What does a forward assist do?

Put simply, a forward assist manually forces the bolt forward if the cartridge doesn’t go into battery. It is a physical option for resolving situations in which the return spring is unable to drive the BCG and bolt home. Read on to learn more.

The side view of an AR15 forward assist and bolt carrier group from the Brownells “Smyth Busters” videos.

The forward assist is a push-button assembly on many AR15/M16/M4 type rifles intended to help push the bolt carrier forward in situations where the return spring has failed to do so. This might be the result of more than one factor, though it mostly happens to a dirty weapon (or one with some other obstruction).

Brownells demonstrating the use of a forward assist on a cutaway model.
Brownells demonstrates the use of a forward assist using a cutaway model.

Forward Assisting: the Argument

The entire notion of a forward assist (and the concept of forward assisting) is contentious. Many people believe it unnecessary. Detractors correctly note that Eugene Stoner, the weapon’s original designer, disapproved of the feature. Proponents will occasionally reference the use of a forward assist by Kyle Rittenhouse to put his weapon back into battery during his defensive shooting in Kenosha, WI in August 2020. They will also assert that it’s “better to have it and not need it” than the reverse.

The argument has been around as long or longer than that of 9mm vs .45 and any other three gun debates you might dredge up. The debate becomes more significant when discussing a defensive rifle than one intended for hunting, but even then there are strong, salient points pro and con.

BE Meyers MAWL Man showing off a slick-side upper receiver that does not have a forward assist.
Closeup of the forward assist mechanism on a Ballistic Advantage upper receiver and Sharps Bros. lower receiver.

BE Meyers MAWL Man showing off the slick side of a LevDef (Leviathan Defense) upper receiver without a forward receiver. This forward assist assembly is a part of a KS-47 rifle, itself and AR15-style design that takes AK magazines.
This forward assist assembly is a part of a KS-47 rifle, itself and AR15-style design that takes mags like this the XTech AK magazine shown (and other AKM style mags obviously).

Do you need a forward assist on your AR15?

The variance between weapons that may or man not be a “slick side” vs. “assisted” may be found anywhere in the world one might find this broad family of weapons – as you can see here in the photo of a Palestinian fighter patrolling Jenin Camp (مخيم جنين), north of the West Bank adjacent to the city of Jenin. Photo by PJ Pendlebury, @pj_pendlebury.

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