Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

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:

1911_graphic

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, animagraffs.com 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).

Gun Oddity: Beretta ‘Combo’

We prowl the halls of GunBroker, half looking for stuff to buy, and half looking for edutainment. This is an example of the latter, in that we never knew it existed: a Beretta 92/96 Combo, which appears to be a factory set with slide/barrel/recoil-spring units in 9mm and in .40 S&W.

beretta 92-96 combo case

Here’s the seller’s blurb:

For sale a Beretta 92/96 Combo, 9mm and 40s&w. As far as I can tell it is unfired, Has the original blow-molded case, original box and all paper work. Barrels and lower are stamped COMBO. Also has extra grips. I will pay for transfer using my local FFL if picked up locally. When I say rare, look around, you won’t find many… IF any! I can send more pictures if you are a serious buyer.

beretta 92-96 combo

Looks legit to us. The number of these that were produced isn’t visible in any official document, but web pages here and there offer up claims of 500 or 2,500. They come up for sale from time to time, at a premium over a 92 or 96 in equivalent condition.

There is a great deal of modularity in the M92 (etc) design, and the 92 and 96 have identical frames. Therefore, they are convertible simply by swapping complete upper (slide-barrel assembly-recoil-spring), and, of course, the magazine. The recoil spring assembly can be reused, but it’s easier to just have a whole unit to swap. (Also, the recoil spring is probably the single most life-limited part in the Beretta, especially the 96, which has the same spring as the 92 but punishes it more).

There are some limitations on swapping, mostly involving odd-lockwork guns and early (pre-92FS) guns. You can even get some use out of just a 92 barrel in a 96 slide, although the reverse won’t work. However, the newer “Brigadier” slide (the one with the thickened area by the locking block) may have fewer interchange options.

What’s amazing is that guys will still write that you can’t swap uppers from 9mm to .40 on Berettas. This Combo is living proof that Beretta thought you could!

Pythons Can’t Save Colt

Since Colt’s near-default last month, a lot of gun enthusiasts have been suggesting that Colt has an easy way back from the brink — it could just bring back the Python.

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

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

We do love us some lustrous blue, silky-smooth double-actions, we firearms enthusiasts.

First, let’s have some high points from one of the good posts making this argument.

I think the way Colt should solve their money woes is by bringing back the Python.

Today the Python’s fetch ridiculous amounts when you can find one for sale. On one forum recently the asking price was over $4k and it sold within a day.

… they could easily ask $700-800+ with an MSRP of $900-1000+. A blued Smith Model 586 6″ has a MSRP of $839 and would retail for around $750. A blued Ruger GP100 6″ has an MSRP $699 and you might be able to get one for $550. It would take several years for Colt to saturate the market with new Pythons to the point people would say I’ll just go get a 586 or a GP100. Both the Smith and the Ruger are terrific firearms, but you cannot find a Colt and I know plenty of wheel gun enthusiasts who would line up to grab a new off-the-line Python for $800+ and that cycle would repeat until all of us left wanting finally had one in our hot little hand.

Please do Read The Whole Thing™ because we edited it heavily, although we think we represented the argument fairly.

Now, we’ll put on our Master’s Hood (it’s totally a thing) and apply some MBA-fu to the situation. First, the facts:

