Category Archives: Consumer Alert!

Gun Marketing Between the Lines: Taurus, Beretta (Updated)

ITEM: Look Out for the Bull!

A site called Grand View Outdoors has a “review” of the new Taurus Model 180 Curve pistol that could have been written by Taurus’s PR people (maybe it was). (ETA: See UPDATE below). So you see what we’re talking about, here’s Taurus’s promo video:

And here’s Taurus’s web page on the new gun. OK, so that’s the 180 Curve, a melted-looking pocket pistol that’s supposed to hug your body shape and that holds 6 rounds of .380. It has a DAO trigger and the crappy Taurus locking system.

A lot of these details aren’t being mentioned in the stories online here and there, yet they’re easily found or deduced based on stuff Taurus themselves posted. As you can see from this picture, it has an unusual feature for a .380, a locked breech, Browning tipping-barrel style:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-5Note also the complete absence of protruding sights. Taurus explains that that’s because of their new sight system, which appears to consist of a sort of sight post and crosshairs decorating the back of the gun. Here are two pictures showing that — with no clue as to what it would be like in low light:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-6

 

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-2

It seems to be held together, in part, by Allen-key screws.

As you can see in the video, it looks like the mag doesn’t drop free. In addition, it has a magazine disconnect (Taurus’s term) or mag safety: mag’s out, can’t shoot. The magazine safety was always a lousy idea, even when it was implemented by John Moses Browning Himself; when Browning put one in, it was usually because a customer or manager made him do it, and he always did it in a way you could pin it out or remove it. (So many have been taken out of BHPs that some BHP owners don’t know that theirs originally came with the unpopular feature).

Shooters seeing the Curve for the first time might be a bit skeptical about how the handgun actually handles. With its weird shape, curved magazine and boxy lines, can the Curve actually shoot when it counts?

That’s a good question. How will they answer it?

After firing several boxes of .380 at an indoor range near Taurus’s Miami, Florida-based U.S. headquarters, it’s pretty clear the shapely Curve has no problem throwing lead down range. Most shooters experienced few if any malfunctions and the included laser sight made hitting the mark a breeze.

If you read that graf between the lines, you see it was a press junket near Taurus HQ, where an unknown quantity of journos collectively fired “several boxes” of ammunition through, presumably, selected “press guns,” and… “experienced few if any malfs…”

Wait, what? Were there malfunctions? A “few” in “several boxes” of ammo presumably provided by the maker of the GD gun? Newsflash: that’s not “carry gun” reliability. That’s more like “the reputation Taurus is really trying to shake.” But “if any”? Well, did the gun jam or didn’t it? And what’s with the mag having to be pulled out of the magwell in the video? Is that intentional (i.e., crappy magazine safety) or unintentional (i.e., crappy QC)?

The article also claims that the mag withdrawal is due to the mag being curved, but the photos with the article (all seem to be Taurus handouts) and the photos on Taurus’s site show that it isn’t; the grip is curved but the mag is not.

Ph_Curve_Back_W_Magazine

But like anything in life, the Curve isn’t going to be everything for everybody looking for the perfect concealed carry handgun. For one, sized similar to a smartphone, the Curve is little (think Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380). If you’ve got big hands and long fingers, the grip is a little tougher to negotiate and the trigger doesn’t break without negotiating a better pull.

via Taurus Bends The Handgun Market With New ‘Curve’ | 2014-11-18 | Grand View Outdoors.

Is it just us, or is that last sentence unintelligible?

And is it just us, or is the writing visibly worse on a lot of so-called professional, advertising-supported sites than it is on private enthusiasts’ sites? Maybe these guys were just having a bad day.

Now, the Curve is priced very low ($392.42 list, suggesting it may sell for around $350), and with its integral light and laser, and small size, our guess is that they are going to sell these by the boxcar load. Will Taurus have QC problems? Only time and a large quantity of guns in the field will tell. Taurus doesn’t have the best reputation in this area (to put it bluntly, they’ve squandered the good reputation they once had). It is very concealable, and it’s probably better to have “a” gun than to go unarmed because it’s not the “right” gun.

If you remember the Remington R51, you might not be the first in line for one of these. Wait and see is a good policy. And a good question to ask the guy at your LGS, when you’re buying any unknown quantity that’s been around long enough to have made some sales: “Have any of these come back for warranty work?” A small shop, the guys will know right away. Big box stores they won’t (and they might tell you whatever they think will close the sale).

So, that’s Taurus and how they got glowing promotional media from someone with scant exposure to the firearm in question. Let’s move on.

ITEM: Beretta publishes video showing jammed Beretta.

Seriously, this is an own goal, or to mix sports metaphors, an unforced error. What were they thinking? Here’s a still from a video clip of infantry officer trainees shooting Beretta M9s, that was included in a Beretta promo video.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 22.01.34

The slide’s jammed about 3/8″ out of battery and has been for about 3.5 seconds at this point. The still is taken from a Beretta promo video, visible at this link at beretta.com.

And at about 5:11 in the video, the soldier in the right foreground fires, and the gun jams out of battery. They cut the video off there, but not before showing the jam.

It’s all part of a new site Beretta has in place to promote the now-venerable M9/M92 series pistols. The site’s a great idea, but they managed to put up a video showing their flagship gun, which hardly ever jams, jamming. What were they thinking?

