Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

If This Gun Could Talk: Webley & Son W.G. Presentation Revolver

We apologize for posting this one a little late. We think you’ll see why.

This revolver, in the potent .455/.476 load, might not have had many tales to tell; it was a presentation revolver, property of a British Indian Army officer, and it probably lived its life in a succession of desk drawers, fired occasionally or not at all. J. B. Woon, who was a Major in the 40th Pathans at the time of presentation (sometime around 1903 when the unit first got that name, perhaps) and who is said to have advanced to the rank of Major or Lieutenant General. It’s a certainty that Woon had some tales to tell; one of those Eminent Victorians, he surfaces in a number of books we can find thanks to the magic of Google Book Search. Or does he?


(Yes, that picture embiggens with a click).

It is, it seems, hard to tell your Woons apart, as apparently there was more than one in British Indian Army service. There was also an Edward Woon, and there may have been more than one J.B. (The British Indian Army was a post-Rebellion service. Pre-1857, the Indian Army belonged to the British East India Company. After the Sepoy Rebellion, triggered in part by the issue of paper rifle-musket cartridges the native soldiers believed to be sealed with pork fat or beef tallow, making them anathema to Moslem and Hindu alike, the Indian Army was reorganized and nationalized).


For example, is this Major-General Woon, C.B., who inspected a Royal Army Medical Corps hospital in Multan in 1908, our guy, who had become an MG and a Commander of the Order of the Bath in a few short years? Or is it another Woon, whose initials were C.B.? We’d probably need to pore over multiple musty editions of the Army List to be sure.

Screenshot 2015-05-22 08.39.46

(Source; Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10, edited by William Heaton Horrocks).

Here’s a reference that shows that Major General J.B. Woon was, indeed, a Commander of the Order of the Bath. We’ll transcribe the text from the Google Books page, because it’s an interesting story. It’s from the History of the 5th Gurkha Rifles2:

The Battalion went through its first Kitchener test in 1906. Lord Kitchener, then Commander-in-Chief in India, aimed at increasing the efficiency of the army in India by introducing the element of competition into the annual inspection of battalions. Under the rules framed by him all battalions carried out the same series of exercises, marks were allotted on a common basis, and the winning unit held the Chief’s challenge cup for a year.

The exercises began with a fifteen-mile march under service conditions, followed immediately by an attack on a position, the defending enemy being represented by service targets, and ball ammunition being used as a test of shooting efficiency.

A capsule biography of Woon that breaks out his Christian names and his general officer service turns up, of all places, posted by users of the Axis History Forum.

General Sir John Blaxell Woon (1855 – 1938)
1905: Promoted to Brigadier-General
1905: Commander, 6th (Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade, India
?: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – ?: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
? – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
?: Promoted to General
1919: Retired

A reply there fills in some of the gaps:

Gen Woon, John Blaxall, was born on Feb 24, 1856, not 1855. His date of death is Aug 29, 1938. He was promoted to MG in 1905, and to LTG in 1911. I have no dates for when he took over command of the 2 Indian divisions.

And another reply gets many of the remaining gaps:

General Sir John Blaxall Woon (Feb 24 1856 – Aug 29 1938)
1903: Promoted to Temporary Brigadier-General
1903: Colonel on Staff ?, India
1903: District Officer Commanding Bundelkhand District, India
1904 (or 1903): District Officer Commanding Kohat District, India
1904: Commander, Abbottabad Brigade, India
1904 (or 1905): Commander, Sirhind Brigade
1905: Promoted to Major-General
1910 – 1911: Commander, 5th (Mhow) Division, India
1911 – 1914: Commander, 9th (Secunderabad) Division, India
1911: Promoted to Lieutenant-General
1917: Promoted to General
1919: Retired

The information is based upon London Gazette, The Times, Who’s Who 1897-1996 and Whitaker’s peerage, baronetage, knightage, and companionage.

Btw. Brigadier-Generals were by nature Temporary.

These sources seem to disagree on whether he was John Blaxall or John Blaxell Woon.