  1. Colt was in debt $380 million when they defaulted briefly last month. That’s $380,000,000 or… at least 380,000 Pythons if they (a) could sell 380,000 Pythons and (b) could produce them for free and give nothing up to the retail and wholesale trade. 
  2. Uh, that was before their latest loan which kicked the default can down the road, at the cost of more debt, $70 million from Morgan Stanley, some of which is going to pay interest on previous debt, some of which will retire some of the oldest and most urgent debt, and some of which, judging from past experience, will be pocketed by the owners.
  3. While Colt has not released the numbers for 1985-2004, the entire 50-year production of Pythons, most of which took place when revolvers were the preferred police guns and were far more popular than today, has probably produced under 650,000 Pythons. That’s still quite a lot of guns, and a new Python will compete on the market with those as well as with all the other baubles demanding your Gun of the Month Club money.
  4. How unlikely is a $900-1000 street price? The MSRP of the Python when it went out of the catalog was $1,150 (presumably 1999). That is $1,639 in today’s dollars. And Colt was losing money on every one. Colt needs products that are profitable, not loss-producing.
  5. Colt needs not only for each gun to be profitable, but it needs a high profit margin for the company to have any hope at paying down its crushing debt. A lot of precision manufacturing operations have a 10-20% markup. A lot of less ordinary businesses have a 50% gross margin. So when we figure out what it costs to make a Python (we know it would be more than $1,639 without major process changes) we need to plus that up at least another $170 for some profit. We’re now closing in on $2k. Ask yourself — how many $2k handguns do I own? We can answer that question, maybe 2. Collector’s items.
  6. As price goes up, for a gun as for anything else, the size of the market and therefore the sales volume declines. If cars were free, more  people would want Bentleys than a Corollas. But in the real world, C > B in sales volume. This relationship isn’t perfectly linear, but it’s broadly so.
  7. The principal reason for the high price (and therefore, low sales) of the Python at its end was the great many labor hours that went into one. Colt’s UAW member workers are generally much more expensive per hour than most other gunmakers’ workers, but the Python workers were in a different class entirely.
  8. The cost driver for the labor hours was the beautiful and unequalled mirror polish that was put on most Pythons. The reason the Python Blue is so beautiful is not the bluing so much as the incredible metal finish underneath it. This required many hours by specially skilled workers on special (and expensive) buffing wheels. Colt actually ran a sort of polishing academy for select workers, back in the day. You’re not going to get that for $900 in 2014. While CNC can cut metal well, and CNC polishing machines do exist, there’s no substiute for the old Polishing School-trained experts who did the old Pythons, and the big, sometimes exotic-material, wheels they used.
  9. It’s been 10 years since the last Custom Shop Python and 15 since the last production gun. The human expertise that would finish and assemble them is heavily attritted. How many people in your workplace were there in 2004 and 1999?

colt_logo_mFinally, there’s an overarching reason that Colt is not going to look to product to save them. Its leaders are not product guys; they’re not gun guys like you are. They are finance guys, hedge fund guys, and they have a very risky and highly leveraged investment (one that has already made them fabulously rich, and about which they do not care, apart from its ability to make them fabulously richer). So their focus has been on a Hail Mary, longshot very-high-payoff end game for Colt, and it continues to be. The possibilities are:

  1. Going public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO). They lost the window for this which would have been possible in 2012-2013. Now, they would be making the IPO with the burden of all this debt, into a market rocked by media stories (however inaccurate) that the gun industry is dying. An IPO was probably their initial imagined goal when they took the business over in the first place, but now it would fail.
  2. Finding a private buyer, probably another hedge fund. This is a problem given the financials of the company at the moment. While an IPO is sometimes an instantiation of the Bigger Fool Theory, hedge guys think that they’re never fools.
  3. Merging. A variety of the above. Hey, maybe Kahr wants a prestige nameplate?
  4. Continuing to borrow. We were a bit shocked by the terms of the last credit extension because we don’t see how Colt can pay it off. Sooner or later, the music stops. (This is also Bigger Fool Theory in action). And right now, more debt adds more people to the game of musical chairs, without adding chairs. Could this happen for a few more cycles? Possibly.
  5. Landing a Fat Government Contract. This is clearly something Colt managers have invested most of their time and effort in, but they haven’t even been able to successfully defend the contracts they’ve had. This is one of the principal reasons they’re in the hole; they blew the money that could have been invested in keeping them competitive for these contracts and in improving production efficiency, sluicing it out to the hedge fund guys’ pockets instead. They’re learning what HK, FN, Lockheed Martin, etc. have learned, you need to be close to DC and to your K Street lobbyists to make sure the baksheesh you’re paying to Congress gets you cash back. The headquarters of a lot of defense companies founded in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southern California now cluster around the nation’s wealthiest, and most corrupt, urban area. Finally, on this, being good at government contracts makes a company less and less suited for anything else. Over time, government work drives out your ability to compete in a free market and you become a captive of these contracts (look at Lockheed’s failed attempts to build airliners, or the whole history of Booz Allen). Working for the government is also the Bigger Fool Theory in action, because no one of us is as dumb as all of us, channeled through our grifting and gluttonous elected representatives.
  6. Banging out bankrupt. Unless some example of the Bigger Fool Theory is executed, this is in Colt’s future. One iron law of finance is that, in the end, creditors that can’t be paid, won’t be paid.

