Category Archives: Weapons Education

Now We See It! Taurus 85VTA

One gimmick of the new Taurus 85VTA View, as the last word in its model name suggests, is transparency: the tiny, ultralight personal defense revolver has a clear plastic sideplate letting you see what goes on inside. The other gimmick is size and weight: it has barely any of either, thanks to judicious selection of materials and relentless trimming of its barrel and grip.

85VTA

Nope, not actual size. And if you click to embiggen, that’s way bigger than actual size….

“Trimming” may not be the word. It’s more like what’s-his-name the chain-saw movie guy was turned loose on one of Taurus’s Chief’s-Special-sized five-shot .38s, hacking off a half inch of barrel and an inch of grip.

The barrel is a mere 1.41 inches of titanium, and the cylinder is made of the same material, for some of the same reasons it made up most of the structure of the SR-71. The frame is aluminum alloy. The hammer is bobbed — the gun is double-action only — and plated with a gold-colored metal; the trigger is polished stainless steel. The sideplate, made of the same polycarbonate that’s best known by its DuPont trademark name, Lexan, seems to be more a marketing gimmick than an effort at weight reduction. The gun has no sharp or even crisp edges to flag its shape or snag on anything. The exotic materials and expected low-rate production of the revolver make for a pretty high price: an SRP of $600, and they’re trickling into shops and to online retailers with asks from a low of $500 to $585. (These may ease once the gun becomes more common),

One 85VTA View feature that doesn’t show up in any other Taurus (yet) and can’t be seen in the factory pictures is the asymmetrical curve of the gun’s Manx-cat grip. Looked at from nose- or tail-on, the grip has a bend to the left to assist concealment for a right-handed carrier. It looks awkward, but isn’t; you don’t really notice it when drawing or firing the revolver.

As a pocket pistol, it can’t be imported from Taurus’s Brazilian homeland under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Instead, it’s made in the USA, in Miami.

85VTA-2

Taurus revolvers have a reputation for being prone to wear and difficult to service when they develop the timing problems that all worn revolvers eventually do. Compounding the company’s reputation for so-so quality, Taurus has earned a poor reputation for warranty service. But no one will put thousands of rounds through one of these.

For one thing, it’s too unpleasant to shoot. The DAO trigger is okay, and the gun is more accurate than a belly gun really needs, but the barely-over-a-half-pound weight (9.4 ounces to a Chief’s Special’s 19.5) and ultra-short barrel (even the Chief’s got 1.875″ to the Taurus’s 1.4″) produce hand-hammering recoil and impressive fireballs when fired at night.

(Like a Chief’s Special, the 85VTA is not approved for .38 Special +P rounds. The Taurus manual, which is shared among all Taurus revolvers and not specific to the model, contains dire warnings of the hazards of +P ammunition, and outright forbids the use of so-called +P+ in all Taurus revolvers. Unlike the Chief’s Special, where we know of many people who have blithely ignored this restriction, we can’t imagine anyone stuffing +Ps in the featherweight Taurus).

Also, the short grip leaves you with a couple fingers of your gun hand dangling in the air, like a self-conscious bricklayer at a tea party. Not optimum when the .38 Special’s recoil slams the little Taurus into your hand whilst snapping it urgently skyward. This is one bull that has a spectacular kick on the opposite end of its horns.

If you want to develop calluses on your palms, firing a half-dozen boxes of ammo out of this in one session may or may not be easier than hard manual labor. But if you want to develop a flinch, that’s just the ticket.

So, if it’s an unpleasant beast to shoot, why make it? Ah, because someone at Taurus understands some basic home truths about carry guns:

  1. One you don’t carry is no damn good to you.
  2. The smaller and lighter, the easier it is to carry.
  3. The simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong.
  4. Most people don’t drill much with their carry or backup piece.

Gee, those imperatives almost look like they’re drawing a set of design parameters for an ultra-small, ultra-light .38 revolver, one with a simple manual of arms, and few protrusions to snag on anything.  The sights are rudimentary, but this gun was not made for pursuing X-rings, even though it’s surprisingly accurate, shot from a rest, something it will never have if it is called on to do its duty. It was meant to solve pressing social problems at contact range, and to be borne throughout the activities of daily living for 10,000 hours without intruding on the carrier’s lifestyle for even a moment.

The 85VTA View is, even to a lover of the sort of mechanism the polycarbonate sideplate displays, not an aesthete’s firearm. It is optimized for the role of daily carry (or daily backup) firearm, and the bob job applied to it, along with the homely plastic grips and industrial-grade finish, invite you to neglect it like a red-headed stepchild. Its form follows its function, and it has all the eye appeal of a garden trowel, floor jack, or Sawzall: it’s a tool.

But What’s That in the Punchbowl?

For all that, there is one detractor from Taurus’s purposeful design, and that is the lawyer-designed Taurus Security System, a key-operated hammer lock that prevents the weapon from firing when engaged. While we’ve only heard one credible report of a Taurus revolver’s lock failing, we consider any lock a Really Bad Idea. Taurus’s lock has taken a lot of criticism because S&W’s lock is really, really bad; if you spend one day a week at a range, you’ll see a Smith lock fail at least once a year, sometimes in really hazardous ways. No one should ever carry a S&W revolver with the S&W internal revolver lock for self-defense. We will faintly praise the Taurus lock in that, unlike Smith, whose then-owners had lawyers design their lock without engineering input as a wet kiss to the Clinton Administration, Taurus seems to have run their lock brainstorm through Engineering before cutting metal, making Taurus’s “rare failures” actually, you know, rare. 

