Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

What’s Up in the 3D Printed Gun World?

Time for an update, eh?

WarFairy Lower Banner

We’ve been seeing really creative AR lowers for a while now. A lot of the greatest ingenuity, like the FN-inspired creations above, come from the innovator who calls himself Shanrilivan and his creative entity WarFairy Arms. Watching his Twitter feed, or @FOSSCAD’s, is a good way to keep up with what’s coming from the community. (Coming soon: AR and AK fire control groups, for example):

AR fire control group

If you think there’s no innovation happening in firearms, you’re not tapped into the maker community inside the gun community — or is it, the gun community inside the maker community?

Some Words about Development

These lowers are not being “engineered” in any real sense of the word. Instead they’re being designed, and are then being tested, in a very tight closed-loop development cycle. From lowers that busted in a couple of shots, we’ve got lowers that have endured thousands of rounds. And that look stylish. This pastel AR has a printed lower and printed magazine.

printed lower and mag

It’s ready for its close-up, Mr De Mille:

printed lower and mag closeup

To see about 15 more pictures of printed-gun developments, including magazines, a 7.62mm lower, a revolver, and more, click the “More” button.

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PARA USA: “Oops”

PARA USA logoPARA USA provided guns to the new Liam Neeson film, Taken 3. (Well, it’s a new version of the same old Neeson film, as the numeral indicates). And now they have egg on their face, as what they thought was a great marketing opportunity turned toxic. The naturalized American star went out of his way to slime them, other gun manufacturers, and all their customers, in his promotional interviews for the show.

According to the Daily Caller, Para USA has taken to Facebook to apologize to the community and vow never to provide another firearm for a Neeson film. (We can’t check this as we can’t seem to get the PARA facebook page to load, but we can’t stand Facebook anyway, even if one of our clients forbids us from keeping an account there — long story — anyway). Per the Caller, PARA said:


We did get a screencap of the statement before press time, and the Caller’s quote is accurate.

PARA USA regrets its decision to provide firearms for use in the film “Taken 3.” While the film itself is entertaining, comments made by its Irish-born star during press junkets reflect a cultural and factual ignorance that undermines support of the Second Amendment and American liberties. We will no longer provide firearms for use in films starring Liam Neeson and ask that our friends and partners in Hollywood refrain from associating our brand and products with his projects. Further, we encourage our partners and friends in the firearms industry to do the same.

Note that, although Liam Neeson was born in Ireland, previously lived in London, he became a US citizen whilst living in New York at least five years ago. Unlike 99.9999% of Americans, he’s an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire, entitling him to use the postnominal letters OBE. (The order’s motto is For God and the Empire. Sounds a bit… off, to small-r republican ears, but hey, it’s his life and he can do what he wants with it). And, of course, he’s entitled to his opinion.

But it looks to us as if Liam Neeson does not want the half to two-thirds of Americans who own guns to attend his movies.

Transmission received, Irish-American brother.

We’ll do what we can to make him happy, including skipping this latest formulaic bloodbath, for which he was paid $20 mil. (To be sure, we weren’t going to see it anyway. It has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that those who did drop $10 or $15 on a ticket have regrets. Apparently many of the attendees are folks who go to see American Sniper and find it sold-out. Seriously, if you’re in that kind of a jam, try Paddington).

PARA USA 96641_lda_officerWhile we would (and did) put our unique and special epidermis on the line for his right to express himself, there’s something mighty odd about an actor who has reveled in playing characters responsible for hundreds if not thousands of onscreen killings, calling for firearms bans, as he did while bad-mouthing the United States to an Arab newspaper recently.

Maybe it can deploy caltrops like Bond's DB5.

Neeson’s ride for the next Taken outing. Maybe it can deploy caltrops like Bond’s DB5.

That’s certainly odd. But is that as odd as the Social-Security-age Neeson creakily playing an action hero? He was already visibly over the hill at 60 in the creaky Taken 2. What’s he going to do in Taken 4, run his Lark over the terrorists? Tune ‘em up with his walker?

