Category Archives: Weapons Themselves

Ten Rules for Collecting

These are not original, not any of them. But they are wisdom passed down from generations of collectors before us. And almost every collector has a story to go with each one. These are specifically aimed at gun collectors, but they’re general enough that they’ll work for whatever you collect, whether it’s Spiderman comics, barbed wire, or cats.

Wait, not cats.

1: Some Day Your Item Will Be Sold Again

Perhaps you will sell it to deal with a financial calamity, like your daughter being accepted to college. Or a sixteen-count Federal indictment. You never know what the future holds. Moreover, if you keep eating red meat (or anything else) and breathing oxygen, one of these days you’re going to up and die. (Sorry to break it to you). What then?

You should probably think, before you buy, about the potential circumstances in which you will sell, and plan accordingly. The default option, “Let my heirs sort it out, it won’t be my problem,” does not do those heirs any favors. Most of them will cut some deal with a dealer and your collection will be dispersed for 30¢ on the dollar, if that. Set it up so the heirs get as much of the whole dollar as possible, and they can spend it on whatever silly $#!+ they collect! Or donate it to a museum, but if you do that, you’d better know that the museum might want a piece or two but will just auction your stuff to get cash to buy whatever the curator’s priority is.

Collection entropy. It happens. You can’t prevent it.

2: Buy the Book Before You Buy the Item

This is old, old, old advice, and almost everyone has a story. “I thought this was incredibly rare, and then I got Roger Kaputnik’s book where I learned that all 600,000 produced, minus the one in the Royal Museum of Ruritania, were imported to the USA by Val Forgett in 1966. After that, I started seeing them in every shop in Podunk for half what I paid.”

That’s why gun collectors say, “Buy the book before you buy the gun.” It’s not just gun collectors. Every serious car collector looking for a Shelby Cobra has the SAAC book that documents, to the extent possible, the provenance and disposition of every chassis by CSX Number. This protects you against fakes, misrepresentations, and (most common problem) your own errors. Buy the book. It armors you with knowledge. Books aren’t perfect, but there’s stuff in that book you’ll never learn without it. Learn from the other guy’s mistakes!

3: Rarity has no Direct Effect on Price

Something could be the only one made, or the only one surviving, and yet nobody cares, or almost nobody. We watched one of the rarest and most historic rifles in existence expire, and get re-listed, for over a year on GunBroker — before we finally up and bought it. And as far as we know, nobody else was even following it. The gun was a survivor of only a few thousand made, ages and ages ago. We didn’t snap it up right away because, like the French knights’ master, we already had one. Finally we gave in to the impulse to corner the market, kind of like the Hunt Brothers but in a much smaller pond. That doesn’t mean our two ultra-rare rifles just got more valuable. It just meant we have two examples right here to write about, and whoever liquidates our collection has double the rare-Brno-rifle headaches.

Meanwhile, have you seen prices on GI 1911A1s lately, or M1 Carbines? A beater GI M1 Carbine, which was produced in a quantity of over 6 million, is worth over double the value of the above-mentioned extremely rare rifle, of which around 1000 times fewer were made, and which seems to have had a much lower survival rate than the common Carbine. And the Carbine will almost certainly appreciate (although that appreciation will have its limits).

Rarity does affect supply, but that’s only one side of the equation. The rarity of Colt Walker revolvers only adds up to headlining auction numbers because of the firearm’s historical importance and high collector demand. For all we know, Italian Rigarmi .25s may be nearly as rare as Walkers, but as a crummy, derivative gun from a forgotten company in a secondary gun-manufacturing country, they’re functionally orphans. We’ll give you a Rigarmi for a case of beer — and you can owe us the beer.

Here’s a very direct example of how rarity does not impact price. If you were to machine, yourself, a steel copy of an M1 Carbine receiver, engrave your own name and “Serial Nº 1” on it, and build it up with available parts, you would have the only one of its kind. But people want an Inland, ideally one that is documented to have hit the beach on D-Day, but remains in new condition (yes, those are contradictory objectives. That’s collectors for you). They will pay much more for the Inland than they will for your copy, even if you spent 10,000 hours making it, and even if it is machined and finished far better than anything produced during the war.

(Incidentally, this example also proves the untruth of Karl Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, the principle on which the whole monstrous lie that is Marxian economics stands).

4: Highest Price, Highest Appreciation

A rising tide lifts all boats, perhaps, but if you want to appreciate faster than average, you need pieces that are higher quality than average — which means, they are already higher priced than average.

This also means that the value of these high-flyers will take the greatest hit in a market downturn; but that’s temporary. Over time, the most in-demand pieces (Winchesters, Colts, Lugers, that original FG-42 that went for nearly $300k) will outpace the general market consistently.

5: Junk Just Becomes Old Junk

And popularity gets magnified. While some things are so rare and historic that even beater-condition examples are valuable, that’s not the house bet. If it was el cheapo crap when it was new, it may be an interesting way to have a collection of cheap crap culture of the period, but there’s just never going to be that much interest in no-name spur-hammer .22 short revolvers of the 1870s, or crummy Spanish, Italian and Belgian.25s of the 1945-68 era. You can call your junk “vintage” if it amuses you to do so, but when you go to sell it, it will bring junk prices. Unless you sell it on a street corner in the Engelwood section of Chicago, which we don’t recommend for health reasons.