In 1905, he marched (on horse) in a massive parade at Rawalpindi as Commander of the 6th (Abbottabad, yes, that Abbottabad) Infantry Brigade. (How massive? The program of the parade claims 55,516 officers and men, 13,396 horses, 5,558 camels, (Trigger warning for Ken White): another ~9,000 mules and ponies, 146 artillery pieces, and 136 machine guns).3

As he did not retire until 1919, it’s clear that Maj. Gen. Woon did something in the Great War. The British Indian Army deployed forces to East Africa in 1914, forces that included most of Woon’s former commands, to fight the German mischief-maker von Lettow-Vorbeck. And it deployed other elements — very large elements, for it was a very large army by modern standards — to fight on the Western Front4. Where Woon went, or whether he stayed “home” to “hustle glum heroes up the line to death” is unclear.

So was Major Woon the same guy as Major General Woon? Father and Son? Uncle and Nephew? Cousins? And what happened, then, to the Major of the 40th Pathans?

And how did the Webley come to be nicely cased…


… in a presentation case with an escutcheon bearing a different set of initials (implying a different officer) and a different regiment, the British Army’s 24th Regiment of Foot (the great Zulu fighters of Ishandlwana and Rorke’s Drift legend)?


We’re itching to fly to London and start researching in the IWM. The listing for the firearm suggests that this J.B. Woon served in the 40th Pathans and later became a lieutenant general. (For those without military experience, a Lt. Gen. is three stars, one more than a Maj. Gen. Yes, this is illogical. Military tradition: deal with it).

The 40th Pathans still exists today, or at least, a successor unit does, the 16th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment in the Pakistan Army. Perhaps the relevant archives are to be found in Islamabad.

But damnation, if only the revolver could speak!

The good news, if you’ve borne with us through all that, is that the pistol is for sale. There’s a listing and even more great photographs of this unique revolver. The bad news is that the seller, Hallowell & Co. of Montana (a real wishbook if you like classic double rifles and shotguns), knows it has something rare and has priced it accordingly: $8450.


  1. Horrocks, William Heaton (ed.). Journal of the Army Medical Corps, Volume 10. p. 95. Retrieved from:
  2. Weeks, Colonel H.E. History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles: 1858 to 1928. pp, 167-168. Retrieved from:
  3. uncredited. Programme of the Review in Honour of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince & Princess of Wales. Held at Rawal Pindi on 8th December, 1905. Retrieved from:
  4. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Order of Battle of the British Expeditionary Force (October 1914) [summary version]. Retrieved from:


More on the Pennsylvania Registry-not-Registry

pennsylvania_state_reg_formIn comments to our last on the Pennsylvania State Police’s gun-registry-that-is-not-a-registry-because-it’s-so-fulla-holes, we were challenged by a Keystone State resident who doesn’t recall filling out the PSP form. Here’s what we’ve learned.

At one time, they just had the dealers send 4473 copies, but some time relatively recently (~10 years ago), their lawyers had them discontinue that, and generate their own form, PSP SP4-113 (+ variable numbers).

The PSP deliberately does not put this form on the intertubes. That is because their registration bureaucracy, the Firearms Records Unit, came up with a complex numbering system, where each form is uniquely numbered to the FFL that sold the gun (or handled the transfer, for a pistol between private parties). There is also a state ID number which is used not just to ID dealers but also for private transfers done by any county Sheriffs who offer this service. PSP explains:


Application/Record of Sale Form (SP4-113)

This form will be provided by the Pennsylvania State Police and all requests for this form must be submitted in writing. You can fax your requests to (717) 772-4249 or mail requests to Firearm Records Unit, Pennsylvania State Police, 1800 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110. Note the pre-printed numbers on this form are assigned to your dealership. Therefore, you can not loan copies to other dealers or duplicate this form. Please allow several weeks for the processing of your order. This form is not available online.

They do make a graphic instructional version available [.pdf], of which we’ve made an illustration here (it embiggens). You can see from this illustrative sample that the form was originally drafted to be used with short and long guns, but now it is required only for handguns.

While a single 4473 can cover multiple guns (our personal record is six), this state form must be done all over again for each gun in a multiple buy — even though they’re all on a single federal form. For each firearm sold or transferred, the dealer collects a $3 surcharge and a $2 Instant Check Fee, which are aggregated and remitted monthly to the State Police.

The copies our Fed friend found in a violent career criminal’s closet, in the boxes with the guns, were copies of this form — PSP SP4-113.

