© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

What is an efficient handgun, and why is it important in self defense?

Last Wednesday we talked about inefficient handguns, namely the Beretta 92 (and variants.) It wasn’t that I was picking on the Beretta, you understand, only that (as I explained) I’d gotten an email about that specific gun. Also, as I pointed out in the article, the Beretta was hardly alone; the older S&W autos were very similar in operation and deficiencies, yet for some reason they don’t have nearly the vocal following!

Let’s start today by talking about efficiency as applied to the handgun. An efficient handgun, as I pointed out, is one which requires the least amount of handling to employ, the least amount of training time to become proficient, and imposes as little on the shooter as possible. In other words, it’s a gun which consumes the least amount of resources in both training and use (resources might be things such as time, energy, money, ammunition, attention, and so on.)

There are two facets to this notion of efficiency: use of resources in training, and complication during an actual shooting incident. Let’s start in training: an inefficient gun uses more of a student’s time, effort, ammunition, and money to get to (and maintain) any given level of proficiency. I’ve had more than one person (here on the blog, on my Facebook pages, and in the comments on other blogs) say that difficulties with DA/SA guns are “just” “training issues”. YES! That’s my point!

None of us have unlimited resources for training. Even if a person is incredibly, obscenely wealthy he or she still has limits on available training resources, like time and energy. (Most of the rest of us have to factor in money, which is no small concern these days.) If you’ve read my latest book (
Defensive Revolver Fundamentals), I go into this idea in a chapter titled “Managing Scarcity” - because that’s what we’re doing whenever we train or practice: managing our scarce resources to get the best return possible. Combat Focus Shooting students will recognize this as the “Plausibility Principle”.

A gun which uses more of those resources in training leaves us fewer of those resources for other things. Now you may think that the resources used for, say, learning to consistently decock the gun or to manage that transition between heavy double action and lighter single action don’t seem to be all that burdensome, but that’s time, effort, money and attention which you can’t spend on the important parts of defensive shooting: recognizing and responding to the attack. Using resources mastering a more-difficult-to-handle gun means those resources can’t be used to learn your balance of speed and precision under a wider range of circumstances, which is perhaps the most basic and vital aspect of all defensive shooting.

When actually shooting in self defense, those inefficiencies cause some very specific and concerning issues. Forgetting to off-safe the gun when the need to shoot arises, for instance, is a common error among both new and seasoned shooters. I’ve have many responses to last week’s article testifying that they had practiced with their gun so often that its operation had become “automatic”; yet, I’ve seen USPSA Master-class ranked shooters, put into a training environment where they were mentally off-balance, forget to take their safeties off and spend precious time trying to figure out why their gun wouldn’t shoot! (This is far more common than shooters of such guns can ever admit; I had one very experienced shooter deny that it happened even after being shown the video of his error!)

Even the most experienced shooters of DA/SA guns such as the Beretta often drop shots in those same kind of training drills. I’ve watched more than one extremely skilled shooter using a DA/SA auto pull their first shot low, or their second shot high, during a drill designed to put the shooter into an unpredictable environment. That transition between DA and SA is more difficult than most people believe it is, especially when taken out of the calm and predictable training environment and put into one a little more like an actual incident.

Yes, it’s all about training: a DA/SA gun, such as the Beretta, takes more of it than guns which are simpler - and still hold out the possibility of operational error because of their more complicated nature.

An efficient gun would be a one which has a consistent trigger action from shot to shot; a gun which is in the same firing condition after a shot as it is when it’s in the holster; a gun which has a minimum of extraneous controls; a gun which requires no action other than manipulating the trigger to fire.

What guns are simpler and therefore more efficient?

If we were to make a list of the most efficient defensive handguns, the modern striker-fired autopistol would be at the top of that list. Guns like the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, Springfield XD series, Steyr, and some of the Walther models have a consistent shot-to-shot trigger, no extra levers or buttons to manipulate in the course of operation, and no extraneous safeties. They’re also extremely reliable (reliability is an often overlooked contributor to efficiency) and have a low bore axis, which aids recoil control and makes them easier to shoot.

Right under those would be the very few double-action-only autoloaders still being made. Some of the SIG-Sauer guns fall into this category, as do some of the HK pistols. They have external hammers which may make some people feel a little better about their safety, particularly with reholstering, but those hammers also raise the bore axis. As a result the guns tend to be a little larger and, in my experience, a little harder to shoot.

What’s next? Believe it or not, the double action revolver. Think about this: consistent triggers, no external safeties, no decockers (and if they’re double action only, no provision to even be cocked to single action - my preference.) They are, in use, extremely efficient. It can be argued that the Glock has more in common, conceptually, with the revolver than with other autoloaders. The only place where the revolver is less efficient is in reloading; however, it’s more efficient at the primary task (shooting) than any of the autoloaders listed below which makes it overall a more efficient tool.

Next would be the single action autoloaders, such as the 1911, Hi-Power, and the CZ-75 series when carried “cocked and locked”. Their need for constant manipulation of the manual safety makes them less efficient in both use and training, and their older designs are in the aggregate less reliable than the newer striker-fired guns. (That isn’t to say you can’t find individual examples which are perfectly reliable, only that they occur less frequently.)

At the bottom of the list are the DA/SA autoloaders, about which we’ve been talking. They require more resources in training and practice, and have more to deal with in actual shooting, than even the single action autoloaders. This group is, collectively, the most complicated type of handgun and requires the most training and practice to maintain proficiency.

Finally, remember this: the foregoing is not to say that an inefficient gun is bad or can’t be used to defend yourself, because that clearly isn’t true. People have used, and continue to use, DA/SA guns to protect themselves and their families with success. What this is saying is that learning to use one, and maintaining your ability to use one, will take more of your limited training resources and carries a slightly higher risk of operator error during a critical situation than a more efficient choice.

