Category Archives: Industry

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

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

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

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

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

iprotect_firearm_sensors

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

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

How Times do Change

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

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

But that was then, this is now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Problems with iProtect?

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

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

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

So what’s the verdict?

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

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

Redundancies at Remington, Sackings at Savage

dithers_fires_dagwoodLayoffs are in the news this week, with skilled workers getting the boot for reasons of both politics and business.

105-150 jobs cut at Remington in Ilion, New York, as the company relocates from the hostile ground of Cuomostan to more congenial climes. Hat tip Bob Owens, who says:

We’re not just seeing gun rights and gun jobs lost as a result of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spiteful NY SAFE Act. We’re seeing the destruction of American history, and the slow death of a small town, all in the drunken pursuit of political power.

Well, what do you expect? “Elections have consequences,” one of the most gifted politicians i history is reported to have said. Syracuse.com reports that the AR lines (notably Bushmaster) and 1911 pistol are moving to Huntsville because they are threatened by Cuomo’s Orwellian-labeled SAFE Act

Politics don’t seem to be the main driver in another 95 redundancies at Savage in Westfield, MA, or 25 further layoffs in an Ontario, Canada facility. Savage does not make guns threatened by most states’ legislation, even New York’s, but its home state of Massachusetts has passed a new law that makes the required permit for a long gun (or BB gun) a may-issue license, depending on the whims of police. The real driver of the layoffs, though, is Savage’s purchase by Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

Savage has a long, and turbulent, history, according to MassLive.com:

ATK’s $315-million purchase of the Savage Sports Corp. went through in July 2013. The Savage Arms Co. was first organized in 1894 by Arthur Savage in Utica, N.Y. In 1920, the company bought Stevens Arms of Chicopee.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, the company was passed from owner to owner, including a stint as part of Black & Decker. Savage declared bankruptcy in 1988 when it was losing $25 million a year.

Ronald Coburn took over that year and brought Savage out of bankruptcy by cutting costs and focusing on bolt-action rifles, an area of the firearms business in which Savage developed a specialty.

In 1995, Coburn and his investors bought Savage and its subsidiaries for $33 million.

Coburn retired in February 2013 just as the sale to ATK was announced.

ATK plans to spin off all its sporting-goods suppliers into one firm, Vista Outdoor, keeping the defense industry suppliers in the original firm. ATK will remain, and Vista will become, publicly held firms. Those plans are proceeding, and now ATK plans, once it has shed Vista, to merge with Orbital Sciences Corporation. The details of the ATK-Vista-Orbital agreement are found in this SEC filing, which we don’t think has been linked elsewhere in the gun press.

The precise terms of the agreement get quite complicated, as you might expect would happen in a break-up and followup merger of such large firms.

Don’t be a Dick’s: Anti-Gun Gun Store’s Income Sinks

Ah, let us taste the sweet nectar of Schadenfreude.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS) on Tuesday reported net income that declined by 17 percent in its fiscal second quarter, and beat analysts’ expectations.

The Coraopolis, Pennsylvania-based company said profit fell to $69.5 million, or 57 cents per share, from $84.2 million, or 67 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Dick’s Sporting Goods shares have declined $14.59, or 25 percent, to $43.51 since the beginning of the year.

via Dick’s Profit Sinks on Higher Costs, Restructuring Charge | Fox Business.

Revenues actually rose slightly, and they beat the analysts by a couple pennies, because the analysts were already expecting them to decline. So the stock ticked up a hair. But here’s a couple of fine points from Yahoo Finance.

Screenshot 2014-08-21 00.37.35

 

The first, the big chart, is the six month performance of the stock. Next, look at the lowest section of the graphic, which tracks Dick’s for over ten years. It took a hit like everyone in the Great Bath of 2008, but then recovered — until it went Full Bloomberg. Note how 2014 (far right) doesn’t look like the previous years. Only two analysts have issued recommendations on the stock in 2014, and they split (Hold and Buy).

Compare Smith & Wesson over the same period. We think of Smith as the most volatile of the gun stocks, but look how big the squares of this graph are! The stock has varied, but over a $5 range; and the June peak was a 52-week, post-Recession, and all-time (since 1998 or so, when the chart begins) high.

Screenshot 2014-08-21 00.49.02

Dick’s has been looking for a way to get back into the growing, profitable end of the gun market without bringing down the wrath of the Bloomberg Rent-a-Moms, who were praising it when it threw the gun culture overboard.

Stag Arms Introduces 9mm Carbines

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

Stag Model 9

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

Stag Model 9TL

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The technical stuff rom the Press Release:

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

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

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

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Pre98.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Pre98.com – Home.

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

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

Mauser C96 Broomhandle

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

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

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

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

M1 Carbine 1944

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

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

It’s not just guns: a scene from the war on guitars

RIP, Ovation. This is a more upscale model, but the same color.

RIP, Ovation. This is a more upscale model, but the same color.