6: Buy the Piece, Not the Patter

Every gun comes with a story. But absent proof of provenance, it’s just a story. Some dealers are extremely skilled at selling you the sizzle, but all that you will have when you open the package is the steak… and if you aren’t a similarly skilled purveyor of sizzle, you won’t be able to pull off the same stunt. (Even be careful of provenance documents. We’ve observed computer-faked Colt and S&W letters, and there’s some jerk out there that’s used one CMP document to “authenticate” dozens of inauthentic M1 Rifles with the help of some digital Wite-Out. See Rule #9).

7: “Instant Collectibles” — Usually Aren’t

Things that are manufactured and sold, new, in large quantities, as collectibles? Like Franklin Mint, American Historical Foundation, various gaudy el cheapo commemoratives, those kinds of collectibles? Well, they aren’t, much. There are a few exceptions in commemorative or limited-run guns by makers that make proportionately few limited-run guns. If an outfit’s business is commemorative-heavy, it’s selling sizzle and not steak.

8: Don’t Let Yourself be Rushed

There are a very few items that exist in single digits, and a very, very few deals that will never be equalled. Don’t let yourself be rushed into something prematurely. Remember that the “higher price later” will probably just reflect general inflation, and may even be short of that. It will almost certainly be short of what your money will make in an index fund in the same period. Being able and willing to walk away from a piece puts you in charge. Make Je ne regrette rien your motto, when the Deal Of The Century scoots away from you. There are other days and other deals.

9: Not Everyone is as Honest as You Are

This is a painful lesson to learn, but we’ve found that there are two reasons a piece might be misrepresented: the seller doesn’t know his representation is incorrect (a real possibility; maybe he didn’t buy the book); or, the seller does know his representation is incorrect. A seller misrepresenting one gun may be making a mistake; a seller misrepresenting many guns, whether he does so in series or in parallel, is a different thing entirely. Most sales take place on an as-is basis, and the buyer has no recourse. The seller will always deny any intent to deceive, and he may be telling the truth, or think he is. (Some of these guys are so bent, they deceive themselves). If you suspect someone is this kind of guy, look over his return policy (3 days if the firearm is unfired and unmolested, no other questions asked, buyer pays shipping back, is fairly standard; deviations from this against the seller’s interest should be a caution signal). But as a buyer, you have the right not to do business with anyone (as a seller, likewise). It’s a right well exercised.

10: It’s Not an Investment

We can’t hammer this enough. While this is a great fiction to tell yourself (or your wife, or in one case we know about, husband), as an investment collector anything is speculative, risky, and almost certain to lag the stock indices.

That said, it does have a purpose for some people. Just as equity in a home is some people’s only savings — savings because it has been forced upon them — for some people, the only store of wealth they have is in their firearms. Firearms are always convertible to cash, unlike most other collectible items.

Bonus: In the End, You Do this for Entertainment

Don’t take it too seriously, don’t expect too much of it, don’t be freaked when others in your life don’t understand. You’re doing this for your own entertainment and education, and the only one you have to please, as long as you keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, is yourself.

You do keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, don’t you?

How Many Guns In Your “Arsenal”?

We get the impression from you guys in the comments that gun ownership among the readership ranges from zero to hundreds of firearms.

Since we’ve seen that the media counts anything more than a couple firearms as an “arsenal,” we assume most of you have an arsenal at home. But how big?  So it’s time for a poll.

How many guns have you got?

 
pollcode.com free polls

You can vote with confidence, as even Super Administrator Powers can’t tell us who said what. Of course, if you spill your collection size in the comments, then everyone can see. We can’t see how that would harm you, but it’s a free country and you can keep your secrets if you like.

This should be an excellent opportunity for smart-ass comments, from those of you who are so inclined. Tomorrow sometime we’ll tell you what bracket Your Humble Blogger falls into.

Update 1 @ Midnight 15 Mar

We’ve seen some interesting comments, and over 350 poll-takers, with some in each bin but the tails having the lowest numbers. Having just found some deficiencies in the inventory, Your Humble Blogger is pretty sure he falls in right around the midpoint of the 51-100 bracket, maybe 8 or 10 above midpoint if incomplete retro AR receivers count.

Lots of respect for all — doesn’t matter how many guns you have, what matters is having the right to make the decision for yourself. Mad props to the people who keep the light burning in the jurisdictions experiencing firearms Dark Ages.

Update 2 @ Noon 16 Mar

Over 600 poll takers so far. 70-something comments, plus another handful over at the poll site. If we ever do this again, we’ll have to include Boating Mishap among the choices.

If You’re Prone to Collection Envy Syndrome, Don’t Watch This

You may have seen this video already as it’s been going around. But it’s a collection tour of a collection that we can say with some confidence is deeper than yours… it’s sure as hell broader and deeper than ours.

Not all his descriptions are accurate. Can you spot his errors on the tank and the bombs? Those are a couple of the easy ones to catch.

He has a right to be proud of his collection though, that’s for sure. Heck, he’s lucky he has space to put it all… in any ordinary setting it would be a rather unique hoarder problem.

Persistence of “Obsolete” Gun Designs: 5 Reasons

At a very well-stocked gun shop, the most expensive new firearm might be a Barrett .50 or a TrackingPoint precision guided weapon. But it might not. It might very well be a European trap or hunting shotgun, a well-decorated and supremely finished, but technologically simple double-barrel over-and-under, with lockwork a 19th Century gunsmith would have recognized.

A Luciano Bosis ‘Michelangelo’ 12-bore shotgun. From the Bosis website.

For about $600 a buyer can take home the latest high-tech defensive pistol, or for about the same price a basic clone of the high-tech defensive pistol of 1911. He’s well armed either way, but why has technology marched on in the pistol world, but stood still on the shotguns used by bird busters (of the meat and clay variety alike)?