The fact is, the industry brontosaurs of today are sunning themselves on the edge of a tar pit that’s full of the fossils of the terrible lizards of yesterday. While our focus is usually on the guns, not the business, the guns have to make the manufacturer money for him to stay in business. The guns have to sell for enough for there to be something left over after the lights are kept on, the machinery is paid for, the overhead’s handled, and the skilled workers are compensated for their time. Or the lights go off, the machinery is repo’d or auctioned, the overhead goes unpaid, and the workers drive by a dark plant to go to the unemployment office.

Exercise for the reader: imagine you are CEO/CFO of Colt. Design a plan to retire more than a third of a billion in debt. Colt sales are about $50 million a quarter right now, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and allowances amortization1 of $6M. Not so easy, is it?

Notes

1. Thanks to Alan H in the comments for the correction. (Makes all the “MBA-fu” noise look pretty dumb now). Just FYI, the reason EBITDA is important is it represents earnings from your actual business, uninfluenced by accounting write-offs that can make your balance sheet look better but don’t actually represent more dollars earned by your business’s activities.

A Slice of SOF History on GunBroker

These pistols for sale on GunBroker come with a rare claim: they were used by one of the nation’s most important special operations units during a period in the mid-oughts when that unit was flat-out in a radical optempo on worldwide CT missions (and other missions as well).  Not just “pistols like these,” but these exact pistols are represented as having been used in that particular SOF unit. They have a letter of authenticity from a former unit member who did have access and placement to know about the unit’s armament initiatives at the time.

sti_40s

And they’re pretty good pistols, but the bid of $6,500 at press time hasn’t broken the reserve. Here’s what the auction says:

Both of these STI 2011 .40 caliber pistols saw actual issue and use in a US Army SOF unit in 2006-2007. One pistol is in 93%+ condition and the other is in 96%+ condition. They are consecutively serial numbered and are quite possibly the only consecutively numbered set to be offered for sale. This consecutively numbered set comes with the following items: *** individual letters of authenticity from Larry Vickers (www.vickerstactical.com) for each pistol— original, unedited versions will be provided to the buyer *** six 140mm 17 round magazines *** one 170mm 22 round magazine *** one issued Surefire X200A light *** issued Safariland 6005 light bearing holster with end user modifications *** two Eagle Industries pistol cases

via US SOF issued STI 2011 pistols. Consecutive SNs. : Semi Auto Pistols at GunBroker.com.

STI no, 1

We did some looking into this and the unit in question did indeed experiment with a batch of 60 STIs in .40 during the 2006-7 time frame. They ultimately decided not to go that way, and returned the guns to STI. Some of them were very worn and beat-up; STI went through them and then sold them as used through their distributors. These two guns have a letter from Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical, but a lot of the others are out there without any such letter. Not sure why some are authenticated and others are not, but it obviously boosts the auction appeal of the letter-of-authentication guns.

STI No. 2

As far as we know, these are the only operator-used guns from this unit that have ever gotten out, although there may be personal weapons and presentation weapons out there somewhere. Since the Clinton Administration, the military has generally made a practice of destroying firearms rather than letting Americans buy them. Even weapons given or sold to foreign allies are sold with can’t-let-American-civilians-get-‘em strings attached.

These are very good pistols. Unless you’re famous for your shooting, they probably shoot better than you do. With proper maintenance, they’re reliable as a watch. (There were some complaints about environmental malfunctions — i.e., choking on sand — in extreme conditions).

Parsing the redacted letters of authenticity, it’s interesting to see what Larry said, and what he didn’t say. He’s not some lawyer who practices picking his words to mislead, so we may be reading too much into this, but he does say they’re the only weapons sold “outside the unit.” Have some unit members, like generals, been given the privilege of retiring with their sidearms?  We don’t know, and think it somewhat unlikely, but along with some of the best shooters, that unit has usually gotten some of the the best support people in the Army — including the best lawyers. So it’s possible.

One thing for sure: the people who have a lot to say about that unit don’t know, and the people who know about that unit don’t have a lot to say. Which is as it should be.

