Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Revolvers In ATF Trace Data

S&W Revolver Cylinder (Note: this is a JC Blauveldt custom moon-clip job. Look closely! Nice work).

S&W Revolver Cylinder (Note: this is a JC Blauvelt custom moon-clip job. Look closely! Nice work).

We’re going to start with a disclaimer: ATF trace data is not a real solid statistical base for anything. The firearms that are traced are not a random sample, but tend to be crime guns, found guns, and recovered thefts; and the ATF discourages local PDs from requesting tracing of older guns. (For political reasons, they’re trying to drive time-to-trace, which they disingenuously call time-to-crime, down). So a gun’s presence in the data depends somewhat on how ugly it is, and how new. But it struck us that they did collect a lot of data, so the Law of Large Numbers might be working for us, a wee bit. And they break down the data by both state (or territory) and by type of firearm, allowing all kinds of creative crosstabs, in this case, pistols and revolvers by state (or states by percentages of pistols and revolvers).

It struck us further: if revolvers are more or less commonly traced than average, the data may represent the degree to which there are regional variations in automatic pistol vs. revolver preferences. (Almost all “pistols” on the ATF list are automatics, although there may be occasional oddities in there). Again, this is limited by the non-representative nature of ATF trace data.

All in all, the trace data show that ATF traced 175,361 handguns in calendar 2014. Of these, 131,562 were pistols and 43,799 were revolvers, a 75.0/25.0% breakdown. How much do individual states vary from that? Extracting the pistol and revolver data from the ATF’s spreadsheet, we made our own. First thing we ran was the MIN and MAX formulas, determining that the range of percentages was from 14% to 50%.

The first revelation: not a single state or territory saw that a majority of traced handguns were revolvers. Not one. And only one split fifty-fity, and it turned out to be a very peculiar place indeed. To give you an idea of how far out of whack that was, the next highest percentage of revolvers traced was barely more than 1/3: 33.8%.

The high scorer on percentage of revolvers was a case where the law of large numbers probably wasn’t working for us: only 18 handguns were traced in the territory of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, 9 each pistols and revolvers (50% revolvers). The low scorer was another territory, Puerto Rico; of the 1,030 handguns traced there, 886 were pistols and only 144 revolvers (14%).

To show that Guam was really an outlier, off 16% from the next state, here it is with the next five states in order:


Fascinating that the second largest percentage of revolvers was traced to Guam’s neighbor (to the extent anything in the vast Pacific is a neighbor), Hawaii.

At the other end of the spectrum, Puerto Rico shows less of an outlier status, being off only 2% from the next state:


We should probably have put it in the images, but this is all from Calendar Year 2014 data as reported by BATFE.

After the jump, there are some data tables and a linked spreadsheet for playing with them your ownself.

Continue reading

The Quiet Special Purpose Revolver

We were sure we’d written about this before, but if we did, we can’t find hide nor hair of our previous report. So, just maybe we haven’t. Recently, we got some new information, and will share it with you.

The QSPR is an extremely rare special-purpose revolver that was developed and produced by the AAI Corporation. Formerly Aircraft Armament Incorporated, the name was abbreviated officially because they never sold any of their aircraft armament concepts. They worked on several ill-fated futuristic small arms of the 1960s (like the SPIW) and one very successful one, the M203 40mm grenade launcher.

The QSPR from the original report (the bad reproduction is due to the records being stored on microfilm or microfche).

The QSPR from the original report (the bad reproduction is due to the records being stored on microfilm or microfche).

The QSPR was made from a Smith & Wesson Model 29. Frames in white were provided to AAI by Smaith, and they were modified with a .40 caliber smoothbore barrel and the cylinders were bored out to 0.528″, leaving a minimal web between chambers. (The lost strength was made up for by the strong cartridges). The weapon was innocent of any sights — it was meant to be used at contact range, inside tunnels, although accuracy to 25 feet was claimed (and Vietnam users reported it was more accurate than their .38 revolvers). Both standard large-frame Smith and aftermarket or custom grips were tried.

The gun was issued with a flap shoulder holster and two ammo pouches holding an odd 7 rounds each.

The gun was issued with a flap shoulder holster and two ammo pouches holding an odd 7 rounds each.

The objective was to provide a weapon for tunnel combat, a weapon with reduced blast, noise, flash and yet increased lethality over the standard pistols and revolvers of the era. It was designed to produce a column of lethal buckshot at very close range, with no flash and very limited blast. Noise in the enclosed tunnels was equivalent to a .22LR firearm outdoors, which was a great improvement over the eardrum-shattering blast of the alternative, the M1911A1 .45 pistol.

Eleven QSPR revolvers were made, of which one was retained by AAI (and is still reportedly retained by a successor, Textron systems). Ten were deployed in 1969 for combat testing in Vietnam; one was reported as a combat loss. Of the existing revolvers, apart from the AAI reference piece, two (#5 and an unknown example) are in a US Army museum, and one is in the ATF reference collection. It was the missing Vietnam gun, which was used in a homicide in California and recovered, according to Dockery.

THE QSPR seems very sophisticated for a first shot, and that’s because it wasn’t. A previous S&W based tunnel revolver was a Model 10 M&P with reduced cylinder gap, a suppressor and an aiming light. It was part of a comprehensive suite of gear assembled by the boffins in the Army’s Land Warfare Laboratory and called the Tunnel Engagement Kit, illustrated here. (The vane switch in the guy’s mouth turned on the VC aiming point on his cranium). You can almost hear them saying, “Do bring it back this time, Mr Bond.” But this bit of lab genius was not what the guys needed, and so the boffins went back to the lab and cooked up the QSPR.

