Category Archives: Consumer Alert!

A Rocket for a Racket: University of Phoenix in Financial, Regulatory trouble


This is what a Phoenix does, right? Something like this?

The Daily Beast is not an organization you can trust for sympathetic coverae of veterans, and when it does appear, like this, there’s obviously an agenda behind it (in this case, the Administration’s war on inefficient, overpriced for-profit schools, on behalf of its constituents, the administrators and faculty of inefficient, overpriced non-propfit schools).

But they do have a point: lots of vets are blowing their “free” GI Bill money on education programs that have a low or negative return on investment.

burning-wasting-moneyThe point they don’t have is that the non-profit, traditional schools are grubbing for this money just as hard as the likes of the University of Phoenix, and posting similar dreadful graduation and financial numbers. But that’s not the subject, the subject is the greedy, money-grubbing for-profit schools, not the greedy-money-grubbing non-profits.

For the University of Phoenix, which is the largest for-profit higher education institution in the U.S. with an emphasis on online programs, a federal investigation is the latest in a long series of disasters that could topple a once-thriving enterprise.

With this latest investigation, University of Phoenix is under particular scrutiny for recruiting veterans. AP reports that the school’s online program has collected over $488 million in tuition and fees from veterans, not including the hundreds of millions in GI Bill money that individual campuses have collected. Over the last several years, the school has come under fire for allegedly soaking up this GI money while leaving veterans strapped with debt.

Half a billion in GI bill money for the online programs alone. Did you know that some employers do not accept the online degrees as equal to traditional butts-in-seats degrees. (Apparently, it’s not really college unless in includes binge drinking and other forms of undergrad mischief).

New federal rules require schools with career-training programs to produce graduates who can repay their student loans in order to receive federal student aid. For a school that already has notoriously low graduation rates, this bar may be out of reach.

According to Department of Education data, the University of Phoenix online campus has a graduation rate of 7.3 percent and a loan default rate of 19 percent—5 percent higher than the national average. A report from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) claims that 24,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were enrolled in the online program last year.

An online education can be a quick way to grab a ticket, for a  motivated, self-starting student, a phrase which describes many vets. You’re a high risk of dropping out of any school if you’re not (1) a motivated self-starter, and (2) focused on a goal complex that includes your long-term target (a degree or an education — not always equivalents) as well as short-term goals (“six to nine credits this term while holding my regular job.”) In the Army, we use the metaphor of a Trainfire range and call those short term goals “50 meter targets” and long term goals your “300 meter targets.” Just like on the range, you have more time to hit the distant target in your education planning.

Earlier [in July], that CIR report prompted Senator Richard Durbin to ask the Department of Defense to investigate allegations pertaining to the school’s recruiting on military bases.

In response to Wednesday’s news of the FTC investigation, Durbin released a statement saying, “I wish I could say I am surprised by the news that the FTC is investigating the University of Phoenix for unfair and deceptive practices, but these allegations are all too familiar when it comes to the for-profit college industry.”

via Death of a Diploma Mill: University of Phoenix Going Down in Flames? – The Daily Beast.

Look, you know things are topsy-turvy when Dick “Turban” Durbin, the guy whose contempt for our forces is best illustrated by several instances of calling us Nazis, is promoting himself without visible irony as a veterans’ protector. Uh, thanks, Dick, but why don’t you go assist some clowns from your own state?

We hate Illinois Nazis… and Illinois national-socialists who call us Nazis, too.

The biggest thing that leads to educational failure these days is lack of focus and plan. The old rich vein of money your granddad told you about, “Go to college and get a job,” where it doesn’t matter a whit where you went to college or what you learned there, is just about played out. You need to understand what it’s going to cost you (including opportunity costs) to pursue that heart’s desire of yours, and what it’s going to help you make it back. Ignore data that talk about averages, because there’s only one you, and you’re probably not average.

The average wages reported by college grads are skewed high by three things:

  1. They’re based on self reporting, and people who earn crap salaries either lie or don’t answer the surveys, eliminating their low wages from the averages;
  2. They include all the Ivy League trustafarians who would be guaranteed a job in Pater’s hedge fund anyway;
  3. The colleges have a strong incentive to put a thumb on the scales, and they do.

So you also have to sanity check the numbers they’re telling you. For example, many low-end and online (even non-AACSB-accredited) MBA programs tell you how much an MBA can make, quoting you the starting salaries of Harvard and Wharton MBA grads — who are either egg-headed quants, or the above-mentioned trustafarians who will never actually work a day no matter what they’re paid. I guarantee you no one from a second-tier MBA program makes that kind of money, and a no-name MBA is likelt to leave you with debt and no benefit.

Online degrees are a great deal for one class of worker: government workers. Most of them will automatically get more money, as long as the degree is accredited. For people working in the productive economy, there’s no automatic raise.

Some Thoughts on Fakes

This doesn’t have anything directly to do with the ongoing dick-measuring contest between two large auction houses, but there remains truly a plague of fakes industry-wide. Here are a few reasons we said that:

  • Each auctioneer has identified prominent lots offered by the other, that have been misrepresented.
  • The NRA National Firearms Museum takes a great interest in fakes and forgeries; we’ll have some links (mostly to video) below.
  • There’s at least one book on Firearms Fakes and Forgeries, although we found it disappointing.
  • We’ve personally seen misrepresented guns in local gun shops and at auction. While this has been partly because of shopowner ignorance, it’s human nature that the errors have always been in terms of a higher valuation for the gun.