The locks appeal to customers as a (pseudo) method of child-proofing guns, and are required in some anti-gun jurisdictions. One serious problem is that the locks can apply themselves (the design of the Smith lock almost guarantees this will happen in high-recoil revolvers).  Again, this is rare on Tauruses, but has happened. Note that Taurus’s lawyers, the same soulless drones who injected this bit of legal CYA into gun design, take pains to disclaim any promise that the lock will actually work. From the manual (p.14):

 

Never fully rely on any safety or security mechanism. It is not a substitute for safe and cautious gun handling. No safety or security mechanism, however positive or well designed, should be totally trusted. Like all mechanical devices, the safety or security system is subject to breakage or malfunction and can be adversely affected by wear, abuse, dirt, corrosion, incorrect assembly, improper adjustment, repair, or lack of maintenance.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a safety which is “childproof” or which can completely prevent accidental discharge from improper usage, carelessness or “horseplay”.

 

That is the company saying, “we don’t guarantee our lock will work, and we sure don’t stand behind it.” It makes you wonder what they know that you don’t know.

So, given that even Taurus doesn’t trust their lock, what use is it? We would leave that as an exercise for the reader, but first, we note that while actual failure of the lock, either “open” or “closed,” is a serious problem and one that Taurus takes pains, as we’ve just seen, to disclaim any responsibility for, it’s not the most serious or the most likely failure mode with such a lock. The most likely failure mode is either of the two human-factors failure modes that result from having the human in the loop: either leaving the gun available when you want it locked (i.e. to prevent child access) or leaving the gun locked when you want it available (in a defensive situation). Taurus wants no piece of that responsibility, either. From the manual, p. 10:

WARNING

Securing your firearm may inhibit access to it in a defense situation and result in injury or death.

So, what good is the lock?

Fortunately, it can be easily removed (and unlike the S&W abortion of a lock, which leaves an unsightly hole in the sideplate, it can be done with little trace the lock was ever there).

Note that this may become in issue if you ever find yourself in a civil suit after a defensive gun use, or especially in civil or criminal cases you may face consequent to an accidental discharge. This is very much a case where Big Boy Rules are in effect, and removing a locking mechanism, even an unsafe one like the Smith version, is one of those “catch-me, f*** me” rules: if circumstances lead some to catch you, they may well you-know-what you with the proverbial barbed-wire condom. (A healthy fear of our litigious society is why many smiths will now no longer do the once-standard safety improvements of removing the cavalry-mandated grip safety on the 1911, and brain-damaged European magazine safety on the Browning Hi-Power). Here’s Massad Ayoob on just this:

I did not remove the internal lock, for the simple reason that I’ve seen a prosecutor raise hell about a deactivated safety device when trying to establish the element of recklessness that is a key ingredient in a manslaughter conviction. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant was so reckless that he DEACTIVATED A SAFETY DEVICE ON A LETHAL WEAPON, and so arrogant that he thought he knew more about the gun than the factory that made it!” That’s a mountain I’d rather not have to climb in court, nor debate in front of twelve jurors selected in part by opposing counsel for their lack of knowledge of firearms.

Ayoob recommends that, if you do disable a lock, you save all the information you can find on lock failures in case you ever need to defend against that kind of thing. (If Ayoob’s case is the one I’m thinking of, it was a blocked grip safety on a 1911, but he clearly sees the same risk coming up if someone removes one of these bad revolver locks).

Apart from the lock, which at least is not as bad as Smith’s My First Gun Design version, the Taurus 85VTA View is a pretty good set-it-and-forget-it carry gun. If it did not have the lock we would recommend it for a carry or backup gun, with decent (non +P!) .38 HP loads. We would insist on the proviso that it be fired for familiarization annually and an analogous but heavier and less punishing gun be used for regular practice. We cannot recommend any firearm with a key or combination lock of any kind as a defensive weapon: it’s false security.

UPDATE

For more on just how craptastic the Smith lock is, even giving all possible sympathy to Smith, read this thorough exploration by Chris at LuckyGunner. We’re much more willing to call an Arc Light on the S&W revolver lock than Chris is, but he does hit the high points and links to some pretty credible guys (Michael Bane, Grant Cunningham, etc.) who’ve seen Smith locks do that thing they do.

Experience Comes from Bad Judgment, or “Don’t be That Guy

Law-ScaleAndHammerFrom the local paper, we have a list of indictments, and it’s surprising how many of them reflect bad judgment with firearms. Not as many as the drug cases, another form of bad judgment that we’re not going to bother with. (We’ll let some retired medic write that blog).

But enough that it struck us as if there was a theme in this week’s indictments. And that theme is bad judgment and firearms. Let’s see if we can learn from these guys’ experience, so we don’t have to have the traumatic experience of learning from our own.

Good Judgment Comes From Experience

A friend of ours who teaches airline pilots for a living has a saying that applies to flying, but also to any other knowledge domain where the exercise of good judgment is salutary and beneficial:

Good judgment comes from experience.

Experience comes from bad judgment.

Let’s explore some of these cases of bad judgment and apply our own good judgment to them.

Bad Judgment Gets Men Indicted for Criminal Threatening

This might be another charge in another state, involving weapons charges or assault. Some states have a “brandishing” statute. But whatever the charge, these cases reflect the reality that if you introduce a firearm into a dispute where deadly force was not previously in the offing, the courts are going to see you as the bad guy.

Indicted for a charge alleging criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon was Souriya Nachampassak, 39, of 140 Cottage St., Portsmouth. Police allege he held an AR-15 during a dispute about a car blocking his driveway while telling an alleged victim, “This isn’t over.”

We agree with Mr Nachampassak that it’s nice to have an AR-15, and that it’s annoying to have some self-absorbed asshat block your driveway. However, the AR-15 does not apply to the situation at hand. He went pretty instantaneously from the victim of a very minor misdeed to the perpetrator of a much larger one. “This isn’t over,” all right, but for him. 

Proportion, people. You have to keep your sense of proportion about you, and it’s more important to do it when you have a weapon. It’s more important to restrain yourself when you’re carrying or have a firearm nearby. Every State has some sort of rules that constrain the use of deadly force. As deadly force scholar Andrew Branca reports in his book, The Law of Self-Defense, while these rules vary widely from state to state there are certain things they have in common.

