Category Archives: Weapons Education

The Education of Bubba

Here’s a thread in ARFcom’s Build It Yourself forum where the consequences of gorilla (no, not “guerrilla”) gunsmithing come home to roost.

The modular nature of the AR let Our Hero (who just joined ARFcom, and thus dwells in Baby Duck World) assemble a working one first shot:

I built my first AR, took it to the range and it shot great. No malfunctions and great groupings.

Since he titled his thread, “Shouldn’t have messed with [it]” we have already had some foreshadowing of the fact that he did not leave well enough alone, and he didn’t:

I didn’t like the compensator I had though so I bought the standard A2 style flash hider. Put my upper in the action block and into my vise.

Anybody see what’s about to go wrong here? Class? Bueller? Anyone?

We’ll explain. The action block is for protecting the receiver, which although forged 7075 is still only a thin-walled alloy forging, while removing, installing, and especially torquing a barrel. We’re going to emphasize what’s next: action blocks are not for removing muzzle devices. Why not? Well, consider the following as a crude illustration of an AR barrel, with the letter E being the chamber and barrel [E]xtension, the letter A being the gas block or FSB, and the letter D in brackets being the muzzle [D]evice:

[E]]==========A====[D]

So what our novice protagonist did was secure “E” and apply torque at about “D” — 16 or 20″ distant. The barrel is fairly stiff and acts more like a torque tube than a torsion bar, delivering most of that torsion efficiently to the interface between the barrel extension and the upper receiver — where nothing resists that torque but the barrel nut, a little, and the locating pin on the extension which fits into a matching groove in the upper receiver. The locating pin is just for lining the barrel up consistently; it’s not made to bear torque loads, but it is steel and the aluminum alloy slot it rides in is even less able to resist. The pin can bend, but it’s steel. What usually happens is that it springs the upper receiver or cuts the metal of the upper.

What happened here:

The comp came off no problem but the crush washer did not so I got a screw driver gave it a few taps and it came off but damaged the threads on the barrel a little.

Repeat after WeaponsMan, please: “The right tool for the right job.” In fact, write that down. There will be a test. Because all of life is a test — an IQ test.

If you have a crush washer that will not come off, you can thread it off. Don’t worry if you have to mark up its perimeter with pliers or even grind flats on it to get purchase with a wrench, because then you’re going to throw it away. Many fasteners, from the rod bolts on your 350 Chevy to the crush washers on muzzle-devices, are made for one use only.

If you gouge the threads, the right thing to do is to chase them with the right size die. WWBD, though — What Will Bubba Do?

It didn’t look too bad so I put on the new flash hider and it wasn’t too hard to get on I attributed it to the damaged threads but when it got down to the crush washer I had to put some serious torque on it to get it to line up but it went on.

Yeah, ’cause nothin’ fixes threads like cross-threading something else over them. Note also the calibrated Bubba torque wrench, with its precsion torque meter:

  1. Faint city-boy torque;
  2. Some torque;
  3. Some serious torque;
  4. King-hell torque.

Well, “some serious torque” may not be what the -50 says but the proof of the pudding, etc., so how did Our Hero Bubba do at the range?

at 25 yards it was shooting 8 inches high and 6 inches to the left I knew it would change my POI a little but I had to adjust my sights as far as they would go to zero it again and I know that is not right and I am not okay with that since I didn’t have to adjust the sights at all the first time I went out.

He didn’t say anything about the size of the group changing yet, just point of impact (POI) shift. any muzzle device causes a point of impact shift. Ceteris Paribus asymmetrical devices cause more of a shift than symmetrical ones. The M16A2 flash suppressor is asymmetrical — two “slots” are not milled out, so that no gas escapes in that direction. Those slots should be oriented down, to reduce the amount of dust that’s kicked up when the gun is fired. And so you do have to expect

Quick rule of thumb: a fresh AR upper should work with the windage and elevation near the center of their travel. (A few clicks off absolute center is OK. Most of the way to the end of travel, is not OK). If it doesn’t, Bubba is In Da House.

He’s also violated the Golden Law of Troubleshooting: change only one thing at a time. But for a Bubba, he wises up quickly, and makes one change:

So I took of the muzzle device off and found out I cross threaded it and thought that was the issue so I shot it again with no muzzle device and same thing 8 inches high 6 inches left but still a great grouping its just not where I want it to be.

He found the POI change was the same with the A2 flash suppressor and without it:

i dont think its anything with the muzzle because I shot it with the cross threaded flash hider and with no muzzle device just exposed threads and it shot in the exact same spot for both

Ergo, it wasn’t the A2 cage per se that changed his point of aim. But something did it. Without examining the bubba’d upper, we can’t diagnose it, but our guess is that it was a consequence of either damaging the muzzle crown in his enthusiastic attack on the crush washer, or of torque damage to the barrel assembly or its seating in the upper receiver.

