Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Beretta’s Smart Gun for PDs, Military: iProtect Analyzed

Beretta presented a novel smart-gun concept at a recent defense expo overseas, which they called iProtect. This video shows how it works, using an RF-enabled gun with multiple sensors.

Here’s another video, with Beretta executive explaining how the gun works with the Robocop t-shirt.

You don’t have to be Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to be a little creeped out by that.

Supposedly, the Beretta technology provides comprehensive surveillance but not control of the firearm, at least at this time. One consequence of that is that it is fail-safe: if the central office drops off the net (anyone remember the first responder commo chaos of 9/11?) the nifty features don’t work, but the gun just reverts to being a plain-vanilla PX4 Storm. This PX4i is, in fact, a PX4 with some minituarized sensors deployed in it:

iprotect_firearm_sensors

Many gun vendors and writers are appalled by this idea, but the iProtect needs to be understood, both in terms of its intended niche, and its likelihood of succeeding there. Neither indicates that Beretta intends (or has produced) a threat to civilian gun owners with this technology. More realistically, this is a technology demonstration for future potential developments in law enforcement and military weapons, rather than a practical product in 2014.

Here’s Beretta’s brochure on the technology, to give you more depth than is available in the videos, although the videos are probably a better overview of this complex and interdependent system.

How Times do Change

In 1999, when other gun makers including SIG and Colt were making balky “smart guns,” Beretta issued a manifesto denying their interest in any such thing. Beretta wrote:

Although the concept of a “smart gun” or “personalized gun” has received public attention recently, we believe that careful consideration has not been given to potentially dangerous risks associated with these concepts. In our opinion, such technology is undeveloped and unproven. In addition, Beretta strongly believes that “smart gun” technology or “personalized” guns (hereinafter also referred to as “smart gun” technology) could actually increase the number of fatal accidents involving handguns.

But that was then, this is now. 

Back in the bad old 90s, the anti-gun Clinton administration and their allies in Congress and in state legislatures were pushing hard for smart guns as a means to disarm citizens and centrally control armed police. (Some officials then and now believe that cops should lock their guns in a station arms room at shift’s end, and a few PDs actually do this). The policymakers pushing this saw technology in the automotive and computer worlds (we dunno, like the chip-in-the-key in our ’89 Corvette that used to occasionally turn on the alarm for no particular reason? that they imagined would adapt to guns, no problem. They disregarded many things, like the different volumetric envelope in a car and a gun, and made no bones about their nominal “safetyt” push really being all about citizen disarmament. A key problem with the high-tech push was that politicians have never successfully scheduled an inventiuon in the past, and they didn’t this time, either. By the time quasi-working “smart guns” were going bang six times out of ten, the would-be launch customers — various anti-gun officials of the Clinton Administration — had moved on to K Street at the change of administrations.

SIG-Sauer-P229-EPLS_001SIG’s late-90s entry, the SIG P229 EPLS, illustrated some of the problems with these arms. To be set to fire, a PIN had to be entered on a keypad on the gun’s nose, and a time period entered. So, for example, policemen would have their guns enabled only for the duration of their shifts. The pistol was not fail-safe in any way: the failure mode was that, if the electronics borked, the gun remained on the last setting indefinitely, whatever it was.

The 229 EPLS was unreliable and never went into series production; 15 or so prototypes and pre-production test articles were made, some of which may have been released to collectors according to this article at Guns and Ammo.

Colt made an effort to spin off a smart-gun subsidiary, called, we are not making this up, iColt. There is no sign of it today; Colt’s perennial dance with the threat of bankruptcy was mortal to any engineering resource-suck with such an uncertain path to returns.

The “Smart Gun” that’s in the news: Armatix iP1

Beretta’s plan for intelligent duty firearms, iProtect, is radically different from the publicity-focused smart-gun maker, Armatix. Armatix’s designer is Ernst Mauch, the prime mover of HK during its decades-long phase of HK: Because You Suck, and We Hate You hostility to nongovernmental customers, and he brings his superior, anti-customer attitude to Armatix. The company’s strategy is to have its gun mandated by authorities: it has come close in New Jersey, and one candidate in the Democrats’ Sep. 9th primary for Attorney General of Massachusetts (Warren Tolman) has promised to ban all other handguns if elected. (Yes, Massachusetts law and case law does give that official this power. No word on whether he has a stake in Armatix).

The gun itself is a poor design, kind of like some of Mauch’s later HK abortions (UMP, M8). Its reliability approaches 19th-Century lows: few reviewers have gotten through a 10-shot magazine without a failure to feed, some of which seem to relate to the magazine and in some of which the slide does not go into battery. Armatix’s idea of fail-safe electronics is this: if the electronics fail, they brick the gun, therefore it’s safe.

Because the fragile Made in Germany electronics aren’t ready for centerfire prime time, the gun will be available only in .22 long rifle for the foreseeable future. For a .22 it’s bulky, and it has only average accuracy.

Pity it doesn’t have the red HK on it. Then, at least the fanboys would buy it.

The iProtect system is not like the Armatix, or other Smart Guns

Like SIG in the 90s, Beretta began with a decent pistol and then added the electronics to it, in Beretta’s case the underrated Px4 Storm. Like SIG, there’s a bulky “light” on the rail that contains the brain. The gun is truly fail-safe: if the electronics go paws up, the gun doesn’t. In fact, the operator can dismount the “brain” at any time.

Unlike Armatix, iProtect has not been launched with noises about the authorities having an ability to remotely brick the firearm. And it does not brick itself if the battery runs down. Beretta also addressed another weakness (or at least, inconvenience) of battery-powered gear by making the black box’s battery wireless rechargeable.

The “brain” is not really the key to the system, though: the key is the Black Box’s networked communications abilities. First, it talks to the sensors on the gun itself, monitoring the position of the gun and its controls much the same way a Digital Flight Data Recorder monitors the position of an airplane’s control surfaces and flight control inputs. The brain transmits that information to a central control console. Since all of the smarts are in firmware and software, they can be updated more or less on the fly to add new capabilities (and, no doubt, to squash bugs. It’s practically impossible to write a program more useful than “Hello, world!” without introducing bugs).

 

But the gun’s communication with the central office is only part of it, because it’s also networked to a smartphone or other communications device, and to a special t-shirt that monitor’s the officer’s position, activity, and health status of the carrier (if you’ve ever worn a chest strap when exercising, you’ll get the general idea).

And a key feature of iProtect, absent from other smart guns, is geolocation. The gun knows where it is — and tells the office, many times a second. This complicates things for those criminals who would murder a cop for his gun (like Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev did after they bombed the Boston Marathon finish line). It’s one thing to have a gun that’s so hot it’s radioactive, but it’s a whole other game to have one that’s constantly phoning home and otherwise subject to electronic track & trace.

Of course, it also complicates things for cops who would spend their shift cooping behind a strip mall, or unofficially 10-7 at Krispy Kreme. If you’re That Guy, the relative smartness of your gun is not going to affect your police work in any way, anyway.

Problems with iProtect?

Unlike Armatix, iProtect is not a play to disarm the public; it’s a play to increase the information flow in police dispatch offices. There it runs into a problem, in US law enforcement: the Beretta system is best used by intelligent cops and intelligent, expert even, dispatchers. But many large metro departments in the USA — exactly the target market for iProtect — have upper as well as lower bounds for cop IQ. (These departments also tend to have low closure rates on cases requiring in-depth, imaginative investigations, oddly enough). But at least the typical cop is a man or woman of average smarts. The dispatchers are a different thing. It the USA it’s a low-paid, low-status occupation, and it tends to attract people who are a half-step above the welfare lines: the same sort of people who work, if that’s the word, in the DMV or other menial clerical jobs in local government. One consequence of this is the periodic dispatch scandals like this one, a rather trivial violation that went, as usual, unpunished; or this more serious one that ended with a dead caller, a fired dispatcher, and one more illustration of the sad fact that when seconds count, police are minutes away. Literally none of the dispatchers at a modern urban police department has a place in the high-tech, high-demand dispatch center envisioned by iProtect.

