Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Is a red dot better than iron sights — for a pistol?

Here's a Glock 17 with a TRijicon RMR, The guns in the study were the slightly smaller but similar G19

Here’s a Glock 17 with a TRijicon RMR, The guns in the study were the slightly smaller but similar G19

According to what appears to be a Norwich University undergraduate study from 2011 that was recently noted by Soldier Systems Daily, the answer is in and it’s a strong “yes.” From the report’s Executive Summary:

This project examined the comparative effectiveness of traditional iron pistol sights with Trijicon, Inc.’s red dot optic sight. Twenty-seven students from Norwich University participated by undergoing a simulated training course of fire using International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) silhouette targets for four different stages. Thirteen students used iron sights and 14 students used the optic. The results of the project indicated that there was a statistically significant difference favoring the optic for “hits on paper” in Stage 1 (15 yard slow fire) and for accuracy (hits near the center mass of the target) for all four stages of fire. 

Summarized Summary: more hits with the Trijicon RMR in Stage 1, and better hits in all stages.

The study is credited to James Ryan, apparently a student at the university, and Robin Adler, a professor of Justice Studies and Sociology.

While the summary led the report, and the statements made in the summary are well supported by the study data, at the end, the study reached three conclusions. The interesting thing is that we can only find support for two of the three in the findings and data. The conclusions were:

  1. This comparative pistol project indicated the Trijicon Inc.’s RMR was more effective than traditional iron sights.
  2. The results suggest that trainees in military and law enforcement specialties may gain proficiency more efficiently with the RMR.
  3. In addition the RMR is useful for seasoned professionals.

We find support for the first two conclusions in the study, but didn’t see anything at all to support the third. (We would expect that the RMR would be useful for pros — we’ve found it useful –but we could find nothing in the study itself that backs that statement up).

If this study is repeatable, we’re going to see more sights like the RMR on more handguns in the coming years. The key limitations of the study are that it was of short duration (one range day for each group) and very small groups (the control and experimental group were each 15 pistol shooters,  plus three alternates. Both groups were generated by random assignment, and about evenly split betwen complete novices and people with some shooting and/or pistol experience. In the end, 27 total students participated, 13 using three-dot iron sights and 14 using the RMR).  This experimental data set is too small to generate a high degree of confidence, but the group with the RMR steadily and consistently outshot the iron-sight group.

The pistols were otherwise identical Glock 19s. The targets were modified IDPA standard targets (the head was removed as a point-advantaged target, because the shooters were instructed to engage the targets only at center mass).

The small sample size meant that a result would have to be extremely disparate between the two groups to meet measures of statistical significance. The measure used judging the variance between teh groups’ mean scores in the stages was the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U.  In each of the four stages, the RMR group had more hits than the iron-sight group, but only on Stage 1 was the difference statistically significant. The measure used for evaluating overall accuracy was the chi-square, familiar to every survivor of freshman stats. The accuracy advantage of the RMR was statistically significant.

For both the mean scores in Stage 1 and the accuracy superiority overall, the probability of these results being the consequences of random chance, rather than an actual advantage of the RMR over iron sights, was 1 in 100.

WeaponsMan Analysis — Why the RMR “wins.”

The key advantage of the RMR on a pistol is the same as the key advantage of any optic on a rifle, compared to iron sights: it eliminates the need to consciously focus on one of three focal planes (the front sight) but allows a shooter to focus on the target and have the aimpoint superimposed in the same focal plane. A secondary advantage is the red-dot’s ability to compensate to some extent for poor presentation, pistol cant, etc., in ways that iron sights cannot.

The key disadvantage of the RMR is the way it juts out from the top of the pistol slide, making the pistol more awkward. While optical sights are often considered frail and vulnerable, the RMR  is a fairly robust unit, and a blow that would dislodge or damage it might well dislodge the standard three-dot iron sights also.

The full study can be read on SSD at this link or downloaded from here: 2011_Norwich_Study_RMRvIronSights.pdf

Hey, dude, where’s my Glock?

A Glock 22 Gen 4 with a Streamlight lightn attached. (File photo from ar15.com).

A Glock 22 Gen 4 with a Streamlight light attached. (File photo from ar15.com). Missing pistol is similar.

A Tucson cop is asking that question as an important piece of personal equipment turned up missing last week, after he chased a purse-snatcher on foot. The cops bagged the criminal — one Adrian Pride, who’s a career criminal despite being only 18 — after a long and kinetic steeplechase through back yards and over fences and walls. But one of the officers was Glockless as Pride was being read his rights. The Arizona Star:

A Tucson police officer chasing a man in connection with a theft and purse-snatching on the city’s westside discovered that he lost his handgun during the pursuit.

The .40-caliber Glock, which fell out of the officer’s holster, was not found Monday, and police are asking the public for help in finding it, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, a Tucson Police Department spokesman.

On Monday at about noon, an officer was flagged down at Safeway, 1551 W. Saint Mary’s Road, regarding what was initially reported as a purse snatching, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, a Tucson Police Department spokesman.

A description of the suspect was broadcasted to responding officers, and one officer located a man matching the description near West Saint Mary’s Road and North Westmoreland Avenue, Widmer said.

The man ran as the officer attempted to make contact with him. Officers chased the man through neighborhood yards, and climbed over several walls before capturing him in the 500 block of North Shawnee Avenue, said Widmer.

Police determined that Adrian Pride, 18, shoplifted an item from Safeway, and as he left the supermarket he grabbed the purse of a woman in front of the store, Widmer said. Pride was booked into the Pima County jail on suspicion of shoplifting and theft. In November, an arrest warrant was issued for Pride in connection to a robbery at the Maui Smoke Shop at 1099 E. Broadway.

After the foot chase Monday, officers searched for the missing police officer’s weapon. Officers immediately retraced the path of the chase, but the weapon was not located. An extensive search lasted throughout the day, Widmer said.

Police are asking the public for help in locating the handgun, which is a Glock 22 Gen4 with an affixed StreamLight tactical light. The serial number is RVS121, Widmer said.

via Tucson police officer loses gun during foot chase.

This is actually a pretty rare thing, for a PD that loses a gun to put the serial number out to the media. The BATFE, which loses between 10 and 20 guns in an average year and has been doing so for many years (their own guns, not the ones they walk to criminal organizations), has never done that; the FBI, which loses guns at about half ATF’s per-agent rate (but is much larger) has never done that; most local PDs never do that. (ATF doesn’t even enter all its lost and stolen guns in NCIC, and their compliance with their own regs on this has been worsening steadily).