What these two incidents have in common

The commonality between the Taurus launch with its unknown number of jams, and the Beretta video with it’s visible jam, is that in both cases professional marketing operations went out in public with something that was distinctly off message. Unforced error again. In the first case, Taurus was (mostly) saved by the gun press’s incredible ability to deny or explain away malfunctions happening right in front of their eyes. In Beretta’s? Our best guess is that the video was edited from a pile of b-roll by someone who was a video pro, not necessarily a gun guy or gal, and the four seconds of failure to return to battery were brief enough that Beretta’s gun guys overlooked it until it was up on their website in front of God and everybody.

There’s no such thing as a firearm that never fails, but your marketing materials will be assumed by the public to have been scrubbed of failures, making the escape of failures into the wild doubly embarrassing.

UPDATE

See the response by Christian Lowe in the comments below. Christian was the reporter for GrandView Outdoors, and he provides more detail about the gun, about the range experience (his Curve never malfunctioned, but he thought someone else’s did), and some insight into the process of writing his article. Thanks!

Here’s a Shocker (not): Red Cross Squandered Disaster Donations

Hurricane Sandy press conference, CEO McGovern in front of trucks pulled from relief efforts to be her backdrop.

Potemkin Relief exposed at a Hurricane Sandy press conference, CEO McGovern in front of trucks pulled from relief efforts to be her backdrop.

When someone says non-profit, our impluse is to reach for a revolver. While the term conjures, for many Americans, mental images of saintly do-gooders, the cold hard fact is that the bigger the non-profit, the more the top ranks are Political Class insiders running the soi-disant charity for personal gain.

Take the Red Cross. A recent report from the left-wing journalistic organization ProPublica savages the non-profit for its incompetent and corrupt mishandling of Hurricane Sandy relief.

At ProPublica, it’s baby duck day, but does anybody beyond the down-on-his-cheeks stage remember the ARC’s response to 9/11? It collected a fortune — and sat on it, to the extent that its vast army of headquarters drones didn’t award it to one another. Remember the Red Cross’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005? Neither do many of the displaced and ruined victims, because the ARC sent empty trucks and staged empty press events. Its focus was, as always, on raising money — it raises, and blows, a billion a year, whether there’s a disaster or not.

In fact, the Red Cross brass welcome disasters, because there’s nothing like some photogenic devastation to tentpole a fund-raising campaign.

Hurricane Sandy led to a fund-raising windfall of almost $400 million. But very little was spent on actual relief, something obvious to people on the ground:

“The Red Cross would have been helpful if it had offered food, water, shelter, cleaning supplies, blankets,” says Rich Wieland, whose house in Toms River, New Jersey was flooded and whose neighborhood lost power for 16 days. His first contact with the charity came two months after the storm when Red Cross workers finally called to offer aid. “It was too little, too late.”
Richard Sturiale, who saw the basement and first floor of his home in the Rockaways destroyed by flooding, recalls that “the only Red Cross truck my neighbors or I saw came two weeks after the storm.” In contrast, he says, Mormon and Amish volunteers “appeared at my doorstep offering much-needed help” just three days after Sandy.

There were plenty of Red Cross trucks, but they were assigned at the personal direction of vastly overpaid CEO Gail McGovern for fund-raising PR duty, standing in the background of press conferences.

That’s the Red X for you: jet-setting to the scene of a disaster — for a fundraising photo op.

Yesterday ProPublica was back with news of an employee survey that found that 39% of employees trusted “senior leadership,” i.e. McGovern and cronies, and only 60% were comfortable with the organization’s ethics.

….[The] survey, which was conducted by IBM, notes that other companies scored better on the questions about trust. About 20 percent of respondents at other companies expressed concern about their organization’s ethics, compared with nearly 40 percent for the Red Cross survey

The charity condemned the journalists for investigating it. Earlier this year, they hired an expensive law firm to conduct a scorched-earth fight against disclosing where the Sandy money went (a fight that was partially successful). Spokeswoman Anna Maria Borrego said at the time that information documenting the charity’s penchant for blowing relief money on fundraising and image-polishing activities was…

proprietary information important to maintaining our ability to raise funds and fulfill our mission.

Here’s a link to ProPublica’s complete Red X coverage.

The Red Cross, in fact, as a hierarchical, centralized, command-driven large enterprise is a lot like military units: a lot depends on the character of the person at the top. The last several people at the top have been the kind that ran the org with a view to their personal bottom lines. It shows.

No Easy Day, the Rifle

We received the following advert in the mail. Posted without extensive comment. It doth embiggen with a click:

ned-4

More information, and sales, at this link.

The promised non-extensive comments:

The carbine is made by USM4, which has a dope deal with the Special Forces Association (which is what the Special Forces Outdoors store is, a store where proceeds in part support this fraternal org for former and current Special Forces members). Obviously USM4 and the SFA have cut some kind of dope deal with Mark Bissonnette (aka Owen) as well.

The carbine seems extremely pricey, but it comes as a complete package. The description of all the included goodies is missing from that ad above, but it’s on the website, and we’ll reproduce it here:

Each No Easy Day Special Missions Carbine rifle package is supplied complete with all components installed including a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul stock and vertical foregrip, Ergo pistol grip, Centurion rail with matching rail covers, AAC flash hider permanently pinned, Surefire M600U weapons sight, L3/EOTech HSS I Holographic weapon sight/G33 magnifier, two Magpul QD sling mounts, two Magpul 30-round magazines, Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, Viking Tactics wide padded MK2 sling, and an autographed and serialized ‘No Easy Day’ hardcover book. The package is available in black or digital desert camo finish. Optional equipment ordered with package will be supplied in matching black or camo/tan finish where available.

