Book Review: "Personal Defense for Women."

Personal Defense for Women: Practical Advice for Self Protection by Gila Hayes

It is only now that society is beginning to recognize what those of us who've been married for decades know all too well: men and women are different. 'Equal', as it happens, does not mean 'the same', and we are slowly coming to realize this. (Back to the future!)

Because we're different, it's difficult - if not impossible - for a man to understand, let alone sensitively address, the feelings and fears that women experience as they approach the very concept of self defense. "A good man always knows his limitations", says Dirty Harry, and all men have this one. (Any man who believes he doesn't is in denial.)

Recognizing my limitations requires that I refer the women in my life to the best source of information for their personal safety. For the last decade-and-a-half, that source has been the book "Effective Defense" by Gila Hayes. It deals with the gritty details of self defense from that particular perspective only women possess.

Last year, Gila was given the opportunity to completely rewrite her landmark tome, to bring it up to date and expand on many of the topics. The result is "Personal Defense for Women", and I'm happy to say it is even better than the original. That, folks, is saying a lot.

Though the word "defense" is in the title, Gila's book is a comprehensive guide to women's safety, which goes well beyond what we think of as defense. Gila explains:
"...I earnestly advocate crime avoidance over fighting, and escape over shooting. Safe housing, safe behavior, and awareness of danger when you're at home, work, in your car or in public, are among the first survival lessons I want to emphasize."

This is evident just by looking at the table of contents: the first nine chapters deal with avoidance, not shooting. Gila tackles things that would be taboo for me to even broach; for instance, the delicate topic of drawing unwanted attention with a revealing wardrobe. She points out that certain activities are inherently more risky than others, and the aware woman needs to acknowledge that choosing some pleasures may carry larger risks than less exciting options.

Gila talks about responsibilities as well as rights, gently pointing out that the self-reliant woman chooses her safety level through her actions. This sounds simple, but as she expounds on the topic the power of that concept becomes evident.

The rest of the book deals with the active defense - fighting in all forms. She starts with information on empty hand defenses, and moves through various less-than-lethal tools before starting a particularly comprehensive discussion about firearms. Gila is a renowned trainer and champion shooter, and her fluency with the subject is obvious. Women just starting out with firearms could not be in better hands. She provides authoritative and clearly articulated information about guns, ammunition, shooting techniques, and even a great exploration of the merits of the home defense shotgun.

One chapter I liked very much was devoted to the use of the Taser, and one very needed chapter deals with dressing around a handgun. (Men have it incredibly easy compared to women, and we always fail to appreciate the difficulties they have concealing a pistol!)

While all the chapters are good, there are a couple of standouts that make it a "must buy": one deals with safety on school and college campuses (including the active shooter scenario), and the other is a sensitive discussion of rape prevention and survival. These are important topics, and Gila deals with them in the way that only she can.

If it seems that I like this book, I do - very much. It has instantly become my new recommendation for all women interested in self defense, and I can hardly think of a better gift for a wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, or daughter than "Personal Defense for Women."

Now a disclaimer: At Gila's request, I provided some of the pictures in this book, and my name appears in a couple of places. Many of the actors in the pictures are people that I know well. It would seem that I am biased with regards to the merits of "Personal Defense for Women", and you're right - but it's because I've been consistently and actively recommending its predecessor for 15 years! The old book was good, and this edition is even better. I'm proud to have played a small role in its production.

This is a worthy update, and there is so much new information that owners of "Effective Defense" would be well advised to pick up a copy of "Personal Defense for Women."

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

THAT TIME OF THE YEAR: I hope everyone had a great (as in safe and happy) Christmas weekend. I hope you'll accept my sincere wishes for a happy New Year - may 2010 be a darn sight better than 2009!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Maryville, TN has had a couple of accidental shooting deaths in the past weeks. Both incidents involved guns that (brace yourselves) people thought "were unloaded." The Maryville Police Chief, one Tony Crisp, concludes that people just weren't pretending hard enough:

"Treat a gun as always being a loaded gun," he said. "Once you cleared it, check it again."

A more nonsensical statement I cannot imagine! I hope that you will save me the trouble of tearing it apart by seeing for yourself the logic failures therein. How much better it would have been had he taken the opportunity to do some
real education by saying something like: "never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you're not willing to shoot. Don't let anyone around you do so, either."

SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE: A couple years back I made an offhand remark about Charter Arms guns. That one little sentence generated a ton of hate mail, including some from Charter's president/owner and their largest distributor. Well, M.D. Creekmore over at made a more pointed statement regarding Charter's "quality", and he too heard from Charter's owner. It's in the comments; scroll to the bottom.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What safety standards?

I've just had an interesting email exchange with an instructor. Said instructor read
my articles on safety, and opined that anyone who didn't teach the 'industry standard' was opening himself (or herself) up to liability problems. "Everyone teaches the Four Rules for a reason", he concluded.

I've heard this argument before (more than once, in fact) and it makes less sense each time I hear it - on several levels. I'm sure this view is quite common, so let's tackle the subject head-on.

First let's address the very notion that there is such a thing as an industry standard for firearm safety (and by extension that there is a version of the Four Rules which can be held to be that standard.) There is enough variance regarding the wording of the Four Rules that I'm not sure you could hold up any one and say "this is the standard, but these other similar examples are not." To be a standard requires consistency, and the Four Rules are hardly consistent in their wording, interpretation, or application - particularly Rule One, which is the one I take most issue with.

Second, even if the wording of the Four Rules was consistent you'd have to establish that they were in use by the majority of instructors in the business of teaching firearm safety, and further that they were being taught to a majority of firearm students. This isn't even close to being true.

I submit that the only candidate for establishment of an industry standard would be the NRA. The NRA has more instructors teaching more students every year than (probably) all the independent training venues in the country combined. As a certified NRA instructor, I know that the NRA has its own safety rules, and they are not the Four Rules. I further submit that if one is not teaching the NRA safety rules, verbatim as presented in their course material, one is in fact NOT teaching anything remotely resembling an industry standard and the argument/defense is moot.
(This should not be construed as either an endorsement or criticism of the NRA safety curriculum.)

Third, even if the Four Rules were consistent among all their users AND it could be shown that they were being taught verbatim by a majority of instructors to a majority of students, the industry standard argument is simply an admission that one can't be bothered to seek anything better. 'Industry standard' is not the same as objective standard!

Back in the early '80s, the photographic industry was rocked by several high profile suits regarding handling of hazardous chemicals in photofinishing plants. The common defense was that the industry had its own standards with regard to safe handling, and that they were being followed. That proved to be no defense at all, and several companies paid out large settlements and/or fines. The government stepped in and required that the industry's standards be replaced with up-to-date and independently verified practices, and a for a while there was a small boom for businesses who provided compliance packages tailored to the industry. (I should know, as I was one of those entrepreneurs who made and sold such packages.)

Were I sitting on a jury in a liability case, I'd want to know if what the defendant did was the best that could be done. If the answer was no, regardless of how widespread the behavior happened to be, would cause me to find in the plaintiff's favor. Relying on a defense of compliance with 'industry standards' when there are demonstrably better practices is probably not going to win any juror's favor!

Integrity says that It's not enough to show that you do what everyone else does; you have to show that it is the best thing to do, and that there is nothing better. I'm a big believer in excellence over compliance; of going above and beyond when possible, particularly in the area of keeping people safe from harm.

Bottom line: defending the Four Rules using the 'industry standard' argument is roughly the same as a teenager screaming to her Mom "but everyone else does it!" No, they don't, and even if they did it's irrelevant. That didn't work with my parents, and it doesn't work with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

AN ADVENTURE: Spent some time last week working on a project with Rob Pincus. You'll have to wait a while to hear the details, but a good and educational time was had by all. (Yes, Rob, it's still raining here.)

LUBRIPLATE COMES THROUGH: Got an email from Alex Taylor, a District Manager at Lubriplate. They're now selling the superb SFL #0 grease in consumer quantities in their online store! Comes in a 14oz can for $23.01, plus shipping. Glad to see them recognizing the firearms market; now let's see if we can get them to sell their FMO-AW oil in small quantities too!

THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERY DAY: Remington recently announced that they've produced their ten millionth 870 series shotgun. I knew they were popular, but ten freakin' million? I would never have guessed anything close to that. The shotgun, it appears, is alive and well in America.

THIS IS JUST WRONG: I'll take some of what I just said back: certain shotguns are alive, but not well. Apparently trying to out-silly the S&W TRR8, Stoeger recently announced the availability of the Double Defense - a tactical side-by-side shotgun. Yes, a SxS with a fore-end rail. Black, of course. (Folks, I couldn't possibly make up something like this. It takes a marketing department to do so.)

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: A University of Alabama prof has claimed to have invented a revolutionary sighting system that promotes "intuitive aim." Knowledgeable readers will recognize the concept as being eerily reminiscent of the Steyr "trapezoid" sights as used on the 'M' and 'S' series pistols, which have been available for a decade now. Hmmm...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

GETTING THE MESSAGE: I've been harping on the failures of "Rule #1" for some time now, and it seems that the attitude is catching on. Slowly, but at least progress is being made.

IT ISN'T JUST ME: I've recently expounded on the issue of dogmatic teaching in the self defense world, and I'm not alone in my criticism. Check out this post from Roger Phillips over at, then read the entire discussion. (I've never met Roger, don't know him from Adam, but he makes sense. Can't say that about everyone.)

POCKET COMPANION: no, not a J-frame! From Dustin's Gun Blog I learned of a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Legal Heat. It's an interactive version of their printed guide to concealed carry and gun laws in all 50 states, written by attorneys and instructors. It' a great idea, and something that's needed. Unfortunately, despite the viability of the concept I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular app.

There is a big issue with Legal Heat's usability. The pages are just images of the book, which means they're pictures and not text. This sounds inconsequential, but it's not. When you bring up the laws on a state, because it's showing the whole page the text is tiny; unreadably small. To read it, you need to magnify the image by pinching. (The usual double-tap doesn't work, because it doesn't work on full-frame images!) Once you magnify the image to read the text, you have to continually scroll back and forth because images don't wrap text. Finally, the app doesn't support screen rotation; it only displays in portrait orientation, which exacerbates the scrolling issue.

Frankly, iPhone users are accustomed to a higher level of application quality than Legal Heat delivers. If they would simply make their pages actual text and enable screen rotation I'd be comfortable recommending it. As it stands, even at $1.99 it's not worth the hassle.

DEAL ALERT: My background in commercial photography has left me more than a little anal retentive with regards to optics, particularly when it comes to binoculars. I'm a fan of porro-prism designs, as they a) have better three-dimensional perspective, b) are brighter, and c) cost less than roof-prism types for any given level of optical quality (resolution/contrast.)

Minox makes some of the best porro-prism binocs. The optical performance is exceptional, and the build quality matches the glass. They make an 8x and a 10x version, and at a street price of roughly $550 they are something of a bargain; you'll need to spend roughly twice as much to get a roof prism of comparable performance, and you still won't get the perspective advantage that the porro-prism design gives you.

Despite their advantages, porro-prism designs are distinctly unfashionable these days and don't sell well regardless of brand. Roof prisms are what people buy, and Minox has bowed to the market: they've discontinued the 10x model.
SWFA is closing them out at $299.95, which has to be classed as a screaming good deal. You won't find anything even approaching their optical performance for that kind of money. (Yes, I grabbed a pair - for that price, I wasn't about to pass them up!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Good Morning, Dave.

Once upon a time, two geeks met in college. They had some neat ideas about the world of computers, and were anxious to put their ideas into production. They started a little company.

Shortly after they incorporated, they introduced a new computer - one that was more accessible, more flexible, and under the control of a single person. They didn't make many of them, and very few exist today, but with it they changed the face of computing forever.

No, I'm not talking about Jobs & Wozniak. I'm thinking of Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson, and the company they founded -
Digital Equipment Corporation. DEC, as it would come to be known, introduced what was really the earliest commercial incarnation of the personal computer: the PDP-1.

The PDP-1 certainly didn't look like what we've come to expect of the PC. Nevertheless, it started the downsizing of computing power, and introduced a concept critical to the modern PC: user interaction, as opposed to batch data processing. This shift was the necessary step to creating true personal computers, and DEC got there first.

Interactivity opened up huge new vistas for the computer. The PDP-1 has the distinction of initiating things we now take for granted: text editing, music programs, and even computer gaming. (The very first computer video game, 'Spacewar!', was written for the PDP-1. Yes, you have DEC to thank for your Wii.)

DEC only made 50 PDP-1 machines, of which only 3 are known to have survived. All of them are currently in the collection of the
Computer History Museum. One is fully operational, and is demonstrated twice a month by running that historic computer game. They've got a terrific website that details the history and restoration of the PDP-1.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Circumstances change. Hardware doesn't. That's a problem.

Last week I heaped scorn and derision on AR-15 foregrips ('Pharoah's Beards'), and feedback suggests I need to expound on the subject.

The issue with foregrips is that they limit how you interface with your rifle. That's a fancy way of saying that they get in the way; instead of the hardware (the rifle) allowing flexibility in use, it becomes more specialized - less flexible. The rifle no longer responds to the user's will, rather the user now must adapt to the accessory's limitations, in addition to the rifle's.

As long as the AR-15 is being shot from a standing, squared off position, the Pharaoh's Beard feels like a great invention. A real incident, however, may demand more. The shooter may have to contort himself into a stable firing position because of the surrounding cover; the opponent may be at a radical angle (in any direction) from the defender's point of view; rapid fire from a compromised 'stance' may be needed as the defender rapidly moves relative to the attacker.

When any of those things happen, the changed body position requires a modified relationship to the rifle. With a plain forearm, the support arm simply moves to the necessary position and the shooting commences. With some sort of foregrip hanging off the rifle, one of two things will happen: the shooter will doggedly maintain a grip on the thing, all the while trying to get his body to do things that it isn't structurally capable of doing, or the shooter will realize that the grip isn't working, and try to maneuver around it to get to the best placement. Sometimes he can, more often he can't, because that accessory is taking up the very space he needs. Bottom line: less-than-optimal shot placement and less-than-optimal response times.

Most people test these things in a range-perfect stance of some sort; they don't push themselves or their equipment. In such undemanding circumstances, foregrips seem to work well. The further from that ideal world, the less well they work. You can decide for yourself if that's meaningful to you.

I see this frequently with students in class. Georges Rahbani, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, runs his 'Fighting Rifle' course as a triad: three separate 2-day classes, based on real-life encounters, that rapidly ramp up critical survival skills. The first class has the students working on fairly traditional range platforms: standing, kneeling, etc. Foregrips seem to work in that environment, because they're designed to facilitate just this kind of handling. The environment isn't asking much of the shooter, which is important to understand.

By the time the second class rolls around, students discover that they're not in Kansas any more. The environment now asks much more of the shooters; the concept off 'ideal' is dispensed with, and 'field expedient' becomes the new paradigm. As that occurs, the students who showed up for the first class with gizmos and gadgets on their rifles find themselves hurriedly removing them during breaks.

Why? Because they've discovered that their options are limited, not increased, by added hardware. They've learned that the situation dictates their response, not the other way around. The more universal their equipment, the easier they can adapt their response to the situation; the more specialized the gear, the less they're able to do so.
Conceptually, this is the same thing I said last week; substitute 'gear' for 'technique', and the same lessons apply.

There is also an issue with attitude, with perception of the rifle's role. Georges asks his students: "Is your rifle a fun toy, or a serious tool?" If it's strictly a recreational object, a ballistic tinker toy, go wild - hang whatever you want on it. (Tacticool accessories, it must be admitted, are a heck of a lot of fun and building just the "right" configuration can be an enjoyable hobby in itself. Machined aluminum is like bacon - it makes everything better!)

Otherwise, save that money and use it to buy more ammo. You'll be better off.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I'll take "Stupid things I've done" for $100, Alex.

Back in the early '80s, I lead small groups of advanced amateur photographers around the Portland, Oregon metro area at night. The goal was to teach them the fundamentals of available-light photography in an environment that was simultaneously familiar, yet unexplored. We'd gather at about 10:pm at a local Denny's, then head out for a few hours of shooting, usually getting home about 3:am.