About the only worse thing than losing your duty gun is having it turn up in a murder or other violent crime.  Many stolen or lost police guns are recovered in less-serious crime investigations, before innocents can be harmed. It’s impossible to prevent some level of weapons loss in a large department or agency, because however well-selected and -trained, the personnel will still be human. In an organization with poor selection, training, or morale, of course, the loss rate is higher than it needs to be.

 

The Prettiest Handgun that Never Was

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Pity poor Dr Marian K. Jurek (YOOR-eck). He had a great gun design, and first-class machining skills. He was just always in the wrong country. Most of what we know about his beautiful Experimental Webley 9mm pistol we know thanks to British gun historian A.J.R. Cormack, who carried on a correspondence with him while both still lived. Ezell’s magisterial Handguns of the World does not contain anything on Jurek or his designs, not because Ezell didn’t know of them (he almost certainly did) but because they were postwar, and outside the 1900-45 scope of Handguns. Reportedly, there is a chapter in Cuthbertson’s book on Webley pistols that covers this gun, but the Unconventional Warfare Reference Library does not contain that volume (note to editors… order book, update post).

And most of what we know about Jurek’s life we know from A.J.R. Cormack as well, who wrote:

The designer, Dr Marian K. Jurek, was born in Poland on 7 September 1904 and even at the age of 15 was dabbling in the art of the gunmaker. In 1937, after a brilliant scholastic career, Dr Jurek became the Head of Research at an ammunition factory. During the war Dr Jurek saw service with a number of branches of the [British is implied] Services including the 1st Armoured Division Workshops.

(The same text appears in Cormacks Famous Pistols and Hand Guns starting on page 111, and in his edited Small Arms in Profile, Volume 1 on page 15 and in the booklet Small Arms Profile, No. 1, Webley and Scott Pistols – available on Scribd).

Much is implied, but unstated, in this brief paragraph — Jurek like many others was somehow uprooted from his native land as it fell under Nazi and Soviet occupation in 1939, and began what he probably intended to be a temporary exile, but turned into a new life, in Great Britain.

Fortunately, a Polish military magazine, Komandos, published a short biography of Dr Jurek “The Emigré Designer,” and much of that has been picked up in an entry in the Polish Wikipedia.

After the war, Jurek still served for a time in the Parachute Regiment, and designed two submachine guns,  hammer-fired from a closed bolt in an attempt to reduce the cyclic rate. He may have been aiming at the round of trials that would ultimately select the Patchett (Stirling) as a Sten replacement, but his were not accepted. (According to the Wikipedia bio, his SMGs were designed in 1942 and 1946).

The receiver of Jurek's Protptype No. 1 was still in his possession when he ccorresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel.

The receiver of Jurek’s Prototype No. 1 was still in his possession when he corresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel and reveals some of the pistol’s secrets.

After leaving the service, Jurek, who had been working on a pistol design owing much to the Walther P. 38, was engaged by Webley & Scott to develop this gun for upcoming British automatic pistol trials. World War II was the swan song of the revolver as a general service sidearm, and the British forces were the last to issue revolvers widely. Automatics including Lend-Lease Colts (1908 and 1911 models) and Inglis Hi-Powers were also widely used, especially in elite units like the Commandos, and British ordnance officers knew and liked the Hi-Power and its 9mm cartridge.

Webley had experience with auto pistols, but its early 20th Century designs, which seem to have gone out of production by the outbreak of the war, were not competitive with the latest designs from overseas. Webley managers hoped that they could develop a design that would match the advantages of the foreign guns, while allowing British officers to “buy British.”

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version and was tested by the Army. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Enter Jurek and his 9mm parabellum prototype, this time with the venerable house of Webley and Scott and all the energy of Birmingham and the industrial Midlands behind him. Circa 1952, a single Jurek pistol made in Webley’s Birmingham toolroom and well-finished and tested entered British Army trials.

It was an uphill fight for Webley, and the Hi-Power had a head start and did, in the end, win. But the gun Webley and Jurek entered was, as Cormack wrote, “of great interest both historically and technically.” The “historical” part is clear: it was the last gasp of a dying Webley, at least as a firearms design and manufacturing concern.

 

Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6".

Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6″. All photos enlarge with a click.

Technically, parts of Jurek’s design sincerely flatter the Walther P.38. It had a single-stack, 8-shot magazine and a double-action trigger, a takedown lever where it fits in the P.38, a safety that appears identical to the classic Walther decocker. Even the slide serrations look like the German gun, and in the parts of the gun we have described so far, the differences are largely cosmetic. The Jurek hammer, for instance, has a circular spur like that of the Hi-Power, and the slide and frame extend further back over the shooter’s hand. The photos we have do not show what sort of recoil springs were used, but the frame of prototype 1 — a gun made of mild steel by Dr Jurek before he started with Webley — shows reliefs for Walther-P.38-style dual coil recoil springs. It appears that the P.38-style takedown switch may have been the first stage of a takedown mode that involved a PPK-style trigger bow, but without more pictures or a chance to examine a gun, we can’t be sure.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The departure came forward on the slide, and underneath. Where the Walther has an open slide, the Webley 9mm has an ejection port in a closed one. This is because, where the Walther has a tipping locking block (as would be used in later Berettas as well), the Jurek lock has some kinship to earlier Browning and Webley practices. From Browning, Jurek took the locking link as in the 1911, but he used two in parallel, one ahead of the other (the Browning 1905 did this, one at the breech and one at the muzzle. Jurek’s are both at the breech).

Mechanism in recoil

Mechanism in recoil. Note: all these pictures can be expanded with a click.

Like the .455 Webley, then, the 9mm Webley had a barrel that always stayed parallel to the same axis it was on when fully in battery, although the WWI vintage Webley had angled cams riding in slots. Also like the Webley, Jurek originally used a single large locking lug (a bit like the future SIG, Glock etc. practice of making a top ejection port the single locking recess). To ensure that the barrel stayed locked to the slide until the bullet had exited and allowed pressure to drop, a sliding cradle held the two lower pins of the locking lugs, and the sliding cradle recoiled with the barrel for a fraction of an inch before being stopped and pulling the barrel down and the locking lugs out of engagement with the locking recess on the top of the 9mm’s slide.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

A total of three prototypes were made, and at the time of Cormack’s writing, long decades ago, at least one (#3) survived in the Pattern Room and the stripped receiver of #1 survived in Jurek’s possession. The guns underwent many modifications. The locking lugs particularly were modified, and Cormack published photos of three variations, with each new one having more lugs (and therefore, more lock-up area) than the previous. Both 4″ and 6″ barrels were tried. The Wikipedia bio suggests 22 examples of the 3rd prototype, adapted to take a 13-round magazine, were made, but Cormack does not suggest this. We believe that the bio author has misread Cormack’s comment that the British Army had also requested a .22 caliber training version.

