Over the weekend Rob Pincus – never one to shy away from a firestorm (I was going to say another kind of storm, but this is a family-friendly blog) – posted a video on YouTube. In it, he details the failure of yet another compact 1911-pattern pistol and expresses his disdain for the breed in general.
The online response was immediate and predictable. Many people agreed with Rob, but a very vocal portion of the shooting public disagreed vehemently. I don’t have a problem with the disagreement, mind you (Rob and I discovered some time ago that we share the same feelings about the 1911 pistol, which is probably why we get along), but I do have a problem with the nonsensical responses given by those who disagree. Here are a couple of the most annoying, and they apply not just to the present discussion but all discussions about guns, cars, or darned near anything else on the planet.
More to the point, they apply to the kinds of responses I receive when I talk about the virtues of the revolver versus an autoloader as a defensive tool; I’ve heard these same arguments to my opinions, gotten them in emails, and seen them plastered over the ‘net. That’s probably why they’re annoying.
1) “My is perfectly reliable, so your opinion is baseless/stupid/meaningless.” Aside from the issues with making claims about an entire population based on a single data point, there are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the two sides may not agree on the definition of “reliable”. I’ve proposed one such definition, but not everyone agrees.
I had a fellow once who told me his particular AR-15, a brand for which I don’t care, was “completely reliable”. I picked it up, inserted a magazine of fresh factory 55gn ball ammunition, and it failed to feed the fourth round. “Oh, it doesn’t run with Federal ammo. That stuff is crap, and everyone knows it.” Really? Seriously? If an AR-15 can’t feed SAAMI-spec ball ammo (XM193 in this case), it’s not reliable – period. The owner disagreed, his definition of “reliable” obviously divergent from my own.
The more interesting facet of this argument is that partisans frequently have selective memories. This is closely related to the phenomenon of confirmation bias: a person simply forgets those data points which disagree with his/her position. I’ve watched, more than once, a shooter clear a malfunction and promptly forget that he had one. When later he claims that his gun is perfectly reliable, and then is reminded of the incident(s), he can’t/won’t acknowledge that they ever happened. I don’t watch much television, but one of my favorite lines from a TV show comes from “House”: “everyone lies.” Perhaps not intentionally, but they do.
I was in a class some years ago with a guy who had a malfunctioning Para-Ordnance. (This is not a shock to me, as I’ve never seen a reliable Para. Please, don’t write and tell me about how Todd Jarrett’s Paras are so reliable that he made a YouTube vid; he’s a sponsored shooter, and both he and his handlers have a vested interest in making sure those “demos” go without a hitch.) A couple of weeks later he was on a forum talking about the class, and mentioned that his Para ran without a hitch. Funny, what I remember was picking up the live rounds that he was ejecting every few minutes!
Remember that there is a difference between extrapolation (from one to many) and representation (one of the many.) Picking a single example to illustrate a broader concept that has statistical validity, as this video does, is not the same as using a single example as the basis for a self-referential supposition. The former has data behind it; the latter has no data other than itself.
2) “All guns can fail.” This is a particular favorite of mine, because it combines a lack of understanding of both engineering and statistics with a dollop of third-grade playground bravado. This statement attempts to get people to focus not on evidence, but on speculation; sadly, it works – as any political candidate can attest. If all devices can fail, then logically it doesn’t matter which one you own, correct? If all cars break, why bother to look at repair statistics? Of course it matters, except when the partisans and fanboys get to talking – then the logic just flies out the window.
Yes, all mechanical devices can potentially fail. That’s not the point. The point is that some devices fail more than others, and we can chart and often predict those failures based on past experience.
(I hear a variation of this when I talk about revolvers: “I’ve seen revolvers break too!” So have I – probably an order of magnitude more often than the person writing/talking. The difference is that for every mechanical failure I’ve seen on a revolver, I’ve seen hundreds on autoloaders. There is a difference which cannot be wished away.)
What might break is a very different thing that what actually does. When we look at failures, patterns emerge that help us make both buying and engineering decisions. Smith & Wesson, for instance, looked at failures of their Model 29 .44 Magnum and made running engineering changes that dramatically improved the longevity and reliability of that gun. They couldn’t have done so had they not looked at the pattern of failures that field experience had provided.
Availing ourselves of field data, from people who have seen more of it than us, is one way we can make good decisions. Striking out at the messenger because the message disagrees with some silly loyalty one has developed makes no sense at all.
(Oh, BTW – I do have some experience with short-barreled 1911s in the form of two Detonics CombatMasters, which some day I’ll sell to one of those rabid 1911 fanboys. And laugh all the way to the bank.)
-=[ Grant ]=-