The Auction Lots

We’re not going to dive deep into the claims made by auction houses and online auctioneers — this post is going to be a monster even without that — but we will note that we’ve seen fakes and misrepresented guns on GunBroker a lot.

You may remember the incident some months ago where we identified an NFA firearm represented as a Colt AR-15 Model 601 as, actually, a 601 receiver that had been stripped of almost all its rare original parts, which were replaced with generic M16 and M16A1 bits. For those not in the market, a complete parts kit for a Colt M16 (model 604) or M16A1 (603) can be had for under $1k. A buyer might pay that for certain 601 components, if he was planning to restore a gun like this one. (We have no indication that the dealer knew he was selling a mixmaster). Another problem with a mixmaster is more subtle, and legal: the AR-15 Model 601 is the only M16 variant on the Curio and Relic list at this time. But ATF regulations are clear that a modified gun loses its C&R standing.

AR-15 model 601 at auction

Our previous listing hotlinked the GunBroker photos, which unfortunately have gone dead, but the same dealer is selling a Colt 601 that may be the same gun (photo above) — but if it is, many of the inaccurate parts have been replaced by 601-correct parts (or reproductions thereof). Either that, or it’s a different 601, and it appears it does have some M16A1 parts on it (stocks). Given the same dealer’s recent history, we’d be extremely leery of this gun without prepurchase inspection by someone expert in early AR-15s. These guns are an example of a grey area: not exactly fakes, but not original, either.

We’re even seeing this in the retro AR world: generic ARs with a couple of “retro” features, misrepresented as accurate clones of the XM177E2 or the Son Tay Model 629. (One manufacturer is so notorious for this that he’s changed his name at GunBroker several times to escape bad feedback).

The NRA Resources

Here are links to some NRA Resources on Fakes

  • The Leon “Red” Jackson’s Fabulous Fake Collection. Dallas collector/dealer Jackson spent his entire career removing fakes from the market: he donated his fakes to the Museum, where they remain in the Vault (forever, under the terms of the gift) under NRA HQ. In this video, the fake collection is explained starting at about 4:00, and then Phil Schreier shows a fake “stretched” Colt Paterson and illustrates some of the red flags on fakes.
  • What is a fake? An essay by Jim Supica, extracted from the Blue Book of Gun Values.
  • Case 54 at the Museum (which may have been renumbered Case 79A) contains 11 counterfeit 19th Century handguns.  Unfortunately the descriptions contain long descriptions of what the actual pistol was or the history of its maker, and merely a line or two explaining why it’s counterfeit. Sometimes the answer is obvious, like with this crude engraving job and amateur-looking faux-Tiffany grips.Fake Engraved ColtHere’s a video of the Museum’s Phil Schreier describing just how this gun is fake — with a sad story about a fellow who was taken for $80,000 for a similar fake firearm:

The Fake and Fraud Book

At least one book tries to address this problem: The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Fakes and Reproductions, by Rick Sapp. The cover promises that the reader will, “Know what to look for; tell the difference; buy with confidence!” We didn’t get quite that out of it. Just now, handling the book, it’s not as bad as we first thought and contains a lot of good information, but it’s badly organized, with the photos thrown in seemingly randomly (if a photo caption catches your eye, don’t expect to find material on the issue depicted in the photo anywhere near it… but it may be in the book somewhere). Still, it’s the only book we know, and it has some good examples of eye-popping forgeries.

Guns we’ve Seen Ourselves

The most common thing is an attempt to use an ephemeral story, verbal or, occasionally, written, to inflate the value of a gun. One extremely common example is to misrepresent an uncommon commercial 7.62mm American Eagle Luger as an extremely rare US Army Test 7.62mm firearm. We probably see that in person or online five or six times a year! Luger collecting in general is a hotbed of forgery.

Sometimes the story doesn’t try to change the gun, just tries to attribute it to somebody higher-speed. Again, this is epidemic with German WWII stuff, like SS provenance. Some of that is the result of mild exaggeration. (Not every pistol could have been carried from “a dead SS officer,” but it’s amazing how many SS officers we killed by the time elderly GIs, and their sons and grandsons, got around to telling the story). Sometimes it’s something more serious; I don’t think there’s an FFL out there that hasn’t handled guns, wittingly or unwittingly, without fake Waffenamt markings and/or bogus SS runes. (Few SS guns had any SS indicia stamped on them, actually). A cursory search online should find you the stamps that make these markings, often sold with a wink-and-a-nod for “restoring” WaA’s. Yeah, riiiiiight. Like 17-year-olds buy fake IDs to save wear and tear on their own drivers’ licenses, eh?

We’ve even bought a couple of such guns, after doing our due diligence. One of them is a Chinese Type 56 SKS that came from Fayetteville, NC in 1983 (before SKS imports) with this verbal story:

It was captured by a unit in Cambodia in 1970. It was then presented to a member of that unit with a brass plaque on the buttstock. (The plaque is gone, but you can see marks from the four brads that held it). Then, his ex-wife sold it after throwing him out and divorcing.

