I have a quick homework assignment for you. Watch the first minute-and-a-half or so of this video (you can watch the rest later, but now we have work to do!)
You see what your knowledge tells you you're seeing. You apply whatever base comprehension you have to explain or make sense of whatever it is you're observing. That's what the truth is, really; an explanation or a point of view that fits what you observe. Whether or not that point of view is factual is ignored, for as long as it satisfactorily gives you the certainty you need you'll accept it.
The problem is when that truth is based on a very narrow or very exceptional set of observations, as was the old explanation of the sunrise looking the way it does being due to the sun revolving around the earth. At some point such a truth will encounter an observation it cannot explain; then you either cling to your version of the truth at all costs, or you change the model.
Done? Good - let's get back to our discussion of truth.
Note this line in the story: "This sad tale reminds us to maintain situational awareness […]" Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? It's not - it's indicative of a view that's dangerous. (Some of the comments are even worse; read them at your peril.)
Read the story again, focusing on the state of the victim: he was awake, bedridden, and made a conscious decision to open the door via remote control because he believed his neighbor was there. This wasn't a matter of maintaining situational awareness; he was as situationally aware as he was likely to get. It was a case of believing that the person knocking on the door was his neighbor, either because the person pretended to be or because it always had been in the past.
Both possibilities are discussed in an article I wrote some time back for the Personal Defense Network, called "The Myth Of Situational Awareness". This incident illustrates the points I made: the criminal can pierce your seemingly invincible veil of situational awareness either via cunning (pretending to be someone he's not), or by simply waiting until you're distracted (when the pattern matching functions of your brain are in charge.) In either case, situational awareness can (and usually will) fail.
That quote from the article is a view that is all too common: that situational awareness will keep people safe, that it is the most important thing one can possibly do for one's own safety, and when someone becomes a victim it MUST be because his situational awareness wasn't good enough.
I doubt the fellow in the bed could have been any more situationally aware than he already was. He made a decision to open the door because the evidence with which he was presented told him it was safe to do so. He could have been in condition puce with mauve stripes and still have made the same bad decision.
The comment about situational awareness is one that's made far too often, and (as in this case) far too casually. The author sees what his knowledge - what he's been told - tells him he's seeing, even when that knowledge doesn't explain what happened. In this case, the knowledge is what he's been told about situational awareness. The problem, in this case, is that it doesn’t explain what happened. If that’s the case, isn’t it dangerous to simply conclude that more of it will prevent such things from happening in the future?
This is why it's critical that you think about what you're told, or at least insist that the people teaching you think about what they've been told. If their version of the truth is based on a small set of observations, particularly when filtered through tradition and fallible recollection, without rational analysis you may end up with the self defense version of the sun going around the earth.
The latest internet rumor, apparently from the proprietor of a gun store back east, is that U.S. Customs is holding up containers of imported smokeless powder on the orders of the White House. This, it's claimed, is the reason that powder - for both reloaders and ammunition manufacturers - is in such short supply.
Ed Harris, who many of you will recognize as one of the longstanding voices of sanity in the gun industry, has access to people the rest of us don't. When I call Hodgdon Powder Co., for instance, I get a Customer Service Rep. When Ed calls, he gets Chris Hodgdon - which is exactly what happened a few days ago, and this is what Ed related to me of their conversation:
“[Chris] says that the story [the gun shop] related about US Customs playing games with containers waiting to come into the country is nothing but an Internet rumor.
He says that since the President was re-elected that demand for powder has exceeded anything they have ever seen. They are importing more powder than they ever have, and shipping over 100,000 lbs. a month but the market is absorbing it instantly. Their supply is the greatest it has ever been and it is still not enough. The market has gone crazy since Obama’s re-election.
Hodgdon asks dealers and consumers to be patient. Panic buying is driving the current shortage. It is likely to continue until the administration is required to move onto some other, serious world crisis probably unrelated to gun control…… Then we will have something else to worry about."
There you have it, folks, straight from the horse's mouth. People are simply buying up everything that's being produced, even though it's being produced and shipped in record amounts.
As to the source of the rumor, my general rule of thumb is this: if you hear something from someone behind the counter in a gun store, it's probably false. Just like this rumor.
Frankly, I think it's a perfect illustration of a controversial piece I wrote for the Personal Defense Network nearly two years ago. In it I explained why situational awareness simply isn't the magic wand that everyone wants it to be. Not that it's bad or completely useless, mind you, just that it doesn't do what you think it does.
In that article I point out that if the attacker is sufficiently motivated (i.e., there is enough reward in the crime relative to the risk he’s taking) he'll simply wait you out until you eventually succumb to a distraction. Since then I've expounded on that concept, but it boils down to the fact that sooner or later you're going to stop being 'aware' and start living your life. Whether it's reading the menu or watching your kids swing or admiring the form of the Hot Thing walking past, you will become distracted many times every day no matter who you are. The savvy criminal knows that innately and will simply wait for his opportunity unless something better comes along.
In this case we have a professional gang hit. The shooter, as we found out, got to that parking space several minutes before the victim and waited for him to pass. This suggests that there was active surveillance and that they were in contact with the killer. Short of a round-the-clock five man protective detail, there was very little chance this guy was going to survive that level of dedication to his demise.