One is that deadly force is only a response to a credible and reasonable belief that deadly force is arrayed against you. Not that some briefstain has blocked your driveway. Because urban dwellers have more neighbors, (Portsmouth is a big and dense city by NH standards, population 28k or so), the odds of them getting a crummy neighbor are elevated. You can shoot someone for threatening your life or health, or those of your family. You can’t shoot him for annoying you. And hear this:

If you can’t shoot the guy legally, don’t display the gun. Why not? Well, we bet Mr Nachampassak has calmed down enough that he can tell you, now. If not, his lawyer can. He has a very serious legal problem that began when someone else wronged him, all because he reacted mistakenly. His reaction now threatens his firearms rights and his very liberty.

Let’s move on to the very next case on the docket:

Also indicted for criminal threatening with a weapon was Derrick Mello, 26, of 2 Mariette Drive, Portsmouth. Newington police allege Mello confronted an alleged victim with a pistol, which he loaded and chambered a round during a confrontation.

Here’s another case where nobody got shot, no shots were fired, but the guy with the gun wound up going downtown anyway. And being charged with a serious felony. Even though he probably thought all along he was in the right. We somehow doubt that the dispute, whatever it was, was worth it. What were we just saying?

If you can’t shoot the guy legally, don’t display the gun.

Yeah. That.

Just to make it crystal clear to all of you, the two young men in the next set of indictments are clearly career criminals. They were caught red-handed breaking into a house; one of them had a pistol previously stolen elsewhere. They’re not even legally old enough to buy a gun, but as character runs true, we’re pretty confident in predicting that by the time they’re social security age, they’ll have spent half their adult lives in the slam. But not for this case; right now, their charges are not as serious as the two guys above, and they’ll probably wind up with some combination of time served and probation, this time.

Twins Nicholas and Nathan Harnden, 20, of 978 Maplewood Ave., Portsmouth, were both indicted for charges alleging attempted burglary. Police allege that on March 24 one twin helped the other up to a residential window during an attempt to burglarize a Leslie Road home that was occupied by a woman home alone at the time.

Nathan Harnden was also indicted for a charge alleging receiving stolen property. That charge alleges his possession of a stolen 9mm pistol.

Obviously these guys have seen no detective shows, or they’d know that one twin does the crime while the other establishes the alibi. Maybe these are the kind of twins that separate late in the womb, leaving each with only half a brain (in our experience, undiagnosed semicephalics crowd court dockets everywhere).

The Harnden twins will never amount to anything but prison cell filler, but they’re not in trouble as big as the two guys, Mr Nachampassak and Mr Mello, who introduced guns into routine arguments and instantly became, in the eyes of John Law, the Real Bad Guys™. While the Harndens’ lives continue on their pre-established low trajectory, our two gun-displayers have introduced an inflection point into their lives, from which their lives will never be the same — even if they triumph in court.

You really, really don’t want to be that guy.

Let’s close with another aphorism from the world of aviation:

A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill. – often attributed to test pilot and Gemini and Apollo astronaut Frank Borman. 

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: KFSS.ru

These scenes aren’t from Chernobyl, although they have the same air of haunted abandonment. And they’re not from Detroit, although the site makers are reminiscent of the urban ruins explorers of the Motor City. They’re from various abandoned and forgotten military bases in the former Soviet Far East.

Posters of Lenin, and placards celebrating the Warsaw Pact, that celebrated bond of Socialist fellowship that evaporated as soon as Soviet coercion was removed from the slave states of Eastern Europe. Rows of tanks, caught in the middle of repairs that didn’t come, stripped and vandalized.

abandoned tanks 206 btrz kfss.ru

The photos are from a site called KFSS.ru, and they’re why it’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, even though it has other explorations on there (for example, of coastal forts). But for us, it was the post-Soviet ruins that were mesmerizing.

If you look at only one of KFSS.ru’s explorations, the 206th BTRZ — a tank-repair site strewn with the carcasses of armored vehicles — could be the most interesting.

The unit was originally established in 1936 as the V.G. Voroshilov Repair Base for the Far East No. 77. Over the years it had many other names, but basically kept overhauling tanks for the Red, then Soviet, then Russian, army, and its final identity was the 206th Broniytankoviy Remontniy Zavod — Armored Tank Repair Factory (or Facility). When it closed, a large amount of work-in-progress vehicles, from BRDM-1 and -2 light amphibious armored reconnaissance vehicles through T-64 tanks, were left behind.

In this photo essay, as in the others, the photos are always professionally, even artistically, composed. They speak of the fascinating beauty of ruins, a beauty which has captivated men for centuries.

Sometimes, men who did their national service on these bases comment on the pages, filling in details. It is jarring to see your old base, even your old barracks, workplace, or team room, reduced to ruins — we’ve been through that ourselves (the team room has since been torn down and no trace of it remains).

Every page of KFSS introduces military archaeology that is at once familiar and exotic, like the strange tubular bunkers that once held R-5s, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-armed missiles, and the abandoned classrooms of a radio school.

You’ll need to read Russian to get the maximum knowledge and enjoyment from this site, although Google or some other online translator can probably help. But you don’t really need to  read the words to appreciate the haunting beauty in some of these ruins.

Buildings 30 and 40 years old, probably never all that watertight to begin with, given Soviet construction standards.

A pack of cigarettes, forgotten on a shelf. A naval officer’s uniform, hanging up next to the ironing board that got it ready for a next meeting that didn’t happen.

Naval Officer's Uniform kfss-ru

Abandoned Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome, home to a fleet of Tu-223M carcasses, late of Russian Naval Aviation:

Abandoned Bomber

Some of the architecture is similar to any European or American base, and some is uniquely Soviet. A large open-span area in a maintenance hall is built with precast concrete rafters that have an arched truss cast into them, for example — an ingenious and elegant solution.

