Category Archives: Safety

“Smart” Guns: Potemkin Safety

space invadersThis dumb idea keeps regenerating itself like respawning enemies in a zombie game, or, given the age and technology behind this dumb old idea, like the bad guys in Space Invaders, the ancient arcade video game (if you recognize the screen on the left, “the hill” is something you’re officially “over”).

Fortunately, not everyone is as weary of battling this issue as we are, and comes Herschel Smith with what it would take to convince him, or any of us, that these things work:

[L]et’s talk yet again about smart gun technology.  I am a registered professional engineer, and I spend all day analyzing things and performing calculations.  Let’s not speak in broad generalities and murky platitudes (such as “good enough”).  That doesn’t work with me.  By education, training and experience, I reject such things out of hand.  Perform a fault tree analysis of smart guns.  Use highly respected guidance like the NRC fault tree handbook.

Armatix iP1: bulky, underpowered, and unreliable. And they say it's the wave of the future -- if their coin-op politicians command it so.

Armatix iP1: bulky, underpowered, and unreliable. And they say it’s the wave of the future — if their coin-op politicians command it so.

He’s got a good point there. If you run an Ishikawa diagram of potential faults in a Glock 17, there are not a hell of a lot of branches on your fault tree. There are more on the venerable 1911 (and the 1911’s general reliability illustrates how dogged engineering can sometimes overcome baroque design). Now imagine the fault tree diagram for an Armatix iP1. Don’t forget the various modes of battery failures, radio frequency interference, need to use a weapon weak-hand or by a third party, etc. (The diagrams may suggest why the failed iP1 never seemed to exceed about 90% reliability, failing at a rate of about one round per magazine, and that may suggest why Armatix’s honcho, Ernst Mauch of HK’s you-suck-and-we-hate-you days, tried to get governments to order people to buy the piece of dung. But we digress).

Assess the reliability of one of my semi-automatic handguns as the first state point, and then add smart gun technology to it, and assess it again.  Compare the state points.  Then do that again with a revolver.  Be honest.  Assign a failure probability of greater than zero (0) to the smart technology, because you know that each additional electronic and mechanical component has a failure probability of greater than zero.

Get a PE to seal the work to demonstrate thorough and independent review.  If you can prove that so-called “smart guns” are as reliable as my guns, I’ll pour ketchup on my hard hat, eat it, and post video for everyone to see.  If you lose, you buy me the gun of my choice.  No one will take the challenge because you will lose that challenge.  I’ll win.

Yep. What he is asking the Smart Gun proponents to do is resolve an asymptote to zero, which is mathematically impossible, and probably, in this non-mathematical but real-world-physical case, functionally impossible. If you want to know why adding “Safety Technology” to firearms has never banished mishaps, a good book is Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents.

Now, Perrow wrote the book as an anti-nuclear jeremiad, which may turn off some readers, especially those aware that a nuclear-power reactor control room is historically a safer environment than a Senator’s Oldsmobile, but he notes a very interesting thing: when you get the low-hanging fruit all plucked, that is, say, when the Air Force addressed items in the 1950s flying culture that had them pranging 1000 planes a year, you get a safety system that’s so optimized that adding anything more to it produces new, unintended and unanticipated points of failure.

We see this in aviation safety. American Airlines was concerned about loss-of-control accidents and so encouraged its pilots to seek “upset training” in aerobatic competition airplanes. One such pilot then tried the control inputs that worked in an Extra 300 (stressed to ± 12G in all directions, IIRC), in an Airbus whose tailfin was stressed to ± 1.5G. The result was a disaster, one caused by trying to increase the airline’s already very-high levels of safety!

Likewise, attempting to add safety features to firearms has led to fatalities and injuries. A classic example is the Glock “New York Trigger,” unquestionably a factor in several recent incidents of dreadful cop marksmanship, including incidents where bystanders were shot in addition to and even instead of armed criminals. The NY and NY2 triggers can be shot accurately by experts, but they greatly increase the dispersion of shots fired by average cops, and mandating them is tantamount to ordering your cops to shoot a few random citizens over the next decade or so.

But it looks like safety, to a superficial view (journalism, anyone?), and therefore it’s likely to spread. The “Smart Gun” is another example of this Potemkin safety. If it is discussed in your legislator (or, God forbid, your local police consider something like it), real experts need to come forward to counter the antis’ and interested manufacturers’ paid pushers.

A Taxonomy of Safeties

There are several kinds of safeties that are used on service weapons to ensure that only the proper and deserving people are shot. They generally interface in some way with the firing mechanism of the firearm. They may act on the trigger, the hammer or striker, or the sear, or (in some fiendishly clever arrangements) more than one of the above. It is generally thought better to positively lock the striker or firing pin than merely to lock the sear or trigger. If the mechanism fails due to parts breakage, it is easier to design a fail-safe mechanism if the striker or firing pin is immobilized.

Safeties Classified by Operator Volition

Safeties can be classified based on the degree of volition required to use them. An applied safety must be consciously put on, in most cases. An automatic safety is unconsciously applied as the pistol is taken up. Examples of automatic safeties include:

  1. the Glock Safe Action trigger and its many copies and derivatives;
  2. the grip safeties characteristic of many Browning designs, such as the M1911 .45 and the FN M1910 pocket pistol;
  3. similar grip safeties on open-bolt submachine guns such as the Madsen and the Uzi. (An open-bolt SMG poses peculiar safety problems);
  4. transfer-bars and other means to ensure a weapon can’t fire unless the trigger is pulled;
  5. mechanisms that hold a firing pin back until a weapon with a locking breech is fully in battery (the disconnector often does double-duty as this part);
  6. Firing-pin immobilizers as in the Colt Series 80 and newer M1911s (an earlier firing pin safety, the Swartz Safety, was used in commercial Colt 1911s from circa 1937 to 1940, and is used by Kimber today);
  7. A heavy, smooth trigger pull such as that on a traditional Double Action revolver or a DA/SA autopistol can prevent unintentional discharges. However, some heavy triggers (like the Glock NY2) have a bad enough effect on accuracy as to threaten bystanders with unintentional shooting.
  8. Magazine safeties, an obsolete European concept;
  9. Half-cock notches (in British/European English usage, these may be called half-cock “bents.”)

Contrasting with these automatic safeties, that do their work without conscious application by the operator, there are Applied or volitional safeties. Applied Safeties are usually classified by what part of the firing mechanism they work on, and so examples of Applied safeties break down into:

  1. Safeties that lock the trigger. The simplest of these are the crude trigger-blocking safeties on an SKS or Tokarev SVT. More complex trigger-locking safeties are found in the AR series of rifles and the FN-FAL;
  2. Safeties that lock the firing mechanism (which may be further divided into those that lock the firing pin, like the Walther P.38 or Beretta M92, and those that lock the hammer, like the US M1 Rifle, or
  3. The bolt holding notch in many 2nd-generation submachine guns. (These are reminiscent in a way of the safety of the Mosin-Nagant rifle, which requires the cocking piece to be rotated and caught in a notch). The case can be made that this is a firing mechanism lock, because the bolt with its fixed firing pin is the firing mechanism.
  4. Safeties that lock the sear. Examples include the .45 M1911, its younger brother the BHP, many other auto pistols, and most general purpose machine guns. Some require the weapon to be cocked to lock the sear, others allow locking the bolt forward (the RPD LMG and the Sterling SMG are examples of this).
  5. Safeties that disconnect the trigger from the sear. This is found in the Bren gun and many other Czech designs, historically. The ZB 26 and its derivatives were quite cunning: in one position, the selector brings the trip lever to engage the semi notch, which is in the upper side of a window in the sear. In the other position, it engages the auto notch in the lower side. In the intermediate, “safe,” position, the  trip lever clears both notches and the weapon does not fire.