There’s a typo in that description (the Surefire M600 is a weapons light, not a weapons sight), but if you look you’ll see that that’s a pretty comprehensively equipped rifle. In fact, that laundry list of goodies doesn’t mention that the set comes in a Pelican case (but it does). The Geissele SSA is the semi-auto version of the trigger Geissele provides to certain SOF elements.

Now, how you feel about Mark “Owen” and his decision not to submit his book for prior review (which would, almost certainly, have spiked the book; there’s one set of rules for suits and admirals, and another set for guys whose war involves discharging firearms), will probably color how you feel about this carbine. Given its high price we expect it to be a relative rarity, but it’s unlikely to be a wise investment (bear in mind what we’ve said about guns as investments). In the long run (20 years +) we expect it to appreciate, but probably not when measured in constant dollars or relative to other possible uses of the money.

Update: Further Description of the Kit

Introducing the ‘No Easy Day’ Special Missions Carbine (SMC), engineered to fulfill the demanding requirements of military combat and designed from the ground up by Mark Owen, conceived at the ‘Tip of the Spear’ during his 14-year career as a U.S. Navy SEAL. The No Easy Day SMC is a complete system, developed with the unique knowledge and experience Owen gained from hundreds of special operations missions. Every component of the No Easy Day SMC has been hand-selected by Mark and the rifle is built and assembled to his exact specifications. Everything you need in a package built for action, at a price you can afford.

The USM4 SMC is a strictly limited production rifle destined to become part of history, born out of direct experience at the front line of America’s defense against terrorism. This is your once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to secure a truly military-grade weapon system, in the configuration personally specified by Mark Owen as his rifle of choice for any special combat mission. “The No Easy Day SMC is simply the finest complete weapon system available,” says Mark Owen. “I would have carried this SMC on any one of my combat deployments.”

Comprised of Mil-Spec all-US-made components by premium manufacturers, the SMC features a Colt SOCOM upper and barrel mated to a USM4 billet lower receiver etched with the No Easy Day logo. Equipped with a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul furniture, Ergo grip and Centurion rail, the SMC is completed with the L3/ EOTech HSS I Holographic Weapons Sight with matching G33 magnifier, Surefire M600U Ultra Scout Light, AAC Blackout flash hider/QD 51T suppressor mount, and a Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, the item of equipment Owen would not go on a mission without. A custom- cut Pelican 1750 hard case houses the complete system.

Every system sold includes a personally autographed copy of Mark’s book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden”, serialized to match the rifle serial number.

This limited edition package includes special offers to obtain optional tactical combat equipment including a civilian version of the L3/Insight APTPIAL-C AN/PEQ-15 Advanced Target Pointer/ Illuminator/Aiming laser with both visible and IR lasers; a TNVC/Sentinel Binocular Night Vision System; an AAC M4-2000 Suppressor (subject to NFA regulations); and an Ops-Core FAST Base Jump military helmet. The Pelican case is supplied with cut- outs ready to accept all this optional equipment.

IN OUR CONTINUING EFFORT TO SUPPORT A COMMUNITY THAT HAS ALREADY DONE SO MUCH, A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THE SALE OF EVERY SMC PACKAGE WILL BE DONATED TO THE SPECIAL FORCES ASSOCIATION AND THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS CARE FUND.

To this we’d add, why not a SEAL charity? We have been advised that “Owen’s” attempts to donate proceeds to various frogman charities have been rebuffed, in the light of his OPSEC violations. (We initially typed OOPSec, which might have been a Freudian typo).

The Other End of the Beretta Market: Wilson Combat 92G

A few days ago we showed you a Beretta 92 (the 2nd major variant, the butt-end-mag-release 92S with decocking safety) available for short money (<$300). Now, here’s a Beretta that sells for well over $1,000 — but may be worth it to a serious Beretta shooter. First, the eye candy:

brigadier-002

It’s a collaboration between Wilson Combat, who this year have expanded from their legendary 1911 platform to custom work on Berettas, and Beretta itself. Basically, this model puts just about every modification you’d want to on a Beretta 92 (except, perhaps, a threaded barrel; M9s and 92s are a natural-born great suppressor host).

Some features of the limited production Wilson Combat/Beretta 92G Tactical include steel ambidextrous decocker-only levers (G model), enhanced Brigadier slide, a modified M9A1 style checkered frame with accessory rail and rounded trigger guard. This model also features enhanced accuracy with an “Elite” style match grade stainless barrel with recessed target crown, the action features a “D” hammer spring for lighter trigger pulls, and Trijicon dovetail tritium front sight and Wilson Combat rear sight. Wilson Combat G-10 grips, Wilson Combat steel guide rod and numerous other features to enhance performance. The 92G Tactical is finished in Beretta black Bruniton and marked with the Wilson Combat logo and specially serialized to ensure its place in Beretta history.

These include a lot of pretty standard Beretta mods, like the G non-safety momentary decocker, the D hammer spring, and Trijicon tritium night sight. They also tighten slide-to-frame fit, and use a skeletonized hammer. The key components that are plastic on standard 92s are all steel on this one: decocker, trigger, magazine release, guide rod. The guide rod is a fluted stainless Wilson part.

brigadier-001

brigadier-006The “Brigadier” slide has more beef in the locking-recesses area than the standard 92 slide.  You either need the M9A1 rail or you don’t. The barrel is recess-crowned for durable accuracy (left).

The serials of the special Berettas begin with “WC” and are then followed by digits (below).

Although the 92G Tactical has been optimized by Beretta to meet the needs of high round count tactical and competitive shooters, further customization and finish work is available through Wilson Combat.

brigadier-004That’s what the website says, but the customization at present is limited to a mag guide and action tuning.