According to Cormack, the British Army asked that the gun be lightened by changing the receiver from steel to aluminum, and asked if it could be adapted to a double-column magazine. Had that been done, it would have been the first double-action double-column “wonder nine,” decades before the US Navy would ask Smith & Wesson to build one (a request that led to the S&W M59).

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

At this point, Webley threw in the sponge, abandoned the project, and Jurek left Webley and set up shop in Birmingham, where he handcrafted single-shot target pistols that had some of the same fine aesthetic as his ill-fated service pistol entry. His called his principal pistol the Popular model, and made 186 of them by hand, mostly for British competitors. (In an act of national vandalism, any survivors of these in Great Britain were seized and destroyed after a nut case committed a school shooting). He also made other guns, including long guns with a toggle action. He had dreams of continuing his 9mm service pistol design — Cormack had a picture of a prototype No. 4 sketch (left) — but as far as we can determine, never cut metal on it.

And this is why he was doubly unlucky in his countries: when the US considered a dozen or so 9mm pistols, not only the winner (the Beretta M9), but the runner-up (SIG 226) and a number of the also-rans achieved great market success. In a nation where the only gun buyer is the government, the way of the gun designer is a rocky one; and the nation winds up dependent on foreign minds for its small arms.

According, again, to the Wikipedia bio, Jurek and his business, met as anticlimactic and tragic an end as his designs did.  As his health failed in the late 1970s, the government, at the time ideologically opposed not only to private manufacture of guns but to private, free enterprise, full stop, revoked his manufacturing license. He had been one of only three gunsmiths in the country licensed to make guns, a fine British art that was marked for extinction.

webley_jurek_prototype_no_3_right_best

 

His records showed that he made 352 guns in total in his shop; this doesn’t include the (probable) 3, or (if you believe the Wikipedia entry, which is probably an error) 25, or Lord knows how many pretty 9mm pistols he handcrafted while in the employ of Webley & Scott, or the lost submachine gun prototypes of his Army years. Dr Jurek passed away in 1982 in his adopted city of Birmingham.

Had Jurek only emigrated to Birmingham, Alabama (or any of a thousand American cities) instead of the English namesake, there might be one of these sleek nines in your collection.

Look Ma, no hammer! SIG P320 hits the market

Full Size P320

Look Ma, no hammer! Full Size P320. They’re initially available in 9mm and .40, soon to be in .45, and the SIG-SAUER site is contradictory on whether the .357 SIG is available now, or RSN.

SIG has now cataloged the P320. Unfortunately, the website launches an autoplay video. It’s a good video, in our view, but we’d rather have a say on when something comes blaring out of our speakers. Anyway, if you can give it a listen, the page is here, with the two versions of the pistol on it — just expect the video to automatically pop-up. Once the video’s over, you can dig into the specs and the details about the guns.

We’ll reproduce some of it here, and in between paragraphs and after SIG says their piece, we’ll have some comments. 

Introducing the P320, a polymer-framed service pistol designed from the ground up with the input of law enforcement officers. The result is the most operator-safety focused striker duty pistol on the market today. Taking into account the concerns of military and police training officers, the P320 provides an enhanced level of safety not found on most modern service pistols. Unlike its competitors, the P320 does not require the operator to pull the trigger nor use a special tool to take-down the firearm for cleaning or routine maintenance.

They’re obviously reacting — as everyone has, since S&W’s bleak “Copy the mother******!” days that produced the lawsuit Sigma — to the runaway popularity of Glock. Here, SIG is trying to address what makes Glocks popular, not just with street cops and team guys, but also with white shirts and procurement officers; while differentiating the P320 by hitting the high points of “I only wish it didn’t…” in the Glock world. The trigger-pull disassembly is one Glock feature that not only makes folks trained on other pistols uneasy (and makes ambulance chasers salivate), but it also really has produced oh-crap holes in cops’ thighs, cruisers, locker rooms, range facilities, buddies, and family members.

Yes, it’s completely safe if one complies with all the other rules of safe gun handling. The reason we have multiple rules (where any one would prevent a fatal mishap) is to keep all the holes in the swiss cheese from lining up. The trigger-pull disassembly is one hole that comes prealigned.

One of the big deals at SHOT this year was modularity. (Well, one friend said, “Nothing but walls and walls of near-identical ARs with invisible differences — it was boring.” We think he was trying to cheer us up). The P320, as we predicted beforehand, has modularity in spades:

This is the Carry size. There is a third grip frame size. Spare and conversion parts are not yet cataloged.

This is the Carry size. There is a third grip frame size, also. Spare and conversion parts are not yet cataloged.

Featuring a modular grip frame and removable fire control assembly pioneered by SIG SAUER, the P320 is customizable to any hand size or duty requirement. The P320 can quickly be converted from a Full-size to a Carry pistol. Slide and barrel conversions allow the P320 to change between calibers and barrel lengths as well. The P320 will be immediately available in 9mm, .40S&W and .357SIG, with .45ACP coming later in 2014. With a partially pretensioned striker, the P320 has a short, crisp trigger pull with a quick, pronounced reset right out-of-the-box.

The serialized bit is the metal frame that holds the locking block, trigger, hammer, mag release and lockwork. The grip frame is cosmetic and ergonomic, kind of like the body panels on the old Pontiac Fiero, and like those, will probably lead to aftermarket variants if the underlying gun sells well.

The standard trigger is smooth, and a Glock-style trigger safety is an option, as is a thumb safety, a magazine disconnect, and a loaded-chamber indicator.  SIG suggests that some of those multiply redundant safeties will be available only to the LE customers who insist on them.

The P320 comes in two trigger variants: a standard trigger and a tabbed safety trigger for specific law enforcement clients. Featuring the SIG SAUER internal safety system, the P320 has no external safety or decocking lever to snag or hang up on the draw. A frame-mounted thumb safety version will be available for law enforcement needs. SIGLITE® night sights come standard, and the reversible magazine release makes the P320 completely ambidextrous. Whatever the requirement, patrol duty, competition, time at the shooting range, or concealed carry, the P320 brings SIG SAUER legendary reliability, durability, and quality to the polymer-framed, striker-fired duty pistol.

Unlike any other pistol in its class, the P320 features a unique 5-point safety system, standard on all models:

- Striker Safety
- Disconnect Safety
- 3-point Take Down Safety System
- Takedown is prohibited without removal of magazine
- System prohibits takedown without slide locked to the rear
- Rotation of takedown lever allows disassembly without tools or trigger manipulation.

- Four additional optional safeties round out the P320 safety system:
- Tabbed Safety Trigger
- Frame-mounted ambidextrous Manual Safety
- Loaded Chamber Indicator
- Magazine Disconnect Safety

The unique modular design of the P320 offers the user the ultimate in flexibility to change calibers, sizes, and fit. Small, medium, and large complete polymer grip modules ensure comfortable and optimal fit for the widest range of hand sizes.