If you were in 10th SF Group in the early 1980s, you might remember a guy who had a funny-looking red guitar with a couple of appropriate stickers (like one from Soldier of Fortune) magazine on it. He sang the usual parodies — a pop hit “Don’t you Forget About me” came out as “Don’t you give me VD.” And the unit songs, like Bovine, Frog and Lopez’s “You Don’t Bludgeon a Seal,” which was about the cute pups of the marine mammal, not their naval namesakes, who could have that cold-water swimming $#!+, as far as we were concerned. And a few originals, like “Night Patrol”:

On a night patrol you live in fear,

That the sound of a breaking twig might reach a foreign ear.

Good people, good times, a good guitar. The guitar was truly weird, although by the time it was made in the 1970s they’d started catching on. Product of a spinoff of an aerospace company, it was the first acoustic guitar to be widely available with electronics built-in. Behind the red soundboard, with its odd pattern of holes, was a polymer bowl; the neck was a space-age graphite composite material, molded to an aluminum armature and set automatically by the factory. Every part came out of the autoclave perfect, and was fused at the perfect angle. It wasn’t entirely indestructible, but it was close. (Singer Jim Croce had one, and in its case, it was fine after the plane crash that killed him). There was very little maintenance required, an important factor for an instrument that would be palletized by team members, or worse, the group riggers under the guidance of Air Force loadmasters.

Best of all, Col. Richard W. Potter, Jr., Commanding… hated that guitar. “^$$*!! I hear a guitar.  Sergeant Major, I told you to keep that guitar off this deployment!”

We bet, when you saw “the war on guitars,” you thought we’d bring up the Government’s war on Gibson Guitar Company, which weaponized Federal agencies stretched laws to do — because the head of Gibson, Henry Juskiewicz, was a Designated Enemy of The Party. Nope. Henry can defend himself quite ably, and has done so. Google is your pal if you don’t know what we’re talking about. But that guitar that so entertained (or irritated) Green Berets at airstrips, SFOBs, isolation areas and Lord knows where else across America and Europe was an Ovation, spun off in an imaginative attempt to apply aerospace technology to guitar making. Just because the guy who ran an aerospace company, Charlie Kaman, who made rescue helicopters for the Air Force and Navy, was a guitar player who got the idea of combining the technology with his hobby — kind of like Sullivan with Armalite, actually.

Dannel Malloy, the anti-gun and anti-manufacturing Governor of Connecticut hasn’t just attacked the gun industry in the Nutmeg State, you see; he’s attacked all industry, and industry has reacted. Sikorsky, for example, moved its R&D “Hawk Werks” to another state, where they wouldn’t have to deal with Malloy’s pals, the mobbed-up unions. Because, who would want his state to be the home of the future of helicopter R&D?

Kaman, itself once a series helicopter maker itself, makes odds and ands for other defense contractors more than it makes helicopters any more. Even though its K-Max was revolutionary, today’s DOD actually would rather hire that heavy-lift capability from Russian or Ukrainian Mi-26 operators.

And Ovation finally closed its doors. A Hartford Courant writer, Dan Haar, was there, which is a delightful irony, because the Courant is all for whatever The Party decrees, and manufacturing is bad and evil, except for the Jobs, which don’t offset the Evil Profit Thing enough to survive. Or something. Anyway, here’s Haar going all sentimental with the last workers as they literally lock up the place.

Just about everyone had said farewell a few weeks earlier, when production stopped.

Back on that glum day, six or eight guys had climbed up into the tower of the 1840s mill building and rung the iron bell 47 times — one for each year Ovation made guitars at the New Hartford factory on the Farmington River.

Now, with the machines gone, just two factory employees remained: Howard Ives, a master craftsman who made the high-end Adamas line of instruments, mostly by hand; and Mark Lamanna, who joined the company just out of trade school three decades ago and rose through the ranks to head production for the past 10 years.

Lamanna stood with David Hurley on the vast, L-shaped, wooden floor, noisy with the task of making 15,000 instruments a year not long ago, now silent and empty except for two lone tables and rows of ancient wooden support columns, painted white. Hurley, whose family owns the historic building, is president of the Hurley Manufacturing Co., a spring-maker that shared the complex with Ovation.

via Closing Notes Of Ovation Plant: Memories And Music – Courant.com.

Ovation guitars are going to be made, probably to a lower standard, in some place like Indonesia or Vietnam; they’ll either be a lot cheaper or make middlemen a lot richer, and old, American Ovations will join the ranks of treasured vintage instruments.

Haar catches part of what Connecticut, America, and the world lost in this one plant closing, quoting Ovation luthier Mike DeNoi:

“I miss the people, believe me,” he said. “I spent more time with these people than my family. I know the skill level of these people. It’s such a waste; you can’t replicate this.”

That idea of needlessly lost skills kept coming up, and it’s hardly new. This complex was built by a once-great textile operation that made ships’ sails — the Greenwoods Co., which had its own village on this site, with a dam for water power. It exited Connecticut way back in 1901.

When a factory closes, its demise is a public marker in the community’s memory, like a hurricane or a flood. Waring. Fafnir. Ideal Forge. Scoville. So many more, all gone — even as we celebrate this weekend the 200th birthday of Sam Colt, linchpin of all Connecticut manufacturing.

There is a roomful of ironies in Connecticut celebrating Sam Colt even as all right-thinking people there — definitely including Haar and the Courant — demonize his products and the people who build and use them.