If you already have a Beretta, and have some decent armorer’s skills, Wilson Combat can supply many of the parts they supply on their full-on custom version.

To help launch the new pistol, a quote from Bill Wilson:

Being a serious Beretta collector, I have always considered the 92G SD the best model ever produced, but almost too expensive and rare to shoot. I feel fortunate to have been able to work with the fine people at Beretta USA to produce a pistol that, in my opinion, is an improved 92G SD. Having Beretta USA build my dream 92 series pistol is awesome and I’m very happy that a lot of people will be able to enjoy this fine pistol model.

If you can’t find a Beretta you like between the two extremes we’ve covered in the last few days, you just don’t like Berettas.

No, really, the SKS is “the Next Garand?”

A headline to that effect — actually in the form of a question — at Shotgun News nearly made us throw something. In which ate-up worldview, on which backwards planet, and in which topsy-turvy, mixed-up, tossed-up, never-come-down belief system is the SKS the next Garand? One of them was a US service rifle for almost 40 years (the National Guard went direct from Garands to M-16s), a frontline service rifle for 21-24 of those years (1936-57/60), has combat cred from two victorious wars, and was described by a legendary (if hyperbolic) general as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” In addition, it dominated High Power and Service Rifle target shooting for decades, too, even after the M14 and M16 replaced it in the services’ rifle racks. Indeed, the article hits most of these M1 high points. Meanwhile, the SKS had a mere flash-in-the-pan period as a frontline service rifle in Russia, and was even the second banana in its one great war (the Vietnam conflict, where the preferred NVA weapon was always the AK).

Well, SGN’s Keith Wood was looking for a provocative title, and he sure as hell found one. But as we read the article, our seething subsided. Wood wasn’t dinging the M1, and he was talking instead about something where the SKS seems to be emulating the Garand — market appeal. The Garand was for years in very good supply vis-a-vis demand, thanks to the production of millions; but now the limited (if high) production and survival rates are having an impact, as a constraint on supply; ergo, prices rise. Wood thinks that SKSes may see similar price rises, perhaps not soon, but sooner or later. Here’s the crux of his argument:

When I began hitting gun shows with my dad back in the late 1980s, I recall seeing crates of new SKSs, still in cosmoline, for sale at a mere $79 per rifle ($75 if you bought the entire crate). I don’t recall the country of origin of those rifles, but I believe that they were Chinese Type 56s. Even though I probably had the money in my pocket from working odd jobs, the old man wouldn’t let me take one home — “junk” he said (he has one now). Today, a Chicom SKS will run you north of $300. Even adjusted for inflation, the price has more than doubled in those 25 years. “Surplus is drying up” Jacob Herman at Century Arms International told me when I inquired about the overseas availability of rifles such as the SKS. As fewer guns become available, prices will climb — thus, $300+ SKSs.

Though over 6 million Garands were built, not all of them stayed in the U.S. to be sold as surplus. Garands were shipped to armies all over the world where they have sat in warehouses since later designs were adopted by the armies of those nations. For decades, the best place to purchase a Garand has been through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) — many CMP Garands were sourced from these overseas stockpiles. CMP Garands start at $595 today, and wait times are as long as 9 months. If you don’t want to wait for a CMP rifle, you can buy one off the used market, but be prepared to pay closer to $1000 for a serviceable example. With an executive order preventing many overseas M1s from being re-imported by the CMP, that price is certain to rise further as supplies diminish. Garands are fairly expensive today, but they weren’t inexpensive rifles when they were brand new. The $85 price tag that the Department of War paid for the M1 in the 1940s calculates to almost $1400 in today’s dollars, which means that Garands are actually less expensive today than they were seven decades ago. There was a time though, that Garands were dirt cheap. During the 1950s and 60s, M1 Garands and Carbines were available as surplus for less than the U.S. government paid for them in the 40s. Relatively speaking, the Garand was as available and inexpensive in those days as the SKS was in our recent past.

The heart of the matter is pure economics. You have two rifles that were produced in seemingly endless numbers and sold as surplus for a song. As supplies constrict due to natural or regulatory factors, prices rise. We’ve seen it with Mausers, ’03 Springfields, M1 Carbines, Garands and, yes, even SKSs. Barring unforeseen supplies or future policy changes that will flood the U.S. market with old military rifles, we will see prices of all surplus arms continue to climb. At some point, we’ll likely look back at even today’s high prices longingly as ‘the good ole days.’

We note that SKS prices have already dropped once: when they were allowed to be imported in the 1980s, pent-up demand was quickly sated. Those collectors that had paid handsomely for Vietnam bringbacks (up to $1000) suddenly were looking at the same gun, merely import-marked, with a $139 retail price (or even lower, as Wood noted). If investment is part of your gun-collecting plan, that’ll leave a mark, and the market is always subject to such fluctuations and corrections.

But before you make investment part of your gun-collecting rationale, we have some bad news for you.

A Firearm is Seldom a Wise Investment

Unless your alternative is something like hookers and blow, firearms are generally a rotten investment, and that’s the inner MBA talking, not the gun geek. (The MBA is the one you want to listen to at investment time). Some firearms appear to have appreciated well, when in fact they’ve merely held their value or appreciated slowly. For example, take a nice Winchester-made Garand purchased in 1978 for $600. Today it’s worth $1500. It was originally purchased by the War Department, Wood notes, for $85 (a lot of money, in 1945). So it looks at a glance like the value has more than doubled since ’78, and grown almost 20-fold since its manufacture.