The 80-IQ dispatcher is a mountain that iProtect must climb if it is going to sell here in the USA — and it’s a mountain it probably can’t summit. But even the dispatcher problem is secondary to the real Achilles Heel of iProtect: it’s a proprietary, closed system. It not only works with the PX4i, it only works with the PX4i. It only works with Beretta’s own high-tech undershirt. It only works with the Beretta communications and dispatch system.  It requires the agency to recapitalize everything at once. Line cops don’t think of budgetary and logistical problems, but chiefs and commissioners spend most of their time on them.

It’s also self-evident that iProtect has no real utility at this time for the private or individual owner, or even to the rural sheriff’s office or small-town PD: it’s only of interest to large police departments, the only users that can resource it properly. (In the long run, the sheriffs of sparsely populated counties might really like the geolocation capability, though; it goes beyond geolocating the police car, something modern tech already can do, and tracks both the officer and his or her sidearm. That’s a big deal for situational awareness if you’ve got a wide open range and very few sworn officers).

So what’s the verdict?

iprotectIn sum, the iProtect system is an ingenious adaptation of modern communications technology to the police defensive-firearm sphere. It poses no direct threat to gun rights, although cops may find being monitored all the time a little creepy. (Welcome to the pilot’s world, pal). But as it sits there are obstacles to its adoption. These obstacles are organizational, cultural and financial — we don’t yet know how well the system works, but assuming arguendo that all Beretta’s claims about it are true, there don’t seem to be technical obstacles holding it back.

Like the plain old dumb guns that just sit there until animated by human will, the good or evil of a smart gun is in the intent of the mind behind it.

Errors in Firearms Materials are Nothing New

Recently, the gang at Small Arms of the World posted a World War II vintage German language weapons manual (subscription required) that focused mostly on German service submachine guns.1 The manual was developed by a retired officer, Colonel Schmitt. Col. Schmitt was a prolific author of small arms and military manuals (of the sort that might be popular with earnest young soldiers, and youth looking forward to military service). He was also the editor of a range of war maps. His materials appeared though the publishing house of R. Eisenschmidt, located on Mittelstraße 18 in Berlin NW7.

At first we thought so the introductory material would be useful in an ongoing research project on early submachineguns. Even though this is not a primary source on early SMG’s, it’s an earlier secondary source than many of the documents we’ve been working with. So we thought it might be authoritative. Indeed, it starts off making sense, and it’s chock full of interesting material; but there are enough errors to give us considerable pause. Let’s start with the sensible bit (our translation):

General Information for all MPs Found in Units

The MP is a weapon that is particularly suited for close combat.

Due to the weapon’s stability in automatic fire, a tight grouping of bursts of fire is enabled. Small targets can be engaged with good success at distances to 100 meters, and larger targets up to 200 m. Beyond 200 m distance, ammunition expenditure is unlikely to meet with success.

The low number of cartridges that can be carried by troopers, and the heavy ammunition demand in the front line, constrain the employment of the MP to snap missions at short distance and to close combat.

This is good, interesting information. But can we trust it, about the MPs that were carried in the first world war? Certainly, we want to trust it; Colonel Schmitt must surely know what he’s talking about, mustn’t he?

Very soon, we come upon information that turns out to be less than trustworthy, on the same page of this same document:

The following models are currently employed:

  • MP 18I (System Bergmann)
  • MP 28II (System Schmeisser),
  • MP Erma (System Vollmer),
  • MP 38 (smooth receiver),
  • MP 40 (receiver with flutes), and
  • MP 34 (with mounted bayonet M.95).

The MPs only fire the pistol cartridge 08 (cal. 9 mm) except the MP 34 which to date only fires the Steyr cartridge (9mm). 2

(The unusual use of superscript Roman numerals in the MP 18 and MP 28 designators is like that in Schmitt’s original).

Now, the world of early German MPs is grey enough that we can let the distinction between “System Bergmann” and “System Schmeisser” slide. (As we understand it, Schmeisser was the primary designer of both, and the magazine housings were generally marked with “Schmeissers Patent” for the double-column, single-feed magazine, but the guns were made by Bergmann).

But notice, that the good Colonel has the MP.38 and MP.40 exactly backwards. While there were many other changes between the 38 and 40, and additional running changes in production (like the two-part “safety” bolt-handle, sometimes called an MP.40 feature but actually introduced as a running change in the MP.38), one of the key improvements in the MP.40 was the lack of fluting, which allowed more rapid, less costly manufacture.

It wasn’t just a single error, for if you skip ahead to where Schmitt treats the MP.38 and .40 (as a single section of his book, which makes perfect sense given the guns’ near-identical nature)3, he makes the same error:

mp38_mis-id_d_as_mp40

The footnote (with asterisk) refers to a reference to the receiver, higher on the page, and reads, “On the MP.38, the receiver is smooth; on the MP.40 it is provided with flutes.”

We assume that Colonel Schmitt was truly an expert, and that he took good care with his manuals, which he knew would be bought and read by Wehrmacht troopers and those soon to be Wehrmacht men. But here’s an example of a mistake he made on a simple thing. It reinforces the importance or critical reading of sources, even of period sources (and even primary sources).

It’s also important to weigh the expertise of a source with the left and right limits of his knowledge… his expertise’s “range fan,” if you will. Combat soldiers may have their heads full of mistaken ideas about the development and manufacture of their weapons, and design engineers, contract managers, and hands-on manufacturing workers may be in the dark about how their products are employed in the field.

And everybody’s human, and makes mistakes. Nicht wahr, Oberst Schmitt?

This is one place where 21st Century scholarship has an edge. If poor old Schmitt made an error, by the time he heard about it R. Eisenschmidt could have printed 20,000 copies of the booklet with the error. If a blogger makes an error, he’s called out on it in the comments forthwith (don’t ask us how we know this).

Notes

1. Schmitt, Colonel. Maschinenpistolen 18I/28II/Erma/38/40/34; Leucht-Pistole, 2er Auflage: Beschreibung und Zusammenwirken der Teile, Beseitigung von hemmungine; Ausinandernehmen und Zusammensetzen; Schulschießübung. Leuchtpistole mit Munition.  (English: Submachine guns MP 18-I, MP28-II, Erma, MP 38, 40, and 34; Flare guns; 2nd Edition: Description ). Berlin, R. Eisenschmidt: 1940. Retrieved from Small Arms of the World archive (subscription required): https://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/archive/September.2013/5dgdbf7fhpdf/R00221.pdf

2. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 5.

3. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 23. 

Now We See It! Taurus 85VTA

One gimmick of the new Taurus 85VTA View, as the last word in its model name suggests, is transparency: the tiny, ultralight personal defense revolver has a clear plastic sideplate letting you see what goes on inside. The other gimmick is size and weight: it has barely any of either, thanks to judicious selection of materials and relentless trimming of its barrel and grip.

85VTA

Nope, not actual size. And if you click to embiggen, that’s way bigger than actual size….

“Trimming” may not be the word. It’s more like what’s-his-name the chain-saw movie guy was turned loose on one of Taurus’s Chief’s-Special-sized five-shot .38s, hacking off a half inch of barrel and an inch of grip.