You might not ever have heard of Hurley Manufacturing, the remaining company in the building vacated by Ovation, but we bet you have one of their springs. Among their products is the recoil spring that Colt ships in every AR-15, M16 and M4.

Are they next?

If we were the governor of Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia or one of the Carolinas, just to name some places where manufacturing in general and gun and defense manufacturing in particular finds a welcome embrace, we’d be looking up David Hurley’s phone number.

MD Governor Creates Jobs! — in TN

beretta USA logoIn the past, Beretta General Counsel Jeff Reh has made it clear that the ancient Italian gunmaker’s American operations would be much more comfortably conducted in a State where the Governor and Legislature didn’t get their jollies vilifying gun manufacture. But moving Beretta is an enormous pain, because of ongoing Government contracts, hassles with local authorities, and the permitting process involved in some industrial processes that use hazardous materials: chroming bores, for example.

So, they figured that since new production lines would be the same hassle anywhere, they’d stand those up in the new place, and keep making the old stuff in the old place as long as it would sell. This also let them take care of their workers — something that matters to the Beretta family, even if it doesn’t mean much to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who’d rather see ‘em on welfare and dependent on him.

Then, Beretta’s folks actually dealt with the authorities and neighbors in their new factory location, and were astounded to find that, unlike Maryland, where they’re hated despite being one of the best employers for many miles around, in Tennessee they’re welcome. Very welcome. And not just because they’re spending nearly $50 million and bringing hundreds of jobs; Tennesseans are actually proud to be the New World home to everybody’s favorite 16th-Century Old World gun maker.

Meanwhile, O’Malley is beating the drum for more restrictions on guns and on manufacturing. Beretta USA General Manager, with the auspicious name, Jeff Cooper, in a Beretta PR:

“While we had originally planned to use the Tennessee facility for new equipment and for production of new product lines only, we have decided that it is more prudent from the point of view of our future welfare to move the Maryland production lines in their entirety to the new Tennessee facility,” Cooper added.

They’re announcing it now, well in advance; the lines won’t be moving until next year, and the last one out before they turn out the lights will be military M9 production. Beretta seems to know that the venerable M9, adopted three decades ago amid controversy that’s never really abated, is reaching the end of its run; it’s been a good run for Beretta (and is probably the only reason the Italian decision-makers ever greenlit US production in the first place).

And, contrary to the press, it’s an OK gun for a service pistol, which is the least important weapon a military service ever buys. There’s a terrible mismatch of ink (or pixels) spilled and combat utility, probably because every clown who’s ever pontificated at a gun store thinks he’s an expert on pistols, and the only thing he knows about mortars is that they use the bombs as grenades in Saving Private Ryan, so he guesses that mortar bombs explode.

The transition of production from Beretta U.S.A.’s Maryland facility to the Tennessee facility will not occur until 2015 and will be managed so as not to disrupt deliveries to Beretta customers.  Beretta U.S.A.’s production of the U.S. Armed Forces M9 9mm pistol will continue at the Accokeek, Maryland facility until all current orders from the U.S. Armed Forces have been filled.

What will happen to the workers? Well, their jobs in Maryland will end, and it’s very unlikely another manufacturer will step in to such a hostile environment. The managers will give employees a chance to move to youthful, growing Tennessee from aging Maryland; those that don’t want to move will be kept on as long as possible; a few will remain in office jobs, as Beretta doesn’t plan to move those.

Of course, they hadn’t planned to move the production jobs, either. And O’Malley and many other politicians really, really hate the company and its workers and products. No doubt, some of them voted for him: turkeys for Thanksgiving.

“We have not yet begun groundbreaking on the Tennessee facility and we do not anticipate that that building will be completed until the middle part of 2015,” continued Cooper.  “That timing, combined with our need to plan an orderly transition of production from one facility to the other so that our delivery obligations to customers are not disrupted, means that no Beretta U.S.A. Maryland employee will be impacted by this news for many months.  More importantly, we will use this time to meet with every Beretta U.S.A. employee whose Maryland job might be affected by the move to discuss with them their interest in taking a position at our new facility in Tennessee or, if they are not willing to do so, to lay out a long-term strategy for remaining with the Company while our production in Maryland continues.”

Beretta U.S.A. anticipates that the Gallatin, Tennessee facility will involve $45 million of investment in building and equipment and the employment of around 300 employees during the next five years.

Beretta U.S.A. has no plans to relocate its office, administrative and executive support functions from its Accokeek, Maryland facility.

That’s from the official press release; do Read The Whole Thing™.

Once they experience the delta between MD and TN taxes and regulations, who thinks the remaining office jobs are safe? The only thing keeping companies in Maryland at all is the desire to be close to government contracting offices in the National Capital Area. If there’s no follow-on  to the M9 in Beretta’s future, what’s the use of maintaining the Accokeek office?