But that makes a common error — it fails to account for the time value of money. And it makes another error — it fails to account for inflation. On inflation grounds alone, firearms are a weak investment. Here’s that M1 Garand example, and a 1980 and 1988 SKS examples to go with it:

Appreciation Original Values 2014 Values
Rifle Year Value …of Gun …of Cash (CPI) …of Cash (Invested) Inflation Factors
Winchester Garand 1978 $650 $1,400 $2,373 $9,744 The gun appreciated, but not in real-dollar terms. In 1978 dollars, the Garand is now worth $384! The Invested column is based on the S&P 500 Compound Annual Growth Rate, adjusted for inflation.NOT adjusted, the results are: $36,569.
Chinese SKS, non import marked 1980 $450 $350 $1,300 $6,597 Investment? You lose money, compared to simply holding even with inflation. In 1980 dollars, this VN bringback SKS is worth $91.50 Not adjusted for inflation, S&P 500 returns $20,048.
Chinese SKS, import marked 1988 $130 $250 $375 $867 In constant 1988 dollars, this gun is about a wash at $124.25.You still would have done better in the S&P 500. Not adjusted, $1,751.
©2014 WeaponsMan.com

The basic calculators we used are the Inflation Calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the stock-market Compound Annual Growth Rate Calculator at MoneyChimp.com.

If you play with these calculators until you understand them, you can save yourself a lot of money on graduate school. Even sophisticated investors often fall into the trap of working in floating rather than constant dollars. (If you want to know how much a gun you bought in 1980 has appreciated, you must figure the appreciation in either 1980 or 2014 dollars, or you’re working with inconstant units and will get a pleasant, but false, number).

Likewise, time value of money is a hard concept to internalize. It’s a measure of opportunity cost; it’s what potential for that money you lose when you invest it in, say, an SKS. You can’t put the same dollar into your brokerage account and your gun safe.

As you can see, an investment in an S&P 500 index fund beats almost any tangible personal property or collector’s item. Most small investors try to pick individual stocks, and wind up not doing as well as an index fund.

However, not everyone has the discipline to invest in an index fund and keep their jeezly mitts off the money for two or three decades. If you are THAT guy (or gal), a safe full of firearms is a sort of forced savings; guns, if maintained, lose their value much less rapidly than other items like cars or home remodeling, and don’t lose all value the way consumption items like jewelry, electronics or vacations do.

X Products AR Can Launcher

There’s modular, and there’s crazy modular. Here’s an AR upper with a twist — it contains a plugged, ported barrel, and launches an ordinary 12 oz. soft drink can out to 100 yards. Coming soon from X Products, you can preorder it (as an upper) now with a $20 deposit.

Can_Cannon_Right_Hand_View_with_Logo

More fun than anyone should have… The Can Cannon is a patent pending launching device that uses a propriatary gas ported barrel and pressure tube to launch heavy, thin wall objects, without burning a hole in them or directing hot gas directly into them. Currently set up for launching full un-opened 12oz soda cans, when used with standard mil spec blanks it can reach an average distance of 105 yards!
Why would you launch a soda can? Because it’s fun! Plus, it’s an incredibly fast and fun decoy to shoot at. Every demonstration leads to more smiles and laughs than any product we’ve ever introduced. BATFE approved design is not considered a Destructive Device or firearm.

via AR-15 Soda Can Launcher – Accessories Launcher – X Products.

Expected cost of the whole thing will be $399 or less (again, this is upper only) and it works with GI M200 blanks.

X Products is, of course, well known for its line of 50-round drum magazines for ARs and various other rifles in 5.56, 7.62 and 9mm. One is shown above in the Can Launcher, and the one below is in a Black Rain Ordnance AR.

X-15_Drum_in_Black_Rain_Rear_ViewThe metallic X Products drums are heavy for a 50-round mag, but reliable (although they can be… selective… about the supposedly-STANAG weapons they’ll work with, X is pretty up-front with this information).

You’re probably wondering a few things. Like: how does X make this work? And how did they get ATF to sign off on this as a non-gun? And we wouldn’t be Weaponsman.com if we didn’t have answers for you.

That big, soda-can-caliber cylinder threads on like a free-floating fore-end, but the barrel of this AR is radically different. It’s short, and ported, and capped. When you drop a can in, it rests on the cap and creates a de-facto high-pressure-low-pressure system like that going on inside a 40mm grenade.

The blank’s high pressure in the barrel exits through the ports into the large area behind the can, pressurizing it and sending the can downrange with a satisfying toonk!

The pressure in the “low pressure chamber” behind the can is sufficient to launch the can.

The ATF, for their part, appears satisfied that the capped blanks-only barrel is not intended for live-ammunition use. (And indeed, if you tried it, you would not be pleased with the result).

There are videos of this in action at the link above. So, how much did we like it? Enough to put ourselves down for one:

order_screenshot

 

We have absolutely no earthly, practical use for the thing (X Products suggests launching decoys for training gun dogs, but our dog only thinks he’s big enough to do that). But we are buying it because it’s neat, it will be fun if we can figure out where to shoot it, and because imagination ought to be encouraged, and we know no better encouragement than the profit motive.

 

Dirt Cheap Beretta 92’s — but there’s a catch (or two)

Palmetto State Armory has some very attractively priced Beretta 92s, but there’s a catch — the magazine catch. These are the transitional 92S: the magazine catch is in the classic bottom of the mag position, like a P.38, but it is a Browning/Luger type push button. The pictures tell the story.

92s police tradein

This picture shows both controls (including the 92S mag release) and the generally worn condition of the deal guns.