Note that automatic safeties, too, can be broken down as working on the trigger, the firing mechanism, and the sear, also. So safeties can also be Classified by Operation.

Safeties Classified by Operation

It is possible to classify safeties in the first place by their means of action:

  1. Trigger safeties
  2. Firing-mechanism (striker, hammer, firing pin) safeties
  3. Sear safeties
  4. Disconnecting safeties.

This is true, obviously, for both automatic and volitional safeties, and classifying them this way puts their mode of action forward as more important than their mode of engagement, which (applied/volitional or automatic) becomes a secondary trait.

One More Trait: Must the Firearm be Cocked?

It is only possible to engage many safeties when the weapon is cocked or ready to fire (presuming a chambered round). Familiar examples include the AR series rifles and the 1911 pistol and other Browning hammer designs. Other safeties engage regardless of the energy state of the striker or hammer, for example the AK, the Remington Model 8 (a Browning-designed trigger mechanism that was deeply influential on 20th and 21st Century firearms designers, including Garand, Kalashnikov and Stoner), and the RPD light machine gun.

Combination Safeties

While a weapon may have multiple safeties that do different things (or multiple modes that engage the same safety, as in the safety lever and grip safety of early Lugers), it’s possible for a single cunningly-designed safety to disable multiple points of the firing chain at once. For instance, the Lee-Enfield safety is a model of versatility: it locks the striker, locks the bolt closed (preventing the chambering of a round), and disconnects the striker from the sear. The M1911 or Browning High-Power safety locks the slide closed as well as locks

It’s also possible for a volitional safety to be combined with other functions. The most common example of this is the combined safety/selector switch of most modern assault rifles, like the M16 or AK-47.

To Sum Up

There are a great but finite number of ways to design safety features on modern firearms. Careful study of prior art allows today’s designer truly to stand on the shoulders of the giants in the field. John Browning left no memoir or technical book, nor did John Garand, John D. Pedersen, Gene Stoner; and the many memoirs of Mikhail Kalashnikov are disappointing to the technical reader. But each of these geniuses spoke to us in the art of his designs, and they are still available for us to study and to try to read what their art is trying to tell us.

We have not, in this limited post, attempted to discuss “best practices” or the pros and cons of any individual safety design. Very often, the designer will be limited by the customer’s instructions or specifications. (For example, the grip safety of the 1911, which 1970s and 80s custom smiths often pinned in engagement as a potential point of combat failure, was requested of John M. Browning by the US Cavalry. The other military branches didn’t feel such a need, but the horse soldiers did, and Browning first added it on his .38 caliber 1902 Military pursuant to a similar request). Thus, even as a designer, your safety design decisions may not be your own.

Notes and Sources

  • This post has been modified since it was first posted, to expand it.
  • This post will be added to The Best of WeaponsMan Gun Tech.

This post owes a great deal to the following work:

Allsop, DF, and Toomey, MA. Small Arms: General Design. London: Brassey’s, 1999.

Chapter 13 is an extensive review of trigger mechanisms, including safeties, and while their classification of safeties is different from ours, their explanations are clear and concise.

Thanks to the commenters who not only recommend this long out-of-print book, but also sent us a link to a bookstore that had it (it’s a copy withdrawn from a military library, as it turns out). This out-of-print work is less technical and deep, but considerably more modern, than Balleisen; its examples are primarily British.


The Press vs Remington: Fable vs. Fact

Remington Outdoor LogoA series of lawsuits have been pursued by a variety of ambulance chasers against Remington over the model 700 rifle, thanks to TV publicity about some accidents. In most of these accidents it seems that someone was careless with the gun ,but after negligent-discharge remorse, came to forget the carelessness. Instead, they conveniently blame the gun, its safety and trigger, and since you can’t slake your greed by suing yourself and your own property, Remington’s deep pockets. It was a case of mass hysteria like the Audi “unintentional acceleration” cases — imagine the Salem witch hunts of 1692 with an added profit motive.

Well, that’s what makes “class actions” go. Class actions are a racket in which lawyers, supposedly enjoined by “legal ethics” (ha) from suing on their own behalf, grab some token “plaintiff,” and… sue on their own behalf.

The plaintiff’s insignificance in the whole lawyer-driven thing is clear when you see how class-action settlements generally go. The lawyers get millions, and the class members get, generally nothing — the people who were allegedly wronged get nothing from the courts. It’s just a form of legal extortion by the lawyers.

Remington recently settled a class action suit about Remington 700 (and just about every other bolt-action Remington) safeties. As is usual with these settlements, those who are supposedly victims get next to nothing (there will be a way to send your Remington rifle for new parts and a new, heavier trigger) and the lawyers get piles of sweet cash, which is what you worship instead of God if you are a lawyer.

The lawyers are evil, but not stupid. They know that sooner or later any going concern will pay the Dane-geld. Remington is not stupid either: they calculated the least costly way of making the lawyers go away and clearing this problem from the balance sheet. Shot made.

So, who is stupid? That would be… the press. Who have been, after misreading this story, trumpeting it as a recall of all Remington 700s ever made.

It isn’t, but that didn’t stop Scott Cohn at CNBC from writing an unsupported report claiming the guns were being recalled. CNBC and Cohn have been the happy PR venue for the plaintiffs’ attorneys for years, and they both wave the bloody shirt. (Note that Cohn’s report has been dishonestly stealth-corrected to insert Remington’s and the attorney’s corrections on the “recall” language, subsequent to another story giving — and dismissing — Remington’s point of view).

Is gun. Is not safe. Tell us what’s wrong with this picture:

Among the deaths was nine-year-old Gus Barber of Montana, killed during a family hunting trip in 2000 when his mother switched off the safety on her Remington 700 rifle and the gun went off.

A brief refresher: Rule #1: all guns are loaded; #2: never muzzle anything you don’t intend to destroy; #3, finger off the trigger until sights on target; #4: be sure of your target. Even giving the best possible interpretation of facts, that this was a safety failure and not an inadvertent trigger activation, why was the gun pointed at poor Gus? Why did she take the gun off safe when pointed at her son? And why does Remington get all the blame for that irresponsible and negligent action, the proximate cause of Gus’s demise?

It turns out, she seems to have been perfectly innocent in this case. One of the best reports (i.e., not based on CNBC’s) described the accident in a way that makes us much more sympathetic:

 Model 700 rifle fired when Barber’s wife, Barbara, released the safety as she prepared to unload the gun, the family says. The bullet went through a horse trailer and hit Gus, who, unbeknownst to her, had run behind the trailer.

That makes Mrs Barber’s actions look a lot more responsible, and highlights why The Rules can’t always save you, and a mechanical safety — a reliable mechanical safety — is an essential belt to wear with the suspenders of The Rules.

Remington called Cohn’s report “fundamentally inaccurate” and said that, “once again, CNBC did not comply with the most basic tenet of reporting – fact checking.” We’re not sure how Remington got the idea that reporting involves fact checking. For today’s media, it includes finding a story that’s “click-bait that pops” and that meets the “consensus media narrative” on a subject, and then sourcing a few quotes and details to give the advocacy a sheen of truthiness. Most reporters not only refrain from checking facts, they’re not interested in collecting facts and we reckon that eight out of nine of them could not identify a fact in bright sunlight at seven yards.

Remington also had the jaws that CNBC bad-mouthed the 700’s sales record:

[C]ontrary to CNBC’s story, it is undisputed that the Remington Model 700 is the best-selling American-made, bolt-action rifle of all time. The Model 700 has also been and continues to be the tactical sniper rifle of choice for the U.S. armed forces and special operators and is widely used by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

It does appear that some of that language has also been inserted in Cohn’s report.

The original Cohn report was picked up (usually uncredited) by:

And many more. Not all reporting on this settlement sucked, though. The Missoulian of Missoula (where else?), Montana, had by far the best report on the settlement, with a fresh interview with Mr Barber, who comes across as a pretty righteous guy, magnanimous in his long-sought victory; and some details on the settlement.