When the other copy gets to the Firearms Record Unit, it’s supposed to be entered in the database, but LEOs think it’s far from a certainty that this will happen, soon, or at all. That’s how you wind up with felons with over-the-counter guns in Pennsylvania —

Meanwhile, some jurisdictions are busting even licensed carriers if their guns don’t show up in this registry-that-isn’t. These cases may not stand up in court, but they’re a way to hassle gun owners — one of new Commissioner Marcus Brown’s major goals for the State Police.

Breaking: More Pistol Pain at the Pennsylvania State Police

Pennsylvania_State_PoliceWe’ve reported in the past at great length on what we’ve called the Pistol OCD of the Pennsylvania State Police (link is to a Google search of Weaponsman for PSP stories, not all of which are pistol-problem-related). They’ve been through more pistol models and calibers in fewer years than any group of two or three statewide agencies you care to name, but they’re reporting a new problem with their new Sig 227 pistols.

They have found that if they load the pistol per spec — 10+1 — they have jams, to be specific, stovepipes. They have directed the troopers to load the pistols 9+1, neither chambering a round to load a full mag, nor replacing a round and inserting a 10-round mag after chambering from the mag.

We haven’t heard of anybody else having this problem with the 227. The New Jersey State Police had such stovepipe problems with Smith & Wesson P99s that they returned to the HK P7M8 briefly before going to… drumroll please… SIGs (in 9mm, in their case).

As we mentioned, this is a new problem. The P227 already has had a troubled rollout at PSP. In an initial introductory class, an experienced firearms instructor had a negligent discharge that struck and killed one of his students, Trooper David Kedra. Later, the instructor, Corporal Richard Schroeter, would be charged with a much lighter charge than a non-trooper would face in such a killing, reckless endangerment. The Kedra family was not amused, but their concerns were blown off in a mealy-mouthed statement byDistrict Attorney Risa Ferman. (Ferman presented the case in such a way as to sway grand jurors to sympathy for Schroeter, so that Schroeter could face a mild misdemeanor, and keep his job). Some details on the grand jury testimony here.

The four other troopers who trained with Kedra on the day of the alleged shooting testified to the grand jury they did not see Schroeter make sure his weapon was not loaded, nor did he show the weapon to two other troopers to show it was unloaded. The presentment said firearms instructors in the Pennsylvania State Police typically show an unloaded weapon to at least two other troopers to verify it is unloaded.

Schroeter is such a class act that he’s refused to even apologize to Kedra’s family. He continues to insist that he checked the weapon and he was sure it was unloaded.

Systemic problems with firearms selection and training? Nah, that can’t be it.

Ironic that the P227 was selected in large part because of a rash of negligent discharges with Glocks soured PSP on the brand in general, and its pull-trigger-to-disassemble procedure in particular.

Previous WeaponsMan coverage of the PSP:

That may not be all of them, but it’s enough to give you a picture of this agency’s gun follies.

Can This Gun be Saved?

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

Colt Mustang Before

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

Continue reading

How We Did at RIA vs. Blue Book

In April, we bought two lots adding up to four firearms from Rock Island Auction’s online auction. One was a Walther Model 8 pistol, and the other was a collection of three Eastern European pistols: an East German Makarov, a Czech Vz52 service pistol and a Czech Vz50 pistol.

Walther Model 8 RIA

The guns arrived and were in such good condition that our friendly FFL was surprised — pleasantly — when he unpacked them to check the SNs. After a single instant NICS check, we had them at home, and they’re still sitting out, waiting for Kid to have a break from school and from a round of doctor’s appointments. (He’s gonna live but he’s going through a tough time, and that’s all we’re gonna say about that). These four firearms were in four different European calibers: respectively, 6.35mm (.25 ACP), 9x18mm, 7.62x25mm, and 7.62x17SR, aka .32 ACP.

And on our trip to the Biddeford Gun Show, we relieved George the Book Guy of a few of his volumes, including a new Blue Book (ours being old, and this a new edition). Now, we have had a nagging feeling that we overpaid for the auction guns, especially with the stiff Buyer’s Premium typical of traditional auction houses. We were still happy with our purchases, because we always wanted one of each of these, although we’d rather have non-import-marked ones. But the question remained: how did we do?

The Walther Model 8 is important as the last all-new numbered model before the revolutionary PP. (The Model 9 was a rehash of the Model 1). Some PP features are already evident in this single-action, internal-hammer pocket pistol which was made from 1920 to 1943. We’re not very good at grading according to the percentages used by the Blue Book, but if it’s 95% (the image is our actual Model 8), the then Walther is worth what we paid — before the Buyer’s Premium. So yeah, we overpaid a little for this little jewel.