This mag release makes the 92S a dog on the market, and you can find a used one for $400-500 in great shape. But these well-thrashed cop turn-ins are marked down from $399.99 for $289.99, which is a pretty low cash hurdle to get you into a decent large-cap service pistol. Like the same-size M9, it’s not an EDC piece unless you are Owen Z. Pitt’s size, live in Frostbite Falls where no-one questions your parka, or take the “Printing? DILLIGAFF  about printing?” attitude. But plenty of people do carry them.

Some of them seem to be in nicer condition, but it's the luck of the draw -- expect a trashed one.

Some of them seem to be in nicer condition, but it’s the luck of the draw — expect a trashed one.

Our first Beretta, when SOF units were just fooling with them, was a 92S and we were perfectly happy with it; it was the model that moved from a frame-mounted safety to a slide-mounted decocking safety, like the P.38 from which Beretta copied the locking system (decades earlier, for the 1951). As we normally release mags with the left hand rather than shift grip on an M9 to use the right hand thumb. We did carry it every day three seasons, until we changed to M9 and later CZ. Summertimes we had to go to backup gun as primary, as there’s no way to hide this thing in shorts and a t-shirt.

We’re not sure if the 92S mag release is “ambidextrous” or actually reversible like the one on the M9 — we think not, we’d have to check the book. The safety is not ambi, it’s RH only.

Beretta Model 92S, Used Italian Police Trade In’s.
All pistols are functional. Condition varies with the luck of the draw. Most show holster wear, some have scratches and cosmetic blemishes. Has the older European style magazine release, located at the bottom of the left side of the grip. These will also work with current production Beretta 92FS factory magazines (unknown if aftermarket magazines will work).

via Beretta 92S Italian Police Trade In’s 9mm.

Aftermarket magazines may not have the cut for the 92 and S mag catch. GI M9 magazines do not. Making the cut is trivial, but Beretta magazines are not outrageously priced or hard to find. We have heard that Taurus mags do, and do not, fit, but have never tried them (we believe Taurus has discontinued all its Model 92 clones).

These early 92s have much stronger, machined locking blocks than the investment-cast and MIM ones in most M9s and later 92s. The US Army and Beretta both redesigned the locking block several times after the failures started happening with the cast blocks, and they both claim to have licked the problem.

The 92S was replaced by the 92SB and then the 92F which is functionally the M9.

But $289.99? We knew we were keeping that set of Pachmayr 92S grips for something. 

Hat tip, /r/gundeals.

Here’s an AR training aid of sorts

We have our doubts as to whether an injection-molded plastic part, even one with brass inserts, will be serviceable as a practical AR-15 lower. Even the manufacturer says so. (Yes, we now you can build a lower out of anything, but even the forged-aluminum-alloy originals wound up benefiting from reinforced pivot pin receiver bosses and a beefier buffer tower). But just for showing off how an AR trigger mechanism works, they’re the cat’s ass!

unpolished ghost gun receiver

We are proud to offer our Clear Stripped Lower Receiver we are calling the “Ghost Gun.” This lower is made as a training tool and product showcase model that is usable but is not designed for the rugged use that our fiber-reinforced Nylon models are. We designed this model to showcase trigger and internal function for teaching and industry usage. This receiver is made from a UV stabilized Nylon that is highly resistant to oils and lubricants. It also weighs in at 3.6oz ( the lightest receiver that has ever been made) Any high quality parts kit can be installed but minor fitting might be required.

flame poliched ghost gun receiverThe manufacturer, Tennessee Arms Co. LLC, offers the “ghost” receiver for under $60; a flame-polished version, which makes the surface of the plastic smooth and clear, is an extra $10, or you can do it yourself with a propane torch (and a great deal of caution). Or you can use the receiver in its standard, translucent mode (seen in the image at top).

Another good use might be to show off different AR triggers on a shop counter.

Because it is a complete receiver, it must ship to an FFL (or export in accordance with law). They do reiterate the warning about durability on their sales page:

This receiver is only intended as a teaching tool and for product showcase. If regular hard use is intended please purchase one of our Fiber-Reinforced Nylon models.

via Ghost Gun- Clear Stripped Lower Receiver – Tennessee Arms Company, LLC.

Along with the clear receiver, which they say is a clear aliphatic polyamide (Nylon), TN Arms also makes opaque receivers of other nylon polymers. Nylon has a long history in firearms; the first mass-produced plastic receiver was nylon (the Remington Nylon 66), as are Glock receivers.

The injection molding of the receiver seems to have been quite a challenge, with two brass or bronze inserts, limited draft, and areas that have to be cored, including the magazine well, trigger pocket, and mag release pockets, to name a few. We’d like to see that mold! (And we wouldn’t like to pay the bill for it!)

Guest Post: A Plague of Fakes

We’ve been wanting to write about fakes for a while. But we’ve been handed this guest post by the guys at Rock Island Auctions. We’ll have editorial comment on the subject of fakes, later, but right now, we’re going to give it to you the way it came in, with no editorial adjustments except for an added title, and typo and grammar fixes, which if substantive, will be in brackets: [ weaponsman insert]. -Eds.

A Plague of Fakes

by Joel R. Kolander, Rock Island Auctions.

“Fool your enemies, sell them this great fake.”