That story is reasonable, plausible, and not inconsistent with the evidence. (The non-import-marked gun does have the brad marks, was unfired with grease in the barrel on acquisition — it isn’t now — and was of manufacturing details and serial number block similar to a quantity of Cambodian-captured SKSes then held in Arms Room Nº4 for SF training). But there’s no positive evidence of the truth of the story: no capture papers, no plaque, no identification of the unit or the individual in question. The story is as likely to be bullshit as not; it should not change the value of the gun, in our opinion, and we paid the then-going rate for a Vietnam bringback SKS in good condition for it. We’d be churlish not to pass the story on, and we’ve written up a provenance for the gun that recounts the story (while noting that it is completely undocumented), but we don’t believe it’s worth more than any non-import-marked SKS.

Then, there’s the Bubba’d Nagant. This firearm was presented in the 1980s by a now-long-defunct gun shop, Bay State Arms in Southboro, MA, with the following story:

This was part of a larger collection, and was represented to us as an NKVD short-model M1895 Nagant revolver. It was shortened for secret police use. It has no front sight because it was meant to be used as a point-blank execution pistol and didn’t need sights at all.

Unlike the Type 56 tale, this firearm’s story was not reasonable or plausible for several reasons. There’s no historic indicator that the NKVD used short-barrel Nagants. The pistols used in the Katyn massacre, for example, are extremely well documented to have been 7.65 x 17SR (.32 ACP) pistols the NKVD acquired from Nazi Germany, at the time a Soviet ally. And the barrel shortening appears to have been done by Wile E. Coyote his ownself, because Bubba would not stoop so low. The front couple inches of the barrel were hacked off, crookedly; there’s no front sight, and no attempt at muzzle crowning. It looks more like a bob job executed by a street criminal than even a botched effort at kitchen gunsmithing. It came with an unmarked and incredibly cheap and flimsy shoulder holster that might have originally been made for a throwaway H&R or Iver Johnson .32, but certainly wasn’t ever in an NKVD arsenal.

Now, here’s what happened at the shop: Bob at Bay State was a knowledgable and ethical gun dealer, who sold us many thousands of dollars worth of rare and exotic firearms, and never was anything but straight with us. He told this story as what the seller told him, with one eyebrow raised in disbelief, and at the end of the story, we both said almost in unison: “Of course, that’s bullshit.” Because, of course, it is. We bought the Nagant because (1) it was so cheap, maybe $30, and (2) Nagants were, at the time, exceedingly rare (yes, you may find that hard to believe, but it was a much rarer Korean or Vietnam bringback than a Tokarev, SKS or Mosin). On examination, the gun turned out to be a Belgian-made Nagant without the famous gas-seal mechanism of the Russian service pistol; it appears to be 7.5mm in caliber, not 7.62mm. Despite being disfigured by the hack job and neglect, it clearly was originally extremely well made, with tight fit and the remains of gorgeous flame blue on some parts; it might have evolved into a collectors’ item of some kind if Bubba had not had at it with some household saw.

Note that there’s a difference between a gun with a story, where the story doesn’t change the value, and a fake. The difference? That the seller does not attempt to secure a higher value by passing the story on. You could argue that our “Trophy” SKS and Bubba’d Nagant were “fakes,” because there’s an apocryphal story attached to each. But we’ll pass the stories on with the guns, because they came with the guns.

Sometime we’ll tell you about the Taliban Beheading Sword that sits next to the fireplace. Now there’s a story.

Brownells has Retro M16A1 Barrel Assemblies

These barrels are made to M16A1 spec and are marked: MFR 12238 CHROME BORE 1:12 under the handguard. (As they’re marked with not-period-correct laser engraving).

Brownells A1 barrel

They match the drawing profile, they have chromed bores, non-F-marked front sight bases, triangular handguard cap and M16 (not M4) feed ramps in the barrel extension.

As far as how they arrived at this marking, you’re not going to believe this, but they asked — specifically, the denizens of the Arfcom Retro Forum (they are close to the final version of the marking on the first page, but nail it on Page 3).

Brownells A1 barrel rear

Other alternative A1 profile barrels include those by, Green Mountain, and McKay Enterprises, but all of them differ in some significant way from the A1 barrel (for example, AR15Sport’s 1:12 pencil barrels are not chrome lined and are assembled with M4 feed ramps; Green Mountain’s is unassembled; McKay comes with an F-marked front sight base).

Looks like an easy way to complete one of those M16A1 kits that was kicking around here a while back.

Law of Self Defense Seminar — a Review

Law of Self Defense Andrew BrancaWe’ve written before about the excellent thing that is Andrew Branca’s book, The Law Of Self Defense. We recommend it to everybody. He also does live seminars on particular states’ or groups of states’ laws. We recently attended such an event as a guest of Andrew.

Let us make perfectly clear what this means: we attended without paying his usual fee, so we’ll decline, if ever offered, the excellent perk that goes with attending a seminar: an hour’s free legal consultation, should you ever be involved in a self-defense incident.

An hour? we can hear some of you skeptic’s thinking aloud out there. What earthly good is an hour of a lawyer’s time? It turns out, for an individual facing possible indictment or charges in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting, a very real possibility these days, what he or she needs is a criminal defense attorney admitted to the bar and familiar with the courts locally, and what that attorney needs is someone like Andrew as a backstop — someone who can tell them what elements of self-defense need to be present in their fact pattern to win the case.