If you want the STIs, or just to see more pictures,  the auction is here.

(Thanks for the tip off — you know who you are).

Forgotten Weapons on the Development of the 1911

Through blind luck, the current Rock Island Premier Auction has one of every major variant of Browning-Colt production (even, very low production) pistol from the earliest Model 1900 “sight safety” locked-breech pistol through the 1911, 1911/24 Transitional, and 1911A1 issue pistols. These are three of the oldest: a 1900, a 1900 converted to 1902 (lacking any safety whatsoever), and a 1902 military (square butt and lanyard ring).

early_coltsThrough blind luck and directed expertise, but mostly directed expertise, Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons noticed this, and used those pistols — and a Savage 1907, one of Colt’s competitors — to do an impromptu video on 1911 developmental history.

ian_and_colt_variations

Except… it’s not least bit impromptu. It’s a real pro job! A half hour plus of awesome gun history. Go thither and enlighten thyself.

And you’ll know what you’re looking at when you encounter one of these, somewhere down the road:

colt_1900_sight_safety

It’s the granddaddy of them all, the “sight safety” pistol that Colt just called the Colt Automatic Pistol — after all, in 1900 it was their first and only one — and that collectors call the M1900 Sight Safety. The name comes from the safety, which was the rear sight: with the hammer cocked, it can be rotated down to block the firing pin.

Normally, we’d embed the video, but we’d really like you to go check out Ian’s presentation, because he also links to each pistol’s page at the RIA auction. At RIA, each pistol’s page also includes links to other vintage Colts.

NY Cops Cop to a Negligent Discharge

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Officer’s Errant Shot Kills Unarmed Brooklyn Man – NYTimes.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

HSI’s Odd Restrictions on Agents’ Personal Weapons

department-of-homeland-security-mrap-dhs-ndaa-hb347-totalita-politics-1334409716There are numerous investigative agencies and armed police in our Federal government — probably more agencies than anyone can account for. The Amtrak SWAT team? Yep, it’s a thing. Criminal Investigators for the Library of Congress? They’re out there, and they’re armed, sworn 1811s like any other Special Agent.

Each agency has to decide how to arm its own cops and agents, and how much leeway to give them to arm themselves. Some have no restrictions on backup and off-duty carry. Some require that their Special Agents to carry the issue hogleg, period. We’re not aware of any that does what some New York and Massachusetts police departments do: requires their law enforcers to keep the firearm in a locker in the office; but there’s probably one out there.

In between these extremes, the most common thing is to require an agent to shoot the qualifications (and pass) using his or her desired off-duty or substitute weapon, and often to require a certain minimum performance of the weapon (no, your NAA .22 is not going to cut it). Others have a shortlist of permitted weapons — it isn’t just your peers’ laughter that keeps you from toting that Hi-Point with the Airsoft red/green dot sight. Usually, there’s some provision that old goats nearing retirement can cling to their guns and religion (just joking about the religion, so far), which explains the presence of revolvers in approved lists.

Since it’s the Federal government, managers tend not to be the best of the line investigators. Let’s pause a moment to explain how that happens: a manager tends to be whatever underperformer a superior manager can promote without screwing up his throughput statistics. You can’t lose your best investigator. You can lose your most inept and lazy agent. Didn’t you wonder why they picked you for SAC?

Given that the managers have to look up to see “average,” there isn’t a lot of originality or variation to the way these agencies handle off duty and backup weapons. They either crib off the FBI’s homework, or they copy off whatever agency the latest SES lateraled in from. But Homeland Security Investigations marches to its own drummer. They issue .40 SIGs, and managers are dimly aware of some problems: maintenance issues, agent preferences, and the really crappy qualification scores of those agents unwilling to spend quality range time mastering the .40, or unable to find good instruction or coaching.

A certain percentage of agents come out of FLETC “qualified” by the skin of their teeth and having a love-hate relationship with shooting and their sidearms, without the “love” bit. These agents struggle to maintain qualification, and strong incentives encourage managers to report these struggling shooters as fully qualified.