Different tunnel rat rig

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a recent photograph of a unicorn — a live QSPR round. This is believed to be the last and only live round in existence (the ATF caused the destruction of most of them maintained by AAI and the military museum system by declaring them suppressors). The material is high-carbon steel, because the case contains the entire energy of the round, inside a piston. An end cap is screwed on the base of the round; threads in the muzzle end act as a trap to catch a piston. A plastic sheath called a “sabot” wraps around the projectiles and is discarded, much like the sabots used with subcaliber projectiles, when the projectile column exits the muzzle. The muzzle end of the round has a silicone (we think) material applied as a sealant.

QSPR Round 01

The round has a dark finish which appears to be some kind of high-tech proto-melonite coating, although most resources describe the ammo as “blued.”

This is a schematic of the round from what appears to have been the final report on the weapon after development and combat testing in Vietnam. The report recommended further improvements and then general issue to Infantry and Ranger units. Those improvements were not pursued, and the firearm was never manufactured.


The high pressure inside the round breaks the “rim” of the piston free of an annular slot that initially retains the piston in the rearward position and forces it forward, ejecting the sabot-contained shot load, until the pressure snaps the piston rim into a similar annular slot positioned to receive it, and drives the “nose” of the piston into the muzzle-end threads. These two engagements arrest the piston’s forward motion. One purpose of the rearward slot is to retain the pistol and prevent it from sliding and ejecting the payload during normal gun handling.

This is the muzzle end of the round. As you can see, the sabot (or the sealant atop it) comes closer to the muzzle than indicated in the diagram.

QSPR Round 03

This is the breech end. As you can see, there are no markings on the round. The revolvers themselves were marked with the S&W trademark, so we suspect the lack of markings on the ammunition was more a reflection of the toolroom nature of the project than in any attempt to make a deniable or clandestine weapon.

QSPR Round 02

The missing detail from most of the reports, the reason the initial report was classified (albeit only at the Confidential level), and the cause of the QSPRs unusually high terminal effect for a handgun was in a material breakthrough. While most open source reports suggest that the projectiles in the shot column were lead, steel or even tungsten (Wolfram to you Europeans), they were actually depleted uranium.

DU is uranium from which the fissionable isotopes have been removed. It is a side product (a waste product, really) of uranium enrichment for weapons production and has a number of properties making t an excellent choice for projectiles.

While the US was developing the QSPR, Soviet scientists were working on similar captive-piston technology. But in the end, the complexity and cost of the system seems to preclude it from ever being made in more than nominal numbers. The ATF’s Firearms Anti Technology Branch has rendered research on this type of weapon in the USA functionally impossible; Russian designers, who have produced a great many widely varied quiet weapons, seem also to have moved on away from this technology.

The resources below are all worth reading but the most valuable is certainly the official report:

ACTIV QSPR Report OCR .pdf

Sources & Resources

Dockery, Kevin. Tunnel Weapon: The Bang in the Dark. Small Arms Review, Volume 5 Number 9. Retrieved from:

Popenker, Maxim. Smith & Wesson / AAI Quiet Special Purpose Revolver / QSPR / tunnel revolver (USA), World.Guns.Ru. Retrieved from:  Note that Max’s report on the QSPR is pretty accurate but his photoshop job has the barrel a tad too long.

Schreier, Conrad F., Jr. The Silenced QSPR Revolver: An Answer to an Age-old Military Problem. Guns and Ammo Magazine, “Ordnance Department” feature, Guns & Ammo Magazine, October 1971, p. 64. Copy: Guns & Ammo QSPR Article .pdf

Weddington, David E., LTC, IN. Final Report: Tunnel Weapon. Army Concept Team in Vietnam (ACTIV), (Linked above).


Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Handguns of the World

Before we dive into this website, we want to ask you a question: what is the serial number of this Browning Hi-Power?

Numberless Hi-Power L

Oh, you want to see the other side? OK. Here it is:

Numberless Hi-Power

Didn’t find it? That’s because it’s not there. Trick question! This Hi-Power is one of a small (and, we think, unknown and unknowable) number of firearms assembled in the war-wracked FN plant in Liège after Allied forces drove out the German occupiers, who had been merrily building and employing these pistols since the fall of the Low Countries in May 1940. The only markings on this firearm are the marking on the frame in front of the trigger guard, and a single German WaffenAmt marking (WaA140) on the rear of the barrel. Not only is this time capsule innocent of any serial number, it’s also lacking any proof marks (he says… but isn’t that what the trigger guard marking is, a Liège proof?).

This is what the serials would have looked like, had the gun been produced under Nazi inspection a few months or even weeks earlier (image from this forum):

Typical Wartime HiPower Serials

This is one of the guns for sale at David Rachwal’s modestly titled Handguns of the World web site, which is, for those of you with cash on hand, a boutique of collector-quality vintage firearms. If you’re not in spending mode, it’s a worthwhile site for the education and entertainment value alone.

Some of the firearms are mystifying. Here’s an 1869 Bavarian Werder, looking like a prop from Firefly:

1869 WerderWe’ve never heard of that one before, but it’s growing on us.

Here’s a .35 caliber Dreyse needle fire — revolver. We didn’t know a firearm like this existed until pulling it up on David’s site. Obviously it’s a dead end branch of the revolving firearm tree, but no less interesting for that!