Of course, most of us are not attorneys (although there were an interesting set of them taking advantage of the Continuing Legal Education credits the seminar provides). Most of the attendees were shooters and everyday defensive carriers.

For us, the take-away from the seminar is what to do to establish a fact pattern that can prevent our indictment, get the case tossed in the motions phase, or, if all else fails, deliver a win in court.

A win in court sure beats a loss, but Andrew emphasizes that it isn’t an absolute win. “The process is the punishment,” and even a “victorious” defendant emerges financially ruined and reputationally tattered. It gets considerably worse if the media decides to play buzkashi with your head. George Zimmerman’s legal bills are between him and his lawyers, but they’re estimated at over $1 million. And even if George can ever earn his way out from under that debt (like Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys?) he still has a large number of people who, inflamed by false and careless media reporting, think he got away with murder. One of them took a shot at him this year. (Imagine the restraint it took not to shoot back). And the guy that shot at him was released on bail, where he’s since been busted again for another violent crime.

The system seems sometimes to be spring-loaded against the guy who’s a first-time participant, and full of breaks for the frequent flyers. Andrew doesn’t defend this system, but he does tell you what it is, and how to survive it.

Can’t You Just Teach Yourself?

No, you can’t. Why not? Because, where are you going to learn the law? Trying to reason from the Constitution would be fine if that’s what courts actually did, but that’s not what they do. They don’t even work from the state’s own self-defense law, alone. We have said before that for a layman (non-lawyer), trying to read statutes is a chump’s game. What “the law” is in a courtroom is a farrago of statute, court decisions, and jury instructions from previous cases. It gets even worse. Some court decisions are precedential and subsequent courts rely upon them, others are unpublished and you can’t rely on them, to name just one tiny example.

What happens when you use a Self Defense, er, defense

The DA has measured, and this fits you.

The DA has measured, and this fits you.

The first thing is that some very big elements of the crime — and yes, people who defend themselves are often charged with crimes up to and including murder, just ask George — are proven for the prosecution by your self-defense argument.

Because you’re not saying I didn’t do it. You’re admitting that you did it. But you’re saying I had a justifiable reason for committing this crime, one that makes it not a crime. In this way, a self-defense based defense is very different from an alibi defense, for example — the alibi supports the idea that I didn’t do it.

George Z, for instance, never denied he was right there, and never denied shooting Trayvon Martin. His self defense plea simplified the task for the prosecution — all they had to do is disprove one of the elements of self-defense, because he’d already admitted almost everything else they’d need to convict him of murder. He had admitted:

  1. He was there
  2. He fired his gun
  3. He intended to shoot Trayvon

…and, of course, no one disupted that:

4. Trayvon died.

In a case like Zimmerman’s, your self-defense plea may be a matter of life or death. (Since prosecutors had taken the death penalty off the table, for George it was a matter of life or life in prison, a fate worse than death for a lot of free men).

Where’s the Burden of Proof? What are the Elements of Self-Defense?

First, who has to prove that your actions were self-defense? This varies from state to state, but in general, you do.

And the elements you have to prove are:

  • Innocence: you have to be defending, not attacking. 
  • Imminence: you have to fear death or grievous injury right now, not sometime next week.
  • Proportionality: if someone flips you the bird and you do a double mag-dump in him, you’re going to have issues with the justice system.
  • Avoidance: Did you try to avoid the violence or did you welcome it?
  • Reasonableness: What would that mythical “reasonable man” think about your use of force?

Each of these items is handled a little bit differently in every state’s law. And many of them are fairly subjective, but they’re not subjective based on what you think or what you thought at the time, but on what our ideal reasonable man would think.

In the seminar, Andrew not only introduces these concepts but illustrates them with cases familiar from the national news, and (perhaps more to the point) unfamiliar, but illustrating the case law in the specific states. (For this iteration, it was MA and NH).

Why Do Self-Defense Pleas Fail?

Law-ScaleAndHammerThe most common reason is this: attorneys can only work with the facts they have, and often they get a crappy fact pattern. If any one of the five elements of a self-defense plea fails, the whole plea fails: the chair must stand on all five legs or it falls.

Some of these distinctions can be extremely subtle. The difference between innocence and failed innocence, for example, can be a simple as an attacker’s desisting in the attack and attempting to withdraw. If you pursue, you’re the new attacker. If you provoke the attack, you’re not innocent. If you lay in ambush to drygulch somebody, your case for avoidance crumbles, etc. The most common error in proportionality is to answer non-deadly force with deadly force.

On the subject of Avoidance, Andrew showed us a favorite prosecutor’s trick: to show an illustration of the area where the confrontation took place, with every possible avenue of escape illustrated with a red arrow. “Even if only one of these was not blocked,” the DA will intone, “you must convict” the defendant. It can be “terribly effective,” Andrew warns, with juries. But there’s legal jiu-jitsu to use here, too: you only have to demonstrate that the way out, while not blocked, was not safe. If the assailant has a projectile weapon like a gun, can you turn your back on him? If he’s knife-armed and faster than you?

The Things People Think Are Legal, But…

One of the biggest things that lands well-meaning people in the legal stewpot is bad information. The only source of good information about self-defense law is a lawyer who’s trained to interpret the documents where the law really resides: statutes, court decisions, and jury instructions. Have you heard any of this advice:

  • “If you shoot him outside, drag him back in the house.”
  • “Shoot, shovel, and shut up.”
  • “If he didn’t have a gun, put a kitchen knife in his hand before you call the cops.”
  • “Don’t call the cops.”