Quote from James D. Julia March 2014 Firearms Auction Catalog, Lot 2230

In the business of firearms auctions, it is simply an unavoidable fact of life that one is going to come across what is known as a spurious firearm.  For those unfamiliar with the term, “spurious” is the most gracious way of calling something a fake.  Phony.  Bogus.  At its most innocent, a fake or counterfeit item can be sold as such.  Someone may want that Russian Contract 1911 pistol with spurious Cyrillic text, as a representation of the original but at only a fraction of the cost.  In fact, many replica cars are sold just the same way.  You wouldn’t find me turning down a replica of a 1968 AC Cobra, but I’m definitely not going to pay the same price as the original.  There is a market for such pieces given that they are priced accordingly and disclosed as such to the buying public.  Much like the AC Cobra example, replicas can be extremely desirable and a lot of fun.

Sometimes, collectors, and even auction houses, can make mistakes in good faith.  Perhaps they [are] in possession of such a meticulously crafted forgery that it is impossible to tell the difference save for some of the world’s foremost experts.  Is anyone to be held to blame in such an event, except the forger?  No, for both parties acted in good faith and intent with what they thought was a “real” object.  However, if after the fact the buyer were to find that their item was not 100% as claimed, then it would be the duty of the seller to make it right.  It is exactly scenarios like this why Rock Island Auction Company offers a guarantee of the headline of every single item in their Premiere Firearms Auctions.  Should that item not be as advertised in the item’s headline, RIAC will make it right via a full refund.  We even put it in the front of every Premiere Auction Catalog right there in the Terms and Conditions.

Honesty and integrity are two qualities indispensable to an auction house, or any selling business.  It’s as simple as knowing that if you burn someone once, they’re not going to return, and if there are too many people who question their transactions, the sellers carefully built reputation can nose-dive faster than German U-boat.  Businesses stand to gain much more from positive experiences and good word-of-mouth advertising, than they could ever achieve by being less than completely truthful.

It is with that dedication and responsibility to fairness, that we can examine the last kind of spurious arms: out-and-out fakes maliciously sold as the genuine article for profit.  It goes without saying that the faking of firearms hurts the collecting community.  Not only is it fraudulent, it erodes trust, and could potentially lower the prices of authentic items.  Jim Supica, current Museum Director of NRA Museums, once detailed several types of fraud in an article he wrote for the Blue Book of Gun Values.

  • Aging and modifying a modern reproduction or replica firearm to pass it as an original
  • Altering a common model to make it appear to be a rare model
  • Adding modern engraving to an older gun, and passing it as original period engraving
  • Creating false historical documentation or attribution of historical usage.
  • Altering a firearm to a more valuable configuration – for example, rare barrel length, uncommon finish, special grips, or fancy stock, rare caliber.
  • “Upgrading” a low grade gun to resemble a higher grade by the same maker.

As we mentioned before, even Rock Island Auction Company is not immune to these types of guns, and the obvious recourse is to make it right.  We have done so on numerous occasions, most notably on an episode of our T.V. show “Ready, Aim, Sold!” when we found we were dealing with a fake Winchester 1 of 1,000.

You may wonder what causes an article of this type to be written.  It is the need to distance ourselves from several potentially spurious firearms previously in our possession and sold by RIAC, and currently being offered for sale at James D. Julia Auction.  In their auction is a collection with many firearms with claims of provenance to the Battle of Little Bighorn, Gen. George Custer, and several Native American warriors.  However, the claims of provenance appear downright false, and we know because we have previously sold some of the firearms in question.  We would like it to be known that Rock Island Auction Company never sold any of the guns in this collection with any of their current provenance claims and did not sell them to the current consignor of James Julia.  Two of the firearms in question were sold by RIAC, to a dealer, within the last 14 months.  A third, a single action revolver with alleged ties to Cheyenne chief Two Moons, was previously turned down by RIAC from this same Julia consignor, when its lack of documentation was discovered. However it was sold in a previous James Julia sale for an enormous amount of money.

Colt 1860 Army sold in RIAC’s June 2013 (on top) Regional Firearms Auction.
Hammered for $2,000

colt_1860_ria_image

SAME Colt 1860 Army, listed in Julia’s Oct 2014 sale as “used by Nicholas Black Elk at the Little Bighorn Battlefield.”
Estimate: $8,000 – $12,000

colt_1860_julia_image

Southerner Single Shot sold in RIAC’s February 2014 Regional Firearms Auction.
Hammered for $1,000

southerner_ria_without_lbh_claim

 

SAME Southerner Single Shot, listed in Julia’s Oct 2014 sale as “used by Oglala Sioux warrior Charging Hawk to kill George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.”
Estimate: $25,000 – $40,000

southerner_julia_with_lbh_claim

A fourth firearm was sold by Little John’s auction house during their May 2011 sale.  It is also being listed again with questionable claims.

Colt 1860 Army Listed in Little Johns May 2011 Auction Estimate: $1,500 – $3,000

Colt 1860 original auction

SAME Colt 1860 Army, listed in Julia’s Oct 2014 sale as,
“found by Nicholas Black Elk at the Battle of Little Bighorn.”
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

1860_army_julia_claiming_lbh_pickup

 

 

Now, since we have discovered these questionable guns, James D. Julia has pulled them from their website catalog.  We do not know what their plans are with these guns, but we are hoping it is a transparent act in the spirit of honesty to help return some peace of mind to the collecting community. Further, we wonder what recourse the buyers of the same consignor items in the Julia sale in March have? However, as it currently stands, we are not optimistic for a positive outcome for the people for the following reasons.

The first reason lies in the listing for a facsimile Colt Walker sold by them in their sale held in the spring of 2014.  In the items description, after touting what an excellent fake the gun is, the following sentence appears in the item’s official description.

“Fool your enemies, sell them this great fake.”