Dreyse .35 Needle Fire RevolverIf these are not exotic enough for you, David has a fine and comprehensive collection of Gyro-Jet rocket pistols. These 60s artifacts are extremely rare today. David’s are not for sale but he has graciously shared photographs of them with the public here:



Shortly stated, if you don’t find something you like and something that’s entirely new to you at this website, we’ll be very surprised. On the few things where we have a handle on values, such as Hi-Powers and Walthers, the pricing is reasonable; on everything, the firearms are interesting.




Custom .45 Comparo: Colt vs. Baer.

A couple of Reddit /r/guns 1911 fans had a throwdown a week or two ago: switching custom shop pistols, what did they like and not like about each other’s?

The Simple, Baer Necessities (this is the Baer custom from the thread).

The Simple, Baer Necessities (this is the Baer custom from the thread).

He brought his Baer with a 1.5″ accuracy guarantee at 50 yards and I brought my Colt Special Combat Government which ships with a 1″ group or less-shot by hand-at 15 yards.
We both took several turns shooting the guns and decided to share our thoughts.  I’ll give my thoughts on his Baer, he’ll be along shortly to give his thoughts on my Colt SCG.
First things first, [the Baer owner] can shoot.  He puts rounds into a neat hole and only shanks one when being ribbed by me or his Dad (in my brief experience).  Good times.

[His] Baer is an anomaly of sorts.  It’s a $2k 1911 that’s been shot-a lot. Most folks who spend 2k on a gun tend to worry about any scratch no matter how small. It has a lot of wear-I noticed the front-strap checkering showed where each of his fingers gripped the gun-many, many times-and the rest of the gun had the same kind of wear your favorite Levis do.  It’s wear that shows how much fun it is to use the gun, over and over again.

via Baer vs. Colt: A shootout (of sorts) : guns.

As it happens, the Baer owner liked the Colt, too, and thought it’s trigger was better. But the Colt guy made an interesting comparison:

The trigger on the Baer was very good. Very little take up, then a wall, then the trigger broke. It was very clean, but a bit harder and heavier than the Colt. Still a great trigger though and far better than a production gun.
Shooting the Baer was a treat. The fit was first rate, the grip safety was firmly fit, the thumb safety needed the perfect amount of pressure to use and the barrel would not move-even in the least-when in battery.
At the end of the day the Baer lived up to its’ reputation. There’s the cars Chip Foose makes-beautiful,yes-then there’s the car a totally dedicated hobbyist makes in their garage.
The welds are proudly displayed, not ground down. The handwork is a badge of honor-meant to be a counterpoint-to the sterile perfection of others. Baer is proud to make the modern version of a hand-made hot rod-and good for them. There are those who like their hot rods for the show and those that like their hot rods to go. After my experience Baer puts a lot of effort into the “show,” but its’ obvious their real passion is the “go.”

We actually like our .45s to be the GI variety: loose-as-criminals-in-California, barely-more-accurate-than-a-Brown-Bess, last-updated-in-1945. In other words, warts and all. We don’t deny that the Baer (or the custom-shop Colt) is a better gun in many ways: more accurate, more reliable in ordinary civilized-world conditions, able to feed all kinds of ammo instead of the GI gun’s preference for GI ball and requirement for careful testing of anything else.

But it’s the GI gun that is the M1911A1, and that’s why it appeals to us: it was our standard issue pistol for years. (Oddly enough, for most of those years SF guys didn’t always carry .45s, even in combat. Pistol carrying is a lot more common now). It’s the way John M. Browning designed it, and the Army very lightly altered it to fit a wider variety of hands in the 1920s. Sure, it can be improved — any machine can be improved, although the better it is to start with, the smaller each incremental  improvement is likely to be.

But it’s only original once, and it’s only original one way. If we carried a .45 we might want a Baer or a Wilson custom, but instead, we want a .45 to be a .45.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week:

We think we know our way around guns and gun history, but in fact we know, mostly, the success stories — the winners that went forward into widespread use, more than the many other ways that were tried and found wanting. This Civil War veteran revolver is one of those also-rans; can you identify it?


It’s a French Lefaucheux pinfire revolver, in 12mm pinfire (about .47), introduced in 1854 and so edging Rollin White’s .22 short Smith & Wesson by a bit. Pinfire had some pros and cons. The rounds contained a primer or cap internally, including an anvil and a priming mixture, and the cartridge held a pin poised above that cap. The firearm’s hammer drove the pin into the anvil, setting off the primer and the (black) powder. Contrary to common belief, some pinfire rounds, at least, were field-reloadable. Both the Union and the Confederacy bought Lefaucheux pistols, and they were also very common as private-purchase arms for European officers before the centerfire system’s dominance was fully established.

They persisted for a very long time; Gustloff-Hirtenberg in Austria made pinfire ammunition as late as 1944 (stopping just before, or as soon as, the Red Army rolled over the plant), suggesting that the 90-year-old revolvers were still in second- or third-line service somewhere in Mitteleuropa. If the Soviets did their usual thing and carted the machinery off as reparations without checking it, they were probably pretty sore when they opened the crates and found out what they’d shipped. Needless to say, they never restarted production.

An education in pinfire and other alternative early ignition systems can be had at this weeks Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, which is called the Cartridge Freedom Act (or by its URL, but it’s basically the blog and webpage of advanced early cartridge collector and historian Aaron Newcomer. Aaron freely shares his knowledge, his expertise, and his articles for cartridge collector magazines, demonstrating a deep knowledge and fresh enthusiasm for these time capsules from the dawn of the fixed-ammunition era.