I believe that your choice of defensive handgun is yours, but that choice should always be as informed as possible!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Beretta Model 92: why is this an inefficient defensive handgun?

Someone sent me a kind email the other day asking about something I’d mentioned on The Gun Nation podcast last week: why did I single out the Beretta 92 (his gun) as being ‘inefficient’, and what do I mean by an ‘efficient’ gun? It wasn’t because I dislike the Beretta specifically; there are a lot of similar guns out there which are inefficient too. The Beretta was just the first one that popped into my mind!

What makes an efficient handgun? It’s one which requires the least amount of handling to employ, the least amount of training time to become proficient, and imposes as little on the shooter as possible. Some guns are worse at this than others!

When you need to use your handgun, it should ideally come out of the holster in a ready-to-fire condition without you needing to do anything extra before pulling the trigger. An external thumb operated safety, for instance, is one more thing that you need to do (or can forget to do) before you can put rounds on target. The further the safety is from the fingers of your primary hand when it’s in a firing grip, the less efficient it is.

In the case of the Beretta mentioned the safety is way up on the slide, which is difficult (and functionally impossible for most people) to reach from a firing grip. Beretta isn’t alone in that placement, however; the older S&W autos have the same arrangement, as do some of the guns from Magnum Research/IWI (amongst others.)

Of course the shooter has to remember to decock the gun before holstering, just as a single action shooter using something like a 1911 must remember to apply the safety. The problem is the decocker on the Beretta serves two functions: to lower the hammer, and to keep the trigger from operating (a safety.) If the gun is decocked and the lever left in the decock position, it has to be moved before the trigger will work again. As I mentioned above, it’s difficult to do from a firing grip.

Some Beretta shooters, like some owners of the older S&W autos, choose to carry the Model 92 in the “off safe” position; after decocking, the lever is moved back to the firing position before reholstering. This adds yet another manipulation that the shooter has to remember to do! If he/she forgets (or the lever is inadvertently moved before the gun is brought on target), the shooter often pulls at a non-functioning trigger several times before figuring out that the safety is on. That process of figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it takes precious time!

(There was once a variant of the Model 92 where the decocker didn’t have a safe position, operating only to drop the hammer; it is not common and is no longer made.)

Aside from control inefficiency, the double action/single action (DA/SA) trigger system is in itself inefficient. It forces the shooter to spend valuable training time learning to transition from the long, heavy DA trigger to the shorter, lighter SA between the first two shots. Even then, without constant practice the shooter will usually pull his/her initial shots low, which often results in a round that impacts outside of the area of precision the target has dictated. Missed shots are the ultimate inefficiency, and those using DA/SA guns such as the Beretta have more of them. (Of course there are a lot of guns using this system; aside from Beretta, SIG/Sauer, CZ, some Walthers, and some HK pistols are of the DA/SA variety. They’re all inefficient as well.)

More specifically to the Beretta, their control arrangement often forces the shooter into a compromised grasp that results in lessened recoil control. A good thumbs-forward grip is difficult to do on the Model 92 without either a) actuating the slide lock lever and locking the slide open on a full magazine, or b) keeping it from being actuated when the magazine is empty. Both result in needless manipulation and time wasted.

Finally, the Model 92 is a huge gun that in my experience fits only a small percentage of hands well. This seems to be a Beretta trait; even the “compact” Beretta Cougar has a very long trigger reach and are difficult for anyone of average or smaller glove size to use well.

All DA/SA guns by their nature are inefficient, so Beretta is hardly alone in that regard. The Model 92, however, adds several design elements that make them among the least efficient personal defense guns one could choose.

What guns are efficient, and what does handgun efficiency mean in the context of defensive shooting? Check back on Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What's a SnagMag, you ask?

Hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day holiday! I labored all weekend, but did take off part of Monday to attend the Oregon State Fair. Not sure it was worth it, however!

Today I'm bringing you a review of a product for autoloaders. Why? Because I occasionally carry an auto, I'm sure most of you do as well, and I'm always looking for ways to make doing so a little easier. I think I've found such a product, one which I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago.

You may remember that I was recently up at the Firearms Academy of Seattle co-teaching the Advanced Pistol Handling course with Rob Pincus. While there I was introduced to a fellow who makes a very interesting product: the SnagMag, which is a magazine carrier for the pocket. (Disclosure: he gave me a SnagMag to review.)

To be more precise, he handed me a Glock 19 SnagMag. When I got home, however, my wife saw it, grabbed it out of my hands, and I haven’t seen the thing since. Instead of a first-person review, you’ll have to settle for the interview I did with her. That’s actually good, because a) she’s worn the thing every day since she got it, and b) she is a former holster maker who really understands concealment and holster design.

As she points out, it’s actually harder to conceal a spare magazine than the gun itself, because almost no magazine carriers hold their cargo as close to the body as does the gun’s holster. If they do they’re incredibly uncomfortable. She’s made hundreds of magazine carriers over the years, for herself and others, but almost always defaults to carrying her spare magazine in her pocket. As she admits, it’s just easier that way.

Carrying in the pocket, though, means that the magazine wallows around and collects a lot of debris. It’s not always in the same orientation and it’s not always easy to retrieve. The SnagMag is an attempt to address those problems.

The SnagMag is a thermoformed plastic magazine carrier that has a belt clip on the side, much like you’d see on a folding knife. That clip allows the SnagMag to hold a spare magazine suspended in the pocket for both concealment and easy access. The magazine butt ends up right about the level of the pocket so that it’s not easily visible and is held with very light friction.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

The carrier has a hooked protrusion designed to catch on the inside lip of the pocket, holding the carrier in while allowing the magazine to be drawn out. This takes just a bit of practice, as the magazine needs to be pressed backwards slightly as it’s lifted out of the pocket. I found that it took only a few practice draws to get the movement down; my wife said the same thing. It’s a fairly natural motion that isn’t at all hard to do.