The routine junk of military living. Propaganda exhortations (Your unit – your community!) of the inoffensive kind. Key control boards. Ammo bunkers. NBC posters: what to do when the Americans nuke you.

NBC poster kfss-ru

We never did, but they tried to be ready. So did we, during the Cold War.

While most of the world’s Army, Navy and Air Force bases look much alike, only the USSR left this one signature item behind when a base closed: Lenin.

Lenin kfss-ru

 

The soldiers, sailors and airmen who traipsed through these buildings, and unwittingly, through history, by and large did their duty: their homeland wasn’t attacked again after V-E Day. Perhaps the system they served did not deserve their loyalty, but their country, and their countrymen, probably did. And the artifacts they left behind exist in the strange limbo between abandonment and archaeology.

The Best Example of the Worst US Machine Gun

Technically, this isn’t exactly a US machine gun. Although it’s true that this French-made light machine gun, commonly called the Chauchat, was issued to the American Expeditionary Force when it arrived in France. It was probably the first machine gun ever designed to be manufactured cheaply and rapidly using stampings, sheet metal and steel tube, and simple screw machines with the barest minimum of time, and set-ups, executed on traditional lathes, shapers and milling machines. Many of the automotive industry techniques that were applied to the Sten and the M3 grease gun were not yet available in 1915, so the manufacturing technology that went into this gun is even more remarkable.

Chauchat 1

The evolving conventional wisdom is that the 8mm version was not all that bad; the true disaster was the American attempt to Bubba it to fire the .30-06. But the bad reputation of the Chauchat ensures one thing: you can get an example for quite short money for a transferable machine gun. This excellent-condition example is the best we have seen, and it’s on GunBroker right now with a buy-it-now of $7,500!

That is a bargain for a transferable, historically significant machine gun, and right in time for the centennial of the Great War. Here’s the other side, just to prove we’re not showing you the star’s best side:

Chauchat 2Now, the beauty of the Chauchat is kind of an acquired taste. It’s pretty rudely functional, in a way that few polished, blued, walnut-stocked service weapons of the day were. That’s one way in which this old poilu is a harbinger of modern times. But it was an early example of a shoulder-fired, bipod-equipped, single-gunner (with one a/gunner making a crew of 2) light machine gun.

The Chauchat, called by its reluctant doughboy operators the “Sho-Sho Gun,” was formally the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 C.S.R.G. from the initials of the members of the committee that brought it forth. Mechanical engineer Col. Louis Chauchat and hands-on machinist Charles Sutter were the designers; Paul Ribeyrolles wasthe production engineer who prepared it for industrial mass production, and Gladiator, Ribeyrolles’s velocipede and motorcar factory in suburban Paris, was where the bulk of them were manufactured (a second factory came on line late in the war).

The Mle. 1915 was a revision of a 1907 Chauchat-Sutter design that was manufactured by more traditional methods. While France only built 100 of the Modele 1907 C-S, zero of which survive, they were able to produce hundreds of thousands of the 1915 CSRGs in two converted automotive plants, enough that they had them to spare for their Allies like Belgium and the USA, and a Chauchat diaspora carried the guns as far as Russia and Greece after the war.

It is a long-recoil design, which means that the bolt and barrel remain locked until the assembly has recoiled the entire length of the cartridge – for the 8 x 50 Lebel, 70mm or about 3 inches — and then the barrel returns forward when the bolt is held back. The empty is ejected from this rear position, the feed system (here, a 20-round, half-moon curved box magazine) pops up a fresh round, and the arrival of the barrel forward trips the release of the bolt, chambering and firing (if the trigger remains depressed) the next round. This is the system of the Browning Auto-5 shotgun and the Remington Model 8 rifle (essentially Browning’s rifle version of the same action), but the Chauchat is the only successful application to automatic weapons that we’re aware of. (This is the point in the article where Daniel E. Watters is invited to correct us if we’re wrong!). Recoil is boosted by the conical booster that many have mistaken for a flash hider; it’s actually there for the same reason the MG42 has a similarly conceived muzzle attachment. The long recoil action yields long movements of heavy parts, and therefore, potentially more dispersion than comparable weapons, at least partly offset by a lower rate of fire.

This brief video, from our friends at Forgotten Weapons, shows you the cyclic rate of an 8mm Chauchat.

The bizarre half-moon magazines, unique to the Chauchat, were required by the rimmed 8mm Lebel cartridge, which is dramatically tapered: 16mm at the rim and 8.3mm at the case mouth. Some people have concluded there is a solid type of magazine (see the one in the gun on the left side picture), and another version with large cut-outs, but in fact, all mags we’ve seen have one smooth side and one cut-out side. We don’t know whether the cut-outs were meant to lighten the mags or to allow round counting; We do know it was a rotten idea for a gun used in the gooey muck of trench warfare. But at least one intended employment of the CSRG was as a lightweight gun for aerial observers, where your fate was more likely to be a long fall, or burning to death, than mud, trench foot and typhus.

This example is also extremely well accessorized, with AA sights (visible on the gun and a spare set in the accessory shot below), and spare mags and carriers. It hasn’t been fired in years, but the seller says it worked when it last was put to the test.

Chauchat 3

The starting price of the auction is $5,750, but there’s a reserve. As mentioned above, the Buy-it-now is $7,500. Here’s the seller’s blurb:

This is a splendid condition Chauchat with numerous accessories. 8 m/m Lebel, C & R and fully transferable. Model of 1915 by C.S.R.G. 5 Magazines, Anti-Aircraft sight installed, spare set of anti-aircraft sights, very rare musette magazine bag, even more rare wooden magazine case, bipod, original sling. Can supply about 1000 rounds of ammo with gun, extra price. This is a high quality Chauchat that when last fired about 8 years ago, ran like a top. Even with English manual.

It’s really a rare chance to add a museum-worthy, historically significant firearm — the wellspring of all light machine guns and squad automatic weapons! — to your collection.