Who Gets What in the Settlement

Because the settlement is being badly misreported, we thought we’d read it and tell you who gets what — and who doesn’t.

  1. Nobody gets anything until the judge approved the settlement. This is normally a formality, but judges have been known to demur in cases where all benefits accrue to the attorneys. However,
  2. “Class Members” — Remington owners — get a replacement trigger at Remington’s expense, and a gun-safety DVD. Except…
  3. Some 700-based actions can’t be retrofitted with Remington’s new trigger. Owners of those guns (600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722, and 725) will get a token “settlement” — a worthless coupon. Oh, they do get the DVD.
  4. “Representative Plaintiffs” — the eight named plaintiffs who lost family members in gun accidents — get $2,500 each. No, that is not a typo. (We believe that most have previously won other settlements or awards).
  5. The nine law firms who represented the eight named plaintiffs split $12.5 million within seven days of the approval. This is who the suit benefits, and this is who it was always going to benefit. However, Remington is reserving as much as $17 million for the trigger fixes. They took a charge of $29.5M against earnings last quarter.
  6. Contrary to several of those media reports, government purchasers at all levels get no trigger repairs. They’re explicitly excluded from the settlement class. Of course, we teach our snipers not to point their M24s at each other, in mistaken trust of the safety catch.  (Is gun. Is not safe).
  7. There are two separate settlements, one for the previously recalled post-2006 XMark Pro trigger, and one for all other 700 series guns going back to the 1940s, but they differ primarily in the technical fix required. The XMark Pro was already recalled to fix assembly problems.
  8. If current owners don’t put their gun in for repair within 18 months of the judge’s OK, they have no further benefits — and no further right to sue for a trigger or safety failure. Basically, these nine law firms get the money for all potential plaintiffs, for which the potential plaintiffs lose their personal right to sue. That’s how a class action works, and why it’s great for companies and lawyers, and lousy for injured people.
  9. You only have 21 days from the judge’s approval to file to preserve your personal rights.
  10. Guns don’t have to go to Remington, there are a large number of authorized service centers that can do the trigger work. Remington will set up a website to direct you to the most convenient site. (Shipping of the firearm is also Remington’s concern).
  11. If the gun is irreparable, Remington will return it with a notice it is irreparable; or if the gun needs other work to be safe, Remington will notify the owner and ask him to pay for them to proceed. A master gunsmith named Chris Ruger has been named to mediate any disputes that may arise. Since lots of covered guns are Social Security age, they’re probably going to see a few rust ranches and soiled farm implements in those rehab shops.

How common is this problem?

After a decade plus of publicity, the attorneys had eight named plaintiffs and claim to have identified 75 cases of Remington 700s that fired without trigger command, including 24 fatal accidents, in approximately 70 years. Given the sales of the 700 are about 78 million, that is about one ten-thousandth of one percent of Remington 700s, and the likelihood of it happening in any one year is about 1.4 millionths of a percent.

Not common, but extremely serious if it happens to you. Watch your gun muzzle, and watch your backstop. Remember Barbara Barber, who thought her 700 was safe when she flicked the safety on fire to permit unloading (as the old Walker trigger design used to require).

And if you hunt with a 700, like half the hunters in America, you might want to get into the queue as soon as the website is live. It may appear here.

Hat tip, Miguel at Gun Free Zone.



A Mess of Accidents, Black Friday Edition

ND-shot-in-footItem 21 Nov 14: Two-year-old Trigger Man?

In Marion, Kansas a precocious child combined with a badly-stored handgun to give everybody a good scare.

According to Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft, the parents of the boy alerted authorities about the incident around 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21.

“We were advised they were transporting their 2-year-old son to St. Luke Hospital in Marion,” Craft said.

“When officers arrived (at the hospital), they found that the two-year-old had a single 22 caliber gunshot wound to the upper inside arm and rib area.”

The investigation, he said, revealed that the child gained access to the handgun being stored in a gun-safe.

While the door was open, and a parent was accessing some of the safe’s contents, he said, the child grabbed the barrel of the pistol hanging on a hook inside the safe door.

“While pulling on the barrel of the pistol, it discharged and the bullet struck the child in the upper inner arm, then the rib area,” Craft said.

So. The pistol either had no safety (sorry, Glock fans, a “trigger safety” is no safety) or the safety was not on, and it was loaded, and it was hung from a hook by the trigger. There’s at least three inflection points where better decisions could have prevented the little guy from shooting himself.

After striking the rib, the bullet fragmented with only a small portion of the fragment entering the child’s chest causing minor internal injury.

Fortunately, the kid is going to be okay, the sheriff is not going to charge anybody in what was an accident. This is a good call. Like most accidents, it was preventable and there are lessons learned; like most accidents, nothing would be gained by persecuting people who have already had a lesson they will never forget.

Item 25 Nov 14, FL: “Give me the lighter or the dog gets it!

Emery MugshotDennis Eugene Emery, 57, issued that threat to his wife Francisca, pointing a revolver at one of the couple’s pets. He was angry because he couldn’t find a cigarette lighter, which from the looks of him was not going to be used for cigarettes.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, he cocked the gun when he pointed it at the animal. It was when he went to lower the hammer that instead, he lowered the boom — on his crank-bugged face.

What Emery was doing with a gun was an open question, as he was a career criminal of remarkable versatility. The Times reports:

Emery has had 34 contacts with Pinellas Park police since 2012, the department said. He recently was arrested three times in six days: Oct. 12 for domestic battery; Oct. 15 on charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest; and Oct. 17 on a charge of leaving the scene of a crash. Those cases were pending at the time of his death.

State records show Emery was convicted of drunken driving in 1977; carrying a concealed weapon in 1978; and disorderly conduct and public intoxication in 1983. He was charged with domestic violence in 2013, but the case was dropped, according to records.

Well, that’s only the beginning. The paper also has these recent stories about Emery, who won’t be down for breakfast:

Just in case you were worried the local rozzers will have nothing to do, now that Emery is no longer cluttering up the court dockets.

The dog is okay.

ITEM: 22 Nov 14, NJ: If it Can Take Game it Can Take You

A goose hunt turned tragic for a father-son hunting team, after the son apparently shot himself while setting decoys.

On Saturday, it was initially reported that the man may have been shot by his own father, a man in his 70s , but the investigation revealed that the victim died of a single gunshot wound to the head and neck from his own firearm.

According to West Windsor Police, the man and his father were hunting Canada Geese when the accident occurred. The incident occurred around 4:16 p.m. in a patch of woods where the men had Canada geese decoys spread out in front of a blind at the Tindall Farm property at 1201 Old Trenton Road.

Police said that the pair were properly licensed and were the only people in the hunting party. The man’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, though they have released information that he was a Chesterfield resident.

“Although incredibly tragic,” Lt. Matthew Kemp said in a release. “It is believed that the incident was solely an accident and condolences go out to the family and friends of the victim.“

No gun is safe, no matter how familiar, no matter how innocent and pleasant your shooting sport may be. It’s a gun, and that means you must never give it an opportunity to take your life. Or it will.

ITEM: 9 Nov 14, MN: Only one Hunter per Deer Tag, Please

In Minnesota, opening day of the deer season wound up with two hunters tagged (but not cleaned and dressed, we think), one by himself and one by persons unknown.

A 69-year-old man was found dead from a gunshot wound in Carlton County Sunday morning, according to the Northland News Center. The hunter was pronounced dead at a deer stand northwest of Moose Lake, near the Kettle River, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office said.
Sheriff’s officials added that foul play is not suspected in the man’s death, although they’re still investigating the circumstances, according to the News Center. The man’s name has not yet been released.
The second man died on opening day, Saturday, in Mahnomen County in northwestern Minnesota. Authorities say Paul Scholl, 50, of Laporte, was shot while coming out of his hunting area about 16 miles southeast of Mahnomen, the Associated Press reports. The shooting was reported about 5:30 p.m.