Let me paint you a picture: say, 5 people. Camera bags stuffed with multiple thousands of dollars (in Reagan-era money) of easily pawned high-end camera equipment. Major urban center. At night. Sparse police presence. Before cel phones. Before SureFire flashlights. Even before our concealed handgun law.

Now I know what you're thinking, and in retrospect I agree with you. But it seemed like a great idea at the time!

The exact itinerary varied a bit, but a typical evening might find us wandering around the downtown core area, through alleys, construction sites, industrial areas, and perhaps even along the east side of the Willamette River. (Today area residents know it as the "EastBank Esplanade": a tribute to a ditzy mayor who was convinced the way to help "poor homeless people" was to build a boulevard for over-indulged yuppies to ride their bicycles between latte stops. Back then, though, it was just a rough industrial riverbank where bums set up camp once the longshoremen had gone home to dinner.)

These events were very popular - we always filled our limit of attendees - because they were, after all, the only way to get shots like this:

While some of the participants used fine-grained films, tripods and long exposures (giving me a chance to share with them the mysteries of reciprocity failure), others handheld their shots using fast films (often pushed in development) and fast lenses. Both approaches had their uses and limitations, and the facilitator (that would be me) had to be well versed in all of it - while simultaneously maintaining some sense of aesthetics. I'll gladly claim the former, and from the shot above you can judge if I have any business talking about the latter.

Today I wouldn't attempt such craziness without an armored personnel carrier and close air support, if at all. Back then, though, it was just us, our "steal me" bags, and lots of film. And the bums.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Uncle has resurrected, for the umpteenth time, the "Gospel of John Browning." Like a certain cult popular in Hollywood, fans of the bottom feeder keep trying to convince others to join their weird little group. Luckily, there is a Holy Book which you can use to defend yourself against their evil blandishments.

Many years ago I came across an obscure part of Scripture that deals with this subject. I was able to get it translated from the ancient Hebrew in which it was written, and here are some of the more relevant portions:

"In the beginning, the universe was without form; the Lord made the
earth in the shape of the sphere, that is to be round, for the Lord
looks upon roundness with great favor."

"The Lord said to Adam and Eve, lo I give you the cycle of seasons,
so that you mayest understand that one thing must follow another, in
their natural order. Do not doest in the Spring that which is meant
for the Autumn, for nature which I hath given to you shall always
complete a circle. The earth doth not shuttle back and forth, nor the
moon travel to-and-fro, for reciprocation is an abomination before
the Lord."

We learn of the birth of His Ballistic Holiness:

"...and she named her son Shmuel, that is Samuel, which means 'he
would be destined a prophet'. And the Lord would listen to Samuel, and
shower him with great favor. As the boy did grow he became known as
Samuel the Colt, for he was exceedingly fast and lithe, with graceful
manner and of great wisdom."

The people were in need of deliverance from the evil around them, and from that need sprang The Gift:

..."and the people, needing protection from their pursuers, looked to
the Lord. The Lord said, I will give Shmuel, who you call Sam, the gift of invention
and artistry. From him will come the means of your rescue, which you should
never forget nor abandon; for the Lord wishes you to have only the best."

Of course, people never recognize a good thing even when it stares them in the face. From that flows what has become known as the Browning Apostasy, and the punishment which results:

"And Shmuel asked Yonaton, that is the same as John, how the
detestable thing came to be, and Yonaton answered 'I threw these
parts into the fire, and it sprang whole from the flames as you see
it here, save for the grip safety which was added by the mob.' And
the Lord knew that Yonaton was lying, and vowed to punish him."

"The Lord said to Yonaton, 'you hath committed an abomination unto the
Lord, and from now on you will be cursed. Your followers, though they
be many, will fight amongst themselves in vain; they will revile each
other, none of them seeing the truth, for their eyes will be blinded
by their lust for their own kind. Your devices will be functional but
not accurate, or accurate but not functional, but never both at the
same time, thus always serving to you and your followers as a sign of
your transgression. Some will try to bring peace to your camps, that
is to marry function and accuracy, but their attempts will be
thwarted by my wrath, which will become known in latter days as 'KahBoom'."

"And the Lord said to Shmuel, yours too will be many, and they will
be entrusted with serving as a light unto the world. They will be
mocked and ridiculed by those whose devices are either functional or
accurate, but never both at the same time, whilst yours will continue
to be functional and accurate, each at the same time, and fairer to
look upon as well. Whilst I made man and woman, you will make them
equal; for the world is not flat, neither should your gun be."

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Witch is Back.

Back in '51, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Oxfordshire welcomed a new member to their staff: a computer. Today we don't even bat an eyelid when a new PC shows up in the office, but back then computers were a Big Deal. (After all, how many new staff members get their own office - the largest one in the building?)

The Harwell Computer, later to be known as "WITCH" (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell), now occupies a unique position in computing history. It holds the distinction of being the world's oldest surviving computer with electronically-stored data and programs. All the original parts are present and it is capable, in theory, of being operated.

Though it hasn't been switched on for over 35 years, it is now
being restored to operational status at the Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. They expect the restoration to be completed next summer, at which point the WITCH will be able to claim another title: oldest operational computer, beating out the Ferranti Pegasus whipper-snapper at London's Science Museum.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is the true value of "dry fire"?

A few weeks back, I took some flak for suggesting that a working knowledge of cognitive science - especially neuropsychology - was a valuable instructional tool. Such knowledge allows an instructor to better serve his/her students, and gives the students the tools they need to self-correct aberrant behaviors. Some apparently don't believe this, or perhaps simply don't understand why.

Some years ago I was having a specific shooting problem, one which I had a great deal of difficulty solving. During a course I approached my instructor, a person of some renown in the business, with the issue. I was hoping to gain an insight as to what I could do to solve the problem, but the response was a curt and dismissive "dry fire." I countered that I had done quite a bit of that, and it wasn't helping. "You need to do it more," was the conversation-ending reply.

As it happens the problem couldn't have been helped by any amount of dry fire, but it took me quite some time to figure that out. In retrospect it was obvious, but only because I'd gone to a great deal of trouble learning how the brain works (without which I'd never have found the solution.)

Why was dry fire not the answer? Well,
Rob Pincus recently wrote a terrific piece titled "Dry Reps can lead to Poor Performance" which answers that question. Rob is one of the few people in this field who has a good grasp of how the brain interprets information and makes decisions, and he's applied that knowledge to his Combat Focus courses.

A little close observation will support his contentions; for instance, I notice that even relatively new shooters have no problem learning how to reload their autopistols. Push the button, the magazine drops out, insert new magazine, release slide using whatever method one prefers. Easy, right? Physically, yes.

The issue comes when it's time to reload during a string of fire. When the gun goes empty, the student usually try several times to shoot again, only slowly realizing that there is a problem. They tip the muzzle up and observe that the slide is locked back, then stop for a second or two while their mind confronts the situation: "Oh, I need to reload!" The physical manipulation of the reload proceeds smoothly and quickly, compared to the awkward moments before the decision to reload was made.

Dry reps will not make the situation better, but rather will reinforce this behavior. Rob explains why.

(Interestingly, I've observed the same phenomenon among some "experienced" instructors. They may have practiced slide-lock reloads dry, but since that practice lacked context they never developed the reflexive sequence of recognizing an empty gun and reloading it efficiently.)

Read the article carefully, as there is some terrific information to be gleaned.

-=[ Grant ]=-


My sister is an organist, and one of her ambitions is to someday build a custom house - around a pipe organ. If you aren't familiar with what that entails, let's just say it would need to be a
big house.

Pipe organs, even modest examples, are
large instruments. As they increase in complexity, though, they grow seemingly exponentially. A large organ can have thousands - even tens of thousands - of precisely tuned pipes that produce notes when fed with pressurized air. Just the valving to make one of these behemoths work is mind-boggling in complexity.

Even the part you can see - known as the console - can make a 747 look positively simple:

Main console, Atlantic City Convention Hall organ, from

For more great pictures of pipe organs,
check out this Dark Roasted Blend story.

(Oh, for those who are interested - the Atlantic City organ is perhaps the largest ever constructed,
but has never been completely operational. The largest working pipe organ in the world is the Wanamaker organ shown in the article. The building in which it is housed is now a Macy's store. No kidding.)

-=[ Grant ]=-


The LIFE website this week unveiled a
photo retrospective of Project Mercury, America's first human spaceflight program. If you look at the picture captions, you'll notice one name on most of them: Ralph Morse. There's a good reason for that.

Ralph Morse was a staffer at LIFE (and later TIME) when he was assigned to cover a press conference in Washington in 1959. That event was the announcement of the Project Mercury astronauts. Sensing the long term importance of the announcement, Morse contacted his editor and told him that there would be a lot of public interest in these men. He suggested that the magazine assign someone permanently to NASA, which was then less than a year old. Morse got the job.

It was a good choice; Morse had already been with LIFE for over a decade, bringing back some of the most well known pictures in their archives. NASA was a fledgling agency, and Morse had gotten himself in on the ground floor of what would become the Space Race.

Over the next couple of decades, Morse would become an insider at NASA. He got exclusive access, and was even allowed to place his cameras in restricted areas his competition at NEWSWEEK couldn't even dream of. Along the way, he produced some of the most iconic images of the various NASA projects.

It all started at that press conference, where an idiot reporter (some things never change) asked the astronauts which of them expected "to come back alive." Morse grabbed this shot of the astronauts showing their mettle:

Some of his shots were very well known...

...while others weren't:

All of them, though, came from
the camera of an inventive genius whose enthusiasm for his job knew no bounds. Were it not for his eye, his ingenuity, and his nose for news, we wouldn't have this great visual record of our nation's greatest achievements. George Hunt, at one time LIFE's Managing Editor, said “if LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”

Ralph is now 92, but unfortunately for us gave up photography some years ago.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A few thoughts about the revolver in self defense.

Regular readers know that, despite my (occasionally) bombastic promotion of the wheelgun, I'm the first to admit that it is not the perfect tool for all jobs. The revolver's suitability for self defense depends on the nature of the threat one expects to encounter.

The revolver's greatest weakness is its limited capacity, while its greatest virtue is its resistance to externally induced failures.

It is something of a trend among today's fashionable criminals to attack in multiples, i.e. more than one assailant. If each of the assailants is committed to the success of the attack, especially if each of them will have to be shot more than once, the revolver may in fact be at a disadvantage. Remembering that
there is no such thing as a magic bullet, if you have three assailants and only five rounds you may have some hard choices to make.

This scenario often plays out during home invasion robberies. In these types of incidents, a revolver for home defense may be sub-optimal; a high capacity autoloader may be a better choice.

While many may scoff at the idea of more than a single attacker, or believe the old saw "shoot the leader, the rest will run", this is a very real risk. This is particularly the case in areas with substantial gang activity (which is just about everywhere these days.) If you keep a revolver for home defense, this is a possibility you need to consider.

On the other hand, most assaults are still of the good ol' one-on-one variety, and those outside of the home tend to fit this profile. These are personal crimes, and the action tends to be close in, fast, and violent - conditions in which the revolver, being the quintessential reactive tool, shines. It is quick into action and is less likely to experience functional failure in a close fight; there is no slide to be pushed out of battery, or slowed to induce a jam.

That isn't to say an autoloader is useless in that environment, only that it requires a bit more management.
Gabe Suarez is at the leading edge of teaching close-in handgun deployment, and he's developed techniques to keep autos running in tight conditions. A revolver, though, is largely immune to the mechanical difficulties of fighting "in the hole", and remains a viable choice for that reason.

Is that a reasonable tradeoff for capacity? I think so.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

One of the hardest things to predict in this business is workflow. The shop will be humming along, work flying out the door, then suddenly a few large projects (total customs or heavy restorations) come in and the work slows to a snail's pace. Those bottlenecks seem to come in groups, when they're most difficult to deal with. It makes mincemeat out of the most conservative projections!


Occasionally someone will suggest that being a one-man shop is limiting the amount of business I can do, and that I should take on employees. Aside from not wanting the hassle (I was once a corporate lackey with a pile of employees to handle - I know of what I speak), there's also a bit of personal pride involved: if my name is on the work, I think it's important that I actually do said work. If it's good, I want the accolade, and if it's bad I don't want to be reduced to pointing like a 5-year-old and screaming "but it's HIS fault!"

There exists today a well-known gunsmithing concern whose very talented owner used to do all his own work. He "progressed" to having employees, but supervised their work closely. Judging by the recent experiences of several of my clients, he's been reduced to sending out emails explaining why their shoddy work is actually better than the quality product he used to provide.

Personally, no amount of money (or time savings) will convince me to do that - my clients deserve better.


I've written about this before, and others continue to make my case for me: people have a different mindset about guns they perceive to be unloaded. You may get tired of hearing it, but safety is so important that I'm going to keep bringing it up: there is a solution.


Dog people, I need some advice. We have a year-old Shepherd/Newfoundland mix who won't sleep in the spacious, insulated doghouse we've provided. He'll go in to eat, and he's been known to voluntarily pile his toys in it, but he sleeps on our porch exposed to the rain and wind. One would think that sooner or later he'd get cold enough and wet enough to use it for the intended purpose, but it has yet to happen. Should I just leave him to his misery, since it appears to be of his own choosing?

-=[ Grant ]=-

I almost forgot...

Last weekend I was assisting at a Defensive Shotgun course taught by Georges Rahbani (
"The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of"). A couple of the participants were discussing a problem with a ParaOrdnance pistol when I walked up. "Well, it's not like you should be surprised", I said, "when the brand's name tells you everything you need to know."

They stared at me blankly.

"Para- is a prefix meaning 'similar to' or 'resembling' ", I continued. "So, Para-Ordnance means that it's only 'sort of a gun' ."

I'm here to tell you that some people are seriously humor impaired.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Crazy Ivan!

The Firearms Blog reports that KBP, the Russian arms maker, has introduced a "tactical" version of their MTs 225 revolving shotgun. (Basically, they took their standard sporting arm and added a folding stock.) You can make what you will of the revolving shotgun concept, but I liken it to the various revolving rifles which have come and gone: this is a good idea, why?

What's more interesting to me is to take a wander through their website.
They make several unique revolvers, and the descriptions are worth reading too. "...for suppression of hooligan actions" ?!?

-=[ Grant ]=-


Yes, I know I didn't have a Surprise for you yesterday. I'd intended to present instead the latest installment of the Self Defense Thoughts, but fell asleep.

I write most of my blog articles in the evening, then finish them up and post them at breakfast. On Thursday evening I fell asleep, and Friday I had to get up very early (and miss my breakfast!) so that I could be somewhere first thing in the morning. The blog got ignored in the rush that ensued.

The latest installment of the series follows. Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Emilio Ghisoni rides again!

From the Firearms Blog comes the news that Emilio Ghisoni's "Rhino" revolver is going to make it into production. The gun was first shown, with little or no explanation, at the German IWA show a number of years back. Chiappa Firearms apparently picked up the design from Ghisoni, and plans to introduce it next year.

Ghisoni is the owner and chief designer at
Macchine Termo Ballistica in Pavia, Italy. The company is better known by its acronym MATEBA, the brand under which the MTR8, 2006M, and Unica 6 revolvers were all sold. I do not yet know if they Rhino will carry the Mateba brand.

(A quick rant: the people who use 'Mateba' as a synonym or replacement for the model 'Unica' annoy the heck out of me. Mateba is the brand, Unica is the model. It's like referring to Word, Excel, or PowerPoint as simply "Microsoft." Yes, it's petty, but I'm complicated. Ask my wife.)

The Rhino looks like an interesting gun, and is certainly the most practical of Ghisoni's designs. Don't get me wrong, I like the MTR8 and would love to own one, but it's hardly a practical gun:

The Rhino, on the other hand, might be a viable carry piece. We'll just have to wait and see!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: High water mark.

In 1874, The Netherlands had been only a few years divorced from Belgium. They had a small, weak army, no real allies, and not a lot of money. They did, however, worry about invasion from German, and so decided to fortify Amsterdam.

Remember the "not a lot of money" thing? Their poverty lead them to observe that concrete was expensive, but water was cheap. Their logical conclusion was to build a wall of water to keep invading armies out. They'd do this by purposely flooding the farmland around their own city. Seriously. They thought it was a great idea.