In the early days of cartridges, today’s center- and rimfire rounds were far from the only ideas tried; they’re just the only ideas that still survive today. Indeed, it wasn’t at the time completely obvious that they would be the winners, and early centerfire cartridges tended to have some differences from those today (we keep meaning to do a post on early balloon head cartridges, whose manufacture had a lot in common with rimfire cartridges of the day).

Here’s another dead branch on the evolutionary tree, cupfire cartridges. These were like a rimfire cartridge, except the “rim” was in the front of these front-loaded revolver cartridges, and the hammer struck the cup in the rear, which contained the priming mixture, against the side of the chamber. This was a dodge to get around the Rollin White patent on through-bored cylinders loaded from the rear. The cartridges are a .28, three .30s, and a .42 — even the dimensional nomenclature of these oddball rounds was different. They were popular enough to be loaded by several ammunition producers, despite being utterly forgotten — except by Aaron and other collectors, perhaps — today.

cupfire7 An advantage of cupfire was shared with center- and rim-fire: it didn’t matter how the cartridge was oriented. For a pinfire round, naturally, it mattered greatly, but there was usually a notch to make sure the pin went in the “right” way. Some time on the site will make you smarter about this kind of thing.

We were drawn to the blog when we read this thread on Reddit, and were originally going to simply blog the subject of the thread, the rare .58 Schubarth round, so rare in fact that a note card from a previous owner, Berkeley R. Lewis, Colonel, Ordnance, misstates that it is a Gallagher and Gladding round. It’s amazing that Newcomer gets this right when Lewis had it wrong. (The Schubarth patent was different from that of Gallagher & Gladding).

lewis noteThe rifle was a complicated conversion of the Springfield. Looking at this drawing, it’s easy to see how the far simpler centerfire Allin conversion (which also didn’t have any right way or wrong way to load the rounds) won out.


The rounds were reloadable with Minié balls and, we believe, ordinary percussion caps. Here’s a picture of the egg-shaped, 2-inch-long loaded cartridge:


Aaron’s post on the .58 Schubarth has more pictures, including those of other rare specimens (including a fired case) of this near-unicorn rarity, from the collections of his friends and fellow collectors, and patent pictures. He’s also been answering questions in the Reddit thread.

We were meaning just to blog the .58 Schubarth, but then Nathaniel F at The Firearms Blog did, and since a lot of you read that site too, we took our post in a different direction.

Bonus thing to find on his page: there’s some really interesting stuff on excavated Civil War pinfire casings.

While the Civil War has a reputation as a muzzle-loading war, cartridge arms were coming into vogue, and by war’s end Union cavalry were predominantly equipped with breechloaders, mostly rim- and center-fire single shots, but also some repeaters.


Self-Defense: Where’s This Guy’s Error?

Stan Pannaman, gunshot (and beating) survivor

Stan Pannaman, gunshot (and beating) survivor.

In the story excerpt below (you can Read The Whole Thing™ at the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel) you see the story of how Stan Pannaman, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, used a gun to defend himself and a friend.

But his ordeal wasn’t over: he then allowed himself to be turned into a Bloomberg cliché when his assailant, career criminal Michael Q. McAuliffe, disarmed him and shot him with his own gun.

McAuliffe’s shock at what he had done caused him to discontinue the attack.

Doug Young, president of the South Florida Audubon Society and Pannaman’s fellow volunteer, described a surreal scene on the beach as he and a number of volunteers set off to monitor turtle nests about to hatch near El Mar Drive.

Michael Q. McAuliffe, turtle hater and ex-con.

Michael Q. McAuliffe, turtle hater and ex-con.

“There was a man sitting on a bench at the entrance of the beach who was giving off profanity,” said Young, 64, of Tamarac. “He got up and went toward one of the nests and very aggressively started pulling the stakes out.”

According to the Sheriff’s Office, McAuliffe hit Young and then Pannaman pulled out a gun.

“In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, Pannaman pulled a gun out of his pocket,” a sheriff’s statement said. McAuliffe, undeterred, took the gun away from Pannaman, the agency said.

Young told the Sun Sentinel that Pannaman pointed the gun at the man as he explained that disrupting a sea turtle nest is a felony and he’d better stop.

Young said that Pannaman had put the gun back in his pocket. But then McAuliffe approached Young and hit him. The trio began wrestling, he said. And then McAuliffe had the gun.

“He said, ‘I’m going to shoot,'” Young said.

Pannaman turned quickly enough that the bullet hit him in the left hip, Young said. “The guy freaked out when he saw the wound,” Young said, recalling McAuliffe throwing the gun into the sand. “He was saying, ‘I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe I did this.'”

Police arrived on the scene shortly, Young said.

Richard Whitecloud, founder of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, which works with Young’s group to help distressed hatchlings, said he gets reports nightly about turtle volunteers getting harassed.

“Almost every night our people are dealing with people who are rude, aggressive and pursuing the nesting females,” he said.

via Turtle-nest fight leaves one man wounded, another arrested, authorities say – Sun Sentinel.

So, Did Pannaman Err? If so, when?

In our opinion, it’s often a mistake to display a firearm in hopes of de-escalating a situation.  In case after case, reports show that this works, but then there’s the one incident out of, what? Twenty or thirty cases, maybe; no one has these numbers — where the firearm seems to trigger some atavistic urge to mortal combat in the assailant. Yet this wasn’t even a case like that. It sounds as if McAuliffe was on drugs, or is mentally ill, and if there’s one thing we can say about nut jobs, it’s that it’s nuts to try to predict what they will do.