SIG’s previous modular pistol, the hammer-fired  SIG 250, hasn’t been a resounding commercial success, but it let SIG work out the technology they’re using here, on a pistol that has a lot of sales potential in LE, military and civilian markets. There probably needs to be some critical mass of sales for a third-party infrastructure to develop. SIG could help this along by releasing a technical data package, and evangelizing it to industry partners; this would get the 320 rolling towards must-have status before it can get there if it has to depend on accessory vendors reverse-engineering the gun.

A gun for women’s self-defense in India

Nihrbeek Indian RevolverThanks to a commenter over at Ian’s place, meet the Nirbheek. It’s something new in its native country, India: a revolver made expressly for women to use in self-defense.

Americans and other nationals who have a right to armed self-defense have long seen attempts to design weapons that appeal to women, but in the light of a recent (2012) gang rape, women are seeking pistol permits — and some cops are encouraging them to get them.

Nihrbeek videoNow the national Indian Ordnance Factory gets into the act. As you might expect from a Soviet-style nationalized industry, it’s usually a bit laggard about serving actual consumers, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see this distaff version of a standard IOF pocket .32 (chambered for the .32 S&W Long cartridge) hit the market. It caused quite a stir in the Indian media, too.

This appears to be a natural brushed-titanium one

This appears to be a natural brushed-titanium one

The only difference between the Nihrbeek and the earlier pocket .32, which has no name, is the material. Instead of being machined from steel, it’s at least partially machined from Titanium alloy. This lets IOF reduce the weight of the gun, empty, to 1/2 Kilogram (about 1.1 pounds).

The break-action feature imitates the Enfield and Webley revolvers, which were once produced at the Cawnpore (Kanpur) factory where the Nihrbeek is made now. The gun is closest to the Webley Mk IV. The trigger and lockwork is more like a Smith and Wesson — if the Indian engineers are going to lift a few features, they’re lifting them from good places, at least. One bizarre feature of the IOF .32 revolvers is shared with the Mk IV: a manual safety.

While the revolver looks so retro it’s practically steampunk, it was actually designed in the 1990s.

This IOF revolver is the steel framed, non-Nihrbeek version.

This IOF revolver is the steel framed, non-Nihrbeek version.

The .32 S&W Long cartridge is marginal for self-defense, but the IOF does not offer effective defense weapons to civilians, and there’s no private gun industry to speak of — it’s IOF or nothing. An Indian’s self-defense choice is either this revolver or one of its variants, or an equally anemic .32 ACP pocket pistol. IOF also sells the rounds: FMJ. Still, for much of the 20th Century the .32 and .38 S&W revolver rounds were probably the most common self-defense rounds used by American civilians.

Ad for NihrbeekThe name Nihrbeek carries a double meaning. It means “Bold,” but it’s also a tribute to the rape and murder victim, Nihrbaya, whose tragic fate has inspired many Indian women to consider self-defense.

The revolver won’t be selling to average Indians. It sells for over 122,000 rupees, which translates to over $2,000 — not including the expense and hassle of wringing a handgun license out of the Indian authorities. The difficulty of this varies from state to state and sometimes requires bribes.

Some Indian commentators think that women won’t use guns to protect themselves, others think they shouldn’t. (And so they should what, then? Grin and bear it?) But police officer Arun Kumar, a senior cop in the state of Uttar Pradesh, told the Times of India he was all for it:

Once a target of rape whips out a handgun, the element of surprise is sure to scare the life out of most of the persons who attempt rape. In most of criminal cases in India, the perpetrator, irrespective of whether armed or not, neither expects nor faces any stiff resistance from the target. Women carrying small handguns will surely make a difference to the tendency.

Preach it, brother. In most cases, as Kumar understands, just the fact of the victim arming herself is all that is needed to prevent her victimization. In most cases, the criminal will then flee and count himself lucky to escape with his life. The story he tells his criminal friends will diminish the joy they find in their antisocial lifestyle.

And those that aren’t deterred by merely seeing a gun? They also will wind up helping to spread the word that crime does not pay. Criminals have poor impulse control, but at some level they’re rational actors. It won’t take many of them to be pocked with little .32 pills for the whole career field to lose some of its appeal.

These facts have always been true, and they’re true at every geographical location and under every form of government on earth: every human being has the natural right of self-defense, and those who exercise that right have better outcomes than those that trust to the mercy and good conscience of criminals.

We’re cautiously optimistic about the future of gun rights in India. Indians, like Americans, have a natural right to own a gun that has been affirmed in a recent Supreme Court judgment (India’s, in 2010, according to the informative National Association for Gun Rights – India website). Like some Americans, Indians face bureaucratic obstacles, but the Indian gun owners’ group continues to press for common-sense reforms like all-India validity of licenses, and truly objective issuance standards. While Americans with their thousands of guns to choose from may laugh at IOF’s .32s, remember that Indians lost their gun rights in 1857 under British rule and have only very slowly been regaining them. IOF’s production for the civilian market hasn’t even been going on for 20 years, so they’re late to the self defense revolution. But they do appear to be coming.

It’s nice to see the world’s most populous democratic republic taking some baby steps towards allowing her people to defend themselves.

 

Range Report

Sunday, went out to the range with Kid. Engaged targets at 50m (not our choice. Target frames embedded in ice). Your humble WeaponsMan was firing mostly the Glock (and still struggling to group with it) and Kid mostly a Valmet M62S. Normally we’d only bring one rifle and one pistol to a given range session, in order to maintain focus and maximize training benefit; Sunday we brought an extra handgun (which we’ll explain below).

We also saw, this weekend, bricks of .22 in stock for (ouch)  $70. Not so great ammunition, either: Aquila. But it was the first time in a long time we’ve seen ‘em in stock. After checking on prices online, when we factor shipping in, we’re better off buying it locally.

Of course, buying more .22 means someone is going to have to troubleshoot the old High Standard. Back when we last could get ammo, it was having some going-bang-consistently problems, and it shouldn’t — it’s a pretty simple blowback gun.

The Valmet M62S

We’d cleaned it inadequately last time (boo, hiss). We discovered when the bolt didn’t want to open, but seemed to be welded shut. This is a fault (if a problem caused by poor PM is really a “fault”) of Valmets and Galils (which are Valmet-based) more so than regular AKs, and here’s why:

  1. The Valmet gas piston is not chromed, and therefore is subject to corrosion.
  2. The Valmet gas tube is not a cheap, non-pressure-bearing stamped sheet metal thing that loosely sits around the piston, but a machined part that fits closely.