Of course, during World War II the
Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam) was obsoleted very quickly by mechanized armies and air power. All that's left now are a few national monuments and some parks.

Take a gander at well organized
Defense Line of Amsterdam website.

-=[ Grant ]=-

I need your help.

I'm currently working on a special project based on a Ruger GP100. One of the client's desires is for custom grips made to his specifications. This is where I'm hitting a dead end!

I've spent countless hours looking, with no results, for a custom gripmaker who will work with the GP100. This is why I'm asking my readers, who are some of the most savvy gun enthusiasts around, for help.

The client wants true customs with top notch fit and finish. This automatically disqualifies all of the mass producers, as well as places like Eagle and Ahrends. Since he wants grips made to his desires, the "pattern makers" like Spegel are out, as well.

Are you aware of a custom gripmaker who is not widely known, and perhaps isn't even on anyone's radar? The ideal candidate

1) Produce first-class work - nothing less.
2) Be able to make grips for the GP100.
3) Understand the unique needs of concealment ("combat") grips.
4) Be able to produce a grip to fit the client's desires/hands.

Beyond that, someone who works in non-traditional materials (micarta, stabilized spalted wood, etc.) would be most welcome. The client isn't set on any specific material; as long as it complements the gun, he'll consider it.

Price is not a concern, as long as it isn't significantly out of line for work of the caliber required. The client knows what first tier work is (this is not his first custom gun), and is willing to pay appropriately.

Now, understand that I've been looking for a while; if the person appears in the first 10 or 15 pages of a Google search for "custom revolver grips", I've probably already contacted him/her. Yes, I've heard of the smaller custom shops like Herrett's, and have contacted countless makers who list Rugers - just to find that they only do grips for Cowboy shooters using guns such as the Vaquero. So, before you send that email, please re-read the criteria above and be sure that your candidate can meet
all of them.

As an incentive, the person who supplies information leading me to the right maker will get his/her choice of
any shirt in my CafePress store collection! For the gripmaker, in addition to becoming a customer I'll do my best to get his/her name in front of a much larger audience. It's a win for me, the client, the gripmaker, and you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Book 'em, Danno.

Just because something's old, doesn't mean that it isn't useful. That's the apparent philosophy behind one of my favorite places to spend money: Lindsay's Technical Books.

Lindsay's primary business is reprinting out of print and public domain books on a wide range of technical topics. If you want to learn how to run a lathe, construct things out of sheet metal, do chemistry experiments, build a radio, embalm a body, repair a locomotive, make paint, or just about anything else from the last century, Lindsay probably has a book on the subject. That book, most likely, will only be available from them.

Some of the titles are obscure while some are better known, and occasionally you'll find one that was once considered the standard in its field. One of these is the classic "How To Run A Lathe", by the South Bend lathe company. Many older machinists started their careers with that book, and Lindsay's is the place to buy a fresh copy.

(When I was barely a teenager and apprenticing as a watch & clockmaker, one of my primary references was a book called "The Watchmaker's Lathe" by Ward Goodrich. At the time it was widely available, but went out of print a number of years back. Lindsay acquired it, and now reprints that classic title. It's a bit disconcerting to see a book from my personal past being sold by a purveyor of "antique" information!)

A small selection of their books are current, commercially available titles, while others are specialized works that would have no other sales venue were it not for Lindsay's odd clientele.

Of course they have a website (, but don't expect much. First, only a small fraction of their titles are on their site - you need to request a printed catalog to see what's available. Even then, you won't receive a comprehensive catalog, but after a few quarterly issues you'll have a pretty good idea of what they've got.

You can order online, but it's in the form of a secure email: you type in the catalog number and part of the title - no point & click or shopping cart at Lindsay's!

They're not convenient, can be downright cantankerous (spend some time rummaging through the site for a taste of their collective personality), but they're always fun and educational. When the latest Lindsay's catalog comes in the mail, I've been known to drop everything just to browse their latest offerings. If you have even a passing interest in technology gone by, I guarantee you'll find a way to spend money with them, too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Perfectly suited.

I get a surprising number of inquiries about carrying in an office (suit and tie) environment. I spent a few years wearing Italian suits and selling to corporate types, so I'm passingly familiar with the problems involved.

There are a number of ways to carry a gun in a suit: belt holster, shoulder holster, pocket carry, bellyband, Thunderwear (aka 'crotch carry'), and in an ankle holster.

Belt and shoulder holsters can be considered together, as in a corporate environment they share the same major disadvantage: you can never take the jacket off. If you go to your office every day, sooner or later your co-workers are going to notice that you never remove your coat! For a salesman, who doesn't actually work in the offices he visits, these can be viable. In those cases, the suit needs to be tailored to fit around the gun - and no, going to Men's Wearhouse to buy your suits isn't going to cut it. You need a real tailor, who can either make a custom suit or modify an off-the-rack example to fit properly.

Of course, this means you need to wear the gun and allow the tailor to work around it. This can be easier said than done, particularly if you live in a gun-unfriendly city (which is to say, most of them.) The best thing to do is call around and discreetly inquire if the tailor has experience working with legally armed clients. There are always a few, and it pays to seek them out.

(My favorite clothing store back in the day was owned by a mother and son, neither of whom had any problems with concealed carry. In fact, I got to know the son fairly well, as he routinely carried a very nice Colt Model M in .380, aka Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless. It was his opinion that the sleek little Colt was "the perfect gun for the well-dressed gentleman.")

If, like most people, you need to be more flexible with your habiliments, a close relative of the belt holster is generically referred to as a "tuckable." This is an inside-the-waist holster that allows you to cover the gun with your shirt - the shirt slipping between the gun and your waistband, then bloused a bit to conceal the outline. This leaves a small leather keeper visible on the belt, but if the belt and holster color are well matched it is difficult to spot. Of course, you end up looking a bit lopsided with a bulge on your belt; proponents argue that blousing of the shirt properly on the off side will help conceal the protrusion, but many people dislike the somewhat sloppy appearance which results.

One often overlooked method is the bellyband. Originally designed to be worn just above the beltline (hence the name), it can be effectively employed at the mid- to upper-torso level. At this position the gun is placed under the arm, very much in the same position as a shoulder holster. Getting to the gun is done through the shirt front, (again) using the same movements as one would with a shoulder holster. The shirt button at the base of the sternum is left undone, allowing rapid access to the gun; one's tie covers the buttons anyhow, so that the arrangement is not detected. Be sure that you do not wear 'athletic' fitted shirts - standard shorts only to allow plenty of room to hide the firearm.

The Thunderwear carry is often touted as a solution to many problems, but for those who sit for long periods of time they prove to be quite uncomfortable. They're also slow to access, and the size of the gun is very constrained. I do not personally consider them suitable for a primary sidearm, though they may be useful for backups or deep cover assignments.

Ankle holsters are another special-purpose carry method. They are very slow and cumbersome to access for a primary arm, and are best used to carry a backup pistol. Yes, I know that there are some fancy ankle holster draw moves which are surprisingly fast, but I encourage you to try them in a realistic force-on-force exercise. You'll quickly learn why I don't feel ankle holsters are a good choice for general armed carry.

Finally we come to pocket carry. With a proper holster and loose-fitting slacks, this is perhaps the most viable method of concealing a pistol in a corporate environment. They're reasonably quick to access, comfortable (if used with a lightweight gun), completely invisible (unless you wear your slacks tighter than a gentleman should), and has the additional benefit of allowing your hand to be on the gun without alerting anyone.

You'll need to shop for slacks with front pleats (provides blousing to hide the gun's bulge) and deeper pockets (some have shallow pockets from which the gun's butt can peek out.) I also recommend a medium-weight pant, which typically features a satin lining between the pocket and leg. The lining dramatically reduces chafing as the gun moves around, and makes sitting for long periods more tolerable.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

I now realize that I like looking at beautiful sunrises more than beautiful sunsets. I'm sure there is some deep psychological significance to that preference, but it as yet escapes me.


Everyone, it seems, is making a "tactical" pen these days. Benchmade, Schrade, Tuffwriter, Hinderer, Surefire -
and now Smith & Wesson. Who will be next?

I have nothing against the concept, as it's simply a return to the roots of the familiar Kubotan (the techniques for which were originally intended for the common Cross-type pen.) These, though, all look like rejects from The Mall Ninja Outlet Store. I have half a mind to make one myself - classically styled out of real rust-blued steel, of course.


One of the better (most balanced) preparedness blogs extant is Jim Rawle's It's one of the few blogs on my morning "must read" list, and has been since I found it several years ago.
This morning he posted the sad news that his wife Linda has died after a long illness.

He's shared the progress of his beloved in the blog, and while not a shock it's still depressing to hear. My wife and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Jim and his family.


It's necessary, if one is to maintain proper perspective, to learn from those whose experience is different from yours. Take, for example, an
interview with a WWII Soviet tank crewman (thanks to Tam, who finds the most amazing stuff.) What he says about the Sherman tank, the Tommy gun, and the .45ACP cartridge are very interesting and definitely challenge certain widely held opinions.

(When you read what he says about the mighty .45, think back to the very similar stories regarding the .30 Carbine.) If you have any interest in WWII, armaments, or the nitty-gritty of battle, it's a great read.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reality - what a concept.

Yesterday, Tam asked
"I laugh at the sight of the pimped tactical N-frame, too, but why?" Allow me to explain with some fuzzy dice.

Yes. You read that correctly - fuzzy dice.

If you go to a car show featuring hotrods from the '50s and '60s, a common sight will be a pair fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. They're always carefully chosen to complement the paint color, and I've even seen fastidious owners arranging the dice "just so" to get the proper look. Fuzzy dice are an accepted, and expected, part of the decor.

Take those same fuzzy dice, run over to the Tour de France, and hang them from Lance Armstrong's bicycle. No matter what color dice you pick - to go with his jersey or the bike's paint - they'll just look silly. Fuzzy dice on a racing bike? Preposterous!

Yet, objectively, the function of the dice has not changed. That is, they really have no function. They don't do anything, they serve no architectural or mechanical purpose, they simply have mass and occupy space. They derive whatever value they possess from the context in which they occur, but that value is not intrinsic; it exists only because the context allows it to exist. Think of it as Second Life with mag wheels.

Once taken out of the expected setting, stripped of the value of that context, the reality of the fuzzy dice becomes apparent. Understand this: whether on a '57 BelAir or Lance's Trek Madone SL, fuzzy dice are silly. In the former case, we don't see them as silly because we've been conditioned to accept them in that environment. In the latter, if every Tour de France competitor were to carry them for a few years - perhaps a decade or more - they would become part of that context too. They'd still be silly.

The same is true for the tacticool accessories Tam questions. (A bit of a correction: the device hanging at the muzzle isn't strictly a white light - it's a combination light and laser.) We're accustomed to seeing lights, lasers, and milspec red dot scopes attached to autopistols. In the gun rags, in the movies, and especially in video games, we're told that "serious" guns carry these things. Tough guys, warriors and operators, have these on their guns. Thus the context is constructed, such that we no longer objectively analyze the value of those things.

Putting them on a revolver takes them out of context. (After all, "operators" don't carry revolvers!) Once out of context their true worth becomes easier to evaluate, and laughter is the result.

This whole idea of context is particularly important to those of us interested in the concept of self defense. There are a lot of instructors out there who teach what can only be termed range tricks. In class, the instructor's reputation and manner of delivery combine to create a reality distortion field that even Steve Jobs would envy; in that context even the silliest ideas sound valuable. They may be useless and even counter productive, but if the student can't evaluate them outside of their context that reality will be hidden.

The same thing happens with people who get their firearms training from Hollywood - what I've heard called the "Mel Gibson School of Firearms". In the movies, the good guy always orders the bad guy to drop his weapon. The good guy gives the bad guy a chance to redeem himself, to straighten out his horrible life and repent for his sins. Naturally the bad guy doesn't take that opportunity, wheels around to shoot the good guy, at which point our hero drops him neatly with a single shot. Roll credits.

Inside the context of the movie script, this seems perfectly plausible. Through repetition the scene is burned into our subconscious, to the point that we start to accept it as normal. Unless we learn to force ourselves to evaluate the behavior outside of the theater we may find ourselves repeating it.

This apparently happened to a certified good guy up in Washington a few years ago, who faced a gunman in a mall. From all reports, it seems the good guy drew his legally carried gun, then challenged the bad guy to drop his. Life isn't like a movie, and the rampaging gunman simply shot him - five times, paralyzing him permanently.

It's important to develop both the ability to look at things objectively and critically, and the judgement to recognize when it's necessary to do so. I'd say that anything dealing with defensive firearms needs such evaluation.

As for fuzzy dice...

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: It's all geek to me.

One might think that this era in history is the most well documented that has ever existed. Why, we have photography and sound recording and movies (and their digital equivalents.) Everything, it seems, has been saved for posterity. How much better preserved we are than our forebears!

Yep, you'd think so. And you'd be dead wrong.

There are huge gaps in our archival record, and oddly enough they have to do with the very things that should be most easily chronicled: our technology. Obsolete technology is disappearing, and with it a vital understanding of what we as a species have accomplished in this world. Decorative arts seem to be deemed worthy of perpetuation, no matter their relative importance, while everything else is consigned to the scrap heap.

Take just the computer - there are surprisingly few organizations who have made an effort to preserve this recent technology. With programmable computers being no more than about 60 years old, we should have a very good record of all that has passed in their development. We don't. Old computers are rare, and the earliest (physically largest) machines are virtually all gone. Of those first pioneers we have nothing but a few bad photos and the occasional fragmentary drawing.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other gaps in our historical records through which technologies, people, organizations, and companies have fallen. There are a few places attempting to preserve bits and pieces of our technological past, and one of them is the
Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation (SMECC).

SMECC maintains a fascinating site that gives a good feeling for the breadth of their collections. Particularly valuable are the first-person chronicles of the people who actually made the things in the museum's collection.

A warning: their site is perhaps the worst example of Microsoft FrontPage design. It's not nice to look at, not well laid out, and you'll have to poke around to find the gems. It feels like a throwback to the early '90s internet, which I suppose one could argue is appropriate for a museum. (With all that, it's still better than the average MySpace page.)

Any self-respecting geek could easily spend days there. Whether you're into computers, radios, or microscopes, SMECC has something for you.

-=[ Grant ]=-


A comment on last Wednesday's article correctly reminded us that there seems to be some confusion about the phenomenon known as auditory exclusion.

Under times of high stress, such as a violent criminal attack, the body makes profound physiological adjustments to limit distracting data and focus on the threat. One of these is to radically attenuate (or even completely silence) aural inputs - in other words, it shuts your hearing down. This is called auditory exclusion.

It's important to understand that auditory exclusion is performed in the brain, not in the ears themselves. Though your brain isn't accepting the audio data being collected, your ears are still collecting it. It's a filtering mechanism, where the brain decides what's unimportant and ignores that to concentrate on what is important.

Since the physical parts of the ears are still functioning, they can and will be damaged by high sound levels just as they would under high sound pressure levels in a non-stressful environment. The tympanic membrane and the fragile hairs of the cochlea can still be profoundly affected by gunfire even in a high stress environment.

No doubt someone reading this is thinking "what about the aural reflex mechanism, smart guy?" Aural reflexes do physically protect your hearing by changing the curvature of the eardrum, and preventing the tiny bones of the inner ear from transmitting vibrations to the cochlea. This is designed to protect the sensitive parts of the ear from sustained loud sound. The key here is the word "sustained"; gunshots are simply too short in duration to activate the aural reflexes, and are not a function of auditory exclusion.

Simply put, auditory exclusion just doesn't pull a blanket over your ears to protect them!

In the case of a shooting, the extreme noise levels are doing damage to your ears even though your mind isn't reporting anything. It isn't until the aftermath, when your body starts to return to normal, that your brain turns the audio back on. That's when you discover that you don't hear as well as you used to.

The rationalization that "during a fight, you won't hear those Magnum rounds going off" is true, but the implication that auditory exclusion is preventing all harm to your ears isn't. You're going to have to weigh the risk of a certain amount of hearing loss, however small, against the perceived effectiveness of the ammunition being considered.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: All Jazzed Up, Part Deux.

If you ever get to attend a major shooting match, one thing that will impress you is how accessible the top competitors are. If you want to meet Rob Leatham or Jerry Miculek, no problem - they're usually happy to shake hands and talk.