Looking at the Layoffs at SIG-Sauer

sig_sauer_logoThey’ve been playing coy about the numbers, and calling it a “workforce adjustment” (hot tip for corporate PR dweebs: that kind of mealy-mouthed, nutless spin fools no one, and is why all productive workers hate you as much as Mauch-era HK hated its customers). But there’s no question there was a big layoff at SIG last week. This is in addition to a layoff announced just a week or so earlier, and another layoff just over a month ago. The most credible numbers we’ve got indicate that the total layoffs (circa 8 July and 15 July) are 240 workers out of 800 SIG Sauer workers in the USA. This may or may not include the unannounced layoff of 57 in May.  (A plan to grow headcount to 900 in 2013 was quietly scuttled last year). No class of worker, except senior management, has been spared (and we’re not sure about senior management). Manufacturing workers, engineers, warranty & rework gunsmiths, logistics and facilities workers; direct and overhead employees, salaried and hourly, all of the ranks have been thinned.

The Union Leader (New Hampshire’s largest paper) reported that high-tech manufacturing workers comprised a large portion of the latest layoff:

[Michael] Power [of the state unemployment office] said workers laid off at Sig Sauer in Newington could have new options for employment, citing New Hampshire’s growing aerospace and advanced composite industries.

“A lot of these workers are skilled, particularly in (computer numerical control) machines and advanced manufacturing,” Power said. “We have a good need for these people.”

As in any layoff, the ultimate cause is that the company does not expect these workers to make enough money for the company to justify paying them. One of the reasons given by company spox Allen Forkner was “to control costs.”

Forkner is not a company employee, but an outside PR consultant from Nebraska who works for many industry firms, including SIG. It’s not very likely he really knows what is going on; it is very likely that he’s the author of the timelessly brain-dead “workforce adjustment” spin.

We think we can offer a better analysis

Being a lot closer than Forkner to SIG-Sauer (both physically, and in contact with current and, now, former, employees) we think we can offer a better analysis.

There are two factors in this one: the first is an inventory glut (or, if you prefer, a sales holiday). It’s caused by easing off of the ban-threat-motivated sales spike as anti-gun Democrats lay low during an election year, and market saturation as everybody ramped up production at once. Now SIG is sitting on high inventories of some guns that were expected to be big sellers. Price cutting and sales incentives in recent months did not move the overstock guns, including SIG’s ARs and centerfire pistols, in the numbers SIG managers needed to sell.

The second factor is that some of SIG’s biggest R&D spending in the last few years has not turned into sales.

  • ITEM: The MPX carbine has been in lawsuit limbo due to an ATF ban, and the LE SMG version arrives in a market where DOD is trying to turn every Sheriff’s office into a Stryker Battalion — the appeal of a $2k-plus 9mm carbine pales compared to a “free” 5.56 from Uncle.

MPX-SD-Detail-L

  • ITEM: The very expensive SIG P250 modular program is in trouble, with one Federal agency that tried to adopt the ingenious 21st Century “Man from UNCLE” gun having quality control nightmares. The P250 isn’t new, but it was an important technology demonstrator and a harbinger of things to come.

Sig P250 modularity

  • ITEM: The P250 problems, and rumors of similar QC issues with the new gun, threaten the P320 modular striker-fired program, just as the Army has written a request for proposal that seems like it was written with the plastic SIG in mind.

P320-FS-Nitrondetail-L

A Deep Dive into P320 Sales. Or… no-sales

The P320 issue deserves a deeper look. The list price of the P320 is $719, but we doubt one has ever been sold at full retail. A glance at GunBroker shows 204 of the new guns listed, inviting initial bids to buy-it-now of $519.30 to $629; there’s one guy desperate for action with the initial bid at $100 (he has a higher reserve price). How many of these guns have drawn bids?

None. Not one. Not even the guy trolling for a $100 start bid. So that’s part of the math: 204 guns + 0 buyers = fewer jobs at SIG. But while none are selling right now, is it possibly true that none have sold? Of course not… since the gun’s introduction, we know some have sold, because we’ve run into a couple at the range. And for the record, no complaints from the owners of the new guns, no visible QC problems, no polymer chassis coming apart (cough *P250* cough). But how many of them have sold at GunBroker? It’s probably the main auction site used both by people who buy and cycle stuff through their local FFLs, and FFLs trying to lay hands on something their jobber or distributor has not got (no fear, there, on the P320. SIG even has rebates!)

This next search will only work if you are a GunBroker member, and will require you to log in. It finds closed or completed auctions or sales of P320s, and organizes them by price, high to low. There are 591 completed auctions. Of those:

Let’s add ‘em up: 1+1+1+… that’s 22 guns sold, on the first of 8 pages, and these are the highest priced ones. We’ll spare you a list of all the others, and spare ourselves checking to see if they sold or were no-sales for reserve, but add up the bid-on guns per page: Page 2, 14 guns bid on, all for $549. Page 3, 32 bid on, from $525-545. Page 4, 50 guns bid on, from $5 to $525.

Over time, the rate of sales seems to be declining. We’d have to pull more data manually from GB to confirm if that’s the case, but that’s how it looks — exactly what a manufacturer does not want to see, assuming the sell-through numbers that SIG is getting from its distributors show a similar slackening of demand.