Any rifle problem in the world from rimfire plinking to open-range elk hunting has a version of the AR that can conceivably be applied to it. But hunters still buy lots of bolt-action rifles, with bolts that owe their basic design to the 19th Century efforts of Mauser in Oberndorf.

Indeed, here in New England, the single-shot break-action firearm continues to hang on in the market; new production continues.

The firearms market, then, is unlike other markets. In 1960 only a few car models sold in the United States came with automatic transmission standard; by 1970, air conditioning was in that market position, by 1980 electronic fuel injection… but these technologies are nearly universal now. Why do “obsolete” firearms actions persist and thrive in a market that has seen centuries of innovation? Why does the innovative product take its place alongside the venerable one, and not replace it?

Here are some thoughts.

  1. In some cases, the innovative product does replace the venerable one. Consider the police revolver. 30 years ago, a mainstay of industry magazine publishers was “revolver vs. automatic for police.” Nowadays, if you brought that article to your editor, he or she would suggest you need your head examined. Many agencies don’t let a cop carry a revolver, any more, even off duty.

    One of Colt’s best loved guns isn’t even made anymore.

  2. The gun buyer is inherently conservative. It’s much easier to sell a driver on the benefits of fuel injection than it is to sell a hunter who’s perfectly happy with his .30-30 on the benefits of a funny-looking plastic and alloy semiauto. (This also hurts European makers who tend to make guns that “look funny” to Americans. Think HK’s hunting rifles of the 80s and 90s).
  3. There is a draw to history in old-fashioned firearms. We double-dog dare you to pick up a Colt SAA and not think about the Old West (even if the Old West of public memory was mostly the creation of dime novels and moviemakers). Ditto, a 1911 and World War II. For many in the shooting sports, the draw to history is personal and familial. If you were the unloved grandson who didn’t inherit Gramps’s Winchester 64, you pine for one; this seems especially true for bird hunters, almost all of whom were introduced to the sport by family.
  4. Sometimes you’re tied by rules. Nobody’s going to get to use a Saiga shotgun in a trapshoot this year. Some states’ hunting laws ban semiauto or detachable-mag-fed semi weapons, on the theory that they promote snap shooting and bad sportsmanship.
  5. Sometimes the older design is perfectly fit for the task. Evolution stops because it has reached a plateau or point of equilibrium (just as evolution of living things is currently thought to do, between incidences of salutary mutation). While many jurisdictions’ regulations restrict hunting weapon magazine capacity, there’s little impetus to change these laws because the game gets a vote, too, and it tends not to stick around when the guns open up. Hunting upland game birds, two shots is often one more than you can practically get off when the birds flush, and two is pretty much the limit. Same with bolts and hunting of ground game. Doesn’t matter if you’re belt-fed, one shot and Bambi is outa there. Likewise, if there is a better gun to teach a beginner the rudiments of safety and shooting than a break-action, exposed-hammer single shot, we surely can not think of what it is.

We’re “thinking out loud,” here, and there might be more than five reasons. We’re most partial to #5 of the explanations above. But you’re welcome to shoot holes in this theory. Are there other guns than the police revolver that have become eclipsed in living memory? The .25 Auto, perhaps… what else?

Total US Firearms: Not 300 Million, but 412-660 Million?

Fun With NumbersThe typical estimate of the total number of firearms in the USA is about 300 million, depending on whom is queried. For example (some of these links are .pdf):

The numbers are all over the place, and many of them seem to recursively refer to one another, not exactly building confidence in the rigor of their development. But they seem to cluster around a Narrative-friendly 300 million. But what if that number is wrong?

millions-of-guns

We believe that the correct number is much higher — somewhere between 412 and 660 million.   You may wonder how we came to that number, so buckle up (and cringe, if you’re a math-phobe, although it never gets too theoretical): unlike most of the academics and reporters we linked above, we’re going to use publicly available data, and show our work.

What if we told you that one ATF computer system logged, by serial number, 252,000,000 unique firearms, and represented only those firearms manufactured, imported or sold by a relatively small number of the nation’s tens of thousands of Federal Firearms Licensees?

ATF maintains a system, introduced in 1999, called Access 2000 or A2K (GAO report; details are in the .pdfs linked at that .html link). This system allows voluntarily participating manufacturers, importers and wholesalers (no retailers) to enter their firearms by the identifying data that goes on a 4473 directly into an ATF computer. The firms can’t see the data on this system, they can only feed it in. This system is then used by the National Tracing Center in West Virginia to respond rapidly to trace requests: given serial number, make and model they can produce an instant hit, saving field agents a trip to the manufacturer, wholesaler, or jobber. Sometimes this hit can instantly tell the trace technician what retailer was the firearm’s point of first retail sale, really expediting the trace.

The participating licensees get significant benefits from this system. They can dump their computer data directly to ATF (ATF actually provides a data-entry only terminal node for A2K in the participants’ premises) and then they never have to drop everything for an ATF trace, because ATF can track the firearm from creation (or importation) to sale out of point-of-origin from a desk in Martjnsville, West Virginia’s National Tracing Center. You can comply with your legal requirement to support crime (and found, and idle curiosity, and fishing expeditions and dragnet) gun tracing without any additional expense.

From the ATF’s point of view, it eliminates a possible source of security leaks in investigations. (This is not saying that they automatically suspect licensees more than anybody else. They just know, as Ben Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”) It also gives the ATF the bones of a future national registration system, a controversial idea even within the agency, but one that has its internal champions, including Deputy Director Thomas Brandon, who has been campaigning for Hillary Clinton on that exact issue.