He could have had his "head on a swivel" and been in "condition orange" all he wanted, but at some point he would have looked down at his watch or stopped at a store window or done something that would have allowed his attacker to pierce his invincible cloak of situational awareness. He was very obviously a high value target, his attacker was skilled and motivated, and it was just a matter of time before he got nailed.
This isn't an example of why situational awareness is a great thing; it's an illustration of why it's not the panacea so many make it out to be. Just so we're clear: this doesn't mean it's completely unimportant or that it has zero value, only that it needs to be understood in context and subject to critical analysis instead of defended with clichéd one-liners. (Or color codes.)
One of the concepts that we talk about in Combat Focus Shooting classes is that of task fixation: the diversion of attention to a particular sub-activity during an attack. We discuss this specifically relating to looking at the gun while reloading.
The concept is clearly illustrated in this video of a very dynamic simulation during a Craig Douglas ECQC class (one of the few on my "short list" of classes to attend.) Note that the gun fails to fire and suddenly the defender's entire attention is diverted to getting it running again, rather than dealing with his attackers. Craig even mentions that to the student at the end of the exercise, and the student admits to a fatal task fixation.
Many trainers maintain that the best place for the gun is in front of the face so that you can see both it and the threat while you reload. I don't believe that's a rational expectation when the body's threat responses have been activated, and believe instead what will happen is the task of reloading will divert attention completely from the threat in the way that a malfunction did for this fellow.
In the couple of seconds that any normal person is going to take to reload their pistol the threat can shoot or stab quite a few times, or cover a lot of distance to bring himself into contact with the victim. During that time it's more important that you avoid being shot/stabbed/beaten than it is to get a small (and theoretical) advantage in reloading speed. The first order of business is not getting hurt or killed in the process of defending yourself! That sounds silly, but the popularity of techniques that increase your exposure to danger rather than decrease it make it necessary to point such things out.
Instead of looking at the gun, we teach making the reload process a strictly mechanical activity that can be done with the gun out of the direct line of sight to the threat. (The specific ways to accomplish that are beyond the scope of this post, but it's not difficult to do for either autoloading pistol or revolver.) While the gun is being reloaded in that repeatable, mechanical fashion the defender is able to keep an eye on the threat and move, seek cover, or do whatever else is necessary to avoid becoming a casualty.
This is also why we approach the act of malfunction clearing similarly to that of reloading the gun, teaching a non-diagnostic approach to the problem which doesn’t result in the kind of attention diversion that happened in the video.
With the gun in front of the face, as some recommend, I believe (and this video supports my contention) that what will happen is fixation on the reload rather than on the threat. There are other downsides as well, some relating to the perceptual distortions that accompany the threat reaction and how they affect the “look at me” type of reload, but that’s another topic for another time.
There is a strong tendency in the world of shooting to apply concepts and techniques from the military to private sector self defense. I've written about this concept of context mismatch before, and the upshot is that it almost always works poorly. Just because the military uses guns and we carry guns doesn't make the two worlds analogous!
One of those misapplications is the work of Colonel John Boyd, particularly his OODA Loop (also called Boyd's Loop or Boyd's Cycle.) There are a lot of scholarly works on his theories which I'll leave the uninitiated to discover on their own, but the OODA Loop has been applied to everything from fighter dogfights to football teams - along with defensive shooting.
The issue is that it's not a good fit. A defensive response to a criminal attack doesn't allow for the kind of maneuver-to-advantage thinking that the Loop covers. "Getting inside your opponent's Loop" sounds great and tacticool as all get-out, but when an encounter's duration is measured in seconds that's simply not realistic.
Some years back I started an email conversation with Rob Pincus, who at the time I didn't know but whose writing had impressed me. I was then studying the ideas of stimulus-response and their application to defensive shooting, and over the next few years - first by email and then in person - we talked about that. Rob, like I, was convinced that application of the OODA Loop was incorrect in the context of private sector self defense and the criminal ambush attack. As his understanding of the brain's processing of information and how it uses pattern recognition to make non-cognitive decisions grew, he evolved a different way of looking at the subject.
He just wrote a new paper called "Evolution of the OODA Loop", and it's a highly recommended read. (There's a ton of background information from the world of neuroscience that's implicit in his conclusions, and if you're interested in a readable layman's introduction to some of the topics, I suggest the book "Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell.) -=[ Grant ]=-
I got an email recently from a reader who asked about .38 Special accuracy when fired in a .357-length chamber. There is, as he noted, a lot of speculation on the topic: some saying they're less accurate, some saying it doesn't matter, and others saying that there is no way we'll ever know for sure.
I'm not at all convinced about that last one, but the first two opinions are both correct - under some circumstances. Some years ago I experimented with this, and what I found comes under the heading of "it depends."
The concern is that the unrestrained jump of the bullet from the shorter Special case causes instability and thus inaccuracy. A Magnum chamber is longer from the rim seat (the area at the back of the cylinder where the rim makes contact) to the chamber throat (the narrow area at the front of the cylinder that guides the projectile into the barrel.) When a Special cartridge is inserted into the longer chamber, the bullet has to travel a distance (called "jump") before it reaches the narrower throat. In this distance, it's thought, the bullet can yaw slightly.