The article points out that last year’s bag was only one hunter for the whole season for all game, although 17 more were injured, but most of them weren’t shot; they fell from their tree stands. There’s a rather staggering statistic from the State DNR:

he DNR says one of every three hunters who use a tree stand will fall out of it and be seriously injured. Doctors and nurses at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester prepare every year to respond to such accidents, KAAL TV reports.
The Mayo’s Dr. Donald Jenkins tells the station that the clinic treats at least three or four hunters every year who fall.

You might want to secure yourself to the stand, Elmer.

ITEM 20 June 14, FL: Shoot Straight is Good Advice, not just a Proper Name

This is the accident mentioned in the second bullet point of the 25 November 14.

A man suffered minor injuries at the Shoot Straight gun range in Pinellas Park Friday afternoon.

Pinellas Park police said they believe a round discharged in the chamber of a rifle and fragments struck the man in the hand and face. The man said he pushed the bolt forward, heard a bang and felt pain in his hand.

Wonder what he “pushed the bolt forward” with, and against what resistance? It does sound like an out of battery ignition, but you never know with news reports.

If you wonder why ranges where they don’t know you treat you like you’re going to shoot one of their range officers, or yourself, stories like this are one of the reasons why.

If the ranges where they do know you still treat you that way, maybe your problem isn’t stories like this after all.

In Conclusion…

That’s enough of these for now. Any more of them would be depressing; never forget to take care out there, and never forget than the people in these stories were just like you. They might even have been just as safety conscious, except for that one time. And that was all it took.


Impairment and Accidents

send boozeWe were reading an FAA safety bulletin that’s completely unrelated to the subjects of this blog — or is it? Because we saw an interesting factoid in a column by the Federal Air Surgeon, James Fraser, MD:

As the Federal Air Surgeon, one of my lesser known responsibilities is running the FAA’s drug testing program for FAA employees and industry aviation professionals. Since Congress mandated drug and alcohol testing of many aviation professionals in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 121 and 135 operators, roughly 2,000 individuals per year have failed a DOT drug test. That number has been stubbornly stable through the years. While we don’t have the statutory authority to randomly test GA pilots, forensic toxicology tests after accidents show a similar use pattern.

That’s pretty amazing. Two thousand people who know they’re subject to drug testing have pissed hot anyway. Every. Damned. Year. It kind of puts hophead Hunter Biden and his two dope-waiver siblings in perspective.

But it made us wonder: everybody understands that drugs impair your ability to operate an airplane, and people do it anyway. How many of the dumb-ass gun mishaps we’ve heard about happen because someone got into the Judgment Juice or lit up a home-rolled sample of Mexican Mood Mellower before picking up the firearm? We don’t know what the number is, but if 2,000 pilots and/or FAA officials (like Air Traffic Controllers! Feel safe?) blow the whiz quiz, year in and year our, the number of doped-up negligent shooters has to be… nonzero, at least.

Patrick J. Donovan

Patrick J. Donovan

Drugs are a dirty little secret in police work, too. Sometimes it’s not so secret. Patrick J. Donovan was a former Marine and a Boston Police officer who had received a high honor, the Sergeant Richard F. Halloran Medal of Honor for heroism, for safely taking a gunman into custody in 2005. But that was before an on-the-job injury led to a narcotics addiction that prescriptions for Percocet couldn’t slake. His life fell further and further apart:

Donovan, whom Massachusetts authorities alleged had an addiction to Percocet, allegedly took a police cruiser without permission on July 4 and drove to Revere, apparently to the home of a former romantic interest.

He was charged with unauthorized use of a police vehicle and driving with a suspended license.

In an interview with police, Donovan allegedly admitted to taking the cruiser, according to published reports.

Donovan, who became a Boston police officer in 2002, agreed to check into a substance-abuse treatment program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., as a condition of his bail release in July, officials said.

He was placed on paid administrative leave in September 2013, following charges that alleged he placed a stolen license plate and stolen registration sticker on his own vehicle.

In the end, a shadow of his former self, Donovan checked out of the net. Donovan:

…was found dead in the woods off Meredith Neck on Oct. 25….  …found by a hunter that morning. Donovan apparently committed suicide by hanging.

“We believe that he killed himself,” [spokesman] Chance said. “It appears that he was having a lot of trouble in his life, and this was the way he dealt with it.”

A Boston police spokeswoman confirmed that Donovan was found dead in Meredith, saying Donovan had a large family, including a small son.

That’s one way to get out from under a drug addiction that’s destroying your life. Beat it to the punch. How very sad.

[Anecdote deleted, on careful consideration].

Returning to the FAA and its air-accident data, the Air Surgeon browsed fatal mishaps between 2000 and 2013, and found out….

Of the total 3,756 fatal accidents during the period, CAMI found that 976, or nearly 26 percent of the total, were positive for disqualifying medications, drugs of abuse, alcohol, or some combination of the above. While I discussed some of the disqualifying medications in a previous column, in this issue I’d like to focus on the other categories. Drug abuse was detected in 202 accidents and alcohol was present in 115 accidents. There is some overlap, as some people tested positive for multiple substances. CAMI also provided data to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for a longer term study that focused on over-the-counter (OTC), prescription, and illicit drugs for the period between 1990 and 2012. This study found that of the 6,677 pilots who died in aircraft accidents during the study period, the percentage of pilots testing positive for potentially impairing drugs more than doubled — from 11 percent to 23 percent.

ND-shot-in-footAgain, we’re looking at the FAA’s data about pilots and accidents. Obviously, a pilot can’t refuse a blood test when they pick up his dead body (or parts of it) out of a debris field. And it looks like roughly one quarter of them have some forbidden substance in them. Now, in the context of flying, some of these substances are the sort of over-the-counter cold medicines that make you drowsy, but others are your common everyday drugs of abuse. And also note that we’re talking ¼ of the pilots that failed to complete their flights safely, which doesn’t really prove that ¼ of all pilots are doing it.

Still, if people are doing this stuff and taking off in planes, some of them are doing it and hitting the range. Given the fact that any firearm, like any airplane, can kill a person stone cold graveyard dead, this is a really bad idea. Like New Coke bad. Pontiac Aztek bad. Wile E. Coyote bird-hunting-scheme bad. That bad.

If you’re wondering about what effects common drugs of abuse have on people, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (their aviation safety investigators, like our NTSB) did a literature review a few years ago and produced two excellent papers on what alcohol and cannabis do to the sort of motor and judgment skills needed to operate aircraft. As we’ve stated, we think there’s a lot of parallels between what’s happening cognitively when you fly, and what’s happening when you shoot.

First: Alcohol and Human Performance from an Aviation Perspective: A Review (.pdf)

Some key elements from the executive summary:

Alcohol has many widespread effects on the body, and impairs almost all forms of cognitive function, such as information processing, decision-making, attention and reasoning. Visual and vestibular functions are also adversely affected. The performance of any demanding task… is thus impaired by the effects of alcohol.

Many studies have consistently shown significant detrimental effects of alcohol on … performance, both in the acute stages and in the post-alcohol period for up to 48 hours. Even low doses of alcohol can lead to reduced performance.

Now, whoever taught you the safety rules probably also taught you, “Alcohol and gunpowder don’t mix.” But we’re inclined to think the percentage of gun accidents involving Judgment Juice is… well, we already copped out at “nonzero,” so we’ll stick to that.

Second: Cannabis and Human Performance from an Aviation Perspective: A Review (.pdf)

Some key elements from the executive summary:

The adverse effects of cannabis on behaviour, cognitive function and psychomotor performance are dose-dependent and related to task difficulty. Complex tasks such as driving or flying are particularly sensitive to the performance impairing effects of cannabis.

