There has been a cultural shift from the 20-inch barrel length in the AR-15/M16 weapon systems chambered for the 5.56×45 NATO cartridge to progressively shorter barrels for the purpose of producing an increasingly more compact assault/entry weapon without resorting to a bull-pup design. Simple usage of these short-barreled weapons has shown the necessity for both sound and flash suppression, the intensity of which (in exceptionally short barrel lengths) approached the intensity of a flash-bang diversion device. This shift toward shorter barrels has resulted in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps adopting the 14.5-inch barreled M4 carbine with a re-design of the 5.56×45 from the 55 grain SS-109 to the 63 grain M855 ammunition to optimize this barrel length. The differing bullet design also necessitated a change in the rifling twist rate from the original 1:12 inches to 1:7 inches.
Law enforcement and some special operation units have continued this trend by using weapons fitted with 10.5-inch barrels, and there is some misguided law enforcement interest (in these author’s opinions) in the M16 type weapons using 7-inch barrels. Besides the horrendous flash and sound levels, these ultra short barreled weapons introduce significant ancillary issues, including weapon functioning and reliability as well as projectile stability and cartridge lethality.
Dr. Philip H. Dater & Jason Wong did some good research here. Be sure to read this one all the way through.