Field agents and criminal investigators have no direct access to A2K. Only 44 employees of NTC (some of whom are sworn agents, mostly in case someone has to testify in court, but most of whom are support personnel) have access to the system. That access is controlled by an access roster set up to deny non-admitted personnel both physical access to A2K terminals and computer access to the data. Systems are supposed to be in place for intrusion detection and auditing.

millions-and-millions-of-guns

None of the current academic media and academic estimates were developed with A2K data, even though this data has been made publicly available. You’re probably reading about it here for the first time.

The participants in A2K include, as of fall, 2015, 35 firms representing 66 FFLs total.

Because some of the participants are wholesalers, some firearms manufactured by non-participating manufacturers are included, in addition to all the firearms made by participants.

For legal reasons, A2K is kept separate from all other agency computer systems, and while it is on the public internet for maintenance purposes, it has no direct connection to any other ATF database.

As of 2 October, 2015, the data in A2K included 252,433,229 records, representing one firearm each. That means that at least those 250 million firearms have been manufactured, or imported, or sold at wholesale in approximately 15 years.  (Duplicate records, say from a manufacturer or importer in 2000 a jobber as a used gun in 2007, don’t increment the count; the unique serial number ties those data points together as a single “record”).

For the total count of firearms in the USA to be 300 million, the following must be true:

(A2K + all firearms made and sold by non-A2K FFLs from 1999-2015 + all firearms made by everyone 1899-1999 +  all firearms imported 1899-1999 + all firearms made or imported since October, 2015) – firearms exported = 300M.

It seems unlikely that 5/6 of all firearms were made or imported in the last 17 years.

Because one or two of these big distributors or jobbers may account for many surplus and used-firearms imports, they may include used as well as new guns, but they almost certainly don’t include resales of individual guns. And if police guns are counted once (sales from manufacturer, etc. to police) they shouldn’t be counted again (sales of surplus police guns to the  distributors enroute to the public).

We know that the ATF collects the records of out of business FFLs, and that these records are very slowly digitized but never OCR’d (they are legally forbidden to do this. They had preserved out of business records from A2K, which they deleted when GAO caught them [.pdf] in March, 2016. The preservation seems to have been inadvertent). The ATF can only estimate the number of out of business records as “hundreds of millions.” Absent computerization, there are many duplications in these records as the same serial number moves around. How many times has that World War I Mauser Gewehr 98a changed hands? As far as we know, no one has even tried to estimate this. But with the use of make/model/serial as a unique key in A2K, we do know that this 252 million does not include any significant number of duplicates.

We also know that ATF compliance with the law in this case is slow and grudging — for example, ATF’s own Chief Counsel’s Office, the nominally subordinate department that is considered by many ATF managers and agents to really run the agency, noted aspects of noncompliance with A2K in 2009, but never corrected the problem until 2016, after GAO called them on it in 2015. But that’s another story.

Now, the question of estimating how many guns exist in the United States can be restated as a single question: what percentage of all the guns in the country were handled by these 35 firms / 66 FFLs in the period 1999-2015? 

It is a difficult estimate to make in any supportable fashion. While those include some of the largest manufacturers and producers, as of October 2016[.pdf], there are 2,451 licensed importer FFLs (Class 06) and 11,093 manufacturer FFLs (Class 07) outstanding. Thus your 66 A2K paricipants account for less than one half of one percent of operating manufacturers and importers. Also, these are last year’s count of A2K participants and this year’s count of FFLs; it seems likely the participant count was much lower when A2K launched, and possible the FFL count was lower, after the mixed successes of the first Clinton presidency’s attempt to push FFLs out of business. Thus, the percentage count of participant FFLs is not constant. (For example, in October 2013[.pdf], there were 2,336 Class 06 importers and 9,082 Class 07 manufacturers).

Applying the Pareto Principle, it is possible, probable even, that a small percentage of high volume manufacturers and jobbers produce the largest percentage of the nation’s new firearms. Selecting 80/20 as a rule, which seems improbably generous over the lifespan of A2K, during this period these 66 FFLs produced 80% of all firearms traffic. Thus, the 252 million is 80% of 315 million new-to-the-market firearms.

One easy thing we can do is add 2016’s numbers, because we know they can’t be included in A2K’s 1999-2015 data set. Two ways to estimate 2016 production are to use FBI NICS checks (which are an imperfect measure) and NSSF adjusted NICS numbers (which are an attempt to make a conservative estimate by eliminating sources of upward bias in the FBI data, like one state’s monthly NICS on all permit holders). According to the FBI, there have been 19,872,694 NICS completed through 30 Sep, 2016; and NSSF adjusts that to a conservative 10,837,308.

Using a conservative algorithm to extend these numbers through the end of the year, we get 26,496,925 from FBI and 14,449,744 with NICS. (This is done by adding up the nine months’ data we have already, dividing by nine to get an average, and multiplying that average by 12 to get an annual number. It is conservative because of the seasonality in the sales data; the top sales months are always November and December). As we are making a conservative estimate, we take our conservative average-based forecast from the more conservative data source, NSSF, and we round (down) to the nearest million. We now have 329 million firearms, with fairly trustworthy data and estimates in which all the most conservative assumptions were used, introduced to the US on-the-books market from 1999-2016.