Valmet_ADm76

(That’s an ad for a very early M76 that still has most of the M62 features, including the machined receiver. Note its similarity to a Galil receiver. All Valmets have the machined gas tube).  

The Valmet designers worked around this a bit by having a sort of sharp-edged scraper in the tube, behind the piston itself. If the phosphated (i.e. Parkerized) finish wears off, this is subject to being seized to the tube by rust. Likewise, the piston itself can rust-seize to the gas block.

Corrective action? Hooked the charging handle on the bench at the range, and gave the butt of the butt stock a good open-palm strike. Opened it up and confirmed it was this type of rust seizure, now cleared; and the gun operated flawlessly for the 90 rounds Kid put through it.

Bear in mind, it never stopped firing — it just wouldn’t open up without a good whack, after sitting for a couple of years. And then, after the whack, it worked just fine.

After all, it’s an AK, just an unusually well-made one.

The Glock

Glock17-G3That file photo’s pretty close to the G17-G3 we’re carrying, although we have the Vickers extended slide release and mag release, and tritium sights. We’re still missing too much with this thing. Arrgggghhh. Time to go to some schools and get some first-class coaching. It’s not the gun. The Glock did its part and, of course, went bang every time with Speer Lawman JHPs. Unfortunately the problem here is beyond gunsmithing — it’s behind the trigger, as it were.

The Beretta M92S

M9-pistolWe have shot Berettas so much it’s not funny. And since we always had one at work, we never bothered to keep one at home. One came up at our local FFL, and the price was reasonable so we scarfed it up. (After all, we’re still finding Beretta mags in old tuff boxes and combat boots). Our basic intention was just to break it in, and so, most of the shooting was done by Kid, who’dd never fired one before (and had just seen one get a workout onscreen in Lone Survivor). Like the Glock, it went bang 100 out of 100 with the Speer JHPs. (We gotta get some more ball for practice. These things are expensive for ventilating targets).

Kid enjoyed himself. What more could we ask for?

The range was followed by lunch at Five Guys. (Urp!) And gun cleaning, from which Kid absented himself… so we set the Valmet aside for him. No Hoppe’s no pop-poppies, around here…

A Short History of Chrome Bores

For some 500 years it’s been known that rifling would impart spin and therefore stabilization to a ball or bullet. Spiral grooves probably evolved from straight grooves only intended to trap powder fouling; by 1500 gunsmiths in Augsburg, Germany, were rifling their arquebuses. This gave rise to an early attempt at gun control, according to W.S. Curtis in Long Range Shooting, An Historical Perspective: 

In the early 16th Century there are references to banning grooved barrels because they were unfair. Students of the duel will recognize this problem arising three hundred years later.

Curtis, 2001. Curtis notes that why rifling was twisted is unknown, and that it may have been incompletely understood. He has quite a few interesting historical references, including one to a philosopher who explained that if you spun the ball fast enough, the demon (who dwelt in gunpowder, which was surely Satan’s own substance) couldn’t stay on and guide your ball astray. (Curtis’s work is worth beginning at the beginning, which is here).

By the mid-19th Century, the Newtonian physics of the rifled bore had been sorted out, the Minié and similar balls made rifled muskets as quick-loading as smoothbores, and the scientific method allowed engineers to test hypotheses systematically by experimentation. So smoothbores were gone for quite a while (they would return in the 20th Century in pursuit of extreme velocities, as in tank guns).

Rifling had several effects beyond greater accuracy. It did decrease muzzle velocity slightly, and it did increase waste heat in the barrel. The first of these was no big deal, and the latter was easily handled, at first, by improved metallurgy. But rifling also helps retain highly corrosive combustion by-products in the bore; and corrosion was extremely damaging to rifling. Pitted rifling itself might not have too much of an effect on accuracy (surprisingly), but the fouling that collected in the pits did. Corrosion also weakened the material of barrels, but most military barrels had such great reserves of strength that this was immaterial, also.

Fouling and pitting have been the bête noire of rifles from 1498 in Augsburg to, frankly, today. A badly pitted barrel can only be restored by relining the barrel, a job for a skilled gunsmith with, at least, first-class measuring tools and a precision lathe with a long bed. Relining has never been accepted, to the best of our knowledge, by any military worldwide.

Chrome Plating is Invented: 1911-1924

One approach has been to use corrosion-resistant materials for barrels, but that has been late in coming (late 20th Century) because it is, of course, metallurgy-dependent. Early in the 20th Century, though, American scientists and engineers developed a new technology — electroplating. George Sargent, of UNH and Cornell, worked with chromium as early as 1911, and Columbia scientists developed a commercially practical process of using electrodes to deposit chromium by 1924. Meanwhile a New Jersey professor worked with a German process.

The two groups of professors formed start-ups, the Chemical Treatment Company and the Chromium Products Corporation. At this point, chrome plating has not been applied to firearms. Electroplating had been used for guns for decades, of course, but that was nickel plating — eye-pleasing, but soft and prone to flaking, not suitable for bores, and not remotely as corrosion-resistant as chromium.

(This article is rather long, so it is continued after the #More link below. We next take up the application of this process to rifle bores).

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A few Christmas gift ideas from the past

Just because these ads are old, doesn’t mean any one of them is a bad idea. The British, whose chains rest lightly on their shoulders, don’t get it; an excited Chris Pleasance in the Daily Mail seems Shocked!, Shocked! that we barbarians in the Colonies once gave guns as Christmas gifts, but reassures him/her/it-self that the ads are “outdated.”

Hmm. These ads do date from the 1950s and 1960s, but nobody better tell Chris that more guns are being given and received under this year’s Christmas tree than were when the ads ran. And kids will still look like this happy guy when they open the long rectangular package:

winchester christmas

Once, a kid reacted much like that to find his first .22 — a Winchester, as it happens — under the tree. His Dad bought it for him, despite Dad not caring much for guns; because it was what the kid wanted. He was an incipient WeaponsMan, after all.

Thanks, Dad. The Winchester is still in a place of pride alongside guns that are insured for orders of magnitude more, but are worth orders of magnitude less.

As the labels on the images show, but the ingrate Pleasance and his tabloid don’t actually say, the ads came from Retronaut.com, an interesting source of midcentury style. They were posted on Retronaut a couple of years ago.

Along with Winchester, we have Remington, Browning, and High Standard as well. They’re over the jump to keep the front page lean — click “more” to see them, or click on through to the Daily Mail to see them with mildly appalled British condescension, or to Retronaut to find them amid the cars with jaunty tailfins and men in snappy hats.