Along with these there are things that might be legal, but are stupid. One example is clamming up completely: Andrew makes a persuasive case for a “say little” approach to the police instead of the well-known “say nothing,” which can make the police start to treat you as a suspect. Remember, cops spend 90% of their time relating to people in a binary world: victim, or suspect? You want them to think you at least might be the victim here, or you’re not going to like the bin they put you in.

The Advantage of Minding Your Own Business vs. Some Bad Ideas

handcuffs_1More than one guy has landed in the legal soup when he made a snap decision that some damsel in distress needed rescuing. Sometimes the case wasn’t what it looked like; sometimes it was, but beaten-up Juliet gets back with beater Romeo and it’s their word against yours, Future Inmate Number.

There’s a fine point of legal doctrine this hinges on: is your state a Reasonable Perception or an Alter Ego state? The difference can unlock the door to a jail cell — or lock it, if you’re wrong. Do you even know what your state is? We didn’t.

And while getting into someone else’s domestic incident is always a bad idea, there’s a handful of bad ideas beyond that.

You are not a cop (well, unless you’re a cop, but even cops ought to know self-defense law — they’re becoming a favorite snack of prosecutors this year, after all). A cop has to go into a deadly area to arrest somebody; you don’t. A cop has to intervene in strangers’ fights; you don’t. A cop knows he can botch a use of force galactically, and fall back on qualified immunity; you don’t.

It’s almost never legal to use deadly force to protect property. People who do that are at the mercy of the degree to which their jurisdiction’s prosecutors are sympathetic to gun owners. Bear in mind, prosecutors came up through colleges and law schools, where gun owners are about as popular as the Herpes Simplex Virus.

Our Biggest Take-Aways

Our biggest take-aways from a day spent in a gun club classroom getting the living Jesus scared out of us were two:

  • Everybody should take this seminar; and,
  • We’re going to continue to use our superior judgment so as not to have to display our superior pistolcraft.

The biggest thing preventing this seminar from appearing in your jurisdiction covering your self-defense law is that Andrew is just one guy, and he’s booked every weekend day until sometime in 2016 (and he’s got a teenager and a newborn, simultaneously… )

But the good news is that Andrew has plans to train a cadre of experienced trainers to conduct LOSD training, as an adjunct to the defensive skills training they already deliver. That should make this vital self-defense training more widely available to the defensively-oriented public.

This seminar is highly recommended. If you carry your firearm without this knowledge, you are at risk of a wide range of bad outcomes, including arrest, incarceration and imprisonment.


This very weekend there’s a seminar in Lawrenceville, Georgia, covering the SD law of the great state of Georgia. Link:  It won’t be back in GA for a year unless Andrew fires up a local instructor.

For all upcoming seminars:

This Was Not the Everyday CMP M1 Garand

In the late 1950s, the Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice — the former Army agency that was spun off in the anti-gun Clinton years as a non-profit, and is now the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP — sold a trickle of M1 rifles to lottery winners — or, since it was a government agency, to politically connected men who were able to jump the line.

Kennedy Garand 02

Here’s a couple of pictures and the story of one of those rifles.

Kennedy Garand 04

This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection.  The rifle picked for [the VIP] bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2.  After the NM rifle “happened” to be selected for [the VIP], it also “happened” to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland.  Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day.  In fact, COL Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to [the VIP] after the rifle was received.  The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:

  1. Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
  2. Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.Kennedy Garand 03
  3. Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
  4. Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
  5. Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
  6. Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.

“For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed.  The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches.”

The VIP was the then-Junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. While the Kennedy family has made the most extreme gun control central to their political identity since his death, JFK was a proud veteran, gun owner, and shooter. The carefully polished rifle does not seem to have been fired much; soon, Kennedy was embroiled in the Presidential campaign, which he would win in late 1960. It’s unknown if he took the rifle along to the White House, but it’s now at Rock Island Auctions and is going on the block next weekend, complete with a thorough and impressive provenance.

Kennedy Garand 01

Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost care taken in creating this gun for Kennedy.  Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle’s journey has also been preserved.  Accompanying this rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from COL Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.

via The Rock Island Auction Blog: John F. Kennedy’s M1 Garand.

A peculiar set of conditions attached to making a custom rifle for a VIP. Sure, he could jump to the head of the lotto line, but he couldn’t get a specially selected rifle. And top US Army Marksmanship Unit gunsmith Parkinson couldn’t work to upgrade it during duty hours. But the Army does tend to find a way around itself, when its bureaucracy interferes with the mission.

This rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years. The May 1967 issue of “The American Rifleman” featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, “A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle.” In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task. He writes, “As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined.” Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.

What we’re not clear on is how the rifle got from JFK to the Rock Island Auction this coming weekend.

One wonders if some of the people in the leper colonies of the Internet, the ones who are quick to suggest that someone who enjoys guns or shooting sports ought to be shot dead (like, say, certain VA pshrinks), realize that poor Kennedy got what they apparently wanted for him.

For that matter, one wonders if today’s Eloi Kennedys have any idea where their patriarch (well, the real patriarch was Hitler-heiling old Joe, but you know what we mean) stood on the issue of guns and the NRA.