I've done up this little graphic (greatly exaggerated and not to scale) to illustrate the situation:
Notice the area between the bullet and where the chamber mouth begins - that's the freebore area where the bullet's travel is unrestrained and, according to theory, starts to wobble to the detriment of accuracy.
A number of years back I did some experimenting by loading the same bullets in .357 Magnum and .38 Special cases, and adjusting the velocity so they matched. I found that sometimes the Specials did show a loss of accuracy, while at other times they didn't. (I had one case where accuracy with Specials actually improved.) Why the variance? If the bullet jump is responsible for accuracy degradation it should be consistent, and it certainly wasn't.
The answer is that the freebore is only part of the equation.
As I've written before, one of the most important contributors to accuracy in a revolver (and the MOST important when shooting lead bullets) is the chamber throat. Assuming that the bore diameter is correct, a throat which fits the bullet precisely will deliver greater accuracy than one which is oversized (or undersized to a great degree.)
If the throat is larger than the bullet diameter - say, .001" or better - accuracy drops off. If the throat and bullet match, accuracy will generally be at its best. If the throat is slightly (up to .001") smaller than bullet diameter, jacketed bullets will usually show a falloff in accuracy but lead bullets usually won't, at least not to the same degree. (More testing is needed in this area, however, as I don't have enough data points with smaller-than-bullet throats to reach a definite conclusion.)
When the throat diameter was the same as the bullet diameter, there was generally little to no difference in accuracy between the long and short. When the throat diameter was larger, however, the Specials were usually less accurate than the longer cases. Someone doing the same experiment but not taking into account throat/bullet diameter matching would probably reach different conclusions, which I believe is the source of the varying opinions and the reader's confusion.
More experimentation should be done, however, to eliminate other variables such as the angle of the transition between chamber and throat and any surface irregularities in that area.
I also would expect the same dynamics to apply to larger calibers such as the .44 Magnum and Special, though I have no experimental data to prove my supposition. -=[ Grant ]=-
Over the weekend Rob Pincus - never one to shy away from a firestorm (I was going to say another kind of storm, but this is a family-friendly blog) - posted a video on YouTube. In it, he details the failure of yet another compact 1911-pattern pistol and expresses his disdain for the breed in general.
The online response was immediate and predictable. Many people agreed with Rob, but a very vocal portion of the shooting public disagreed vehemently. I don't have a problem with the disagreement, mind you (Rob and I discovered some time ago that we share the same feelings about the 1911 pistol, which is probably why we get along), but I do have a problem with the nonsensical responses given by those who disagree. Here are a couple of the most annoying, and they apply not just to the present discussion but all discussions about guns, cars, or darned near anything else on the planet.
More to the point, they apply to the kinds of responses I receive when I talk about the virtues of the revolver versus an autoloader as a defensive tool; I've heard these same arguments to my opinions, gotten them in emails, and seen them plastered over the 'net. That's probably why they're annoying.
1) "My is perfectly reliable, so your opinion is baseless/stupid/meaningless." Aside from the issues with making claims about an entire population based on a single data point, there are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the two sides may not agree on the definition of "reliable". I've proposed one such definition, but not everyone agrees.
I had a fellow once who told me his particular AR-15, a brand for which I don't care, was "completely reliable". I picked it up, inserted a magazine of fresh factory 55gn ball ammunition, and it failed to feed the fourth round. "Oh, it doesn't run with Federal ammo. That stuff is crap, and everyone knows it." Really? Seriously? If an AR-15 can't feed SAAMI-spec ball ammo (XM193 in this case), it's not reliable - period. The owner disagreed, his definition of "reliable" obviously divergent from my own.
The more interesting facet of this argument is that partisans frequently have selective memories. This is closely related to the phenomenon of confirmation bias: a person simply forgets those data points which disagree with his/her position. I've watched, more than once, a shooter clear a malfunction and promptly forget that he had one. When later he claims that his gun is perfectly reliable, and then is reminded of the incident(s), he can't/won't acknowledge that they ever happened. I don't watch much television, but one of my favorite lines from a TV show comes from "House": "everyone lies." Perhaps not intentionally, but they do.
I was in a class some years ago with a guy who had a malfunctioning Para-Ordnance. (This is not a shock to me, as I've never seen a reliable Para. Please, don't write and tell me about how Todd Jarrett's Paras are so reliable that he made a YouTube vid; he's a sponsored shooter, and both he and his handlers have a vested interest in making sure those "demos" go without a hitch.) A couple of weeks later he was on a forum talking about the class, and mentioned that his Para ran without a hitch. Funny, what I remember was picking up the live rounds that he was ejecting every few minutes!
Remember that there is a difference between extrapolation (from one to many) and representation (one of the many.) Picking a single example to illustrate a broader concept that has statistical validity, as this video does, is not the same as using a single example as the basis for a self-referential supposition. The former has data behind it; the latter has no data other than itself.
2) "All guns can fail." This is a particular favorite of mine, because it combines a lack of understanding of both engineering and statistics with a dollop of third-grade playground bravado. This statement attempts to get people to focus not on evidence, but on speculation; sadly, it works - as any political candidate can attest. If all devices can fail, then logically it doesn't matter which one you own, correct? If all cars break, why bother to look at repair statistics? Of course it matters, except when the partisans and fanboys get to talking - then the logic just flies out the window.