The barrel is a mere 1.41 inches of titanium, and the cylinder is made of the same material, for some of the same reasons it made up most of the structure of the SR-71. The frame is aluminum alloy. The hammer is bobbed — the gun is double-action only — and plated with a gold-colored metal; the trigger is polished stainless steel. The sideplate, made of the same polycarbonate that’s best known by its DuPont trademark name, Lexan, seems to be more a marketing gimmick than an effort at weight reduction. The gun has no sharp or even crisp edges to flag its shape or snag on anything. The exotic materials and expected low-rate production of the revolver make for a pretty high price: an SRP of $600, and they’re trickling into shops and to online retailers with asks from a low of $500 to $585. (These may ease once the gun becomes more common),

One 85VTA View feature that doesn’t show up in any other Taurus (yet) and can’t be seen in the factory pictures is the asymmetrical curve of the gun’s Manx-cat grip. Looked at from nose- or tail-on, the grip has a bend to the left to assist concealment for a right-handed carrier. It looks awkward, but isn’t; you don’t really notice it when drawing or firing the revolver.

As a pocket pistol, it can’t be imported from Taurus’s Brazilian homeland under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Instead, it’s made in the USA, in Miami.

85VTA-2

Taurus revolvers have a reputation for being prone to wear and difficult to service when they develop the timing problems that all worn revolvers eventually do. Compounding the company’s reputation for so-so quality, Taurus has earned a poor reputation for warranty service. But no one will put thousands of rounds through one of these.

For one thing, it’s too unpleasant to shoot. The DAO trigger is okay, and the gun is more accurate than a belly gun really needs, but the barely-over-a-half-pound weight (9.4 ounces to a Chief’s Special’s 19.5) and ultra-short barrel (even the Chief’s got 1.875″ to the Taurus’s 1.4″) produce hand-hammering recoil and impressive fireballs when fired at night.

(Like a Chief’s Special, the 85VTA is not approved for .38 Special +P rounds. The Taurus manual, which is shared among all Taurus revolvers and not specific to the model, contains dire warnings of the hazards of +P ammunition, and outright forbids the use of so-called +P+ in all Taurus revolvers. Unlike the Chief’s Special, where we know of many people who have blithely ignored this restriction, we can’t imagine anyone stuffing +Ps in the featherweight Taurus).

Also, the short grip leaves you with a couple fingers of your gun hand dangling in the air, like a self-conscious bricklayer at a tea party. Not optimum when the .38 Special’s recoil slams the little Taurus into your hand whilst snapping it urgently skyward. This is one bull that has a spectacular kick on the opposite end of its horns.

If you want to develop calluses on your palms, firing a half-dozen boxes of ammo out of this in one session may or may not be easier than hard manual labor. But if you want to develop a flinch, that’s just the ticket.

So, if it’s an unpleasant beast to shoot, why make it? Ah, because someone at Taurus understands some basic home truths about carry guns:

  1. One you don’t carry is no damn good to you.
  2. The smaller and lighter, the easier it is to carry.
  3. The simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong.
  4. Most people don’t drill much with their carry or backup piece.

Gee, those imperatives almost look like they’re drawing a set of design parameters for an ultra-small, ultra-light .38 revolver, one with a simple manual of arms, and few protrusions to snag on anything.  The sights are rudimentary, but this gun was not made for pursuing X-rings, even though it’s surprisingly accurate, shot from a rest, something it will never have if it is called on to do its duty. It was meant to solve pressing social problems at contact range, and to be borne throughout the activities of daily living for 10,000 hours without intruding on the carrier’s lifestyle for even a moment.

The 85VTA View is, even to a lover of the sort of mechanism the polycarbonate sideplate displays, not an aesthete’s firearm. It is optimized for the role of daily carry (or daily backup) firearm, and the bob job applied to it, along with the homely plastic grips and industrial-grade finish, invite you to neglect it like a red-headed stepchild. Its form follows its function, and it has all the eye appeal of a garden trowel, floor jack, or Sawzall: it’s a tool.

But What’s That in the Punchbowl?

For all that, there is one detractor from Taurus’s purposeful design, and that is the lawyer-designed Taurus Security System, a key-operated hammer lock that prevents the weapon from firing when engaged. While we’ve only heard one credible report of a Taurus revolver’s lock failing, we consider any lock a Really Bad Idea. Taurus’s lock has taken a lot of criticism because S&W’s lock is really, really bad; if you spend one day a week at a range, you’ll see a Smith lock fail at least once a year, sometimes in really hazardous ways. No one should ever carry a S&W revolver with the S&W internal revolver lock for self-defense. We will faintly praise the Taurus lock in that, unlike Smith, whose then-owners had lawyers design their lock without engineering input as a wet kiss to the Clinton Administration, Taurus seems to have run their lock brainstorm through Engineering before cutting metal, making Taurus’s “rare failures” actually, you know, rare. 

The locks appeal to customers as a (pseudo) method of child-proofing guns, and are required in some anti-gun jurisdictions. One serious problem is that the locks can apply themselves (the design of the Smith lock almost guarantees this will happen in high-recoil revolvers).  Again, this is rare on Tauruses, but has happened. Note that Taurus’s lawyers, the same soulless drones who injected this bit of legal CYA into gun design, take pains to disclaim any promise that the lock will actually work. From the manual (p.14):

 

Never fully rely on any safety or security mechanism. It is not a substitute for safe and cautious gun handling. No safety or security mechanism, however positive or well designed, should be totally trusted. Like all mechanical devices, the safety or security system is subject to breakage or malfunction and can be adversely affected by wear, abuse, dirt, corrosion, incorrect assembly, improper adjustment, repair, or lack of maintenance.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a safety which is “childproof” or which can completely prevent accidental discharge from improper usage, carelessness or “horseplay”.

 

That is the company saying, “we don’t guarantee our lock will work, and we sure don’t stand behind it.” It makes you wonder what they know that you don’t know.

So, given that even Taurus doesn’t trust their lock, what use is it? We would leave that as an exercise for the reader, but first, we note that while actual failure of the lock, either “open” or “closed,” is a serious problem and one that Taurus takes pains, as we’ve just seen, to disclaim any responsibility for, it’s not the most serious or the most likely failure mode with such a lock. The most likely failure mode is either of the two human-factors failure modes that result from having the human in the loop: either leaving the gun available when you want it locked (i.e. to prevent child access) or leaving the gun locked when you want it available (in a defensive situation). Taurus wants no piece of that responsibility, either. From the manual, p. 10:

WARNING

Securing your firearm may inhibit access to it in a defense situation and result in injury or death.

So, what good is the lock?

Fortunately, it can be easily removed (and unlike the S&W abortion of a lock, which leaves an unsightly hole in the sideplate, it can be done with little trace the lock was ever there).

Note that this may become in issue if you ever find yourself in a civil suit after a defensive gun use, or especially in civil or criminal cases you may face consequent to an accidental discharge. This is very much a case where Big Boy Rules are in effect, and removing a locking mechanism, even an unsafe one like the Smith version, is one of those “catch-me, f*** me” rules: if circumstances lead some to catch you, they may well you-know-what you with the proverbial barbed-wire condom. (A healthy fear of our litigious society is why many smiths will now no longer do the once-standard safety improvements of removing the cavalry-mandated grip safety on the 1911, and brain-damaged European magazine safety on the Browning Hi-Power). Here’s Massad Ayoob on just this:

I did not remove the internal lock, for the simple reason that I’ve seen a prosecutor raise hell about a deactivated safety device when trying to establish the element of recklessness that is a key ingredient in a manslaughter conviction. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant was so reckless that he DEACTIVATED A SAFETY DEVICE ON A LETHAL WEAPON, and so arrogant that he thought he knew more about the gun than the factory that made it!” That’s a mountain I’d rather not have to climb in court, nor debate in front of twelve jurors selected in part by opposing counsel for their lack of knowledge of firearms.