We’re guessing that putting holes in the 10-ring, defending your home (and you can expect a blood test after a DGU), and getting the cups and cones in the right order when reassembling a BAR would all count as “complex tasks.” Both are laden with cognitive and motor skills demands.

Chronic cannabis use is associated with a number of adverse health effects, and there is evidence suggesting the development of tolerance to chronic use as well as a well-defined w ithdrawal syndrome. There is also evidence that the residual effects of cannabis can last up to 24 hours. Significantly, the modern dose of cannabis is much more potent than in the past, when the majority of the research was conducted. As such, the reported adverse health effects may well be conservative. Although only a limited number of studies have examined the effects of cannabis on pilot performance, the results overall have been consistent. Flying skills deteriorate, and the number of minor and major errors committed by the pilot increase, while at the same time the pilot is often unaware of any performance problems.

We’ve also noted a decline in judgment among chronic cannabis users. And they’re unaware of it. “No man, I drive better when I’m stoned.”

This anti-gun broadside from the University of Washington (.pdf) notes that drug and alcohol intoxication are correlated with being a victim of a firearms assault of homicide. (Duh). But we’re unaware of any studies on alcohol or drugs in gun accidents. Anecdotally, the connection seems to be strong.

Of course, it’s Hognose’s Law that, for every scientific study there is an equal and opposite study. University of Illinois-Chicago epidemiologist Lee Friedman notes that alcohol increases your risk of being injured, but it increases your chances of surviving the injuries your drunkenness causes you. And a followup study shows that it reduces your chances of cardiac complications, too.

We’ll drink to that!

Just not before hitting the range.

NY Cops Cop to a Negligent Discharge

NYPDDepending on how you look at it, the NYPD’s rapid release of information was a model of law enforcement transparency, a hasty attempt to forestall community condemnation, or the casting of an ill-trained and ill-supported rookie under the bus. You could make a pretty good case for any one of the three. The New York Times:

The shooting occurred in the Louis H. Pink Houses in the East New York neighborhood. The housing project had been the scene of a recent spate of crimes — there have been two robberies and four assaults in the development in the past month, two homicides in the past year, and a shooting in a nearby lobby last Saturday, Mr. Bratton said.

Additional officers, many new to the Police Department, were assigned to patrol the buildings, including the two officers in the stairwell on Thursday night, who were working an overtime tour.

Having just inspected the roof, the officers prepared to conduct what is known as a vertical patrol, an inspection of a building’s staircases, which tend to be a magnet for criminal activity or quality-of-life nuisances.

Both officers took out their flashlights, and one, Peter Liang, 27, a probationary officer with less than 18 months on the job, drew his sidearm, a 9-millimeter semiautomatic.

Officer Liang is left-handed, and he tried to turn the knob of the door that opens to the stairwell with that hand while also holding the gun, according to a high-ranking police official who was familiar with the investigation and who emphasized that the account could change.

via Officer’s Errant Shot Kills Unarmed Brooklyn Man –

The warning in the last paragraph: “emphasized that the account could change” —  is pretty rare in a news story. Newsmen get them all the time, but seldom pass them on. The fact is, preliminary reports are often wrong, and that’s not just true of media reports. Inaccurate and misleading early reports move on the police radio and the military’s communications systems all the time. Investigation and fact-finding takes time, and it’s human to want the information now. Unfortunately, by the time the facts are fully found, the media will have moved on to the latest accounts of bread and circuses.

Does anyone remember 9/11? initial reports were that a small twin-engine plane had struck the World Trade Center. Later, when the towers fell, the TV networks bruited fatality numbers of 10,000 to a staggering 30,000

Early reports are insidious for another reason besides their jittery accuracy: that is, human psychology, specificlly, the effect long known to psychologusts and educators as primacy. One tends to believe the first thing he sees, hears or learns, even in the face of superior, but delayed, information.

But this does seem like a lot of information has already been released. It seems like the cop did screw up, and admitted it to his partner and to investigators. It seems like the guy he shot, whom the media describe as an aspiring model and actor (for roles with “jobstopper” neck tattoos?), was not suspected of anything and has no criminal record — he was just an unlucky guy.

We’d like to add a technical comment, bearing in mind that we are still dealing with preliminary information. New York issues 9mm Glock 19 pistols. To prevent NDs, it demanded that Glock develop the law enforcement trigger module, which is known for good or ill forevermore as the New York Trigger. Here’s what Glock says about it, for the home market

N.Y.1 The GLOCK „New York“ trigger has its name from the New York Police Department. It facilitates officers changing from revolvers to pistols. Increases trigger pull weight from 2,5 kg / 5.5 lb. to 4,9 kg / 11 lb.

N.Y.2 The N.Y.2 trigger spring is even harder than the N.Y.1 trigger spring. The user will obtain a continuous very hard revolver-like increase of the trigger pull weight from 3,2 kg / 7 lb. to 5 kg / 11 lb.

The New York trigger is, indeed, intended to simulate a double-action revolver trigger, and was developed at the NYPD’s insistence. It takes the short, crisp and easy trigger of the conventional Glock and renders it long, creepy and extremely heavy — heavier than many DA revolvers and automatics. (Officers can also carry DAO Smith 4956 and SIGs, but the cops in this incident were both rookies, and probably had the Glock). Indeed, most US specs say the NY trigger is 12 lb.

In the past, the New York trigger has combined with the NYPD’s insufficient training to lead to a lot of shootings of bystanders and wild rounds in gunfights — and even some shootings of NYPD officers because the perps, not handicapped with NYPD triggers, got the better of a gunfight.

But the Department insisted on the trigger, because a long, heavy trigger provided some kind of talismantic protection against negligent discharges.


You can’t idiot-proof a gun. NYPD’s Commissioner Bill Bratton ought to write that down somewhere — and give his men better training and the safer, more accurate standard trigger.

New Halifax Explosion Images

On 6 December 1917 the largest manmade explosion in the history of the earth (to that point) took place, not along the lines of battle, but in a busy Canadian seaport, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The blast came from munitions materials contained in a single average-sized (for 1917) freighter, and have been calculated to have been about equivalent to 2.9kt — larger than some nuclear warheads, and one of the top five known conventional explosions in history. (The Daily Mail has a table of seven big ones).

Ground zero of the Halifax Explosion. The shattered tug is the former minesweeper Stella Maris; she took the abandoned, burning Mont Blanc under tow. All but five of her crew died. (Old photo. Source).

Ground zero of the Halifax Explosion. Pier 6 was located at this point; it has vanished without a trace. The shattered tug is the former minesweeper Stella Maris; she took the abandoned, burning Mont Blanc under tow. All but five of her 25 officers and men died. (Old photo. Source).

Recently, long-lost images from the aftermath of the explosion that destroyed or seriously damaged nearly 14,000 buildings, leveled the shipyard, and killed perhaps 2,000 people, surfaced in England. Here’s a half-minute look at the devastation on video:

The “new” pictures were taken by Lieutenant Victor Magnus, RN (or RNR/RNVR?), about 27, whose w ship was docked in the port city at the time of the event. The Daily Mail explains how the pictures were recently rediscovered in an old album by the photographer’s daughter, nearly 100 years after they were taken. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald notes that Magnus was standing watch in HMS Changuinolawhose log notes, among many other entries:

Other: 8.50 Explosion in docks followed by fires

Other: 9.15 Cutters away with officers ~~ to help ashore

Changuinola was an “Armed Merchant Cruiser” — a term for merchant ships put to military use in the RN. Specifically, she was a seized German ship pressed into service as a patrol and escort vessel, and apparently also to train RNVR officers or ratings (training these men frequently recurs in the ship’s logs). From her decks, Magnus took pictures like this:

Some of Magnus's photos show the explosion's pillar of smoke.