Yes, all mechanical devices can potentially fail. That's not the point. The point is that some devices fail more than others, and we can chart and often predict those failures based on past experience.
(I hear a variation of this when I talk about revolvers: "I've seen revolvers break too!" So have I - probably an order of magnitude more often than the person writing/talking. The difference is that for every mechanical failure I've seen on a revolver, I've seen hundreds on autoloaders. There is a difference which cannot be wished away.)
What might break is a very different thing that what actually does. When we look at failures, patterns emerge that help us make both buying and engineering decisions. Smith & Wesson, for instance, looked at failures of their Model 29 .44 Magnum and made running engineering changes that dramatically improved the longevity and reliability of that gun. They couldn't have done so had they not looked at the pattern of failures that field experience had provided.
Availing ourselves of field data, from people who have seen more of it than us, is one way we can make good decisions. Striking out at the messenger because the message disagrees with some silly loyalty one has developed makes no sense at all.
(Oh, BTW - I do have some experience with short-barreled 1911s in the form of two Detonics CombatMasters, which some day I'll sell to one of those rabid 1911 fanboys. And laugh all the way to the bank.)
We have a lot of trite phrases in the defensive training world, and one of them sets my teeth on edge: when someone asks how they should choose a gun for personal protection, the usual answer is to "pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well."
It's nonsensical, and I'm tired of hearing it.
The problem is how to define "well". Are we talking in terms of accuracy? If so, I contend that anyone can shoot any handgun caliber "well" - at least for the first shot. If we're talking group size, given sufficient time between shots I'll hold to my contention: anyone can shoot any handgun "well" if they have enough time to regroup between presses of the trigger.
I've heard the variation "....the biggest caliber that you can handle." Same thing - what do you mean by "handle"? I've seen many guys at the range who claim to be able to "handle" large-bore Magnums, but it's clear they have significant trouble with recoil control. Obviously there's a difference between what I consider control and what they do, which illustrates my point. Without criteria, there's no way to evaluate whether the person can "handle it" or not. Again, most people can handle any gun for a single shot. What about the second, third and fourth?
Some have apparently figured out that "well" and “handle” don’t mean anything and say instead to "pick the biggest caliber that you can shoot quickly and accurately." How quickly? How accurately? With any gun/ammo combination, given a specific set of environmental variables, there will be a certain balance of speed and precision which the shooter can achieve. A .454 Casull will have one, and a .22 LR will have another. Which one should the person pick? Which balance of speed and precision is best?
As one goes up in caliber or power, at any given level of precision the shooter's speed will decrease. How far along that line should the shooter travel before settling? There are many examples of arbitrary tests that people take to determine these things (so many shots in so many seconds with a minimum score), but they're contrived. Take a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun; any given shooter may be able to use the 12-gauge and pass a qualification, then logically conclude that it's the largest gun that he can shoot quickly and accurately. However, if that same person shoots the same course with a 20-gauge, they'll find that they can shoot it faster with the same level of precision. Which, then, is the better choice?
Starting to get the idea? These statements - and their variants - sound profound, but they're not. Unless very specific criteria are defined they mean nothing.
At SHOT I made a passing comment to Pharmacist Tommy that, in the context of defensive shooting, practicing double taps was a tacit admission that a person wasn't able to control their gun. He looked at me quizzically, as I'm sure you're doing right now.
(Let's get some terminology out of the way. Most people shooting double taps are firing two rounds in quick succession with one sight picture. Adherents to the so-called "Modern" Technique would scream that the term is used incorrectly, and that they are actually shooting 'hammers'. I'll concede the point, in the same way I concede that the Battle of Bunker Hill was in fact fought on Breed's Hill - you'll note it's made no difference in elementary school history lessons, however. I'll continue to use Bunker Hill and double tap to describe what the majority hold that they describe, because arguing the point wastes my time and doesn't change the outcome anyhow.)
Let's start with a question: why practice the double tap as a defensive tactic? When I watch surveillance and dashcam videos, regardless of the training level of the shooter, I don't see the stylized double tap. What I see instead, very consistently, is a string of fire without artificial pauses. After all, bullets are what stops bad guys -- and the faster those bullets get to him, the better.
If you need to shoot your attacker six times, and choose to do so with three double taps, that means the half-second pause between those strings gives him a full second to hurt you more. How many bullets can come out of his gun in one second? How many critical stab wounds can he inflict? How far can he move? Giving the bad guy any extra time is counter to your own self interest.
How about double-tapping, then assessing (as is still the recommendation in some training backwaters)? The answer is that there is no way to know ahead of time how many shots it's going to take to make your bad guy go away. That being the case, why on earth would you stop shooting at an arbitrary point if a threat is present? The time to asses is after the threat is no longer in front of your gun, whether that takes one, two, or five rounds. Practicing to always do that at two rounds means that if your fight goes longer and you stop to make your well-rehearsed assessment, you're exposing yourself needlessly to danger.