My wife works in an office, and she said that no one — not even a couple of co-workers who are also shooters — has recognized that she’s carrying a spare magazine in plain sight. It looks like she’s carrying a knife in her pocket, which is part of the SnagMag’s appeal. Only another user will look at it and see it for what it is; most people are simply going to think that you have a knife or multitool in there.

This is especially true if you have a single-stack magazine, which I’ve observed just disappears in the pocket. A double stack magazine, like that for her Glock 19, is a little more visible but still not identifiable to the uninitiated. On this score, the SnagMag is a success.

Comfort is a mixed bag. My wife reported that some of the exposed edges are rather sharp, which caused some discomfort and chafing. This is largely due to the width of the double-stack Glock magazine she carries, and partially because women’s pants generally fit tighter than do men’s. In a pair of baggy slacks, she says, you wouldn’t notice it as much, and possibly not at all. In a pair of more fitted pants, and especially with the wider magazines, it definitely becomes an issue.

A few strokes from some medium-grit sandpaper cured the worst of the pain, but the edges are still sharper than they need to be. At the price point for which these sell, I feel the edges should be rounded and burnished. She was a little more charitable, but we both agree that the folks at SnagMag should address the issue.

She also pointed out that with jeans, the longer magazines tended to poke into her thigh when sitting. A shorter magazine, like those for the Glock 26, would be more comfortable (as would a single stack.) With slacks, whose pockets are cut at a slant and where the magazine rides more to the side than the front, the size wasn’t as much an issue.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

Bottom line: the SnagMag garners her qualified recommendation as a practical, concealable, and useful accessory. The comfort issues can be addressed with careful wardrobe selection and judicious use of some sandpaper, though we both would prefer that the manufacturer pay more attention to the finishing of those edges. Overall, she thinks it’s a great idea and indicates a willingness to buy more models to fit her other magazines.

The SnagMag is available from

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why do pistols look the way they do?

It's normal to assume that the products we have today - from toasters to autoloading pistols - have the form (design) they do because somehow that form has been shown to be the 'best'. It's a Darwinian notion, or rather a perversion of Darwinian thought. In reality, it’s always a combination of factors that may have more to do with relative, rather than absolute, advantage.

What we have today may not necessarily be the best, but simply the collection of attributes that are, collectively, sufficient for the task at hand at a particular cost. It's quite possible to design a handgun to meet a particular need and have it excel at that particular task, but fail against all other criteria. The study of those failures is fascinating, and we may learn something from them.

Take, for instance, the Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver: it excels at recoil reduction (it has to be shot to be appreciated), but the complicated linkage and unique production demands make it a difficult gun to produce economically and still maintain reliability, trigger quality, and durability. Until those things can be successfully addressed, the market is likely to ignore its positive traits.

On the other hand, it’s often economic factors which doomed many great designs. If a competing design is of sufficient (even if not necessarily equal) performance and cheaper to manufacture, it will often win in the marketplace. The venerable 1911 pistol is a good illustration: it's sufficient, but not necessarily superior, at doing a lot of things. What makes it a winner, though, is that it's sufficient as well as being a relatively inexpensive pistol to manufacture when you factor in engineering costs. Since the design long ago went into the public domain, and dimensioned drawings are readily available for the cost of postage, it's the easiest way for a company to enter into handgun production. That means many companies making the design, which gives it the air of invincible superiority -- when it's really just expediency at work.

What brings this to mind?
A video that Ian at Forgotten Weapons posted recently. It's of a .45ACP pistol designed by one George Wilson specifically for the sport of bullseye shooting. There are lots of features which are peculiar to the needs of that activity, but the one which stands out is the low bore axis.

The lower the bore axis, the less leverage the rearward recoil has on muzzle flip (and perceived force.) Simply put, the higher the bore axis the more the gun seems to recoil, and the more muzzle flip there will be. Bring that bore down, into the hand, and you can reduce both to a surprising degree. Wilson's design attempts to bring the bore as low as possible in the hand to minimize the effects of recoil, and most of the rest of the design decisions support that goal. From all accounts, the design achieved its goal and should have been a very successful competition pistol. Why, then, don't we see it on the market today?

It could be that the design failed in other aspects: it may have been unreliable, or difficult to clean, or of limited durability, or (as is often the case) too expensive to manufacture.
Wilson's design is intriguing, and I'd like to know more about it. More than that, I'd like to shoot it! Even more than that, I'd like to see if some talented engineer could adapt Wilson's concepts for a modern incarnation.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some machine gun goodness.

Truth be told, I'm not really much of a fan of full auto weapons. It's not that they're not a whole heap o' fun, and it's not that I believe people shouldn't be allowed to own them. No, it's simply that I'm way too cheap to buy one!

Start with the insanely high prices, then add in the $200 tax stamp, and THEN factor in how much it would cost me to feed one (even with the cost savings of reloading), and it's just too much for my parsimonious nature. I’m glad that not everyone is as much of a cheapskate as I am, however!

That’s because I’m fascinated with their mechanical design and rarely miss a chance to look at how one operates (or even, if someone else is footing the bill, getting a little trigger time in myself!) This brings me, inevitably, to the Forgotten Weapons blog; Ian loves full autos, and goes to great lengths to unearth the very rare and unusual examples - usually complete with operational drawings.

This week he came up with a couple of fascinating articles. First is the story of a
WWII era Romanian submachine gun, the Orita. It was designed by Nicolae Sterca and Leopold Jaska, two engineers who I'd not heard of before this article. (Some day I'm going to take the time to write a piece on great firearms designers who didn't hail from the U.S. There are a lot of them.) I was particularly intrigued by the grip safety on the traditional wood stock!