Ayoob recommends that, if you do disable a lock, you save all the information you can find on lock failures in case you ever need to defend against that kind of thing. (If Ayoob’s case is the one I’m thinking of, it was a blocked grip safety on a 1911, but he clearly sees the same risk coming up if someone removes one of these bad revolver locks).

Apart from the lock, which at least is not as bad as Smith’s My First Gun Design version, the Taurus 85VTA View is a pretty good set-it-and-forget-it carry gun. If it did not have the lock we would recommend it for a carry or backup gun, with decent (non +P!) .38 HP loads. We would insist on the proviso that it be fired for familiarization annually and an analogous but heavier and less punishing gun be used for regular practice. We cannot recommend any firearm with a key or combination lock of any kind as a defensive weapon: it’s false security.

UPDATE

For more on just how craptastic the Smith lock is, even giving all possible sympathy to Smith, read this thorough exploration by Chris at LuckyGunner. We’re much more willing to call an Arc Light on the S&W revolver lock than Chris is, but he does hit the high points and links to some pretty credible guys (Michael Bane, Grant Cunningham, etc.) who’ve seen Smith locks do that thing they do.

1000m shot with 9mm S&W 929 Revolver

“Ah, Banzai, ha hah! Nothing to it, man, a good day on the range.”

“I dunno what you think, but a 9mm at 1000 yards is a hard shot.” With a revolver, his own reloads with Hornady 147 grain XTP bullets, and a red-dot sight. “Hard shot?” Yeah, you could say that.

How’d he do it? We’d guess hold-over (he says, 75-80 yards worth at one point, and at another he says 150 feet, so were’s guessing he’s using the uncalibrated eyeball of experience) and lots of practice.

We were impressed as hell, back in the day, with Paul Poole’s 100-meter shots with a tuned 1911 out at the Mott Lake Compound range. Poole’s secret was the same: he learned how much drop that issue .45 ball had through long experience, and he learned to pick a holdover point.

The thing is, the normal “effective” range of a pistol or rifle is no such thing. It’s a somewhat arbitrary figure. Some ordnance bureaucrat sets it based on an average shooter with an average weapon on a sort of best-three-of-five basis. Or it gets handed down in a firearm specification, and never tested. The US Army, for instance, records the effective range of every one of the world’s pistols as 50m, and every rifle as 480m (which originally was supposed to be a conversion from the old every-rifle-effective-range of 500 yards). This is probably a mistake, because using high-angle firing techniques you can score hits far beyond the book-value “effective” range.

The real problem with the issue 5.56 rounds at ranges over 500 yards is weak terminal ballistics, not accuracy. While the Army’s accuracy standards for accepting a rifle are pretty low (and the standards for keeping one in service are even lower, 7 MOA!), most service rifles are well made and will far outperform the minimum military specification.

We doubt that Jerry Miculek ever had a chance to meet Paul Poole, who has long been feasting with the other heroes at the long tables in the halls of Valhalla. And that’s a crying shame, because who knows what those two good ol’ boys would have gotten up to together?

Update:

Several of you have pointed out that Jerry undoubtedly burned a lot of rounds before hitting the  plate (since the hit in the plate, which he shows, was not in line with the location of the balloon, it was probably jacket spalling that popped the balloon. Still, it was a pistol shot at sniper rifle range).

It really set off the IDPA gameshooters at Triangle Tactical. They vented a little intramural spleen (post 1; post 2; post 3) at Miculek and one another, and refer you to, of all things, some reality show on TV for “real” shooting. (Really?)  One of them does admit:

It shows that guns aren’t scary, we aren’t all tacticool nut jobs, and that shooting is fun. I like the videos, even if they are cut to only show the entertaining parts.

And even the most critical of the posts includes this bit, that one hopes we can all agree on:

Long-range shooting is also an exercise in consistency. Sight the target the same way, hold your breath the same way, pull the trigger the same way, follow through the same way. Assess the result and adjust your point of aim and try again. I actually agree that a decent shooter could probably hit that shot as well.

Jerry Miculek is not Superman. He’s simply a guy who’s dedicated himself to a craft — and found a talent for entertaining as well as instructing. There’s a reason we feature Jerry’s videos, and not the ones by boring windbags who spend a half hour conveying 30 seconds’ worth of information, or the ones by “tacticool” beardos who parlayed zero days in service and a single bad tour as a contractor into YouTube stardom.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Pre98.com

French 1935A pistols are common -- but not in this condition.

French 1935A pistols are uncommon, not “rare” — except in this condition, and with an Indochina period rig. In stock at Pre98.com.

There are lots of dealers of 20th Century guns, but Scotty Benedict makes a business of selling the sort of guns you usually only see at national auctions: mint, rare, and mint and rare guns are the bulk of his offerings. His website is the slightly misleading URL, Pre98.com (as most of his inventory is 20th Century). The online catalog of goodies is at shop.pre98.com. Inventory is updated extremely often.

We have been around since 1989 dealing mostly in WW2 arms and militaria. Our specialties are mint condition firearms and very nice holsters….. We decided to open this web site to give you exclusive access to what we have in stock in the way of firearms and accessories. We will continue to improve the site and hope you will visit often to see what we have dredged up.

There will also be some rare and desirable commercial guns. This site gives you exclusive access to the firearms and accessories that made it into my inventory. Now you don’t have to wait for a gun show to see what I have found.

Gathering the best items is too big of a job for one person to handle. I have a virtual army of collectors who regularly channel new goodies into the pipeline. As a very serious and advanced collector myself, my eye is trained to be quite discerning about what we pick up. I take great pride in the herd that we bring to market. I personally guarantee the authenticity of each item and the accuracy of its description.

Since most of my customers are serious collectors, almost all of our business is with Curio and Relics (C&R) licensees and FFL transfers. When you find that special gun you’ve been looking for, we’ll work with you to make the buying process as painless as possible while complying with all applicable firearms regulations.

via Pre98.com – Home.

One of the neat things about Scotty is that he keeps records of some of the best pieces he has sold in the past, so you can not only jones over the guns you can’t afford now, you can jones over the ones you couldn’t afford last year (but some other lucky fellow did).

We have not personally bought from Scotty, but we just looked at literally every item in his inventory. Nothing is cheap, but he is correct in noting that he has among the best examples of both common (think 1911 or Garand) and uncommon (Broomhandle, French 1935A, VIS Radom, etc.) firearms on the market. For example, this mint commercial Broomhandle comes with the original stock:

Mauser C96 Broomhandle

Price? We’ve bought cars for less. Here’s Scotty’s description:

In 98% original very crisp condition, we have a very rare Model 1896 flatside large ring C96 Mauser Broomhandle pistol that is still with the factory original matching numbered stock. This pistol was manufactured in the middle of 1900 and was exported to America and sold by the famed New York firearms firm Von Lengerke & Detmold and is so marked. This pistol has a mint bore and is in exceptional condition, you just do not see these early Broomhandles that look this good and never with a matching stock. This is one of the most sought after and difficult Broomhandles to obtain. These flat side large ring C96’s are very interesting pistols. The firm marking will make an highly sought after pistol like this even more desirable,.

Yes, the Broomhandle is x-pensive. There’s an original, prewar engraved PPK that’s even more expensive. He also has not one, but four non-import Makarovs to choose from.

Not everything is priced to give you High Altitude Cerebral Edema, though. For instance, here’s a nice, solid and representative 1944 M1 Carbine:

M1 Carbine 1944

Scotty calls it good-plus, original, and has priced it just a nudge above an average carbine at $1,450. So there are some within reach of t he working man; the others, he must plan to sell to VA managers or something. But they sure are beautiful to look at.

