow a conventional Class 3 firearms dealer to transfer a DD every now and then so long as they don’t make a habit of it; that’s how I got mine.

Which brings us back to LMT. This company is friendly, helpful and willing to sell its mil-spec gear to us normal folk so long as the proper rules are obeyed. LMT launchers can be had with 7-, 9- and 12-inch barrels in designs that either mount around the host weapon’s barrel or via a standard forearm rail. If you don’t want to endure the DD headache, LMT will also sell you the finished gun without a barrel as a standard Title 1 firearm. This weapon will transfer through any FFL just like your favorite single-barrel shotgun. At that point, you can legally outfit the launcher with a 37mm barrel or do the paperwork to register it as a DD and slap on the mil-spec 40mm version. LMT also offers standalone buttstocks and pistol grip mounts that turn the launcher into the mother of all handguns.

Personal Testing

Government-surplus flare and training rounds are available. However, they are expensive, and their availability is spotty. If you really want to wring out your M203, surf on over to reloadableshells.com.

This company’s lineup includes reusable machined cartridges that will push just about anything you might stuff in there. It offers appropriate wads, burst disks and ancillary kit to excite even the most jaded reloader. The company’s lineup includes beehive rounds that fire four .410 rounds simultaneously. Another option lights off three 28-gauge cylinders at the same time. This rig is great for rolling your own homebuilt flechette rounds.

Reloadableshells.com offers a variety of non-lethal projectiles as well as reloadable smoke rounds. In addition, the company sells adapters that allow you to run standard 12-gauge rounds through your 40mm launcher. I have found that plain old birdshot will produce a muzzle flash that is visible from outer space.

So, after obtaining some of these rounds for testing, my goal was to make the M203 ready for carry. Thankfully, my friend Dennis Todd figured out how to pack one comfortably. He and a buddy designed a Kydex carry rig for the M203 that totes the gun on the hip while allowing fast access. Dennis is a fixture in the uniquely American world of advanced tactical gun collecting, and he has a gift for such stuff as this.

Is It Practical?

The heft is substantial, but not as bad as it could be. Think Desert Eagle for a convenient frame of reference. The holster is open on the front so the gun is just grab and go. Take hold of the pistol grip and push, and the M203 pops right out the front. If you are rolling around in the dirt with this thing for real, you will also naturally want a dummy cord just in case.

The safety on the M203 is large and positive. This makes the gun as safe to carry loaded as most tactical handguns. Back when I flew helicopters for Uncle Sam, a grunt had a negligent discharge with his M203 aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk in my battalion. Thankfully, everything turned out OK—the round has to travel between 14 and 28 meters before it will arm itself—but such an event foments unnecessary angst.

The recoil is not insubstantial. It’s best to brace the weapon alongside something when you fire it. Your thigh will do in a pinch. And let me say that LMT’s M203 is a close-range area weapon system. When running 12-gauge ammunition through the adapter, the details really don’t matter. There’s no choke. There’s no barrel for that matter. At modest ranges, the thing will pepper a man-sized target from toenails to hairdo.

So what’s such a beast really good for? That’s a stupid question. We all saw Al Pacino in Scarface. The DEVGRU boys who dispatched Osama bin Laden carried cut-down, single-shot M79 grenade launchers that they affectionately referred to as “pirate guns.” The FBI Hostage Rescue Team and Delta Force are reportedly using M203s with pistol grips, though I cannot confirm or deny that. I personally can’t think of a handier way to throw tear gas or smoke, and there are some butt-kicking breacher rounds out there that will instantly put a door anyplace you need one.

You may have scads of guns. You may have iron in your collection to deal with threats from bad-breath range out to a grid square. Chances are, however, you don’t have anything like this. LMT will get you into the launcher, and reloadableshells.com will keep it running. The M203 is a reliable crowd pleaser any place two or more gun guys are gathered. Now, thanks to Dennis Todd, you can even pack it as an EDC gun. God bless America.

For more information, please visit the following websites:

  • Lewis Machine & Tool: lmtdefense.com

  • Dennis Todd (email): dtoddmg@aol.com

  • Reloadable Shells: reloadableshells.com

This article is from the winter 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab your physical copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com. For digital version, head over to Amazon.

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