I could go on, but my point is that the double tap makes no sense in the context of surviving a lethal attack. The logical practice routine would be to always fire a random-length string of shots: two, three, four, and perhaps even occasionally five or six. Mix 'em up; don't get locked into any one pattern.
The double tap really doesn't have a use in defensive shooting, yet people all over the country continue to practice it. I believe the answer is simple, and I've observed it in action: if you ask any random shooter, regardless of his or her proficiency or training level, to shoot a string of three or four or five rounds at the same cadence (with the same "split time", or elapsed time between shots) as the double taps they're flinging downrange, the chances are almost certain that they won't be able to do so.
What usually happens is that the first two shots land in acceptable proximity to each other, but the third will climb significantly and the fourth is usually off the target. In order to land all their shots inside whatever reasonable target area is chosen, they need to slow down - sometimes significantly. In other words, they can't control their gun at that inflated rate.
Now, just about everyone will be faster at the double tap than at an extended string of fire. The point is that the longer strings of fire are what are most likely in the context of a defensive shooting, because the natural reaction is likely to be shooting until the threat goes away. If the gun can't be controlled in such a realistic or plausible shooting scenario, then that shooter needs a different gun (or much better technique) instead of gaming his or her practice to artificially inflate competence.
Shooting double taps instead of more realistic strings serves as proof that one cannot control the gun for the use to which it is likely to be put. It's up to the shooter to recognize, admit, and change.
Early last year I embarked on something of an experiment: carrying my gun not on my belt, as I've done for more years than I can remember, but in my front pocket. Exclusively.
I've carried in a pocket holster from time to time, usually when wearing a suit, so I'm not at all unfamiliar with the concept. I've never done so as my default method, and I wanted to see what it was like. What kinds of problems would I encounter?
My constant companion was one of a pair of pretty much identical, save for color, S&W Airweight Cenennials: a blued Model 042 and the dull silver-gray 642. Both of these are stock guns, meaning that I've done nothing to either one. (No, really!) I tried several holsters, and found that most of them really weren't terribly well thought out. I ended up using a cheap, cheesy, but serviceable Uncle Mike's pocket holster for the vast majority of the time. I carried my spare ammunition in Bianchi Speedstrips.
Why did I do this? For some time now I've been talking about the concept of congruency: that students should train with the guns that they'll actually be using to defend themselves, and further that instructors should be using the guns their students will be using. The problem, of course, is that people generally don't do that, and as a result instructors allow themselves to believe that their students really do conceal full-sized Government Models in their workaday world -- because that's what they bring to class. It's a delusional feedback loop.
In reality, most of the people I talk to who are carrying medium- to full-sized autoloaders in class sheepishly admit that during the week they tote a compact auto or a five-shot revolver in their front pocket, because that's what they can easily get away with in their place of employment. As a fraternity, instructors are not doing a very good job of getting past this deception; I don't think they really want to know. Classes are structured to artificially favor the larger autoloading pistols, because that's what usually shows up on the belts of students. The students, for their part, feel compelled to "up gun" for the class so that they can perform well and save face. The loop intensifies.
What the instructor carries every day is irrelevant; it's what the student carries that needs to be the primary consideration in curriculum design. I decided that I wasn't living up to my own criticisms, and resolved to spend the majority of 2011 carrying not what I like to carry, but what an awful lot of people who look to me for advice and guidance are going to be carrying. (No, I didn't make the "I carry a 'J' frame as a backup, so that counts" rationalization. This was to be my primary, and only, carry piece. Just like everyone else.)
Save for one instructor's conference, where I used a Glock because a) I hadn't had any serious autoloader trigger time in a couple of years and b) had no one to negatively influence, I carried and taught with those compact revolvers for the year.
I liked (actually loved) the ease with which I could dress around the gun. I liked that I could carry in sweatpants in the same place and manner of my street clothes. I liked that wether I wore a suit or work pants, my gun was in the same place all the time. I learned a lot about deploying the gun from that carry position, from the difficulty accessing it at speed to the occasional instances of the holster and gun coming out as a unit. I came away with some very specific ideas on how a pocket holster for a revolver should be made and marveled that almost none of the holster makers have figured this out yet. (Then again, it’s hard to find really well designed revolver belt holsters, a lament that I made in my book.)
Did I ever feel under gunned? No. I remain unconvinced that it’s necessary to carry a 51 rounds of ammunition just to survive a criminal attack, an idea that has great support amongst certain segments of the training industry. (I'm still looking for all those cases in which someone involved in a private sector defensive shooting incident was injured or killed because their gun didn't contain enough bullets. Haven't found any yet, though I keep asking people to forward them to me.)
At the end of the experiment, I'm finding it very difficult to return to my belt-mounted carry pieces. I'm actually happy about that, because I think I've now got a solid understanding of the limitations (and the freedoms) that my students experience. Suppositions have been replaced by evidence.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to decide between blue or plain aluminum for today.
I don't know if this qualifies as a rant, but I'm annoyed when a gun is advertised as being "built with [insert well known firearm brand] machinery." Depending on the gun being peddled, you'll hear Colt machinery, S&W machinery, even Beretta machinery.
It's horse excrement.