The same is true for the top jazz musicians. Jazz is a personal music, and because of the smaller fan base getting to meet even the biggest names is relatively easy. Imagine being able to walk up to a well-known pop or rock artist and being able to do that. Unless you're a buxom groupie with a purse full of cocaine, their security staff isn't likely to let you get within a country mile of the star! Jazz musicians aren't like that, and I've had the experiences to prove it.

My interest in jazz matured in high school, which is also where my first brush with fame occurred. I went to school with the brother of Alan Yankee, who at the time was a saxophonist in the
Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton was my idol, then and now, and meeting Alan was a highlight of my young musical life. Little did I know that it was only the beginning.

When I was attending college in Portland (Oregon) in the early '80s, there were a bunch of jazz clubs in the city. Portland was known as a jazz town, and major players would often make a stop on their way between San Francisco and Seattle. We had not one but two jazz radio stations (one commercial and one funded by a local college), as well as an internationally regarded jazz festival. Life was good for a jazz musician and lover of the genre.

By the turn of the century, the Festival had been reduced to a weekend in one of the city parks, one of the radio stations was gone and the other played more blues than jazz, and virtually all of the jazz clubs were no more. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few notable jazz musicians before jazz disappeared from Portland.

Freddy Hubbard played a single set at one of the local clubs, to a packed house. Despite the cramped surroundings, he made sure that he got around and shook people's hands before jetting off to who-knows-where.

One of the high schools managed to snag the great
Clark Terry for a benefit concert. The school was in a bad part of town, and the concert was not well promoted. Still, I was surprised at the sparse crowd. For a city with a jazz reputation, it was embarrassing. That didn't stop Clark from putting on a great show, and I told him as much when we met afterwards. "I"ve played bigger crowds, but that's not important - I'm just happy that people appreciate my music." Clark is known as a consummate gentleman, and his reputation is well deserved.

One summer a local college held a small jazz festival, and the headliners were guitarists
Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel. During a break between acts, I went to use the facilities. Standing at the next urinal was Herb himself, and we started talking. I normally wouldn't remember a conversation from almost 30 years ago, but the surreal setting burned this one into my mind: gardening. After finishing our respective business, we went outside and sat at a bench, still talking gardening. Nice guy, that Herb. (For those who think the sun rises and sets on rock guitarists like Van Halen, check out the link - Herb is the gray-haired gentleman. Perhaps you'll learn something.)

Woody Herman Big Band, one of the most popular in the history of jazz, made a surprise visit to Portland one year. I don't remember the details, but for some reason they unexpectedly found themselves in town. Somehow they managed to find a venue at one of the colleges, which had an open auditorium that day. Word went out on the jazz radio stations that tickets were available for that evening - dirt cheap, with all proceeds going to some charity. The place was jammed, and the band was in top form. Later I got to thank Woody for the unexpected treat, and expressed my appreciation to number of the band members as well. One of them was Frank Tiberi, who would later take over the organization after Woody's death.

Pete and Conte Candoli appeared in Portland one year, and of course I saw their show. At the time the Candolis were at the top of their game; it was virtually impossible to find a big band that hadn't had one (or both) in their trumpet section at one time or another. I got to meet Conte, but Pete disappeared somewhere after their set was over. The next day The Oregonian newspaper had a review of the show. The writer, who apparently knew nothing of jazz, lamented that when they soloed together they often hit "clashing notes." I wrote a letter to the editor that said something along the lines of "yeah, that happens with simultaneous improvisation, you moron!" They didn't publish it, which wasn't a surprise.

I remember taking my buddy and roommate, Ed, to see a then-unknown
Diane Schuur. Between sets I introduced myself and told her Ed was dying to meet her. She giggled and I motioned Ed over; he was quite taken with her. That was understandable, as she was a terrific singer and a wonderful person. I hope she hasn't changed in the intervening 25-odd years ; she certainly still sings well.

Of course, there has to be the exception that proves the rule, and in jazz that was
Maynard Ferguson. I found him to be the single rudest person I'd ever met in music. That attitude had rubbed off on some of his band members, as the rest of his trumpet section was as obnoxious as he was. (His sax players, who apparently didn't get as much attention, were nicer. I almost felt sorry for them.) I originally chalked the snub up to his having a bad day, but have heard from many people since who tell me that it was SOP with him.

If memory serves it was the second Mount Hood Festival Of Jazz that featured an appearance by a young and highly touted
Wynton Marsalis. I ended up (unintentionally) running into him around the venue, and though he was polite enough, I frankly didn't find much in his music to be impressed with. I haven't heard anything from him since which changes that impression. My contrarian opinion hasn't seemed to hurt his record sales, though, and I hope he doesn't hold it against me!

My favorite trumpet player is the late, great
Red Rodney. In the early '80s he had a quintet with the phenomenal Ira Sullivan, a group which to this day gets my vote as the most overlooked in jazz. They showed up in Portland once, and my buddy Bob and I were there front row, center. Between sets Red ambled over and introduced himself, and asked if I was a trumpet player. Confused, I asked him how he knew; he said that I was the only one in the audience who "got" what he was playing. I never did quite understand what he meant, but he sat down at our table to chat and eat his dinner. It remains my favorite jazz experience, and on that note I'll leave you with this video of Red at his best.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Incorrect conclusions.

This morning I got a very nice email from a concerned gentleman in a southern state. His NRA instructor gave him numerous pieces of incorrect information about his new GP100, one of which I've heard many times before: "Don't carry Magnums, because the muzzle flash will blind you in a self-defense shooting!"

With all due respect, bull twaddle.

The .357 Magnum is notorious for muzzle flash, based largely on some well-known pictures from the 1980s. These days, even the Magnum uses flash-suppressed powders, and muzzle flash with the .357 has been dramatically reduced.

Still, the misconception remains that any muzzle flash will blind you and make it impossible to deliver followup shots. In my experience, that isn't the case.

I once did an experiment, in front of witnesses, on our club's indoor range - using not some wimpy .357 or even .44, but a Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag with a 3" barrel. I personally loaded the rounds to "full house" status, which means maximum velocity, recoil, and flash.

We turned off the range lights except for one in the adjacent classroom, which gave just enough illumination for me to make out the IDPA target about 20 feet downrange.

KA-BOOOOOOOOM! If you've never experienced a SuperMag on an indoor range, it's a treat. If, that is, you like lots of noise, concussion, and muzzle flash. We're talking muzzle flash that witnesses confirmed extended 5 feet from the barrel. I wish we'd taken pictures.

Guess what? I could still see my target; I wasn't blinded at all. So I fired another shot. Then another. Still no flash induced blindness. I could still see my target, but most importantly I could still hit it. Understand: I'm not saying that it had zero effect on my vision. I could see the afterimage of the fireball, but it wasn't at all debilitating even in near darkness.

Is this conclusive proof? Of course not, it's just one person's experience - but it's a heck of a lot more experience with the subject matter than most gunstore commandoes appear to have. No matter how impressive the fireball, it just doesn't seem to possess sufficient intensity to markedly reduce one's vision.

If a non-flash-suppressed SuperMag won't do it, I hardly think a .357 with modern suppressed propellants could. Of course I'm willing to be proven wrong, but at this moment I consider it ill advised to pick a round (caliber or brand) based solely on muzzle flash characteristics.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Getting a late start today, and that means I'm already behind for the week. Sheesh - where does the time go?


Tam talks about the checkering on her gun. While this would seem to be an issue limited to autoloaders, sharp edges on the trigger and frame (particularly inside the cylinder window) have the same effect for wheelgunners. When people ask "what's the best modification I can do to my revolver?", I usually say round the trigger and dehorn the gun. It makes shooting much less of a chore.


Every so often a client will send me one of the S&W Scandium guns for work, and I'm always reminded of how much I dislike shooting the little beasts. Even with standard pressure Specials, the recoil gets to me very quickly. I can't imagine actually shooting one with Magnum loads, and I intend to never find out!

For me it's merely discomfort, but for others the experience could prove more serious.

I constantly encounter women who've been sold those guns, because the sales clerk wrongly assumed that "light" was synonymous with "best for the little lady." This weekend I ran into yet another such case: a thin, older lady. She wanted to know if the Magnum rounds the shop had sold her with the gun would be good for her to shoot! (My immediate thought was "only if you use them on the idiot who sold you this thing!", but I held my tongue.) I cautioned her that the combination of those rounds with her very thin, somewhat frail build could result in permanent nerve damage to her hands. I hope she got the message.

The best recommendation I have for such cases is a box of the 125gn Federal Nyclad standard-pressure Specials.


Serendipity...I wrote last week about a 2" Model 15 I'd recently worked on, and since then I've run into several of the things. The latest was yesterday, when buddy
Jim Jacobe opened a case and said "weren't you just talking about how much you liked these?" I swear, if I wrote about a .577 Tranter he'd pull one out of his safe to show me...


Now it's time for me to get some work done. Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Motor City Mildew.

I've featured a number of decay-chronicling websites, but this one is unique. doesn't just show the deterioration of a once-proud city, it gives the why and how of urban decay. In its many pages you'll learn the stories behind the landmarks, where they came from and how they happened to get where they are today. Along with the analysis is the occasional prescription for renewal, and a happy ending or two as some eyesores get refurbished and reopened.

The photography isn't of the same standards as some urban exploration sites, spelling errors abound, and the text sometimes describes scenes for which there are no pictures - but those are minor quibbles that only help prove that the whole is greater than the sum if its parts. is obviously the work of people who have great affection for their city despite its flaws, and the same can be said of their site. A great place to kill some free time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Well, there's something you don't see every day.

Did you know your eye dominance can be changed? I didn't!

I recently had a problem with shots hitting several inches off my point of aim (at only 5 yards.) That's odd, I thought, it's as if I'm seeing out of my left eye. But that's impossible - I'm right eye dominant.

For some reason I did a quick dominance test, and I was shocked that it showed I was left-eye dominant! I must have done it wrong, I thought; I did the test again, and it showed the expected right eye dominance. Whew! One more time, just to be sure - darn it anyway, it came up left again. And again.

That's odd. Dominance, as I've always understood the mechanism, is neurological, not optical. Your brain simply prefers the vision from one eye or the other, and it appears to be hardwired from birth. I've always thought it to be unchanging, as most people do, yet mine had definitely changed.

Guess what? Turns out it's not as immutable as I'd believed. According to my ophthalmologist, who I called the next morning, eye dominance spontaneously changes only in a very, very small percentage of adults - usually as a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.

Neurological disorder? Doesn't that mean...tumor?? YIKES!

As it happens, I'd had a complete physical (including a thorough eye exam by this doctor) just a couple of months ago. I had no other symptoms, and he reassured me that lack of symptoms and my recent positive tests made me an unlikely patient for surgery.

As it happens, he said, eye dominance can be trained away. The usual trick is to wear glasses with some Scotch-type tape on the lens of the dominant eye. The out-of-focus image forces the brain to use the other eye, and in time becomes used to the arrangement - thus changing the dominance.

But, I protested, I haven't put any tape on my glas....oh, wait.

For years I've worn a jeweler's loupe over my right eye. When I'm working, I swing it down so I can look through it and back up when I no longer need it. It's a hassle to swing it in and out of my vision all the time and get it perfectly aligned again, so for the last year I've just sort of looked around it instead of flipping it up. I use my left eye for distance vision, and the right when I need to do closeup work.

What I normally see in my right eye, then, out-of-focus image. It's the same as tape on the lenses, and by doing that I've unintentionally trained away my right eye dominance! At this moment I'm part of the small number of people who have no strongly dominant eye. If I continued using the loupe in that manner I'd end up strongly cross-dominant.

I immediately swapped loupe positions to force my brain to accept the right eye again. It's been a month or so, and I'm already seeing results. Once I'm back to my normal, strong right eye dominance I'll swap my beloved loupe for a binocular magnifier.

Trouble is, I hate those things! Decisions, decisions...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

It appears that our spell of excessively hot weather has ended. Last week the digital thermometer at our house recorded a high of 111 degrees. (Yes, that's in the shade - who'd be stupid enough to go out into the sun on a day like that?) We set an all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees (9 and counting.) I'm just looking forward to being able to spend a full day (more or less) in the shop.


From The Firearms Blog comes the news of a(nother)
special edition S&W 627 in .38 Super. This one should have a sticker on the box that says "Now With More Ugly!"


I'm pleased to note that QC at Ruger is improving - the last couple of SP101s I've seen, of recent production, are much improved over those of years past.
Gail Pepin at the ProArms Podcast tells me that she's visited the plant recently, and their production floor has changed considerably. She credits their new emphasis on 'lean manufacturing', with its attendant focus on reducing waste and rework, for the quality bump.


The Firearms Blog also brings us happy news of Winchester's reprise of the
Model 92 Takedown. I'd be tempted if they'd make it in .357 Magnum...


Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go to work!

-=[ Grant ]=-

So, just what is the .357 Magnum like in a confined space?

A number of years back my wife and I served as coordinators for the defensive pistol matches at our gun club. Our matches were somewhat similar to IDPA, but without the endless rules to make everything "fair." We enjoyed a cadre of participants that were very involved, and loved to build sets for stages.

(Some of them got a little carried away; one particular gentleman once designed a stage that featured cardboard cows. Yes, cows, complete with udders. He's a very creative sort.)

We held our matches on our club's metallic silhouette range, so we had only a large open field in which to set up stages. We'd usually set up four "open" stages (you could see the entire thing), but also liked to set up one secret stage - the participants couldn't see anything until they were actually in it. The way we usually accomplished this was to hang large tarps on portable stakes to block the view, but there were other approaches.

One particular match several guys got together and constructed a dark tunnel. The premise was that you were walking down an alley at night, and targets would swing out or come charging toward you. It was a technical marvel, and all contained in a narrow structure made of wood and black plastic ("visqueen.") As I recall, it was about 8 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and perhaps 30 feet long.

Since the premise was darkness, the entire thing was sheathed in that black plastic - including the roof. It took quite some time to build, so the guys had been on the range the day before to do the construction. When we arrived the next morning to start the match, we found that it had rained overnight. That wasn't a problem, because the black plastic roof had kept everything dry. What we didn't think about were the large puddles of water on that plastic.

Since I was the match director, I got to shoot first. I was using a Ruger SP101 with the 2-1/8" barrel and fire-breathing 125grain JHP magnums. The range officer and I entered the structure, closed the door, and the buzzer went off.

I saw the first target and put two rounds into it, and immediately heard peals of laughter behind me. Outside of the enclosure, the other shooters were becoming hysterical.

I finished the stage (as I recall, there were three more targets) and exited the enclosure to find the laughter had diminished only slightly. People in the crowd told me that my first shot had created such a large amount of pressure in the enclosure that the sides were pushed out and the pooled water on the roof had been thrown twenty feet into the air. The effect, they said, looked like a Looney Toons cartoon of a stick of dynamite exploding in a barrel.

In the heat of the moment I didn't really notice the concussion, but the range officer mentioned that he didn't want to follow me so closely any more!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A violent reaction.

First I must apologize for this entry being a day out of sync. My normal routine has been altered this week, and those things I normally do on Thursdays were bumped to Wednesday which means that I'm doing yesterday's stuff today. (At least I remembered to take the trash out this morning; thank you, iCal!)

I kept tabs on the concealed carry reciprocity bill that failed to clear the Senate this week, and the debates brought to mind comments I heard years ago regarding concealed carry proponents: "intelligent people have no need for violence." "We need to reduce the violence in this world, not increase it."

This reveals a fundamental ignorance regarding the place of violence in a civilized society. Violence, which is usually defined as an exertion of physical force against a living being, is a necessary part of human behavior. CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver are quite violent acts, and I doubt that even the most lily-white member of the intelligentsia would ever decree those lifesaving actions to be repugnant. Yet violent they most assuredly are, and a necessity if our species is to survive and thrive.

The same is true of violence used to save one's own life from the actions of another. If you carry a firearm for personal defense, understand this: you will be perpetrating violence on another. He will have already done that to you, and your actions will be in response to his, but it's still violence. Get used to that word, and become comfortable with it. If you recoil at the thought of being violent, if that word shocks and bewilders you, a necessary part of your preparations has been missed.