Some of Magnus’s photos show the explosion’s pillar of smoke. No pictures from so soon after the blast were imagined to exist.

Then he went ashore. There he took more images of the appalling destruction.

Near Ground Zero, Halifax side looking towards Dartmouth side, Magnus photo.

Near Ground Zero, Halifax side looking towards Dartmouth side, Magnus photo.

Magnus was an avid photographer, and worked in maritime insurance before and after the war.

Victor Magnus in his naval uniform.

Victor Magnus in his naval uniform.

Historic Background (and more old photos)

The French ship Mont Blanc had just been loaded with a cargo of high explosive in New York: over five million pounds of explosives and inflammables, most of it highly unstable picric acid (Benzol, an octane booster then used in aviation fuel, and guncotton, a primitive explosive, were also aboard). Mont Blanc intended to join a convoy from Halifax to England, but on its way in to the harbor collided with an empty vessel, Imo, that normally ferried humanitarian aid to Belgium. Imo, with a Norwegian crew, was wrong-side-driving out of the harbor as Mont Blanc stood in, on the normal inbound side of the channel.

SS Imo. The foreground is not only devastated by the blast, but also by tsunami. Source.

SS Imo. The foreground is not only devastated by the blast, but also by tsunami. Old photo. Source. There’s no post-disaster photo of the hazmat ship SS Mont Blanc; pieces of her fittings landed miles away.

The crew and harbor pilot of Mont Blanc abandoned ship and fled when their hazardous cargo took fire; the ship drifted to land, drawing curious onlookers, then exploded. The city was devastated, especially the shoreline, the shipyards and docks, and other ships making ready for the next England convoys on the 7th and 11th (a single convoy would leave on the 11th).


Most of the convoy ships were in Bedford Basin, the most  protected part of the harbor when Mont Blanc blew up in what locals call The Narrows. Fortunately, Mont Blanc was not near any of the other explosives-laden vessels when it went up.

SS Curaca was loading horses. She was thrown across the harbor. Of her 46-man human crew, 45 (and the horses) perished. Source.

SS Curaca was loading horses for the war. She was thrown across the harbor. Of her 46-man crew, 45 humans (and the horses) perished. Old photo. Source.

At least 1,500 hundred lives were snuffed out in the blast and the following tsunami, and hundreds more died in the days ahead. Hundreds of remains were never identified. Some lasting results of the accident were standardization of fire hydrant and hose threads (responding fire departments found that the decimated Halifax department’s hydrants didn’t match their gear), more advance warning required for hazmat transits, and stricter maritime rules of the road in the harbor. There was a long series of saboteur hunts, enquiries, criminal trials, and private lawsuits, but in the end no one was singled out as solely to blame, or punished. It was a terrible accident, but in the end, just an accident.

There are several excellent sites on the blast.

The Technical Side

The manifest of the ill-starred Mont Blanc bares the spoor of the probable cause of the disaster — picric acid. This chemical was the first high explosive; its name comes from the Greek for “bitter.” Discovered and initially developed in the 18th Century, it became a dominant explosive and shell filling in the late 19th, when it was discovered initially by British scientist Sprengel. Picric acid was more powerful than the explosive that would come to replace it in most nations’ armories, TNT. The Japanese developed a picric acid derivative called Shimose, which they credited, in part, for their victories over Russia in naval and siege warfare; an American version was called Dunnite. Other terms for picric acid variants were Mélinite and Lyddite (these were the WWI French and British versions respectively). The Times wrote on 9 September 1898 of the British Army’s first use of Lyddite shells, in the Siege of Omdurman on 2 September:

Through Reuters Agency, Khartoum, September 5.

The breaching power of the Lyddite shells fired from the howitzers at the citadel of Omdurman prove to be enormous. The wall was a solid stone structure, 10 feet high by 4 feet thick, built of material brought from dismantled Khartoum. The accuracy of the howitzer fire is tested by the absolute havoc which was made of the Mahdi’s tomb at great ranges. (Nearly 2 miles).

This was a substantial improvement over the performance of the artillery of previous wars, but it came at the price of handling, storing, and stockpiling shells laden with this first (and fearfully unstable) high explosive.

Because unlike fairly stable TNT, picric acid and its salts — which form spontaneously on contact with common bases — are highly unstable; they tend to detonate when exposed to shock, friction, or flame. Picric acid corrodes metals and becomes more unstable in their presence, making it impossible to contain in metal cans or drums, and requiring special procedures for shell filling.

Before World War I, the German military had begun to shift to TNT. It was made by the same process that yields picric acid, just using a different feedstock; it’s only a little less explosive; and it’s vastly more stable. Over time all armies would follow suit, and fear of a repeat of the Halifax Explosion would be one reason (there were many other industrial and military accidents worldwide with picric acid that soured militaries on the chemical). Later, better HEs would be developed, both from the standpoint of stability and of energy, but it says something that TNT, which the Germans first put into shells in 1902, still is practically useful today.

The reason for going backwards in the power of explosive fillings was safety, and the far more stable TNT would have been unlikely to yield the Halifax Explosion. Even today, found Lyddite or Mélinite shells from WWI pose a threat. Even lab picric acid that dries out (of which more in a minute) requires an EOD call-out (small quantities of the acid are useful in biology).

Compounding the problem was that the material shipped in Mont Blanc was only partially shipped as wet picric acid, in which immersion in water reduces the material’s reactivity. Thousands of pounds were ultra-sensitive dry picric acid (the ship also contained large quantities of shock-sensitive guncotton).

Knowing the properties of their cargo, the actions of the crew of Mont Blanc — taking to the lifeboats, trying to warn everyone away from their burning ship — make a lot of sense. The actions of America, British and French ordnance in persisting in the use of this unstable chemical when stable alternatives were readily available are more puzzling to someone looking back at the destruction of Halifax by an a-bomb sized blast, from a vantage point a century ahead.

He Didn’t Want the Cops to Catch Him

ND-shot-in-footThis is a great twofer. It’s a crime story. And it’s a gun-safety story. And it’s a morality parable, so we guess it’s actually a great threefer.

Ralik Hansen, the sad-faced mook pictured on the right below, was one of a crew of at least seven professional jewelry-store robbers. Of course, for armed robbers, getting busted and doing a stint Upstate is part and parcel of a career, so the knock on the door or the ring on the bell could well be taken as the arrival of the cops and an end to one’s criminal progress for a while.

But Ralik mistook the FedEx guy for a cop, and now he looks considerably sadder than he originally did.

Ralik Hansen“In his paranoia, he ran to the bathroom and grabbed a .357 and was trying to shimmy under his couch to hide in his apartment when the gun went off,” a law-enforcement source said.
“Hansen erroneously thought it was the police coming to get him,” added Leon Krolikowski, the police chief in New Canaan, Conn., where Hansen and his crew allegedly hit a jewelry store a year ago.

So if you think he had the long face in this mug from a previous stint in pokey, imagine how he felt in the instant he knew he’d blasted himself to perdition. Sad and stupid, maybe?

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

Want another laugh? Bloomberg’s coin-operated activists marked him down as a “victim of gun violence.” Well, gun violence and criminal stupidity, but mostly criminal stupidity.

They say your life passes through your mind in your last moments. But in Ralik’s case, it was just a 158 grain jacketed semi-wadcutter or something similar.

He had a legitimate reason to be concerned about John Law seeking him out, as his next trip Upstate could have been a long one:

Hansen had faced possible life behind bars on robbery and weapons charges, authorities said.

He and his accomplices hit a Cartier store on New York’s fabled 5th Avenue on 31 January 14, and they were also suspected in four other violent robberies of jewelry stores in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. Four of the suspected robbers are already in the jug awaiting trial, and these two remain at large, possibly under couches with 357s in hand:

Cartier Robbery At Large Suspects

Funny that the cops would have mugshots on file for them, just like Ralik, eh? But we’re open to proof that these were their library card photos or something.