Let’s face it, as an old man ordering a kid off his lawn, Clint Eastwood retired that setup for all time in Gran Torino. And went on to a directing career of some significance.

As far as PARA goes, we’re not sure how PARA-USA relates to the original PARA-Ordnance, but that was (is?) a Canadian company. (We think they were the first to double-stack a 1911). In any event, it’s always painful when a well-meant marketing move backfires on you. Our taste in .45s runs more to old 1911s or a Norwegian Model 1914, but we almost want to buy a PARA just to buck these fellows up. They do have a nice DAO compact in .45 or 9mm, the LDA Officer Model. We haven’t tried it but it looks tempting.

Nite Owl Can’t Spell, But Can Make a New Pistol

Here’s the Nite Owl. It’s being introduced to the world today at SHOT, although the web site and Facebook have been up for a while.

Nite-Owl-1795Err…. wait one. Wrong Nite Owl. Please stand by.

Here’s the Nite Owl, a 9mm and .45 caliber service pistol. It’s being introduced to the world today at SHOT, although the web site and Facebook have been up for a while.


As you see, it’s a polymer-frame steel-slide of Glock-inspired conventional design, with a blocky slide, fixed 3-dot sights (what, not “nite” sights? Nope, not even an option yet, although adjustables are), and no safety. (There’s a firing-pin block drop-safety, and a trigger-bar safety of the Glock style). There are some detail differences of course, and the pistol has an aesthetic sense of its own. It is made in the USA; Nite Owl is a brand of Evans Machining Service of Clairton, Pennsylvania (isn’t that the setting of The Deer Hunter?), and Evans has been cutting metal for firearms industry clients for a long time. Making their own handgun is a big step up.

Nite Owl rendering

All we have so far are prototype photos, renderings, and specs. Rather than just pontificate on the specs, we’ll share them with you. Here’s the 9mm:

Model: NO9-R

Type: Striker Fired Semi-Auto
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 10+1 / 15+1 / 17+1 / 18+1 / 20+1
Barrel Length: 4.17″ (105.91mm)
OAL/Height/Width: 7.20″ (182.88mm) / 5.28″ (134.11mm) / 1.12″ (28.44mm)
Weight: 28 oz.
Construction: Polymer Frame with Steel Slide
Sights: Standard 3 Dot Fixed
Trigger: Single Action with 5.25# Pull (measured)
Safety: Firing Pin Block, Trigger Lever Safety
MSRP: $ 675.00 EA
Manufacturer: Evans Machining Service Inc
Handedness: Available in Right or Left Hand

That last bit is worth mentioning. The N09 is available in -R or -L models — not something you fiddle with to make ambidextrous, but a real left handed, mirror image version. (If CBS-era Fender had done this for guitars, would it have been better or worse for Jimi Hendrix’s visual impact?) Nite Owl says:

We thought about the left-handed shooters and have left out the universal word ‘ambidextrous’ out of the equation during the development of our products. Both right and left hand models will be available in 9mm and 45ACP. This is a true left-handed model that extracts to the left side of the shooter allowing the shooter to stay focused on the target. The casings that you would normally experience while shooting a right hand model is no longer a distraction.

Our guess: someone in management is a lefty. After all, the rest of us always fail to check our right privilege. Hollywood movie with duel-wielded consecutive-numbered guns in 5, 4, 3… well, we hear Liam Neeson needs a new gun supplier for Taken XLIV or whatever is next… although we wouldn’t recommend him to Nite Owl.

Another novelty that doesn’t come out in the specs is that, rather than go down the road of a proprietary magazine, they just lifted proven designs from other manufacturers: any Beretta 92 (92SB and newer, with the mag release where the frame joins the trigger guard bow) will fit the N09, and any Para P14 style will fit the .45. Speaking of which, its specs are not on the website yet.

Nite Owl plans, ultimately, to have 9mm and .45 in full size (that’s this one), compact and subcompact sizes — each one available righty or lefty. For now, just the full size is supposed to become available this week. If you like the Glock or S&W M&P style of pistol, here;s another alternative to consider. (Bearing in mind the Caracal disaster, nobody should buy a new product as an only pistol. Let the pros wring it out for a while. A lot of the guns that got on magazine covers are now collectors’ items exactly because they didn’t succeed in the market).