Items Excluded

Some sources of firearms are probably not numerically significant, at this time, and can be excluded. The first of these is off-the-books private production. This has increased greatly in the last 15 years, as we known from our own built-from-non-firearm-80% receives. How big this market is, no one knows. We conversed with one manufacturer last year who said, not for attribution, that he had shipped in excess of 100,000 80% lowers in the previous year and was constrained by the production schedule of the forging subcontractor he used. Assuming 80% of those were spoiled by end users, ratholed for future use or held for resale, and only 20% completed (which seems to us like a very conservative estimate), then that’s 10,000 more from one off-the-books source. There are at least ten manufacturers in the position this one is in, so up to a million more incomplete receivers move towards the (horrors!) “ghost gun” home and small-business gunsmithing market annually, and 100,000 of them make it to test fire. Given the impossibility of measuring these, and their small effect on the totals, and our attempt to make a conservative-biased estimate, we chose to leave these firearms out. But we all know they’re there.

Clandestine production by unlawful entities can not be known. It is a known unknown. And illegal importation by smuggling is known to have increased since the essential abandonment of border enforcement in 2009, but it is not thought to be numerically (as opposed to criminologically) significant. It is a small known unknown which can probably be discounted.

The most significant thing about these non-traditional and clandestine producers is that, as we have seen in places as disparate as Australia and the West Bank of the Jordan, they are prepared to fill the gap, should firearms production be further restricted by officialdom. The market is like flowing water — it finds a path, or makes a path.

So What’s Left?

At this point we have a reasonable and very conservative, very low estimate of 329 million new firearms to the US market 1999-2016. The question becomes one of estimating how many firearms were made and imported in the period from the invention of modern metallic cartridge, smokeless powder ammunition from, say, 1899 to 1998 — and how many of those survive as practical, usable firearms.

There are several ways to estimate this number:

  • We can throw a Pareto 80/20 number out there (about 412-413 million);
  • We can make a SWAG that about half the guns in circulation are pre-1999 (about 660 million);
  • We can comb old books for production data (TBD);
  • We can ask the ATF (we’re sure they’ll be forthcoming… right?);
  • Or, we can ask you for your ideas.

Absent a better idea, we can say that the US inventory of firearms is almost certainly between 412 and 660 million, not the lower numbers recently trumpeted in the media. And your ideas are welcome, in the comments or to @Hognose on Gab.

UPDATE

Thanks to TheGunFeed.com for picking this up as its featured article on 25 October.

TheGunFeed links weaponsman

We’ve been linked by the site frequently, and it’s brought us a lot of new readers, but we don’t recall ever being the top dog before. We’re extremely appreciative. Many thanks!

WeaponsMan readers: If you ever want to know what the hottest stories in the gun world are, The Gun Feed has a constantly updated page of them for you.

TheGunFeed readers: welcome! Don’t miss the comments below, because we’re blessed by an unusually experienced, educated, and agreeable cohort of commenters. Consider joining them if you have a point to make, you’re always welcome. We try to keep it clean and civil.

UPDATE II:

Welcome to readers of Peter Grant (we enjoyed Brings the Lightning, by the way) and Vox Day (who linked Peter’s post at Gab).

 

One of these Guns is Not Like the Others

Sing along with us, kids:

One of these guns is not like the others;
One of these guns just doesn’t belong.
Can you guess which gun is not like the others,
Before I finish my song?

(Puzzled international readers, that’s from a long-running and hell-for-saccharine TV kids’ “educational” show which everybody’s mother made him watch at least a few times). Now that we’ve had our sing-along, here’s the photo. Which one doesn’t belong?

ghanahomemadeguns

The photo ran a couple months ago in the always entertaining Impro Guns website, with this heading:

Locally produced firearms seized in Ghana

And all of the pistol-things on the table are, indeed, the sort of thing you’d expect from Ghanaian village blacksmiths — except the Luger P.08 that’s the second one back on the right.

Wonder what its story is? Unfortunately, some Ghanaian copper has probably already either thrown it into a smelter, or sold it back onto the black market.

The constant panoply of odd creations that turn up on Impro Guns illustrate many things, but one of the major ones is, “What a simple machine a gun is to build,” and another, “How universal the desire for firearms is,” Most of these improvised guns are made where strict gun control reigns, or tries to. A great many of them are made by criminals and terrorists. Others, however, seem to be the product of hobbyists, and still others, made by or for people who simply feel a need for self-defense, a need that is never met perfectly by The State.

Indeed, in most strict gun control jurisdictions, the state makes nearly no effort to step in and defend its disarmed populace. Look at LA or Chicago, with hundreds and thousands of murders respectively, most of which go unsolved even though none of them seem to be committed by criminal masterminds. So at some point, the peaceable and formerly law-abiding person breaks out and builds himself, or has built for himself, a tool of self defense.

The criminal element, meanwhile, skips simple defensive handguns and long guns, and goes right to making suppressed automatic weapons, as the police in Australia have discovered. The Australian gun ban (semi-autos and pump and lever shotguns) has not seriously inconvenienced the criminal element, which is well armed with auto weapons on the conceptual level of the Sten or Mac-10. Criminals used to avoid these weapons because of the disparity in consequences for getting caught with one, vis-a-vis a revolver. Now, a criminal is as well hung for a sheep as a lamb, and goes direct to St. Valentine’s Massacre capability.

The only consequences you can always count on are unintended consequences.

Note: we’re still running late here, over 12 hours behind schedule, for which we beg your forbearance. Your Humble Blogger has been a bit under the weather, and dealing with it by drinking plenty of fluids, skipping PT (unfortunately) and spending plenty of time snoring in the recliner with Small Dog Mk II. These are wondrous and joyful activities indeed, but they don’t get the blog written on schedule. Bear with us — Ed.