Amazingly — it is ARFCom, after all — he got good advice about what his problem might be, and he began to take it. His responses:

[D]oes this mean I need a new barrel or upper receiver or just take it all apart and re torque everything down to specs?

…I will take it apart as soon as I get home from work and see what she looks like. And my die to re thread the muzzle is supposed to come in today….

Barrel is a gov profile barrel. I learned my lesson and ordered all the correct equipment for my next build….

Ok took it all apart and everything looked fine except for the feed ramps but I could hardly tell they didn’t line up its barely noticeable. Put it back together torqued it all to specs and took it to the range. its shooting in the same exact spot maybe just an inch lower this time but still way off. So I have no idea whats going on

The bit about the feed ramps not  lining up tells us he did torque the barrel out of its place in the upper receiver, and the consistent and continuing shooting to a point of impact eight inches out from the point of aim strongly suggests the receiver is hosed, probably where the barrel alignment pin sits.

In the end, he (with a lot of help from the board) came to the understanding that he needed to try a new upper. He lacks the tools, information and skills to inspect his present upper.

Update: I can zero the rifle but I have to adjust the front and rear sights to their extremes which I am not ok with. It is to the point that when I shoulder the rifle I need to remove my cheek from the stock to get a clear sight picture (sure optics would work) but the poi is out of my comfort zone. So I ordered a new upper from Anderson and just my luck the upper is botched and my bcg hangs up about halfway in and my charging handle won’t fit either. So I’m calling them on my lunch break to see what they can do for me.

One suspects that he’ll learn a lot, and in the end have a shootable rifle, but right now he doesn’t. Contrary to what is said in the thread, a displacement of point of aim can come from a damaged crown (without necessarily opening up the groups) but his problem is almost certainly a bubba’d upper receiver.

Eight inches is rather badly out of spec. He can’t even use this thing as a burglar defense gun now, unless the burglars where he’s at are broader in the chest than the skinny meth heads we have around here.

What he should have done, and the things he did right

So, what should Bubba have done, and his rifle would be good and accurate?

He should (as he undoubtedly knows now), have clamped the barrel forward of the FSB (or, with an FSB block, at the FSB) before R&R’ing the flash hider. He definitely should have gotten some advice before putting his back into the wrench on the flash suppressor.

But he did some things right. He asked for help, and most of the comments in his thread gave it to him. He didn’t act on his first impulse, which was to reef on the barrel again, clamping it with a Reaction Rod instead of an action block. (A Reaction Rod is the cat’s ass, but doesn’t address the problem of applying force 15-20″ away from where the barrel’s anchored). Few things can produce more expensive scrap metal faster than impatience at the armorer’s bench.

And a Final Warning

One last warning. Many people take on a flash suppressor replacement as a first attempt at customization. There are a million different kinds to try out. And it’s so tiny, it’s trivial, right?

No, not right. This guy’s results explain why that’s not necessarily a good idea: Just because of part is small, doesn’t mean it’s easily handled, or susceptible to trivial customization. Make your first experiments in AR-smithing on some part of the firearm that is not critical to accuracy and reliability. (That means, not the barrel).

The M16 as First Standardized

From the very beginning of M16 production, according to the preponderance of records, the Army version was the M-1 A1 with the forward assist. But the MIL-STD that included the nascent M16 for the first time, MIL-STD 635B: Military Standard, Weapons, Shoulder (Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns and Submachine Guns), covered only the M16 version.

m16_rifle_from_mil-std-635b

MIL-STD-635B was published on 7 Oct 1963. The weapon was, in this instance, the only exemplar of a new category of standard:

5.1 Detail Data for Standard Items (Standard for design and procurement)

5.1.1 Rifles

5.1.1.2 Caliber .223.

The two entries in Standard 5.1.1.2 are:

(a) RIFLE, 5.56-MM M16, FSN 1005-856-6885; and

(b) RIFLE, 5.56-MM: M16, w/e, FSN 1005-994-9136.

And the published illustration, seen above, although grainy (and distorted by the moiré patterns that result from scanning half-tone images) in the copy we examined (from, once again, the Small Arms of the World archives, for which subscription is required), is clearly an early Colt Model 601. It has several classic 601 features such as the duckbill flash suppressor, cast front sight base, and brown molded fiberglass stocks (which were factory overpainted green on most 601s, but the green paint is not evident on this one). In addition, the forging line of the magazine well appears to line up with the forging line’s continuation on the upper receiver, although this is hard to judge from the image we’ve got.

The duckbill on this example of the rifle appears to have been modified into a stepped configuration. We’re unaware of the purpose of this version of flash suppressor, if it really is a version and not just an artifact of the degradation of this image through multiple modes of reproduction. (Somewhere, there’s the original 4″ x 5″ Speed Graphic negative of this picture, and accompanying metadata about who took it, when and where — but we haven’t got it).