If you like what you see at Scotty’s site, his friend Jim has similar quality stuff at LegacyCollectibles.com, too.

Land of the Lost… Guns: Afghanistan

So, we saw this at Miguel’s, which led us to Fox News, which led us to the Washington Times, which still didn’t give up the primary source document. We wanted the primary source document because the numbers in the Times’s story didn’t add up.

The essential claims in these media versions of the story are:

  1. The Afghans have lost or sold off tens of thousands of the guns we gave them; and,
  2. The databases are poisoned with many duplicates; and,
  3. Most or many of the US-provided weapons were never entered in the database; therefore:
  4. Accountability for weapons in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANA/ANP) is nonexistent.

Here are the numbers as we pulled them from the report, and as the media spun ‘em:

The narrative is that the Afghan National Army has lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of small arms, and that as a result We Are Doomed. It took some doing (anyone who thinks Obamacare’s website was uniquely mishandled has spent no time among the web gardens of the .gov or .mil) but we did unearth the document.

Two Databases Stood Back-to-Back, Refusing to Say a Word…

The problem is at once more complex, more nuanced, and more interesting than that. And for gloom and doom fans, we’re probably still doomed. The bottom line is that the US’s incredibly complex and inefficient inventory systems, which famously do not talk to one another, also don’t mesh with the inventory system we provided to Afghanistan. Three completely different (and fundamentally incompatible) IT systems track US-provided small arms in OEF. Those systems include:

  • SCIP, the Security Cooperation Information Portal, used in the USA by logisticians supplying materiel to American allies worldwide.
  • OVERLORD, the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, developed in-country by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the latest of several names for the US training HQ in-country.
  • CoreIMS, the Core Inventory Management System, a US-spec COTS inventory database that has been foisted off on our valiant Afghan allies.

Here’s a graphic from that famous primary source document that the Times and Fox wouldn’t show you, preferring to predigest your informational meal. (Here’s a link to the document: SIGAR 14-84.pdf. We’ve saved a copy in case the link goes  tango uniform). This shows what the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction thinks the process is:

dod_weapons_inventory_process

 

So what we have turns out to be, not vast numbers of guns vanishing as they take each step along the pipeline, but three different and incompatible databases having data that are at odds with one another.

Which database is right? Who knows? Could be any of them. Or none of them! In fact, all three databases could have wide discrepancies, and yet none of them have totals close to what actually exists in inventory.

But it turns out, if you actually read the SIGAR report instead of act like a Media Luminary and Skim Until Shocked, the auditors did that, and as it turns out, some of the numbers are before they deep-dove the data, and some of the numbers don’t represent what they appear to represent. Yes, Afghan inventories are a mess, but they’re not the mess the news stories describe. A spot check of weapons in storage at the ANA Kandahar depot, for example, found the weapons in the crates the database said they’d be in, and traced every weapon back in inventories that matched the weapons on site. A similar exercise at the ANP 22 Bunkers Depot appeared to have similar results, but the inspectors didn’t have time to complete the inspection.  True, other depots and units had more fragmentary records, and the ANA Central Supply Depot’s records were far off from what was inventoried on site. But by Afghan standards, it wasn’t all that bad.

Remember that the idea of weapons inventories was something that Afghans have never done, except when compelled by Soviet or NATO allies. That they don’t do it as well as the US DOD, while using a stack of incompatible and user-hostile systems imposed from outside, shouldn’t shock anybody.

If you’re an old Afghan hand, one fundamental error in this whole process will have jumped out at you from the very beginning: trying to impose a sophisticated Western computer system (actually, multiple systems; a fourth incompatible database called ULTRA, Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting, is under construction for the ANP) on a nation of Iron Age illiterates. Illiteracy was 94% to 97% when we first went into Afghanistan (the Taliban had closed all schools except madrassas). Illiterates make weak computer operators, something that American loggies never considered for a minute before deciding to spin up the Afghans in Microsoft World. Results predictable:

According to CSTC-A officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.

Gee, there’s a shocker. We impose US-style personnel turbulence and military bureaucracy on an ally where most of the population is illiterate and borderline innumerate, and as Wilkins Micawber might say, “results, misery.”

The Duplicate Serials Problem: Not Such a Big Deal

Then, there’s the duplicate serial numbers problem , which comes to rise for two reasons:

  1. The procurers, developers and operators of the system did not understand that different weapon makes and models may indeed use the same serial numbers, and different manufacturers may use the same serial numbers for their versions of the same firearm, and so they erred in trying to use serial number by itself as a unique key;
  2. Lack of communication between databases

Even the authors of the report don’t seem to find that their discovery of some duplicate numbers is meaningless. Here’s their table from the report:

sigar_serial_number_dupes

¡Ay, Chihuahua! (Old Afghan phrase). Yes, it’s not just an Afghan thing to have two weapons with the same serial number. Heck, the USA did it:

M1 Rifle Serial 1,608,803: these two receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

M1 Rifle Serial 1,628,802: these twin receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

Someone who knows weapons can clear these three discrepancies in about two tenths of a second. Like this:

  • DX2383 needs to be reconciled by eyes-on physical inventory, because it’s possible that this represents two different guns, but because an AMD-65 is a variant of AK-47, it’s equally possible that this is one gun described two ways. Several manufacturers made AK variants using serial numbers of this pattern, so only physical inventory can establish whether we’re talking about one gun or two here.
  • 178203 is obviously two different weapons, and a properly constructed database would not confuse an M203 with an M249 of the same serial number.
  • A598 is the very same problem, Russian-designed-weapons style.

As anyone who’s ever accounted for any significant quantity of firearms can tell you, serial numbers are only likely to be unique on a single type (i.e. make/model/caliber) of weapon made for a single customer by a single manufacturer. Now, we’re not sure what other US arms have duped serial numbers like the M1 example above. (We know M16A1 rifles and XM177 “submachine guns” had absolutely unique numbers because manufacturers had independent sN blocks).

But this duplication is spun by SIGAR, in their ignorance of firearms, as a major problem, and it is spun in turn by the media as a Chicken Little sky-is-falling moment. It’s only a problem because the database designers and auditors are ignorant of the limits of serial numbering.

We certainly admit that the SIGAR report does identify some real challenges facing Afghan services on weapons-inventory issues, and it points up the poor visibility into those issues that US service elements, including CSTC-A, have into Afghan inventories. As far as the weaknesses of Afghan inventory controls are concerned, this is news to us in which way? We were pleasantly surprised to see that some Afghan National Police elements are tracking their assigned weapons using Microsoft Excel. This means they have some literate cops, who can even use computers — that’s miles ahead of 2002, let us tell you. But the SIGAR is shocked by this, and by the fact they’re not using some high-dollar, centralized, fiddly data management system instead of Excel.

Crawl, walk, run, people. Trying to drop Afghans into RDBMS management when they not only haven’t got the hang of Excel, but are largely utterly unlettered, is asking for trouble.

One is reminded of Lawrence’s maxim not to do things for the locals, but to let them do it themselves, however imperfectly.

What would a WWII US Weapons Collection cost?

soldier with M1One of the questions that a novice collector faces is: what to collect? While it’s good to follow your heart, the fact is that unless you”ve got the resources of an oil sheik you can’t actually buy one of everything. Even a millionaire has a finite budget, even if his is larger than, say, a grocery clerk’s.