The SIG Brace / Not a Stock / ATF Letter Trip

donovan leitch 1967Remember the old Donovan song? Eh, unless you’re like us, old enough to remember the introduction of that new “dirt” stuff, maybe you don’t. The trippy 60s songwriter sang the very zen line:

First, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.
First, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

To which we’ve always mumbled, “Don’t take the brown acid….” (Sorry, another cultural flashback). Anyway, Donovan’s flickering mountain is a bit like the various ATF letters explaining their attitude to arm braces on AR pistols over the last couple of years, since they first provided a Firearms Technology Branch blessing to the Sig Brace.


First, it was a stock that made the gun an SBR, then it wasn’t a stock, then it was.
Then, it wasn’t a stock that made the gun an SBR, then it was a stock, then it wasn’t.

We’re not sure what to make of the ATF apparently taking up the recreational herbs and spices of the Sunshine Superman his ownself, but we’ve been whipsawed by the letters and haven’t written about them. Regulatory stuff is kind of boring, at least until ATF shows up looking for someone to feed their stats machine and settles on you. (And trust us on this: every Federal law enforcement agency has a stats machine, and it looks just like the one in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.)

Fortunately, the Prince Law Firm’s blog has been on it, and these guys are, like, real lawyers with bar cards, and ostentatious diplomas, and continuing education credits, and everything. Adam Kraut, Esq:

Well, it appears very clear that FTISB and ATF as a whole are paying very close attention to what people are doing and how they are utilizing products, including reviewing internet postings, pictures and videos. All of the stabilization/cheek enhancement products on the market have a legitimate purpose and have assumedly been approved by FTISB at some point. But, it appears that some individuals are not looking to purchase these products for their legitimate purpose and use and instead intentionally intend to misuse them from the moment they are purchased.

As was noticeably absent in the letter discussed in my blog post Cinderella and ATF’s Determination: The Fairy Tale of an AR Pistol to SBR through Magic, this letter does mention intent, in fact several times.

ATF didn’t appreciate people purchasing various stabilization products/cheek weld enhancements for the purpose of avoiding the payment of the NFA tax (which could constitute tax evasion). This is why the intent aspect, as stated in the definition, is important. If an individual purchases one of these products intending to use it in the manner for which it was made and then misuses it, as ATF previously held in the Bradley letter, he/she has done nothing illegal. There is no law dictating the end use of a product. However, if an individual purchases one of these products to install on their pistol and intends to use it as a faux stock, he/she has very clearly created an illegal SBR.

We think the consigliere has done a good a job as anyone can hope to of reading the ATF tea leaves, so we’ll leave it at that (do go Read The Whole Thing™).

Now, we’d like to make some comments about the ATF technology evaluation process in general. Kraut notices that they did something they usually don’t do, explicitly warn that this paper really isn’t worth more than the paper it’s printed on. He quotes commentary on the latest “brace” letter, this one to Thorsden Customs. What the letter itself (hosted at Prince Law) says, is:

In closing, we should remind you that the information found in correspondence from FTISB is intended only for use by the addressed individual or company with regard to a specific scenario described within that correspondence.

This is apparently new boilerplate. But the fact is, that is the nature of all ATF determinations. They are ephemeral, have no precedential value, and are only binding on citizens, not on the ATF. The ATF can, and does, overturn them at any time on nothing more than a whim, and the courts have rules that these will-o-the-wisp whims require near-absolute deference.

ATF-Molan Labe

Finally, a couple of exit thoughts: If the ATF didn’t take an elephant’s gestation to process SBR paperwork, maybe so many people wouldn’t be looking for an end-around. Want to increase compliance with the law? Make it easy and convenient. If somebody’s not making it easy and convenient, maybe they’re not really interested in increasing compliance with the law.