Just prior to that he talked about an
upcoming auction of some very rare (and incredibly pristine) autos. If I had the money (and weren’t too cheap to spend it), I'd love to have the Swiss Maxim.

Why? Do you really need to ask a former watchmaker why he wants a Swiss

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is the Caracal dead in the water?

I've been a little hesitant to talk about the woes of the Caracal pistol, largely because it's a gun I really like. Why? Well, for starters it’s just a nice gun to shoot! That’s largely due to the incredibly low bore axis and well designed grip.

How low is that bore? I’ll put it this way: it's the only gun since the HK P7 which gives me what I call the "Monitor feeling", in reference to the Civil war ship that carried its bulk below the waterline and left only a short turret with a gun poking above the surface. It seems like the barrel itself is sitting on top of my fingers with just the sights peeking up out of my hand. That low bore axis makes for reduced muzzle flip and perceived recoil, enabling one to shoot faster at any given level of precision.

More importantly to me, the Caracal’s grip is small enough and the trigger reach short enough that it fits my hands like the proverbial glove. I can actually get my stubby mitts around the gun and reach the trigger, which is something I can’t do even on a Glock 19. That’s a major advantage for me!

Shooting the Caracal was one of the more pleasant experiences I've had in recent years and its handling alone was enough to make me like the pistol. What clinched the deal for me was the apparent reliability: the one I shot had over 10,000 rounds through it since last being cleaned, with not one reported malfunction. (This was a gun that Rob Pincus was using in his classes one last year's PDN Spring Training Tour so I know for a fact it hadn't been cleaned. You could tell by the gritty feeling as the slide reciprocated!)

Unfortunately time has not been good to the folks at Caracal. First they recalled the pistols because of a potential for not being drop safe. Caracal USA promised fast repair or replacement of the affected guns, and
according to Robert Farago over at The Truth About Guns they've had his for over 160 days. That's not what I'd call fast turnaround, and there’s no end in sight.

That was bad enough, but now comes the news that one of their guns suffered a catastrophic failure of the slide, one which they admit resulted in injuries to the shooter. They've issued a second recall for this issue even though they haven't finished the first. Who knows how long this will take? Will Caracal owners ever get their guns back?

It's too bad, but because of these issues I've crossed the Caracal off my personal purchase list. You see, I'm in the market for a new compact autoloading pistol and the Caracal seemed perfect for my small hands. My second favorite gun, the Steyr S9-A1, is out of the running simply because they don't make full capacity magazines for the things - 10 rounds is the limit, in a gun that's exactly the same size as a Glock 19 and whose magazines are actually slightly bigger than the Glock.

I've looked at the XD and the M&P and frankly just can't get all that excited about either. I'm now seriously considering just picking up another Glock 19 (my wife carries one, and that would give us magazine and spare parts commonality) and doing a grip reduction on it.

Not myself, of course; can anyone out there seriously imagine me working on a plastic gun?? I'll send it to
someone who knows how to do the job properly, like Lou Biondo.

The Caracal, as much as I like it, now garners a "not recommended" from me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

When is a 1911 not a 1911?

Why, when it's an Obregon!

Ian over at Forgotten Weapons has come up with another interesting video: a tear-down and a range test of an Obregon pistol. Made in Mexico (many people forget that Mexico had an inventive and thriving arms industry at one time) it's sort of a John Browning meets
Karl Krnka sort of affair. There are also a few surprises (like how the thumb safety is implemented.)

The gun is quite rare (there were, by most accounts, less than a thousand made circa 1930), and of course Ian not only gets the owner to let him tear it apart but also take it to the range and shoot it!

Check out the full story at Forgotten Weapons.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive handgun choices.

Well, it appears my editor over at Personal Defense Network finally did some actual work! Rob Pincus wrote
a great article about choosing a defensive handgun, and why you should look for certain characteristics.

I'm gratified to see the defensive shooting world coming to some of these same realizations. While there are some folks out there who are still stuck with outdated beliefs, like the .45ACP being the "ultimate" defensive cartridge despite the lack of corroborating objective data, the movers and shakers in this business have long since moved on. Even some of the old guard have evolved to the realization that the 9mm cartridge and the modern striker-fired (MSF) pistol are the most efficient way to deal with criminal attacks, and now recommend that combination.

There was a time, more than a decade ago, when I espoused the .357 Magnum as the ultimate self defense cartridge. Even then, though, the data was a little hazy as to its effectiveness versus the .38 Special +P. After talking with a lot of people who'd actually had to shoot bad guys with those cartridges, I discovered that they all fired about the same number of rounds to get the bad guy to hit the pavement. It came down to a simple equation: if I'm going to need to fire x-number of shots regardless of the cartridge, wouldn't it be better to get those rounds into the bad guy as quickly as possible? Why was I putting up with the reduced controllability of the Magnum when the Special (with proper loads, of course) would do the same job?

That question caused me to switch to the .38 Special +P for carry, and today all of my revolvers are sighted in for that round - none of them are sighted for Magnums. I went through the same evolution with the 1911 versus the 9mm. Remember that I started out with the 1911 and the .45ACP for my autoloading needs, but quickly shifted to the 9mm and then almost as quickly adopted the MSF pistol (the Glock 19, specifically.) When I carry an autoloader, it's a compact 9mm loaded with Speer Gold Dot +P rounds.

Today, luckily, the choice has been made easier;
the study that Greg Ellifritz did, for instance, puts better numbers to my informal research and gives a much better picture of the overall performance of the common self defense cartridges. I believe it to be the best data we have on a very difficult-to-quantify subject, and you should read the linked article. (It's important to actually read what Greg wrote; if you just look at the charts, you'll be missing some very important information.)