Czechoslovak vz. 22 Picture Post

We recently discussed the Czechoslovak Model (vzor) 22 semi-automatic pistol, the first handgun produced by the state arsenal at Brno, and showed a couple of pictures of an example in our collection. Fine and good, but let’s do like we did with the Praga of similar vintage and look in some depth at the vz. 22.

cz_22-06

The look of this series of guns, which begins with some Mauser experimentals in 1903 and runs through many prototypes and the production M1910 and 1910/14 to the Czech vz. 22, 24 and 27 is a matter of taste; some people like them, and some think they look “blocky” and awkward. Of the series, the vz. 22 probably has the best lines.

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This pistol is a very good condition, late example of the type. As all were, it is chambered for the Czechoslovak Naboj vz. 22, which is functionally the Browning 9 x 17 aka .380 ACP. This particular pistol was accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1923, and seems to have lived a mostly indoor life. The external finish is generally smooth, deep and beautiful, as befits a gun made in an arsenal created in the image of the Mauser-Werke, but internally there are signs of extensive handwork.

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The parts all fit extremely well — too well for machine production only, circa 1920 — and all seem to be marked with full or partial serial numbers, which reminds us of the reports in the literature that these guns were hand-fitted and that the Czechoslovak authorities found the parts not to be interchangeable. (Without more vz. 22s on hand, unlikely considering what we paid Rock Island got for this one, we haven’t yet confirmed that the parts are not interchangeable).

The stocks are made of walnut and have shallow checkering (this is a good first-glance discriminator between the rare vz. 22 and the merely uncommon vz. 24). The finish is deep blue with some parts finished in a heat-straw finish, as was common on Mitteleuropäische pistols of the period. As on Lugers, probably the pistol that is most familiar to collectors and uses such a straw finish on trigger, safety, etc, the straw generally fades long before the blue goes. Our impression, which is subject to change as we see more examples, is that the CZ-Strakonice factory that took the project over (for vz. 24 production) later used fire blue instead. Both are beautiful but not well-wearing finishes.

More pictures after the jump!

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Why Your Professor Doesn’t Let You Cite Wikipedia, and Other Misfacts

What was the first Double-Action/Single-Action self-loading pistol? We think we know the answer, but let’s check with Wikipedia. In the article on “Trigger (firearms)” they tell us several times what it is:

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame, safety with 90º of rotation, and the fragile wraparound grip. The circular marking above the magazine release (all PPKs were made with the Browning-style release used on all but the earliest PPs) is the logo of RZM, the Reichszeugsmeisterei — literally “Imperial Thing Master” but really the Nazi Party’s quartermaster store. (It later was part of the now defunct McGraw Kaserne in Munich). 

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Walther introduced the first “double-action” semi-automatics, the PPK and P.38 models, which featured a revolver-style “double-action” trigger, which allowed the weapon to be carried with a round chambered and the hammer lowered.

Umm… conventional wisdom is that it was the PP, in 1929 (although as we’ll see, the conventional wisdom is almost as wrong as Wikipedia on this).

Very Early Walther PP. This one has a heel magazine release like its forerunner, the internal-hammer SA-only Model 8. (It's for sale in Pennsylvania).

Very Early Walther PP. This one has a heel magazine release like its forerunner, the internal-hammer SA-only Model 8. (It’s for sale in Pennsylvania). PP stood for Polizei Pistole, and the shortened (in both grip/mag and barrel) was the PP “Kriminal” or “Detective Police Pistol.” (Plainclothes detectives were and are called the Kriminalpolizei). 

The PPK didn’t come along until 1931, and design of the P.38 didn’t even get rolling until the mid-thirties. But they repeat this “fact” that isn’t a fact, in the same article:

There are thousands of examples of DA/SA semi-automatics, the Walther PPK being the first, followed up by the Walther P-38.

Again, the PPK wasn’t even the first Walther. Wikipedia has no PPK article, (the PPK links above go to the Walther PP article), but the PP article is a dog’s breakfast of random and contradictory claims. It does note that the PP began to be manufactured in 1929 but elsewhere (on the same page!) claims it wasn’t used as a German service pistol until 1935, was produced in France from 1945 to 1986, was produced in the USA from 1945 for Interarms (Interarms didn’t exist yet, and there was no need for a US-made PPK before the Gun Control Act of 1968), and a few paragraphs from the French production from 1945 claim, they date the onset of French (Manurhin) production to 1952, and that the PPK is much more popular than the PP. (Not if you count German police sales).

See, this is why your professor goes ape if you cite Wikipedia on a term paper. Because if you use it to look up something you already know about, you see how crummy it really is. There are literally dozens of mistakes on the two pages we cited and linked.

Starting with, “What was the first double-action semi-automatic pistol?”

However, Wikipedia is not alone in crediting it to Walther. Some other outfits that do include:

In 1929, the company revolutionized the world of semi-auto pistols with the introduction of the first double-action (DA) model, the Walther PP. This was followed in 1930 by the slightly more compact Walther PPK.

Why this little bit of Walther historical trivia?

Uh, cause it’s wrong? That’s probably not why he included it, eh. He probably didn’t know. Who else didn’t know?

The Walther PP, introduced in 1929, was the first commercially successful double action (DA) pistol.

Well, to his credit, he didn’t say PPK and he included “commercially successful.” But even given this weasel-wording, he’s wrong, as at least one DA/SA auto pistol was made in quantities of tens of thousands before the Walther PP saw the light of day.