So it helps to follow your head as well as your heart, and it helps to have a theme for your collection. Some collections can be deep and entertaining with a single subject, if it’s a big one: Lugers, for instance, or Springfield rifles. But right now, American World War II weapons are riding a wave of great popularity. With the WWII generation themselves gradually going the way of rifle clubs in middle school and the 48-star flag, you’d think interest in World War guns would wane, as did, say, collector interest in Model A Fords when the elderly car collectors who remembered them from new passed on. But WWII weapons haven’t seen such a collapse in interest. If anything, more people are interested than ever before, thanks perhaps to the availability of new books and movies on the subject.

A Theme: First Step on the Way to a Plan

So let’s take up the US World War II theme, and imagine a collection. A theme is the first step on the way to a plan. A plan is the theme made concrete with priorities and a budget. The collection itself becomes, then, the plan executed. One practical way to proceed (especially for a young collector just starting out) is to get “representative” pieces at first, and then later upgrade them for higher-quality and better-condition guns. This approach will cost considerably more than just buying the very best quality example you can right from the outset, but if you are young and just starting out, you may not have the resources to do so.

Best of all: every one of these guns is available, uses readily-acquired ammunition, and is safe and fun to shoot.

M1_Carbine_Mk_I_-_USA_-_Armémuseum

In this post, we’ve defined a core collection, a complete collection, and an extended collection of World War II US Arms, and we’ll cover each set in turn. The core collection are the most important and familiar weapons used by US forces in the 1941-45 war: rifles, carbine, and pistol. The complete collection adds the remaining Title 1 standard arms that were issued by midwar, according to our reference: War Department Technical Manual, TM 9-2200: Small Arms, Light Field Mortars, and 20-mm Aircraft Guns, dated 11 October 1943. (As a bonus, we’ll provide the reference as a download. Its table of references defines the period Standard Nomenclature Lists and Technical Manuals for all standard WWII weapons to that date). The extended collection gets you the Class III individual weapons, some unusual variants and oddball weapons that were used without being standard.

Core Collection

The most important and familiar weapons used by US forces in the 1941-45 war.

Weapon

Type

Estimated Cost

Collectors’ Notes
M1 Garand

Rifle

$1,300

A lot of M1s are post war. Try to get a wartime one, but you can always start with a later gun as a “representative M1″and work your way to a wartime example. Best value is still with CMP.
M1 Carbine

Rifle

$1,200

Again, you can save with a postwar, reimport, or reproduction. But they don’t have the collector appeal, and may not hold value.
M1911A1

Pistol

$1,300

For generations these pistols were commodities, and a lot of them have been Bubba’d. Take your time to find an original one.
Totals

3

$3,800

That’s the basic weapons of the D-Day rifle squad for you, minus the BAR.

M1911A1bSo there you have it: you can have the basics of WWII collecting, average pieces, for under $4k. If you want to add something exotic, you can pluck one “halo gun” from the next installment of this story, like a semi BAR as a collection centerpiece. (We will include the BAR in the next installment of this story — the Complete Collection). You could make your collection tentpole a 1919A4 in semi for a similar amount, maybe a little less. Or you could spend a little over a thousand for a repro semi Thompson, but again, a repro is not going to keep pace with inflation the way an original gun does. The problem is, the originals are NFA weapons, meaning that some people can never own them in their home states, and that they are extremely expensive, compared to Title I firearms of the same value. Hence, the appeal of semi reproductions.

These three guns are not only of great historical significance, they are also, each one, remarkable pieces of industrial history, and there’s a great deal to be learned about their design and manufacture, with two of the greatest gun designers who ever lived being represented here, John M. Browning and John Garand. Browning was extremely prolific and Garand is remembered almost exclusively for the M1 Rifle, but that’s enough. The third gun, the M1 Carbine and its designer David Williams, is a bit of a sleeper. Williams is an interesting character, the only major gun designer to be a former convict.

Each gun made an impact historically, as well. Few guns have inspired more copies than the M1911; the M1 Rifle provided much of the design of the follow-on M14, still in limited service today; and the M1 Carbine’s gas system was also widely copied, including in that same M14.

This little collection is enough to get anyone started in a fine collection of World War II weapons.  The guns are extremely likely to hold their value, if maintained, and they can be shot for fun, making history come alive. The collection can be acquired one gun at a time, if $4k is beyond your immediate reach. We’d recommend the pistol first, carbine next — not the other way round because carbines are in a bit of a bubble right now — and then the M1, but really, you should buy them as the opportunity strikes or in the order that you like the guns. You will find that together they tell a more coherent and complete story than they do individually.

Do they seem expensive? That depends. Are you looking at 2014 prices from the viewpoint of 1984 prices, or 2044 prices?

Tune in tomorrow for the second of three installments, the Complete Collection.

Rimfire Challenge Ammo Guaranteed by ATK

ATK, a major defense and ammunition firm, likes to support the NSSF and the shooting sports. When they heard that the ongoing tightness of rimfire ammo supply was threatening Rimfire Challenge matches, they acted in the way you might expect, knowing the above, and that they’re the largest rimfire ammo manufacturer, under their CCI brand:

Adding to its Platinum-level support for the NSSF Rimfire Challenge program, ATK Sporting also will participate in the Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup, which will help ensure the program’s target shooters have a reliable source of ammunition.

The Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup will serve as a fulfillment center for match directors to purchase ammunition for events.

The company will provide 600,000 rounds of CCI rimfire ammunition to the Ammo Roundup program.

“Action rimfire sports like the NSSF Rimfire Challenge are paving the way for a whole new generation of shooters,” said Ryan Bronson, Senior Manager of Conservation and Public Policy at ATK Sporting Group. “We are happy to provide CCI ammunition to help support a program that is promoting exciting and safe trigger time for both the new shooters and folks that have been shooting for years.”

The Rimfire Challenge was the Ruger Rimfire Challenge until Ruger bowed out, claiming it had gotten to big to handle, and risking the future of the matches — sponsorless, they couldn’t survive. NSSF stepped in and the Challenge continued seamlessly.

The Rimfire Challenge combines .22 rifles and pistols, new shooters, and steel-plate targets to make appealing and fun matches. Here’s an FAQ in .pdf form. Here’s a schematic of a typical stage:

rimfire_challenge_stage_-_sample

The shooter and’s with a firearm loaded, aimed at the start steak. On audible signal here she begins to engage the plates, usually in any order, except for the stoplight. The stop plate is engaged last. (If you shoot it first, “stage over” and you’re going to do lousy on points). The scoring is based on the time to hit all the targets plus any penalties (penalties are assessed for each miss, encouraging accuracy).

The stages are relatively easy and that, and the audible clang of slug on steel, makes them rewarding for a new shooter. It would have been a shame if they ran out of ammo. Well done, ATK!

Three Reasons Not to Use the Blackhawk Serpa Holster

100 of these wound up in a landfill. Not doing that risked a lot more of the taxpayers' money.

100 of these wound up in a landfill. Not doing that risked a lot more of the taxpayers’ money.

It is our considered opinion that you should not use this product. Last SF company before retirement bought 90 or 100 of them circa 2003 (an SF company has 84 officers & men if at full strength, plus operational floats) and we discovered the same thing everybody else has: the Serpa has three serious safety-of-use problems, either of which alone would be enough to recommend retiring and destroying the holster and using anything else. Even Mexican carry.