We paid, in effect, $400 for each of the three Eastern European guns. How did we do?

On the minty Makarov, near-100% condition, we were shocked to see the Blue Book valued it at only $250-295. The CZ 52 and CZ 70 are worth even less…we took a bath of $100-250 per gun on these. No wonder we won the lot!

And no wonder Rock Island keeps calling us to bid in the next auction. “We got a live one here, Ethel!”

Will we do it again? Yeah. There’s a certain amount of “what the hell” in plugging three holes in your Warsaw Pact collection with a single bid. (We still need a Skorpion SBR, a CZ 82, CZ 83, PM 64 and a few other odds and ends). We also think that the Blue Book is lagging a bit on these prices, as some of the supply of new imports seems to have dried up during the Great Obama Gun Sale-a-Thon Years. We’ll probably upgrade the guns to non-import-marked ones gradually, one at a time, over the next decade or so (the Blue Book says that draws a 30% premium — seems higher in our experience). And we’ll shoot the living daylights out of ’em.

Some Thoughts on Police Trade-Ins

Favorite FFL emailed his list of customers to say that he had some police trade-ins:

Available starting tomorrow at 9AM are these police department trade in guns.

Bushmaster XM15E2S 5.56mm rifles.  16″ barrel, collapsible stocks, will come with one 30rd mag.  Used, cosmetic blemishes from being in cruiser racks however mechanically sound.  We also have a special going with our Cerakote vendor to get $25 off a refinish with Cerakote gun coating if you so desire.  $475

File photo of a Remington 870 tactical police shotgun

File photo of a Remington 870 tactical police shotgun

Remington 870 Police Magnum 12ga pump shotguns. These have 18.5″ standard barrels with sights.  Two have BlackHawk recoil reducing stocks and two have regular stocks with side saddle shell holders. These also will have some finish wear as well but are mechanically sound.  $325

They’re going to be gone by now, probably; he just had single-digits of each.

Meanwhile, SF Buddy on the phone described his new score:

An HK imported Benelli shotgun that the local detectoves used to use. They have changed (not upgraded) to Mossberg pumps.

Aside: asks your humble host: “Wha’s wrong with a Mossberg pump?”

Turns out, lots of things, but basically, the single aluminum alloy op-rod is prone to bending when used hard. When Army Mossbergs had this problem, the answer was, per Mossberg, a thicker aluminum op-rod… result? One thicker bent aluminum op-rod.

He’s very pleased with the new gun so far. It was a lot more expensive than the above-referenced 870s, but it was a good buy for an HK-era Benelli.

Pros and Cons of Police Trade-ins

Police trade in weapons when they buy new ones, in most states and cities. This lets them save a lot of money on this vital equipment, while keeping their equipment pool up to date (and sometimes, even, under warranty).

The strengths of these weapons usually are:

  1. The weapon design and manufacture was generally good. Police agencies seldom buy junk. When they trade them, it’s more likely to be because they are out of fashion than any real substantive difference between the new guns and the old.
  2. Police weapons are usually chambered for what is thought at the time to be an effective cartridge. All 20th and 21st-Century police firearms can be effective on homo sapiens, to the extent that a handgun can be, with well-selected or handloaded rounds.
  3. The weapons are usually little shot and in good mechanical shape. 90% or more of cops would sooner attend a Free Mumia rally that shoot a single round more than minimum to qualify, so few of these weapons are shot out.
  4. The weapon was subject to some kind of periodic maintenance and inspection.
  5. The police provenance may give you an entertaining story to go with the gun. Or not.


PSP Patch Beretta 2

The Pennsylvania State Police is one agency that disposes their used handguns — in this case, a Beretta 96.


Weaknesses of these weapons usually are:

  1. Because PDs so dependably follow trends, you’re probably picking up something from one trend ago.
  2. They generally only come in limited configurations. If you prefer, say, the 9mm to the .40 S&W, you don’t get to choose, the way you would with a new gun.
  3. The weapons are usually in fair to poor cosmetic shape, and may not have been cleaned in a long time — if ever.
  4. Cop trades, unless a very large agency suddenly gluts the market or the agency’s version of the gun had market-toxic lawyer “improvements” like a New York or DAO trigger, tend to be priced a little higher than similar used guns.
  5. Police guns are bought by collectors as well as users, especially if the firearm is marked with police identification.