“Never in in my wildest dreams did I think monitoring sea turtle nests was going to be a life-threatening experience,” says Pannaman in a video shot by the newspaper staff.

It’s also, again in our opinion, often a mistake to put away a firearm between the time you produce it and the time you’re confident the assailant has departed or is under control. Cops have to do this all the time — prisoners aren’t going to cuff themselves, after all — and if you talk to them about it, they don’t like it; it’s a tense and nervous time on the job. Being within inches of a bad guy with your gun in your hand and your mind on your cuffs is dangerous. And as the Tueller drill shows, an unarmed or edged-weapon-armed man can close the distance faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

Finally, it’s also, for the third time in our opinion, perhaps not a mistake but certainly sub-optimal to carry your self-defense firearm in a pocket. Yet we do it a lot, based on ongoing threat level assessments, etc. In fact, yesterday on a bike ride we ran into some marine-life volunteers, and the only firearm we had was a small pocket pistol, in a pocket, so we don’t practice what we preach. (We did not, however, shoot the volunteers).

In a more detailed interview with the same paper, Stan, a Marine combat vet of Vietnam, explains what he did and why. It’s easy to see how the combination of his rational behavior and McAuliffe’s irrational behavior ended sub-optimally, and could have been a lot worse. Once again, we’ll give you excerpts and a link where you can Read The Whole Thing™.

Pannaman and Young ran into McAuliffe as soon as they got to the beach, and he had some words for them:

I hate sea turtle people. You’re all f—ing crazy

In hindsight, they probably realize they were being addressed by an expert on the subject.

Trying to ignore the man — later identified by sheriff’s deputies as Michael Q. McAuliffe, 38 — Pannaman and Young walked to another part of the beach.

Note the first thing they did — an attempt at de-escalation. They got out of Dodge. This is a good move. Heroes in movies stand and fight, but in the real world confronting some jerk is usually a waste of your energy and bandwidth — not to mention energy. Of course, it doesn’t always work.

But McAuliffe approached, Pannaman said, and began screaming as he yanked up stakes and tore down yellow tape from around a nest site.

So far, Stan is using the situational awareness that he used as a young man in the USMC wisely. But he’s up against Bat Guano Crazy.

Pannaman said he saw McAuliffe take a swing at Young, 64. “Then he started coming at me,” said Pannaman, a retired salesman from Manhattan who is classified as fully disabled and walks with a cane. “That’s when I pulled a handgun from the pocket of my shorts.”

The small size of the Kel-Tec P32 seems to have caused the assailant to mistake it for a toy. Briefly.

The small size of the Kel-Tec P32 seems to have caused the assailant to mistake it for a toy. Briefly.

Pannaman said he did not point the gun — a .32 caliber Kel-Tec pistol — directly at his assailant, but turned so the man could see it. “He stopped,” said Pannaman. “I thought I had defused the situation.”

In fact, in the video, Pannaman describes how he displayed his Kel-Tec, and said, “Sir, I’m armed. Do not come any closer.”

This is a very, very common defensive tactic. It has a number of things going for it. It makes rational assailants stop. It uses the minimum necessary force to do that. (Had Pannaman blown McAuliffe’s head off — okay, it was a .32, “had Pannaman put a 7.65 mm hole in McAuliffe’s head,” perhaps — he’d be at risk of an Angela Corey type prosecutor deciding he was defendant material; that’s one reason, apart from simple humanity, to use minimum necessary force, it’s legally defensible).

Indeed, it looked like it worked. Again from the video of the interview with Stan (at about 1:40

I thougt the situation was defused, because he backed up… took two or three steps. He was no longer confronting me, he was no longer a threat.

It is vital after a defensive gun use like Stan’s initial one, even if the assailant breaks off his attack and bugs out, that you call the police. Why? Because the assailant may call the police. Police are creatures of habit and procedure is, and the general procedure is, the caller is the complainant and the other guy is the suspect. It’s hard to overcome this presumption that attaches to whoever is first to call, and many cases where a gun user claimed self-defense begin going sideways for him when he doesn’t make the first call. (Michael Dunn case, anyone?). Of course, Stan didn’t have time to do that, because McAuliffe only broke off the attack momentarily, as a ruse. And here’s where Stan did something else that might be seen as a mistake:

But seconds after Pannaman put the gun back in his pocket, McAuliffe “lunged at me, grabbed me and threw me down onto the sand,” he said.

As they wrestled, McAuliffe hit him in the face and gouged his head, Pannaman said. “I saw stars for a few minutes,” he said.

This is something to bear in mind when you are facing a criminal: criminals are people who, for whatever reason, are not constrained by the norms of human behavior. You know the old saying, “Trust but verify?” Well, in any dealing with a criminal, it’s not wise to trust.

From the video, Stan’s musings on his limitations:

Now, I’m a big guy, but I’m no… there’s no contest between a 38 year old guy and me at 72. No contest. And also, this guy was about 6’1″, 6’2″, weighing about 250, 260 pounds and very strong.

Now we see what may be a core of McAuliffe’s defense:

When McAuliffe got hold of the pistol, he stood up, Pannaman said, and declared, “I’m going to shoot you with your flare gun.”

“Sir,” Pannaman said, “it’s not a flare gun. It’s a real gun.”

Pannaman twisted to get out of the way of the bullet he realized was coming. It passed through his hip and lodged in his left gluteus maximus, where it will stay for now. When the swelling resolves, doctors will take it out.