Back to Rob's article: he makes some specific gun recommendations, most of which I agree with. I'll add, based on my own experience, the Steyr M9 and C9 series, which we've owned for nearly a decade now and have proven to be very reliable. However, since ours have the Steyr trapezoidal sights I'll add the caveat that the recommendation stands only if the gun is ordered with the optional night sights, which are of a conventional post-and-notch arrangement. The trapezoid sights, with which I was initially enamored, have shown themselves to be less efficient and usable than the standard variety. (I'm not big on night sights generally, but on this gun they're the only way to get a conventional sight picture.) That being said, I think my next gun will be the new Caracal, which I like even more than the Steyr.

You'll note that Rob also recommends small revolvers for carry. The revolver shares some surprising characteristics with the MSF pistol, including efficiency (no controls other than the trigger to manipulate in order to shoot) and reliability. Of course, as he points out, there are compromises: the reduced capacity and the harder-to-master double action trigger. Still, the MSF pistol can really be considered the ultimate evolution of the revolver, which is why they're both the best choices today!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How about a change of pace?

After all the political/social talk of the past couple of weeks, I think it's time for something a little different - for you AND for me.

Now regular readers will know that I don't think much of the 1911 pistol as a practical defensive gun, but I do like to take one to the range every so often just for fun. I do that with a lot of guns I'd never carry, like the Czech CZ-52 in 7.62x25 (can you say BIG fireball?) It's not as though I avoid the things entirely, just that I relate to the 1911 the same way that Matthew Quigley related to the Colt revolver:

I am, however, a big fan of quality engraving, particularly that of
Weldon Lister. He sent me this picture some time back, and I think today is a good day to share. Look closely - you'll see engraving in areas where you normally don't, and it's all of the same uniform quality.


Weldon is one of the best, and it's a pleasure to show you what he's capable of doing!

-=[ Grant ]=-

An opportunity for a discussion.

Over the weekend Rob Pincus - never one to shy away from a firestorm (I was going to say another kind of storm, but this is a family-friendly blog) - posted a video on YouTube. In it, he details the failure of yet another compact 1911-pattern pistol and expresses his disdain for the breed in general.

The online response was immediate and predictable. Many people agreed with Rob, but a very vocal portion of the shooting public disagreed vehemently. I don't have a problem with the disagreement, mind you (Rob and I discovered some time ago that we share the same feelings about the 1911 pistol, which is probably why we get along), but I do have a problem with the nonsensical responses given by those who disagree. Here are a couple of the most annoying, and they apply not just to the present discussion but all discussions about guns, cars, or darned near anything else on the planet.

More to the point, they apply to the kinds of responses I receive when I talk about the virtues of the revolver versus an autoloader as a defensive tool; I've heard these same arguments to my opinions, gotten them in emails, and seen them plastered over the 'net. That's probably why they're annoying.

"My is perfectly reliable, so your opinion is baseless/stupid/meaningless." Aside from the issues with making claims about an entire population based on a single data point, there are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the two sides may not agree on the definition of "reliable". I've proposed one such definition, but not everyone agrees.

I had a fellow once who told me his particular AR-15, a brand for which I don't care, was "completely reliable". I picked it up, inserted a magazine of fresh factory 55gn ball ammunition, and it failed to feed the fourth round. "Oh, it doesn't run with Federal ammo. That stuff is crap, and everyone knows it." Really? Seriously? If an AR-15 can't feed SAAMI-spec ball ammo (XM193 in this case), it's not reliable - period. The owner disagreed, his definition of "reliable" obviously divergent from my own.

The more interesting facet of this argument is that partisans frequently have selective memories. This is closely related to the phenomenon of confirmation bias: a person simply forgets those data points which disagree with his/her position. I've watched, more than once, a shooter clear a malfunction and promptly forget that he had one. When later he claims that his gun is perfectly reliable, and then is reminded of the incident(s), he can't/won't acknowledge that they ever happened. I don't watch much television, but one of my favorite lines from a TV show comes from "House": "everyone lies." Perhaps not intentionally, but they do.

I was in a class some years ago with a guy who had a malfunctioning Para-Ordnance. (This is not a shock to me, as I've never seen a reliable Para. Please, don't write and tell me about how Todd Jarrett's Paras are so reliable that he made a YouTube vid; he's a sponsored shooter, and both he and his handlers have a vested interest in making sure those "demos" go without a hitch.) A couple of weeks later he was on a forum talking about the class, and mentioned that his Para ran without a hitch. Funny, what I remember was picking up the live rounds that he was ejecting every few minutes!

Remember that there is a difference between extrapolation (from one to many) and representation (one of the many.) Picking a single example to illustrate a broader concept that has statistical validity, as this video does, is not the same as using a single example as the basis for a self-referential supposition. The former has data behind it; the latter has no data other than itself.

"All guns can fail." This is a particular favorite of mine, because it combines a lack of understanding of both engineering and statistics with a dollop of third-grade playground bravado. This statement attempts to get people to focus not on evidence, but on speculation; sadly, it works - as any political candidate can attest. If all devices can fail, then logically it doesn't matter which one you own, correct? If all cars break, why bother to look at repair statistics? Of course it matters, except when the partisans and fanboys get to talking - then the logic just flies out the window.

Yes, all mechanical devices can potentially fail. That's not the point. The point is that some devices fail more than others, and we can chart and often predict those failures based on past experience.

