Colt Monitor: The First Official FBI Fighting Rifle

The Colt Monitor was Colt’s improved version os the Browning Automatic Rifle intended for the law enforcement market. Colt had the sales rights to the BAR in North and South American (as well as a few other specific countries), and they worked on improving the design after World War One. In 1925 they introduced the R75, which was a military version of the gun with a bipod, pistol grip, dust covers, and a few other improvements. This was joined in 1931 by the R80, a law enforcement version also called the Monitor.

The Monitor featured a shortened (18”) and lightened barrel, no dust covers, a pistol grip, and a large Cutts Compensator muzzle brake. It was targeted at police agencies which had experienced problems with Thompson submachine guns failing to penetrate the heavy steel panels of large automobiles – the .30-06 cartridge had no problem at all dealing with cars in the 1930s.

In 1933 the gun was formally designated the FBI’s official Fighting Rifle, but the agency only purchased about 90 of the guns in total. Another 20 or so were sold to other police agencies, but at $300 (roughly $5500 in 2017 dollars) the Monitor was simply too expensive for most depression-era agencies to justify or afford. Less than 125 were made in total.

This particular example was owned by the late Jim Ballou, author of the Collector Grade book “Rock in a Hard Place” about the BAR, and has a couple non-original markings added by him. It is, however, one of very few fully transferrable Colt Monitors on the NFA registry.


  1. First, go read Stephen Hunter’s G-Man. You’ll thank me later.

    Second, the Colt and FN modifications and improvements sound like the M60 E3 modifications made to that machine gun. Or not?

  2. I notice that the Cutts compensator actually pushes the muzzle down during firing. Maybe over effective. And the entire rifle wiggles all the way from the muzzle to the butt.
    I disagree about the BAR’s usage during WWII. The marine who was on the 1995 postage stamp commemorating the Okinawa battle(carrying a BAR) was in my dad’s squad. His name was Mike Narcovage. Lots of BAR stories, and all of them good.

    • An observation I remember from an article in the Avalon Hill Gaming magazine about the unit values for the pieces in the game “Advanced Squad Leader” was that, with a BAR, a US squad had an advantage in firepower that squads in other countries’ armies could match only with the addition of a LMG. It’s not a straight-across equivalency, given the differences between the BAR and a proper LMG, but it does illustrate the difference in the view of the role of the individual squad between the US and other countries.

  3. Comments on the comp…Sort of reminds me of the replacement for the California mandated “flash-hider” by the now required “compensator” for the M1A/M14. Can’t say it likely has a lot of effect on recoil reduction to the shooter but it certainly can blow your toupee off if you’re standing beside a shooter in a teaching moment.
    Never mind the hot brass down the shirt front. A different issue, really.:);):D.
    (I’ve always wondered what ever happened to my “Point-Blank” baseball-cap…)

  4. I’m sure shooting next to that fence isn’t helping with the concussion.

    But then, real g-man shootouts wouldn’t be any more forgiving, with reflections off cars and buildings doing the same thing.

  5. Ethan, you mentioned that around 10 were on the transferable registry. Do you have any further elaboration or citation on that number? Or is that an educated guess based on who bought the rifles?

  6. Interestingly, in my service, being an Army-Guy posted to a Marine-Guy Air-Facility, I never met a Marine that didn’t swear by the BAR. Nor an Army-Guy who didn’t swear AT the BAR.
    Me, as an armorer with lots of opportunity to play with a (very) vintage BAR, and my Dad as a Platoon Leader on Attu, Kwajalein, and Luzon. Neither of us liked it much for all the well-known reasons—too heavy, too small a mag, etc. but the real problem was that blasted open bolt that made real accuracy nigh on to impossible.
    (His best, really long range accuracy shot was at a nearly two mile range, but as he said, it involved a borrowed AA rangefinder and a Sherman equipped with a 76mm rifle. Never underestimate the attention a US infantry type can give to a solitary opposing artillery observer .
    “Jezze,” said I upon this tale being related, “Did you actually hit the guy?”
    “Well,” sez him, “We didn’t see him after that…”
    Dad always said his progress from lowly draftee to officer, aside from from falling in love with She who was to become my Mom…(an officer,) had almost as much to do with having, “someone else carry the damn BAR around…Don’t tell your Mom that…”

    • Sniping someone with a tank cannon? I’m pretty sure Otto Carius’s gunner, Kramer, did that with a Tiger I’s main gun. The victim was a Russian fighter bomber that had strafed German infantry nearby. The second shot fired by Kramer blew off the plane’s wing as the plane was lining up to throw rockets at the Tiger. The shot actually hit the rocket, probably detonating its warhead and blowing the plane’s wing to bits. The Russian pilot didn’t survive as his mount slammed into the ground several hundreds of meters behind the Tiger tank at over two hundred knots airspeed. I could be wrong.

    • Do you recall any clues as to why the Marines liked the BAR while the Army did not? That seems like a very interesting difference and I wonder if there were any doctrinal reasons behind it.

      • Thought I was pretty clear on the size/weight/open bolt/ lack of intrinsic accuracy thing…
        Sometimes a BAR just won’t do and the situation requires a Sherman…or more. ‘Tis many a funny concerning the Marine way of doing things vs the Army way of doing things…sometimes with punchlines including reading and writing, sometimes on rank stupidity concerning the average ************ (choose one. Either is likely/arguably true…)

      • A big one, as I recall from reading, is that the Marines treated carrying a BAR as a privilege, and gave it to their biggest/best/most experienced troops. The Army? It was seen as a burden, in a lot of cases, and pawned off on the junior guy…

        Similar syndrome is observable with regards to the M60. And, the M240. Unfortunately, this cultural rot has spread somewhat, and you’ll find Marines with the same attitude today. They used to do MGs better than the Army, but that’s only true in selected cases, these days.

        Give you an idea about the Army’s attitude towards MG crews: Time was, when the 9th ID still existed as a real unit, they held an annual military skills competition. For many years, the Infantry units were absolutely dominated by their support elements like the Engineers when it came to the MG team portion of the competition. The grunts just didn’t seem to care about the issue, in my observation. You want to be effective with an MG crew, you’d best be working at it, because if you don’t? You won’t.

  7. It’s funny how dense Browning’s designs all feel, there’s very little air space in these or potato diggers either.

    And the Model 8 and Springfield were their competition as well as Thompsons and shotguns.

  8. Considering that Bonnie Parker was shooting back with a modified BAR, “intimidating” might be the wrong word. Comforting might be better. Anyway, who can’t intimidate a little, tiny woman (armed with a BAR and who was a veteran of numerous gunfights).

  9. Ian,
    Thanks for putting the Monitor in context by including the back-story about .45 Thompson SMGs being unable to penetrate heavy steel bodies of 1930s-vintage automobiles.
    These sorts of trivia make your videos waaaaaaay more informative that those posted by the average gun nut.

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