Shall we read what 635B said, back in 1963, about the M16?1

DESCRIPTION AND APPLICATION

The M16 rifle is a commercial lightweight, gas-operated, magazine-fed shoulder weapon designed for selective semiautomatic or full automatic fire. It is chambered for the .223 caliber cartridge and is fed by a 20-round box type magazine. It is equipped with an integral prong-type flash suppressor and fiberglass stock and handguard. A bipod, which attaches to the barrel at the front sight, is available as an accessory to the  rifle. The M16 is used by the Army and the Air Force.

PHYSICAL AND PERFORMANCE CHARACTERISTICS

Weight, without magazine:  6 lb. (approx.)

Weight of magazine, empty:  4 .7 oz.

Weight of magazine, loaded (20 rounds): 12.7 oz.

Length, overall:  39 in. (approx.).

Length, barrel with flash suppressor: 21 in.

Rate of fire: (automatic) 650 to 850 rpm.

Sight radius: 19.75in.

Trigger pull: 5.5-7.5 lb.

Type rear sight: Iron, micrometer.

Type front sight: Fixed blade.

Type of flash suppressor: Prong (integral).

Accuracy: A series of 10 rounds fired at a range of 100 yards shall be within an extreme spread of 4.8 inches.

AMMUNITION

CARTRIDGE, CALIBER .223: Ball (Full Jacketed Bullet).

This is the “Hello, world!” of the M16 in formal Military Standards. The previous long-gun MIL-STD, 635A of 2 Sep 1960, which was superseded by this version, contains no reference to the black rifle.

Observations on the Standard

A MIL-STD is supposed to be the absolute doctrinal statement of what an article of military equipment is (and that is one reason it’s fairly high-level: to allow minor changes to be made without having to rewrite the standard every time the factory or the military comes up with a minor improvement). But this standard contains both vague entries and an erroneous one, neither of which is expected.

The vague entries include the very dimensions of the rifle: its length and weight are listed as “approximate.” This hints that the standard writers may have been working off third-party data rather than their own trusted measurements.

One could quibble with the definition of the screw-on flash suppressor as “integral.” Looking at this and other MIL-STDs, it seems clear that the authors make a distinction between flash suppressors that are issued as a component of the weapon and not meant to be removed by the end user, like those of the M14 and M16, and those meant to be add-on or field-detachable accessories, like those for the M1 Carbine and M3/M3A1 submachine gun.

There are also one outright error in the standard. The sight of the M16 is described as a fixed blade; actually, it is an adjustable post. A handful of very early AR-15 prototypes may have had a fixed blade, as the original AR-10 did (well, technically, the AR-10′s is drift-adjustable for windage); but even by the time of the Project AGILE tests of AR-15s (Colt 601s) the elevation-adjustment on the front sight was standard.

Tentative Conclusions

This MIL-STD and its somewhat wobbly description of the early M16 probably resulted from the standard writers having spec sheets and no weapon, or a very early prototype, and took place before the Army won its battle to add a forward assist (as they put it, a positive bolt closing) to the firearm. (Or, conceivably, the standard-writing overlapped chronologically with this effort). Since the Standard had to wend its way through several levels of approval2 in the leisurely manner of a peacetime draft military, and needed sign-off from all the services, there appears to be a considerable lag between changes to the actual rifle and changes to the description of the rifle in the MIL-STD.

MIL-STD 635B’s description of the M16 was the supposed standard, but had little bearing on what the Army ordered and got: that was driven by the contract with Colt (and the other subcontractors), and the interplay between manufacturing personnel and the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representatives (COTRs, pronounced “CO-tars”) who were the .gov officials interfacing with them. Through these contractual interactions, and constant pressure from improvements from the ranks, the M16 would be considerably modified by the time it got its own dedicated military standard, ten years later.

Notes

1. MIL-STD-635B: Military Standard: Weapons, Shoulder (Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns and Submachine Guns).  Department of Defense. Washington, 7 Oct 1963. p. 6 et seq. Note that there were and are separate MIL-STDs for hand and shoulder weapons (handgun standard at the time was MIL-STD 1236 from 1960). Both standards were withdrawn in January, 1974 and not directly replaced. Instead, individual standards were created for specific weapons. Standard MIL-R-45587A covered the M16 and M16A1, and was issued (finally!) on 02 Mar 73.

2. The levels of approval included DOD and Service Department authorities (Army, Navy and Air Force; USMC and USCG small arms were controlled by the Navy). The standard itself was written by the Headquarters, Defense Supply Agency, Standardization Division, Washington, D.C.; the service components designated as “custodians of the standard” were, in presumed order of authority, the Army Weapons Command, the Bureau of Naval Weapons, and the Warner Robins Air Materiel Area. In the intervening 50+ years, all of these organizations have been reorganized and renamed.

Beretta’s Smart Gun for PDs, Military: iProtect Analyzed

Beretta presented a novel smart-gun concept at a recent defense expo overseas, which they called iProtect. This video shows how it works, using an RF-enabled gun with multiple sensors.