Of course, if you’re inspired with desire for one of these unusual French ticklers, but shrink from spending quite so much, there’s a less minty Chauchat that Ohio Ordnance is offering for a starting bid of $4,500 and no reserve. Certainly the minty one is the better investment-grade gun.

The seller of the minty Chauchat, WDHaskins, has quite a few other enticing rarities, including a 1909 Hotchkiss Portative (English Army version of what the US called the Benet-Mercié Machine rifle, a Japanese Lewis aerial observer’s gun, and a really nice collection of English double guns — shotguns and rifles. This link goes to all his current auctions.

 

Ineffective Bombing is Worse than No Bombing at All

M64 bomb 2

In all history, about 99% of these have accomplished nothing but blind destruction, unrelated to war aims. Guernica myths notwithstanding.

We made the mistake of watching some Aspen Institute foreign policy luminaries (including ex-secretaries Madeline Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and Bob Gates) and then parts of the Sunday talking head shows. We’ve also read the Post and the Times on the pinprick airstrikes in Iraq, stories that seem to agree that they were made for the domestic political effect. (“We didn’t want another Benghazi.”) In time-honored Harvard-Yale-Georgetown Masters of the Universe™ fashion, these war-experts-from-the-campus-quad either endorsed or criticized the Obama policy of tiny strikes, as a fancied means for bringing the parties to the negotiating table, that Happy Hunting Ground of all diplomats.

We’re here to pickle off some precision-guided practical truth on that.

Here’s what bombs from the air can do:

  1. Kill people.
  2. Blow things up.

That’s about it. And to achieve that limited potential, they need to be dropped exactly on the people and things you intend to kill or blow up. Otherwise, they’re just wasteful fireworks, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Here’s some of what they can’t do:

  1. Kill specific people (unless there are friendly and reliable eyes on the ground).
  2. Send a message. No one ever successfully “sent a message” with bombing, unless the message was: “Bang. You’re dead.” You can send that message — if you have eyes on the ground targeting the bomb. Any other message you were trying to send is as likely to get across as the messages for the enemy that the ordies scrawl on the bombs. That is, not very.
  3. Weaken the resolve of those under the bombs. Yeah, that’s why England folded in 1940, Germany in 1944, the Norks in 1951, and the DRV in 1967. Oh, wait… looks like bombing stiffens resolve, except for the people it physically makes stiffs out of. Seriously, if some foreign air force blew up your house and killed your family, would you (1) Japan is the exception, and they still had to be nuked twice after some fire-bombings that made the nukes look mild, on top of years of sub-blockade starvation.
  4. Take and hold ground.

Over and over again, the lesson has been, bombing without eyes-on recon, terminal guidance, and eyes-on post-mission BDA, is wasteful and ineffective. For example, in the 1999 bombing of Serbia, the US killed — over and over again — obsolete jets wheeled out of museums, and broken-down tanks hauled into bait positions. What was lacking? This:

SOFLAM

If we don’t have terminal guidance teams on the ground in Iraq, these missions are being set up for failure. If we do have them, and only give them two or four carrier strike fighters a day on a one-pass-and-haul-ass limit, we’re not going to succeed. We get that the President does not want to encourage Maliki, whose sectarian score-settling is a big factor in the current collapse of his country’s defense establishment.

Then, there’s the question of what we’re risking. 

ISIL (the enemy on the ground, even if Obama can’t bring himself to admit that the Kurds are friendlies) has modern AA weapons, and the F/A-18, the only arrow remaining in the Navy’s quiver, is no less vulnerable to AA gunfire and SAMs than its Vietnam and even Korean War counterparts. (It’s actually slower, on the deck with stores, than the Vietnam era F-105). So, if we keep exposing them we’re going to start losing them.

That means: remains of pilots, or live pilots, in ISIL hands, whether as hostages (given the big payoff the Taliban got for holding deserter Bowe Bergdahl, certainly a possibility) or as stars in a single episode of JihadTube each. Normally, SOF take responsibility for personnel recovery, but it’s very, very different to do without some kind of footprint on the ground, and it’s a rare PR that goes off without losing at least one helicopter, potentially compounding the problem.

Now, we have no doubt that the Navy and Marine strike pilots will fly whatever missions they get — that’s what they do. But sending them on symbolic, ineffective pinprick strikes, and exposing them to a high risk of capture, is not good policy. That it’s being done to “send a message” to Maliki (and that the message is the amorphous, “you need to form a unity government and be more diplomatic and inclusive”) is extremely troubling.

Bottom line: for bombing to be effective, we need CCTs, JTACs or equivalent on the ground calling the strikes. (True story: in the early part of the war – remember, the part we won?  — nobody sweated who had and didn’t have credentials or ticket punches. When we got friendly fire, it came from an Air Force ETAC and Air Force aircraft commanders who had all the requisite qualifications. But now, you gotta have a ticket punch). For bombing to be effective, there needs to be enough of it to kill lots of the enemy and break all his favorite toys. For bombing to be effective, it needs to be targeted by junior officers and NCOs on the groundwho can lay the Mark I eyeball on the enemy and direct the money shot all the way down, not by some committee of drones who attended all the right schools and never felt the chafe of a uniform collar.

Ineffective bombing is worse than no bombing at all. And that’s what we’ve got, so far.

Stag Arms Introduces 9mm Carbines

A few days ago, Stag introduced a series of 9mm carbines that have some similarities to the Colt workhorse of DOE and police fame, and have a few new features. The Model 9 is available in right or left-handed, and in Tactical or (we guess, to steal from David Ogilvy, “diffident about tactical”) regular trim. This is a regular, RH-oriented Stag Model 9:

Stag Model 9

That’s the factory photo. It does embiggen with a click. The Stag 9 upper is much like the Colt’s, with no ejector port door and a polymer ejected-case bumper, as is the blowback, non-locking bolt/carrier unit. Unlike Colt, which uses an insert in an ordinary AR lower, the Stag has a dedicated lower, that’s broached (or more likely, wire-EDM’d) only for the 9mm mag, same mag as Colt’s. Here’s the Tactical version in left hand, with the mag in:

Stag Model 9TL

The rounded rectangular protrusion on the upper forging that, on a locked-bolt rifle, gives the cam pin a place to rest, serves no purpose on the 9mm AR, but it’s there because the gun is only economical because the same forging is used for the 9mm upper, and the one for other, more usual AR calibers.