Violence is nothing more a tool, one that can be used for both good and evil. It's up to you to use violence for proper, useful and legal purposes, but also to remember that it's still violence - and there's nothing wrong with that. Don't let the misconceptions of others convince you otherwise.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A crowning achievement.

Occasionally someone will ask me if the muzzle crown is all that important. In the past I'd probably say something like "only if you want the bullet to go where you're aiming!", but I'm trying to reduce my percentage of flippant answers. Today I'd put it more lawyer-like: "it depends..."

The crown is the edge of the bore at the muzzle. It's important to point that out, because it's not unlike the edge of a cliff. Once you've fallen over the edge, you have no chance to change your path (unless you're Icarus, in which case I'd really like to talk to you.) The edge of the bore, where the rifling ends, is likewise the last chance for the barrel to properly direct the path of the bullet.

The edge needs to be perfectly perpendicular to the axis of the bore; if it's not, as the bullet leaves the barrel one side might be clear of the barrel, but the opposite side will still be touching. This can introduce instability to the bullet, reducing the accuracy of the shot.

Even when correctly squared, a crown with a nicked edge can have the same effect. If the last thing that touches the bullet imparts any directional friction, like a nick or burr, the bullet path will be compromised.

It's amazing now small an imperfection can affect the accuracy of a barrel. I recently had a battle of wills with a Mossberg M44US rifle. This was a target .22 that Mossberg sold on contract to the U.S. military back in the late 1940s. They have a reputation for being quite accurate, and every example I've ever shot held up that reputation - except this one.

I could not get a decent 5-shot group out of the gun to save myself. I tested 15 different loads in the gun, went over it with a fine-tooth comb, and still got flyers in every group. I looked at the crown, and it seemed perfectly fine, but still the gun wasn't accurate. After exhausting every other possibility, I decided to recrown the barrel.

The edges of the bore seemed fine, but the first pass with the crowning reamer told the story: the crown was ever so slightly crooked. We're talking perhaps a couple of thousandths of an inch, which isn't a lot. I cut a perpendicular crown, and took the gun to the range.

Night and day.

The gun now shot like a 44US is supposed to! Beautiful groups from Wolf Match Target (aka SK Standard Plus, aka Lapua SC), which had shot no better than cheap Remington bulk prior to the recrowning. The crown had seemed to be a non-issue, even under magnification, but before and after targets proved that even tiny imperfections can make a huge difference.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Still more about testing .22 long rifle ammunition.

A recent email asked about
an old article, wherein I talked about the problems with residual lube in a .22 rimfire barrel. Is it really a problem, the email asked, and if so how do I go about eliminating that variable in testing?

Yes, the effects are real. I never believed in the residual lube theory until I saw the results for myself, and to this day I can repeat them at will with that rifle and ammo.

My test protocol now is to use a standard smallbore target, the type with 6 bullseyes on a sheet. The upper left corner is used to fire 25 seasoning rounds, without regard for group size. This both burns off any residual lubricant and allows me to make any sight adjustments to bring the rounds fairly close to center. I then fire a 5-round group at each remaining bullseye, which gives a good average of the groups that ammunition will deliver. If you're counting, that's one single box of ammunition on one sheet of paper.

Rimfire purists will point out that this is not a sufficient number of rounds to really ascertain the true performance of any specific load, and I'll admit that subsequent testing will sometimes show small differences in group size (better or worse) than this. If you're a serious rimfire match shooter, you'll need to fire hundreds of rounds to truly judge what the ammunition will do. Of course, if you are that person you also won't be looking here for advice!

I've found my test procedure to be the easiest, fastest, most reliable method to obtain a decent (field-grade) indicator of relative performance of rimfire ammunition.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Heard of the
Large Hadron Collider? It's the world's largest particle accelerator, located on the French/Swiss border. A particle accelerator, colloquially termed an 'atom smasher', is a device that uses electric fields to propel electrically-charged particles to high speeds. By colliding particles together - sort of a subatomic head-on crash - we can do all kinds of things. A low-energy accelerator forms the viewable image on a cathode-ray tube (CRT), medium-sized units are used to create isotopes for medical research, and the biggest, highest energy installations help scientists learn about the fundamental structure of the universe.

Long before the LHA was even conceived, the United States boasted the largest particle accelerator:
the Bevatron at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Built in the early 1950s, it had a nearly 50-year career before it was finally deemed too expensive to maintain. Mothballed in 1993, the decision was recently made to dismantle the gigantic machine to make room for new research facilities on the crowded campus.

Wired has a great article, with many pictures, on the continuing demolition.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings: "back to the grind" edition.

I hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day holiday! I've been burning the candle at both ends lately, so I took a long weekend, during which I managed to overexpose myself to the sun. (The weekend was hot by Oregon standards - we hit 100 degrees at our house on Friday, and only slightly cooler on Thursday & Saturday.) What's that line - "feel the burn?"


Since it was so warm, I drank a huge amount of water. Having been in the ER more than once for severe dehydration (and accompanying heat exhaustion), I'm a little more attentive to this detail than most. For several years, my choice of liquid container has been the
classic Nalgene bottle - the translucent white variety, made of #2 HDPE, free of those nasty plasticizers currently suspected of causing cancer. A side benefit is that HDPE is flexible, making it more suitable to hard use than the much more rigid clear varieties. This proved beneficial this weekend, when I ran over my Nalgene with a tractor. Smashed it nearly flat, and collapsed the bottom inward. I managed to squeeze the walls back into roughly cylindrical form, but wasn't able to fix the floor. I filled it with water, threw it in the freezer, and in a couple of hours the expanding ice did the trick! Good as new (more or less), and none the worse for wear.

I just wish they'd make the things in "earth colors" - OD, coyote tan, etc. Nalgene, are you listening?


The S&W "J" frame is a generally reliable piece, but lately I've gotten reports of ignition issues with newer examples. S&W has transitioned to a new firing pin, which is much lighter and much shorter than the previous varieties. (This may be their solution to the drop testing standards in California.) They seem to be the source of the problem.To insure reliability, I replace all those I encounter with the
Cylinder & Slide Extra Length firing pin. Highly recommended, and an easy "do it yourself" modification for those so inclined.


supply chain is finally starting to recover; AR-15 rifles are becoming a common sight in the stores again, and I'm receiving reports of ammo shelves being restocked. Shortages of certain products (most notably .380ACP ammunition) can be expected to continue for the next few months, but by and large we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

I've been collecting conspiracy theories for the ammo shortage, and I recently heard a great one that supposedly came from a local gun store: FEMA has been buying ammunition companies, then shutting them down to eliminate all civilian ammunition sources.

One needs an awful lot of foil for a tin hat that big...


Uncle and I have something in common: here in Oregon, our legislature also passed a "no texting" law. We went further, though - we added that you couldn't use a handheld cel phone at all. Then we enacted $2 billion of new taxes and spending in the state with the second-highest unemployment in the nation. We're number 49! We're number 49! Go team!


I'm really excited about the rifles
Savage has been introducing lately. I like this concept, though I'm not at all wild about the buttstock:

I'm more intrigued by
this one:

If it's as accurate as expected, I may have to own one. (Sure, I could build one myself, but I'm too busy doing guns for other people. Remember the parable about the shoemaker's children?)

Now, if we could just get them to cease doing business with H-S Precision...


Dr. Helen brings us the story of a woman who fought back against her knife-wielding rapist. Read the comments - some insightful, and some very amusing (in a train wreck sort of way.)


From the Irish Times comes news that the powers-that-be want to ban "practical" shooting (i.e. IPSC, IDPA.) The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, had this to say:

“It’s simply not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a subculture predicated on a shooting activity which by the liberal standards of the US is regarded as an extreme shooting activity." He said any cursory research on the internet showed that these activities were marketed as being at the “extreme end” of handgun ownership and were “anathema to the tradition of Irish sporting clubs”.

Hmmm...such preoccupation with America leads me to suspect his national pride is still smarting from the
shellacking his team took back in 1874.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Everything has a purpose.

Even the .32ACP.

Many of you are familiar with Ed Harris, firearms engineer and ballistic experimenter. One of Ed's passions is the hunting of small game - squirrels, rabbits, etc. - and the guns that facilitate that activity.

(Before we go any further, it seems that a lot of folks today don't have any experience with serious small game hunting. There are an awful lot of people who consider it somehow inferior to the taking of large game, but they are sorely mistaken. In virtually every respect, hunting wily little creatures is just as demanding of one's hunting skills as taking a trophy elk. Fieldcraft and marksmanship are just as difficult, but since you get more than one chance per trip you can hone your skills over a larger number of animals. Because of the increased experience, a good small game hunter is almost invariably a good big game hunter, but the reverse - at least in my experience - is rarely true.)

Ed has made up a number of dedicated long guns for the task, but has recently been experimenting with purpose-built handguns to go along with them. What he and John Taylor have come up with is a modified Beretta Model 70 in .32ACP, which Ed calls "the Third Level of Bunny Gun Nirvana".

Now I've never thought much of the .32ACP cartridge except for use as a deep concealment backup gun, but Ed had other ideas. He started by fitting his Beretta with 7- and 13-inch barrels, then developed a subsonic heavy bullet loading:

The barrels are supplied with a very interesting scope mount:

Ed talks about the performance of the combination:

Using 94-gr. Meiser LFN .312 cast bullet and 1.7 grs. of Bullseye velocity just shy of 900 f.p.s. Very low noise, from 13 inch barrel slightly louder than H-D military with can (suppressor), no muzzle flash, the 7 inch barrel sounds like .22 match pistol with standard velocity. Indoor range groups were shot at 25 yards. Not the best range light and targets oscillate a bit, so like it's trying to head-shoot the pirate from pitching deck of a destroyer, but shows potential.

It looks to be a formidable little game-getter!

-=[ Grant ]=-


We learned this week that
Kodak finally pulled the plug on what was their signature film, Kodachrome. Photographers will fondly recall the fine grain, superb resolution, and vibrant color of Kodak's iconic product, while everyone else will remember Paul Simon's hit song by the same name:

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Kodachrome wasn't the first time the company had influenced musical history, however. It's true that Kodachrome was invented by a couple of
amateur chemists who were also professional musicians, but the influence I'm thinking of goes far deeper.

As it happens George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, was an aspiring flutist and music fanatic. His love of making and listening to music led him to found the
Eastman School of Music, cementing his place in American music history.

Now you're probably thinking "Eastman School of Music? Never heard of it!" Most people, when asked to name a prestigious music school, immediately think "Juilliard." While Juilliard is a fine school and better known to the general public, those with a deep knowledge of musical education will often quietly refer you to Eastman. Since 1921, Eastman graduates have enjoyed a solid reputation for being "musician's musicians", which persists to this day - it is often ranked as the top music school in the country in major media surveys.

George Eastman was a remarkable individual who also gave major grants to engineering and technical schools such as MIT, and involved himself in a range of social and business innovations. It could be argued, though, that giving the world both Kodachrome and Frederick Fennell would have been enough for any one person.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On dry firing.

One of the great advantages of the double action revolver is that the mechanism makes dry firing easy. Unlike the majority of autoloaders, you don't have to break your grip to operate the slide or recock the hammer; just maintain your grip and pull the trigger, over and over. As a result, I suspect most revolvers are dry fired with greater frequency than most autos.

Various pundits have opined over the years that it is perfectly safe to dry fire any modern gun without regard to mechanical consequences. Some have even gone so far as to claim snap caps to be some sort of conspiracy against dry fire!

In my experience, that point of view is a bit misguided. I recommend the use of snap caps for any extensive dry fire practice, and with good reason: I have to fix the guns that break!

The problems involve broken firing pins, both hammer mounted and the in-frame variety. I do occasionally see broken pins that, upon investigation, would seem to have been caused by dry fire practice. Colt revolvers are probably the worst offenders; their firing pins tend to be harder than those of other makes, and subsequently a tad more brittle. I've seen many broken pins in Pythons and Detective Specials, and more than a few in the other models. If you have a Colt, I consider snap caps an absolute must.

Smith & Wesson revolvers seem to be a bit better in this regard, as I've not seen the number of broken pins that I have with the Colt products. They will occasionally break, however, and as a result I do recommend the use of snap caps if one is planning to do a significant amount of dry firing.

I've never seen a broken Ruger firing pin (though now that I've put this in print I'll no doubt hear about a rash of them!) However, snap caps seem to reduce peening of the back side of the firing pin, which serves to maintain ignition reliability. I don't consider their use as important as for their competition, but I believe them to be a good long-term care strategy.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Cassini, but not Oleg.

In 1997, NASA launched the Cassini spacecraft to study the planet Saturn. It finally reached the ringed planet in 2004, and started sending back some positively amazing images. The craft continues to work perfectly, and as a result the mission has been extended to 2010.

See more of these incredible pictures.

A quick synopsis of the craft and mission.

The Official Cassini website.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Down periscope, comrade.

In January 1940, the
Soviet Union was at war with Finland. Just a few months earlier, the Soviets had signed a non-agression pact with the German government, which besides promising to be Best Friends Forever, divided up the countries of Eastern Europe between the two powers. The two chums lost no time in invading and carving up Poland, and that success prompted Uncle Joe Stalin to go for the first country on his own shopping list: Finland.

While his generals mapped out invasion plans, Finland was issued a set of demands to adjust their borders and "lease" part of their territory to Moscow. They refused, and in late November of 1939 the Soviets attacked.

Though eventually negotiating a truce, Finland managed to inflict severe casualties on the Red forces. Nikita Khrushchev would later state that his country had lost a million soldiers, while the Finnish casualties amounted to 26,662.

Forty-six of that million were killed when their submarine, dubbed S-2, was sunk in the waters between Sweden and Finland on that cold January day.

The actual location of the wreck, and the precise cause of the sinking, remained a mystery until just a few months ago. After a decade of searching, a team of Swedish and Finnish divers located the S-2 and found out just what had happened.

Short CNN article on the find.

Absolutely terrific pictures at

-=[ Grant ]=-

Packing your training trunk.

There is a concept that, in order to properly teach the use of a firearm for self-defense, one must have been in a shootout. The term most often used to describe that state is "seeing the elephant." (I'm not sure how the phrase got corrupted to mean shooting at someone, but I am sure that I find it quite annoying.)

The assertion, of course, is that only those who have drawn blood with their weapon are in a position to talk about it, and anyone else isn't worthy of attention. This harkens back to the days of the warrior caste, when knights were the privileged class and could own mere peasants who weren't supposed to voice their opinions. The same dynamic is in play today, especially amongst a certain cadre of defensive shooting instructors.

I'll admit that I've gone through an evolution with regards to this. There was a time when I thought that only experience counted, but over the years I've come to realize that experience is just another data point, and one point may or may not be adequate to promote a conclusion.

Rory Miller, whose book "Meditations On Violence"
I've already gushed over, deals with this up front. As he correctly observes, all fights are idiosyncratic - one will not necessarily be like another. While there are some characteristics that are true of a large number of incidents, there are many more that vary from encounter to encounter. As he puts it, no one person can have been in enough fights to generate enough data to make generalizations. Experience is important, he believes, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

This was brought home to me in a recent
ABC News story out of Tampa. A woman was carjacked, and successfully ended the encounter with her own gun - but not in the way you might think. She punched the assailant in the forehead with the muzzle, which caused him to jump out of her car.

She did everything wrong (starting with her beliefs about the use of deadly force), and yet she came out on top. Would you want to emulate her in any way? I would hope that you answer "no"! Imagine this, though: she could start teaching other people how to defend themselves with a gun, claiming authority based on experience. How silly would that be?

If you didn't know the nature of her experience, and/or had no other reference with which to evaluate it, it wouldn't seem silly at all. It's only when you can put her performance up against the experiences of a large number of others can you gain the perspective necessary to draw conclusions. It's what we call 'research', and is just as important as
optical observation of the genus Loxodonta.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A short note about a shortened cartridge.

Busier than a one-armed paperhanger today, so I'm just going to give you a link and some commentary.

On Monday I mentioned my attraction to wildcat cartridges. There is one that still intrigues me, because a) it's an easy wildcat to make, and b) it's a cartridge that SHOULD have been factory made from the start:
the .41 Special.