Here’s another video, with Beretta executive explaining how the gun works with the Robocop t-shirt.

You don’t have to be Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to be a little creeped out by that.

Supposedly, the Beretta technology provides comprehensive surveillance but not control of the firearm, at least at this time. One consequence of that is that it is fail-safe: if the central office drops off the net (anyone remember the first responder commo chaos of 9/11?) the nifty features don’t work, but the gun just reverts to being a plain-vanilla PX4 Storm. This PX4i is, in fact, a PX4 with some minituarized sensors deployed in it:

iprotect_firearm_sensors

Many gun vendors and writers are appalled by this idea, but the iProtect needs to be understood, both in terms of its intended niche, and its likelihood of succeeding there. Neither indicates that Beretta intends (or has produced) a threat to civilian gun owners with this technology. More realistically, this is a technology demonstration for future potential developments in law enforcement and military weapons, rather than a practical product in 2014.

Here’s Beretta’s brochure on the technology, to give you more depth than is available in the videos, although the videos are probably a better overview of this complex and interdependent system.

How Times do Change

In 1999, when other gun makers including SIG and Colt were making balky “smart guns,” Beretta issued a manifesto denying their interest in any such thing. Beretta wrote:

Although the concept of a “smart gun” or “personalized gun” has received public attention recently, we believe that careful consideration has not been given to potentially dangerous risks associated with these concepts. In our opinion, such technology is undeveloped and unproven. In addition, Beretta strongly believes that “smart gun” technology or “personalized” guns (hereinafter also referred to as “smart gun” technology) could actually increase the number of fatal accidents involving handguns.

But that was then, this is now. 

Back in the bad old 90s, the anti-gun Clinton administration and their allies in Congress and in state legislatures were pushing hard for smart guns as a means to disarm citizens and centrally control armed police. (Some officials then and now believe that cops should lock their guns in a station arms room at shift’s end, and a few PDs actually do this). The policymakers pushing this saw technology in the automotive and computer worlds (we dunno, like the chip-in-the-key in our ’89 Corvette that used to occasionally turn on the alarm for no particular reason? that they imagined would adapt to guns, no problem. They disregarded many things, like the different volumetric envelope in a car and a gun, and made no bones about their nominal “safetyt” push really being all about citizen disarmament. A key problem with the high-tech push was that politicians have never successfully scheduled an inventiuon in the past, and they didn’t this time, either. By the time quasi-working “smart guns” were going bang six times out of ten, the would-be launch customers — various anti-gun officials of the Clinton Administration — had moved on to K Street at the change of administrations.

SIG-Sauer-P229-EPLS_001SIG’s late-90s entry, the SIG P229 EPLS, illustrated some of the problems with these arms. To be set to fire, a PIN had to be entered on a keypad on the gun’s nose, and a time period entered. So, for example, policemen would have their guns enabled only for the duration of their shifts. The pistol was not fail-safe in any way: the failure mode was that, if the electronics borked, the gun remained on the last setting indefinitely, whatever it was.

The 229 EPLS was unreliable and never went into series production; 15 or so prototypes and pre-production test articles were made, some of which may have been released to collectors according to this article at Guns and Ammo.

Colt made an effort to spin off a smart-gun subsidiary, called, we are not making this up, iColt. There is no sign of it today; Colt’s perennial dance with the threat of bankruptcy was mortal to any engineering resource-suck with such an uncertain path to returns.

The “Smart Gun” that’s in the news: Armatix iP1

Beretta’s plan for intelligent duty firearms, iProtect, is radically different from the publicity-focused smart-gun maker, Armatix. Armatix’s designer is Ernst Mauch, the prime mover of HK during its decades-long phase of HK: Because You Suck, and We Hate You hostility to nongovernmental customers, and he brings his superior, anti-customer attitude to Armatix. The company’s strategy is to have its gun mandated by authorities: it has come close in New Jersey, and one candidate in the Democrats’ Sep. 9th primary for Attorney General of Massachusetts (Warren Tolman) has promised to ban all other handguns if elected. (Yes, Massachusetts law and case law does give that official this power. No word on whether he has a stake in Armatix).

The gun itself is a poor design, kind of like some of Mauch’s later HK abortions (UMP, M8). Its reliability approaches 19th-Century lows: few reviewers have gotten through a 10-shot magazine without a failure to feed, some of which seem to relate to the magazine and in some of which the slide does not go into battery. Armatix’s idea of fail-safe electronics is this: if the electronics fail, they brick the gun, therefore it’s safe.

Because the fragile Made in Germany electronics aren’t ready for centerfire prime time, the gun will be available only in .22 long rifle for the foreseeable future. For a .22 it’s bulky, and it has only average accuracy.

Pity it doesn’t have the red HK on it. Then, at least the fanboys would buy it.