OK, we can’t resist, let’s go back and spot check the guns that were no-sales due to reserves. Here’s an alarming little clue to the P320 zeitgeist: on Page 3, all the guns that had reserves (8 of them) were no-sales. So only 24 guns sold, not 32. Page 2 had no reserves. Page 4 had almost all guns under reserve.  The guns that sold were exclusively no-reserve guns; the reserve guns, even when bid up higher than some sellers’ buy-it-now prices, did not sell. The lowest-priced gun that seems to have actually sold was $499. It seems many sellers placed the reserves in the $600 neighborhood, which is just more than the current SIG market can bear. As a result, only 12 guns out of the 50 that drew bids actually sold.

Since prices lower than the $5 at the bottom of Page 4 could only be low-ball bids on reserve guns, we didn’t bother to look at the other four pages of futile auctions.

To sum it up: Of 591 auctions found in a search of GunBroker, this highly promoted new pistol accounts for 56 sales over a period of more than 90 days (April through July). The prices the sellers, all dealers selling new guns, want are about $100 below list; the market is only interested in paying about $200 below list.

SIG was Counting on these guns (MPX, P250, P320) to Sell Well

One reason for SIG’s expansion into a new (to them) facility on the former Pease AFB was the expectation of higher sales, driven by new product introductions. At least three of the company’s new product introductions are not driving those sales.

Even lobbying won’t help much: the small NH delegation (2 Representatives, 2 Senators) has only one pro-defense member and three anti-gun defense cutters who would just as soon let the Air Force hold a bake sale for its next bomber.

It’s an Industry Problem, not just a SIG Problem

They’re not the only ones downsizing in the industry, or suffering with failed product launches. Covering the latter first, Remington is dealing with the failure of its R51 pistol, a marketing plan that shipped without a working gun attached. But Remington seems to have cut its losses, at least for now; Guns Save Lives reported that the R51 had been given the Leon Trotsky treatment on the Remington Central Committee website. So they stopped the bad press, but they did it by strangling the baby. Only time will tell if that’s temporary, while the R51 is fixed, or if all the R&D, manufacturing, and marketing time and money will have to be marked off as sunk costs.

In New Hampshire alone, two other firms have also struggled with declining firearms demand: Green Mountain Barrels in Conway, NH, has shed half its headcount (roughly 100 of 200 pre-layoff jobs), and the behind-the-scenes Latva Machine Co., a supplier of precision-machined parts to Ruger and other firearms manufacturers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two weeks ago. Latva, which is over $3 million in the hole, will try to reorganize and stay in business, at the expense of its owners and creditors (which is how bankruptcy works).

Ron Cohen’s merry men must be looking at Remington’s silent assassination of the R51 with envy. They probably don’t have the luxury of being able to do that: they have a warehouse full of plastic SIGs, and a dealer network that has to be getting vocal about the sell-through of these arms. (Would you want to be the guy who reports 159 P320s in inventory right now? What if he borrowed money to buy them?)

Yet, we’re not aware — yet — of problems with these SIGs. So why are customers staying away? Two possibilities, both of which could be operating to some extent. First, it could simply be sales exhaustion. We know people who bought dumb stuff during the panic. Heck, we bought dumb stuff. (Glock drum magazines? They work, but they’re still dumb). Second, reputation is what we MBA dweebs call a “trailing indicator.” That means that Ron and the guys could start cranking out the best pistols ever made with the remaining crew in Newington, and it would still be years before their reputation recovers from some of the turkeys they shipped from Exeter.

Is that fair? Not really, but it’s the way human minds, and the reputations of humans and their organizations, work.

The Brief Moment of the Revolving Carbine

This past weekend, the 200th anniversary of Samuel Colt’s birth (19 July 1814) was celebrated by a bunch of Connecticut arts types, in nearly gun-free Connecticut fashion. If any of these professional irony enjoyers noted the irony, they didn’t say anything about it. But that’s got us looking at some of Sam’s accomplishments, and that brought us around to one of Colt’s least successful products: revolving carbines.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the best and greatest means of rapid fire was the revolving pistol. It seems like a natural idea to extend that to a revolving rifle or carbine; and this, Sam Colt did, as early as 1839. This brief (minute and a half!) video shows an extremely rare 1839 .52 caliber Colt that actually was one of a mere 360 acquired by the US Navy, and is now in the possession of the National Firearms Museum:

This Paterson Colt carbine was made from 1838 until 1841, and apart from the Naval guns, which may have been used by the Marines at the Siege of Veracruz in the Mexican War, too late to do that version of Colt’s company any good: the Paterson firm went bankrupt, and Colt had to start over. He retained his patents, so that whatever happened to his companies, the crown jewels were safe with him and his family. (This was prescient of him, for he was to die young).

The Mexican War not only gave the Marines a new direction (the landing at Veracruz was the first of what would become a standing Leatherneck specialty, amphibious landings on defended shores), but it resuscitated Colt, due to a military order for 1,000 revolvers, which were delivered before war’s end and are known as the Colt Walker revolvers.