As you can see, “tactical” gets you a free-floating handguard and pop-up sights. Both handguards take Diamondhead rails; the non-”tactical” version has a conventional “gas block” although it taps no gas from the non-ported barrel, and it comes without sights (or, in marketing-speak, “optics ready.”

On the principle than only a fool invents a new feed system when he doesn’t have to, the Colt mag is based on the venerable Uzi mag, and is available in 20- and 32-round lengths (as opposed to the Uzi’s 25 and 32). Of course, no one has tried Uzi mags in the introduced-last-week Stag 9mm yet, but people have had mixed, mostly bad, luck with Uzi mags in Colts, and people have had all kinds of bad luck with just about everything in non-Colt 9mm ARs — making a 9mm AR that runs is harder than it looks. Making a 9mm that runs on a wide range of ammo is really hard, because the recoil impulse varies so widely, and any blowback system is optimized for a specific recoil impulse. That was one advantage of HK’s old MP5 and its roller-locking system. Even though the MP5 could be fussy about hollow points, it didn’t sweat bullet weight and powder charge changes too much.

A 9mm AR is always a bit homely, if not deformed, looking, but they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The pistol caliber submachine gun or carbine has always had a niche, and that niche is, mostly, indoors. So the optimum 9mm AR (assuming, ceteris paribus, the thing works) might actually be a small SMG or SBR, much like the special Colt Model 633 that was used by DOE. The 633 had a controllable rate of fire by using a special hydraulic buffer, different from that in other Colt 9mms. Stag’s press release has no details of their 9mm buffer, except that it is different from that in their other rifles. At the reasonable, sub-$1k list of the basic 9mm, a hydraulic buffer is unlikely.

 

The 9mm SMG had a run in the conventional military from 1918 to circa 1965-70, when assault rifles replaced most of them. It had a second lease on life in the 70s and 80s as a special operations CQB weapon. It was replaced by the 5.56mm carbine in military special operations for specific reasons, having to do with the 9mm’s range envelope. There have always been problems transitioning from the 9mm’s close-combat sweet spot to engage targets further out. A specific combat operation in Grenada in 1982 where American SOF found themselves outranged by meatheads with assault rifles was, if not the cause, the catalyst for the change.

But the police don’t have that reason to move to the 5.56 and they’re doing it, as far as we can tell, both because reliable 5.56 carbines are far easier to come by, and, perhaps, because of a certain “operator” cachet. They may be making an error. A 115 grain 9mm JHP will still overpenetrate in an indoor setting, but not like an M855A1 round will, and the 9mm (with modern defensive ammo) will do a decent job of putting an armed and hostile Wealth Redistribution Engineer down. It’s a tough call for the cops, though, because their rifle-engagement callouts are so rare, you can’t really say what the “usual” one is like. You can make some statistical inferences, but every new call is a roll of the dice, and it may turn out the capability needed is the barrier-blind penetration that a 9mm leaves on the table.

Having a 9 with the same manual of arms of the 5.56 is a plus. The Stag and Colt keep most of the key muscle memory points the same as on the rifle-cartridge AR. Even the very different, non-AR SIG MPX sought this same positive training transfer by keeping key fingerings (trigger, safety, mag release) identical to the AR.

If the Stag runs reliably, and there’s no reason to expect it not to, it gives 9mm carbine users another option besides trying to wring another year out of vintage and weary MP5s, going to the SIG MPX, going Colt or ditching the pistol round for 5.56. And on stuff like this, it’s good to have choices.

The technical stuff rom the Press Release:

Both the Model 9 & 9T series boast a 1/10 twist 16” heavy barrel, blowback action, a 6-position adjustable buttstock, and as always they are available in right & left hand configurations. The safety, charging handle, and magazine release function the same as any AR-15. However we have designed the actions of the rifles from the ground up. The rifles accept standard Colt style 9mm AR magazines which insert into the integrated magazine well in the lower receiver. The integrated magazine well won’t come loose or have feeding issues accompanied with drop in magazine blocks. Differences from a standard AR-15 can also be found in the lower receiver with a specially designed hammer, magazine catch, and buffer. In the Upper half, the bolt and carrier are one piece with a modified ejection port cover and brass deflector.

The Model 9 and 9T have different configurations. The Model 9 has a railed gas block and drop in Diamondhead VRS-T modular handguard with no sights. The Model 9T is the tactical version with a free floating 13.5” Diamondhead VRS-T modular handguard and aluminum Diamondhead flip up sights for faster target acquisitions. Both rifles will accept the Diamondhead rail sections for extreme customization.

For more information, and for the specs on each model, Read The Whole Thing™.

Training Smarter: Low Ready on Army BCT Ranges!

e-type_silhouetteApparently we got out ahead of our knowledge recently when we said that the conventional Army maintained cold range practices, and only some ARSOF were using hot range practices.

We thought we said that in answer to a comment on this blog, and now we think we might just have done it on another blog (’cause we can’t find the sucker), maybe Tam’s. Tam is on record that she thinks requiring extraneous manipulation of weapons on the range, creating the false idea that the weapons are now “safe,” and making people fear a loaded gun (even his or her own!), is a bad idea. We couldn’t agree more, but pointed out — to someone, somewhere — that such extraneous gunhandling, mythical “safe gun,” and situational hoplophobia, is how Big Green did it. Turns out, we was wrong.