The iProtect system is not like the Armatix, or other Smart Guns

Like SIG in the 90s, Beretta began with a decent pistol and then added the electronics to it, in Beretta’s case the underrated Px4 Storm. Like SIG, there’s a bulky “light” on the rail that contains the brain. The gun is truly fail-safe: if the electronics go paws up, the gun doesn’t. In fact, the operator can dismount the “brain” at any time.

Unlike Armatix, iProtect has not been launched with noises about the authorities having an ability to remotely brick the firearm. And it does not brick itself if the battery runs down. Beretta also addressed another weakness (or at least, inconvenience) of battery-powered gear by making the black box’s battery wireless rechargeable.

The “brain” is not really the key to the system, though: the key is the Black Box’s networked communications abilities. First, it talks to the sensors on the gun itself, monitoring the position of the gun and its controls much the same way a Digital Flight Data Recorder monitors the position of an airplane’s control surfaces and flight control inputs. The brain transmits that information to a central control console. Since all of the smarts are in firmware and software, they can be updated more or less on the fly to add new capabilities (and, no doubt, to squash bugs. It’s practically impossible to write a program more useful than “Hello, world!” without introducing bugs).

 

But the gun’s communication with the central office is only part of it, because it’s also networked to a smartphone or other communications device, and to a special t-shirt that monitor’s the officer’s position, activity, and health status of the carrier (if you’ve ever worn a chest strap when exercising, you’ll get the general idea).

And a key feature of iProtect, absent from other smart guns, is geolocation. The gun knows where it is — and tells the office, many times a second. This complicates things for those criminals who would murder a cop for his gun (like Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev did after they bombed the Boston Marathon finish line). It’s one thing to have a gun that’s so hot it’s radioactive, but it’s a whole other game to have one that’s constantly phoning home and otherwise subject to electronic track & trace.

Of course, it also complicates things for cops who would spend their shift cooping behind a strip mall, or unofficially 10-7 at Krispy Kreme. If you’re That Guy, the relative smartness of your gun is not going to affect your police work in any way, anyway.

Problems with iProtect?

Unlike Armatix, iProtect is not a play to disarm the public; it’s a play to increase the information flow in police dispatch offices. There it runs into a problem, in US law enforcement: the Beretta system is best used by intelligent cops and intelligent, expert even, dispatchers. But many large metro departments in the USA — exactly the target market for iProtect — have upper as well as lower bounds for cop IQ. (These departments also tend to have low closure rates on cases requiring in-depth, imaginative investigations, oddly enough). But at least the typical cop is a man or woman of average smarts. The dispatchers are a different thing. It the USA it’s a low-paid, low-status occupation, and it tends to attract people who are a half-step above the welfare lines: the same sort of people who work, if that’s the word, in the DMV or other menial clerical jobs in local government. One consequence of this is the periodic dispatch scandals like this one, a rather trivial violation that went, as usual, unpunished; or this more serious one that ended with a dead caller, a fired dispatcher, and one more illustration of the sad fact that when seconds count, police are minutes away. Literally none of the dispatchers at a modern urban police department has a place in the high-tech, high-demand dispatch center envisioned by iProtect.

The 80-IQ dispatcher is a mountain that iProtect must climb if it is going to sell here in the USA — and it’s a mountain it probably can’t summit. But even the dispatcher problem is secondary to the real Achilles Heel of iProtect: it’s a proprietary, closed system. It not only works with the PX4i, it only works with the PX4i. It only works with Beretta’s own high-tech undershirt. It only works with the Beretta communications and dispatch system.  It requires the agency to recapitalize everything at once. Line cops don’t think of budgetary and logistical problems, but chiefs and commissioners spend most of their time on them.

It’s also self-evident that iProtect has no real utility at this time for the private or individual owner, or even to the rural sheriff’s office or small-town PD: it’s only of interest to large police departments, the only users that can resource it properly. (In the long run, the sheriffs of sparsely populated counties might really like the geolocation capability, though; it goes beyond geolocating the police car, something modern tech already can do, and tracks both the officer and his or her sidearm. That’s a big deal for situational awareness if you’ve got a wide open range and very few sworn officers).

So what’s the verdict?

iprotectIn sum, the iProtect system is an ingenious adaptation of modern communications technology to the police defensive-firearm sphere. It poses no direct threat to gun rights, although cops may find being monitored all the time a little creepy. (Welcome to the pilot’s world, pal). But as it sits there are obstacles to its adoption. These obstacles are organizational, cultural and financial — we don’t yet know how well the system works, but assuming arguendo that all Beretta’s claims about it are true, there don’t seem to be technical obstacles holding it back.

Like the plain old dumb guns that just sit there until animated by human will, the good or evil of a smart gun is in the intent of the mind behind it.

As Percussion Replaced Flintlock, C.F. Jones Hedged

This remarkable antique shotgun, for sale by a British dealer, recently was on GunBroker (without a bid). But it’s still for sale in England (as an antique, it’s not difficult to import). At a glance it looks like any early percussion English fowling-piece. Nice, and beautifully worked, but is it special?