I've always wanted to play with it, but have never owned the necessary .41 Magnum gun in which to shoot it. Since I'm not all that much a fan of the .41 Magnum to begin with I doubt I ever will, which automatically leaves me out of the .41 Special fraternity. Unless, of course, I decide to do a conversion on an existing gun! Here we go again...

(Oh, BTW - check out Ed Harris' comments on
Monday's post, particularly the video. I've been jealous of his rook rifle since he told me about it some time back; someday I'll one-up him by building a double rifle in .32 Colt New Police, aka .32 S&W Long.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Uncommon cartridges.

One of my interests, though I suppress it as much as possible, is the field of wildcat and proprietary cartridges. The lure of a cartridge that will give me something that I can't get anywhere else, that will dramatically improve some aspect of my shooting, is nearly irresistible. Of course owning and using something that other folks may not have heard about, let alone used, is a strong motivating factor!

Why do I suppress this interest? First, because I don't need yet another caliber to reload. Second, because reloading non-standard cartridges almost always requires extra work, and I've got enough to do as it is. Finally, because they rarely do anything that can't be done with something more mainstream, no matter how much I tell myself otherwise!

This interest was kindled many years ago when I was tasked with loading up some .451 Detonics for a local Detonics fanatic. The .451 was a proprietary cartridge, supposedly made by cutting down .45 Winchester Magnum brass, that was reported to throw a 185 grain bullet in excess of 1350 fps. This collector had a large quantity of virgin .451 Detonics brass, and wanted to recreate the defunct cartridge.

Loading data was scant, but we proceeded to work up loads using a rare .451 Detonics Combatmaster with an even rarer factory Seecamp double-action mechanism. We stopped when the 185 grain slugs exited that short barrel at 1325 fps - with recoil that can only be described as fierce!

(I don't believe the Seecamp option was ever actually offered for sale by Detonics. This collector, who was friends with someone from the original Detonics company, told me that "several" Detonics models were so constructed for test and evaluation, and he managed to acquire a couple of examples.)

That experience hooked me on odd cartridges, and I fed the addiction by purchasing a Dan Wesson in .445 SuperMag. Several other non-standard cartridges followed, and then I caught the wildcat bug. Wildcats are like crack cocaine to an oddball cartridge addict, and I played with several. I even toyed with the idea of developing my own wildcat, but luckily sanity (in the form of my wife) prevailed and the project was forgotten. More or less.

Most of my pet oddballs were eventually sold as my interest in them waned. Well, that - and I got tired scrounging and/or forming brass for them! I still have a few foreign military cartridges in the collection, though I'm not sure they really fit into the wildcat/proprietary motif.

My single remaining wildcat is a rifle chambered in 6.5-284. This is now a semi-legitimate cartridge, as it has become popular enough that Norma loads it and sells properly headstamped cases. When I took up the cartridge, though, it was a pure wildcat requiring forming cases from .284 Winchester brass. It's a wonderful cartridge, flat shooting and horrendously accurate, and now that it's become more mainstream it's much easier to load. Somehow, it's also lost the allure it used to hold for me.

Must - resist - urge - to - acquire - more...

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A line in the sand.

Or, more precisely, forest.

Many people have heard of the
Maginot line, a series of fortifications designed to protect France from invasion by Germany. As you may have heard, it didn't work all that well - the Germans simply went around it, through Belgium and the Netherlands, and right into Paris for coffee and gloating.

You may not have heard of the
Mannerheim line. It was Finland's fortification intended to protect it from Russian aggression. During the Winter War (where the Soviets sustained losses heavy enough to make them wish they'd never set their sights on Helsinki) the Mannerheim sustained heavy damage. Unlike the Maginot line, the Mannerheim was very lightly constructed and took the full force of the Russian advance. The majority of the installations were destroyed, leaving little behind but memories.

This is one of the better-preserved pieces:

The Mannerheim Line website. (Has the most complete list of sites and current condition.)

Detailed history of the Line at

Quick overview of the line and its purpose.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On loading density.

I hope everyone had a good Memorial Day weekend! The weather here in Oregon was wonderful (for a change) and I made the most of the sunshine and warm temperatures. In fact, I found it hard to come back to work!

I've received several emails in the last few months with a common complaint: unburned powder granules lodging underneath the extractor, causing cylinder lockups. I believe the ongoing ammunition shortage may be playing a big part in the sudden increase of this problem.

Because ammunition is so hard to get, many people are either turning to reloading their own, or sliding down-market and buying reloads at the local gun show. In both cases there is a great incentive to reduce the cost of these cartridges, and one way to do so is to use a powder that requires a lower charge weight for a given velocity. Less powder used, less money spent!

As the charge weight goes down, so does the space occupied by the powder. This is referred to as 'load density', and is an often overlooked aspect of powder choice. In many older cartridges, like the .38 Special, .45 Colt, and .44 Special, the case volume is quite generous. Putting a small charge of powder in these enormous cases results in very low load densities.

The issue is that some powders work well at low densities, and some don't. Hodgdon Universal Clays, which is one of my favorite powders for autoloading cartridges, doesn't like to be loaded to low densities at all. In a standard velocity 158 grain .38 Special load, it will produce copious amounts of unburned flakes. Increasing the load density by upping the charge weight to a +P level, though, eliminates the problem.

The problems are magnified in larger cases like the .44 Special, where Universal Clays proves to be almost unusable. Just because the powder maker lists a particular load weight in a particular cartridge doesn't mean that it works all that well!

In contrast, Alliant Red Dot handles low charge densities better, producing a clean burn at target level .38 velocities. It is now my powder of choice for low to mid velocities in the larger cases.

Oddly, all the currently available load manuals (except for Nosler's) ignore load density. I've made it a policy to avoid using the very lightest powders for any given cartridge, and instead go for the powders in the middle of the charge weight range (which achieve the target velocity, of course.)

There are a couple of other factors in unburned powder issues, and I'll get to those in a future article.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Gas piston rifles.

Last week's arrival of Ruger's SR-556 rifle has a certain segment of the shooting community swooning with delight. I'm not at all certain the hoopla is justified.

There are those with the opinion that a gas piston system has merits over the direct gas impingement operation used in the standard M-16/AR-15 family of rifles. There are perceived shortcomings in the impingement system, but in my experience, over many rifles and uncounted thousands of rounds of ammunition, most of the complaints are imagined or overblown.

One supposed problem has to do with the AR-15 gas tube, which leads from the sight block into the upper receiver. That tube, so the detractors say, will get clogged with carbon from the hot combustion gases, and ultimately fail to cycle the action. Frankly, I've never seen a tube that had any buildup inside, let alone a clog.

A few weeks back I was helping an acquaintance with some work on his AR-15, and part of the job involved pulling the gas tube out. I inspected the tube, and the inside was shiny clean. Just to prove my point to the gun's owner, I swabbed the tube with a long, dry pipe cleaner (commonly sold as a "gas tube brush.") Nothing showed up on the white nap of the cleaner. This is a gun which has been heavily used, to the tune of thousands of rounds of mixed ammunition - and the gas tube had never been touched, yet was still pristine.

This is not to say that the gas tube never develops deposits. If an owner insists on cleaning the gas tube, using any kind of solvent, the residue from that material could carbonize and adhere to the walls of the tube. CLP-type products, which contain oils, would be especially prone to leaving behind soot. I suspect those who complain of dirty gas tubes have done just that, which ironically causes the condition which they're trying to avoid in the first place!

My solution? I never touch the gas tube, period. I don't put any oil, bore cleaner, or other liquid into the tube. I've found that they stay perfectly clean, no matter how many rounds are fired through, without any attention whatsoever.

Another common complaint is that the gun "defecates where it eats" (though usually the term is somewhat more colorful.) The gas tube outlets in the upper receiver, which supposedly gums up the bolt and leaves deposits in and around the chamber.

Yes, the chamber area does get dirty on the AR-15 - but I can tell you, over many thousands of rounds of shooting both, that it gets no dirtier than an FN-FAL (and is significantly cleaner than any HK rifle.) In our rifle classes, our students will shoot 800 rounds over 2 days; I've never seen a chamber area dirty enough to impede functioning.

The bolt itself does get dirtier than on other rifles, but in reality suffers no more than any other system. Again, comparing to the FN-FAL, the area that gets dirty is simply shifted - on the AR-15, it's the bolt, while on the FAL it's the gas piston head. Both have to be cleaned with about the same frequency, and failure to do so will induce the same failure in each rifle. To me, it's a non-issue, because until someone develops a true self-cleaning rifle I'll be forced to do it myself regardless of the design!

Redesigning the AR-15 with a gas piston, according to supporters, supposedly makes for a more reliable system. I can't imagine how adding more parts to any mechanism makes it more reliable, but perhaps there is some new engineering principle which says it can be done. It would certainly be news to me!

I do have significant experience with gas piston designs. I'm a longtime FN-FAL user, having shot many examples and huge amounts of ammunition. In my experience, the gas piston is in fact the weakest point of the whole gun. On the FAL, if the piston is even slightly bent it will bind in the upper receiver boss, and the bolt will not be able to travel forward into battery. Alignment of the gas block and the upper receiver has to be perfect, otherwise binding will occur in one (or sometimes both) places.

I could go on, but my point is that a piston is not necessarily a guarantor of reliability. This, coming from someone who is a huge fan of the FAL!

Ruger's new gun will probably sell very well to those who believe in the piston concept, but the ironic thing is that Ruger will have to work twice as hard just to equal the reliability of the standard AR-15. First, because more parts doesn't always translate to better performance, and second because a piston is likely to demand more careful construction and assembly - areas where Ruger, to be fair, does have a bit of a problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Use-of-Force Myths.

archives over at Force Science News continue to fascinate. Issue #68 deals with several myths about the use of deadly force, myths that a large percentage of the population (regardless of their level of firearms knowledge) believe. The whole article is interesting, but it's the first myth - that of the Demonstrative Bullet - that is most immediately useful.

The article discusses the myth from the standpoint of those who judge an incident after the fact. However, the material is also of great importance to the person in the incident. The lawful user of lethal force needs to understand that bullets don't act like we see in movies, including the fact that one bullet simply isn't enough to guarantee rapid incapacitation of a determined attacker.

Belief in the "one shot stop" is prevalent at gun counters, in classrooms, and on firing ranges all over this country. The simple fact is that no handgun round - no matter what caliber or weight or velocity - will reliably incapacitate an attacker, immediately, with a single shot. It just doesn't happen all that often, which is why we need to train to put
rapid, multiple, appropriately placed shots on our target. Any time, at any realistic distance, one hand or two, in all lighting conditions, from any stance, while moving, in the rain, from behind cover or in compromised positions. Can you? Be honest with yourself.

Yes, it's a tall order, but that is the reality of the situation. I've said it before: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you! What you can do on a nice range, in perfect lighting, after carefully working yourself into your favorite stance, isn't the same as what you will be called to do when feral man chooses you as his prey. You need to train for the latter, not the former.

Of course it's easier (and cheaper) to simply Believe, which is what most gun people choose to do. Listen, if you want to believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, fine and dandy! Those things are inconsequential. Belief in the Demonstrative Bullet, on the other hand, can get you killed. Educate yourself, get relevant training, and practice.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Anniversary #3.

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the Revolver Liberation Alliance blog. It doesn't seem like I've been doing this for the last three years and five-hundred-some-odd posts!

At the beginning, the RLA was long on personal commentary on happenings in (and slightly outside of) the shooting world. Many of my early posts were links to other's articles, with my comments added. While this is the recipe that many other successful bloggers have used, for me it proved unfulfilling. Oh, I like to snark as much as the next guy (
or gal), but that's not my raison d'être - I prefer the role of teacher to that of critic.

It's in that spirit that I started writing more original (and factual) content. My opinions still come through, of course, in the subject matter I choose and the way in which I approach it, but my goal is to bring solid information to my readers. Sometimes the information is from the side of the 'loyal opposition', sometimes it's unpopular, and sometimes it's based on analysis and theory, but it's always supported by evidence. I'm not a believer in snake oil!

Some entries are better than others, of course, and some prove vastly more popular. I'm particularly fond of certain articles: the
failings of traditional safety rules; basics of aesthetics as applied to revolvers; myths about stopping power; and judging your abilities.

Along the way I've picked up many loyal readers. I've been fortunate to have some very knowledgeable and important industry members check in from time to time, and I've had the misfortune of being fooled by one of them. Still, I won't consider my work successful until it's been attributed to
Major Caudill, a travesty to which I'm looking forward.

Sometimes what I write has profound effects on the reader. I got an email a while back from a fellow who said that my scribblings had helped him decide on the direction his life should take, and is now happily employed in an important position in the shooting community. I am humbled, and pledge to keep doing what I'm doing, to the best of my ability.

Now to the fourth year. I just hope I don't run out of things to say!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The research (as usual) in on our side.

David Kopel at the
Independence Institute has a new research paper forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review. Titled "Pretend 'Gun-Free' School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction", it deals with the subject of concealed firearms carry on school campuses. From the abstract:

Most states issue permits to carry a concealed handgun for lawful protection to an applicant who is over 21 years of age, and who passes a fingerprint-based background check and a safety class. These permits allow the person to carry a concealed defensive handgun almost everywhere in the state. Should professors, school teachers, or adult college and graduate students who have such permits be allowed to carry firearms on campus?

In the last two years, many state legislatures have debated the topic. School boards, regents, and administrators are likewise faced with decisions about whether to change campus firearms policies.

This Paper is the first to provide a thorough analysis of the empirical evidence and policy arguments regarding licensed campus carry. Whether a reader agrees or disagrees with the Paper's policy recommendations, the Paper can lay the foundation for a better-informed debate, and a more realistic analysis of the issue.

I highly recommend that you download a PDF of the paper from Social Science Research Network. It's a terrific read and well worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Can you make good decisions - and would your peers agree?

The March issue of Force Science News contained a very interesting article about how police and private citizens differ in their views of "justified" shootings.

While some may see the article as having application to law enforcement only, they would be wrong - it is well worth reading because it deals with differences in perception of a critical incident, differences which are not necessarily "cops vs. civilians" but more like "trained vs. untrained."

Private citizens are both more critical of decisions to shoot, yet simultaneously less skilled in making those decisions themselves. This has grave implications for those who carry concealed weapons for self-defense; it suggests that an untrained person might shoot with less justification, while at the same time be held to scrutiny that is not commensurate with the risks of an evolving scenario.

My take on the research is that it is imperative the person carrying a defensive firearm be very well trained in the judicious use of deadly force. (Sadly, very few are.) At the same time, that person has to retain defense counsel who can educate a jury in the dynamics of a deadly encounter, so that they can judge the defendant's actions more realistically. You need to be able to show the jury what you knew, and when you knew it.

Think carefully: how's your knowledge of the judicious use of force?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Over the weekend I got a nice email from
the shooter in last week's article. Sure enough, the screw had backed out and let the crane past. He's ordered a new screw, and plans to LocTite it in. Good plan!

(The sad thing was that he was shooting really well up until that happened...ruined a perfectly good stage.)


Those of you looking for Lubriplate SFL grease may be in luck - I got this interesting email last week:

Just for your info, I'll be offering the Lubriplate "SFL" NLGI #0 grease in 16 oz. cans starting in about two weeks.

The grease will come in screw-top metal cans with a brush attached to the inside of the lid, real handy for applying the grease without making a mess.

Retail will be $19.95 plus actual shipping, without any inflated "handling" charges.

Email is


Gila Hayes over at the
Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network recently reviewed a book that I had to buy: "Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" by Rory Miller. Miller's treatise is about violent criminal behavior - how it happens, why it happens, and what does and doesn't work to counter it. It's written from the perspective of empty hand martial arts (as opposed to the martial art of the firearm), but everything in it is applicable to the person who carries a firearm for protection.

He goes to great lengths to dispel both our romanticized notions of what violent acts are really like, and our belief in our own ability to deal with them. Early in the book, he says "you are what you are, not what you
think you are." (Emphasis added.) The rest of the book shows us what why that's true, and why what we believe is not always reality. His perspectives on training, of what is/is not valuable, follow the same hard-nosed refusal to buckle under to fantasy.