Lost PLA Based 10/22 – From Data to Print to Cast Aluminum

We have mentioned before that the great benefits of 3-D printing include not only the direct printing of parts, but the printing of tooling, models, and patterns. It was inevitable that sooner or later someone was going to 3D print a PLA (polylactic acid, the easiest and most common plastic for 3-D printing) pattern for a firearm receiver, and then make an aluminum alloy casting using the Lost PLA process, essentially identical to the lost wax process used by jewelers and dentists for millennia. And now someone has done it, yielding this receiver, which builds up into a clone of the popular Ruger 10/22.


The 10/22 is a good choice, as a vast quantity of aftermarket parts are available for this rifle, and the original receiver was designed to be produced by investment casting in the first place.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

In Lost PLA, the pattern begins as a 3D dimensional file.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

The receiver is printed (allowing for a shrinkage percentage), then rods of PLA or wax are attached to form sprues, runners, fillers, and risers (sprues attach multiple parts; runners direct molten metal to parts or to areas of parts; fillers are used to pour the metal in, in most cases there should be only one per sprue; and risers allow air to escape, and signal the completion of the pour).

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Then the assembly is invested with high-temperature plaster or plaster and sand mixture. The wax / plastic pattern is then burned out of the mold, and the metal is heated and poured in to the investment.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

After the pour has had time to solidify, the casting is removed and any risers and screws are cut off.

Another thermoplastic like ABS can be substituted for PLA, but not a thermosetting (for obvious reasons). We expect PLA to be superior on castability.

In this case, the casting looks like it needed some cleanup (here’s a close-up) before it was built into an actual firearm. That’s not uncommon for investment castings, although industrial investment castings get nearer and nearer to net shape all the time.



You want tutorials? We got tutorials.

Here’s an Instructable in which a series of lost-ABS Yoda heads (people want Yoda heads? Takes all kinds to make a world…) are attached to a wax sprue, invested and cast. You could easily see this done with small parts and some other metal (although most home and small foundries aren’t going to be casting iron or steel due to the temps required). There are many practical tips for insuring casting success in this one, and an 11-minute at the end that ties it together (mute the sound). Read the comments too; the guy has decided PLA is better than ABS for this purpose.

Here’s a walk-through of another lost-PLA art project. Note that burnout temperatures are specific to materials and, especially, investments. Follow the instructions of the investment maker.

Here’s the original lost-PLA project we first cited some years ago, but it’s still valid.

And a Hackaday they’re hacking lost-PLA in a pair of Microwave Ovens. Here’s a quick overview with many links, and here’s the actual project. One Microwave is a standard one, and uses a susceptor (think metal, focusing the energy) for burning out the PLA. The other is converted, removing the rotisserie and using a top emitter to melt aluminum. Of course, this is limited in size/volume/weight of part it can do.

We would give them a safety thumbs down on their cardboard-box flask. Cheap, yes, but… and they don’t disclose much about their aluminum melting mod to the microwave.

And finally, in Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing in 2014, they showed a couple of other ways to make metal parts, some decorative (like low-temp bismuth alloy).



Brrrrrt! Legal Full-Auto-Like Firepower

Karl and Ian from and Forgotten are not strangers to this site. They have something cool and new: a customized slide-fire rifle designed to make slide-firing easy as falling off a log.

(Note: link removed while we fix embed code. Bear with us!) Should be fixed now, apologies.

The company that makes their trigger, KE Arms, has since introduced its own line of complete slide-fire rifles they call the Poor Man’s SAW (minus the bipod, the importance and details of which Karl explains in the video) and several variations of parts and components. Listen carefully to Karl; he tells you what features are important, and what has and hasn’t worked, in the video. Then go forth and build your own.


A Sad Gunsmith Story — And How to Avoid One

A guy on Reddit has a pretty sad gunsmith story. In Reddit tradition, in memory of the martyred Chairman Pao, we’ll give you the tl;dr version first:

tl;dr: guy brings three gun parts to shop for smith work. Never meets with or talks to smith. Parts are on budget but are late and low quality. 

OK, here’s the way he put it:

I was referred to Williams Gun Works by a local Wichitan. I wanted to have a factory 10/22 barrel threaded and a Beretta Neos 6″ barrel threaded. I also wanted my Glock 17 slide milled for an RMR and cerakoted to match.
I contacted them and they told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR. I dropped everything off on June 4th and noted one scratch on the 10/22 barrel so we were on the same page as far as cosmetic defects. They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know. They told me it should be done in about 2 weeks give or take.
6 weeks later (7/15) I get the call to pick up my barrels. The slide still wasn’t done though. Still waiting on Cerakote. They told me to bring my can to make sure the threads were good. I decided it would be best to check the threads with a nut first, just in case they were fucked up. I specified the exact length/type of threads I needed for that can, though.
I take off work to go pick up the barrels and I immediately notice a good amount of surface rust on the 10/22 barrel. They rubbed it with an oily cloth and called it good. Threads were ok though.
The Neos barrel had some surface rust that was new as well, but also had really fucked up starting threads and wouldn’t catch a thread at all. This was a surprise to them (implying they had even looked at it before calling me).
They ran a die over the threads and I was able to thread the nut. I took both home and cleaned up the threads further with my own die, and removed all the surface rust.
Today (7/20) I get the call to pick up my slide. I take off work again. They had already mounted the RMR. Cerakote looked good. The extractor plunger wouldn’t go in its hole.