A change to the 9mm is probably coming, in the long term, but in the meantime the agency is facing a near mutiny of SIG rejectors, resulting in a stockpile of unissued pistols and agents choosing from the agency’s shortlist of approved firearms. (Any agent can get approval to use one or two firearms from this list, in lieu of or as a backup to the issue SIG). But the list is just plain weird. Here it is, shorn of verbiage:

  1. Sig 226 .40 in either TDA or DAK (full size)
  2. Sig 229 .40 in either TDA or DAK (mid size)
  3. Sig 239 .40 TDA or DAK (compact)
  4. Glock 17 9mm (full size)
  5. Glock 26 9mm (compact)
  6. H&K compact .40 with LEM trigger (about same size as 229 but lighter)
  7. H&K p2000 sk .40 (compact)
  8. S&W .38 or .357 magnum revolver (5 shot, compact).

It’s as interesting what there isn’t on there, as what there is. Here are a few thoughts:

  • If you like a SIG but you prefer 9mm, you’re SOL.
  • Ditto if you like a Glock in .40. Or anything at all in .45.
  • The single most curious omission is the Glock 19 midsize 9mm. They have the bulky 17 and the small 26, but not the mid-size 15-shot G19? What gives? Per one of the trainers, “if we permitted that, no one would carry the SIGs.” What the agents seem to believe is that the firearms trainers and managers are so committed to the SIG platform that they’re actively sabotaging everything else.
  • We see the Smith (why not Colt?) revolver as a sop to greybeards who already had one. But the five-shot limitation is just inexplicable.

A solid majority of agents are never going to carry anything but whatever they got issued “for free.” That’s just the way it is; 999.a-buncha-nines out of a thousand special agents neither expect to use their weapon nor practice with itj. And we understand the rationale that agencies use to try to keep their agents’ off duty weapons restricted to a small number of popular models. Having too many makes and models of guns to keep track of it is confusing, and bad for proficiency; in addition, there’s always that guy, that 1% exemplar of any group, who sees freedom nearly as a license for him to do something stupid

Gun Marketing Between the Lines: Taurus, Beretta (Updated)

ITEM: Look Out for the Bull!

A site called Grand View Outdoors has a “review” of the new Taurus Model 180 Curve pistol that could have been written by Taurus’s PR people (maybe it was). (ETA: See UPDATE below). So you see what we’re talking about, here’s Taurus’s promo video:

And here’s Taurus’s web page on the new gun. OK, so that’s the 180 Curve, a melted-looking pocket pistol that’s supposed to hug your body shape and that holds 6 rounds of .380. It has a DAO trigger and the crappy Taurus locking system.

A lot of these details aren’t being mentioned in the stories online here and there, yet they’re easily found or deduced based on stuff Taurus themselves posted. As you can see from this picture, it has an unusual feature for a .380, a locked breech, Browning tipping-barrel style:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-5Note also the complete absence of protruding sights. Taurus explains that that’s because of their new sight system, which appears to consist of a sort of sight post and crosshairs decorating the back of the gun. Here are two pictures showing that — with no clue as to what it would be like in low light:

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-6

 

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-2

It seems to be held together, in part, by Allen-key screws.

As you can see in the video, it looks like the mag doesn’t drop free. In addition, it has a magazine disconnect (Taurus’s term) or mag safety: mag’s out, can’t shoot. The magazine safety was always a lousy idea, even when it was implemented by John Moses Browning Himself; when Browning put one in, it was usually because a customer or manager made him do it, and he always did it in a way you could pin it out or remove it. (So many have been taken out of BHPs that some BHP owners don’t know that theirs originally came with the unpopular feature).

Shooters seeing the Curve for the first time might be a bit skeptical about how the handgun actually handles. With its weird shape, curved magazine and boxy lines, can the Curve actually shoot when it counts?

That’s a good question. How will they answer it?

After firing several boxes of .380 at an indoor range near Taurus’s Miami, Florida-based U.S. headquarters, it’s pretty clear the shapely Curve has no problem throwing lead down range. Most shooters experienced few if any malfunctions and the included laser sight made hitting the mark a breeze.