Jeez. Did anyone get this right? At least, that the PP wasn’t the original DA/SA automatic?

Well, yeah. Garry James at the American Rifleman, come on down:

Introduced in 1929, Carl Walther’s PP (Polizei Pistole) was by no means the first double-action semi-automatic ever designed—several had appeared since 1905—but unlike most of the earlier attempts it worked, and worked well.

James is right. Who else? How about no less an authority than Edward C. Ezell?

Walther was not the first company to introduce a double-action, self-loading pistol, but they were the first to create a commercially attractive and economically practical double-action self-loader. ….

Although the PP can be viewed as a simple evolution of design– it has the same disassembly system as the Model 8 –it was really a revolutionary product at the time.NOTE

We do think even Ezell overstates the case for the uniqueness of the PP.

And next week (after we’ve sorted the gunsmith special on our bench) we hope to have some info on the real first mass-produced SA/DA autopistol:  the Little Tom of Alois Tomiška, which we mentioned last month in a post that featured images of two .32 ACP versions.

A .32 Little Tom produced by Wiener Waffenfabrik in Wien (Vienna), Austria in the 1920s.

A .32 Little Tom produced by Wiener Waffenfabrik in Wien (Vienna), Austria in the 1920s.

Oh, and the Little Tom? The most unique thing about it is not its DA/SA lockwork, because other designers went on to copy that.

Seeing Double?

We dunno. We think we like the Arsenal double-pistol better, but you have to admit these are easy on the eyes:

cabot_jones_double_01

It’s just a pair of decent custom 1911s… on Gunbroker… but wait… one’s a perfect mirror image of the other. You know, for when you go run IDPA stages dual-wielding like an action hero.

Oh, wait, IDPA doesn’t allow that? Sissies.

Here’s the GunBroker listing blurb:

If perfection saw double it would be this: a perfectly inverted pair of Jones 1911s.

cabot_jones_double_03

Cabot Guns is committed to doing the things others believe to be impossible. Unlike other manufacturers, Cabot doesn’t stop simply with mirrored control surfaces and a reversed ejection port. They engineer their pistols to be perfectly inverted true-copies of one another, going so far as to reverse the rifling in the left-handed model to guarantee smooth, true felt recoil and follow through directed towards the shooter’s palm.These guns feature everything you’ve come to expect from ultra-premium craftsmanship; precision checkering at the front and back straps, a national match grade barrel, finished with blued steel, artist crafted cocobolo grips, and gold bead front sights.

These are sold strictly as a pair.

Model :Jones Mirrored 1911
Caliber : .45 ACP
Action : Semi-auto blowback
Feeding : 7-rd magazine
Barrel : 5″
Finish : High Polished Blued

“They are sold strictly as a pair.” Yeah, do you think someone would go, “Er, I want the left one only, please?”

In case of jihad, break glass:

cabot_jones_double_02

Now for the bad news. (You knew there was going to be bad news, right?)

Yeah, it seems that all you guys who couldn’t afford last week’s Johnson MG semi conversion can’t afford this, either.

In fact, you’d need to afford three of the Johnny guns to play in this league, as the fixed price is $26,500.

But if you ever wondered what Gulf Arab princelings with diplomatic immunity buy when they’re gun shopping, this may be the answer.

Here’s what Cabot Guns says about the Jones 1911:

The Jones 1911 is Cabot’s flagship pistol, the gun that started an obsession, and the project during which we re-wrote all the rules. The introduction of Cabot Guns and the Jones 1911 to the firearms market has done more than turn heads; it’s turned the industry upside down.

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This is the base Jones.

Our history as a firearms manufacturer begins during the recession of 2008, with the economy slowing and the primary customers of our manufacturing facility – Penn United Technologies – tightening their belts, the engineers, machinists, and nano-technologists at Cabot found themselves with some extra time on their hands. From men and women who dedicate their lives to servicing the needs of America’s precision-demanding aerospace industries, sprouted the idea to apply that same attention to detail, near excessive dedication to quality control, and pride in our craft to the creation of the perfect firearm. We’re a company with deeply seeded American roots and an unwavering commitment to American prowess; there was no question as to which firearm we would produce – it had to be the Browning pistol, model 1911. We’ve introduced more than “just another 1911” to the firearms community, we’ve created the new standard in precision pistols – we’ve brought the 1911 into the 21st century.

It takes more than machines to make art, more than precision to create perfection; we’ve understood this since our beginnings over 40 years ago. Penn United’s founder, Carl Jones, was a man with an unmatched belief in American excellence. A passionate innovator and stalwart supporter of American industry, Carl taught us that by perfecting our craft and investing in our people; we could not only be the best in the world at what we do, but that we could in fact build the impossible. This is our promise, this is our creed, and this is our livelihood. We’ve poured our souls into creating the Jones 1911. Hold one. As it warms to your grasp you will feel the welling pride of American excellence that it represents.

The design, manufacture, and perfection of the Jones 1911 is a process we’ve approached without regard to time, cost, or materials; our only concerns are to “do it right, do it better, and to do it American.” Where others create their firearms using forged frames and cast slides, Cabot starts with a solid block of American 4140 Billet Steel and uses computer controlled machining and EDM technology to shape our frames and slides – progressing then on to precision grinding machines to create perfectly consistent fits which leave no tooling marks on our final product.