Why This Guy is NOT Bubba

Here is a Glock pistol with a home-made modification: golf-ball like grip dimples. Whether you like it or not, it’s a personalization the owner is happy with, not that that alone prevents a hack job from getting the dreaded Bubba the Gunsmite label. (After all, some owners have extremely low thresholds of satisfaction).

Bubbas Glock

Nope, several things prevent this home-gunsmithing job from being the work of Bubba:

  • Not-Bubba did it with great care;
  • Not-Bubba made a plan first;
  • Not-Bubba followed his plan;
  • Not-Bubba took precautions to prevent damage to his Glock;
  • Not-Bubba practiced on other materials before taking his tools to the Glock, and even then,
  • Not-Bubba started on the least visible and most easily replaced bits of the pistol (in the case of a Glock G4, the replaceable backstraps).

Bubbas Glock 4

He tells his own tale on Reddit (with the ironic title: Burnt Plastic: How I Lowered the Value of my Glock, and the images of his work (with captions) are at Imgur.

Let’s let him tell a little of the story himself, beginning with why dimple your Austrian self-defense appliance:

I hate the grip texture on my G19. I have always shot Glocks well, but they feel like I’m holding a greased up pineapple. I’ve tried the grip tape. It greatly improved my grip for followup shots, but also had a tendency to peal off too easily and was too rough on my skin for carry also making my shirt ride up.
So I decided to take the plunge into grip stippling. Here’s the result. No, I’m not reselling it; no, I don’t care how it looks; Yes, I voided the warranty, and Yes, it feels MUCH better, both shooting and carrying against my back (8 o’clock, lefty).

This is a classic of home gunsmithing, actually, because Not Bubba took a generic, mass-produced pistol and made it better for him. Yes, it may punish him at resales time, but what’s the wholesale on a G19? They’re one of the least expensive firearms in class, new (especially if you get the LE discount, which we don’t know if he did). Nobody buys it for the resale value.

Remember how we said he practiced? He needed some Glocklike polymer to practice on and figure out what he was doing, and you may not have thought about it, but you probably have something pretty close, in your mag pouch.

Step 0: Practice and experiment. I bought a soldering iron with a bunch of tips. Some pointy, some round and skinny, some round and fat, some flat, etc. I used several of them to make different patterns on Pmags I had sitting around. Once I had a pattern I liked, I practiced on one of the back straps that came with my glock. Only after I was comfortable with the texture and pattern was I ready to work on the real thing.

That kind of incrementalism and thinking-it-through is evident throughout his activities. He drew out a plan for his dimples, once he figured out what size and texture he wanted, after sanding off the Glock factory sort-of-rounded-rectangles.

Bubbas Glock in-prog 2


The blue tape, put on before the sanding, keeps dust and grit out of the innards of the polymer frame. Note also that he steered clear of defacing any of the factory markings, which is a Federal (and most States, too) no-no .

A weird side-product of the dimpling process was a quantity of raised rings where the soldering iron had displaced plastic. The tool he used to shave them off is the razor-blade holder at left in the picture below. Bubbas Glock in-progress


Since he was hacking on the pistol anyway, he also relieved the rear end of the trigger guard to better suit his grip.

Bubbas Glock 2

End product: a customized Glock 19 that he likes better, can grip better and feels more confident about. And, not incidentally, the warm glow of having done it himself, rather than sending it out to a Glocksmith for the work. Note the regular rows of dimples, thanks to that sketched-on plan, as opposed to the random scattering that is the Mark of Bubba.

Bubbas Glock 3


Golf-ball dimples may not be your preferred surface treatment. In that case, don’t you do this to your gun. For this guy, it worked; it doesn’t look especially bad, and it’s not as if a Glock’s industrial design is gunning for a place in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art anyway.

You can get the whole story, as mentioned above, on Reddit (complete with very thorough descriptions of tools used, down to the grit of sandpaper) and the images at Imgur (linked in the Reddit comment).

150 Years Ago Today: Booth Murders Lincoln

150 years ago this evening, actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head with this beautifully-crafted pistol.