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Cost of Military Handguns, Part 1

Handguns of the WorldIn Edward C. Ezell’s magisterial Handguns of the World, there’s a chapter (Chapter 18) on the production of military handguns to 1945. It’s the merest taste that whets one’s appetite for more information, but it shows some of the methods used to produce military pistols and revolvers of the early 20th Century. A picture shows a horizontal milling machine with a complex cutter that does the entire lower and front section of a Colt double-action revolver receiver; another shows a series of Browning Model 1900 pistol frames showing eight major operations, beginning with a raw forging. An ingenious Pratt & Whitney machine that uses two spindles to do a rough and finish cut in a single set-up is shown, as are specialty rifling machines as used at Colt and FN.

If you’re a gun-manufacture addict, this chapter is purest amphetamine. But like its metaphorical equivalent, the effect quickly wears off (it is only a tiny slice, from pp. 654-677 of the massive book) and you just wish there would be more.

There isn’t. Ezell, alas, is dead, and has not been replaced by a historian of like stature; his book will never be complemented by a second volume of 1946-2000 designs, let alone his manufacture chapter expanded into the book we should very much like to buy.

However, we’d like to share one of his tables with you, and then make what we consider a worthwhile revision to the table.

Ezell Table 18-1: Selected Cost Data for Military Handguns 1895-1945

Model

1895-1900

1915-1920

1940-1945

Borchardt C93, 7.65mm

$15.00-17.50

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. 1899

$19.30

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. Swiss Model 1900

$11.96

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. US trial model

 $14.75

NP

NP

Swiss Ordonnanzpistole 06 (Luger), 7.65 mm Para.

NP

 $43.33

NA

Pistole 08, 9 mm Parabellum (Luger)

NP

 $13.58

 $14.00

Mauser M/96, 7.63 mm w/stock

 $ 22.00-$25.00

 $14.77

 NP

Mauser M/96, 9 mm Para. w/stock

NP

 $19.77

NP

Mauser HSC, 7.65 mm

NP

NP

 $8.50

Pistole 38, 9mm Para. (Mauser production)

NP

NP

 $12.40-$12.50

Colt Model 1894 series New Army Revolver, .38 LC

 $12.00

 NP

 NP

Colt Model 1900 self-loading pistol, .38 ACP

 $20.00-$25.00

NP

NP

Colt Model 1909 New Service Revolver, .45 LC

$13.00

NP

NP

Colt Model 1911, .45 ACP

NP

$14.50

NA

Webley Mark I, .455

$14.50

NA

NA

 

Ezell includes several notes and warnings with his table. Those include that NP means “Not in Production” during that period, “NA” means “data for that period not available,” and most of the prices are government purchase prices. The data on prices are sometimes ascribed to a particular year, which is in or perhaps only near the period in question.

The table, apart from the limits Ezell recognizes, has another limitation: it lists prices in period dollars. Seeing that a M1911 cost the US Government $14.50 in the nineteen-teens is of extremely limited utility, unless we can equate those Wilsonian dollars to our modern devalued versions.

Here is the table normalized to 2013 dollars, using factors drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator for the two later periods, and OSU data via the Dave Manuel Inflation Calculator for the 1895-1900 data. For each five year period, the individual inflation multipliers were averaged to create a composite inflation multiplier — those were 27.78 for the first period (1895-1900), 17.21 for the 1915-20 period, and 14.41 for the WWII period.

 

WeaponsMan Table 2: Inflation-Corrected Cost Data (constant 2013 dollars)

Model

1895-1900

1915-1920

1940-1945

Borchardt C93, 7.65mm

$416.70-$486.15

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. 1899

$536.15

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. Swiss Model 1900

$332.25

NP

NP

Borchardt-Luger, 7.65 mm Para. US trial model

$409.76

NP

NP

Swiss Ordonnanzpistole 06 (Luger), 7.65 mm Para.

NP

$745.49

NA

Pistole 08, 9 mm Parabellum (Luger)

NP

$233.64

$201.76

Mauser M/96, 7.63 mm w/stock

 $611.16-$694.50

$254.12

 NP

Mauser M/96, 9 mm Para. w/stock

NP

$340.14

NP

Mauser HSC, 7.65 mm

NP

NP

$122.50

Pistole 38, 9mm Para. (Mauser production)

NP

NP

$178.70- $180.85

Colt Model 1894 series New Army Revolver, .38 LC

$333.36

 NP

 NP

Colt Model 1900 self-loading pistol, .38 ACP

 $555.60-$694.50

NP

NP

Colt Model 1909 New Service Revolver, .45 LC

$361.14

NP

NP

Colt Model 1911, .45 ACP

NP

$249.47

NA

Webley Mark I, .455

$402.81

NA

NA

 

What makes this interesting to us is the degree to which pistol costs (for large orders, i.e. governmental buyers) have stayed fairly stable for over 100 years, despite the widespread use of improved and automated production machinery, and advances in materials and production science which in theory reduce production costs substantially.  The trend, in general, is downward, but it’s not a very substantial trend.

The much higher costs of early auto pistols vis-a-vis revolvers are also notable. This reflects, to some degree, the relative maturity of the two technologies. By 1895, revolvers had been in general use for 35-40 years, and Colt had been building them for almost 60. If you can’t improve at something with a lifetime of practice, there’s no hope for you.

The Short Life of the Sterling Arms Corporation

There have been several companies named Sterling that have sold guns over the years. There was the British maker of military arms and AR-180s, now defunct; an outfit in California; a company making cheap revolvers (perhaps the same); and a New York maker of auto pistols. It is Sterling Arms Corporation of several addresses in the Buffalo, New York area that we’ll focus on here — because their existence was short (1967-1984) and their guns can get fairly weird.

Sterling’s Dawn

Sterling Arms Husky

Sterling Arms “Husky” 285. Image: GunBroker

Sterling appears to have been created just before the Gun Control Act of 1968 devastated two aspects of the firearms industry: importation, and mail order. The market for US-made inexpensive handguns was wide open. The company started in 1967 in Buffalo, but some time around 1968 moved to nearby Lockport, NY. The first Sterling pistol that we know of is the Model 285, a High Standard knockoff. It was a thoroughly conventional .22 auto pistol in the mold of the early “Letter Hammer” High-Standard, with an external hammer. The Model 285 was available in a sport pistol version, the Husky; or with longer barrel and better sights as the Target T300. There was also a T300L or “Lightweight” Sterling, which was the T300 with an aluminum alloy frame. The magazine catch is at the base of the magazine in the rear, Euro-style.

High Standard H-D Military for comparison.

High Standard H-D Military for comparison.