The refreshed Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company had a new, improved carbine by 1855, incorporating all of Colt’s new patents, and was producing it, and the more popular revolving pistols, in a new Armory building that was the marvel of Hartford, in a planned industrial community on an area of reclaimed land (note the berms or dikes in the image below). The area that encompassed all of the Colt factory, its workers’ housing, and Colt’s own grande manse was officially called the “South Meadow Improvements” but came to be known as Coltsville.

colt-armory-color-retouch-H

 

The carbine had two problems, both insurmountable from the military point of view. It was very expensive (the 1855 carbines cost the military $44 each, $1,189 in 2014 dollars), and, while it was safe if loaded and fired with care, a flash-over that was not usually that big a disaster with a revolving pistol had the potential for shredding a rifleman’s support hand. If there is a right way and a wrong way to load a weapon, no organization made of humans will ever be able to train 100% of its people to do it right 100% of the time.

When the Armory burned down in 1864, a $2 million plus ($54M plus 2014) loss of inventory, machinery and jigs to Colt, of which about $1.4 million ($38M) was excess to insurance carried, the remaining plant was used to manufacture pistols exclusively; the demand for Colt revolvers was inelastic, and repeating cartridge firearms on the horizon rendered the revolving rifle or carbine obsolete. The total production of the Colt carbines was very low; the 1855 was scarcely more produced than the 1839 version.

After the Civil War, Remington produced a version of its revolver as a carbine, also finding it disappointing in sales, although not as much so as the Colt version had been.

Since the 1960s, several versions of replica Colt and Remington carbines have been made. These are more frequently collected, from what we’ve seen, than fired; used ones usually have far more handling marks than they do indicia of firing.

The great Cap and Ball Channel from Hungary has posted three great videos on two carbines, an original Colt and an Uberti copy of a Remington.

Part 1, about the Colt (~6 minutes). The music is pretty awful, especially when it isn’t ducked under the voice, but the analysis of the unique mechanics of the gun makes it well worthwhile:

Some of the unique features of this .44 caliber Colt 1855 include progressive depth rifling, and a cylinder that is rotated by a ratchet on the rear end of the cylinder pin. This gun may be a bit off the military norm, as it appears to have been a sporting gun originally sold in Europe (it bears English proofs).

Part 2, about the Uberti clone of the Remington (~3 minutes):

Part 3, both are taken to the range (yes, even the very valuable original Colt) and shot for accuracy. If you’re only going to watch one video, this is the one. It also shows loading with loose powder and conical bullets, but also with period-style paper cartridges, which is how the real Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs would have done it. (Not to mention everyone else who went to war with percussion, like the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War, all manner of 19th Century naval riflemen, and the British in the Afghan Wars). This one’s about six and a half minutes.

The Capandball.eu site and associated YouTube channel is a real find, but we didn’t want to wait for a TW3 to show it to you.  If we have any beef with the chance to watch the two percussion revolver carbines on the range, it’s that he didn’t quantify their accuracy. But they look like fun, and one’s a sample of a moment in time that will never be repeated — the other shows us that the artifacts can be repeated, even if the times can’t be.

These firearms were an interesting evolutionary dead end (sure, there are cartridge versions, even a Taurus Judge carbine, but these are dead ends, too — curiosities). They came about because they were the logical progression combining proven examples of a known technology (the percussion rifle and the percussion revolver) into a hybrid that seemed like it had a bright future. (After all, if you were a cavalryman, or a Pony Express rider, another customer for the Colt ’55, wouldn’t you rather have six shots before facing the difficulty of reloading on horseback than one?). But unbeknownst to Sam Colt, and to his designer and right-hand-man Root, a technological disruption was on its way: new cartridge repeaters were coming that would eliminate all the disadvantages of the revolver carbine.

Root kept Colt relevant with cartridge revolvers, and even before the Colt family sold the company in 1901 new managers were embracing the novelty of the automatic pistol. Like Apple 100 years later, the company had a knack for grabbing hold of a technology that was about to take off in time, before its customers even knew that that was what they would want. But you don’t get to that kind of position without tripping down a few blind alleys. And thus, we have the Colt Revolver Carbine and its clones and imitators, a novelty for collectors and curiosity seekers.

Pistol OCD: Why the Pennsylvania State Police went SIG (long)

Recently, we posted a story called Pistol OCD, about the Pennsylvania State Police’s remarkable run through quite a few different makes and models of service pistols in a very short time. The most recent change, this year, is from the Glock 21 to the SIG 227R, both pistols in .45 ACP caliber. We linked and quoted the actual contract terms and solicitations posted on official Pennsylvania websites.

PSP SIG 227

But we were missing one thing — and it was a big thing. We didn’t have any idea of why the PSP was changing over to the SIG. A changeover from Glock to SIG is relatively uncommon, compared to a change in the other direction. And to change abruptly, a year after letting a contract for Glocks and less than a month after the PSP’s last mod to that contract, would seem to require a really strong reason.

Well, Pennsylvania readers have filled us in on what the reason is. Obviously, the managers of the PSP think it’s a good reason — a really good reason. And it is, potentially: safety. 

Specifically, the Glock, unique among current service pistols, requires you to pull the trigger to disassemble the pistol. So every time you need to clean your clock, you need to pull the trigger. It should be a no-brainer to clear the pistol first, and even then, to ensure it’s pointed in absolutely safe direction before pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case with PSP troopers. It is, in fact, a very hard behavior to enforce on a large and diverse population.