This was, indeed, the “Way it Used to Be,” but over the last dozen-plus years of war, the Army’s gotten smarter (admittedly, they’re rising up from a low baseline here). There have been a large number of training changes, even in Basic Rifle Marksmanship, which are oriented towards the idea that the end product is not hitting targets on a range, but being able to “fight with a rifle.” That’s a quantum improvement, and it appears to have changed some of the Army’s excessive safety orientation. Here’s a chart of some of the differences:

army_bct_changes_2008

It’s taken from this PEO Soldier document from 2011. To break out some of the acronyms, BRM is Basic Rifle Marksmanship, taught to all soldiers in initial entry training. ARM is part of Advanced Individual Training for infantrymen. “Up and Downrange” referred to the way weapons had to be carried on the range: muzzle up, and pointed in towards the impact area at all times. The Army still clears weapons at the end of a firing evolution, but the trainees continue to handle their weapons as if they were hot, in the expectation that soon enough they will have to go about their business, confidently and safely, with a hot weapon.

The first bullet point in the comparison chart is the reason that we hot range advocates are hot range advocates: Students are trained to be comfortable with a rifle, not to fear it. You train as you fight, or should fight.

The Trainfire range system was a sort of physical world video game, in which any hit on the E-type silhouettes (used from 100 to 300 meters range) of F-type partial silouettes (for targets inside 100m) caused the silhouette to drop. These were used in field firing practice and for rifle qualification. The Trainfire system could also be cheated or gamed in several ways, for instance, a shot short of the target would often throw enough rocks, dirt, or debris onto the target as to make it drop.

The Army has finally woken up to what everyone else (including many armies) knew decades ago: optical sighting systems are superior, period. Ten years ago, using an optic was “cheating.” Now they understand it’s “training.” (The Army’s standard optic is the M68 Close-Combat Optic or CCO. The same designator is used for the Aimpoint Comp M2 and Comp M4. In the conventional Army, certain specific troops also get an ACOG M150, but that’s not used in basic combat training). Train as you fight.

Even ten years ago, range firing, even for qualification, was “admin”: if your weapon failed or jammed, you got a mulligan, called in Army range fire an “alibi.” Stages were designed to use the rounds you had in a given magazine, so that your mag change was never on the clock. Now, the qual fire is more releastic. If you have a jam, you have to conduct immediate action and reengage your targets — just like in combat. If you run out of ammo, well, they taught you how to reload an M4, do it and drive on. Just like in combat. And some of the e-hadjis (or enemy of your choice) out there in the target array will take multiple hits to be incapacitated — just like in combat.

As noted on the slide the minimum qualification (“Marksman”) on Trainfire or reduced-distance ranges was (and is) 23 hits out of 40. (Bear in mind, this might be done in any weather, so it’s not a completely unrealistic evolution — just mostly unrealistic). The max qualification, Expert, required and requires 36 hits.

In the long run, these training changes will produce soldiers who are more confident and more effective with their individual weapon, especially if in-unit sustainment training also makes similar advances.

This cultural change won’t happen overnight. It needs to have sustained command emphasis, and we need to have young people come up, especially in the NCO ranks, who trained like this, to replace those sergeants and sergeants major who aren’t bright enough to follow the reasoning of the policy, and can only do what they saw others do before them. So firming up this policy may require 25 or 30 years of emphasis and effort, but it will produce more lethal combat units, and support and service-support units far more capable of self-defense, one soldier at a time.

The biggest threat to this change is, indeed, personnel policy. Currently, the Army gives little weight to combat experience and is throwing experienced combat leaders out, while promoting combat-shy ticket-punch collectors, who rode to the sound of their careers while the Army was off fighting a war (the current Sergeant Major of the Army, who spent most of the war hiding out in Army schools and did one, late, tour as a sergeant major on a FOB, exemplifies this perfectly). But the same current Army leadership doing that are the guys who signed off on this, which illustrates, perhaps, that the leaders are doing the best as they see it.

1000m shot with 9mm S&W 929 Revolver

“Ah, Banzai, ha hah! Nothing to it, man, a good day on the range.”

“I dunno what you think, but a 9mm at 1000 yards is a hard shot.” With a revolver, his own reloads with Hornady 147 grain XTP bullets, and a red-dot sight. “Hard shot?” Yeah, you could say that.

How’d he do it? We’d guess hold-over (he says, 75-80 yards worth at one point, and at another he says 150 feet, so were’s guessing he’s using the uncalibrated eyeball of experience) and lots of practice.

We were impressed as hell, back in the day, with Paul Poole’s 100-meter shots with a tuned 1911 out at the Mott Lake Compound range. Poole’s secret was the same: he learned how much drop that issue .45 ball had through long experience, and he learned to pick a holdover point.

The thing is, the normal “effective” range of a pistol or rifle is no such thing. It’s a somewhat arbitrary figure. Some ordnance bureaucrat sets it based on an average shooter with an average weapon on a sort of best-three-of-five basis. Or it gets handed down in a firearm specification, and never tested. The US Army, for instance, records the effective range of every one of the world’s pistols as 50m, and every rifle as 480m (which originally was supposed to be a conversion from the old every-rifle-effective-range of 500 yards). This is probably a mistake, because using high-angle firing techniques you can score hits far beyond the book-value “effective” range.

The real problem with the issue 5.56 rounds at ranges over 500 yards is weak terminal ballistics, not accuracy. While the Army’s accuracy standards for accepting a rifle are pretty low (and the standards for keeping one in service are even lower, 7 MOA!), most service rifles are well made and will far outperform the minimum military specification.

We doubt that Jerry Miculek ever had a chance to meet Paul Poole, who has long been feasting with the other heroes at the long tables in the halls of Valhalla. And that’s a crying shame, because who knows what those two good ol’ boys would have gotten up to together?

Update:

Several of you have pointed out that Jerry undoubtedly burned a lot of rounds before hitting the  plate (since the hit in the plate, which he shows, was not in line with the location of the balloon, it was probably jacket spalling that popped the balloon. Still, it was a pistol shot at sniper rifle range).