When he heard the report and knew it was a real gun, he immediately stepped toward me, went down, then he says, “Are you alright? You alright?” I said, “Sir, you shot me. How could I be alright?”

The response time from the time Doug called them to the first officer showed up was less than four minutes. That’s how long this whole thing took place; it was just surreal.

That’s a good response time, a real good response time. Not good enough to prevent the shooting. There’s only one person sure to be there in time when you’re threatened with a gun: you. Anybody else might as well be in the asteroid belt; four minutes is as good as four months;.

On reconsideration, it’s harder to fault Pannaman’s decison-making than it seems at first glance. He was the guy that was there, on the scene, and the outcome was acceptable if not optimal: good guy has non-life-threatening wound, bad guy has a new zip code for a stretch of years. But that outcome resulted in part from blind luck, and Stan Pannaman’s was better than you have a right to expect. The one decision that we might have done differently is keep the gun out while dialing 911. That outcome, in 20/20 hindsight, might have been better for Stan; he’d not have been shot. And it would have been better for McAuliffe, even: charged with simple assault, he’d be out on bail and not facing much of a sentence if convicted. But we’re not at all convinced he’s rational.

Sidebar: On Protecting Marine Life

turtle_shelterProtecting marine life is serious business, and losers like McAuliffe, who have no purpose in life but to destroy things and try to spread their own misery around, are everywhere. We don’t have sea turtles nesting on our rocky shores up here, but we have very rare whale groundings (which usually end in the death of the cetacean, even if it is “rescued” and towed back out to deep water) and problems with seals, the most usual problem being some busybody deciding to “rescue” a seal pup who’s only been left ashore to free-range for a bit while Mom finds some tasty fish. We have local volunteers who watch the coast to defend the seals from, mostly, well-meaning but uneducated humans. The stories they have told us have been the “he thought he was helping” variety, not the “brute attacked the animals” kind.

The turtles have another problem, besides the many humans who want to get too close to the eggs and the hatchlings, and the occasional humans who hate turtles and turtle volunteers (as McAuliffe explained his own actions). They navigate, a bit like moths, by the stars. And like moths, they can be disoriented by bright lights. Accordingly, there are limits on lighting along the beach. Limits often flouted by beachfront homeowners, because they can usually get away with it. Which dooms the hatchlings to circle on the sand until eaten by seabirds.

Those homeowners would resent any comparison to a nihilistic thug like McAuliffe, so we won’t make one. We leave it as an exercise for the reader.

“Branded — Marked with the No-Go Brand.”

What do you do when you’re branded?1 Well, when you’re a 7 1/2″ Colt 1873 Single-Action Army Revolver and Army inspectors reject you, the word is not “branded,” technically, but “condemned.” And you get pulled from the ranks of all your brothers going to Artillery troopers, and sent back to Colt. And 139 years later, you’re a puzzle and a delight to collectors — a mass-produced firearm with a one-off story to tell.

condemned SAA

No word on whether there is a ceremony with ominous drum rolls2. As a pistol you are fortunate in not having buttons, stripes, badges or accouterments to be lopped off at sword’s point.

Colt’s records show that this pistol wasn’t returned to the Army after rework (it’s possible that to the War Department, this serial number really was “branded”) but instead shipped out in a batch of 50 commercial guns to a New York dealer.

One unique feature of this weathered old draft dodger:condemned SAA notches

It also has an interesting 5 notches cut on the left side of the barrel, and also on the butt of the right grip.


Make of that what you will.

condemned SAA with letterA Colt letter documents the gun’s history, and Jackson Armory, a perennial source of wicked interesting firearms, has it on offer to the “very advanced collector” on GunBroker. With a starting bid of $7,000, it’s a bit (okay, thousands) too advanced for our tastes. But you have to love the way GunBroker makes it possible to click your way to an education on firearms.

Hat tip, a LEO buddy who is a prolific source of really good blogging ideas.


  1. If you’re an American of a certain age, you’ll get the TV show reference.
  2. This drumming-out ceremony from the opening credits of the TV show Branded with Chuck Connors was a real thing, and was still done as late as the late 50s or early 60s, when guys we know saw it done to a miscreant at 10th Special Forces Group at Bad Tölz.

Bubba Was “Out of Battery”

This really happened on an indoor range. A (presumably nearsighted) elderly gentleman got his pistol stuck just barely out of battery. The gunshop guys rodded the gun to clear the jammed round… only to find out that it was a battery that was out of battery.

9mm energizer2Yep, that’s an Energizer, all right, probably in his gun bag to power a gun light, that instead got crammed into a 9mm mag in between 9mm rounds. And so much for truth in advertising: instead of keeping “going… and going… and going,” the S&W M&P stopped, hard, when it got to the battery… unable to quite force it into battery.

Here’s a close-up, again, after rodding the stuck “round” partway out:

9mm energizerDoing this on the range is embarrassing, but doing it in a gunfight could be terminal.

9mm para dimensionsThe battery is an A23, a compact 12v battery (.pdf) used in a lot of weird places like gun lights, red-dot sights, and garage-door remotes. It’s a manganese dioxide-based battery made up of 8 small cells in series, and it’s from 9.7 to 10.3 mm in diameter, and slightly shorter length overall as a 9mm round at 27.5 to 28.5. As you can see from the image on the right (which shows the European CIP max dimensions), the A23 is destined to get stuck outside the chamber if its diameter is on the high end of tolerances, or somewhere down it if it’s near the lower end.