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left

 

Yeah. It is, actually. It’s such a special thing, it may be unique, at least as a survivor. It was a creature of its time, place and circumstances, soon obsolete, but still fascinating.

This is an extraordinary and rare shotgun that was made with a dual ignition system so can be regarded as the epitome of transitional shotguns. The lock features both percussion nipples and a flintlock these can be selected to fire flintlock, percussion or both by moving an interrupter switch which can isolate the platinum lined touch hole in the flash pan.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_hi-angleWhy would a designer do this? It adds complexity and weight, violating one of the golden mantras of engineering: “Simplicate, and add lightness.” But these kinds of transitional weapons often appear at times of technological change, and usually they’re hedges against failure of the new tech.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_top

There are good reasons a British gunmaker might hedge on the then-new percussion technology. In the early 19th Century, as percussion’s faster lock time and greater reliability caused it to quickly supplant flintlock ignition, Britain had a far-flung Empire, and caps were a new thing, and one that might be hard to come by in East Africa, Calcutta or Ceylon. Any gunsmith of the period could have converted a percussion gun back to flint as readily as most of them were converting flintlocks, but having the ability for zero-gunsmithing, near-instant flintlock reversion was a comfort for a traveling man.

It didn’t take long for percussion caps to become as common worldwide as black powder itself. They don’t require a lot of engineering expertise or complex machinery to manufacture, and the chemistry is simple. So transitional guns like this Jones shotgun became period curiosities, unable to compete with lighter all-percussion guns.

Overall length is 45″ with a barrel length of 29″ with a bore measuring .6″ so approximately 20 bore. Locks are marked “Jones” and the overall quality is excellent and the gun has not been messed around with. There is one small contemporary repair to the butt which was clearly made during its short working life but not a significant detraction to the overall appearance of the gun. The locks are fine and the bore is bright so it has been well looked after. I am tempted to shoot it myself but this is being sold as a non-firing antique. I assume that the gun was made for somebody who intended travelling overseas at the time it was made and who was concerned that he would not be able to purchase percussion caps overseas.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid

Before you read the following, note that the British are always making fun of the German propensity for record keeping. Then read this, and grin: even the casual and slapdash British archives give up a lot about Charles Jones and his life a couple centuries back.

Charles Frederick Jones was the son of John Jones of Manor Row, Tower Hill (an armourer in the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1785-1793). Charles was born in about 1800, and in 1814 was apprenticed to John Mason. He became a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company (by patrimony?) in 1822. He was recorded in business at “Near the Helmet”, St Katherine’s, as a gun and pistol maker in 1822, and it seems his brother, Frederick William, joined him soon after the business was established. He was not recorded again until 1829 when, probably in addition to the St Katherine’s premises, he had an address in Pennington Street, Ratcliff Highway. At this time his brother left to set up his own business. In 1831 he opened a factory in Birmingham at 16 Whittall Street. In 1832 he was recorded at 26 St James’s Street. On 7 March 1833 he patented a percussion lock with a cock, tumbler and trigger made in a single curved piece (concentric sears and triggers), and a waterproof sliding cover (No. 6394 in the UK but also patented France), and on 12 June 1833 an improvement with separate triggers and sears (No. 6436). The caps of these Jones patent guns fitted on to the hammer noses and had the fulminate on the outside. This system was called centre-fire, and they struck the nipple and ignited the powder in the chamber. In 1838 Charles Jones described himself as a “Patent and General Gunmaker”, and later as a gun manufacturer. At about this time the firm had a shop at 32 Cockspur Street. There is no record of the firm in London after 1845, and the Birmingham factory may have closed in 1843, but Charles Jones was a member of the Acadamie de L’Industrie de France and the firm may have traded after 1845. Jones had premises in London and Birmingham and was appointed as Gunmaker to HRH the Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria.

That sounds like a rare honor, but Prince Albert was an avid sportsmen and commissioned many, many pieces from many designers.

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_left_breech

The flint/percussion duality of the piece is the first thing that strikes you, but it’s not the only unusual thing about the piece. Jones was an innovative and imaginative gunmaker and others of his patents, and some nonpatented cleverness, appear in this firearm:

Jones_Flint-Percussion_hybrid_internals

Amongst a number of patents, one of Jones’ patents was for an isolation switch to waterproof a flashpan and I dare see this stunning gun is a derivative of that work. Renowned British Gunsmith Peter Dyson believes the brass bolsters were fitted because the maker was worried about sideways expansion if both methods of ignition were used simultaneously. This has not been seen on the market for decades and as a rare and possibly unique item I doubt if it will appear again for many years. If you want something exquisite and unique, this is it! A rare and significant piece.

via UNIQUE FLINTCUSSION DUAL IGNITION JONES SHOTGUN : Antique Guns at GunBroker.com.

