Category Archives: Weapons Themselves

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?


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.


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.


Thanks to 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.

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?


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.


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.


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.


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:


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 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:


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.

Can This Gun be Saved?

This classic old Colt Mustang .380, the original Colt knockoff of the Llama pocket-pistol knockoff of the 1911, has seen better days. Can it be saved? A customer brought it to a gunsmith who told the story on Reddit and Imgur (all these photos came from Imgur, and are linked in the Reddit thread).

Colt Mustang Before

The old Colt is still functional enough, but it’s fugly. The steel slide and barrel are pitted. The alloy frame is also corroded, and the trigger guard, integral to the frame, is nicked and generally chewed-up looking.  Can it look like new again? Click “more” to see!

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Sometimes the Worst Gun Wins, and other Lessons from History

In Smith’s The History of Military Small Arms, the author claims to see a  parallel between the introduction of the Dreyse Needle Gun and the history of military small arms in general. To wit:

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

When the Dreyse was introduced into the Prussian service it was a “military secret” of the first order. Like most “military secrets” it was a secret only to those naive branches of the military who never seem to be aware of what has been done in their line—those artless individuals with which every country is regularly afflicted, and who strangely enough seem to be nearly always in a position to make policy while submerging the real experts who are present in any army.1

The Dreyse shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, as the technology had been patented by a Swiss circa 1830, when the Prussian generals who would command Dreyse-wielding riflemen were subalterns. And while the Dreyse Needle Gun had an edge on the French Chassepot, it wasn’t that big an edge, really.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it's a Dreyse.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it’s a Dreyse.

The edge was that the Dreyse was able to use a metallic cartridge, even though these images show a fabric one (even though the illustration shows it with a fabric cartridge). But in the Americas, Union cavalry was armed almost exclusively with breechloaders, and in significant part with breech-loading repeaters, generally firing fixed rim- or center-fire ammunition, by war’s end. Having the Dreyse gave the Prussians a momentary advantage over the muzzleloader-toting Austrians, who soon thereafter followed such leaders as Britain (with the Snyder) and the US (with the Allin conversion) and rebuilt its muzzle-loaders into breech-loaders.

Here's another view of the Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Here’s another view of a Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Out in the real world, small arms development is seldom secret, and when it is, it is seldom kept secret for long. Engineering and science have long been observed to proceed, worldwide, at the same pace, and weapons of war face something akin to the evolutionary pressures faced by animals under natural selection (minus, perhaps, sexual selection, although the natural competitiveness of armies leads to a pursuit of bragging rights and pride internationally that has some parallels, but with much less power).

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

It is an interesting fact that, when two armies meet in the field, both sides are almost always convinced that their equipment is superior. When it turns out not to be for one side, an even more interesting fact is that weapons superiority is not always, or even often, decisive. No grunt came away from Cuba or Puerto Rico still believing that the .30-40 Krag, selected by the USA over the Mauser because the Krag had a simpler and easier-to-inspect magazine cut off “to save ammunition in combat,” was the superior rifle. Ordnance’s error in prioritizing that, or perhaps in accepting the priorities given to it by the generals, was clear, and the guns were scarcely still before Springfield was directed, although perhaps not in the words of a later Smith & Wesson executive, to “copy the m’f’er!”

Yet, as deficient as the US mix of Krags and trapdoors was vis-a-vis the 7mm x 57 Spanish 1893 Mauser, a technically superior rifle was not enough to make up for the many other technical and tactical deficiencies the Spaniards faced in trying to hang on to their colonies. Weapons are complex enough to present many features and capabilities, and survival-oriented officers and soldiers quickly learn to exploit their system’s strengths and overcome its weaknesses. The Germans learned to fight against the superior mobility of American and Russian tanks; the Allies learned to fight against the German’s better armor and armament. Meanwhile, a “secret” weapon is only secret until it’s used; after that, the enemy knows its effects, and his own engineers and ordnance men can figure out what the weapon was — as every nation’s scientists and engineers are at, to a first approximation, the same level of knowledge. (The classic example of the limited life of a  secret weapon is the way the Soviet Union went from ignorance of the potential for a nuclear weapon to leapfrogging US/UK development of fusion weapons in 4 years).

Napoleon’s maxim about the relative weight of the material and the moral in war is as good an explanation as any for the phenomenon: sometimes the guy with the worse gun wins.


  1. B. Smith (2013-07-13 00:00:00-05:00). The History of Military Small Arms (Kindle Locations 910-914). Kindle Edition.


Here’s a Good Gun Review

The editors of Shooting Illustrated did something wicked smart — they gave one of those new “guns for gals” to an actual gal to review, but even more cleverly, they gave it to one who was able to appreciate the engineering, not only the feminine colors (wait. How many of the women you know drive pink cars? Not knowing any Mary Kay reps, my answer is ze-ro. Interesting fact, that). But in this case, the designers of the gun, European American Armory (and their production partners, Italy’s Fratelli Tanfoglio) redesigned the firearm around the fact that there is sexual dimorphism in the human species.

Di-what? That means, men and women tend to be different sizes and strengths. While there’s a lot of overlap in the distributions, both the mean and the positions of the tails of the distributions of things like size and strength skew far higher for men than for women. Which is why you’re going to see a woman on an NFL offensive line around the time a man wins the ladies’ gymnastics gold at the Summer Olympics, and Satan stops burning coal because he needs the carbon credits.

There was a time when metalflake was a guy thing, on cars. Just sayin'.

There was a time when metalflake was a guy thing, on cars. Just sayin’. Some EAA Pavona colors.