40 SW dinensionsOn the other hand, it might have gone all the way in to a .40 S&W chamber, as you can see on the image to the left (again a Euro CIP max-dimensions diagram. It seems likely an A23 would drop all the way in a .40 chamber. As batteries generally lack extraction grooves, it could be an unacceptably tense moment or two in a real-world gunfight. So it’s just as well that our visually-challenged gentleman selected the parabellum instead of the .40.

In this case, no permanent harm was done to the gun, the battery, or any personnel or installations. The battery was extracted, a bit beat-up perhaps, and the pistol had no problem going back into battery, without the battery. Presumably Mr Magoo then returned to the range.

And you know the ROs keep a bit of a closer eye on him, now that they know he sees no lights a-flashing, he plays by sense of smell.

The shop worker notes, “You work at a range long enough though and you see all kinds a stupid stuff.”

Hat tip, this thread in /r/guns and the photos from the original poster there, on imgur.



Explained: Why The Army’s Guns Wear Out, and Yours Don’t

So the Army has a handgun problem, so they say. The Beretta M9 works OK (and we have yet to hear a complaint of any kind against the issue SIG M11 or 226/Mk 25, except the usual but-I-like-thatbetter bitching that troops always do). But after 30 years the Berettas wear out (gee, who saw that coming?)


Explained: Why the Army’s Guns Wear Out, and Yours Don’t

You might wonder why the Army managed to make the Berettas wear out, when yours is still going strong and it’s the same age. There are several reasons Army guns die younger than they really ought to.

  • First: They’re Everybody’s, and Nobody’s. Consider this: nobody ever washed a rent-a-car. Nobody takes care of someone else’s property, especially communal property, like he takes care of personal property. Service pistols are rode hard and put away wet, in a communal arms room where they’re inspected and maintained as someone’s extra duty. Remember how diligent you were about extra duties? Us neither.
  • Second: Too Much Fingergepoken. Back in the days when the old, air-cooled, inspired-by-Adolf-hisownself VW Beetle was actually a cultural  thing, you could get these stickers in German Fraktur script for your dash (we are not making this up):

Das Maschine is nicht fur gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.  Ist easy schnappen der Springwerk, blowenfusen und corkenpoppen mit spitzensparken.  Ist nicht fur gewerken by das Dummkopfen.  Das
Rubbernecken Sightseeren keepen hands in das Pockets.  Relaxen und vatchen das blinkenlights!

Like most things in VW’s small world at the time (1960s), it didn’t take itself terribly seriously. (Applied by a VW owner, that sticker was ironic. Applied by a Porsche owner, it had all the good-natured humor of a drumhead tribunal in a Womyn’s Studies Department, and was a serious admonition).

What this means in the gun world is that pistols are seldom shot, but they’re frequently carried and subjected to extremely frequent (relative to their firing) disassembly and assembly, giving them unpredictably weird wear, damage, and parts-loss patterns. We’re not really sure why the service stresses mechanical training on pistols so much, but it’s probably because they can, and there’s no immediate costs, unlike actually shooting the things, which makes you burn your ammo budget.


This is not the Army of 1940 any more, where almost everybody was a guy who grew up on a farm and could fix nearly anything. Most of today’s soldiers grew up in the city and, having been told all their lives that there are No User Serviceable Parts Inside, have come to believe it. A surprising number of Army small arms die, or at least have to be sent for third or higher echelon maintenance, because of gefingerpoken.

When we’re done laughing at the Army, any of you guys ever work as gunsmiths, or just in a gun shop? Ever have a dude (it’s always a male, 100%) with a sheepish look and a furtive manner come in with a brown paper bag of gun parts, as if he was a wino with a bottle of Ripple in there? We have heard of soldiers who did that with M9s they detail-stripped and couldn’t get back together (which is pretty pitiful, but it really happens. Ask the desk guys at Jim’s in Fayetteville).

Alternatives to brown-bagging it to the gunsmith include finding your 18B buddy to reassemble it, finding your 18B-wannabe buddy ditto, or, if it’s a privately owned weapon, just leaving it in the brown bag until your heirs sell it as a Gunsmith Special on GunBroker.

  • Third: High Round Counts. Some guns only get shot a lot. If pistol BZ60124489 gets assigned to be the armory of the divisional finance battalion, It may get taken out and shot for forty to a hundred rounds a year — or it may not. If it winds up as training pistol at a training site, or winds up in certain units that do a lot of live fire, it can fire 4,000 rounds a year. There are actually parts that have a round-limited life, but:
  • Fourth: Undocumented use and maintenance. The Army does a lousy job tracking the use of its firearms. There are three basic ways of knowing when to replace machinery: you can overhaul on calendar, assigning a pistol (or car, or airplane propeller hub, or anything) ten, or thirty, years of useful life. That means that some will break before getting potentially life-extending maintenance or being replaced, and some will get maintenance or replacement they don’t need, but it’s one way to do it. You can overhaul on use, but that requires you to (1) set a use metric, which will have the same problems of under-over as a calendar metric, and (2) to track it diligently, which fails in the Army because it’s no one’s responsibility to do so. And finally, you can (You can also set up a hybrid of more than one overhaul trigger. Most small-plane constant-speed propellers must be overhauled every 1,200-2,000 hours or every 12 years, whichever comes first). And finally, you can overhaul on condition, inspecting frequently to determine the condition of firearms and parts. This is how the Army tries to catch their round-limited parts, because they don’t actually track rounds. (They know they should and are trying to work out a way to do it).