We understand why the Serpa holster was designed. Pistol retention is a serious problem for anyone that tangles hand to hand with hostile persons. The police are more likely than armed forces to throw down mano a mano, but any soldier or Marine in ground combat can wind up in that place, the good old unsought fist fight or grapple-for-the-gun game. Many police forces, and some military units, specify a retention holster for just that reason. But there are a number of ways to design a retention holster. There are three reasons that the Serpa is the wrong way:

Safety of Use Issue #3: Stuck Pistol Syndrome

The Serpa does provide positive retention — sometimes too positive, especially if grit, sand, gravel or mung in general gets into it. If it gets into the retention release mechanism, Jesus Christ Himself isn’t getting that thing open. That’s rather a problem, because if you’re like us, you don’t generally go to unholster a gun until the situation has already gone uncomfortably nonlinear. The only thing worse than pulling your gun too soon is pulling it too late. The only thing worse than pulling it too late is attempting to pull it, and then failing to pull it at all, after signalling that you were going to. This problem by itself should be enough to disqualify this holster family.

Safety of Use Issue #2: It’s Slow

No matter how much you drill, the trigger-finger release is going to be slower than some of your other options. Worse, it’s going to be less consistent, because from time to time you may address the holstered firearm a little differently, and it doesn’t take much change in alignment to miss the flipping catch. If you miss the catch, you have to grope around, all while the clock is ticking. There are holsters that don’t make you do all this, so this problem by itself, also, should also suffice to disqualify this holster family.

Safety of Use Issue #1: Increased ND Risk

This is the biggest Serpa problem that people talk about. By using your trigger finger to disconnect the gun, and then having that finger fall on your trigger you great we increase the odds you’ll touch off a round with the pistol aligned somewhere other than at the proper target.

This video (NSFW but understandable language) shows an experienced shooter having a very typical Serpa ND. In the slo-mo at about 0:57-59 you can see exactly how it happened.

In this case, there was a combination of negative transfer of training from the more conventional 5.11 holster that this shooter used with another pistol, and the Serpa putting his index finger too close to the projectile initiator, too early in the draw sequence. Tex says he doesn’t blame the holster, he blames himself; fair enough, you can’t have an ND without human input. But his tools made the ND easier, instead of raising obstacles to an ND.

As we’ve said, every one of these issues is serious enough to warrant discarding the Serpa holster (and any holster that works like it, with an index-finger release paddle). But the increased ND risk with the Serpa is, in our opinion, the most consequential of these issues and the one that, even if you dismiss the other two, needs to sink in before you have a mishap like Tex’s.

We’re not sure even he knows how lucky he is. Mere inches from the channel that .45 slug dug in his thigh is one of the superhighways of the circulatory system, the femoral artery. A bullet in that artery would have led to his incapacitation in minutes, and ultimately, death, unless the right first aid was available extremely rapidly. He seemed to us to be alone on the range. How often have you shot, alone? It’s a calculated risk.

Doing it with a Serpa makes the calculation all wrong.

It’s not just us

We aren’t the only ones who just say no to Serpa. For example, Paul Howe wrote in 2005:

Another problem … a recent student …. exerted excessive pressure from his trigger finger to the unlock button and when drawing the weapon, drug the finger along the holster and into the trigger guard, discharging the airsoft weapon prematurely into his leg during his draw sequence.

Trigger fingers are just that, for the trigger. I think it should remain straight and have one function, to index the trigger.

Larry Vickers says:

I have banned for almost two years now Serpa style (trigger finger paddle release) holsters from my classes – several other instructors and training facilities have done the same. …. I understand many shooters use Serpa holsters on a regular basis with no issues whatsoever. However an open enrollment class environment has its own set of challenges … and a trigger finger paddle release holster is asking for trouble.

Todd Green in 2011:

At this point, pistol-training.com is going to follow the lead of other instructors such as Larry Vickers and ban the SERPA (and the various cheap knockoffs on the market) from classes beginning in 2012. I have been suggesting to students that they bring something else to classes up until now and will continue that for anyone who is already registered for a class in 2011.

And earlier that year, in reference to the Tex Grebner accident video posted above:

[T]he SERPA retention mechanism certainly lends itself to such accidents more than most other holsters. Instead of keeping your trigger finger well clear of the gun during the initial part of the drawstroke, the SERPA and its clones require you to press your trigger finger toward the trigger as you draw.

A lot more instructors say about the same thing. Travis Haley, Chris Costa, and a lot of guys you never heard of but that have seen these things cause one problem after another even on what should be a routine flat range. Rational Gun has a list of some of them, but Google will find you even more. (For example, RG has a link about the FLETC ban, but we don’t believe he mentioned the IDPA ban on the Serpa).

Yet this thing is still on the market, and people (and worse, agencies) are still buying them. Don’t Be That Guy™.

Pistol OCD: Why the Pennsylvania State Police went SIG (long)

Recently, we posted a story called Pistol OCD, about the Pennsylvania State Police’s remarkable run through quite a few different makes and models of service pistols in a very short time. The most recent change, this year, is from the Glock 21 to the SIG 227R, both pistols in .45 ACP caliber. We linked and quoted the actual contract terms and solicitations posted on official Pennsylvania websites.

PSP SIG 227

But we were missing one thing — and it was a big thing. We didn’t have any idea of why the PSP was changing over to the SIG. A changeover from Glock to SIG is relatively uncommon, compared to a change in the other direction. And to change abruptly, a year after letting a contract for Glocks and less than a month after the PSP’s last mod to that contract, would seem to require a really strong reason.

Well, Pennsylvania readers have filled us in on what the reason is. Obviously, the managers of the PSP think it’s a good reason — a really good reason. And it is, potentially: safety. 

Specifically, the Glock, unique among current service pistols, requires you to pull the trigger to disassemble the pistol. So every time you need to clean your clock, you need to pull the trigger. It should be a no-brainer to clear the pistol first, and even then, to ensure it’s pointed in absolutely safe direction before pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case with PSP troopers. It is, in fact, a very hard behavior to enforce on a large and diverse population.

The Shooting that Sidelined the Glock

The single incident that triggered the PSP’s abandonment of the Glock pistol took place on the early afternoon of March 7th this year. Before this, there was a constituency for replacing the Austrian pistols; after this, there was urgency to the task. Joseph Miller, apparently a PSP Trooper, although some media reports, apparently mistakenly, described him as a laid-off former nonsworn dispatcher, called 911 to report a shooting. His wife, Joanne, 34 years old and 22 weeks or so pregnant, was nonresponsive when first responders arrived, with a single gunshot to the cranium evident. Miller explained that he had been dismantling his gun for cleaning, when he pulled the trigger, and the round he discharged struck JoAnne in the head.

She was nonresponsive when paramedics arrived; they’re not allowed to pronounce death but they’ve seen it enough to know. They rusher her to the hospital, where medical staff knew she could not be saved but mounted a heroic, long-shot effort to save the baby. In the end, they admitted defeat; and one shot had taken two sould. The PSP had two options: blame the cop, or blame the Glock.

It seems self-evident that that particular negligent discharge is the one that put the skids under the Glock as a PSP service pistol. It doesn’t even matter whether you believe it was simple negligence, whether you believe that it was a case of a guy using the well-known accidental discharges as an excuse for murder, or whether you don’t know what to believe: it clearly has occurred to PSP managers that if they have a pistol that doesn’t need one to dry-fire for disassembly, they’ll never hear that excuse again.

The Miller case is depressing to read about. We’ll refer back to it in a bit, but if you want to read about it there are no shortage of stories:

  1. March 8: Trooper’s gun goes off, killing pregnant wife. Nice passive voice from the Morning Call.
  2. March 8: Pennsylvania trooper may have accidentally shot, killed pregnant wife: report. The New York Daily News at least knows whose digit was on the projectile actuator.
  3. March 10: Police say Pa. trooper accidentally shot wife. It took a couple days for the Philadelphia Inquirer to wake up; maybe they needed to see the story in the Daily News? Anyway, they too credit the cop with the shooting, not his gun.
  4. March 10: Pennsylvania State Trooper Fatally Shot Pregnant Wife While Cleaning Gun: Police.  The Huffington Post, of all things.
  5. June 6: Three Month Investigation Concludes with Determination that March 7, 2014 East Norriton Shooting Incident was Accidental; No Charges to Be Filed. The official report from the Montgomery County DA’s office.
  6. June 7: State trooper cleared in wife’s shooting death: Wife, unborn child died when gun fired during cleaning. The Morning Call, still with the passive voice.