Colt doesn't make machinery, and neither does S&W. The machines they use are produced by machine tool manufacturers; in the old days, before we allowed our basic manufacturing capabilities to be decimated, that would have been companies like Cincinnati and Monarch. Today that’s likely to be Komo and Okuma.
The cutters those machines use, for the most part, will be made by companies like SGS and Hanita. On occasion certain specialized cutters may be produced in-house, but if they're needed on a production basis the company will draw up the specs and have them made in quantity by a company that specializes in making cutters. Ditto for EDM (electro-discharge machining) tools and electrodes.
What things, aside from their products, will the company almost always make themselves? Jigs, workholders, and certain kinds of molds. Together those are generically referred to as 'tooling', and when people say that a certain gun is produced on 'machines' what they really mean is that they're using jigs that were at one time produced by the named company.
The ironic thing is that tooling wears over time and has to be replaced regularly. A gun that a decade ago might actually have been made on tooling that came from the larger manufacturer almost certainly won't today - the tooling will have been replaced, perhaps more than once, in that time period. The new tooling is unlikely to have been made by the original company.
Tools don't make guns. People do. It's the dedication of the machinists and foundry workers and quality control people that make a gun, not a machine or a jig. The milling center may have once been used by Colt or S&W or Beretta, but today it's operated by whatever company is making the product now. It's their people, their talent, and their management that dictates the quality of the gun you'll get.
Who once owned the machine is as relevant to the gun produced as the previous owner of your car is to your speeding ticket.
One of the joys of having recently turned 50 (a figure I still write with a combination of bemusement and astonishment, having not actually grown up yet) is that I can poke fun at the younger guys. 'Younger', of course, means anyone under about 48.
I say this because last week The Firearm Blog had a piece about a 'new' multi-projectile load that was 'developed' by Constitution Arms. My first thought was "Steve must be a youngster!", because the load is a dead ringer for ammunition that I remember seeing back in the late '70s or early '80s.
The new Tri-Plex load uses three stacked lead disks, each of which has a button on the forward side that mates with a similarly shaped recess on the back side. The projectiles are stacked in their case like coffee cups and separate in flight. The idea is to increase the size of the wound cavity and enhance the incapacitation capability of the round. The disks weigh roughly 50 grains each and are of .38 caliber (nominal.)
I'll dispense with my critique of the maker's claims regarding the supposed performance of this 'new' development, and simply point out that not much has changed with regards to either ballistics or human anatomy in the last two decades or so. You'll note that the original wasn't on the market for a very long time, and that it took a while to be rediscovered. Things that work generally stick around, or are at least remembered fondly. The triple-projectile load was neither, which should tell you all you need to know about its performance.
Some time ago Force Science News told the story of a police officer named Dan Lovelace. He shot and killed a suspect who tried to run him down and was almost convicted of second degree murder. Prosecutors argued that he lied about the shooting, and one of their sterling pieces of evidence was the location of a single piece (Lovelace fired one shot only) of expended brass.
One. Single. Piece. (Note that I'm not commenting one way or the other about Mr. Lovelace's guilt or innocence, only on the reliability of certain kinds of evidence that might be entered into any 'righteous' shooting investigation.)
Force Science recently did an interesting followup study about the patterns of ejection from autoloading pistols, and basically found that one piece of brass told nearly nothing about where the shooter might have been during an altercation.
As I've said before, and as I'll continue to say, there is no such thing as a 'clean' shoot - at least until a jury says there is. It behooves you to understand all of the things that can affect the evidence presented, how they’re interpreted, and most importantly the counter-arguments to neutralize them.
I have more than a passing acquaintance with Fabrique Nationale's Fusil Automatique Léger, more commonly known as the FN-FAL. I've owned a number of examples, from 'pre ban' milsurp guns to commercial examples to kit guns built on commercial receivers. Over the years I've fired literally tens of thousands of rounds of 7.62x51 through those rifles, many of them in training venues, to the point that at one time I'd become something of a local curiosity: "hey, that's the guy who shoots .308 all the time!" Putting eight or nine hundred rounds of full-power thirty-caliber fodder through a rifle in a weekend, multiple times, will do that for you.
In addition to my own experience I've been pleased to make the acquaintance of four gentlemen who actually carried the FAL (or its inch-patterned variants, the L1-A1 and C1-A1) in service of their respective countries - at least two of whom were presented with the opportunity to use them in live fire against people who were (presumably) trying to kill them.
From all this I've come to a conclusion about Dieudonné Joseph Saive's most enduring design, and it's sure to displease the romantics in the audience: the FAL ain't all it's cracked up to be.
From an ergonomic standpoint the FAL is from a decidedly earlier era in arms design. The safety/selector is difficult to operate from a firing grip, while the horizontal-style takedown lever has a disturbing tendency to unlatch the receiver if one does try to operate the safety from a firing grip. The rear sight on most examples wobbles, making it difficult to attain decent precision from the gun, while the horrid triggers (which even with the best gunsmithing never get really good, just less horrid) don't help matters.
The gun gets very warm - hot, actually - in any sort of sustained fire. Shooting a fast-paced 60-round qualification course, which I've done more times than I can remember, makes the gun unbearably hot. (Unbearably as in "I've sustained burns from trying to hold onto the gun". It reminds me for all the world of the original HK P7, which was notorious for frying digits in as little as four magazines of rapid fire.)