(I hear a variation of this when I talk about revolvers: "I've seen revolvers break too!" So have I - probably an order of magnitude more often than the person writing/talking. The difference is that for every mechanical failure I've seen on a revolver, I've seen hundreds on autoloaders. There is a difference which cannot be wished away.)

might break is a very different thing that what actually does. When we look at failures, patterns emerge that help us make both buying and engineering decisions. Smith & Wesson, for instance, looked at failures of their Model 29 .44 Magnum and made running engineering changes that dramatically improved the longevity and reliability of that gun. They couldn't have done so had they not looked at the pattern of failures that field experience had provided.

Availing ourselves of field data, from people who have seen more of it than us, is one way we can make good decisions. Striking out at the messenger because the message disagrees with some silly loyalty one has developed makes no sense at all.

(Oh, BTW - I do have some experience with short-barreled 1911s in the form of two Detonics CombatMasters, which some day I'll sell to one of those rabid 1911 fanboys. And laugh all the way to the bank.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

There is beauty in workmanship.

Forgotten Weapons recently featured some pictures of an extremely rare Japanese autoloading pistol: the Hino-Komuro from 1908. It's intriguing because of its blow-forward design (the only other examples of which I know are the Mannlicher of 1894 and the Schwarzlose of 1908), but not a lot is known about it. There were only 1200 made, and only a handful survive.

Until this post, I'd never seen a picture of one - only line drawings in Pistols Of The World (Hogg/Weeks.) When I saw the image I was intrigued not just with the rarity, but with the obvious quality of the gun's manufacture (and the incredibly good condition!) Head over to FW and look at the great pictures.

Note how the grip screws fit precisely into their ferrules; how the wood of the grips mates with the contours of the metal, and the precision of the checkering pattern. The bluing is very nice, and see how the grip safety fits into the frame. There was a lot of care and talent that went into making this pistol.

It's easy to look at late-war examples of Arisaka rifles, with their poor machining and fitting, and forget that the Japanese were quite capable arms makers when they had the resources. This is a beautiful example of what they could do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Sights for autopistols.

I was reading about the
Kimber Solo over at The Firearm Blog the other day, and something struck me as odd. No, it wasn't the anachronistic thumb safety (on a double action, striker-fired gun) nor the smooth front and back grip straps (which make it impossible to control in anything resembling realistic defensive fire.) It wasn't even the incredibly specific ammo requirements (the likes of which we haven't seen since the introduction of the Seecamp LWS 32.)

What I found odd was the rear sight. Now most people will probably look at it and think that there's nothing at all odd about its vaguely Novak-like profile, but that's exactly my point. That 'low profile' design has been around forever, but still makes no sense in terms of functionality. That something so superfluous is nearly ubiquitous is amazing.

The design is said to be less prone to snagging, one of its major selling points. The problem I have with this concept is that it is non-snag in the direction of holstering, not in the direction of drawing! It seems to me that snagging the rear sight while holstering isn't really an issue, where snagging during the draw might (note I said 'might') be a problem. So why the huge ramp on the front side of the sight?

The design has no real function, but does present a problem where the shooter needs to operate the slide one-handed. The rear blade is now snag-free in the direction that we need it not to be - there is no hook or shelf on the slide which the shooter can catch on a belt (or the edge of a holster) to help manipulate the slide. Net result: a "feature" which actually has less than zero purpose.

Admittedly, the likelihood of needing to operate the slide one-handed is slim. Still, why design that possibility out of something when there is no compensating gain to be had?

(Hmmm...thumb safety. Low-profile "snag free" sights. Extremely picky about ammo. Hey - they've managed to recreate 1985!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Five.

In the last installment I bemoaned the current fad of attaching AR-15 buttstocks to anything that doesn't move. I'd like to have the adjustability, mind you, but without the wobble and general unsightliness of the AR stock. I was passing by the ATI booth, and found that in addition to their AR-style collapsible stocks (they're big in that market), they also make a more traditional looking collapsing stock that incorporates both a cheekrest and a very thick recoil absorbing pad.

Called the Akita, they have models to fit a wide variety of guns - including my beloved Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge! Comes in black, earthtones, or a faux woodgrain finish. It will give me the adjustability my short arms need without the Mall Ninja look I despise, and i think I'll be buying one or two!

Notice how the cheekrest covers the extended portion of the Akita stock.

If I had to pick the biggest crowd pleaser of this show, I'd have to say it was the new Colt Model 1877 'Bulldog' Gatling gun.
Colt is now making replicas (technically, I suppose, it's simply a long production hiatus) of the smallest production Gatling gun. Fully functional and authentic in every way, they're limiting the first run of these beauties to 50; ironically, that's almost three times the number that were originally produced!

I had a good chat with John Buhay, the man in charge of the program (and the person who assembles every one of them.) They went back to the original Colt blueprints, but those proved to be incomplete and in places actually inaccurate. It was necessary to find one of the existing originals, take it apart, and reverse engineer some of the parts. Getting their first prototype to work took a year and a half! The result, though, is that the parts of the new guns will interchange with the originals. That's testament to his team's desire to make them exactly like Colt did originally.

Well, not exactly! The new guns have far better finishing than the originals could ever hope to have, and they're stronger too. The majority of the gun is produced from brass castings, and by using more aluminum in the alloy and less of the original lead they were able to dramatically increase the strength and wear resistance of the brass. These guns are stronger, and will last longer, than the originals.

It takes 200 man-hours to make one Bulldog. The main casting, of brass, weighs in at 110 lbs. After machining away everything that doesn't look like a Gatling, they end up with a part that weighs 40 lbs! After all the machining is done the parts are polished and assembled. The polishing is amazing - not a flat spot or radius change anywhere, and it reflects like a mirror. Gorgeous!

The MSRP is $50,000, and I'm told virtually all of the first run are spoken for. Given that an original recently sold for over $300k, I'd say it's something of a bargain!

The business end of the Colt 1877 ‘Bulldog’ Gatling gun. Technically, it’s a revolver - right?