If you read that graf between the lines, you see it was a press junket near Taurus HQ, where an unknown quantity of journos collectively fired “several boxes” of ammunition through, presumably, selected “press guns,” and… “experienced few if any malfs…”

Wait, what? Were there malfunctions? A “few” in “several boxes” of ammo presumably provided by the maker of the GD gun? Newsflash: that’s not “carry gun” reliability. That’s more like “the reputation Taurus is really trying to shake.” But “if any”? Well, did the gun jam or didn’t it? And what’s with the mag having to be pulled out of the magwell in the video? Is that intentional (i.e., crappy magazine safety) or unintentional (i.e., crappy QC)?

The article also claims that the mag withdrawal is due to the mag being curved, but the photos with the article (all seem to be Taurus handouts) and the photos on Taurus’s site show that it isn’t; the grip is curved but the mag is not.

Ph_Curve_Back_W_Magazine

But like anything in life, the Curve isn’t going to be everything for everybody looking for the perfect concealed carry handgun. For one, sized similar to a smartphone, the Curve is little (think Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380). If you’ve got big hands and long fingers, the grip is a little tougher to negotiate and the trigger doesn’t break without negotiating a better pull.

via Taurus Bends The Handgun Market With New ‘Curve’ | 2014-11-18 | Grand View Outdoors.

Is it just us, or is that last sentence unintelligible?

And is it just us, or is the writing visibly worse on a lot of so-called professional, advertising-supported sites than it is on private enthusiasts’ sites? Maybe these guys were just having a bad day.

Now, the Curve is priced very low ($392.42 list, suggesting it may sell for around $350), and with its integral light and laser, and small size, our guess is that they are going to sell these by the boxcar load. Will Taurus have QC problems? Only time and a large quantity of guns in the field will tell. Taurus doesn’t have the best reputation in this area (to put it bluntly, they’ve squandered the good reputation they once had). It is very concealable, and it’s probably better to have “a” gun than to go unarmed because it’s not the “right” gun.

If you remember the Remington R51, you might not be the first in line for one of these. Wait and see is a good policy. And a good question to ask the guy at your LGS, when you’re buying any unknown quantity that’s been around long enough to have made some sales: “Have any of these come back for warranty work?” A small shop, the guys will know right away. Big box stores they won’t (and they might tell you whatever they think will close the sale).

So, that’s Taurus and how they got glowing promotional media from someone with scant exposure to the firearm in question. Let’s move on.

ITEM: Beretta publishes video showing jammed Beretta.

Seriously, this is an own goal, or to mix sports metaphors, an unforced error. What were they thinking? Here’s a still from a video clip of infantry officer trainees shooting Beretta M9s, that was included in a Beretta promo video.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 22.01.34

The slide’s jammed about 3/8″ out of battery and has been for about 3.5 seconds at this point. The still is taken from a Beretta promo video, visible at this link at beretta.com.

And at about 5:11 in the video, the soldier in the right foreground fires, and the gun jams out of battery. They cut the video off there, but not before showing the jam.

It’s all part of a new site Beretta has in place to promote the now-venerable M9/M92 series pistols. The site’s a great idea, but they managed to put up a video showing their flagship gun, which hardly ever jams, jamming. What were they thinking?

What these two incidents have in common

The commonality between the Taurus launch with its unknown number of jams, and the Beretta video with it’s visible jam, is that in both cases professional marketing operations went out in public with something that was distinctly off message. Unforced error again. In the first case, Taurus was (mostly) saved by the gun press’s incredible ability to deny or explain away malfunctions happening right in front of their eyes. In Beretta’s? Our best guess is that the video was edited from a pile of b-roll by someone who was a video pro, not necessarily a gun guy or gal, and the four seconds of failure to return to battery were brief enough that Beretta’s gun guys overlooked it until it was up on their website in front of God and everybody.

There’s no such thing as a firearm that never fails, but your marketing materials will be assumed by the public to have been scrubbed of failures, making the escape of failures into the wild doubly embarrassing.

UPDATE

See the response by Christian Lowe in the comments below. Christian was the reporter for GrandView Outdoors, and he provides more detail about the gun, about the range experience (his Curve never malfunctioned, but he thought someone else’s did), and some insight into the process of writing his article. Thanks!

Unsafe Tauruses — Updating a Year Old Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ZANCS” says:

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

“Helio” again:

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

“Igor” says:

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

And “Daniel” posted two videos.

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

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

And…

Another showing a CT-30 misbehaving similarly.

“Chico” says:

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

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

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