Two Rare Fed Revolvers on Gun Broker

Before law enforcement went to all auto pistols in the 80s and 90s, there was a last flowering of .357 revolvers. The sweet spot seemed to be a 3″ or so barrel on a stainless six-shooter from one of the big manufacturers. Many of these were acquired by the government, but since the Clinton Administration the Feds have preferred to dispose of them by destruction rather than sale. These are examples of the 20th Century law enforcement revolver at its highest level of evolution.

Smith & Wesson Customs Service Special

Here’s a special-order Smith that was made for the Customs Service, in the last gasp before going to auto pistols.


The seller, Paul Bailey says:

Here’s a rather rare S&W stainless .357 revolver (with the 3 inch barrel). When I purchased it yrs.ago, I was told that S&W only made a few thousand of these for the U.S. Customs Service, and then quite a few were destroyed by the government (go taxpayers!). The pistol is in fine condition / no problems as you can see by the photos … It’s not in NEW _ MINT cond… but it’s super nice.

Bidding’s at $750 but reserve not met.

Postal Inspectors’ Ruger .357 non-catalog “PS-3″ Speed Six

And here’s the Postal Inspectors’ equivalent.



This seller says:

Ruger Speed Six 357 Mag. originally issued to the US Postal Inspectors. These were initally issued in the 80’s and returned in the 90’s when the postal service transitioned to auto pistols.

If you’re looking for a bit of law enforcement history, or looking for a high-quality revolver, you can’t go wrong with these auctions.

Hey, it’s a GI Colt .45. Wait, what?

From a few angles this gun looks like a Colt 1911:

Colt 1907 low angleBut wait… Look at that slide stop. Look at that lanyard ring. And hey, where’s the magazine catch? It’s like a 1911, and it’s chambered for .45 ACP. But it’s not a 1911. Think you know what it is? Next clue, coming up:

Colt 1907 left closeThat’s kind of a low serial number on there, Sparky. It’s got patent dates through 1905, so maybe it’s a Colt 1905. It does look like one (by the way, all these pictures embiggen with a click).

Colt 1907 leftColt 1907 right

It sure looks like a Colt 1905, but it isn’t. It’s a rarer bird entirely: one of the Colt 1907 trials guns, of which a total of 207 were assembled — 200 to meet the contractual requirements, and 7 overruns/floats (these protected Colt from being short if a few guns were screwed up during manufacture. However, some sources say only 201 1907s were assembled).

Colt 1907 .45 ACP caliber pistol. Rare model 1907 U.S. Government Contract, with factory letter. Gun has 90-93% blue on frame (Serial #96). Slide has a blue mixed with light brown patina. Grips are excellent. Frame is “K.M” marked by Major Kenneth Morton. The first 200 guns were shipped to Springfield Armory. There were 7 overrun pistols. Total of 207 guns made. This is very desirable for the Colt auto collector as well as being a martial Colt auto. Very rare Colt.

This one isn’t a GunBroker special, it’s for sale at Collectors Firearms in Houston, but the asking price suggests it’s for the advanced Colt or martial collector: $31,500.

One suspects that most of these guns survive in collections, but they seldom come out. Years ago, Rock Island Auctions sold one (#126), the auction listing of which remains online (it is kind of RIA to keep these old listings alive, and very useful to collectors, dealers and historians alike).

The Colt letter with that auction explains some of the differences and notes that the shipment of 200 pistols was sent to the Commanding Officer, Springfield Armory on 17 March 1908. Savage also submitted 200 .45 caliber pistols. They were the finalists from an earlier round of testing of a few pistols, and were enroute to Springfield on their way to field tests with Army combat-arms units.