For those who are curious, here’s a military guide to inspecting and maintaining the M9 (this is the USMCs. Most Marine ordnance documentation is the same as the Army’s, just renumbered with the Corps numbering system, but this one is USMC specific. Doesn’t mean a soldier can’t learn from it: Inspection-and-Repair-of-the-M9-Pistol.pdf

  • Fifth: Sitting. Sitting untended can be worse for machinery than the wear of daily use. That’s because a sitting machine gives corrosion time to work its evil on the metals. (This is, in fact, why an airplane engine or propeller has a calendar as well as an hourly limit, to catch the “sitters” before corrosion can do them in). Of course, Springfield Armory tests found that weapons could be packed for permanent storage and last for decades without corrosion, but weapons in a ready condition in an arms room are exposed to the atmosphere (but climate-controlling arms rooms is not a sexy budget item).
  • Sixth: Low-bidder parts. The Army and Beretta both have been relentless at driving the cost of the gun and its spares down. As a result, they’e got some schlocky parts in the system. By this we don’t mean the parts that aficionados abjure, but are perfectly serviceable and durable, like polymer triggers; we mean the several versions of self-destructing locking blocks.

Most of these problems also applied to the M1911 when it was at end-of-service-life. The corrosion problems were different on the all-steel Colt versus the steel and aluminum Beretta (where you can also get galvanic corrosion!), but the basic issue of corrosion never goes away: anything that was once part of geology has an inborn entropic urge to revert to ore over time.

And all of these factor in to why the Army wants a new service pistol. They’re not the only, or even the major reason. It seems that the Army is feeling left behind by market trends in service pistols. But they’re likely to solve this entirely the wrong way.

Monday: What’s Wrong With  the Army Modular Pistol Competition (hint: it’s not that it will inspire criminals, like that inadvertent comedian Matt Valentine desperately wrote in The Atlantic).

It’s About Time: Army Looking at JHP Ammo

9mm_124grain_jhpThis week industry contenders met with Army evaluators in the final Industry Day for the XM17 Modular Handgun Program, and the most interesting news is that the JAGs are finally on board with using jacketed hollow point ammunition in the new pistol.

This has several consequences, assuming that these lawyers are overruled by other lawyers somewhere down the line:

  1. It increases the defensive utility of the firearm against unarmored enemies, although not nearly to the level of a rifle or rifle-caliber carbine.
  2. It just about guarantees that, modular or not, our next service pistol will be firing the 9mm. The 9mm is as effective — with modern JHPs — and much easier to shoot than .40 S&W or .45 ACP, and it offers greater magazine capacity. (See Loose Rounds’ repop of the FBI report that justified the Bureau’s return to 9mm from .40).
  3. It means that most of the “modular” advantages the XM17 proposal wants are kind of pointless. The Army wants a service pistol and a max-commonality concealment/compact pistol. Since users seldom go from requiring one to requiring the other and back — the set of concealment/compact pistol users is small, as M11 procurement numbers show — the whole “modular” theme of the procurement is a bagatelle.

Bob says these are the criteria, apart from improved ergonomics relative to current service pistols.

  • non-caliber specific
  • modular grips
  • grip that accepts a wide-range of hand-sizes (5th to 95th percentile)
  • ability to accept different fire-control devices/action types
  • ability to accept various magazine sizes
  • suppressor compatible
  • ability to mount “target enablers” (lights, lasers, etc) on a picatinny rail
  • match-grade accuracy (90% or better chance 4″ circle at 50 meters)
  • low felt recoil impulse

Not all of these are widely useful (explain to us why a military unit will need their pistols “to accept different fire-control devices/action types”?) but some clearly are. The ones that are most clearly useful, of course, are widespread in modern handguns.

As far as the pistols go, according to Owens, the interesting contenders are the STI/Detonics, the SIG P320, and the Beretta APX. We find it hard to believe that the 1911-based STI/D is seriously in the game, or that the brand-new APX is sufficiently developed. The 320 (with a safety) does seem to meet all the requirements. Unlike Owens, we’re not ready to write Glock and S&W off, and would be very surprised if both of them didn’t  make serious and credible proposals.

Here’s Bob’s story on the JHP reveal at the briefing, and here’s his story on what he considers the leaders of the modular handgun competition. Note that there is one small error or oversight in his JHP story, and that’s his statement that US SOF have used 9mm and .45 JHPs. To that, we’d add .40s. (Certain specific units use this caliber). The Gun Zone’s Dean Speir wrote a post years ago on the legalities as observed by SOF since 1985.

Don’t Get Too Excited

Given the marginal role handguns play in combat, the adequate supply of current M9 and M11 service pistols (as well as non-standard pistols in some units), and given the rampant downsizing of the Army (it has less than half the combat power it did in Cold War days, and is scheduled to lose another 40,000 men, mostly “tooth” not “tail”), this entire program is a waste of time and money. If the contract goes forward, the Army will buy about a half-million service pistols plus some tens of thousands of compact variants for all services. The Air Force and Navy are accustomed to having the Army do their small-arms purchasing. The Army plans to force-feed the new modular pistol to the Marines, who are explicit about their lack of interest in it.

We’d be very surprised if this proposed procurement came to pass. If the Army doesn’t kill it, Congress will.

But the final approval of JHP ammunition for non-SOF pistol users is long overdue. In fact, it’s the single biggest thing they can do to improve the utility of current service pistols, and it can be done without out tests and contract disputes (hollow-points are already in the supply system for DOD police).


Soldier Systems Daily has the PEO Soldier press release with direct quotes from Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War.

Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier spokeswoman, also noted that by “modular” the Army means “allows adjustments to fit all hand sizes.”