It really set off the IDPA gameshooters at Triangle Tactical. They vented a little intramural spleen (post 1; post 2; post 3) at Miculek and one another, and refer you to, of all things, some reality show on TV for “real” shooting. (Really?)  One of them does admit:

It shows that guns aren’t scary, we aren’t all tacticool nut jobs, and that shooting is fun. I like the videos, even if they are cut to only show the entertaining parts.

And even the most critical of the posts includes this bit, that one hopes we can all agree on:

Long-range shooting is also an exercise in consistency. Sight the target the same way, hold your breath the same way, pull the trigger the same way, follow through the same way. Assess the result and adjust your point of aim and try again. I actually agree that a decent shooter could probably hit that shot as well.

Jerry Miculek is not Superman. He’s simply a guy who’s dedicated himself to a craft — and found a talent for entertaining as well as instructing. There’s a reason we feature Jerry’s videos, and not the ones by boring windbags who spend a half hour conveying 30 seconds’ worth of information, or the ones by “tacticool” beardos who parlayed zero days in service and a single bad tour as a contractor into YouTube stardom.

Situational Awareness Example

Caleb at Gun Nuts Media recounts a close encounter of the “homeless” (i.e. smelly bum) kind, and rounds it off with some general advice about situational awareness when exercising:

But my self-defense plan for when I’m running is pretty simple: I don’t run at night, and I don’t run in shady places. Yes, I know that no man knows the day or hour when the balloon will go up while they see the elephant, but I reckon I can minimize my chances by not going to places where that sort of thing happens. It’s why I run in the nice park, and not in Van Epps Park, aka Stabbing Time Station.

That’s the most effective self-defense tool of them all. Don’t go to stupid places at stupid times, and even if you’re in a nice place, keep your head up. Stay alert. Don’t be afraid to cross the street to get away from shady mofos

via Almost had a dynamic critical incident the other day | Gun Nuts Media.

Yep. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Decline stupid game, and you might not have the Greatest War Story Evah™, or any War Story at all, but you also don’t wind up on the evening news, with some Ron Burgundy clucking over you in the past tense. Do Read The Whole Thing™ because he also ruminates on what and how to carry when exercising.

We don’t run any more (you kind of need two working legs for that), but when we did we simply downsized our usual arms, if need be all the way down to a not-entirely-armed-feeling .25 Auto.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Pre98.com

French 1935A pistols are common -- but not in this condition.

French 1935A pistols are uncommon, not “rare” – except in this condition, and with an Indochina period rig. In stock at Pre98.com.

There are lots of dealers of 20th Century guns, but Scotty Benedict makes a business of selling the sort of guns you usually only see at national auctions: mint, rare, and mint and rare guns are the bulk of his offerings. His website is the slightly misleading URL, Pre98.com (as most of his inventory is 20th Century). The online catalog of goodies is at shop.pre98.com. Inventory is updated extremely often.

We have been around since 1989 dealing mostly in WW2 arms and militaria. Our specialties are mint condition firearms and very nice holsters….. We decided to open this web site to give you exclusive access to what we have in stock in the way of firearms and accessories. We will continue to improve the site and hope you will visit often to see what we have dredged up.

There will also be some rare and desirable commercial guns. This site gives you exclusive access to the firearms and accessories that made it into my inventory. Now you don’t have to wait for a gun show to see what I have found.

Gathering the best items is too big of a job for one person to handle. I have a virtual army of collectors who regularly channel new goodies into the pipeline. As a very serious and advanced collector myself, my eye is trained to be quite discerning about what we pick up. I take great pride in the herd that we bring to market. I personally guarantee the authenticity of each item and the accuracy of its description.

Since most of my customers are serious collectors, almost all of our business is with Curio and Relics (C&R) licensees and FFL transfers. When you find that special gun you’ve been looking for, we’ll work with you to make the buying process as painless as possible while complying with all applicable firearms regulations.

via Pre98.com – Home.

One of the neat things about Scotty is that he keeps records of some of the best pieces he has sold in the past, so you can not only jones over the guns you can’t afford now, you can jones over the ones you couldn’t afford last year (but some other lucky fellow did).

We have not personally bought from Scotty, but we just looked at literally every item in his inventory. Nothing is cheap, but he is correct in noting that he has among the best examples of both common (think 1911 or Garand) and uncommon (Broomhandle, French 1935A, VIS Radom, etc.) firearms on the market. For example, this mint commercial Broomhandle comes with the original stock:

Mauser C96 Broomhandle

Price? We’ve bought cars for less. Here’s Scotty’s description:

In 98% original very crisp condition, we have a very rare Model 1896 flatside large ring C96 Mauser Broomhandle pistol that is still with the factory original matching numbered stock. This pistol was manufactured in the middle of 1900 and was exported to America and sold by the famed New York firearms firm Von Lengerke & Detmold and is so marked. This pistol has a mint bore and is in exceptional condition, you just do not see these early Broomhandles that look this good and never with a matching stock. This is one of the most sought after and difficult Broomhandles to obtain. These flat side large ring C96′s are very interesting pistols. The firm marking will make an highly sought after pistol like this even more desirable,.

Yes, the Broomhandle is x-pensive. There’s an original, prewar engraved PPK that’s even more expensive. He also has not one, but four non-import Makarovs to choose from.

Not everything is priced to give you High Altitude Cerebral Edema, though. For instance, here’s a nice, solid and representative 1944 M1 Carbine:

M1 Carbine 1944

Scotty calls it good-plus, original, and has priced it just a nudge above an average carbine at $1,450. So there are some within reach of t he working man; the others, he must plan to sell to VA managers or something. But they sure are beautiful to look at.

If you like what you see at Scotty’s site, his friend Jim has similar quality stuff at LegacyCollectibles.com, too.