The Shooting that Sidelined the Glock

The single incident that triggered the PSP’s abandonment of the Glock pistol took place on the early afternoon of March 7th this year. Before this, there was a constituency for replacing the Austrian pistols; after this, there was urgency to the task. Joseph Miller, apparently a PSP Trooper, although some media reports, apparently mistakenly, described him as a laid-off former nonsworn dispatcher, called 911 to report a shooting. His wife, Joanne, 34 years old and 22 weeks or so pregnant, was nonresponsive when first responders arrived, with a single gunshot to the cranium evident. Miller explained that he had been dismantling his gun for cleaning, when he pulled the trigger, and the round he discharged struck JoAnne in the head.

She was nonresponsive when paramedics arrived; they’re not allowed to pronounce death but they’ve seen it enough to know. They rusher her to the hospital, where medical staff knew she could not be saved but mounted a heroic, long-shot effort to save the baby. In the end, they admitted defeat; and one shot had taken two sould. The PSP had two options: blame the cop, or blame the Glock.

It seems self-evident that that particular negligent discharge is the one that put the skids under the Glock as a PSP service pistol. It doesn’t even matter whether you believe it was simple negligence, whether you believe that it was a case of a guy using the well-known accidental discharges as an excuse for murder, or whether you don’t know what to believe: it clearly has occurred to PSP managers that if they have a pistol that doesn’t need one to dry-fire for disassembly, they’ll never hear that excuse again.

The Miller case is depressing to read about. We’ll refer back to it in a bit, but if you want to read about it there are no shortage of stories:

  1. March 8: Trooper’s gun goes off, killing pregnant wife. Nice passive voice from the Morning Call.
  2. March 8: Pennsylvania trooper may have accidentally shot, killed pregnant wife: report. The New York Daily News at least knows whose digit was on the projectile actuator.
  3. March 10: Police say Pa. trooper accidentally shot wife. It took a couple days for the Philadelphia Inquirer to wake up; maybe they needed to see the story in the Daily News? Anyway, they too credit the cop with the shooting, not his gun.
  4. March 10: Pennsylvania State Trooper Fatally Shot Pregnant Wife While Cleaning Gun: Police.  The Huffington Post, of all things.
  5. June 6: Three Month Investigation Concludes with Determination that March 7, 2014 East Norriton Shooting Incident was Accidental; No Charges to Be Filed. The official report from the Montgomery County DA’s office.
  6. June 7: State trooper cleared in wife’s shooting death: Wife, unborn child died when gun fired during cleaning. The Morning Call, still with the passive voice.

It wasn’t, of course, the only PSP negligent discharge. Some crop up in the news and some don’t.

For instance, in October, 2010, Trooper Nicholas Petrosky’s 4-year-old son Micah was transported to the hospital with a gunshot wound in the leg. The accident was investigated by local police, who accepted Petrosky’s statement that the boy got hold of the gun while his father was in the shower, and immediately closed the case as an accident. The State Police did not investigate, and stressed that they had no interest because the gun in question was a personal off-duty gun, not an issue service pistol. The child was expected to make a full recovery, fortunately.

In June, 2012, a State Trooper shot himself in the leg at the Belfast, PA, State Police Barracks, “while unloading his car.” How he did that without trying to pick up the Glock by the trigger was the subject of one of those investigations that never quite wraps up.

In April, 2014, a State Trooper had a negligent discharge inside the Meadville, PA, State Police Barracks. No one was injured, and there were no career consequences to the cack-handed cop.

In addition to these accidents, which became public because of the casualties, or because they happened in a public building, there are rumors of numerous other negligent discharges while cleaning or handling the Glocks. These have been handled informally. In fact, it is State Police policy to keep negligent discharges secret, according to a story on the Meadville mishap:

[T]here was no news release made on the incident.

Asked if the report on the incident [by the PSP's Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards] would be made public once it is completed, [spokesman Sgt. Mark] Zaleski said it would not because it was a personnel matter which is a closed record.

As you might expect from such a non-confidence-building policy, it isn’t building confidence. Read the comments of the dangerous armed (with $5k double-barrels) men at trapshooters.com, for instance.

Is there a Double Standard for Negligent Troopers?

None of the troopers who have had negligent discharges have suffered career consequences, let alone criminal charges. In the tragic Miller case, some have complained that, because Miller was a trooper he got a deal a normal Pennsylvanian wouldn’t get. The prosecutor disagrees, criticizing Miller rather strongly, while not charging him.

Based upon a thorough review of all the available evidence, the District Attorney concluded that Joseph Miller was negligent in the handling of his firearm; however, his conduct did not rise to the necessary level of recklessness or gross negligence, that would give rise to criminal liability. The totality of circumstances simply reveals that this incident is a tragic, but negligent, accident.

Now, if we had a parallel case where the at-least-negligent shooter was a civilian, we’d know if Pennsylvania was a state of laws, or a state of ranks and titles. If only we had such a case!

Mirabile dictu, such a case is right at hand, and fresh (June, 2014).

[Denver Blough, 25] allegedly broke his 20-gauge gun into two pieces, separating the barrel from its stock, Trooper Ted Goins wrote an affidavit.

“Blough related he took the barrel assembly out to a kitchen area to show [his pregnant girlfriend Caressa] Kovalcik, where it discharged into her face,” Goins wrote.