The Jones 1911 is as innovative as it is historic. One glance and you clearly see the pedigree of the 1911 embodied in the Jones – one stare and you come to realize that it’s a revolution in firearms manufacturing. We’ve pioneered a precision technology for sophisticated industries, a feat which not only enables us to guarantee the precision-fit of the Jones 1911, Though we never intend to become a high-volume manufacturer, we continuously strive to improve on the perfection that is our product.

If you’re ready to meet the new standard of excellence in the engineering and elegance of the 1911 pistol, Mr. Jones waits to greet you. Say hello to art in action.

Please also see our ultra premium Jones Deluxe 1911 model, perhaps the most beautiful 1911 ever crafted.

The guns are a unique combination of high tech and handcraft. The technologies include CNC Machining, EDM wire, EDM Sink, CNC Jig Grinding, and CNC Surface Grinding; the polish is done by hand, and their claim is that there is no tooling mark on their pistol — anywhere. They further claim that the high-tech machining gives them a perfect fit and perfectly interchangeable parts without hand fitting. That leaves the gunsmiths to concentrate on the art of the pistol.

Cabot has a history of making out-of-this-world 1911s, with grips of meteorite metal or mammoth tooth, or a slide of Damascus stainless. The prices are also firmly orbital. A base Jones 1911 will leave the well-heeled pistolero less well-heeled to the tune of $6,450. The one-of-a-kind exotics make the Jones look like a bargain.

Exercise for the reader: imagine John M. Browning back from the dead, and seeing this. Is he more likely to be wowed by the worksmanship, or bemused that nobody has completely replaced his century-old design? You know if he had miraculously lived all this time, he would have kept designing better and better guns. Imagine what he could do with Cabot’s manufacturing technology — this guy who made his prototypes, mostly, with files and other hand tools.

Meet the Gladius

ga_precision_logoRecently, a friend commented, to a third guy looking for an accurate rifle cheap, that cheap wasn’t the right way to do it.

“Look at GA Precision. George builds really accurate rifles. And he guarantees them.”  George is George Gardner, who founded GA Precision in 2007 and has built it into a thriving business that supplies a who’s who of long-range target shooters and law enforcement Must Not Miss Ever marksmen. And yes, George guarantees them:

G.A. Precision guarantees the accuracy of its rifles to be 1/2 MOA at 100 yards with match grade ammunition. This guarantee applies to any complete build or partial builds where G.A. Precision both barrels the rifle in combination with bedding it. As long as GAP agrees that supplied components are quality.

There are some exceptions for this. The Templar-action Crusader model is guaranted to shot 3/4 3/8 MOA and the GAP-10 7.62-NATO-caliber AR variant, 1 MOA — all with match grade ammunition. And the Non Typical Hunting Rifle, a build with a much lighter barrel for field use than a typical target or sniper rifle, is guaranteed to shoot to 1/2 MOA, but only for three shots (due to our oft-discussed bugbear, barrel heating, a bigger issue in a hunting barrel).

We’re pretty sure we’ve talked about GA Precision’s rifles before — friends of ours who came from a Marine Scout/Sniper background and continued their service under different sponsorship, shall we say, like ’em — but we thought we’d take a look, and we found one we really liked, the Gladius. (The name came from Frank Galli of Sniper’s Hide, it’s a Roman twist on GA Precision’s usual Crusades-themed gun names)

gap_gladius

The Gladius is designed from the outset to be suppressed. It comes with the muzzle brake/ suppressor mount for Surefire systems. It has a short barrel (hence the name!) but still comes with the 1/2 MOA guarantee.

gladius_muzzle

Now, if you are asking, as our friend did, for a “cheap” accurate AR-10 clone, GA Precision probably is not where you want to shop. Even their gas gun (reasonably priced for its quality) is a $3,000 system before optics and suppression, and a bolt gun like the Gladius is $4k plus, similarly bare of the glass and can that it will wear when fully dressed. (The glass can easily match the gun dollar-for-dollar, if you want the best brand names).

But if true precision is what you’re seeking, this is what it looks like. This is what it costs.

GA Precision has wait lists for most of its firearms (a few built-on-spec or customer-remorse firearms are always available on the site, but a popular one doesn’t stay there long).

The GA Precision website also contains a true illustration of what a class act George (and the company) is. Employees are listed on a Meet the Team page, but when employees leave in good standing their bios move to the Alumni page, and they’re remembered. Even George’s ex-K9 Malinois, Rocky, gets the Alumnus treatment.

To twist the tagline of some long-gone chicken farmer, it takes some tender guys to make a tough precision rifle.

Updates

This post has been corrected. We originally stated, incorrectly, that the guarantee on The Crusader was 3/4 MOA. While 3/4 MOA is pretty good (especially for a guaranteed performance with, not custom loads, but factory-loaded Match ammo), the Crusader is in fact guaranteed to 3/8 MOA, a much smaller (and tougher-to-guarantee) group.

We regret the error and apologize to the fine folks at GA Precision.

We also regret that we were unclear about the reason Rocky is on the Alumni page. While the other Alumni have gone on to other jobs, careers, or locations, Rocky has gone to the Great Dog Park Beyond. He’s baying in the Pack Invisible. He is an ex-dog — but warmly remembered, as anyone who has ever loved one would understand. The ancient Greeks believed that as long as one man remembered you, your spirit lived yet. Ave atque vale, Rocky (yes, we’re mixing Greek culture with Latin sentiment, so what? Go ahead and sue us, and find a blog that keeps thing Classically correct).

It’s oh-dark-hundred here and tomorrow’s posts may lag. Still trying to rescue a tech investment and playing Can This Company Be Saved? is time-consuming.