Booths Deringer

In 1865, a single-shot percussion pistol, like this Henry Deringer model that named a class of pistols, was already obsolete, although still in common use. Rimfire and centerfire cartridges were simply too convenient for storage and reloading, compared to bulk powder and percussion caps. The cartridge also enabled a new class of repeating firearms, and benefited even the design of common revolvers.

But for what the Deringer was designed for — a single shot at contact range — it was very effective.

Massively brain-damaged, Lincoln never recovered consciousness, and died the next day. Booth and his co-conspirators were hunted down and killed (some got a brief trial before a military commission, first). His dream of rekindling rebellion in the exhausted, beaten South failed utterly.

Conventional wisdom is that Reconstruction was harsher for the murder of Lincoln, given VP Andrew Johnson’s sympathies with the Radical Republicans in Congress. Had Lincoln actually had conciliation and magnanimity in mind, Booth’s bullet put an end to it.

SIG-nificant Shipping Update: MPX pistols, SBR

Back in January, 2013, we were pretty excited when SIG announced the MPX submachine gun, along with civilian-legal pistol, carbine and SBR variants. The piece we wrote then put this part-polymer MP5 analogue with AR-like ergonomics in its tactical, technical and historical context, but rereading it now, we were excited about this thing. We really wanted an SBR-SD version (and still do, and when we’re back in New Hampster we’ll enquire at the Pro Shop).


It’s also just the thing for PDs looking at dog-eared 1980s MP5s and cringing at what HK wants for replacements; the SMG version is priced a lot more attractively than the German firearm.

And then, of course, came the long wait for shipping, compounded by SIG and the ATF going to war (well, going to law, actually) over SIG’s design for a convertible carbine/SD variant. That one is still generating billable hours, so the very welcome news that MPX variants are shipping must except, at this time, the MCX carbine. But the first three variants are shipping, says SIG on Facebook:

Good news, SIG SAUER fans! The 9mm SIG MPX is now in full production and shipping! Three variants are on their way to distributors as we speak (Pistol, Pistol with SBX brace and Short-Barrel Rifle).

And they include this triumphant picture (you know the embiggen drill):

” 9mm_mpx_shipping

That looks like the new building to us, too. Well done, SIG.

The shipping variants include the pistol (illustrated), the pistol with folding SIG brace (naturally), and the SBR. No caliber conversions or variants, but these are coming: SIG has staked its future on modularity, it seems clear from the firearms it’s promoting on the SIG Evolution website. (That’s for specs and tech. For promotions and news, the place to look is the facebook site, or the Promotions page on the website).

The polymer magazines are molded for SIG by Lancer.

If you’ve been waiting to decide on one of these until you can see and handle it in your LGS, the hour is soon at hand. Hmmm… wonder if they’ll sell us an SBR now and let us trade it on an SBR/SD when it’s ready?

Fight’s On, Miss Thing: J Edgar and the .357 Ban

There are two points of view on J Edgar Hoover. Viewpoint One goes like this: he was the greatest American ever, the scourge of organized crime and hostile espionage, defender of the Constitution, and the model of the incorruptible servant leader; in short, a brilliant and upright stalwart who was a bulwark of society.

And Viewpoint Two: he was a worthless bum, no better than the gangsters his G-Men used to lock up (or shoot up), corrupt as any Latin caudillo, hostile to civil liberties, and recognizing no law but his own self-interest; in short, a crooked, waspish queen who took long vacations with his “right-hand-man” in which they’d roll each other in melted butter and lick it off, or something.

J Edgar Hoover Drag

If you haven’t swung between those viewpoints, you probably haven’t read much on Hoover; the real truth of the man is probably somewhere in between, but everyone who writes about the long-dead prototype of the Beltway Insider seems to swing to one extreme or the other.

Well, let’s try an experiment and see who we can swing to Viewpoint Two today. Did you know Hoover was a Gun Banner? In fact, the evidence for that is a lot stronger than the evidence for his cross-dressing or even homosexuality (and the evidence for those is probably strong enough to convict).

Hoover and the NFA

J Edgar HooverThe National Firearms Act of 1934 was largely Hoover-promoted legislation. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the registry and ridiculous series of steps that we must jump through to own and enjoy what were scary weapons around the time FDR inherited Hoover and his blackmail files from Herbert Hoover (no relation).

