Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Gun Oddity: Beretta ‘Combo’

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

beretta 92-96 combo case

Here’s the seller’s blurb:

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

beretta 92-96 combo

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

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

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

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

Pythons Can’t Save Colt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

A Slice of SOF History on GunBroker

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

sti_40s

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

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

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

STI no, 1

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

STI No. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgotten Weapons on the Development of the 1911

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

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

ian_and_colt_variations

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

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

colt_1900_sight_safety

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

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

NY Cops Cop to a Negligent Discharge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

HSI’s Odd Restrictions on Agents’ Personal Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITEM: Look Out for the Bull!

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

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

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

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

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-6

 

Taurus-Curve-180CRV-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ph_Curve_Back_W_Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITEM: Beretta publishes video showing jammed Beretta.

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

Screenshot 2014-11-17 22.01.34

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

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

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

What these two incidents have in common

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

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

UPDATE

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

Unsafe Tauruses — Updating a Year Old Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ZANCS” says:

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

“Helio” again:

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

“Igor” says:

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

And “Daniel” posted two videos.

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

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

And…

Another showing a CT-30 misbehaving similarly.

“Chico” says:

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

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

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

The Walther PPK/S: Gun Built by Ban

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Walther PPK. This pocket pistol, introduced in 1931, was a compact version of Walther’s excellent PP, whose initials stand for Police Pistol in its native German. Walther, which had previously made several models of high-quality but otherwise unremarkable small pocket pistols, introduced the PP in 1929. It was the first shot of a revolution; it became the model for most double-action/single-action auto pistols that would follow it, using a trigger bar that runs along the right side of the frame to activate its sear, and containing a then-patented decocking safety.

The PPK was the inevitable compact version; its German name, Polizei Pistole Kriminal, essentially means Detective’s Police Pistol. (You would not be the first student of German to laugh at the idea that regular beat cops are called a name that translates literally as Order Police, and detectives are Criminal Police, Kripo for short. We’ve known a few criminal police, too, but that’s what linguists call a “false cognate.” End of digression).

Even though both are pocket pistols by American standards, and were manufactured primarily in .32 ACP, the PP was normally carried by beat cops in a flap holster, and the PPK carried concealed. Both the PP and PPK were popular with German military officers, who until 1945 were allowed (and sometimes required) to privately purchase personal sidearms. Staff officers and aviators and others who didn’t really have a need to haul around a big 9mm horse pistol checked the pistol box with a little PPK. The Carl Walther firm in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia (a suburb of the gunmaking center of Suhl), prospered.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip. It was banned from importation to the USA in 1968, despite being an extremely rare crime gun.

The PPK was the same width as the PP, but its length (and sight radius) was reduced, and its height (and magazine size) was also reduced (the PPK held six rounds, then considered perfectly adequate). This made it as small as some of the more sloppily engineered .25s of the day. Instead of a solid backstrap with grip scales, the PPK has an open backstrap that is covered with a plastic (bakelite, originally) grip. The original grips are extremely prone to cracking and many PPKs today sport replacement or reproduction grips, but they made for a lighter and more concealable gun when new.

A number of PPs and PPKs were imported into the USA before the war, where the technical advancement of the pistol and its high price compared to domestic arms or cheap Spanish imports won it a very selective user base, and relatively few sales.

After the war, the wave of captured PPs and PPKs increased their popularity, and new ones began to be imported. With Zella-Mehlis and Suhl bombed flat and, after an American withdrawal to a mutually agreed line, behind the Iron Curtain, Walther produced guns at a former licensee in Alsace (Manurhin) beginning in 1952, and at a new factory in West Germany.

(Time for another digression of sorts. You can find pistols from 1952-1985 or so production marked Walther and marked Manurhin. The Walther marked pistols received roll marks, heat treatment of the slides, and final assembly in Ulm, Germany, and were proofed and inspected there, with German marks. The Manurhin pistols were finished, proofed and inspected in Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, with French marks. Yet Alsace (Elsaß) was German from 1870-1918 and 1940-45 — maybe 1944. Because Walther and Manurhin used different heat treating methods, the slides of Walther pistols often don’t color-match the frames very well, and Manurhin ones match perfectly, usually).

As a result of this strange history and the usual churn of importers here in the USA, PP and PPK pistols are found with a very wide range of slide markings and proof marks, but except for 1940s production guns, which may have been sabotaged by slave labor, all are sure to be of high quality.

How a Gun Law Attacked the PPK

In the 1960s, Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia was the importer of the PP series and all was going swimmingly, until two political assassinations (Martin L. King and Robert F. Kennedy) led to a wave of gun-control legislation. American politics at the time was very different from politics today — gun control’s adherents were found in both parties, with opposition largely restricted to Southern Democrats and Western Republicans; and Democrats controlled, and had for years, both Houses of Congress and the White House. Two bills passed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. (So, giving bills Orwellian names is nothing new).

The new laws were supported by the NRA and American gun manufacturers, because they also gave the manufacturers something that they wanted: protectionism. It was no skin off Colt’s or Smith & Wesson’s nose if foreigners wanted to sell their cheesy little guns here, but it was a major threat to high-cost, low-quality manufacturers like Harrington & Richardson or Iver Johnson. Rather that write the transparent ban on imports the manufacturers wanted, instead imports were subjected to a Sporting Purpose test (something drawn by Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd from Nazi and Weimar gun control laws, which he had come to admire, and placed in early drafts of the bill — before Dodd was censured by the Senate for his unrelated (we think) but legendary corruption, which would end his career this same year.

The Sporting Purpose test, as it was conceived, made it an object of US law that only hunting and organized target shooting are legitimate reasons to own firearms, and by implication, defense of self, others or property explicitly is not. As originally passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, these laws banned the import of military surplus weapons of all kinds (one objective of the manufacturers), and applied a “points test” to the importation of pistols. These laws have been modified by subsequent legislation (and by ATF regulation; the ATF Office of Chief Counsel holds that the “sporting purpose” test invalidates the 2nd Amendment), but the sporting purposes test and the pistol points test survive. (The law also banned the import of Class III weapons for private sale, under the sporting purposes test. The weapons in the market called “pre-May” or “pre-86″ dealer samples were brought in between October 1968 and May 19, 1986, under provisions of this law).

ATF_Form_4590_-_Factoring_Criteria_for_WeaponsThe points test was applied by ATF Form 4590. This image is a vintage form. The current version is ATF Form 5530.5.

Note that, while the ATF has taken up the cudgel of this law with great joy, the cudgel itself was crafted by the legislature, and signed into law in due course; it was upheld rapidly by 1960s liberal courts, and so only can be disposed of the same way it was spawned.

The sponsors of the law meant to come back and apply the points test to domestic production, but they never had the votes — some of the nation’s most anti-gun politicians shrank from voting to shutter factories in their home states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. (And some, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Dodd, who would be replaced by his equally crooked son after a brief interregnum, didn’t).

Now, the lip-service the gun bansters paid to just wanting to ban the bad guns would seem to have excepted the jewel-like PPK, but the little gun was caught on the horns of the points system. The points test counts: length, width, depth of the gun (larger is better); caliber (larger is better); target-shooting gingerbread like adjustable sights and thumb-rest grips; and safety mechanisms (more, and more fiddly, seems to please the Bubbas at Firearms Technology Branch better). The dimensional requirement from Form 4590 was (and on 5530.5 is):

The combined length and height must not be less than 10” with the height (right angle measurement to barrel without magazine or extension) being at least 4” and the length being at least 6”.

So the PP just barely sneaked through (especially in .380; the .32 version was borderline on points). But the PPK was hopeless as its overall dimensions were too small. The term used by the bansters at the time for a small handgun, implying a cheap and disposable nature, was
“Saturday Night Special,” but the application of the law didn’t affect any of the domestic shoddy pot-metal  .32S&W revolvers, but did catch the safe-as-houses PPK.

With Continued Demand for a Suddenly Banned Gun, What’s Next?

By this time, the James Bond books, favorites of the late John F Kennedy, and the hugely successful movies had given the PPK new cachet, so Interarms was sitting on a stack of wholesale orders for guns it couldn’t bring into the country. It had a few potential courses of action, not including smuggling the guns and everybody going to jail (that was ruled right out).

  • They could send the checks back to the wholesalers. If you ever met Sam Cummings of Interarms, you knew this was not on. Indeed, smuggling probably didn’t get dismissed as quickly as this approach.
  • They could make the PPK in the USA. Walther wasn’t keen on this COA, and Interarms would have been taking a huge risk even if they could talk their German partners into it. Because Dodd, LBJ and others have sworn to come back and extend the “Saturday Night Special” ban (which is how they thought of the silly points system) to domestic production. Interarms did produce PPKs in the late 1970s, as this image from a 1979 catalog shows, but by then it was clear that the “Saturday Night Special” ban threat had passed. The failure of the gun control acts to influence crime was already patent.

PPKsia79_page_3

  • Or, they could modify the PPK to pass the points test, maybe.

It turned out that modifying the PPK wasn’t all that hard. It only needed about half an inch of height to pass the points test. The vast majority of Americans preferred the .380 caliber, which gave them a little headroom, although in time . (Hint: if you just want a PPK for some fun shooting, the .32’s a lot more pleasant to fire, even though the ammo’s more expensive, usually). And the half inch was easily come by: simply adapt the PP frame to the shorter PPK slide. As a side benefit, buyers of the new version would get an extra round in their mags.

A more imaginative marketer might have tried to get a Bond tie-in, or named it after Dodd, who indirectly created it, and sent the crooked ex-Senator a penny of graft for each one, in his involuntary retirement. It would have been publicity gold, but the industry was intimidated and more shy about controversy in those days, and the launch of the gun called it the PPK/Special or PPK/S. It was a US-only model of the already venerable gun (not many pocket pistols were still popular after their 35th Anniversary. Especially in a nation still in love with revolvers). The marketing materials played up the “Special” and played down the fact that this was merely a natural reaction to a dumb law.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

At first, to a Walther fan, the PPK/s didn’t look right. The PP was familiar; the PPK was familiar; the S looked sort of deformed. Over time it grew more common. Nowadays, people have many options of smaller, lighter guns that pack a bigger punch, so the PP series has faded from actual employment as a defensive handgun. And they’ve been produced in many more variants in Germany, France and the USA, blued, stainless, and two-tone, engraved and plated, and copied even farther afield. But of all the variations, the PPK/S was the one created by a gun ban.

A Challenging Refinish Job on a Colt 1902

This comes to us from Guns and Gunsmiths, a website that primarily seems to exist to promote the video courses of the American Gunsmithing Institute. But there are also a good number of tips and tricks on the site that serve to extend the information in the courses, some of which really stand on their own as “war stories” of real-world gunsmith tasks. An example was this tale of a tough refinish job on a Colt 1902 auto pistol that was in really bad shape. Unfortunately there are no “before” pictures at the site, and the only “after” pictures are small ones, like these here.

Some smiths would not work on such a rare gun, but when it’s really trashed, customization or restoration could be a good idea. (There are shops that specialize in this work). In any event, it’s the client’s gun, and his money; only he knows what’s valuable to him.

This gun came to me looking pretty bad. Rust pitted, worn, beat up, actually. My client wanted me to restore it to as new as possible. It wasn’t possible to make it “like new” for a number of reasons, which we will go into, but it was possible to make something that looked worse than this Google photo (1) into this shown in photo 2. Actually, my client wanted it to be a little bit customized. He wanted it to be as close as possible to original color for the frame and slide, but he wanted a Peacock Blue for the screws and pins. The hammer and lanyard ring swivel was to be Color Case Hardened. That was the easiest part. He, being somewhat of a craftsman himself, was going to make custom hardwood grips for it.

The first problem was the frame and slide, as they were in terrible condition. The only way to get rid of the rust pits and dings on the sides was to have them surface ground by my trusty machine shop (everyone needs one of those). Further examination also showed that someone else had worked on this gun, as evidenced by the rather plain Bakelite grips and for some odd reason, the extractor pin hole at the top of the slide had been welded over. This needed to be drilled out. The extractor itself was broken. The weld had also been poorly done, leaving some pits and small sink areas in the top of the slide. To restore the contour, those areas needed to be filled in as well. The problem was the steel was porous enough that bubbles kept popping up until it was obvious that further effort would be non-productive.

via Nitre Blue Colt 1902 | Guns And Gunsmiths.

Unfortunately, after some welding repairs, he decided that he ought to punt the job to Turnbull. Turnbull does great work, but due to the welding having introduced different alloys into the metal, didn’t think they could get a blue up to their standards. Therefore, they declined to work on the 1902, and sent it back. It’s impossible to say whether they’d have taken it on in the state he began with. He was ultimately able to make an attractive pistol out of this sow’s ear, but he didn’t make money on the job, when the opportunity cost of his time is factored in. (He explains all this in depth if you Read The Whole Thing™).

Now, we’ve said this before, and don’t mean to disparage the AGI or its instructors when we say: you are not going to learn to be a gunsmith by sitting on your ass watching videos, any more than you’re going to get ready to join SF by watching John Wayne slaughter NVA extras in The Green Berets. You have to get out there and do, as this guy, Clint Hawkins, has done. And he’s done everyone a favor in describing some of the errors he made, so that you don’t repeat them on a chemical hot-bluing job. For example:

The slide at first looked like it had gotten caught in a sand pit. Thorough cleaning showed nothing wrong with the surface, although it needed to be polished again. What caused this? Aha! In my haste, I had not cleaned the steel wool. The salts didn’t want the oil but the steel did. Steel wool looks clean, but isn’t. Cutting off a fourth of a pad and rinsing it in about a pint of lacquer thinner gave a pretty brown result. Another rinse in fresh thinner gave clear and we’re good to go.

He also had some troubles with temperatures — both getting the colors indicated on the temperature-color chart, and getting the tank to the required temperature to begin with. But in the end, Clint’s client was delighted with his new-old 1902, Browning’s first locked-breech production pistol. By all means Read The Whole Thing™.