RIA: H&K SL8, The Civilian G36 (Video)

The SL-8 was Heckler & Koch’s civilianized version of the G36 military rifle. There was, unsurprisingly, a major interest in semiautomatic civilian copies of the G36, but H&K was in a difficult position to meet the demand. At the time (mid-1990s) such a rifle was subject to both the 1989 assault weapon importation ban and the 1994 domestic assault weapon ban (which would eventually sunset in 2004). For this reason, the design had to be significantly modified for the US commercial market.

Specifically, the rifle had to have a number of specifically named features removed, and also restricted to only using 10-round or smaller magazines. The feature removal was relatively simple, as elements like a threaded muzzle and bayonet lug were easily deleted. Removing the pistol grip involved replacing the stock with a new thumbhole design, and the military optical sight was replaced with a pica tinny rail (not a legal requirement, but a corporate choice, certainly largely driven by cost).

More significantly, the change to a 10-round magazine was done by converting to a single-stack magazine and redesigning the receiver to include a permanent block to prevent adaptation to original G36 magazines. In addition, the front surface of the right lower locking lug was ground off to prevent the rifle from feeding from the right side of an original double-stack magazine.

Thanks to its strange aesthetics and rather awkward design, the SL-8 never sold well, and its importation was discontinued around 2010. The rifles do remain items of interest particularly for people willing to dedicate the substantial time and money required to rebuild them into proper G36 clones, however.


  1. Personally, those strange aesthetics are a good thing.

    Even though converting it into a G36 would be the usual route, I’m waiting for someone to take this and rebuild it into a copy of the G2A2 rifle from F.E.A.R.
    With it’s current looks, it’s pretty much a good chunk of the way there.

  2. Just spent a few minutes on the Internet and can’t find a quick reference… what was the wood-stocked H&K sporter from the early 90s? Must have been a flop but I thought they were a neat looking carbine; there were .223 and .308 versions. There’s a Lee Child novel where Reacher is holed up in a remote English farmhouse with an old Royal Army vet and a few G-36s and bad guys coming across the fields….

    • It’s “The British Army”, not “Royal”. Some regiments and corps are “Royal” but not the entire army. The navy, marines and air force are “Royal”.

      • This is new to me. I thought that every (excuse me) fart in British services is “royal” per definition of kingdom. So is in Canadian and likely Aussie and Kiwi armed services. It looks cute at a glance – something merited by history.

        • It’s called British Army because of the English Civil War (1642-1651), the following restoration of Monarchy and subsequent Glorious Revolution of 1688 (which deposed King James II, the last Stuart monarch). After the revolution it was decreed that the Parliament alone had the authority to raise and maintain a standing army, which solidified the English parlamentiarism as opposed to absolute monarchy, which was the norm in mainland Europe.

  3. The ATF seems to have a particular hatred of double-stack magazines on imported semiauto rifles, forcing many (but not all) imported rifles today to have a redesigned single-stack-only capability. The expiration of the AWB in 2004 created loopholes in the ATF’s legal fortress that importers could (and should) aim for. It’s interesting how the Romanian PSL comes with a double stack configuration while the nearly mechanically-identical Russian Vepr is only available in the US in a (redesigned) ATF-friendly single stack.

    Maybe if H&K had the forethought to invest in a “double-breasted” manufacturing operation like IWI, such issues might not have existed post-2004, and sales (of a less-adulterated G36) could have been much higher, rather than withering away post-ban just as its competition exploded.

    The ultra-heavy barrel, that was ostensibly to ‘sporterize’ this rifle and please the AFT would have had an unintended (and perhaps unwelcome) consequence, since a common complaint with the G36 was that it’s thin standard barrel would quickly become inaccurate with sustained fire.

    • “magazines”
      Wait, magazine also can make rifle import-possible or import-impossible? Does it apply only to serial-matching magazine or all magazines in existence? If second how they can know about ALL magazine compatible? And what if someone make, for example 100-round drum, does this automatically make said rifles illegal? Does belt count as magazine? If not would be self-loading rifle with 250-round belt import legal?
      I am as always confused about U.S. laws.

      • Importation of guns into the USA is regulated (at the federal level) by the 1968 Gun Control Act. For rifles and shotguns, the law says they must be “particularly suitable for sporting purposes” to be allowed into the country. These “sporting purposes” the ATF recognizes seem to be only hunting and skeet/trap shooting, and of course any Olympic event such as Biathlon. In practice, “sporting purposes” means anything the ATF says it means at any particular moment.

        Then once imported into the country, these guns may be modified but must remain “922(r) compliant” for the rest of their lives, although apparently, no gun owner has yet been been prosecuted or charged with a violation of this legal requirement.

        more info here:


        As for belts, drums, and other high-capacity magazines, the main thing the ATF seems to care about (per “sporting purposes” requirement) is that imported semiauto rifles (at port of entry) be single stack, although plenty of exceptions and workarounds to this “rule” exist.

  4. “stock with a new thumbhole design”
    Wait, does stock shape cause rifle to be import-possible or import-impossible? Again I very confused about U.S. laws.

    • Thumbhole Loophole

      The 1994-2004 federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited certain “evil features” such as pistol grips on long guns, so manufacturers dodged that bullet by simply switching to thumbhole stocks, once again thumbing their noses at the gun grabbers. Since then, anti-2nd-Amendment states such as California have passed their own (more stringent) versions of the AWB, which not surprisingly added thumbhole stocks to its list of evil features.