Hoover considered civil liberties of all kinds to be a sort of Original Sin or fundamental flaw in the Constitution, and so he just didn’t see them as constraining him and the FBI. He was especially keen on ending the right to keep and bear arms, except as he would forbear to further narrow it, and the NFA was designed not to limit but to eliminate firearms J Edgar didn’t like, through the workings of what economists call a Pigovian tax — a tax set at such a confiscatory rate it changes the behavior of the taxed. The $200 tax of 1934 was from 20 times the least expensive NFA gun to match the cost (and essentially double it) of a premium firearm like a Thompson M1928 or a Colt Monitor, and one result was, not surprisingly, a collapse in the sales and the value of those firearms (which were now widely acquired by police forces at a fraction of the pre-Act prices, as police forces were exempt from the act). But that’s far from the only way to look at it: $200 was a serious fraction of the median household income in 1934-36, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(.pdf).

But what Hoover wanted from the bill is not what he got. He wanted the bill to ban machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, destructive devices, and handguns. He thought that only people like he and his catamite1 and their merry men should be able to be trusted with them. He lost on that; he didn’t share enough compromised rent boys with enough Senators and Congressmen to keep that from being amended out.

The original text of the relevant definition in the draft Act reads (emphasis ours):

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That for the purposes of this act the term “firearm” means a pistol, revolver, shotgun having a barrel less than sixteen inches in length, or any other firearm capable of being concealed on the person, a muffler or silencer therefor, or a machine gun.2

Before the law was passed, the bolded terms had been taken out, and short-barreled rifles had been added in.

Now, frankly, if a guy wants to dress up like Lady Astor and take long vacations with his “assistant,” well, it probably wasn’t the first time the taxpayers paid for that, and probably wasn’t the latest, either. (Come to think of it, there was that ATF executive in New Orleans….) But when a guy wants to ban pistols, his swinging fist just hit our nose. Fight’s on, Miss Thing.

That wasn’t all the odious stuff that got peeled out in the sausage-making of the NFA, either. There was also an absolute import ban, unless the gun was, “…of… a type which cannot be obtained within the United States….”3 The purpose of that was as an enticement to split pro-gun and pro-liberty legislators, with those from gun-making states subject to influence by rent-seeking gunmakers.

But J. Edgar wasn’t done yet.

Hoover and the .357

In the NFA, Hoover didn’t get everything he wanted, but by destroying the then-economics of automatic weapons, he did his bit for police militarization before that was a phrase anyone would recognize. He still recognized, as police always have, that despite whatever press and activists might call criminal’s “weapons of choice” at any given point, what a criminal wanted was usually something compact and concealable, to wit, a handgun.

Having had his ass handed to him (something he might have enjoyed, if it hadn’t been figurative) on the pistol ban, he regrouped and tried again. When Smith & Wesson demonstrated their .357 Magnum, Hoover didn’t react like most cops of the day (“Want!”). Instead, he saw a Deadly Threat.

Hoover, it is widely known, received Registered Magnum #1 from Smith & Wesson on April 8, 19354. The Registered Magnum was built with a stronger frame and a longer cylinder, so that rounds could be loaded to velocities and pressures that would have been unsafe in Smith’s bread-and-butter .38 S&W Special revolvers. Smith saw it as a custom-shop rarity, for discerning pistoleros. (At that time, many police forces still carried .32 S&W or .32 Colt revolvers). The customer paid a record-setting $60 (the equivalent of over $1,000 today, in a much poorer, mostly agrarian nation) and got to specify many of the features of his firearm.5

SW Registered Magnum regmag3

“Registered” guns came with a certificate, and a matching number inside. Smith made 5,500 of them before making the .357 a more regular product; they discontinued it because of the demands of war production, and only resumed in 1948. The pistol had no model number until 1957, when it became the Model 27.

But if Smith thought they’d bought Hoover off with the pistol “REG. 1″, they were very mistaken. The FBI acquired some of the revolvers and parceled them out to HQ and field offices, but they weren’t standard. In fact, FBI standardized on the Model 10-6 in .38 Special 6.

Nope, Hoover got right to the Attorney General suggesting… what else? A ban. His first letter has yet to surface, but David Codrea posted an insightful article about a second, in which Hoover spread some apocalyptic fear of the coming of Magnum Doom to one and all. We have OCRd the letter and post it here.