This book has earned a permanent place in my library, which is not something I can say of many works. I highly recommend it to anyone who carries a gun for self defense, and perhaps even more to those who don't. (One warning: this book may be unsettling to those who've become attached to their images of how a predator interacts with his/her prey. As Miller reminds us, reality is rarely pretty - and his work is chock-full of reality.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Lights on revolvers.

I recently received an email asking about the feasibility of mounting a light on a revolver. The writer was concerned about clearing his house at night and being forced to shoot one-handed with a separate flashlight. Would it be possible, he asked, to somehow mount a light to his wheelgun, to approximate those that are widely mounted on autoloaders?

That's a tough one to answer, because it's really two questions in one:
can it be done, and should it be done.

I'll address the feasibility portion first: yes, it can be done, though the approach varies a bit with the make/model. In all cases, their are some limitations - mainly, the light has to clear the ejector rod as it swings away from the frame. The larger the light, the smaller the gun, and/or the more closely the light is mounted to the bore axis or to the cylinder, the more likely it is to interfere with proper cylinder opening.

The best choice is to make provision to mount the light in a forward position, in front of the ejector rod. This is the approach taken by S&W in their 327 TRR8:

The problem with this is that it makes activating the light on a momentary basis from a firing grip difficult (if not impossible.) One is left with the necessity to turn the light on and leave it on if one wants to shoot with a two-handed grip.

To provide a platform on which the light can be mounted, a short section of Picatinny rail can be attached (via screws) to the barrel's underlug. If the particular gun doesn't have an underlug, the barrel itself can be carefully drilled & tapped to accept the rail - only, of course, if the barrel is of a bull (heavy) configuration. There are also some clamp-on solutions available.

The other half of the question is "should you?" I'll put on my Tactical Tommy hat here, and say that I think it's a bad idea except in very specific circumstances.

For a gun to be used in an ensconced position the attached light has merit. All you're required to do is wait, and the light is nothing but a shooting aid: confirm the target, and allow a clear sight picture.

Using it to check your house, on the move, is another matter entirely. In this case, the light takes on multiple functions: navigation, search, identification, and (in the worst case) shooting aid. The trouble is that if it's attached to your gun, then you have a loaded weapon pointing in all sorts of directions that proper safety habits say it shouldn't!

A loaded gun is not a tool for navigation or searching, and using it as such is (in my opinion) irresponsible. Think of it this way: would you be pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight? I would hope that the answer would be 'no.' If that's the case, why would you deem it acceptable to do so in the dark?

The light on the handgun is a limited-use device. Don't try to make it into something it shouldn't be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Feedback from the Stopping Power series.

I continue to get email from last year's
"Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. It remains the second-most visited page on the site, behind only my article on lubrication, and appears to be well received by the majority of readers. Thank you!

As you might imagine, such popularity generates feedback, and some questions pop up more than once. While not exactly a FAQ, here are some of the common emails I've received.

Email: You didn't cover the difference between crush and temporary cavities, which I think is very important.
My answer: No, I didn't - because I don't consider it critical to the discussion. You see, I really don't care what the wounding mechanism is, as long as one exists. Going back to the article, as long as the bullet a) reaches something that the body finds immediately important, and b) does rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives, then I'm really unconcerned about how it actually does so.

Email: Can you comment on ammo from [a smaller maker], whose stuff is just as good but doesn't waste money on advertising?
My answer: In general, I recommend that one avoid "boutique ammunition." The majority (if not all) of such ammo purveyors are simply loading bullets made by someone else, but without the knowledge of how to make those bullets perform their best. Why should I risk unknown quality control to get a product that, at best, can only be as good as what I can get from a producer that has actual design and test budgets? My advice is to stick with known quantities: Winchester, Speer, Federal, Remington.

Email: What's your opinion of the book "Handgun Stopping Power" (aka "Street Stoppers", aka 'Marshall & Sanow')?
My answer: There are a number of solid, critical analyses of their work online; I suggest that you read some of them, as the problems with their "research" are both serious and numerous. In case I was too subtle in the articles, I consider stopping power ratings in general to be complete hogwash, and theirs are particularly so.

You'd be further ahead to take the money you would have spent on their book, and practice until you can shoot to a high standard of accuracy under stress. Couple that with a quality hollowpoint from a major manufacturer, and you'll be much better prepared than any ten people who swear by their scribblings.

(This should not be construed to mean that I am a follower of their chief antagonist, Dr. Martin Fackler, either. He concocted his ratings from a different sort of nonsense than Marshall & Sanow, and came to different conclusions - which were just as useless. Again, there is criticism of his work that can be found on the 'net, if one is so inclined.)

Email: Is there any reliable source of information on bullet performance?
My answer: Because of the huge number of variables in any shooting, and the relatively low number of incidents, the idea of hard statistical data is meaningless. What we're left with is anecdotal evidence which, while not valid in a scientific sense, does give us some rough feeling for what is and is not working. That's the best we can do under the circumstances.

One of the more prolific collectors of such information is Massad Ayoob. He is in a unique position: since he travels all over the country both as a trainer and an expert witness, he's thrown into contact with large numbers of police trainers and shooting survivors. He elicits their opinions of their issue ammunition, based on shootings in their departments. He gets some great feedback, which he doesn't try to disguise or characterize as anything other than raw opinion from people who have actual results to talk about.

If you want to hear some of Ayoob's findings direct from the man himself, listen to
this episode of the ProArms podcast.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Be honest with yourself.

In college I minored in music performance. Being just out of high school (read: thoroughly stupid) I thought I was a hot musician, harboring dreams of becoming a professional trumpet player. Like so many other aspiring performers I really had no idea what the world of a professional musician actually entailed, but I was absolutely sure I had what it took.

One of my professors, an accomplished professional trombonist, made it his job to bring us post-adolescents into the real world. Shortly into my freshman term, he was talking with a few of the members of the trumpet section after class. The talk turned to the requirements of a "pro", and all of us were convinced we had the Right Stuff. Our prof had heard this kind of chatter before, and bet our first chair player that he didn't yet possess the bare minimum skills necessary for the job.

Trumpet players are usually narcissistic personalities, the kind who don't back down from a fight, and the kid said "you're on!"

The prof sighed and said simply "get out your horn. I want you to blow a perfect half-note G above the staff" (trumpet players in the audience will understand.) The kid smirked, dropped his case to the floor and pulled out his horn. "Wait a minute", said our teacher. "I said a perfect G. No warmup. Just one perfect note; in tune from start to end, solid attack, no slop or waviness, crisp decay. You have one and only one shot. Go."

I shouldn't have to tell you the kid failed - miserably. Then again, none of the rest of us would have done any better. We were clueless: none of us yet knew enough to understand how much we didn't yet know.

Fast forward a few decades, and the shooting range serves up the same lesson. Georges Rahbani, "
The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of" , has a way of impressing on his students how they should assess their own abilities:

"You are only as good as you are, on demand."

What you can do right now, without warm up or sighting shots, without excuses or alibis, is the true measure of how good you are.

This is different from how most people gauge their ability. Most folks would take their rifle to the range on a nice sunny day, settle in comfortably at the bench, fire a bunch of rounds, then shoot a 1" group. They're so proud of that group they take the target home and hang it in their garage or office. "I'm hot stuff!", they'll think - after all, they have the target to prove it!

The next day at the range it's raining, they've had a fight with their spouse, can't get comfortable on the cold bench, and now their best group doesn't even break 3". "That's not me", they'll say to themselves, "I shoot one-inch groups!" The alibis flow like PBR at a fraternity house, and serve to obscure the fact that the 3" group wasn't the anomaly - the 1" group was. The larger one is the true indicator of their skill.

It's not what someone can do when everything is going their way that shows ability; it's what they can do under suboptimal conditions that does. If a person can't shoot until getting into just the right stance, with perfect foot placement and textbook body positioning, then that person still has a lot of work to do to master the fundamentals. (I've seen people who can shoot pretty well on a concrete pad, but go all to pieces on a gravel range. They can't get into their comfort zone.)

This is one thing if we're talking about plinking, but becomes another thing entirely when the subject turns to self defense. The other guy isn't going to wait for us to get into the perfect stance we learned from our guru; we need to be able to deliver rapid, multiple, properly placed shots from whatever position the situation dictates, under whatever conditions it hands us. That requires the courage to admit to ourselves that maybe - just maybe - we aren't quite as good as we think.

Right here, right now, no warmups, no excuses - how good are you?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Progressive presses and powder measures.

A common complaint with progressive presses is the throwing of inconsistent powder charges. Most people immediately blame the equipment, but some times it's actually operator error.

We first need to admit that there are certain incompatibilities with regard to some measures and some powders (Dillon's difficulty with metering flake or extruded powder, for instance, is often discussed on the various reloading forums.) However, even with a powder the measure "likes" unexpected variances often occur during a production run.

The variance usually comes as a surprise to the operator. During setup, the reloader is careful to check the powder charge, and finds that the measure it properly set up and is throwing charges with little variance - say, within .1 grains. During the middle of a run the person happens to check a random case and finds that it is perhaps a half grain off. He stops, carefully throws several charges, perhaps adjusts the measure, then settles down to again crank out the rounds. Another random check, and the process repeats itself.

Perhaps some attention to technique will cure the problem.

Those who reload rifle cases for extreme accuracy will agree that one's technique with the powder measure is critical to consistent, accurate charges. The same is true for the measure on a progressive press!

As it happens, there is a "dwell time" when powder is being dumped from the measure. The powder doesn't fall instantaneously into a case, it flows - out of the measure's cavity, down the drop tube, through the powder die, and into the waiting brass. That journey takes some time, and if the press operator is impatient - or worse, inconsistently impatient - there may be a few flakes of powder left somewhere in the path when he decides to go to the next round in the queue. That translates into a light charge for the current case, and a heavy one for the next.

There is a solution: when you pull the handle down, pause for a second at the bottom of the stroke to give time for all of the powder to make the journey to your case. Most operators I've observed don't do this - as soon as the handle hits bottom, they immediately jerk it back up to get to the next round in the shellplate. That may not give the powder enough time to drop, and can lead to those inconsistent charges.

When I'm using my progressive, I think consciously about that pause at the bottom of the stroke. When the handle hits the stop, I open my hand then close it; the amount of time it takes to do that is sufficient for the powder to drop completely (and has the added benefit of keeping my hand and arm from tiring during long loading sessions!) Yes, it will slow you down slightly; I think it's a small price to pay for more consistent and accurate ammo.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Sitrep: gunshow vendors tell me that any autoloading rifle is like gold these days (while they can't give away bolt-action hunting rifles.) Concealed handgun licensing is at an all-time high here in Oregon (and a large percentage of applicants are from what is often referred to as the "left" of the political spectrum.) Ammunition shortages continue, as well as components such as bullets and primers.

If I didn't know better, I'd say a lot of people have joined the ranks of "clingers."


Someone recently asked if I still had the same opinion of Taurus revolvers that I did back in 2006. Given my recent experience with the brand-new 856 model, I'd have to say yes. Nothing at Taurus has changed, as near as I can tell.


Late last year, the
ProArms Podcast broke the news that Federal was bringing back .38 Special NyClad ammunition. This load was for many years the best standard-pressure .38 Special available. The NyClad is a soft lead hollowpoint of 125 grains, coated in a nylon compound to prevent barrel leading. It is just the ticket for the recoil sensitive, and especially for the new crop of uber-light "J" frame revolvers.

My sources tell me that Federal planned to do an initial run of the NyClad in March, so it should be available soon (if it isn't already.) Unless your local dealer is particularly astute, he probably won't be carrying it - you'll probably have to special order some.


I wish I had time to write a political/economic blog - between Washington and Wall Street, there is a huge amount of material coming down the pipes daily. (The passing reference to waste plumbing is intentional.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Color me amazed.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) shot tens of thousands of photographs. The vast majority - and the images we most associate with their work - were in black and white:

However, there were a number of assignments which were shot in color. That number was far smaller, likely because of budget constraints, but produced some stunning images:

This article from Photo District News shows some of the portraiture from the collection. You can view the whole collection at the Library of Congress site for FSA/OWI color images. (If you click on the Subject Index, you can browse by categories.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

Lots of linking to avoid thinking on my own!


Xavier recently posted a letter from - and his response to - one of his readers. The exchange (and the comments that follow) bring up important issues in the area of Second Amendment activism. It isn't always black-and-white.


When you've finished reading Xavier, pop over to Breda's place and read
this related article she posted about a month ago. (I realize it's a bit late, and I'd meant to bring it up earlier, but just kept forgetting.)


Rob Pincus is one of the more thoughtful trainers working today. He's got a great post up on the Breach-Bang-Clear blog about
putting techniques on pedestals. Highly recommended read.


Speaking of Rob, I discovered that he has a
blog of his own. Good stuff.


Not just techniques get put on pedestals; equipment does too. There are the 1911 people, the Glock folks, the "any caliber as long as it begins with '4' " crowd, and so on. I suppose one could accuse me of doing the same thing with wheelguns (retro pedestal?), but I'm on record as saying - more than once - that the revolver isn't the perfect tool for everyone and every purpose.

For example, a number of years ago I was engaged in an activity of some risk. For that, I forsook my beloved revolver for a Glock and all the high capacity magazines I could fit under a suit coat. I believe in picking the right tool for the job; it just so happens that, for some jobs, the revolver is at least one of the right tools.


Rejoice! Tam has finally posted a
new article over at The Arms Room. (I was beginning to think she'd given up writing about guns...)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Coffee and miracle lubricants.

Coffee is one of those vices in which I do not indulge. Not from any religious objection, mind you - it's just that I can't stand the taste of the stuff. I admit to loving the smell of brewing java, but coffee is one of those things that smells a whole lot better than it tastes!

Stay with me, I'll get to the point.

A number of years ago I knew a district sales manager for one of the major coffee companies. (Coincidentally, his first name was also Grant. Obviously a man of superior intellect, charm, and modesty.) Grant told me that the coffee brand with the largest market share at that time was Folgers, due largely to their "mountain grown" ad campaign.

He commented that the campaign was so much hot air, as all coffee was grown in the mountains - but people had been conditioned to believe that since a) the mountain environment was desirable, and b) only Folgers was grown in the mountains, therefore c) Folgers was the only coffee to buy.

Yes, the mountain environment was desirable, because without it there would essentially be no coffee, but no - Folgers wasn't the only coffee which was grown there!

His story came back to me this week when I received yet another email from what was obviously a salesman for one of those multilevel marketing (MLM) "miracle lubricant" scams. One of the consistent claims by all such snake oil concerns is that their product "bonds with the metal at the molecular level", that it is a very desirable thing to do, and only their product does so.

Think "coffee."

Reality time: all oils bond with metal at a molecular level, because that's what oils do. Were there no molecular attraction between oil and metal, the oil would simply slide off of the surface to which it was applied. Not drip off, not ooze off, not pour off - slide off with absolutely no trace of itself left behind. No film or residue, not a single atom of the oil would remain. Absolutely nothing.

Of course, that doesn't happen. Apply any oil to a piece of metal, then turn the metal upside down; the excess oil may drip off, but a layer of slippery liquid is always left stuck to the surface. That is molecular attraction - bonding, if you will - at work.

Those who wear glasses know how difficult it can be to completely rid lenses of even a drop of oil; there always seems to be some that stubbornly refuses efforts at removal. This is because there is a molecular bond between the oil and the material from which the lens is made, and the same thing happens when oil is applied to metal.

Molecular attraction is why the water in your coffee is in liquid form, rather than the elemental hydrogen and oxygen from which it is made. It makes metal alloys possible, and is why lubricants - all of them - work. The companies which claim their product "bonds with the metal at the molecular level" are simply saying that their oil does the same thing that all other oils do.

Admitting that fact wouldn't sell much oil (or coffee), would it?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Facing your demons.

I used to love shooting steel. The plates dropping, the loud "clang" from a Steel Challenge target - no matter what the venue, reactive metal targets are just addicting. This addiction, I discovered, can be broken - even if you don't want to!

A number of years back I was shooting a Steel Challenge-type match. On one stage I was watching someone else shoot when a piece of bullet jacket bounced back from the steel plate, sneaked around my safety glasses, and caught the corner of my eye. (Mine was not the only injury that day - my buddy Hunter Dan suffered a leg cut from shrapnel, and another fellow caught a piece on his cheek.)

My physical damage was minor - lots of blood, though no permanent damage - but the psychological impact was greater than I could have imagined. You see, I'm somewhat paranoid about my eyesight to begin with; always have been. I don't like the thought of anything heading straight for my eyeball, let alone touching it. (In the old days, when glaucoma exams meant a little pressure gauge touching the cornea, having my eyes checked was absolute agony.)

This close call with the jagged piece of copper left me more than a little skittish around steel targets. Ever since then, regardless of size or distance of the target, shooting a steel plate causes me to blink just as the sear releases. (The problem never occurs on paper targets, only steel.) I can't help it, and I shouldn't have to point out that it makes hitting the target more than a little challenging!

Early last year I resolved to cure this affliction. I'm lucky to have a range on my own property, and last year I acquired a self-resetting, half sized Pepper Popper. Whenever I go out to shoot, I make it a point to do so on that target first. I shoot it repeatedly, and with every shot I consciously force my eyes to remain open.

The first few times I tried this were pathetic; no matter how hard I concentrated, my eyelids always won by doing what they're designed to do - protect my eyes. As time went on, and the round count increased, it became easier to keep them open, though I still have to do it consciously as opposed to subconsciously. (The latter will only occur when my mind has been retrained to accept the idea that shooting a steel target is perfectly safe, and that nothing will happen to my precious eyesight. I'm still working on it.)

I could have just ignored the whole issue and simply avoided shooting steel targets, but a) it's not practical - they show up in the most unexpected places, and b) it's not very much fun. Instead I decided to address the issue, and I'm hoping to be in shape to finally shoot a steel match again this summer.

Whether sports, music, or martial arts, if all you ever do is practice stuff that you've already mastered you'll never make progress. When you go to the range, work on those things that you don't do well. By facing your demons with your eyes open and brain engaged, you can eventually conquer them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

I'm gratified - and somewhat surprised - at the tremendous response to last week's post
"Risk assessment, or lack thereof." One of the difficulties I've found with this whole blog adventure is predicting what will resonate with my readers. In some cases I've been deliberatively provocative in order to get people to think outside of their comfort zone, while in others I've tried to deliver solid technical information not readily available in the swamp that is the internet.

On occasion (as with the article under consideration) I worry about whether I'm talking over my audience, that the subject might be a bit too abstract. I'm happy to find that my readers are significantly more discerning than average.


One complaint about the Bianchi SpeedStrips is that they're not available in calibers other than .38/.357. I'm surprised that, until tipped off by a reader, I didn't know about
Quick Strips from Tuff Products. They appear to be a clone of the Bianchi product, but are available in a wide range of calibers. Check 'em out.


You may have heard that the U.S. Attorney General called (not surprisingly) for reinstating the infamous Assault Weapons Ban. What was surprising was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's adamant refusal to consider such legislation. Mr. Obama's administration may find their road tougher sledding than they'd originally anticipated. All the better for us!


A while back I wrote about the iPhone/iTouch ballistics application iSnipe. While it worked well, it was pretty basic; as I explained to the author, it needed some features added to enhance utility for the serious long-range shooter.

It didn't take long for competition to appear:
Ballistic FTE has everything I ever wanted, and then some. It is superb in every respect; you must see the target recording function! It even has a calculator to help with rangefinding (mil-dot) reticle use. Ballistic FTE is a bargain at $9.99.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Risk assessment, or lack thereof.

I meet many people who possess concealed handgun licenses, but don't carry on a regular basis - let alone every day. The explanation is usually something along the lines of "I carry when I'm in a bad area" or "if I'm going into a situation where I'm more likely to need it, I'll take my gun". There are myriad variations, but the excuse always boils down to confusions between likelihood and consequence.

Likelihood (probability of attack) is variable. Yes, there are areas (and times) in which one is more likely to be attacked. This is what most people base their carry habits on: the less likely they are to be attacked (the lower the probability), the less compulsion they feel to carry a firearm.

While likelihood changes,
consequence doesn't. Consequence refers to the impact on the victim of an attack; consequence is a level, a magnitude. An attack that justifies the involvement of a personally carried firearm is, by definition, of extreme magnitude and thus high consequence. For such incidents, consequence is a constant - it is the same for all times and places. Thus, the necessity of response is the same.

The problem is that most people base their carry habits not on consequence, but on likelihood. I'm not sure of the reason, but perhaps it is societal: we have a tendency to defer issues of consequence to others, because facing them is unpleasant. Dealing only with likelihood allows people to focus on the pleasant (the probability is, after all, that everything will be fine) rather than dwelling on the unpleasant.

Acknowledging the consequences of an attack is frightening to a lot of people; not only do they have to contemplate their own death or injury, they also have to consider that of their opponent. It's ultimately about mortality, and that is more than many people can handle.

You'd think that the possession of a carry license would mean that the person had considered these issues, at least minimally. My experience says otherwise. Even serious gun enthusiasts seem to only face up to the realities of consequence when they have to, which is why even they don't carry all the times that they could.

Are you basing your carry habits on likelihood or consequence? If the former, you're not as safe as you believe yourself to be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Gone fission.

Way back in the mid-70s I was a geeky high school student whose career dreams were split between playing trumpet in the Stan Kenton band, or designing optical systems for spy satellites. Kenton died in 1979, which quashed my first ambition, and a dismal showing in differential calculus (don't ask) convinced me that engineering wasn't my forte, either.

(What happened between then and now is a long story...)

Anyhow, back to high school. Our science teacher was an ex-JPL scientist who'd taken early retirement and ended up in our small Oregon town. This was a major score for a backward mountain community, and he was a wealth of information. I took every advanced physics and chemistry course our little school offered.

One day, he presented to the class what was then a very recent scientific find: the existence of a natural nuclear fission reactor. That's right, a nuclear reactor where atoms were split without human design or interference, and long before humans walked the earth. At the time, despite learning all the details, I found it hard to believe that such a thing had happened. I understood that it was theoretically possible, but it seemed fantastic that just the right physical conditions necessary to sustain natural fission had occurred anywhere.

But they had - more than once - in the tiny nation of Gabon in west Africa.
Here's a great story about the reactors were discovered (warning: science content)

Here's a Wikipedia synopsis of what happened.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is that gun loaded, and do I really care?

In the comments to
last week's post regarding safety rules, someone asked why checking the condition of a firearm is never listed in any rules. It seems logical enough - why not check the condition of a gun when you pick it up?

I'd like you to think about that for a minute -
really think: why are you checking it?

If you plan to shoot it immediately, I can understand wanting to make certain that it was loaded. If you were going to disassemble it for cleaning, or do dryfire, or some other specific task that would require it to be sans ammunition, I understand why you'd want to verify that it was unloaded. But checking just to be checking? I'm not sure that it keeps anyone safer.

Other than those obvious examples, I can't come up with a good reason for someone to obsess about the load condition of a gun - unless it's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want or plan to do something unsafe.

Look at it this way: why are you verifying the condition if you're just going to pretend it's loaded anyhow? The answer seems to be quite obvious: because you're not really going to treat it as though it's loaded, and the reason you're not going to is because, deep down, you want to do something that you know isn't all that safe.

When I'm handed a gun, unless I'm going to do something that requires a particular state, I don't feel a need to immediate check it. Why? Because I treat all guns to the same standard:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

I'm not going to point that gun at anything I'm not willing to shoot, regardless of whether it's loaded; I'm not going to have my finger on the trigger, either, loaded or not. I don't make exceptions, because the Three Commandments neither contain nor allow exceptions. That is why they are superior to any form of the existing "Four Rules."

There's yet another dynamic at work, which I've observed over the years with a wide variety of people. Those who do the habitual check often display an absolutely frightening tendency: after they've checked the gun, they relax. Visibly. You can see the changes in their body language and facial expressions, showing that they are now at ease - and less vigilant - with that firearm.

I've seen this with new gun owners, and I've seen it with the most experienced instructors. I've seen it with combat vets and with gunsmiths, with gunstore jockeys and seasoned competitive shooters. People check the gun, see that it's empty, and drop their guard. The situation is obvious to anyone who has the courage to look for the signs. You can almost hear them thinking: "don't worry, it's not loaded!"

(Of course, not every single person does this - but you'd be surprised, when you start looking, how large the percentage is and how it cuts across all levels of experience.)

When people are handling firearms, I want to see them completely engaged. Dropping one's guard because the gun has been verified as empty is the genesis of negligent discharges. Never become complacent - the consequences are simply too great.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Living with your choices.

One-liners, sound bites, and witty retorts are often used to convince others to unthinkingly follow a certain path or belief. When the subject matter is of little import, they are simply amusing. When subjects turn more serious, they impede the flow of vital information necessary to make good decisions.

Such is the latest, a hearty "guns break!" when faced with evidence that one's choice in safety/rescue equipment might not have been ideal. Yes, guns are mechanical contrivances and do suffer failures; it is important, though, to understand the nature of failure before making such proclamations.

Any mechanical device - be it a gun or an automobile - is subject to failure from several causes:

- design flaw
- inferior materials
- construction irregularities
- improper maintenance
- suitability mismatch

Of these, only the last two are within our control - the others are beyond our control. That doesn't mean we're at the mercy of the fates, however; the end result can still be affected by the choices that we make.

In order to avoid failure, one would choose a perfect design, made with the best possible materials and showing the highest workmanship. Of course, that can only happen in La-La Land (or the internet!)

In the real world we have to make compromises at all of those points, and it is necessary that we understand those compromises going in. Nothing's perfect, that's a fact. From 'imperfect' to 'near perfect', though, is a continuum: we have bad choices, better choices, and - if we're lucky - superb choices.

Simply put, there will always be better choices than others for any given criteria. For instance, let's say that you were looking for a car to get you reliably back and forth to work - day in, day out, with as little down time as is possible. You might succumb to glitzy marketing and pick a Land Rover or a BMW, or perhaps something more pedestrian like a Toyota or a Honda.

Were you to look at reliability rankings for those brands over at Consumer Reports, you'd find the Rover and the Beemer were the least reliable over a large sample, while the Toyota and Honda are rated as the most reliable. (One example from each may be at the far end of the bell curve, but the probability of getting that one is not with you. A sample of one is just that: one.)

Of course, there are other aspects to the choice: comfort, amenities, performance, and (admit it) status which also might figure into the decision. Understand, though, that those cannot be transmuted to the primary criteria: reliability.

In this example, were you to pick one of the first two brands, the likelihood of a failure leaving you stuck on the side of the road increases dramatically. You might be able to fool yourself, but the data says that the Euro-rides will suffer more frequent failures than their Asian counterparts. That is a fact you just can't sound-bite your way around.

If your co-workers happen to point out that your fashionable wagon breaks down more often than their less ostentatious wheels, how intelligent would it be for you to yell "cars break!" at them? Yes, they know cars break, which is why they chose examples which break less often. Getting mad at them won't make your car's repair record any better.

The same is true for firearms and their attendant equipment. Like it or not, there are products which, over time, have proven to fail less often than others. If reliability and/or longevity is your primary concern in a gun-related purchase, you should understand that there is in fact a range from most to least, and make your choice accordingly.

Pretending that there is no difference between the alternatives because they all fail at some point is ignoring reality. As someone once told me: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you.

Georges Rahbani,
'The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of', has a great way of putting this in perspective: if you're buying a gun for fun (plinking, target shooting, hunting, competition, etc.), you can be far less demanding about reliability/longevity. A failure in those applications is of minor consequence, and thus you have leeway to factor other criteria into your decision.

If, however, your firearm is a serious tool upon which your life may depend, you need a relentlessly critical attitude toward your choice. Don't make it on the basis of one-liners heard at the gunshop.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yes, I'm repeating myself.

written about this before, but it's getting worse. All across this country are people standing behind gun counters who need to be taught that women are people, too.

I've lost track of the number of times I've run into a woman who was
sold (as opposed to deciding to buy) a revolver for self defense. Now it should be pretty clear to even the densest web denizen that this is a revolver-friendly blog, so it should not come as a shock that I think revolvers are a great tool.

They are not necessarily, however, the right tool.
As I mentioned last week, the revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but the most difficult gun to shoot well. That long, heavy (in stock configuration) trigger requires a certain amount of hand strength, without which the gun cannot be fired.

Herein lies the problem: the female of the species, in general, tends to have less strength in her digits than does the male. It's not unusual, therefore, to find a woman saddled with a brand-new revolver on which she cannot manipulate the trigger. I've seen countless numbers of women who actually have to use two fingers to get the trigger moving!

It's not so much a matter of gun fit (though that enters into the equation far too often), but simply the trigger offering more resistance than a slim finger is capable of overcoming. In reality most women would really be better served with the shorter, lighter trigger action of an autoloading pistol, but the wisdom of the gunstore commando is that autoloaders are just "too complicated for the little lady."

Hey, Bubba, I've got news for you: women actually drive cars these days! Yes, automobiles, with their myriad switches and levers and pedals and buttons. Women have no problem figuring those things out, yet you think they can't handle the concept of a slide stop lever?

The usual rejoinder is that women don't have the upper body strength to manipulate the slide of an autoloader. This is fact turned on it's side to bolster a flawed assumption; yes, women tend not to have our arm strength, but that deficiency can be rendered immaterial through proper technique. It's a simple matter, and nearly any female (and a more enlightened male) firearms instructor can teach it inside of thirty seconds.

This whole issue wouldn't bother me so much - and I wouldn't be writing about it again - but the inferiority attitude is so pervasive that some women are themselves buying into the notion that they're not "capable" of handling an autoloader. I've actually had students to whom I've taught the autoloader manipulation techniques (and who've shot very well with one) go out and end up with a revolver. Not because they wanted one, mind you, but because some dolt behind a counter convinced her that it was all she could handle.

Mind you, I'm not some new-age "sensitive man". I'm as big a neanderthal as the next guy; I believe that women and men are different, and you can thank your favorite deity for the difference! I'm just tired of people assuming that my wife, sisters, nieces, and mother are so stupid that they can't handle a simple mechanical device. I'm annoyed that they are doing their level best to indoctrinate women to this nonsensical point of view, and I'm appalled that it actually seems to be gaining some traction among women themselves!

I don't have a prescription for this problem, other than to continue to educate every person - man or woman - I run across. If that means I repeat myself every so often, I'm willing to do so. I hope you'll forgive me!

Yes, revolvers are wonderful, but they're not for everyone. We need to help people to make intelligent decisions, and if that means they choose a self-shucker, so be it. Heretical? No, just realistic.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A perception issue.

A recent SHOT show write-up, regarding the new Ruger LCR revolver, contained the (sadly common) comment that the gun would be perfect for "non-dedicated personnel."

I hereby give public notice that I am officially tired of reading excrement like that.

The snub-nosed, double-action revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but It is the
hardest gun to shoot well. Mastering the double action pull takes time, dedication, and practice; that's just a fact of life. The nice, light, short trigger pulls on autoloaders are much easier to become proficient with, which is part of the reason they are popular.

Let's look at what happens when the "non-dedicated" person buys a double action revolver. Because he (or she) is "non-dedicated", he's not going to put in the range time to thoroughly learn how to shoot the gun to a good standard of accuracy, which means his target hit potential is quite low (but the innocent bystander hit potential is quite high.) If it has a short barrel the small sight radius compounds the accuracy issue, and those lightweight models make the gun difficult to control in recoil. Does this sound like the gun for an inexperienced shooter? Not me!

If that wasn't bad enough, if the "non-dedicated" person doesn't become proficient with that heavy double action trigger pull, he reverts to doing what he sees in the movies: cocking the gun to single action. Comes a deadly encounter and we end up with a poorly trained individual whose adrenal gland is going into extra innings, holding a cocked gun with a very light, very short trigger action. This doesn't sound like a Good Idea to me! (Of course, this doesn't apply to the LCR or the S&W Centennial, neither of which can be cocked.)

In terms of administrative handling, I'd agree that the revolver is certainly more suited to this type of person. When talking In terms of hitting the target, though, it just isn't. In my mind, the non-dedicated person is better served by a gun that is easier to shoot well. Learning a slightly more complex manual of arms is a small price to pay to ensure that projectiles aren't flung over half the county.

The revolver, particularly the short-barrelled variety, and especially with a lightweight frame, is a gun for serious shooters. A pox on those who would insist otherwise!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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