Did you guys see the red flag we did? Let’s rewind:

They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know.

So, despite the fact that someone recommended this gun shop, they send their machine work out. (Not unusual). And they don’t even know enough to talk about something that is, frankly, a pretty common request. (That is unusual). How common? Well, Glock made flat, optic slides a factory option because enough people were doing it that it began to make sense in mass production. A slide already set up like that is a phone call away. And the explosive growth in NFA registrations in recent years is predominantly in suppressors, which need threaded hosts — again, something so common that vendors are series- if not mass-producing the barrels and selling them on GunBroker. It should have been a red flag that the shop’s guys couldn’t talk intelligently about these two simple procedures, and didn’t pass him off to someone who could. (Sure, a simple sales clerk might not know, but can’t he say, “Willie’s in Tuesday, and he understands all this stuff. Can you come in to see him?”)

There was another clue that they sent this work out, also:

[T]hey told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR

Now, having the barrels stripped does make threading easier, but disassembly is a pretty trivial thing on these two firearms. They’re both designed with assembly and maintenance in mind. But the shop’s insistence on stripping suggests it’s going to a shop that doesn’t have an FFL and probably doesn’t do much gun work.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gun work was at the cutting edge of machine shop practice 150 years ago, but today a lot of shops routinely work on ultra-high-precision tools and dies and aerospace parts. They should be able to set up and thread a gun barrel sleepwalking.

But working through a shop that sends their stuff out means you’re trying to communicate what you want done through intermediaries. And in this case, the intermediaries sound unprepared for and unfamiliar with the work in question, even if the shop (from whose knowledge the second-hand nature of this job insulates the customer) isn’t.

In our limited experience gunshop clerks run the gamut from real experts to complete bozos. The best of them know their products and the market, and know everything they’re likely to see as a trade-in, too. They can talk gun history and manufacturing processes with the best of us. The worst of them? Should probably wear a hockey helmet while out in public. But they all think they’re experts, except for the real experts, who are paradoxically more humble than their station should demand. But the particular experts at this store never told the machinist about the importance of corrosion control and deburring (and then, there’s a little voice that tells me if you don’t understand corrosion control or deburring, you’re probably not a real machinist, either).

It sounds like nobody took ownership of the rust on barrels. That’s a double red flag, first that the barrels were allowed to get that way, and secondly that it was received with blasé indifference. It’s like going to a plastic surgeon for a nose job and getting that, and a bonus Teutonic saber-dueling scar.

This guy wound up spending $500 for work that was never QCd adequately by anybody and having three guns down for a month and a half. Work that he needed, in some cases, to do over. The shop did offer to blast and restore the Cerakote on the Glock slide, as removing enough of the burrs to assemble the pistol left bald spots on the slide. The seller chose not to give them a second at-bat with his pistol; he’s still so POd that he’s talking about a credit card chargeback (something merchants really abhor).

Even without having seen their side of the story, it’s a dead certainty that the shop, too, is unhappy with this transaction all around.

The guy could have bought a Glock slide cut for RMR and a threaded 10/22 barrel from almost anywhere, like Brownells, One Source Tactical or Lone Wolf (at least for the Glock part), and had overnight delivery. He’d have spent a little more money; the slide goes for $250-300 finished while the milling job is done by many production smiths for $120-160 plus shipping. We’re not sure about the Neos barrel, that’s a bit of a rara avis at this time, at least compared to Glocks and 10/22s which have an ultra-robust aftermarket.

How do you avoid this predicament?

There are several things  we recommend.

  1. You may not want to use a local shop. There are shops that solicit your business and that do business nationwide.
  2. If you can’t talk to the guy who’s going to cut your metal in a local shop, they send it out to some generic job shop where it gets treated like generic machined tractor parts or whatever.
  3. If the guy says they don’t know how to do something, don’t browbeat him into trying it and then regret it when he fails. Instead, take his word for it. This is not the smith you are looking for.
  4. Don’t pay 100% in advance. In fact, withhold something until the job proves out. Think of those dollars as your hostages to a successful transaction.
  5. What’s the point in dealing locally if you don’t deal face to face with the actual smith? A lot of people today seem terrified of communication by phone or face-to-face with actual humans, but this guy didn’t have that problem, he just communicated with the wrong guys.

From the Dealer’s Point of View

  1. If you send work out, be up front about it. (“Hey, that’s a milling job, we don’t have the machine tools for that, but we do have a good shop that does work for us.”) Nobody will hold it against you, you’re a small business that needs to interface with other small businesses to please your customers.
  2. Don’t let a customer talk you into work that you’re not sure you or your guy can do.
  3. Never, ever, take a job you don’t understand completely.
  4. Never, ever, release a job without inspecting it to ensure it met what you quoted. (What, no quote? See next item).
  5. Quote in writing and in detail. This protects everybody, yeah, even the merchant.
  6. Consider hiring (or teaming with) a real smith if your market will support it. If you’re really small, see if you can get a guy to come in one evening a week (most of your customers work day jobs) or make a weekend presentation on what he can do. It is not the walk-in repair and modification business that will pay for the smith, but the impulse purchases of the guys who come to see him. You can also use him to raise the profile of some of your plain-jane used guns.
  7. Don’t oversell your smith. We watched an alleged smith fail miserably at reassembling a customer’s common-as-dirt Winchester .22. He didn’t have the humility to go to YouTube for an answer, and the old standby of using two screwdrivers to compress a long spring into a short hole didn’t occur to him, probably because he got rattled by several failures. If a guy isn’t a real gunsmith, don’t call him that, call him a technician, armorer or repairman.
  8. If you’re the smith, be humble. There’s no harm in asking if you can look at something, check some references, and then quote.