Blough, currently in Somerset County Jail, has no prior criminal record in the region, according to online court records.

The only differences between the Blough and Miller cases, in probable order of their importance to the two respective outcomes:

  1. Blough is not a state trooper;
  2. Blough talked to the state police for hours; Miller made a statement and lawyered up;
  3. Blough admits he had been arguing with Kovalcik;
  4. Blough’s and Kovalcik’s child was saved by medical intervention (life support and C-section), perhaps in part because the pregnancy was about full term.

Now we know how Miller would have been treated if he hadn’t had that patent of nobility, a police badge.

There is also other evidence of a double standard. The State Police’s policy on negligent discharges (click on “Accidental Discharge Policy.pdf” at that link) explains that as long as a cop is the one ND’ing, they’re really all “accidental.”

Microsoft Word – Accidental Discharge Policy CURR.doc

I. DEFINITIONS

Officer-involved shooting
An officer’s discharge of a firearm that results in the physical injury or death of a person, whether or not the discharge was unintentional.

Officer-involved discharge
An officer’s unintentional discharge of a firearm that does not cause injury or death to a person.

 

…and they only need to be reported immediately if the ND hits somebody, that is, in the former case of an “Officer-involved shooting.” Otherwise, a report in writing, filed within ten days, to the Firearms Education and Training Committe, is sufficient cover. There’s a section of the policy that initially seems to be a Lee Paige rule (inspired by the world’s most famous Glock operator), requiring instructors who have dumb-ass NDs in public on the range to be decertified. But there’s an exception a PBA lawyer can drive an MRAP through:

Microsoft Word – Accidental Discharge Policy CURR.doc

As long as an instructor is adhering to proper range safety protocols when such a discharge occurs (has not performed a negligent, unsafe, or careless act) and there are no injuries, the weapon discharge procedure does not take effect and no discharge report is necessary.

No harm, no foul. Well, apart from the encouraging more ND’s bit. There is that.

And this brief foray into a policy that seems to reward rather than punish NDs brings us to another question:

Will the SIG end the Negligent Discharge plague at PSP?

We’ll go out on a limb here, because it’s a robust and sturdy limb built of decades of observation of organizations with what sociologists call “insider morality.” And answer the question: No. Not a bit.

The problem is that the shootings are not caused by the Glocks, but by the people who cannot remember or follow simple, clear, and exception-free instructions. Remember, they’re not always clearing their gun before they go to clean it. Remember, they’re not always pointing their guns in a safe direction with a solid and sufficient backstop before pulling the trigger. They’re not always keeping their finger off the trigger until lined up on target. Changing firearms because you can’t train or incentivize these irresponsible behaviors out of your work force is not going to produce safety; it can’t. 

A lot of cops don’t know and don’t care about firearms, and that may be a natural reaction to how little firearms matter in the real day-to-day life of a road trooper (until the rare, outlier day when they matter more than anything in the world; but people work off heuristics, and if you’ve gone three thousand days without having to clear your holster except for annual quals, you only practice if you want and like to). Most cops are not as interested in firearms as you are (or you wouldn’t be reading this). Most bricklayers don’t go home and build walls for fun, and most cops don’t shoot for fun, or even for any more proficiency than they absolutely need to get through the annual qual with a passing score.

Some cops don’t like guns at all. Some are on the force because it’s a family tradition. Some are on the force because it’s a good, statistically safe (again, until the moment it isn’t, when statistics provide cold comfort), well-paid government job with rich benefits. A few of them are on the force because they like to boss people around — very few, fortunately, as the academies and the selection process make scant attempt to screen for that type, and they’re impossible to dispose of once they’re in.

As a result, Pennsylvania Troopers of tomorrow are the same imperfect clay as the troopers of yesterday and today. They will continue to have negligent discharges with their new SIG 227R pistols, because the causative factor in an ND is the negligence, not the operating features of the firearm. The SIG does have two features that may reduce some kinds of firearms mishaps: unlike the Glock, it does not have a light trigger pull, but a long DA pull on first shot, and also unlike the Glock, it need not be dry-fired to disassemble it. But the SIG has other features that will cause problems for a 5000-officer force where only 500 (if that many) care much about the handgun they carry. It has a rich, but complicated, operating system with multiple control levers. The Glock has a trigger, slide stop, and magazine release; SIG has those plus a decocking lever and a takedown lever. Police officers will not only continue to have NDs with this new system, they may have more problems putting it into action (and safing it afterward) due to its relative complexity compared to the Glock.

One has to have a certain sympathy for the PSP managers. They have a tough situation, even if it’s partly self-inflicted. There’s a solution at hand, but they’re not willing to take it: if they made a public vow that an ND was an automatic dismissal, they’d see NDs wither away to an irreducibly low level, especially after they made one or two negligent cops walk the plank pour encourager les aûtres. Many years ago the Ranger Regiment, inspired by another ARSOF unit, made such a determination and even though every Ranger is a young, impulsive male, and every Ranger probably fires more live ammo in a year than the ammo budget of the entire PSP, NDs are a once-in-several-years event. Rangers are not supermen, they’re merely carefully selected, well led, and properly incentivized. PSP ought to try it.