It’s a small world! I was in the press room one day waiting for a podcast interview when I noticed the fellow on the other side of the table had a badge indicating he was from my neck of the woods. We started talking, and it turns out that his company produces a product that has become a staple of hunters here in the Northwest: The Target Book For North American Game. It's a largish book of targets to help the hunter understand ballistics, trajectories, sight-in distances, and aiming points for a wide range of animals.

The targets cover 95 different cartridges and their trajectories, showing how to aim and sight in to reach a specified "kill zone" with that cartridge. American Hunter magazine once called it "ballistics for dummies", and the creators are proud of that appellation! They wanted a product that would help the average hunter take advantage of ballistics without having to dive into the technicalities, and The Target Book does just that.

You can get it at Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Wholesale Sports or
directly from the publisher: Percentage Tags, Inc. in Salem, OR.

I'll end this SHOT Show review with something surprising. If you've hung around here for more than a couple of minutes you know that I'm not a huge fan of the 1911, so it takes something really special to get me to even look at one. At SHOT I found the booth of
Cabot Guns, and I've got to admit that their guns are special.

I had a long talk with Ray Rozic, the fellow in charge of their operation, and he showed me their products inside and out. He's a tool and die maker, and the parent company's major business is doing super high precision machining for the aerospace and medical fields. There is more than enough talent there to build anything to any tolerances desired, and we spent a lot of time talking about metrology (the science of measurement), heat treating, tolerance stacking, and a lot of other technical trivia. In just a few moments I realized that I was in the presence of someone who not only knows what precision is, but is capable of delivering it. He also enjoys showing off what his team can do!

The quality of machining on their guns is stunning. I actually had to break out a magnifying glass to examine the detail work on the National Standard model he handed me; it was that good. The breechface, for example, is smooth - not a bump or blemish on it. Slide to frame fit was perfect, as was the barrel lockup, and with zero lube on the rails the slide cycled like it was running on linear bearings. The barrel bushing (their own design) is perfectly fitted and even tiny details, like a reversing radius on the disconnector slot in the slide, have been given attention and are done to perfection. Flats are flat, the rounded surfaces have no flat spots or changes in the radius, and the trigger breaks crisply and cleanly. That's just the beginning.

This kind of quality doesn't come cheap; this particular gun sells for $5,950.00, but given the level of workmanship I saw I think it's a fair price. It's gorgeous, and people who I trust tell me they shoot superbly.

If I were ever to purchase a new 1911, Cabot is the one I'd buy.

Yes, I’m using a magnifying glass on this 1911. The machining is that good. Photo by Tom Walls.

Ray Rozic of Cabot filling me in on one of the details I observed. Photo by Tom Walls.

I hope you've enjoyed my SHOT Show Spectacular this week. But wait, there’s more! Tune in tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of The Revolver Liberation Alliance, where I'm going to be talking about the food I chose to sample on my trip to and from Sin CIty.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Two.

As it happens,
this year’s SHOT was a record-breaker: more than 61,000 attendees, with 2,466 of those being media (including yours truly!)

I'll start today with what I didn't see: any big introductions from the major revolver manufacturers. Smith & Wesson had a couple of Performance Center variants (I'd not seen the Model 647 Varminter before), Ruger was showing the previously announced four-inch SP101 in .38/.357 and .22LR (the smallbore having vastly improved sights), while Colt didn’t show any double action revolvers - and probably won't any time soon.

I had a great chat with Brent Turchi, the head of Colt's Custom Shop. He said that new revolvers weren't in the cards for at least a few years yet, and if they ever do release a new wheelgun it will probably be something like a King Cobra or Anaconda, or possibly a lightweight concealed carry piece based on the SFVI/Magnum Carry action. It’s all just speculation at this point, he emphasized.

The Python is gone for good, he said - too expensive to make, and they no longer have the skilled workforce to do so even if they could justify it economically. In fact, the people who today work repairing Pythons are nearing retirement, and when they go a lot of knowledge and skill will go with them. On the plus side, 2011 was a very good year for Colt as they were able to sell tons of 1911s. Of course.

The big handgun news at SHOT was the official U.S. introduction of the Caracal pistol. This is a new polymer striker fired pistol made in (of all places) the United Arab Emirates. Apparently the UAE has decided that even their large oil reserves won't last forever, and have decided to get into manufacturing firearms. Their first products are full-size (think Glock 17) and compact (Glock 19-ish) pistols in 9mm (.40 S&W versions will come later this year.) The Caracal is the brainchild of Wilhelm Bubits, former Glock employee and designer of the Steyr M series of pistols. His new design borrows some elements from the Steyr, but most of it is new.

I first heard about the Caracal when Rob Pincus went to Italy last year and found a couple of his students armed with this unknown handgun. Apparently it's been sold in Italy and a few other places for almost two years, and the reports he got from those students were glowing. The guns were used hard during the three days of intense training, and there were no failures. That says a lot about the design.

The Caracal is unusual in that everything inside the gun is modular. The fire control group in the frame, as well as the striker assembly in the slide, are modules that are quickly and easily removed for service, and just as easily replaced. The bore axis is very low, approaching that of an HK P7, while the slide mass has been reduced. The result, I'm told from those who have fired them, is reduced recoil impulse and muzzle rise.

Ergonomics, even for my small hands, are superb. The Caracal fits me better than either the Glock or the Steyr, and I can even hit the magazine release without too much contortion! The trigger is very smooth, very linear (once you get past take-up, of course) and has a nice, jar-free letoff. It's very impressive.

What is also impressive is the construction quality. The machining, inside and out, is superb - the underside of their slide makes a Glock look like a gravel road. Everything is polished, there are no tool marks, and even the plastic castings are perfectly clean. This is top-notch quality, an amazing feat for a young company.