The worst part of the FAL, and this is sure to annoy fans of the gun, is that it's just not all that reliable - certainly nowhere near what people make it out to be, largely because of flaws in the piston design. If the gun is not assembled exactly right the piston will bind in the extended position and keep the bolt from closing. This is because the front of the piston is carried on the barrel, in the front sight block, while the back of the pistol protrudes through a snug hole in the upper receiver. If those two pieces aren't perfectly aligned the piston travels at a slight angle relative to the bore and binds at the most inopportune time, the return spring not being strong enough to work it loose. This is particularly the case after there has been some carbon buildup in the gas block, which reduces the tolerances in the system's expansion chamber.
The piston is also subject to bending, causing the same problem. If the gas pressure isn't properly adjusted for the ammunition lot, too much gas pushes the piston too hard and bends it slightly. When that happens, the piston once again binds in the frame boss and brings the gun to a sporadic halt in chambering.
I realize gas piston AR rifles are all the rage these days, but anyone who's had to fight with an FAL gas plug in order to do the necessary cleaning of the piston will understand why I continue to be less than enthusiastic about the things.
The FAL is not a tremendously accurate gun, at least in its off-the-shelf military configuration. I've shot only one FAL that could be justifiably called 'accurate', and it was a heavy-barreled Israeli 'FALO' once sold by Springfield Armory as the SAR-48. It is a wonderful gun, will easily keep up with the best AR-10 pattern rifles, and the owner is quite unwilling to sell it. (Of course I've only been asking him for the past 15 years, so maybe one of these days he'll tire of my blandishments and agree to sell the thing to me!) Other than that one, all of the examples I've shot have been 'rack grade'. Not bad, certainly suitable for infantry work, but not something that really interests me in a Whelenist sense.
Over the years the weaknesses of the FAl design have prompted me to divest myself of many examples that just didn't measure up, none of them proving to have the combination of reliability, ergonomics, and accuracy that I want. Even my favorite FAL was only average in accuracy, but it least it ran - and with a FAL, that's half the battle.
One veteran of a military force known for their pragmatism once told me "there's a reason we dumped the things." Much as I like the FAL - and I do - I understand the sentiment. Living with a FAL must be a little like living with a British sports car; I'd say that it’s like living with an Italian car, but the Fiat convertible I once owned was more reliable than the average FAL!
I'm sure there are those who will disagree with me, but I've got a lot of trigger time behind a lot of different incarnations, and they all share the same faults. The fact is that the more you shoot a FAL, the more flaws you'll expose. It was a great design in its day, but that day has passed.
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.
In the past I've mentioned that I don't spend much time on the various gun forums ('fora', to be excruciatingly correct.) My free time is too precious to spend wading through such drivel as "my instructor can beat up your instructor" or "the .45 is so powerful it knocks people off their feet!" The only time, in fact, that I look at a forum is when I'm eating breakfast or lunch and have nothing better to read.
It was at lunch last week that I came across one of my personal favorites: the statement that stacking (increase in trigger pressure toward the end of the stroke) is a function of the mainspring used. It's usually stated in the form "don't buy a revolver with coil springs - it causes stacking. Buy leaf spring actions to avoid stacking."
Hogwash, and what's more it's easily illustrated to be such.
S&W revolvers, particularly the 'N' frames, are known for having pretty linear trigger pulls. They use leaf springs. Colt revolvers such as the Python and Detective Special use leaf springs as well, yet are (in)famous for their stacking triggers.
On the other hand, the GP100 has a relatively linear trigger, similar in travel to an 'N' frame Smith. It uses a coil spring. Wait a minute, though - the earlier Ruger "Six" series (Speed-Six, Service-Six, etc.), despite having a very similar action design, stack noticeably.
Simple. The type of spring, coil or leaf, has very little to do with the amount of stacking in a trigger. The real culprit is the geometry of the double action sear. The stacking on a Python, for instance, can be eliminated by changing the geometry of the sear surfaces. The Ruger "Sixes" can likewise be modified to produce a linear pull through the simple expedient of reshaping certain parts of the sear. If stacking were caused by the spring alone, this kind of modification wouldn’t be possible.
Of course this doesn't address the implicit assertion that stacking is bad and linear is good. Some folks prefer their triggers to stack and seek out those guns that do. The one thing they don't have to consider is the type of spring!
It's easy to get preoccupied with in the shooting part of self defense preparations. Let's face it: shooting is fun!
If you take self defense seriously, however, at some point you have to ask about the "after part" - what happens after you've discharged your gun at an assailant. This is an area that is infrequently covered, or simply covered in misinformation.
It's a very readable introduction to the considerations which should be made before you're involved in a self-defense shooting. It lays out, it easy to understand language, the legal ramifications of the use of deadly force and how to best prepare to navigate the legal system.
Marty has spent years studying the topic, first as a police officer, then a shooting instructor, and now as the possessor of a degree in law. Marty is in the unique position of knowing not just the theoretical application of the law, but how it it plays out in real life.