Julia Fake Walker

Those are words you will never find at Rock Island Auction Company.  As discussed earlier, to sell guns openly disclosed as fakes or replicas is one matter, but to encourage deception of another firearms collector is something that no collector or investor should abide.  This sort of sentiment, in combination with the wild claims of provenance, should cause grave concern to any buyer who purchased some of the $240,000 of items sold by this collector in the James D. Julia March 2014 auction.  We began this article by stating that every auction house will, from time to time, receive fake guns.  Julia’s is no exception and we await to see how they not only handle the items currently removed from their website, but also the $240,000 worth of  items sold this past March. Let it be known yes we sold some of these guns previously, we as in RIAC yet we have no ties to this obvious deception now on going in the next James Julia sale.

“A gun with a story and no documentation, is just a gun with a story.”

The Issue with Gun Publications

shootingtimes The issue with gun publications, whether they’re the paper kind or the online kind, is that they’re generally so dependent on the goodwill of manufacturers that they tend to puff everything. We’re going to pick on one article at Shooting Times, from earlier this year: a comparo of seven budget ($400-900) 1911 clones. The guns were from an array of mainstream handgun makers: Magnum ResearchAmerican Tactical Imports,  Auto-OrdnanceRugerParaSpringfield, and Taurus.

1911_Shootout_F

First, a disclaimer: there’s nothing especially bad about this article, and the author, Paul Scarlata, is a real gun expert who generally knows what he’s writing about. So we want you to understand that while we did single this article out, it was not because there’s anything specially wrong with it. Quite the contrary: we singled it out as typical of the optimistic evaluations gun writers tend to give to the hardware that the nice guys at the gun companies lend them to test.

First, let’s have a thought experiment. What would your requirements for a 1911 be? What features or performance would be mandatory (“must haves”) and what would be positive, but not mandatory, “should have” characteristics?

Let us propose one absolute requirement: it would have to work. That is, function: go bang and load the next round when the bang button is bumped, hit the target, that sort of thing. Ideally, it would have to work with a wide range of common ammo, and it would have to work almost all the time — an issue 1911 wasn’t terribly accurate, but it approached the quality control Holy Grail of six-sigma reliability with issue 230-grain hardball. None of the tested budget 1911s was a GI, milspec gun; most of them had all kinds of add-on features: extended triggers, skeletonized hammers, beavertail grip safeties, beveled mag wells. Most of this junk is marketing box-checking on a mass-produced gun. Most of the guns also used industrial processes that saved time, some of them doing it at the expense of quality, interchangeability (which was not tested) or reliability.

We learned through lots of gunsmithing that most of the things you did to a 1911 to make it more accurate had a deleterious effect on reliability. Adding target or tactical competition features to a low-cost mass produced .45 almost guarantees problems. And Shooting Times found the problems — and glossed over them.

First, two of the guns had key-activated locks. These feel-good gadgets add complexity without adding safety.

But the reliability of the guns was really the shocker. Each gun didn’t have to do a 6,000 round torture test; it had to make it through a mere two staged drills, the first comprising 2 13-round runs through a field course, and the second, 3 9-round runs against plates. So each pistol had to function (for each of five shooters) for 53 rounds, or a total of 265 rounds per pistol.

After that, there is a subjective rating score with thirty possible points, five each for “reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, recoil control, trigger, and sights.”

The test was not begun until Scarlata had fired-in each gun with three brands of ammunition. Here the looming problem was foreshadowed:

I experienced several failures to feed or go into battery with the JHP ammo.

Afterwards each pistol was disassembled, cleaned, and lubed, which would be the only maintenance they would receive. If any of them choked during the shootout, we would attempt to clear the problem at the range and keep shooting.

When the test begins, we find the writer making excuses for the shaky guns. They were new; they weren’t shot-in yet. They seemed to be getting better in the second round. It was just some failures to feed and premature lockbacks… nothing big. (Huh?)

And from there, we see that the factory mags were supplemented, for the rest of testing, with premium magazines from well-known vendors.

The first to fall was the Auto Ordnance 1911, a Kahr product.

On the last run of the field course, Dick Jones experienced the first problem of the day when the rear sight of the Auto-Ordnance Thompson 1911 fell off. When we attempted to reinstall it, we discovered that the setscrew was cross threaded and could not be loosened or tightened. It had apparently been tightened just enough at the factory to hold the sight in place, but firing several hundreds of rounds jarred it loose. Because of that the Auto-Ordnance pistol was retired, and none of us were able to shoot it during the plate rack stage.

And then there were six left, moving on to the plate stage. More excuses (“…thanks to temperatures hovering in the mid-90s and the fact that there was no shade, they all got quite hot…”), and then the next one bites the dust:

…the ejector on the ATI FX45 sheared off, preventing me from completing the third rack of plates and one other shooter from using it at all.

And then there were five. Only five guns completed the course, two went down with hardware failures. But these guys applied tee-ball grading standards; the sightless AutoOrdnance (which was also noted for FTFs with JHPs) was given 13 out of 20 on “reliability.” And the ATI, down hard with a failed ejector? They gave that 12 out of 20.

Other guns that were singled out as failures to feed included the MRI Desert Eagle 1911G, and Taurus PT-1911, but none of the contenders were reliable enough to score 20 out of 20 points for “reliability.” But they were all 60% or more of the way there — including the two clunkers that fell apart during the test.

And that says something unkind about today’s commercial firearms market. Out of a sample of 7 guns, 2 of them (28.6%) failed in a very brief and mild round of testing. That’s a pretty lousy result.