As we mentioned, transitional weapons are not unusual. US examples include the M14 rifle, which had a selector switch that could be optionally fitted or not fitted (and usually wasn’t, as the weapon was horribly inaccurate in full-auto), and the Krag Rifle (selected because of its magazine cutoff, which turned it into the firepower equivalent of the Springfield-Allin Trapdoor it replaced). Several early semi-auto rifles were designed to function optionally as bolt-actions, and some early cartridge revolvers had optional muzzle-loading cap-fired cylinders.

These transitions and hybrids provided, among other things, a fallback if the new technology failed. They were a practical solution to a real problem — in a brief window of time.

The GunBroker auction has ended, but Pembroke Fine Arms still has the flint-percussion hybrid for sale. (it’s on the third page of 25 in the shop, and all 25 pages have good stuff on ‘em).

 

The US Army Always Respected the AK

That’s one major take-away from a November, 1964 Springfield Armory classified report on a Chinese Type 56 AK variant, which the Armory received in late 1963 with a request that it be examined and compared to a Soviet-made AK already in their possession for “for similar and dissimilar features of design, fabrication, workmanship and construction.” We found this document in the archives of Small Arms of the World; for subscribers to that most excellent website, it’s available at this link. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be a good time. (Note: see the update at the end of this story for a free link to the file).

Springfield was asked to examine the Chinese AK by the US Army’s technical intelligence brain trust, the Foreign Science and Technology Center. Was the Chinese AK a worthy adversary? Surely it wouldn’t be as well made as its Russian prototype, let alone its American and Western competitors. Would it?

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts.

The report included an extremely detailed comparison of Chinese to Russian parts, and an analysis of what the parts weighed and did.

 

This is the Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

This is the actual Soviet AK described in the report, which remains in the collection of the Springfield Armory museum. It has since acquired a sling and a later magazine.

We have traced the original Russian rifle to Springfield Armory, where it remains in the Museum collection. The Museum has recorded facts about it that were not known to the 1964 report writers. This AK was made in Tula circa 1954, and Springfield notes:

Weapon transferred to the Museum from the Aberdeen Proving Ground on 2 December 1960. At that time weapon was appraised at $250.00.

Springfield has a photo of Elena Kalashnikova (Mikhail’s daughter) at the exhibit, and the label on the exhibit says:

AK47 – During the summer of 1962 one thousand AR15 rifles were sent to the Vietnamese who liked them better than the larger and heavier M1s and B.A.R.s. A ‘system analysis’ of the AR15 and M14, based on their use in Vietnam, made extravagant claims for the AR15 and resulted in an evaluation of the two American rifles and the Soviet AK47.

The evaluation referred to is the one discussed here. Apparently the exhibit does not note (although the curators must know) that this AK is the very AK that was analyzed in the report!

The Chinese AK’s whereabouts are unknown at this writing. The Museum has a Type 56, but it’s Serial Number 11103261 and was accessioned from the Watervliet Arsenal Museum on 25 August 1972. The following picture is the image of the Type 56 from the report:

In all respects, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manugacturing tolerances.

In all respects apart from trivial wood-furniture differences and the newer, lighter magazine, the Chinese Type 56 turned out to be identical to the earlier Tula AK-47, apart from markings and within manufacturing tolerances. It’s hard to tell from this picture if the front sight guard features the Russian-style “ears” or the full hood with a light hole that became a signature of Chinese AKs. In the right-side picture, it looks like “ears” to us, and in the left-side shot, a full hood!

In the end, they concluded that there were very few differences between the machined-receiver Soviet AK, serial number AA3286K, and its Chinese clone Type 56 SN 2021164, made in factory 66. The Chinese used a solid wood buttstock instead of the Russian laminate, and made their magazine of .0275″ sheet metal instead of .036″ for the Russian, and noted that the Chinese (but presumably not the Russian) magazine was ribbed for reinforcement; this saved approximately 3 ounces weight. As the Chinese magazine illustrated is the same as the common improved Russian magazine with three reinforcing ribs on the heel of the mag (these ribs were later deleted from Chinese mags), it seems probable that this weight saving was a Russian improvement vis-a-vis the original slabsided magazine.

Given that Russian and Chinese manufacturers work in international units, the nominal gauge for the magazine’s sheet steel was probably 0.7 mm (Chinese) and 0.9 or 1.0 mm for the Russian slabsided mag. These are roughly, but not exactly, 23 gauge and 20 gauge sheet steel respectively. Thinner steel (a higher-numbered gauge) is generally easier to form as well as lighter. Other than the wood of the stock and the design of the mag, their 1960s-vintage AK from China was identical to their 1950s Russian comparison. Their parts were identical in dimensions to a few hundred-thousandths of an inch and tenths of an ounce in weight. They seemed to be made to identical plans, and within identical tolerances. There’s no indication that the Arsenal experts tried interchanging the parts, but their careful analysis implies that the parts would interchange.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

They looked at the weapons in detail, and came away impressed and respectful of Russian and Chinese manufacturing.