Here’s what our distaff, engineering-wise reviewer has to say about the EAA Pavona:

[W]hat sets EAA’s offering apart from so many in the field, is how the company handled the other half of the equation: the engineering side of things. Mechanically, what EAA needed to accomplish was to design a pistol that would be easy for a new shooter—perhaps with small hands and below-average grip strength—to operate, and still have it appeal to more experienced shooters as well. Fortunately, the platform EAA started with was a solid one.

The gun is based on the CZ-75. Back when the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was being stingy with export licenses to the Evil Capitalists, the licensed their design to the Tanfoglio Brothers, whose early pistols were close copies, and whose current pistols are, like current CZs, more in the line of evolved derivations.

The Pavona is a single-action/double-action semi-automatic, with a long trigger pull for the first shot, and a shorter, lighter pull for subsequent shots. My trigger scale only reads to 8 pounds, and the Pavona’s double-action trigger broke just past the end of the calibrated area. The single-action pull broke consistently right at 4 pounds. The double-action pull, while heavy, was not gritty on the test sample, and the single-action pull had minimal take-up and broke cleanly.

It is just stupid-easy to shoot well, especially for a compact pistol in a service caliber.

Firing controls are also intended to be unobtrusive and snag-resistant. Unfortunately, they are not ambidextrous, although a southpaw might find it easier to activate the slide-stop lever with their trigger finger than a righty would with their thumb. This is a roundabout way of noting the reach to the slide-stop lever is a long one. I

The safety was easy to use and fell naturally under the thumb as the pistol was grasped. Further, unlike a 1911, the Pavona’s slide can be worked with the thumb safety on. That’s a good thing, because it means administrative chores like unloading the handgun or taking it apart for cleaning can be accomplished with the hammer cocked—so the shooter doesn’t have to fight the resistance of the mainspring while running the slide—and still have the safety on as an added layer of precaution.

That’s a CZ-75 feature, as is the ability to carry cocked-and-locked. If you carry cocked-and-locked, why carry a DA pistol? In our case, it’s for a second strike at some Third Worldian primer. The rest of you, keep toting those 1911s. The tradeoff is, as our reviewer notes, that you don’t have a decocker. Some people prefer a decocker to a safety (like in the Beretta 92G). Some want both as independent controls (hence, the fans of SIG’s service pistols). Some of us just live dangerously and point it at the dog while dropping the hammer with our thumb on it (just kidding! No dogs were harmed, or even threatened, in reviewing this review).

Conscious of the needs of new shooters or those with less grip strength, the folks at EAA took a two-pronged approach to remedying this potential pitfall. [The Petter rails-inside-frame design leaves little freeboard for grasping the slide to operate it — Ed.]

First, the company reshaped the serrations on the slide. Despite appearing cosmetically pretty with their shallow, scalloped cuts, when I gripped the slide, I was impressed by the purchase they afforded. There was no problem getting a sufficient grip, even with a thumb-and-forefinger pinch instead of my preferred over-the-top, whole-hand grab.

Another aid built into the handgun is the use of lighter recoil and mainsprings. The reduced-power mainspring (which is accompanied by a heavier firing pin to ensure reliable ignition) also makes it easier for those with less grip strength to cock the hammer before racking the slide.

You know we are going to tell you, especially the chick yous, to go and  Read The Whole Thing™. It’s also a pretty good example to illustrate the kind of stuff to cover in a review. Things like:

  • What’s special about this design?
  • Who is it best suited for?
  • How does it compare to a few guns everybody knows (or thinks he knows?)
  • When you shot it, and it didn’t jam, exactly how many rounds are we talking about?

Finally, a review has places for both subjective impressions and cast-iron facts. An extra plus in this review for trying to verify some of the manufacturer’s specifications. Sure, the manufacturer says it weighs this, has a trigger pull of that, and holds so many rounds in its magazine. I greatly prefer reviews where they verify these factory numbers. The ugly fact is that the numbers that come in the press packet (for those firms turned-on enough to have a press packet) come from the marketing department and they may have nothing but a nodding acquaintance with the numbers the engineering department is using when they QC the guns.

So we always like it when a reviewer gets the trigger gage out and that sort of thing. This was a good review. We liked it. We’re not the target demo for the gun, but we know people who are. And she’s dead right that the gun-store guys recommending snubby revolvers to women as EDC guns need to reexamine their preconceptions.

Oh, did we say who the reviewer was? Tam of A View From the Porch, one of the folks who made gun blogging look so easy that we followed ’em in. As we close in on three years, it’s a damn sight harder than we expected….

A cool 1911 graphic

We saw this blurbed at Instapundit:


The full thing by artist Jacob O’Neal is something you have to see. Because as cool this is, even clicked-to-embiggen, this is just one small part of it, as a static graphic. The real thing offers several views, and is animated. 

Boy. Sure wish we’d had this back in Weapons School, when two of us ran a study hall late into the night to try to save the guys who had been recycled from the class before us. (We did, but it was hard work — mostly by them, we just happened to be college boys with good study habits who could help out).

Go to his animations site, and enjoy Jacob’s artistry. Along with the gun he’s got jet and piston engines and a tarantula. Then come back, hear?

Back now? Was that 1911 animation cool, or what? So, now go see the animated infographic he did for SilencerCo some time back. (And all you 1911 bashers who wanted a Glock, guess what’s hosting the SilencerCo Osprey in the graphic?)

Guy’s a talented artist. Some website looking for differentiation ought to commission him. (We don’t think we can afford him without crimping the toy budgets).