The two at-large mutts’ names are Courtney Hardin and Jamal Dehoyos, and they, too, fear the knock or the doorbell.

One last thing: Ralik might have committed a scam that led to his own untimely but unlamented demise. (Either that, or he wasn’t the only criminal at 360 Snediker Ave. in Brownsville, New York). See, the Fedex package addressed to a nonexistent name at an actual address, without any apartment number, is a common way for criminals to rip off merchants. They hope the delivery driver will just leave the package in the vestibule, and they can pick it up at leisure. Postal or other investigators then have nothing to go on but an address with a whole bunch of apartments in it, all of which are probably full of people steeped in the ethos of “stop snitchin'” and more aligned with criminals than victims culturally, leaving the investigation high and dry.

But when this delivery driver rang, the paranoid (hmmm… wanna bet he was on recreational pharma at the time?) Hansen freaked out, and the rest — including Hansen his ownself — is history.

Think of it as evolution in action.

via Man wanted in Cartier robbery accidentally shoots himself dead | New York Post.

Hat tip, Jazz Shaw at Hot Air.

Unsafe Tauruses — Updating a Year Old Video

There are several versions of this video going around. This one may not be the best, but it was handy on YouTube, unlike the one that just came in via email. The pistol in question is a Taurus 24/7 DS in .40 S&W, and the State Military Police in Saõ Paulo, Brazil, issued nearly 100,000 of the damn things before recalling them all for inspection and repair. (More on the agency below, but they are they comprise the majority of the urban and rural uniformed police for the populous Brazilian state). There are a lot of Taurus warranty-problem stories out there, but this one is currently the record.

And yes, the guy is making it go off just by shaking it. Worse, he then puts it on safe, shakes it again, (“Travada” in Portuguese means “Safe”), and then it fires again. The video explains that a police memo says that they discovered the problem when they had accidental discharges with the then-new guns.

While the cops are called Military Police, it doesn’t mean what the term does in England or America. They’re really the regular beat and highway cops in Brazil. They’re not in the Brazilian Army, but in Brazil, where police powers are split between the Federal government and the States, each State has Military Police (the cops in uniforms) and Civil Police (plainclothes criminal investigators or detectives). The Saõ Paulo State Military Police web page is in Portuguese, naturally.

Thing is, this isn’t news. It happened last year, and Steve Johnson at The Firearm Blog covered it well at the time (using this very video). Yet people are still sending it around — it was on reddit recently. (Here’s another video, looping one of the 24/7s firing on full-auto. It’s not supposed to do that).

The Taurus 24/7 was intended to replace the PolMil’s previous sidearm, the Taurus PT100 (a Beretta 92/96 clone) in the same .40 S&W caliber. The Saõ Paulo State Military Police website currently lists the PT100 as the standard sidearm (and here’s a google-translated version); we found no word in the English-language media on the disposition of the 98,000 unsafe 24/7s. But searching Brazilian gun forums rewarded us.

Here’s an August news story (in Portuguese) suggesting that as late as this summer the problem was not resolved (link to google translation of whole page; translation below is our own revision of the Googlebot’s):

The Military Police of São Paulo uses a pistol, the Taurus .40, which has failed not just producing accidental shootings but also runaway automatic fire after one intentional shot. “This gun is not even safe on ‘safe,'” said criminal prosecutor Jurandir José dos Santos.

Santos doesn’t suggest immediate replacement of the gun but rather, “Solving the problem”. “This gun does not give security to the police and the public. If there’s no solution, we need to think about changing the vendor,” said the prosecutor, who sent an official letter to the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP).

The prosecutor noted that the Military Police’s inventory of 98 000 pistols PM was inspected by Taurus, the maker of the weapons. “It just didn’t solve the problem, even after the inspection,” he added.

Some parts of the pistols were replaced by the manufacturer, according to the Military Police Command, in São Paulo, which confirmed the inspection. Failures, however, persisted and some guns discharged without being handled by officers. There were also instances of uncommanded automatic fire on a single [intended] shot.

The command, through [its public affairs flaks], said that the weapons that malfunctioned were collected and replaced. Also according to the command, the factory has pledged to solve the problem and the command is awaiting a ‘final and conclusive report.'”

In the comments to the 21 Aug 14 article, some responders claim to be officers at the agency. “Helio” says:

I put it on safe — I was chasing a drug dealer and jumped a fence, the safed gun fired inside the holster and the round hit the ground. I do not trust the 24/7 nor any Taurus. I have one because I have to have it, but I use my personal weapon at work.

“ZANCS” says:

In a shooting instructors training course at PMESP, the Taurus 24/7 pistol that I used began to burst when releasing the trigger. I don’t trust Taurus. I think, if Glock is not possible, they should try IMBEL because the new rifle that came [from IMBEL] seemed to be much more reliable, better than CT.30 and TAURUS .40.

“Helio” again:

I have a [CZ] SP-01 to use in service, and I will tell you, that gun, never chokes, even after 40 shots in sequence, perfect grip and precision.

“Igor” says:

Blame it on the monopoly policy, but we also have to remember that the EB is to blame in the office, through ordinances that hinder the importation of firearms, even by police.

And “Daniel” posted two videos.

Sorry, but does anyone remember this problem with the Taurus too?

That one shows a Taurus FAMAE SMG doing a similar uncommanded-fire act.


Another showing a CT-30 misbehaving similarly.

“Chico” says:

These Brazilian fuzz are not loving their nation’s home-grown small arms.

The particular model handgun the PM have had trouble with appears similar to the older 24/7 replaced in exports to the USA by the 24/7 Pro. But all these QC problems (and they’re not the only Taurus QC problems you’ll hear about, if you put your ear to the ground) undermine the absolutely critical confidence an officer must have in his or her firearms.

The PMESP (its Portuguese acronym) has to pick something from the Taurus factory; they’re the main small arms manufacturer in Brazil. The PMESP also uses the CT-30 carbine in .40, replacing older Taurus FAMAE .40 SMGs, but as we’ve just seen, they’re not above shipping some turkeys in those product lines, too. Some other states’ police use PM-12S submachine guns made by Taurus under Beretta license; our personal experience with that specific weapon, and with Taurus’s discontinued Beretta clones, is positive. (The PM-12 is an outstanding 3rd Generation SMG, which came too late to achieve great market success, and the Taurus ones we’ve handled and shot have equalled or surpassed their Italian cousins).

A Tale of Two Ebola-Research Mishaps

ebola virionsToday, as the Washington Post tells this story. It has the feel of a single-source anecdote, of being “too good to check.” It is neat, compact, no one is mentioned by name, and there’s a moral to the story: ready-made for narrative-addicted Posties.

But it is what happened, says the Post, to a Russian infectious-diseases lab tech.

The Russian Mishap as told by the Post

She was an ordinary lab technician with an uncommonly dangerous assignment: drawing blood from Ebola-infected animals in a secret military laboratory. When she cut herself at work one day, she decided to keep quiet, fearing she’d be in trouble. Then the illness struck.

“By the time she turned to a doctor for help, it was too late,” one of her overseers, a former bio­weapons scientist, said of the accident years afterward. The woman died quickly and was buried, according to one account, in a “sack filled with calcium hypochlorite,” or powdered bleach.

The 1996 incident might have been forgotten except for the pathogen involved — a highly lethal strain of Ebola virus — and where the incident occurred: inside a restricted Russian military lab that was once part of the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program. Years ago, the same facility in the Moscow suburb of Sergiev Posad cultivated microbes for use as tools of war. Today, much of what goes on in the lab remains unknown.

via Ebola crisis rekindles concerns about secret research in Russian military labs – The Washington Post.