The weapons were weighed empty, without mag, sling, and cleaning/toolkit (the small kit that fits in the AK’s butt trap was missing from both sample weapons). They were also weighed with empty mags and with a mag loaded with 7.62 x 39mm ammunition (the ammo used was of Finnish manufacture). The scope of the task did not include firing, to the evident disappointment of the Springfield engineers (one of their recommendations was for a follow-up live-fire; it’s unknown if it came to pass).

The comparison to American firearms did not injure the Eastern weapons. The Chinese and Russian weapons were well made and their metal parts were machined as well as an American service rifle’s parts would be. There were toolmarks visible in places where it didn’t matter, and other parts were polished to as smooth-surfaced a microfinish as Springfield itself would do. They did notice that in the fine point of anticorrosion surface finishes, the Comblock weapons came up second best: little was left of the original rust bluing on the AKs, and the bolt and bolt carrier were completely unfinished from the factory.

The reviewers also noted many of the features for which Kalashnikovs have become known over the next 50 years: robust parts; simple field-stripping into few, large assemblies; parts clearances that imply high reliability and high toleration of rude field conditions. They thought the weapon specially suitable for guerrilla and short-range, close-quarters warfare, a verdict that neither its original manufacturers nor modern experts could dispute.

One is left with the overriding impression that, while the design and manufacture of this weapon did not shake the confidence of the Armory engineers in their own organization’s craft, they did respect it as a noteworthy design of high manufacturing quality.

Also, although the report does not say this explicitly, it’s clear that the ability of the communist bloc to transfer the manufacturing technology of the AK rifle from its Russian home in Izhevsk to Factory 66 in China bespeaks a self-replicating capability of then-enemy arsenals that had a high potential to be a force multiplier for them. The 2nd Model, machined-receiver AK is not some rude Sten gun that can be produced in guerrilla workshops: its series manufacture requires quality steels and 20th Century machine tools, production engineering, and precision manufacturing and measurement techniques. We can’t tell from this single report whether the Chinese attempt to set up an AK factory in the 1950s went smoothly or suffered difficult teething troubles; we can be sure than in eight years or less any problems were fully resolved and the Chinese plant was producing firearms almost indistinguishable from their Soviet prototypes.

This original report was classified Confidential at its origin and later regraded, first Restricted (a now-long-defunct lowest level of classification) and finally Unclassified. It is no longer a secret that the USA was interested in the small arms of competitor states fifty years ago. This treasure was found by the Small Arms of the World staff in a British archive, and this sort of thing is exactly why you ought to subscribe to the site (and the related dead-tree magazines, Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal).

There were numerous other reports evaluating the AK and its ammunition in the pre-Vietnam era. We do not have copies of all; some we know only from bibliographies and reference lists in extant documents, but we’re still looking for them. Some of them included:

  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13042, 7 May 1956, Firing Test:, Soviet 7.62 mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK), MCN 9866.
  • Ordnance Technical Intelligence, OIN 13270, ? April 1959. Wound Ballistics Tests of the Soviet 7,62 mm Bullet, MCN 8300.
  • USATEC letter report on Comparative Evaluation of U. S. Army Rifle 7.62mm, M14; Armalite Rifle Caliber..223, AR-15: Soviet Assault Rifle AK-47; 12 Dec 62.

  • (S) Rifle Evaluation Study (U). US Army Combat Developments Command. 20 Dec 62. In this document, the CDC compared the M14, an improved squad-automatic version of the M14 developed by the US Army Infantry Board, the AR-15, the AK-47, and the vaporware Special Purpose Infantry Weapon (SPIW), and recommended M14 adoption be slowed and AR-15s be bought for units not committed to NATO. Declassified and available at DTIC.
  • (C) Exploitation Report- Comparison of 7.62mm Assault Rifles- Chinese Communist Type 56 and Soviet Model AK. (U). Springfield Armory. November 1964. That’s the document discussed in this post, declassified and available (to subscribers) at Small Arms of the World. (We strongly recommend subscribing, if you’re interested in this stuff. Many historical reports that didn’t make it to DTIC are at SAotW via the National Armories at Leeds, who kept their copies and allowed Dan Shea’s gang to digitize them). 
  • Foreign Materiel Exploitation Report- Rifle, 7.62x39mm, Type 68, Communist China. From HP White Laboratory. April 1973. This is also at Small Arms of the World archives, thanks to the Ezell archives held at National Armories. (Note, this is a large .pdf, 16.7 Mb per SAotW, and you’ll need a subscription there to get it). 

UPDATE 1702R 20140821

Ross Herman at Small Arms of the World was kind enough to post a free-access public link to the ForeignMaterial Exploitation Report. It’s here: http://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/content/pdf/R00413.pdf

Many thanks to Ross for this. We didn’t even ask him, he just did it!

We will add this story to Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech this evening.

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.