At least some parts, including magazines, interchange between the Sterlings and the High Standards they’re based upon. Some design details are very redolent of High-Standard — the general look of the gun, the shape of the short slide, the grip angle, the hammer, and the sheet-metal covering the trigger mechanism on the left. But High Standard expert John J. Stimson, Jr., dismisses the cosmetic similarity.  “There is no relationship between Sterling and High Standard. Sterling did make a series of four ( I believe) .22 pistols that looked similar to the Model H-D Military but it was a clunkier heavier design.”

The magazine interchange is easily enough explained: copying. The original High Standard magazine was a copy of (and interchanges with) the Colt Woodsman; the early Ruger Mark I magazines were actually war surplus High Standard spares, modified to fit the Ruger’s more upright grip angle and with a plated investment-cast base and follower. The Sterling is a copy of the High Standard. This means that for these 10-shot .22s, unlike other Sterlings, magazines are easily found.

The cross-bolt trigger-block safety forward of the trigger on the receiver is highly unusual, if not unique. It would be practical enough and handy to manipulate, but like all trigger-blocks, it is not drop-safe and doesn’t positively lock the hammer or firing pin. This is probably alright in a target pistol, meant for range employment, and a rimfire one, with a low-inertia firing pin. And it was far from unusual back in its day. Bear in mind that the High Standard safety (a more conventional hammer block) was not part of the original design, but was added to later production guns. 

The barrel is retained in the receiver with a pin — it appears from photographs of assembled guns to be a taper pin, but without disassembling an exemplar, one can’t be certain. This would be the same method used by High Standard. These .22 pistols were made from approximately 1967 to 1972 or so in three barrel lengths and are found with several different roll marks, attributing them to Sterling in Buffalo and Lockport, NY, and to E&R Machining in Gasport, NY. We’ll explain that in a bit.

The Sterling PPL

The first weird Sterling, and the weirdest by far, is the PPL pocket pistol. The PPL is a pocket pistol with the general form, manual of arms, and design details much like the early external-hammer High-Standard .22 target pistols, just stricken in utero with dwarfism. It is a redesign of the .22 Sterling as a pocket pistol.  A sortie around the net revealed an interesting page on the PPL, with some history and some decent photos. We pulled some better photos of two examples from GunBroker.

Sterling Arms PPL 1102 rightThis is a fairly conventional example of the gun, although a minty boxed example (Serial Number 1102. Serial numbers known to us approach 4,000). These grips were the standard ones for the PPL, and can be seen to be specially molded for the compact gun, but otherwise resemble those on the Model 285.

The sights are a particularly strong feature of the PPL, compared to its 1970s pocket-pistol peers. They are prominent and square Patridge sights, with some thought given to reducing snags. Here’s a top view of 1102.

Sterling Arms PPL 1102 topNot all guns had these sights, and not all were .380s. Here is a .22 PPL that the same vendor had on GB, in top then side view:

Sterling Arms PPL top

The rimfire version got comparatively notional sights, and was also rocking a square-sectioned barrel. But it’s hard to say whether the differences are due to this being the .22 version — which the seller claims was extremely rare, with some 285 made — or due to it being a little earlier in production (it’s Serial Number 786).

Sterling Arms PPL rightThe .22 gun also left the factory with rather homely walnut grips, and with the standard plastic grips also in the box (they’re still there).

While it looks like a sawn-off Model 285 or 300, if you look at the lower front area of the grip, you can see that the frames were purpose-built for the pocket pistols. The funny doesn’t end in the gun’s shape, or the strange aesthetic of grip at one acute angle the line of the bore, and slide serrations at a different acute angle. As a pocket pistol, it’s oversighted for its era, with large, snaggly Patridge rear and ramp front sights. It is made of machined steel, the default norm for mid-20th-Century firearms.

The PPL was only made briefly while the firm was going through some corporate teething problems in 1971 and 1972. These inexpensive pocket pistols seldom turn up for sale today. This rarity on the market is probably due to three things: low initial production, attrition over 40 years (both in terms of guns destroyed and guns forgotten in dusty closets), and lack of demand that would pry survivors out of those closets.

There are not many Sterling collectors, and while a Sterling is a curiosity to add to a High Standard collection, there are enough High Standard variations to entertain any collector for a lifetime, and HS collectors’ attitudes towards Sterling seem to be encapsulated in the quote by John Stimson Jr. above.

Corporate Drama & Lawsuits

The company needed increased production capacity, and relocated from Buffalo to Lockport. Soon additional manufacture was taking place at E&R Machining in Gasport. (These locations were not distant from one another. Lockport is about 35 miles northeast of Buffalo, and Gasport is about 6 miles due east of Lockport).  Circa 1972, the two companies merged, under the control of E&R’s owner, Eugene Sauls.

The corporate headquarters of the gun business remained at Lockport, but receivers that were made at the E&R facility were marked “Gasport, NY” and before the merger, “E&R Machining”. Sterling Arms was wound up in 1983-84, but not before delivering the gun that got us interested in the marque (when one turned up in the Staten Island buyback), the Model 400, and a very large quantity of undistinguished .22 and .25 auto pistols.

In the mid-1970s, according to the company’s 1975 catalog, it was also the importer for SIG 232 pocket pistols, and towards the end it tried to branch out into guns for metallic silhouette shooting, a popular 1980s sport.

The end of the company reportedly came about from a product-liability lawsuit. In the 2nd page of the 2nd part of a 2-part article on firearms case law, Massad Ayoob describes the case:

[A]n irresponsible baby-sitter was in an employer’s home with her equally irresponsible (and expressly unauthorized) boyfriend, when the latter went looking through the family’s things and found the head of the household’s Sterling .380 pistol, which was kept fully loaded. Seeing him remove the magazine, the eight-year-old boy who was being babysat said, “That’s my daddy’s gun.” The baby-sitter’s boyfriend said, “It’s unloaded – see?” He pointed the gun at the child and pulled the trigger. A .380 bullet struck the child in the neck, rendering him quadriplegic for life. The family sued Sterling Arms for negligent manufacture, and the costs of the lawsuit and the settlement helped to drive the company out of business.

Amazing case, but rather typical of the US’s third-world legal system, which runs on randomness, whim, and personalities whilst maintaining a veneer of law. The family sued Sterling rather than the idjit boyfriend for obvious reasons: the kid was certainly judgment-proof, and given his brain-stem level of cognitive functioning, he’s always going to be judgment-proof, unless he wins Powerball — in which case he’ll be back to judgment-proof in a year. But Sterling no more caused that child’s injury than Jesus Christ Himself did. The parents who left the loaded gun, the babysitter who brought her assclown boyfriend, and the assclown boyfriend himself all have great culpability, but the amazing tort lotto system found them not responsible, and Sterling responsible. The plaintiff attorney’s  rationale in this case was that, if the Sterling had had a magazine safety, it would have been sufficiently idiot proof that nothing would happen when the idiot pointed it at a chiled and pulled the trigger.