In fact, there is a case of a Russian researcher dying of laboratory-acquired ebola — in 2004. Here’s Judith Miller at the New York Times. University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in 2004. However, the unfortunate Russian researcher in 2004 was in Novosibirsk at the Vector (formerly Biopreparat) facility, not near Moscow.

Now, we’re familiar through work with a similar mishap in the United States, with a somewhat better outcome, that happened about the same time.

The American Mishap

USAMRIIDOn February 11, 2004, a scientist was injecting a test treatment into laboratory animals (mice) deliberately infected with a mouse-adapted strain of Ebola Zaire, at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in order to study the disease. She inadvertently stuck herself with the needle. It went right through her bio-safety suit glove and her surgical glove into the soft muscle of her hand. (She was trying to inject the sample into the mouse’s belly, whilst holding the mouse in her hand). She was in a Bio Safety Level-4 containment lab at the time, the strictest and most inconvenient of medical precautions.

The accident and its aftermath has been written up by Kortepeter et al. in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2008. Here’s their description of the accident:

The person had been following standard procedure, holding the mice while injecting them intraperitoneally with an immune globulin preparation. While the person was injecting the fifth mouse with a hypodermic syringe that had been used on previous mice, the animal kicked the syringe, causing the needle to pierce the person’s left-hand gloves, resulting in a small laceration. The virologist immediately squeezed the site to force the extravasation of blood. After decontamination of the blue suit in the chemical shower, the injured site was irrigated with 1 liter of sterile water and then scrubbed with povidone-iodine for 10 minutes.

In terms of exposure risk, the needle was presumed to be contaminated with virus-laden blood, although it was suspected that low levels of virus were present on the needle. The animals had not yet manifested signs of infection, and much contamination may have been removed mechanically when the needle pierced the gloves. The local decontamination of the site also reduced potential for infection.

BSL-4 is used for pathogens which are highly contagious, lethal, and for which there are no suitable vaccines or therapies. The most common BSL-4 agents are hemorrhagic fevers, including filoviruses like ebola, Marburg, and Lassa; and CCHF. (We’re probably forgetting a few). Many of the nastiest nasties like Yersinia pestis (plague), yellow fever, Rickettsia spp., are BSL-3 because there exists an approved or experimental vaccine or treatment for them in humans.

BSL-4 implies, among other things:

  1. Hermetically-sealed rooms with highly-engineered HVAC systems to control any air interchange; HEPA filters catch even the tiniest viral particles. The BSL-4 facility is physically isolated from non-BSL-4 buildings or areas. Operations are conducted in accordance with a detailed procedures manual.
  2. Permanent underpressure (so air would never flow out if the seal leaked or was breached; a truly leak-proof seal is a near impossibility, but it can be approached asymptotically).
  3. At a minimum shower-in, shower-out through an airlock.
  4. Minimum number of people allowed in. All personnel must have (extensive) BSL-4 general and facility-specific training.
  5. Everyone inside must wear a positive pressure personnel suit. Every individual’s suit has a segregated air supply.
  6. No clothes from outside go in, no clothes from inside come out.
  7. Anything that does come out, comes out through sterilization measures, usually an autoclave.
  8. Even inside the BSL-4 containment, work with BSL-4 pathogens takes place under hoods or (preferably) in cabinets.

These are international rules and we’d assume the Russians follow them also.

Anyway, she thought the plunger didn’t move, but instantly reported the accident, and took basic first-aid measures. And things started to happen. Because an ebola patient is not infectious for 24 hours, she was allowed to go home and pack for a month away from home. (Home wasn’t very far, because the same facility where she worked hosted her quarantine area). Then she came back to USAMRIID, and walked through the round stainless-steel vault door of RIID’s “Patient Isolation Suite,” or, as everybody called it, The Slammer. There she would stay for 21 days.

If she lived that long.

They made it as comfortable as possible for her. She had a computer and TV, and could stay in touch and read the news — including reports on her own health in the local paper — on the internet. She had a VCR (yeah, not DVD) with a bunch of old movies.

There were basically three possibilities: (a), she hadn’t been infected; (b), she had, and would soon be dead of the disease; or (c), she had been infected, but would be one of the minority that beat the disease. The postdoctoral researcher was young, but adult, and healthy, which helped. And all the skills of all of RIID and its many peer organizations and cooperating scientists were galvanized into action.

An Experimental Hail-Mary Pass

In addition to the other precautions, RIID scientists and their industry and academic peers took a look at whether any experimental therapy might work. A small company in Corvallis, Oregon, AVI BioPharma (formerly AntiVirals, Inc). had been working for years on a concept called Morpholino Oligomers (called PMOs sometimes, abbreviating a longer name), which interposes a synthetic therapeutic molecule — the PMO — between the patient’s cell’s nucleic acids and the single-stranded RNA virus causing the disease. (Viruses use the infected organism’s cellular mechanisms to reproduce themselves). At the time it was a highly experimental therapy, unproven not just for ebola in humans, but for any disease in humans, any primate, or even any laboratory animal.

Because viruses need living cells to reproduce, the scientists at AVI were big believers in direct-to-animal testing, using rodents, ferrets and non-human primates. But with just 21 days max, if Researcher X had been infected, there would be no time for testing. Worse, given the state of technology of 2004, it took about 8 days to make the morpholino in potentially-therapeutic quantities, but it took several days to sequence a pathogen’s genome, and the gene sequence of the infectious virus strain was necessary to start morpholino development! Here, the researchers caught a break: since RIID was working with a known ebola strain, they had a good sequence in-house. The gene sequence of the virus was blasted through the internet to AVI, and morpholino production started. In a very short time, a tiny vial of potentially life-saving — but completely untested — ebola therapeutic morpholino was on a jet from Oregon to Maryland.

It was eight days after the researcher’s lab accident.

A Lucky Break

Medicines are tightly controlled in the various nations of the world. The US has an early-20th-century food-and-drug-act with many subsequent amendments, one that tends to strangle real medical research — like morpholino research — while giving legal cover to bogus nostrums and snake-oils (all the stuff that advertises on radio; it’s all crap). But giving an experimental molecule that hasn’t even been given to a mouse to a human is strengstens verboten. Still, if Researcher X had broken with ebola, they’d have given it to her. But the researcher got a lucky break. She never tested positive for the virus, never developed systems, and walked out of the Patient Containment Suite for the last time on 3 March 2004, 21 days after entering.

If she had broken with ebola, perhaps morpholino research would be further along today. But perhaps she’d be dead; there is that, and we wouldn’t wish her dead to advance science.

Science will still get there.

How Science is Getting There Today

Most of the players have moved on. The top guy in RIID’s program then went over to DHS’s expensive, duplicative, and troubled biodefense program. AVI BioPharma has become Cambridge, Massachusetts -based Sarepta, which continues morpholino research and recently reported successful non-human primate trials for a morpholino therapeutic for Marburg virus. Like ebola, Marburg is a Cat A bioterrorism threat agent, and Sarepta’s research has taken place in collaboration with USAMRIID.

One thing has changed. A 2011 rebuild of several buildings at USAMRIID eliminated the Slammer. RIID is hard up for space, and the Patient Isolation Suite hadn’t been used since 2004. The 2004 incident described here was its first use since 1985; from 1972 when the Slammer opened to 1985, 20 other patients were considered and 17 were admitted, some of which for diseases later downgraded to BSL-2 or -3 pathogens. None of them broke with the disease; it seems like every case was an exercise of due caution. The managers of RIID concluded that any future BSL-4 patients, including suspected ebola exposures, could be adequately contained in local hospitals. The duplicative new DHS BSL-4 facility at Ft Detrick (NBACC), and a triplicative planned new facility (NBAF), an exercise in Nebraska Avenue empire-building which DHS is extremely defensive about, also do not contain any facility for isolating infected researchers.