For everybody, meet the other party half way, and try to be sensitive to their expectations. We actually think the shop in this case did that with their offer to re-coat the slide; we think the customer’s being unreasonable if he wants a full refund. But the shop really blew it by returning uninspected work to a customer. Now the guy has lost faith in you, and, he’s dropped the Reddit bomb on you, which is on the net forever, or until Reddit management finally kills the site, whichever comes first.

“Branded — Marked with the No-Go Brand.”

What do you do when you’re branded?1 Well, when you’re a 7 1/2″ Colt 1873 Single-Action Army Revolver and Army inspectors reject you, the word is not “branded,” technically, but “condemned.” And you get pulled from the ranks of all your brothers going to Artillery troopers, and sent back to Colt. And 139 years later, you’re a puzzle and a delight to collectors — a mass-produced firearm with a one-off story to tell.

condemned SAA

No word on whether there is a ceremony with ominous drum rolls2. As a pistol you are fortunate in not having buttons, stripes, badges or accouterments to be lopped off at sword’s point.

Colt’s records show that this pistol wasn’t returned to the Army after rework (it’s possible that to the War Department, this serial number really was “branded”) but instead shipped out in a batch of 50 commercial guns to a New York dealer.

One unique feature of this weathered old draft dodger:condemned SAA notches

It also has an interesting 5 notches cut on the left side of the barrel, and also on the butt of the right grip.


Make of that what you will.

condemned SAA with letterA Colt letter documents the gun’s history, and Jackson Armory, a perennial source of wicked interesting firearms, has it on offer to the “very advanced collector” on GunBroker. With a starting bid of $7,000, it’s a bit (okay, thousands) too advanced for our tastes. But you have to love the way GunBroker makes it possible to click your way to an education on firearms.

Hat tip, a LEO buddy who is a prolific source of really good blogging ideas.


  1. If you’re an American of a certain age, you’ll get the TV show reference.
  2. This drumming-out ceremony from the opening credits of the TV show Branded with Chuck Connors was a real thing, and was still done as late as the late 50s or early 60s, when guys we know saw it done to a miscreant at 10th Special Forces Group at Bad Tölz.

You Know You Want One. Which One?

One of the coolest guns ever let loose on an unsuspecting world was the “Schmeisser” (as the Allies called it, although Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with it; it did use his magazine patent) MP.38 and MP.40 submachine guns.

MP40 goepfert

Arguably the first of the second-generation submachine guns, the MPs incorporated all of the canonical 2G traits: notably folding stocks and industrial pressing and screw-machine parts for rapid manufacture. (The canonical 2G is probably the Sten, whose stock was removable, not folding, but which set records still unbeaten for economy and crudity of manufacture for a major power’s service weapon. The US 2G SMG, the M3 “Grease Gun,” was a model of fit and finish, at least as far as mass-produced pistol-caliber bullet hoses went).

The MP has a number of reasons it’s technically interesting, but its lasting appeal these days stems from three things:

  1. Someone collects anything having to do with the Third Reich, and this was a signature personal weapon of that grim regime; there is no weapon more commonly associated with the Blitzkrieg that you can hang on your wall. (Maybe a Stuka or Panzer III, if you had a really big wall?)
  2. After the war, it was (and to some extent still is) Hollywood’s go-to Bad Guy Gun. Everyone from Smersh, to KAOS, to Blofeld’s Nehru-jacketed (or were they jump-suited?) minions seems to have an MP40. They even show up in space operas and 1930s gangster films — almost always in the hands of the bad guys.

    MP40 with movie villains and Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

    MP40 with movie villains who were also Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

  3. It looks cool in that certain way of many German weapons. It has a certain Bauhaus-meets-Bridgeport, Industrial Age look to it. It is one of the most identifiable silhouettes in the firearms world, even now.

MP40 drawing

As a bonus, they fire common, readily available ammunition.

At the time, the MP. 38 was a revelation, if not a revolution. It was a stamped weapon (the receiver appears to have been pressed on a mandrel) that didn’t feel flimsy or cheesy.

What brought this to our attention is the sheer number of MPs are available on GunBroker right now. There’s usually one or two, but this week there are seven of them, most of them original, transferable, C&R guns. (Two are tube guns offered at what we think is too high of a reserve). Almost all of them are offered by Frank Goepfert (you may remember the “Colt 601” receiver that was a mixmaster that we commented on a couple of months back. The high bidder had thought it was an authentic and complete 601, and Frank allowed him to roll the auction back — correct move in our opinion.

MP40 on Gunbroker

If we were bidding today — and we’re not — it would be this one, rather than one of Frank’s, we’d bid on. Some of his are in much nicer finish condition, but this one just seems like the best match of authenticity, vibe, accessories, and, potentially, deal. Look for it to sell in the mid teens.