Caracal was all over Vegas; all of the buses for the convention had Caracal banners on their sides, their booth was large and set up for doing lots of business, and their marketing materials were big-league. The folks behind Caracal have invested a ton of money into both the product and the marketing, and it's obvious that they intend to be a big player in this business. If the product holds up to its promise, I think they will be. (Oddly enough, despite seemingly being on top of every little detail they still haven’t gotten their USA website up - even though the URL is printed on all their materials!)

I'm impressed with the gun, and so was nearly everyone I talked to who'd seen it. I think this might be one of the top autoloading pistol choices for defensive shooting, particularly when the sub-compact versions come out later this year. Caracal is worth watching.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The start of a new week.

You may have noticed that there was no Friday Surprise last week. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed there was no Friday Surprise! Apparently I simply lost track of what day it was, one of the risks of working by and for oneself.


I need your help. I'm looking to scope a few old .22 rifles, and would like to find some vintage scopes to do so. What I'm looking for are the Weaver Model A4 (4x power, 3/4" tube) or the '60s vintage Bushnell Custom jobs with the integral full-length dovetails (also 4x magnification.) Yes, I've tried the usual places (eBay, etc.) and for such a common item they just don't show up very often. They're not exactly high dollar attractions, and I suspect that's the reason no one bothers to list them on the auction sites -- not enough return on investment.

Should you happen to possess one of these, and should its optics be in excellent condition, and should you wish to part with it, drop me an email.


Speaking of .22 rifles: there are tons of inexpensive autoloading .22s in the marketplace, and if they're not Ruger 10/22s no one seems to take much notice. I've talked to more than one person who bought a Mossberg or Savage or Marlin .22 auto at a gunshow and sold it off immediately because it "didn't work right." They usually end up going to Wally World (or the local equivalent) and getting a 10/22 on sale, secure in the knowledge that the Ruger will work where those "cheap guns" wouldn't.

I've salvaged several of those gun show rejects, and with only one exception (where I had to replace an extractor) they were returned to proper function simply by cleaning the bolt. A .22 rifle is a dirty beast, and over decades of shooting the extractor and firing pin channels become caked with goo (a technical term used by gunsmiths.) By pulling the bolt from the gun and getting rid of that sandy, greasy mess you can solve 90% of functioning problems.

Cheap .22 rifles are to be celebrated, not feared. They're easy to fix and loads of fun, even if you can't buy carbon fiber geegaws for them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The sacred cows of Austria.

Seems that Todd Green over at caused a bit of a stir last week with
his report that the newest Glocks aren't quite as reliable as we've come to expect. While his sample size (of two examples) isn't statistically meaningful by itself, it parallels many other reports of failure-to-feed and failure-to-eject problems with Gaston's latest models.

I've personally seen it happen to students in class, and I've received reports of many others with the same issues. Glock built their reputation largely on reliability, but it appears they may be resting on those laurels just a wee bit. Here’s hoping that they address the problems in a timely manner.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday pot-stirring.

I've mentioned that my father was on a bomber crew during World War II. I didn't mention that a few years before he died he trolled the gun shows looking for a decent M1 Garand (I eventually found one for him, which my brother and I gave to him as a birthday gift.) I asked him why he wanted one, and he animatedly exclaimed "I carried one during the War, and it was the best weapon ever made!"

"Ummm, Dad?" I said, "you were in a bomber - they issued you a pistol, not a rifle!"

"Yeah, well...I carried one in basic training, and it was a great rifle!"

That didn't end the discussion. We talked about another legendary gun, one with legions of fans even more rabid than Garand lovers, and one with which he was very familiar: the M1911A1 pistol. He wasn't nearly as appreciative, calling it a "piece of junk that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn." My Dad was a pretty fair shooter with all arms, pistols included, but he hated the 1911.

When my wife got her heavily customized Springfield he looked it over, sniffed a bit, and offered that it sure looked nice and was probably more accurate than the one he'd been issued, but that no amount of work would ever fix what he called the "jamamatic."

I was reminded of this by a comment I heard recently, to the effect that the 1911 must be a great gun because the U.S. Government issued it for such a long time, and that fact somehow supported the belief.

The irony is that this same gentleman considers the current issue M9A1 (aka Beretta 92) to be a "piece of junk." Let me get this straight: if the Army issues a 1911 it's only because the gun is superior, but when it issues the M9 it's because...what, exactly?

That's the problem with the
appeal to authority. When the authority contradicts your view, you either have to change the view or abandon the authority, regardless of what the facts tell you. Doing neither just invalidates the opinion.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Steyr rides again.

A few years back Steyr Mannlicher USA imported a batch of their M9 and S9 pistols. They were polymer framed, striker fired guns of the type popularized by their fellow Austrians at Glock, but that's as far as the similarities went.

The Steyr guns featured a steeper grip angle, more ergonomically sculpted grips, a lower bore axis, and better triggers. Like all Steyr products, they were superbly constructed of quality materials.

Sadly they've been unavailable in this country for a few years, the high cost of quality Austrian workmanship and the unfavorable exchange rates having combined to make them uncompetitive in the marketplace. Things have stabilized a bit and once again Steyr USA is importing the MA-1 and SA-1, which are the second generation versions of the original M9 and S9.

My wife routinely carries an S9, which is the compact version, and is very happy with the gun. It's proven to be reliable, accurate and a pleasure to shoot. The trapezoidal sights take some getting used to, but work well for their intended purpose. The original guns were criticized for the smoothness of their grips, which the second generation have changed to be "grippier."

Why am I writing about a plastic autoloader? Because it's a gun I believe deserves wider recognition for its unique attributes.
Available in both 9mm and .40 S&W at an MSRP of $649.

Thanks to
The Firearm Blog for alerting me!

-=[ Grant ]=-