He told me that he wrote the 16-page booklet to counter "the oft times incredibly bad advice" that abounds in gunshops and on the internet. His goal is to "change the paradigm in which people receive their training in deadly force for self defense." It's a tall order, but this is a great start! It lays out a superb introduction to the legal realities of self defense. It's factual information that every gun owner needs to read.
You can download your own free copy from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Just click on the image of the booklet and it will download as a PDF file. Print it out, read it, keep it handy.
I'll be giving a copy to everyone I know and everyone I teach. You should too.
(Quick aside: if you want to hear one of the better interviewers around, listen to D.J.'s show. He formerly hosted the critically acclaimed "Point Of Inquiry" podcast, where he built a reputation for his ability to intelligently discuss all sides of an argument regardless of his own position. His shows are as good as podcasting gets.)
Dr. Tavris is an expert on cognitive dissonance - the inability of the mind to hold two conflicting pieces of information without resolving the conflict in some way. (I've talked about dissonance before, as it relates to commonly promoted safety rules.) Dissonance theory, as I learned, has a profound effect on how we make decisions and how we come to hold certain beliefs. Dissonance occurs when evidence contradicts firmly held conviction. The subconscious, in an effort to resolve the conflict between what it believes and what it sees, will go to astonishing lengths.
One way the mind resolves conflict is to devalue the incoming evidence by belittling its source. This is what we see in so many forum fights over shooting gurus. If what one instructor teaches is in opposition to another instructor, supporters often react by attacking the source: "he's a convicted criminal." "He's never been anywhere." "He wrote a porno script!" "He's a womanizer." "He drinks too much." All in an effort to avoid examining what we believe, lest it be proven to be wrong.
Human beings are incredibly reluctant to change their beliefs. Dissonance in action shows in the statements of crime victims: "I couldn't believe it was happening to me!" Dissonance theory explains this easily, and what is going through the subconscious looks more like this: "I'm a smart and successful person; being smart and successful means that I would never live in a slum where crime is rampant. If crime happens here, it must mean that I'm not smart or successful, so this attack isn't really happening!" The danger to effective self defense preparations should be obvious.
The chapter dealing with memory is probably the most interesting of the whole book. Dissonance is so powerful that it can cause people to remember events differently than they actually happened - sometimes, the exact opposite of the real event. Ever wonder why witnesses to something often have conflicting views of what happened? It's not because their physical sight was different; it's because what they saw is modified unconsciously by their prejudices.
This has implications for survivor interviews when they’re used to support a specific type of training. Is the subject’s subconscious desire to justify their pre-existing knowledge, or to support their self image, influencing their memories? Unless we have objective observational evidence, such as a videotape, we don't know. The lesson is clear: we must be very cautious when making decisions based on singular events, unless we know for a fact what actually transpired.
This self-delusion isn't something humans set out to do; no one does it consciously. This is a mechanism that the subconscious uses to reconcile what we believe with what we see, and it’s transparent to us. People who perceive past events as being the opposite of what actually happened aren't lying. They honestly believe their version of what happened, because their subconscious has told them the new version is correct. (The book chronicles the astonishing detail that the subconscious is able to construct to support its version of reality. It's an eye-opener, believe me!)
Mistakes Were Made is less a textbook than it is a collection of stories with explanations. The book is heavily geared toward a self-help audience (hence the cover blurb "Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts"), but the research behind it is solid. Tavris and Aronson are well regarded in the field of psychology, and their ability to explain difficult concepts in clear language goes a long way to helping us understand this powerful facet of our minds. While this knowledge won't make us immune, it will help us recognize that what we believe isn't always correct.
If you'd like to get a feel of the subject matter, listen to the aforementioned interview with Dr. Tavris. Mistakes Were Made is a good way for non-scientists to get a grasp of what our minds actually do with conflicting information. Recommended reading, but only if you're ready to face the idea that your mind may not always be telling you the truth!
The 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.
A reader sent me this link to an old Richard Davis "Second Chance" video. The video has Davis shooting a fellow - who is wearing one of Davis' vests, of course - with a .308 rifle and himself with a .44 magnum revolver. The reader's comment was "if this doesn't show an energy dump, I don't know what it shows."
I agree. With the second part of the statement, at least. Going back to our "Stopping power" series, as I pointed out the term "energy dump" is nonsensical - energy isn't "dumped", it is used to do work.
What is the work in this case?
First, I can guarantee that the bullet itself was grossly deformed in its contact with the vest material. It takes energy to deform the bullet, and that energy only comes from one place: the bullet itself.
Second, there is a huge amount of work being done by that slug. It is trying to part and sever the fibers in the vest material, which are quite tough and designed to resist such force. The bullet does manage to defeat some of the fibers - which is why it's buried between the layers of cloth - but the energy required to do that job, again and again (there are many layers in a vest) rapidly depletes the bullet's stored energy. The result is that all of the energy is used up doing the work of penetrating the vest.
Again, the bullet's energy wasn't "dumped" - it was used. Understand the difference, and terminal ballistics won't seem so mysterious.
(Notice also the second myth busted in the video: that a bullet has enough energy to knock a man down. As you can see, even full-power .308 NATO, at near contact distance, isn't sufficient to knock over a man standing on one foot. Again, there is nothing mysterious at work - simply basic physics.)