Sterling was already no stranger to the courts.

In 1971, it faced summary judgment on a case about an unpaid-for shipment of ammunition, but overturned the ruling on appeal.

At least two cases were won on the allegation that it was possible for the Sterling vest-pocket pistol to “just go off,” Schaefer v. Sterling arms Corp., 22nd Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Tammany, Louisiana, and Field v. Sterling Arms, US District Court for the Western District of Texas. These cases caused the gun to feature at No. 7 on a “top 10″ list of “unsafe guns” in a litigation manual for ambulance chasers.

The .22 and .25 Sterling pocket pistols

1975 Sterling catalog featuring the pocket pistols and the then-new 400.

1975 Sterling catalog featuring the pocket pistols and the then-new 400.

These pistols are entirely conventional in design, and therefore almost entirely uninteresting. They were sold in vast numbers to people seeking a small, cheap, self-defense weapon, and they have turned up in great numbers in crimes, presumably because cheap weapons are preferred by marginal characters and the straw buyers who arm them, but possibly also because the sort of poor person in a bad neighborhood who arms himself with a cheap pistol, is just the sort of person whose apartment gets burglarized. There’s no real answer for this; although jurisdictions like Sterling’s native New York operate differently, in which more trust is given to those with wealth, it’s not reasonable to argue that poor people ought to have less right to self-defense than the wealthy who can buy a $500 gun.

This is by far the most commonly encountered Stirling in the wild. Numrich has extensive parts for these guns. They were available blued and stainless; the blued model had an alloy frame and was lighter, and they were available in .22LR and .25 ACP calibers. Some blued models have white plastic grips.

The Model 400

Sterling 400 initial model a

Sterling 400 initial model — this beaten, no-mag example went for $75 at gunauction.com.

The original gun was not labeled the Model 400 Mark I when it was introduced (by 1975 if not earlier), but has been sort of retconned into that name since. The Model 400 got a lot of press — some of it quite good — and was a departure from Sterling’s previous work. It was DA/SA with a decocking safety, held 7+1 rounds of .380 ACP, was styled a little like an early Walther PPK, and made of steel. There were also some stainless versions:

Sterling 400 initial model stainless

The Mark II version was introduced circa 1980, and addressed some of the complaints users and critics had of the first gun, especially its size. It was slimmed from 1.3 to 1.1″ in the grip, and was now primarily sold in stainless steel; it fully conformed to what the 1980s public expected of a single-stack auto pistol. Although the majority of Mark IIs found are stainless, a blued version has been sighted:

Sterling 400 Mk II

 

Some of the differences are very subtle. Look at the different cross-section of the safety, the relief behind the trigger guard on the Mark II, for instance (reminiscent of the M1911 versus the M1911A1) and the larger magazine release. They added up to a gun with better ergonomics.

 

Hogg's write-up on the Mark II

Hogg’s write-up on the Mark II, also copied to the left.

The Model 400 Mark II got a rather nice write-up in Ian V. Hogg’s 1983 Modern Small Arms, alphabetically sandwiched on page 56 between two other also-rans, the Sterling (British) revolver, and the dreadful Steyr GB which opened the field up for Glock (a firm, and weapon, unmentioned in Modern Small Arms, which skips from FN to Hammerli). Hogg first addresses the cartridge:

The .380 Auto, or 9mm Short as it is known in Europe, is a somewhat under-rated cartridge. It has served as a police cartridge throughout Europe for several decades and as a military cartridge too. The bullet will deliver something in the order of 165 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is sufficient to make most people stop and think, and it is also less likely to ricochet than higher powered cartridges such as the 9mm Parabellum. For many years it was just about the most powerful cartridge which could be managed in a blowback action without going to design extremes, another point which counted in its favor.

Now, where old Hogg gets that nonsense about “less likely to ricochet,” we have no idea. He then goes on to appraise the pistol. Bear in mind that this is a British expert, almost certainly working from documents rather than firing the pistol on the range:

The Sterling is one of the few .380 automatics made in the USA; it is an inexpensive pistol and the standard of finish reflects its price, but there is nothing wrong with its quality of construction and it is surprisingly accurate. The action is a straightforward blowback with an external hammer, and with double-action trigger. There is a slide-mounted safety which, when operated, moves a steel barrier behind the firing pin, so that should the hammer fall it cannot discharge a cartridge. Once the safety is on, the hammer may be lowered by controlling it with the thumb while pressing the trigger; there after the pistol can be fired by releasing the safety and pulling the trigger to cock and drop the hammer. Once the first shot has been fired, subsequent shots are in single-action mode, the recoiling slide cocking the hammer.

The foresight is a fixed blade, the rear sight a square notch adjustable for elevation and windage. The Sterling is comfortable to fire and can deliver consistent 3 to 4 inch groups at 25 yards range.

–Hogg, Ian V.

The good writeups in books like Hoggs and magazines couldn’t save the company, and E&R Machining cut the gun subsidiary loose in 1983-84. Some NIB inventory has turned up from time to time, and earlier this year someone claimed to have the tooling for magazine production and a quantity of magazines. Magazine availability is problematical for most Stirlings, although the 10-shot .22s, as noted, can use High-Standard magazines.

Rarely Seen Sterlings

Two “Sterlings” that are relatively rarely seen are the X Caliber single-shot Hunting & Target pistol (as it is called on the box), and the SIG 232, which was imported by Sterling and can be found with Sterling import marks, at least, according to the company’s 1975 full-line catalog, which is available as a reprint. The product line at the time was:

  • Double Action Model 400
  • Model 320 Steel Sterling
  • Sterling Model 300
  • Sig Sauer P232
  • Sig 232 Two Tone, Stainless, Blue

The X Caliber is believed to date from closer to the end of Sterling’s days. This was meant to be a pistol with interchangeable barrels in the Thompson/Center mold. We’ve never seen a spare barrel or a gun with a multiple barrel set, but we have seen several barrel lengths and calibers. The most common caliber appears to be .357 Magnum.

Sterling Arms X Caliber 1104

It’s unknown how close a copy the X Caliber was, and whether it would interchange with TC parts.

And that’s the essence of the story of the Sterling Arms Corporation, born in Buffalo and strangled in a courtroom, a thoroughly American story. There are large gaps — no online article, researched in a day, can tell the whole story. Who designed these guns? We don’t know. Who called the business shots? We have one name, but other than that, we don’t know. How did they go in a few years from aping an old High Standard to a conceptual, but larger, copy of the much more complex Walther double-action system of the PP and PPK? We don’t know. Perhaps the initial, oddball pocket pistol was called the PPL in admiration of Walther — or perhaps there was some other reason. We just don’t know.

And that’s where we have to leave it. For now.