      The ATF’s “sporting purposes” definition on imported rifles seems to disfavor thumbhole stocks but not completely prohibit them. Of imported Russian AK rifles, the Saiga entered the country with a traditional shoulder stock and the trigger relocated rearward, while the Vepr was allowed to use a thumbhole stock and keep the standard AK trigger location.

      • Ironically, the US favored the M-14, in part, because the shape of the stock favored bayonet fighting more than the FN-FAL. And bona fide sporting rifles 40+ years ago (bolt action, scoped) were using thumb-hole stocks as they reduced perceived recoil.

    • There is a huge amount of legislative history in this field in USA. The greatest mark to relatively free availability of military rifles had been done by Clinton administration (1992-2000). That was the time when rampant attackers of private arms holding made their deeds.

      In particular some lawmakers from state of California were truly anti-gun vitriolic – and successful. This is also partly reason for some critics calling that state Commiefornia. Nothing stands between them and reason.

  5. The odd outward look and color of the SL8 is thanks to the German gun legislation of the time which outlawed firearms that looked like existing full automatic firearms.
    The conventional wood-stocked, roller-locked predecessors of SL8 had been SL6 (.223) and SL7 (.308).

  6. I was one of the purchasers of this weapon, and I also attempted the conversion process. I decided I hated it, and sold it. However, I still own the sight rail and sights, which are now the most expensive backscratcher ever.

  7. Personally, I do not see reason why to be interested in this firearm. It is not of historical significance (part of testimony to suit abhorrent gun law), no military significance (practically useless) and is not especially attractive as a bench gun.

    Also on technical side, this is more less ‘skimmed milk’ out of what was quite rich and tasty cream (in form of AR18). While showing this it actually does serve to a purpose – to watch for acts of those, who do not want to see military arms in hands of civilian population.

    • Agreed. The only use I can see for such a bastardized weapon is that for a cheap science-fiction movie prop weapon (cheap movie, not cheap gun). And the ATF is too stupid to realize that most military weapons are too freakishly expensive for anyone other than corporate fat cats! And besides, most murders involving firearms are committed with ordinary hunting weapons or “defensive” weapons (like compact semiautomatic pistols and kitchen knives), not assault rifles or general-purpose machine guns. Changing the law to ban guns does NOTHING. Exterminating the culture of “every man for himself, screw everyone else” in America would eliminate the need for gun bans.

      Did I mess up?

    • I agree on those points, but I still enjoyed watching the video, because it’s interesting to see the various crazy things that manufacturers are forced to do to basically castrate their rifles to meet US gun-control and import laws (and ATF whims). I would have liked to see it alongside a real G36, but you can’t have everything.

    • One thing I’s like to see on this specimen though: how is done connection of barrel to (kunstmasse-sheisse) receiver. Same as military version? Does anyone have a heck-saw? 🙂

  8. Not sure if this was covered but I noticed one more thing they did. On the right side, the upper is indented above the magazine well so it will only feed from one side and you can’t just swap in a new magwell. You also can’t mill the receiver to accept double-stack magazines.

    • I have seen some time ago (maybe about 2 years) an article on TFB showing quasi G36 built that way – basically thru painstaking reconstruction not far off what surgeons do. Most certainly you’d have to mill out some sections and either cut out from another suitable part (where to get it?) and fill them in or to build it some other way and then cement in place and blend into assembly.

      I’d like to see a method which provides reliable long term adherence of such sections. I suspect it maybe done by gluing but that will not be sufficient to offer necessary integrity of assembly. Once fiber flow from molding is not there, the strength cannot be the same.

  9. One must remember all pistols were banned in England (but not Northern Ireland ) in 1997 but handgun crime is still

    I am still wondering why the NRA never uses the example of Prohibition in the 1920`s to show that bans only effect
    the lawabideing

    • “why the NRA never uses the example of Prohibition in the 1920`s”
      Because that is example that Amendment to Constitution can be deleted? I observed that “Second Amendment” is often standing near “NRA”. (Prohibition name in law language is Amendment XVIII if I am not mistaken)

      • If I was NRA, I’d do just the opposite – distance myself from politics altogether. It creates liability which in final count is not helpful. The cardinal question is whether Constitution survives or not – a concern way above 2nd amendment.

  10. If the NRA couldn’t point to the threat of gun laws, it would lose most of its membership.

    I think a certain MVB was correct about the NRA “being there” when gun laws are negotiated – there in a weinermobile, serving hotdogs.

    • This is what I mean as counterproductive/ liability. NRA single purpose for existence seem to be to preserve something, which is indivisible part of Constitution. Acting “in support” of a particular part of it puts legitimacy of whole thing into question. You better return to kingdom then.

    • After the silly gun law was passed in 1994, the Democrats lost their 40+ year control of congress and also lost the senate. The sponsors of the law were so sure that the public supported it that they put in a ten year sunset clause–thinking they could gloriously re-pass it every ten years thereafter. It expired and has not passed again since then. So, no the NRA was not sitting around doing nothing.

      • which assumes that the people who listen to the NRA would have been too stupid to vote that way without the NRA to tell them to.

        Let’s look at some of the wider political actions which followed on from that election result – would you (or the NRA) like to claim direct responsibility for those things?

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