Hoover .357 ban letter[.pdf]

Here are a few excerpts (edited at the ends and where ellipses show to trim some of Hoover’s characteristically ill-educated and insecure verbosity):

I advised you that I anticipated that the qualities of the Magnum cartridge and the zinc bullet would eventually be combined, thereby again increasing the velocity and penetrative ability of sidearms and their ammunition.

…[E]xperimentation is at the present time in progress, whereby the combination of the zinc bullet and the Magnum cartridge will soon be perfected. Also, that the Magnum cartridge will soon be manufactured with a metal jacket, which will again, increase its penetrative force. 

So… we haven’t yet got to where he asks for a ban, but let’s note that he wanted the AG to work with him in secrecy to develop the ban:

[T]he above information is of a confidential nature and if divulged to the public, would seriously jeopardize the possibility of obtaining additional information.

It’s all about Officer Safety, you see:

[E]ach advance in velocity and penetration renders hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment now in use by law enforcement agencies useless and obsolete. …[T]hese developments will eventually be of much greater assistance to the criminal element than to the law enforcement agencies or to the law abiding citizens.

He then has a whole section on ballistics that is almost completely wrong:

[T]he most effective pistol bullet … is the one exerting the greatest amount of shock. This [comes from] combining a heavy bullet with low velocity, … remaining in the body … thus causing the recipient to absorb the entire energy of the bullet.

He belabors the point at great length… we’ll spare you… and concludes:

The foregoing description of shock is [itended to show] that the recent developments in pistol and revolver cartridges are not of any particular advantage, other than for their penetrative force, which the higher velocities are rapidly increasing.

He noted that the Bureau’s bullet-proof shields and vests wouldn’t stop a Magnum round, a zinc bullet, let alone the two in combination. He then tells the AG, don’t sweat it, because the gun-club guys don’t care if we ban these.

It is not believed that members of the various shooting clubs and organizations would concern themselves over a curtailment of highly-powered sidearms. Additional penetration is of no value to target shooting, and i t is logical to assume that organizations promoting this sport would be in hearty accord with legislation curtailing high velocity bullets in an attempt to insure their members the continued use of target pistols.

Remember, he’d just tried and failed to ban those target pistols with the NFA. This is one of the earliest illustrations of the way a ban enthusiast is never telling the truth when he says he wants only an inch. He wants only an inch, now. 

Then, there’s the curious fact that the NRA did testify in favor of the National Firearms Act, even when it was a pistol ban. Best guess? Hoover had a line on the NRA guy’s rent boys.

Finally, Hoover flounces out with some inflammatory language, and a promise to generate some scientific-sounding bushwah that will accomplish the desired ban.

As the menacing developments of these guns depend wholly upon the breach [sic] pressure and velocity, it would not be difficult to definitely define a limitation on these two items which would permanently control the rapid advances now being made. I f you so desire, technicians of thisBureau will offer specific suggestions….7

Yes, J Edgar Hoover was trying, in shameful secret, to ban the very firearm that would spend the 1980s and 90s as synonymous with FBI, the .357 Magnum.

But then, he always was simply fabulous at “shameful secret,” wasn’t he?


  1. In fact, nobody knows if Hoover was Tolson’s catamite, or Tolson Hoover’s. Does it matter? The two corrupt old lovers are buried together.
  2. From Keep and Bear, which has the text as part of their html page, but also preserves the .pdf of the proposed bill as originally published.
  3. Same link as 2 above.
  4. The Hoover #1, serial no. 45768, is currently believed to exist but its whereabouts are not known. (Hoover was known to give firearms away; the FBI does not claim title to this pistol). Retired agent Larry Wack is seeking information, and has tracked a lot of other Hoover and Tolson guns.
  5. Most of the general early-Magnum facts are from Campbell, Dave. The History of the .357 Magum. The American Rifleman, 23 November 2010. Retrieved from:
  6. The Bureau and the Handgun. The Investigator (FBI in-house magazine), May 1982.
  7. The damning Hoover letter is housed in the Papers of Homer S. Cummings, MSS 9973, Box 103, Folder “Attorney General Personal File – Firearms and National Firearms Act 1935 May-1938 September.” Cummings was the Attorney General who received, but may not have acted on, Hoover’s ban attempt. Via David Codrea. FBI’s Hoover tried to curtail ‘highly-powered’ handgun development., 3. April 2015. Retrieved from: