Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Foreign & Obsolete Weapons Training

SF NCOs conduct mechanical training on AK rifles for troops of the Malian Army.

SF NCOs conduct mechanical training on AK rifles for troops of the Malian Army.

When we attended what was then Light Weapons School (then Phase II of a Weapons Man’s SFQC), the stress was on mastering the mechanical operation and employment of foreign and obsolete small arms. Given the environmental changes of the last thirty years, the current course has lots more shooting and teaching-of-shooting (big improvement), lots more base defense and tactics, includes heavy weapons training including weapons that were then-novel and not included in a Heavy Weapons NCO’s training (like ATGMs and MANPADs) and is nearly twice as long. (In 2014, it becomes fully twice as long).

One of the things that’s been cut to make room for the course improvements, is a lot of the foreign and obsolete weapons training. We understand why, but believe that foreign and obsolete weapons training is good for not only SF but also for other members of combat units.

In World War II, paratroopers were taught to manipulate the enemy’s small arms, and that seems like a no-brainer. For SF, who are likely to operate with irregulars armed in part via battlefield recovery, this is obviously important, too.

Foreign weapons mechanical training has the following benefits:

  1. It builds confidence in US weapons, which are equal to or better than their world competitors at this time.
  2. It enables troops to use Allied and enemy weapons should they be required to in combat.
  3. It gives troops a chance to see foreign weapons at all ranges, including up close, and at all angles, increasing their ability to identify foreign equipment from photographic or personal reconnaissance.
  4. It demystifies foreign, especially enemy, forces to see and handle their weaponry.
  5. It is mentally engaging and physically confidence-inspiring.

Mechanical training is good, but to take it to the next level, the combat unit should consider foreign weapons firing training. This requires more instructors, armorer-certified weapons, ranges, and ammunition.

Foreign weapons range firing does all the same things that mechanical training does, and adds benefits to each. For example, attempting to zero and fire an AK for record makes one truly appreciative of the sights and inherent accuracy in the M16 and M4 series of weapons.

Live fire training does additional things besides.

  1. Accustoms the students to the sound of enemy weapons. Most enemy weapons have distinct reports that experienced combat troops learn to recognize. Firing foreign weapons on the range accelerates this learning so that it need not be done under fire and at great risk. Along with the individual sound of gunshots, most auto weapons have distinct rates of fire. This benefit is amplified if the troops can hear the weapon from distinct angles safely, particularly from downrange (i.e., in a target-butt trench).
  2. Accustoms the students to the sight of enemy weapons. (Dust, muzzle flash by day and night, distinct tracer appearance, etc).
  3. Prepares the students much better to fire a battlefield-recovered weapon, should that be necessary.

Obsolete Weapons training has fewer distinct benefits, but is still helpful.

  1. It helps them position current US weapons longitudinally in weapons and technological history.
  2. If enough versions of weapons are available, it can prepare students for an encounter with novel weapons, by giving them a wide range of operating principles and maintenance procedures to consider.
  3. It does help in those environments where obsolete weapons are likely to turn up — a set which includes many war zones. For example, Czech ZB-26 light machine guns, Egyptian “Port Said” copies of the Carl Gustav M45B submachine gun, and long-obsolete Russian DP-series machine guns were widely encountered in the early days in Afghanistan. Long-outdated M1 Carbines still turn up worldwide, as do STEN guns; Syrian rebels found a cache of German MP-44s.
Marine fires a PKM light machine gun in training provided by International Police Supply, a contractor.

Marine fires a PKM light machine gun in training provided by International Police Supply, a contractor.

While the US Army once had the capability to conduct this type of training, it destroyed its in-house capability with multiplying and metastasizing bureaucratic regulations. At one time, to fire a foreign weapon, it needed to be “certified” by a specific office at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The office granted a one-year certification that took over a year for them to issue, so that you needed to have three of any given weapon in order to have one available to shoot regularly. In practice, any gunsmith or armorer with his ordinary tools and a set of headspace gages should be able to pass judgment on the safety of a foreign or obsolete gun.

As a result of the Army’s mismanaging its own capability to provide this sort of instruction, a niche has opened up for contract providers. The problem is, of course, that armed forces units seldom have the budget to engage such a contract provider.

Soon, you can add an Arsenal to your arsenal

Arsenal double 1911 img_1_newsLast year, we covered the interesting Arsenal AF2011 Second Century pistol — essentially, two 1911s Siamesed together into one double-barrel, double-mag, doubly-outrageous gun. It was one of those things we half expected to begin and end with a SHOT Show splash, but an Arsenal release last month says the seemingly-made-for-Hollywood hand cannon is headed for, if not the big screen, the local gun store.

We doubted but we were wrong. And we rejoice in our wrongnitude. We’ll show you some final-assembly images from Arsenal, after Arsenal’s release:

ARSENAL FIREARMS BEGINS WORLDWIDE DELIVERIES

NOVEMBER 18, 2013 08:46 – NEWS
Arsenal Firearms is proud to announce the global deliveries of all its product lines, effective November the 1st, 2013.

Products such as the AF2011-A1 Second Century double barrel pistol, the Strike One and the Legend bolt action rifles started rolling our the Italian manufacturing facility located in Gardone Val Trompia (BS) during the first week of November this year.

Following a troubled European Union legislative change effective in late July and the deriving blockade of gun exports outside the EC, finally the Italian Government has provided a reasonable solution, allowing all Italian gun companies to resume exports outside the European Community by the end of November.

Arsenal Firearms is therefore glad to announce shipments of the AF2011-A1 Second Century double barrel pistol also towards the United States of America, starting early December. The guns will be imported through the US Importer EAA Corporation, Cocoa, Florida.

Arsenal Firearms is also pleased to announce that the Strike One was on delivery since early November to some selected European Union Importers and Dealers, while the gun has obtained Conditional Import status to the US BATFE for the import clearing.

The company wishes to thank all its faithful supporters around the globe for the patience and dedication to all AF fine products: the wait will prove well worth the time.

via Arsenal Firearms begins worldwide deliveries | Arsenal Firearms.

Screenshot 2013-11-30 18.02.10If you want more technical information, you can download the AF2011 manual from here: Instructional-Manual-AF2011.pdf, or direct from Arsenal.  There is a very interesting warning in the manual: “Do not attempt to field-strip your AF2011-A1 Second Century double barrel pistol if you have never disassembled a semiautomatic pistol or a Colt 1911-type pistol before. Please refer to an armourer or experienced shooter-gun owner if in doubt.”  Unfortunately, the sort of person that warning is for, is exactly the sort of person that will ignore that warning.

The manual includes the exploded view to the right, which lets you see how the gun’s parts fit together. It’s mostly a lefty 1911 siamesed to a righty gun, with a few notable exceptions: for example, there are dual triggers, hammers, disconnectors, ejectors, extractors, firing pins and mainsprings — but only one safety mechanism. It’s a dual-barrel gun, but as resolutely monodextrous as the day John Browning saw it was good (and He rested).

Here are some shots of the AF2011 Second Century going together. Handwork, while receivers, barrels and slides stand by to be fitted:

Arsenal double 1911 img_6_news

 

Sometimes it takes a file. We were struck by the hospital-clean workbench:

Arsenal double 1911 img_3_news

 

Precision machinery meets hand fitting. Note that each box holds 10 pistol frames, barrel sets, and slides:

 

Arsenal double 1911 img_4_news

 

 

Here’s another look at hand-fitting.Arsenal double 1911 img_8_news

 

And here’s the end result: Blued and Stainless AF2011 Second Century pistols, ready to ship worldwide. Given the flag on the box, these may just be headed our way.

Arsenal double 1911 img_2_news

 

Now if you were paying attention during the Arsenal press release, and didn’t skip ahead to the cool photos, you noticed they mentioned another pistol, the Strike One.

Ah, but that’s another post.

When is 42 Smaller than 26? When it’s a Glock!

Matt at Jerking the Trigger has an interesting analysis of a Glock teaser:

I went all CSI on the teaser photo and adjusted the brightness and contrast of the image (below). You can see that the entire outline of a pistol is visible and, if it is to scale with the Zippo lighter shown, it would be roughly the size of other compact, polymer frames .380s on the market like the Ruger LCP and S&W Bodyguard.

Here’s Matt’s adjusted image. You could go Read The Whole Thing™ to see the before and after versions, and much more informed specularion (including in the comments).

Glock-G42-Tease-Adjusted

A Glock 42 that’s a .380 would be big news. A Glock that’s a .380-sized 9mm would be even bigger news. “January” is the least surprising time for a new-gun introduction: the 2014 SHOT Show will run from from January 14-17 at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas. In fact, Glock has been letting the community know that the G41 and G42 are coming at the show.

A guy who attended Glock Armorer recert recently posted the following:

I was doing some ordering for the shop this evening, and found that the new models are already in our distributor’s system.

One model will be the Glock 41. SKU numbers are PG4130101 and PG4130103, which indicate adjustable sights, and a low-cap and hi-cap version. The Glock 41 is more expensive than any of Glock’s other pistols to date; based on the wholesale cost I’m seeing, street price will be $779.95 at my shop. Given that, my official guess is that the new Glock Model 41 is going to be an optics-ready, competition-oriented pistol to compete with the S&W M&P CORE and FNH-USA FNX-45 Tactical.

The other model will be the Glock 42. SKU number is UI4250201, which indicates US-made, fixed sights and a low-capacity (10 or less) magazine. Wholesale price on this is only slightly above the Gen3 models, so street price should be $539.95. I think this is a new single stack .380 or 9mm of some sort.

For those of you not retail-savvy. SKU or “stock keeping unit” is the basic unit of inventory in modern retail informatics. It means the item in its box as will be delivered to a retail customer. What this guy has done is parse the Glock SKUs, comparing them to existing models’ numbers.

Downthread in the same discussion, someone has this alleged data pull:

GLOCK UI4250201 GLOCK 42FS 380ACP 3.26″ FS 764503910616 0 $352.00 $399.00

And one retailer already has this up, although without a picture.

GLOCK 41 GEN 4 45ACP 5.3 AS 13RD GLOCK PG4130103  $645.00 $774.99

 

Glock has been hinting at a competition-ready pistol for some time. If they’ve been hinting at a compact carry Glock, we haven’t seen the hints, but the customers have been bellowing their desire for such for many years now.

If the price of $399 retail and ~$350 street is remotely correct, a number of pocket pistol manufacturers just got a jolt of ice water to the heart.

ATF blows up some guns

kaboom3D printed guns. Well, they blow some up, and they try to blow others up. These four films (one is “above the fold,” and three more are visible if you click the “more” button)  are the product, we read with some alarm, of an interagency group led by ATF reacting to the “threat” of 3D weaponry. Few things could be more chilling to future technology that government agents looking to ban or criminalize it. On the other hand, the Powers That Be tried to ban those noisy, stinky motorcars (or impose “common sense measures” like having a guy walking ahead with a red flag) and became technological roadkill; many 3DP adherents, like Cody Wilson, think that the technology simply can’t be banned — it’s too widespread, too distributed, and too useful. We’re more inclined to see this technological development as orthogonal to the law: the law will treat a 3D printed firearm or firearm part no differently than one cast from ingots, milled from a forging, or sawn from bar stock.

ATF’s statement with the videos does not go into any detail, and does not in itself justify either complacency or alarm. The bureau says, verbatim:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) led a multi-agency working group testing the use of 3-D printing technology in the making of firearms. This test focuses on the Liberator design.

The first is made of VisiJet material, which is the stuff that kids’ Invisalign braces are made from. As you might surmise, material capable of providing slow steady pressure to Junior’s jaws is less suited to containing a .380 ACP shell. So, here’s the Kaboom:

The catastrophic failure of the gun is evident. The barrel shatters, with at least one short length of it seeming to share off along what was probably a manufacturing faultline. The burst casing flies up, spinning; the nail-sourced firing pin dances in a cloud of plastic fragments. It is evident that this material is not something you are well advised to load a cartridge into and put in your hand.

The kB! gun is numbered 4 with a I with subscript X. The meaning of these numbers is unknown. The other printed guns in ATF’s released videos were printed of ABS plastic and numbered 2 and 10.

Continue reading

Julia Auction Nets $18M, Bighorn carbine alone $126k

Julia-auction-Trapdoor_BigHorn_0Now that’s a big firearms auction. We showed you guys an authenticated Battle of the Little Bighorn Springfield trapdoor carbine before the auction (and note, we may have said it was in .45-70, we think it was actually in .45-55 caliber). And it sold at the auction for $126,500. That was right in the middle of the range Julia estimated. While auction estimates are often lowballs, intended to encourage bidding, the best pieces in this auction came in within, or very close to, the estimated range — either James D. Julia’s estimates are better than average, or the market is a bit soft.

If you call a market where many exotic collector pieces find new collections at five- and six-figure prices soft.

The entire 3 days of the auction was predominantly high valued items. In fact, this auction is believed to have had the greatest number of high valued firearms; over 523 items generated $10,000 or more. 167 items generated $25,000 or more and approximately 50 items generated $50,000 or more and 9 items generated over $100,000 or more.

The overall sum achieved on the auction is staggering, but not a record… Julia set that, they tell us, with a prior auction that also sold over $18 million. But some of the unsold lots are still being bought, and yesterday the company was saying they’d grossed $17 million, so this one may yet go over the top. In addition to the Julia sales, there was a prior sale of some lots which billed an additional $3 million, so the total for this sale, which included much of Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess’s incomparable Luger collection, is over $21 million.

If you’d like to push it a tad higher, the unsold lots on which you can still make an offer are here. These are all advanced collector pieces: lever action rifles, factory engraved classics, antiques including Civil War and Federal Period muskets, and some of the Sturgess Lugers, Broomhandles and other exotica.

What to shoot when there’s nothing to shoot

The ammo box is empty again! Oh noes!

The ammo box is empty again! Oh noes!

Ammunition is coming back into stock, even popular calibers that were hard to find like 9mm and 5.56. The last one to recover is the fundamental .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge, but there’s starting to be stock again. What’s got people still feeling like there’s no stock, is that prices remain elevated. For example, .22LR is back in stock, but according to Gun-Deals.com’s bargain aggregator, it’s nowhere near pre-crisis prices. It will vary depending on when you click that link, and where you live (you need to enter a ZIP to get shipping estimates), but for us prices for available ammo ranged from roughly 15¢ per round to well over 50¢ delivered. And some of the low prices required commitment to high quantities of ammo.

Any Econ 101 student could tell you that the high prices are a marker of elevated demand relative to supply. Yet it’s not that busy at the range. Everyone is still stocking more than shooting, we think. There’s still a palpable fear of other shortages, which may be partly paranoia, but it’s also in part the consequence of our shared 2012-13 experience. It’s reasonable to assume that, given some future crisis or new attack on the 2nd Amendment by hostile politicians, ammo supplies may completely dry up again.

A lot of shell-shocked (or maybe it’s lack-of-shells-shocked) or sticker-shocked shooters have just given up. You know we’re not going to recommend that. So what’s the action plan to allow one to continue training when ammo supplies are tight? We have five things for you to think about.

Step I: Recalibrate your Assumptions

Previously, survivalists and high-volume ammo consumers assumed that some ammo would get tight, but that hunting rounds (.22 LR, common centerfire non-military rifle rounds like .30-30, and 12 and 20 gauge shotgun) would remain common, and that ammo produced in large quantities for the military would remain available. The Crunch of 13 shows that’s not the case. You gotta bring your own date to this dance.

That means that the guys stocking up are acting rationally. Just like you should have six months’ wages in the bank (or otherwise set aside) for unexpected contingencies, you should have six months’ ammunition. Indeed, a far-sighted stockpiler might want to bridge the four or eight years of a hostile administration. This is true even if you don’t  consider yourself a prepper — just a shooter. Ask yourself, Am I shooting less? If the answer is “yes,” and for most shooters it is, you need to get the max training benefit from the reduced training time you’re actually getting. The tendency here is to plan around the training time you wish you were getting; be alert for that error and resist it.

Step II: Plan to Rotate Stock

This IS our war stock. What?

This IS our war stock. What?

More people than ever before are keeping large supplies of ammunition on hand. But the guys who have done this all along do something you don’t do: consciously rotate stock. Most shooters I know work on a sort of LIFO logistics: “last in, first out” and when they go out to shoot, take the ammo off the top of the stack — which is usually the most recently purchased. The problem with this is that the contingency ammo further down the stack never gets used. Until it’s really needed.

Now this shouldn’t be a really serious problem, because ammo should last for decades. (Indeed, shells and cartridges that turn up after a century have still been live). And you should store it so that it’s never degraded in any way. But you might not want to count on it.

There is an exception: if you are in a situation where newer ammunition is degraded in quality, you might want to retain pre-crisis ammunition for defensive and other high-priority uses, and blow off the low-qual stuff in training. But generally, you want to run FIFO (first-in, first-out) logistics on your ammo stockpile.

Step III: Obvious Substitutes

There are many substitutes for shooting, some of which are cheap, easy and low-tech.

  • Dry firing is one excellent example. There are many variations of dry firing, including penny drills (balance a penny on the front sight whilst firing for follow-through and flinch control); pencil drills; ball-and-dummy reload drills. There are entire books of dry-fire drills. You will be better at shooting if you follow the procedures in one of these.
  • Air- and bb-guns are a natural substitute that has several benefits. These can be especially good when you’re doing early stages of team tactical training; back in the bad old days when we did HR/CT/CQB and generally cleared buildings with handguns, it was SOP to run the drill first with Crosman or Daisy CO2 pistols. They’re cheap, less likely than even .22s to be subject to shortages or cutoffs, and require very little in the way of protective gear. For rifles, a simple .177 gas-spring single shot gives you a lifetime of shooting for short money; here are a few recommendations from a survivalist blog.  In our experience, airguns styled to look like firearms are less good as guns, meaning less accurate and powerful, than airguns where form follows function.

Here’s a Defense Review video on SIRT pistols and their AR bolt. It was taken in the susurrus of the SHOT show so there’s a mountain of background noise, but it shows you some pros of the SIRT products:

We haven’t tried to use a SIRT with a LaserLyte target. That might be interesting, although it would be nice to see NLT develop a bespoke target for their products.

Step IV: Less Obvious Substitutes

Less obvious substitutes include:

  • Wax bullets, which can be used in pistols and rifles (manually cycling the action) or, where they really shine, revolvers (this gives a new lease on life to those cheap .32 Police Positives cluttering up gun stores). Downsides: you need some minimalist reloading gear and a supply of primers, which in the past year has been as constrained as ammo, and — here is a big one — you need to modify the cases you use with wax bullets in a way that renders them unsafe for live reloading. If you can live with that, especially if you have a centerfire revolver you can use with wax bullets, there’s a number of how-tos like this one out there. We’d want a more positive way of ID’ing the modified casings, is all.
  • Archery, which while it trains different eye-hand specifics, employs very similar brain circuitry to the mind-wiring shooting uses. It requires the same purity of focus, ability to read wind, and mental (often unconscious) time/speed/distance calculations. Archery is inexpensive, has especially low recurring costs, and is deep: you can get as involved in it as you like, or simply fire field points at a bale of straw for a couple of hours. Humans have used bows for at least 8,000 years, and sensibly used, they’re extremely safe; so much that the Boy Scouts permit even Tiger Cubs (the youngest Scouts) to use bows under supervision.
  • Airsoft, which allows mechanical training to a point, and marksmanship training to a point. One of the most excellent uses of airsoft we have seen was by a clandestine cell in an area where firearms possession itself was a serious (i.e. not quite capital) offense. The cell only had a small quantity of firearms. All cell members trained with airsoft replicas of the handguns that were cached “against the day.” That meant that, had the cell been tasked to shoot someone, the actual pistol could be retrieved and handed over to someone who had a good chance of accomplishing his or her mission, even though he or she never even saw a real gun before. This is part of why totalitarian governments tend to ban imitation firearms some time after they ban actual ones.
  • Computer (and computerized) Simulators. This is a field in which computer simulation has received unconstrained funding, made great boasts and shown great promise, but has yet to produce even a single-purpose target simulator that provides measurable skills transference to actual firearms. Simulation can be useful in use-of-force and engagement dynamics training, but most such simulators are out of the reach of a small club, department, or individual.

Things like Simunitions are useful to military units conducting crawl/walk/run training, but are not a reasonable substitute for live-ammo training. Likewise, blanks have very limited utility (for force-on-force training, or for live-and-blank variations of ball-and-dummy drill).

Step V: There’s Still No Substitute

In the end, there’s no substitute for getting out there and shooting. So what you can do, in times of restricted resources:

  • Make every shot count. Don’t just plink or burn ammunition. Have a purpose for every magazine and every round, and evaluate how you’re doing. It’s just as much fun to shoot if you have a reason for doing it, and know what the reason is. Plus, you will be able to see improvement in your shooting, which is pleasant in itself.
  • Increase your focus, concentration and deliberation. This is a subset of the above, of course.
  • Plan each range session before leaving home or office, and shoot to the plan. Only the government can end every range trip with a full-auto, hip-fired SPENDEX. On the other hand, maybe you want to develop hip-shooting skills. Well, make a plan for it. And make the plan at the desk or loading bench, not onsite. Then you’ll never launch a bullet you haven’t already imagined launching (and hitting the target with).
  • Substitute cheaper (but safe) ammo. Do not go to no-name reloads or third-world surplus. (If it’s a financial stretch to buy ammo, it’d really stink to have to replace a kB!’d gun). We’re also hostile to steel-cased ammo; maybe in a junk gun. Constrained availability of popular calibers might be God’s way of telling you it’s a good time to practice a little using the guns and calibers you seldom shoot. Last year, when we couldn’t get 7.62 x 51, we were able to get some soft-point 7mm hunting rounds and have some fun with a wall-hanger FN49.
  • One gun at a time per range session. Having dissimilar weapons divides your concentration and means some percentage of your ammo expenditure is wasted. (There are some obvious exceptions: if you duty-carry a Glock 22 and off-duty a 27, they’re close enough). If you must shoot dissimilar guns on the same day (maybe your range is a long drive or hard to schedule), take a non-shooting break to clear your mind and your muscle memory in-between, say, the pistol and rifle sessions — and accept that you’re not going to get 100% of your potential training benefit.
  • Stop shooting when you stop improving. If you seldom go to the range, you may be tempted to stay longer each time. Don’t do it. A good session is 45 minutes to an hour. Don’t burn out.

Finally, all these recommendations are enhanced by having a coach, instructor or buddy to help you see the things you’re overlooking. The guy doesn’t need to be a champ; just someone reasonably knowledgable and, well, not you. 

Summing Up

Just cause ammo’s hard to come by, or expensive, is no reason to let your perishable (or at least, degradable) shooting skills atrophy. There are cheap and available alternatives.

The most cost-effective ones for a heavy shooter are the ones that have no variable costs. Consider that the SIRT Pro pistol seems expensive at $350. But… if you normally practice at, say, 200 rounds / week, at the best price of 9mm these days being around 30¢ a round with shipping (let’s use another deal-finder for this one, gunbot 9mm deals), you’re spending $60 a week on proficiency. So this is six week’s proficiency ammo.

But that’s probably not what’s going to happen, complete substitution of live-fire training with laser training. If you replaced half of your life ammo with SIRT training, the break-even on the training pistol is three months. But even that’s probably not going to happen: instead, you’re almost certain to continue shooting the same amount, eat the cost of the training device, and practice more when the dry-firing with the practice pistol is considered… your scores should improve markedly, as will your self-confidence.

The most cost-effective of all, of course, is plain old dry fire, which achieves much of what dry-fire with a SIRT unit does, and does it with fixed and variable costs of $0 each. All that stands between you and better marksmanship is a dry-fire program and a little self-discipline.

What’s so special about John Moses Browning?

Himself.

Himself.

If you take that question the wrong way, you’re thinking who is this bozo to diss Saint JMB? But we’re not putting the emphasis on the JMB side of the sentence, but the What’s so special? end. As in: we really want to know. Why is this guy head and shoulders above the other great designers of weapons history? What made him tick? What made him that way?

Browning was not a degreed engineer, but he is, to date, the greatest firearms designer who has ever lived.  Consider this: had Browning done nothing but the 1911, he’d have a place in the top rank of gun designers, ever. But that’s not all he did, by any means. If he had done nothing but the M1917 and M1919 machine guns, he’d have a place in the top ranks of designers. If he’d done nothing but the M2HB, a gun which will still be in widespread infantry service a century after its introduction, and its .50 siblings, he’d be hailed as a genius. One runs out of superlatives describing Browning’s career, with at least 80 firearms designed, almost 150 patents granted, and literally three-quarters of US sporting arms production in the year 1900 being Browning designs – before his successes with automatic guns.

He did all that and he was just getting warmed up. He didn’t live to see World War II, but if he had, he’d have seen Browning designs serving every power on both sides of the war. If an American went to war in a rifle platoon, a Sherman tank, a P-39 or P-51 or B-17, he and his unit were gunned-up by Browning. If he made it home to go hunting the season after V-J day, there were long odds that he carried a Browning-designed rifle of shotgun, even if the name on it was Remington or Winchester. Browning’s versatility was legendary: he designed .25 caliber (6.35mm) pocket pistols and 37mm aircraft and AA cannon, and literally everything in between. He frequently designed the gun and the cartridge it fired.

A lot of geniuses have designed a lot of really great guns since some enterprising Chinese fellow whose name is lost to history discovered that gunpowder and a tube closed at one end sure beats the human hand when it comes to throwing things at one’s enemies.  But nobody comes close to Browning’s level of achievement; nobody matches him in versatility.

So why him? As we put it, what’s so special? 

We think Browning’s incredible primacy resulted from several things, apart from his own innate talent and work ethic (both of which were prodigious). Those things are:

  1. He was born to the trade
  2. He was prolific: his output was prodigious
  3. He was a master of the toolroom
  4. He lived at just the right time
  5. He could inspire and lead others

Born to the Trade

John M’s father, Jonathan Browning, was, himself, a gunsmith, designer and inventor. He made his first rifle at age 13, and despite being an apprentice blacksmith, became a specialist in guns by the time he was an adult. From 1824 he had his own gunshop and smithy in Brushy Fork, Tennessee, and later would move to Illinois (Where he befriended a country lawyer named Lincoln). He joined the Mormons in Illinois and fled with them to Utah, making guns at each way station of the Mormon flight.

Jonathan Browning Revolving Repeater

Jonathan Browning Cylinder Repeater. Image from a great article on Jonathan Browning by William C. Montgomery.

Very few of Jonathan’s rifles are known to have survived, but he made two percussion repeating rifles that were, then (1820s-1842), on the cutting edge of technology. The Slide Bar Repeating Rifle  was Jonathan’s term for what is more widely called a Harmonica Gun. The gun has a slot into which a steel Slide Bar is fitted. The slide bar had, normally, five chambers; after firing a shot, the user cocked the hammer and moved the Slide Bar to the side to move the empty chamber out from under the hammer, and a loaded chamber into place. When all five chambers had been discharged, the Slide Bar was removed, and each chamber loaded from the muzzle and reprimed with a percussion cap. Jonathan Browning’s gun differed from most in that it had an underhammer, and that an action lever cammed the Slide Bar hard against the barrel to make a gas seal. He also made a larger Slide Bar available — one with 25 chambers, arguably the first high-capacity magazine.

The second Browning innovation was the Cylinder Repeating rifle. This was a revolver rifle, with the cylinder rotated by hand between shots. Like the Slide Bar gun, the cylinder was cammed against the barrel to achieve a gas seal — the parts were designed to mate in the manner of nested cones.

Young John M. Browning. From the Browning Collectors web page.

Young John M. Browning. From the Browning Collectors web page.

The designer of those mid-19th-Century attempts to harness firepower sired many children; like other early Mormons, he was a polygamist, and his three wives would bear him 22 children. From age six one of them apprenticed himself, as it were, to his father. Within a year he’d built his own first rifle. This son was, of course, John Moses Browning.

(Aside: the last gun made by Jonathan Browning was an example of his son’s 1878 single-shot high-powered rifle design, which would be produced in quantity by Winchester starting in 1883).

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to become an expert — that’s roughly five years of fulltime labor. JMB had exceeded this point before puberty.

If you aspire to breaking Browning’s records as a gun designer, you need to acknowledge that, unless you started from childhood, you’re starting out behind already.

Prolific Output

Browning worked on pistols, rifles, and machine guns. He worked on single-shot, lever, slide, and semi-automatic actions, and his semi-autos included gas-operated, recoil-operated, direct-blowback, and several types of locking mechanism. Exactly how many designs he did may not have been calculated anywhere: it’s known he designed 44 rifles and 13 shotguns for Winchester alone, a large number of which were not produced, and some of which may not have been made even as prototypes or models.

His military weapons included light and heavy infantry machine guns, aerial machineguns for fixed and flexible installations, and several iterations of the 37mm aircraft and anti-aircraft cannon, the last of which, the M9, would fire a 1-lb-plus armor-piercing shell at 3000 feet per second; an airplane was designed around it (the P39 Airacobra, marginal in US service but well-used, and well-loved, by the Soviets who received many via lend-lease). All the machine guns used by the US from squad on up in WWII and Korea were Browning designs. But these were only his most successful designs; there were others. At his peak, he may have been producing new designs at a rate of one a week. 

If you want to to be the next John Browning, you need to start designing now, and keep improving your designs and designing new ones until the day you die. (Browning died in his office in Belgium).

Master of the Toolroom

The Browning workshop, back in the day.

The Browning workshop, back in the day.

From an early age, John learned to cut, form and shape steel. This is something common to most of the gunsmiths and designers of the early and mid-20th Century — if you remember our recent feature on John Garand, the photo showed him not a a drawing board by at a milling machine.

Browning could not only design and test his own prototypes — he could also design and improve the machinery on which they’d be produced, a necessary task for the designer in his day. Nowadays, such production development is the milieu of specialized production engineers, who have more classroom training, and probably less shop-floor savvy, than Browning brought to the task.

A reproduction of Browning's workshop in the Browning Museum in Ogden, UT.

A reproduction of Browning’s workshop in the Browning Museum in Ogden, UT. (From this guy’s tour post).

In Browning’s day, processes were a little closer to hand-tooled prototype work, but it still required different kinds of savvy and modes of thinking .

If you want to be Browning, you have to master production processes, for prototypes and in series manufacturing, from the hands-on as well as the drawing-board angle. There may never again be a designer like that.

Living and Timing

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle.

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle.

John M Browning lived in just the right time: he was there at the early days of cartridge arms, when even basic principles hadn’t yet been settled and the possibilities of design were wide-open and unconstrained by prior art and customer expectation. No army worldwide, and no hunter or policeman, really had a satisfactory semi-auto or automatic weapon yet (except for the excellent Maxim)

It’s much easier to push your design into an unfulfilled requirement than it is to displace something a customer is already more or less comfortable with.

If you’re going to retire some of John M. Browning’s records, you’re going to need the right conditions and a few lucky breaks — just like he had.

Inspiration and Leadership

To read the comments of other Browning associates of the period is to see the wake of a man who was remarkable for far more than his raw genius. Browning was admired and respected, to be sure, but he was also liked. At FN in Belgium, the gunsmiths called him le maître, “the master,” and took pleasure in learning from him.

M Saive at the drawing board. Image: FN Herstal.

M Saive at the drawing board. Image: FN Herstal.

His Belgian protégé, M. Dieudonne Saive, went on to be a designer of some note himself. While he did not achieve Browning’s range of designs, he, too, is in the top rank for his work finalizing the High-Power pistol (also known as the GP or HP-35) that Browning began, and for his own SAFN-49 and FAL rifle designs, and MAG machine-gun, all of which owed something to Browning’s work as well as Saive’s own.

If you want to be the next John Moses Browning, you have to know when to step back, and how to share the burden — and the credit.

Caracal Recall — the Pakistani Nexus

Fayyaz Hashmi's mishap Caracal. Note the bisected slide. His facial and cranial injuries were caused by the rear half of the slide.

Fayyaz Hashmi’s mishap Caracal. Note the bisected slide. His facial and cranial injuries were caused by the rear half of the slide (at 2 o’clock in the picture).

One of the things we’ve learned from this blog is that every country has some kind of a gun culture. It may be restricted to a political elite, a wealthy minority, or an oppressed underground, but it’s there. And thanks to the fact that the gun culture of Pakistan is expressed in the international language, English (one of several national languages there), we’ve learnt about the incident that caused the Model C recall to go from select slide batches to every-damn-gun.

Pakistan’s gun culture expresses itself, in part, on the membership forum PakGuns.com. And here one of the earliest Model C failures (which happened to a forum member’s brother in November, 2012) was discussed some time ago… and the most recent happened to a forum member named Fayyaz Hashmi, an attorney.

Dear Pak Guns members & Mr.Abbas
I am a lawyer by profession & gun enthusiast.I bought caracal C last week and tried to shoot first time & almost got killed.my fourth shot resulted in breaking the barrel & hitting me in the head and below the eye.I was unconscious for a while & then woke up with big injuries.I did some research & found out this forum is also presenting victims of Caracal C .
please guide me,how to create a blog on this web site to share the pic’s of broken C & my injuries.
Syed Fayyaz Hashmi
Advocate High court lahore

(Mr Abbas is an owner or moderator of the PakGuns forum). Hashmi soon posted a photographic series of pictures of his own injuries as well as the broken Caracal (the broken Model C at the top of this post is his).

Fayyaz Hashmi 01

By September 9th a senior manager at Caracal named Samir had registered on the forum and posted a reply to Hashmi:

@Mr. Hashmi, my name is Samir and I am a Senior Manager at Caracal. We are very concerned to hear of your experience and we would like to have the chance to discuss this with you further. Would you kindly please email us on recall@caracal.ae and share with us your contact information (such as a telephone number) so that we can call you at your convenience? A dedicated phone number will be up and running by no later than Sunday 15th September for all of our international customers and we will be updating you with that information as quickly as possible.

We take safety and security very seriously at Caracal. If there are any other Pakguns.com users who own Caracal products who have any concerns or who would also like to speak to us in general, please do email us on the above address with your contact details, and we will be in touch with you as so well.

The phone number reference is because Caracal’s Pakistani customers expressed rather bitterly that the company’s recall notices have published a customer service number for United States owners (which appears to ring at the importer), but to date, none for international customers.

Later in the thread, in response to reported claims by a Caracal official that they had been unable to contact Hashmi, Hashmi replied:

I am Fayyaz Hashmi and I declare under oath that I have sent the following email to Caracal on September 8th:

Dear Sir,
I am Sayed Fayyaz Hussain Hashmi from Lahore Pakistan.I have recently purchased a caracal C and with my test of the gun,the barrel blew up and made me unconcious for a while to woke up with bad injuries. I barely scaped death.
I am a lawyer by profession and have very busy practice, Now I am in lot of pain and when my team has searched on the net,We found out that the Caracal C is subject to Re-call.
I didn’t understand at the moment why it’s still being sold in the market.Any how I just wanted to inform you about this.
My legal team has also searched and found that there are more then few victoms,which you have left in Pakistan.
I hereby request you to stop selling this deadly weapon in pakistan and stop the people from using it who have bought this.
I hope that you will listen to my plea before I take all of you to the court for your day of judgment.
Check these pic’s and see what they have done to me. I promise you, I will not spare any one including the Government of UAE and your rulers who let you out to kill the people with these deadly weapons.

Regards

Syed Fayyaz hussain Hashmi

And today on 13th September even after 5 days I didn’t receive any email reply from Caracal.

He went on to reach some conclusions about Caracal managers in general. (We have to note that we have found Pakistan to be the world’s most fertile ground for conspiracy theories of all kinds, and there is little love lost between Pakistanis and the gulf Arabs in general).

One forum member suggested a hacking attack on the company’s network, but he was rapidly corrected by site moderators, who seem to be a moderate (no pun intended), sensible bunch.

Other forum members mutter darkly that if this accident had happened in the USA, there’d be a much bigger stink over it. After all, it’s happened in Pakistan twice.

Pakistan Accident I: 16 November, 2012

The Khan Brothers' accident Caracal C. Note identical slide points of failure. (Mag is inserted backwards by a farm hand for the photo).

The Khan Brothers’ accident Caracal C. Note identical slide points of failure. (Mag is inserted backwards by a farm hand for the photo).

The November, 2012 accident left remarkably similar injuries, and the gun displayed a remarkably similar failure mode:

On November 16th 2012 my brother wanted to accompany me to my farm (about an hour and half from city) and test the weapon out for himself since I had been raving about it.
I handed my brother the weapon, he fired the first round without any hiccups, I was looking downrange when my brother fired the second round. To my horror right after he fired the round he fell to the ground in a heap. I ran over to him and turned him over. His face was completely covered in blood. I could make out a hole on top of his eye and blood pouring out of it. For a moment I was paralyzed with fear, thinking the worst, that the projectile had entered his skull. I could only think of his 2 children at the moment in shock. Thankfully in about 10 seconds he started to respond screaming he could not see, I picked him up and took him to the car and started driving back towards the city. In about 5 mins he got his vision back but was still bleeding. The closest hospital was 1 hour away and this drive was one of the most testing times of my life. I had called back to the farm and one of my workers told me the slide had broken in 2 but I was still not sure if anything was lodged inside my brothers skull.
After the tortures drive I got to the hospital and got an X-ray done. I was too scared to look at it myself, legs shaking in terror. I just handed it to the doctor to let him give me the news. To my relief it was a flesh wound and nothing was lodged inside his skull.
My brother received 8 stitches and had a severe concussion not to mention a permanent scar on his face. Luckily he fully recovered, if the slide had hit him an inch below he would have lost an eye.
After the incident I emailed Caracal, explaining to them of this incident but got no reply. I wanted to confirm with them if this was a quality control issue or a design fault inherent in all their weapons.
I have attached pictures of the handgun after I came back the next day and recovered the weapon from where it had fallen. The slide was completely sheared in 2. I had inspected the weapon a day before and it did not even show a slight sign of any wear and tear.

Closer view of the Khan Caracal frame and slide.

Closer view of the Khan Caracal frame and slide.

The forum-member Khan brother, whose pistol it was, was very upset by the injuries to his brother: “I have also gone over the incident multiple times in my head, trying to figure out if I could have prevented this catastrophic incident but I always come up short”.

To us it’s remarkable that the failures came in Pakistan, where the gun culture, while vibrant, is limited by the country’s strict gun laws, the always-shaky security situation, and the relative poverty of the nation. (Per capita GDP income figures understate the poverty of most Pakistanis; they’re pushed up by the high productivity and earnings of a wealthy minority, and that small minority are the only Pakistanis who are well-off enough to participate in the gun culture). It seems likely more Model Cs have been sold here in the USA than in Pakistan; why do we know of two kB!s in Pakistan and none here?

Could it be the Ammo?

We don’t know what kind of ammo Mr Hashmi was using (except that it was brass-cased). We do know that Chinese-made ammo is widely distributed in Pakistan, and that the Khan gun was loaded with cheap Chinese 155 grain FMJ. What Chinese factories can make in impressive high quality, we know from experience with consumer goods of all kinds, other Chinese factories can counterfeit, adulterate, and otherwise screw up for a couple renminbi more.

So it’s possible that it’s the ammo. Arguing against this point is the condition of the Khan and Hashmi guns. The slide appears to be cleanly broken in the same place on both pistols — from the left rear corner of the ejection port more or less straight down to the frame rail, and from near the right forward corner of the port more or less straight down to the frame rail. The rear half of the slide in both cases struck the shooter above the eye.

Also against it being ammo: the case from Mr Hashmi’s gun appears intact. The barrel in both guns is intact. The grip does not apppear to be split open. In the typical large-caliber Glock kB!, caused by the bad alignment of the large area dished out of the Glock’s chamber for the feed ramp and (in most cases) reloads, the case is split, the barrel is split, the grip is burst asunder. There are plenty of pictures on the kB! pages at The Gun Zone, and you can see similar mishaps to other guns as well.

The bottom line is that Caracal has recalled the entire production run of these firearms. Surely the two incidents in Pakistan, both of which left the shooter concussed and bleeding but fortunately not more seriously wounded, factored in to that decision.

Update:

This post was (lightly) edited on 16 Sep 13. Specifically, a link was inserted to the Gun Zone in the penultimate original paragraph. It should have been there from the beginning. We regret the error. -- Eds.

A short history of toggle locking

In the early days of semi- and automatic weapons, one very common locking mechanism was a toggle lock. This lock works like a human knee joint: it would bend freely once bent, but when “straight” it was over-center and pressure on the “bolt face” (or sole of the foot) just locked it more firmly. This somewhat kitschy video does show the classic form of toggle-locking, the Pistole 08 Parabellum, known to generations as the Luger after its designer.

 

John Browning's gas-operated, toggle-locked pistol of 1895. Was it ever built?

John Browning’s gas-operated, toggle-locked pistol of 1895. Was it ever built?

A knee bends on the volition of its owner; a gun toggle-joint when recoil cams the “knee” up or down, away from its over-center, locked position. All successful toggle-locked systems have been recoil-operated, although as far back as 1895 John Browning proposed a gas-operated variant, complete with a pistol design and a gas tap much like that of the Colt “potato digger” machine gun, connected directly to a locking toggle. He received a patent on this dead-end design in 1897.

Military arms enthusiasts usually ascribe this design to Maxim, who used a long-recoil variant; and note that Borchardt and Luger made it compact and portable (theirs is a short-recoil variant). And it is true that Maxim’s machine guns used the toggle before any other automatic weapon.

Maxim lock (toggle's off screen left) and feed

Maxim lock (toggle’s off screen left) and feed mechanism.

Maxim’s fiendishly complex lockwork (later simplified by many improvers, inlcuding Maxim himself) had to withdraw a (rimmed) cartridge from a cloth or metal belt, position the cartridge, ram it into the chamber, lock, fire the cartridge, unlock, extract the spent cartridge, and eject it. And it had to do all this off the recoil impulse of a rifle-caliber cartridge. That’s a lot of things to do and it’s not surprising that the first designers to do it didn’t achieve optimum simplicity.

The toggle lock wasn’t simple, but it was two things more important in a fledgling MG design: safe and reliable. But Maxim wasn’t the first to use the toggle lock by any means.

The toggle lock was a standard mechanism known to all mechanical engineering graduates in the mid to late 19th Century. It found its way into small machinery like machine tools, and large machinery like steam engines and movable bridges. It was used in a number of iconic guns of the period, including the Henry rifle and the Winchester ’66 and ’73. (The Henry/Winchester version was prone to toggle pin deformation from fatigue or overload; in the Winchester 1886 a new version, the Winchester 1886, basically solved this problem for itself and Winchesters going forward. The ’86 was designed by John M. Browning).

Winchester '73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester).

Winchester ’73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester). Click to embiggen a little. Didn’t know it was a Luger’s cousin, did ya?

Indeed, the earlier Henry/Winchester toggle lock came over more or less intact from the then-radical Volcanic lever-action repeating pistol and rifle, which used a unique cartridgeless projectile that carried its powder inside the bullet skirt. The rimfire of the Henry and centerfire cartridges of the Winchester were considerably more advanced and practical than the Volcanic’s self-contained rounds, but the mechanism was adequate until it became necessary to make lever guns in stronger calibers and for smokeless powder, both of which brought higher chamber pressures.

toggle

George Luger’s rifle toggle-lock patent. The mechanical setup and mechanical advantage of the recoil spring are changed but it’s otherwise very close to the pistol.

Toggle locks spread from lever-actions to the above-mentioned Borchardt and Luger pistols. Luger also designed a rifle based on a toggle lock very similar to the P.08 and other Luger pistols’, but it was never accepted. The almost-last hurrah of the toggle lock, if we discount Maxims and Vickers guns which served well into the last quarter of the 20th Century, was the Pedersen rifle made for US Army trials in the experimental .276 Pedersen caliber. Guns.com has a little bit on the Luger and Pedersen rifles, and they’re riffing off this post over at Forgotten Weapons, which includes a link to a Luger patent for the rifle. FW also has plenty on the Pedersen and even a feature on a Japanese copy of the Pedersen.

Almost last? Yes. The toggle lock came back with the Kriss submachine gun/SBR in the last few years. Workable technology never dies, it just falls out of fashion until somebody figures out a new way to exploit it.

Remember, for about 80 years they thought the Gatling gun was dead. But that’s another story.

What’s with all the plastic pistol recalls?

They’re dropping like flies out there, voluntary recalls:

M&P ShieldS&W M&P Shield: The entire production run of all variants is subject to a potential recall. Smith advises that the problem is likely to be restricted to recent guns, but they’re trying to reach all Shield owners to be certain any unsafe guns are identified and fixed. Problem guns have an issue where the trigger bar bin damages the lower trigger; the weapon will not discharge uncommanded in the operator’s hand, but can fire if dropped, as this damage disables the gun’s drop safety. An operator inspection can determine whether the weapon must be returned to S&W for repair. Smith pledges to turn the gun around in five to seven business days.

Springfield XD-SSpringfield XD-S 3.3 in 9mm and .45: it appears that all production to date of this specific version was recalled August 28, 2013 for a risk of uncommended discharge during loaded, or double-firing on a trigger pull.

The double-fire has indeed happened in the wild. A poster on the XDTalk forum reported last week:

I bought a XD-s 45 New back in July. Ran 100 rounds through it to break it in and had no issues. As I prepare to move from Summer to Winter carry I figured I would break it in with another 100 rounds before it was blessed to carry.

While at the range last week, before I knew about the recall, I was into maybe another three magazines when it rapid fired two in a row. The range officer came over because they don’t allow rapid fire where I go and asked me what was wrong with the gun. He knows me well enough to know I did not do it on purpose.

I honestly thought maybe it was me. Maybe I had not had a solid grip and had some type of trigger slide fire type of thing happen. I went ahead and tried another magazine and it happened again. Two shots with one trigger pull. I did not keep the targets, but one shot was dead on and the other was maybe a 1/2″ above the first.

Now all this was random and not repeatable in any way that I could tell, but I left thinking it was me and that I would have to do research on grip, trigger control and so on. Before I got to do that I read about the recall notice.

Springfield’s recall applies only to 3.3 XD-S 9mm pistols with serial numbers between XS900000 and XS938700 and 3.3 XD-S .45ACP pistols with serial numbers between XS500000 and XS686300. If they filled that entire range, which they almost certainly didn’t, the recall encompasses exactly 225,000 firearms. Springfield will send you a label, fix the gun by installing unspecified new parts, and send it back. More information is at this special website.

The unspecified nature of the parts has some Springfield owners nervous, but the company has been extremely secretive about the recall. Rumors say the parts include trigger, disconnector and grip safety.

Good luck calling the number on the recall website… some owners got through, but most got nothing.

The turn-around time is causing some heartburn as well. With thousands of guns in play, the time that some Springfield employees claimed, “2 weeks turnaround”, is not being met. Now Sporingfield is saying there’s a 30-day turnaround. Some customers find it takes a week or two for their gun to start showing up in Springfield’s database. (When you register a recalled gun with the company and they send you a shipping slip called an RMA tag, they create a record on their recall website you can see your gun’s progress through crude stages: tag sent, gun received, gun shipped).

Caracal Recalls, well, everything. 

Caracal_CThe well-received and heavily-promoted UAE Caracal pistol has been the subject of an ongoing series of recalls that, if you’re feeling charitable, reinforces in your mind just how difficult it is to go from zero to producing a world-class pistol.

Caracal has produced two pistols, the Model F and the Model C. The F is “Fullsize” and the “C” compact, and they were targeted at the markets served by the Glock 17 and 19 respectively. They were designed by Austrian Wilhelm Bubits, who has worked for Glock and for Steyr (where he designed the M and S series pistols) before Caracal. The Caracal has some Glock features (like the simplified Browning tipping-barrel locking system), and a low bore like the Steyr. The Caracal pistols have been praised for their ergonomics, triggers and accuracy.

But they’ve been a reliability and safety train wreck. At this writing, the Model Cs were first partially recalled for repair, then a larger segment of production was recalled, and finally, all Caracal Model Cs have been recalled and will be destroyed, and the buyers issued refunds or vouchers for future Caracals.

The company has introduced replacement products, including a line of pistols resembling the Model C and Model F (the CP660/661/662) and a line of pistols of much more conventional DA/SA, Hammer-fired, metal construction (CP663/664). These latter pistols seem to borrow design cues from the Beretta 92 and Browning HP, but they have a rotating barrel like the Beretta Storm (or the Mexican Obregon).

 

Here’s the Caracal recall timeline, derived from their own website. Tell us if this is not a train wreck.

9 Sep 13 – All Caracal Model Cs are recalled.

Caracal is now issuing this recall of all Model C pistols in all markets, following the completion of a full investigation. Caracal is initiating this voluntary recall of Model C pistols because the safety of its customers is paramount.

Word on the street is that the slides were prone to failure. At first, Caracal hoped it was a heat-treating issue, but the slides kept failing.

19 Oct 12 – Certain Caracal Model Fs and Cs are recalled for a drop-safety issue.

Caracal International LLC has determined a potential condition of the trigger unit in a very limited number of Caracal F and C pistols that could possibly allow the pistol to fire when dropped onto a hard surface with a round in the chamber. Although Caracal has not received any reports of injuries, it is initiating this voluntary recall to protect the safety of its customers because of the remote possibility of an unintentional discharge occurring.

The affected Caracal pistols have serial numbers that begin with B, C, F, L, or M.

This was serious, but not extremely so. Caracal replaced the trigger units and absorbed all costs of doing so, including shipment of the gun both ways. So far, nothing to be alarmed about — just the normal “teething” you’re going to experience if you’re an early adopter. And only early adopters had these guns at this point; it didn’t really launch at SHOT until January, 2013.

23 Oct 12 – That Model C recall? Better take a seat.

As an update to the October 19, 2012 recall notice, Caracal International LLC wishes to advise its customers that it will take approximately 12 weeks before we receive upgraded part(s) and can schedule a date for you to return your pistol to Caracal for this product upgrade.

Ouch. “Your gun’s not safe, and we’re not ready to fix it either.” But 12 weeks — three months — means they should have parts by Christmas, right? And they did apologize for the inconvenience.

12 Feb 13 – They have parts, finally, for the first Caracal Model C recall.

Caracal International wishes to inform customers that the first batches upgrade parts pistols are ready for customers.

Again we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, but please know Caracal International is completely committed to both customer safety and satisfaction with their products.

Now, this is on a drop-safety issue. Considering the vast quantities of guns that were made with no drop-safety provisions whatsoever, and are still being carried more or less safely (until they’re dropped!), we suspect that many Model C owners were still carrying their guns throughout.

28 Feb 13 – There is now a completely different Caracal Model C recall, and this one is more serious. The manufacturer now asks owners not to load or fire any Model C until it can figure out which ones are affected.

Caracal International LLC has been informed about an incident in which the slide of a Caracal Model C pistol malfunctioned and broke during firing causing personal injury. We are thoroughly investigating this incident to determine the cause(s) and are initiating this voluntary recall to protect the safety of our customers.

Caracal aims to conclude its investigations as quickly as possible. Further updates will be posted in the Caracal’s website that will include further information on the limited number of defected Caracal Model C pistols.

Now, this is orders of magnitude more serious. This is not a theoretical drop-safety problem, but a catastrophic slide failure during firing. With injury. Considering the vast quantities of guns that were made with no drop-safety provisions whatsoever, and are still being carried more or less safely (until they’re dropped!), we suspect that many Model C owners were still carrying their guns throughout.

Once again, the manufacturers advised Caracal Model C not to load or fire their pistols. And they now described the recall as a problem for which their solution would be, always, to replace the pistol, not repair it. This would cause some aggravation for some residents of highly-restricted states and nations, where officialdom would see this as generating several registration forms (and chances for arbitrary denial). However, that’s not in the same league as receiving a half-slide in the kisser on firing.

28 Mar 13 – It took them a month to figure out which pistols had the self-disassembling-slide problem and get the numbers out to their owners.

Caracal has completed its investigation and determined that this recall only applies to a limited number of slides of Model C pistols that had been improperly heat treated.

We are firmly committed to safety and would like to exchange all affected Model C pistols with new ones.

How to determine if your Model C pistol needs to be exchanged:

Remove the slide from the pistol, following the steps given in the user manual for your pistol. On the inside bottom of the slide you will find an engraved batch number starting with SC, as shown in the photograph below.

Only slides with batch numbers from SC188- to SC222- are covered by this recall and have to be exchanged.

If you own or have access to a Caracal Model C pistol covered by this recall, PLEASE DO NOT LOAD OR FIRE YOUR PISTOL. Contact customer care to arrange to have your Model C pistol shipped to Caracal. We will replace your pistol and return a new one to you free of charge as quickly as possible.

They don’t say it, but they imply that if your Model C has a different batch number on the slide (and the other, previous, trigger-related recall has been dealt with) then you’re good to load and fire your gun. The cautions against using a Model C in this notice, unlike the previous month’s, only apply to the affected batches which may have had substandard heat-treating.

The saga paused here for a while, but it didn’t end here.

9 Sep 13 – All Caracal Model Cs are recalled.

Caracal is now issuing this recall of all Model C pistols in all markets, following the completion of a full investigation. Caracal is initiating this voluntary recall of Model C pistols because the safety of its customers is paramount.

Word on the street is that the slides were prone to failure. At first, Caracal hoped it was a heat-treating issue, but the slides kept failing.  The new Caracal 66x series guns that closely resemble the Model C and Model F have a heavier slide, thicker in the area near the ejection port. It’s interesting, but there’s no

Someone, of course, will rathole a Model C thinking it will someday be a collector’s item. It probably will. Most collectors never shoot their guns, and they like rare and early variants, and they especially like guns with a story.

It’s interesting that the Model F slide has no more visible beef in it than the Model C, but there is no recall — and no reported failures — of the fullsize Caracal.

To recap the three recalls:

Springfield has recalled guns for an unspecified (mechanically, at least) safety issue that leads to uncommanded fire or intermittent double-fires; Smith has recalled guns for a drop-safety issue; and Caracal has had a cascade of recalls of its most popular gun, the Model C compact pistol, the most serious of which was a slide prone to failure and separation; this ultimately led to a complete withdrawal of the specific model from the market and their wholesale destruction on safety grounds.

These guns have a few things in common, despite the fact that no two recalls were for the same reason. They are polymer-framed, striker-fired “Glock-offs” that were designed by professionals (to a point; Bubits, for example, has long worked in the industry but was a police officer and is not a professional engineer). They are offered by large industrial firms, one venerable and two relatively new. (The Springfield XD models are the Croatian HS2000 rebadged for American sales. The XD-S single-stack version was made expressly for the US market. The Croatian factory is a national armory set up in the 1990s, during the wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia; the Serbs had control of most of the surviving former Yugoslav factories).

What drives these recalls?

  • Bizarre edge-case failures or other peculiar conditions not anticipated in testing.
  • An excess of caution. You wouldn’t want some product you made to hurt somebody, even if he or she was using it wrong.
  • The USA’s unique product-liability legal environment.

One more thing…

It’s interesting to note that the Caracal recall mess is clearly affected by the novelty of the gun and the company, both the UAE manufacturer and the US importer. Conversely, Smith & Wesson had a much less serious problem with its M&P, and dealt with it rapidly and transparently. Springfield is taking a great deal of time, which is probably a reflection of its international supply chain on the XD-S pistol.

The lesson learned? It’s nice to be aware of the Next Big Thing, but for a gun you trust your life to — and you trust your life to every gun every time you fire it — there’s a lot to be said for picking a design and a firm that are both thoroughly debugged. Being an early adopter is OK for play, it’s OK for the range. But the wise man learns from his brother’s experience, rather than having to always get the slide in his own cheekbone.

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