The early 1907 round of testing also included:

  • One or more .45 Lugers. The Army had already field-tested 1,000 7.65mm Lugers. The Luger’s strengths were its reliability and ease of disassembly and reassembly without special tools. It’s disadvantages included general complexity and poor function with US made rounds, unlike the German rounds with fast-burning powder that came with the gun. With Georg Luger himself in attendance at the trials, this was the nearest runner-up to the two finalists.
  • Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. It was reliable, but the board just didn’t like it, and it had no advantage over an automatic pistol (and some marked disadvantages, slow loading and limited capacity).
  • White-Merrill. The modified blowback system needed a gorilla’s grip to operate, and it didn’t work reliably.
  • Bergmann. For whatever reason, the samples provided didn’t work, as it wouldn’t set off a cartridge.
  • Knoble. Two versions of this oddity were sent without much in the way of instructions, and the inventor didn’t attend. So when the Army’s board of combat-arms officers and small arms experts couldn’t figure out why they weren’t working, or how to make one fire, both Knobles were set aside.

We ought to give a moment’s more consideration to the two real oddballs here, the Knobles and  the White-Merrill. Here’s the board’s explanation of its dismissal of the Knobles:


A careful examination and several efforts to fire these weapons showed that they were so crudely manufactured as to render any test without value, smooth working being impossible. It was therefore decided that these arms would be given no further consideration by the board.

Ow. That’ll leave a mark. The Knoble did have one interesting feature — one of the two samples was double-action, edging out Walther’s “first” by some 18 years. But then, the Walther PP worked when introduced.

The gimmick of the White-Merrill was its charging lever, seen below the trigger guard. This lever was operated by the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the gripping hand. This was to optimize the pistol for cavalry use; a single-handed pistol was a big advantage to a trooper with one hand full of his mount’s reins.


Gimmick notwithstanding, the White-Merrill also failed basic standards of reliability.

This arm is experimental and its functioning was so unsatisfactory that the test was discontinued. The conception of a loading lever which permits loading by the pistol hand is commended, but its practical application was not entirely satisfactory.

They also looked at Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers, almost like scientific controls — a known quantity. The board decided to adopt the Colt (it became the Model 1909) revolver as a temporary stopgap, and focus on the two highest-performing trials pistols — the Colt and the Savage — for a 200-gun test under field conditions. These were the Colt 1905 Military in .45 and the Savage 1906. They wanted two improvements, though, to these pistols — a loaded-chamber indicator, and some kind of “automatic safety.” That was the genesis of the grip safety in this 1907 Colt (one of the things distinguishing it from the 1905), which was particularly desired by the cavalry branch for safety on horseback.

Savage was slow to accept the 200-pistol order, and it very nearly went to DWM/Ludwig Löwe for the Luger.

The 1907 Colt and 1907 Savage went head-to-head in field tests, with the Colt having the inside track all the way, but both companies continuing to modify and improve their designs. A few more changes produced the Colt Model 1911 and the Savage Model 1910, which met in 1911 for a final shootoff.

The past is truly a different country.

Back to the original gun that got this post started — is one of those field test guns worth over $30k? While we love it for its history, not for us at that price. But it’s a great rarity; Savage was reluctant to tool up for the 200 test pistols, but once they did, they made almost 90 overruns, so they’re actually slightly less rare than the equivalent Colt.

For whatever reason,  it’s great to live in a place and time where somebody can spend that kind of money to improve his Colt or martial pistols collection


Note: the first one is the primary source, the board report on the initial trials. We’re very grateful to Ian for putting this online, as it lets us look at the pistol in a little more depth than we get just from a sellers’ listing. We’d really like to see the report of the field test, too — that has to be kicking around somewhere.

Chief of Ordnance. Appendix to the Annual Report of the Chief of Ordnance: Report of Board on Tests of Revolvers and Automatic Pistols. Washington, Government Printing Office: 1907. Retrieved from:

McCollum, Ian. 1907 US Pistol & Revolver Trials. 27 May, 2011. Retrieved from:

Schreier, Philip. The 1907 Army Pistol Trials. SSUSA: February, 2001. Retrieved from:

See also the video at: Forgotten Weapons on the Development of the 1911. 1 December, 2014. Retrieved from:



Here’s a Good Gun Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cool 1911 graphic

We saw this blurbed at Instapundit:


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

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

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

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

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

Gun Oddity: Beretta ‘Combo’

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

beretta 92-96 combo case

Here’s the seller’s blurb:

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

beretta 92-96 combo

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

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

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

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

Pythons Can’t Save Colt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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