It wasn’t, of course, the only PSP negligent discharge. Some crop up in the news and some don’t.

For instance, in October, 2010, Trooper Nicholas Petrosky’s 4-year-old son Micah was transported to the hospital with a gunshot wound in the leg. The accident was investigated by local police, who accepted Petrosky’s statement that the boy got hold of the gun while his father was in the shower, and immediately closed the case as an accident. The State Police did not investigate, and stressed that they had no interest because the gun in question was a personal off-duty gun, not an issue service pistol. The child was expected to make a full recovery, fortunately.

In June, 2012, a State Trooper shot himself in the leg at the Belfast, PA, State Police Barracks, “while unloading his car.” How he did that without trying to pick up the Glock by the trigger was the subject of one of those investigations that never quite wraps up.

In April, 2014, a State Trooper had a negligent discharge inside the Meadville, PA, State Police Barracks. No one was injured, and there were no career consequences to the cack-handed cop.

In addition to these accidents, which became public because of the casualties, or because they happened in a public building, there are rumors of numerous other negligent discharges while cleaning or handling the Glocks. These have been handled informally. In fact, it is State Police policy to keep negligent discharges secret, according to a story on the Meadville mishap:

[T]here was no news release made on the incident.

Asked if the report on the incident [by the PSP's Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards] would be made public once it is completed, [spokesman Sgt. Mark] Zaleski said it would not because it was a personnel matter which is a closed record.

As you might expect from such a non-confidence-building policy, it isn’t building confidence. Read the comments of the dangerous armed (with $5k double-barrels) men at trapshooters.com, for instance.

Is there a Double Standard for Negligent Troopers?

None of the troopers who have had negligent discharges have suffered career consequences, let alone criminal charges. In the tragic Miller case, some have complained that, because Miller was a trooper he got a deal a normal Pennsylvanian wouldn’t get. The prosecutor disagrees, criticizing Miller rather strongly, while not charging him.

Based upon a thorough review of all the available evidence, the District Attorney concluded that Joseph Miller was negligent in the handling of his firearm; however, his conduct did not rise to the necessary level of recklessness or gross negligence, that would give rise to criminal liability. The totality of circumstances simply reveals that this incident is a tragic, but negligent, accident.

Now, if we had a parallel case where the at-least-negligent shooter was a civilian, we’d know if Pennsylvania was a state of laws, or a state of ranks and titles. If only we had such a case!

Mirabile dictu, such a case is right at hand, and fresh (June, 2014).

[Denver Blough, 25] allegedly broke his 20-gauge gun into two pieces, separating the barrel from its stock, Trooper Ted Goins wrote an affidavit.

“Blough related he took the barrel assembly out to a kitchen area to show [his pregnant girlfriend Caressa] Kovalcik, where it discharged into her face,” Goins wrote.

Blough, currently in Somerset County Jail, has no prior criminal record in the region, according to online court records.

The only differences between the Blough and Miller cases, in probable order of their importance to the two respective outcomes:

  1. Blough is not a state trooper;
  2. Blough talked to the state police for hours; Miller made a statement and lawyered up;
  3. Blough admits he had been arguing with Kovalcik;
  4. Blough’s and Kovalcik’s child was saved by medical intervention (life support and C-section), perhaps in part because the pregnancy was about full term.

Now we know how Miller would have been treated if he hadn’t had that patent of nobility, a police badge.

There is also other evidence of a double standard. The State Police’s policy on negligent discharges (click on “Accidental Discharge Policy.pdf” at that link) explains that as long as a cop is the one ND’ing, they’re really all “accidental.”

Microsoft Word – Accidental Discharge Policy CURR.doc

I. DEFINITIONS

Officer-involved shooting
An officer’s discharge of a firearm that results in the physical injury or death of a person, whether or not the discharge was unintentional.

Officer-involved discharge
An officer’s unintentional discharge of a firearm that does not cause injury or death to a person.

 

…and they only need to be reported immediately if the ND hits somebody, that is, in the former case of an “Officer-involved shooting.” Otherwise, a report in writing, filed within ten days, to the Firearms Education and Training Committe, is sufficient cover. There’s a section of the policy that initially seems to be a Lee Paige rule (inspired by the world’s most famous Glock operator), requiring instructors who have dumb-ass NDs in public on the range to be decertified. But there’s an exception a PBA lawyer can drive an MRAP through:

Microsoft Word – Accidental Discharge Policy CURR.doc

As long as an instructor is adhering to proper range safety protocols when such a discharge occurs (has not performed a negligent, unsafe, or careless act) and there are no injuries, the weapon discharge procedure does not take effect and no discharge report is necessary.

No harm, no foul. Well, apart from the encouraging more ND’s bit. There is that.

And this brief foray into a policy that seems to reward rather than punish NDs brings us to another question:

Will the SIG end the Negligent Discharge plague at PSP?

We’ll go out on a limb here, because it’s a robust and sturdy limb built of decades of observation of organizations with what sociologists call “insider morality.” And answer the question: No. Not a bit.

The problem is that the shootings are not caused by the Glocks, but by the people who cannot remember or follow simple, clear, and exception-free instructions. Remember, they’re not always clearing their gun before they go to clean it. Remember, they’re not always pointing their guns in a safe direction with a solid and sufficient backstop before pulling the trigger. They’re not always keeping their finger off the trigger until lined up on target. Changing firearms because you can’t train or incentivize these irresponsible behaviors out of your work force is not going to produce safety; it can’t. 

A lot of cops don’t know and don’t care about firearms, and that may be a natural reaction to how little firearms matter in the real day-to-day life of a road trooper (until the rare, outlier day when they matter more than anything in the world; but people work off heuristics, and if you’ve gone three thousand days without having to clear your holster except for annual quals, you only practice if you want and like to). Most cops are not as interested in firearms as you are (or you wouldn’t be reading this). Most bricklayers don’t go home and build walls for fun, and most cops don’t shoot for fun, or even for any more proficiency than they absolutely need to get through the annual qual with a passing score.

Some cops don’t like guns at all. Some are on the force because it’s a family tradition. Some are on the force because it’s a good, statistically safe (again, until the moment it isn’t, when statistics provide cold comfort), well-paid government job with rich benefits. A few of them are on the force because they like to boss people around — very few, fortunately, as the academies and the selection process make scant attempt to screen for that type, and they’re impossible to dispose of once they’re in.

As a result, Pennsylvania Troopers of tomorrow are the same imperfect clay as the troopers of yesterday and today. They will continue to have negligent discharges with their new SIG 227R pistols, because the causative factor in an ND is the negligence, not the operating features of the firearm. The SIG does have two features that may reduce some kinds of firearms mishaps: unlike the Glock, it does not have a light trigger pull, but a long DA pull on first shot, and also unlike the Glock, it need not be dry-fired to disassemble it. But the SIG has other features that will cause problems for a 5000-officer force where only 500 (if that many) care much about the handgun they carry. It has a rich, but complicated, operating system with multiple control levers. The Glock has a trigger, slide stop, and magazine release; SIG has those plus a decocking lever and a takedown lever. Police officers will not only continue to have NDs with this new system, they may have more problems putting it into action (and safing it afterward) due to its relative complexity compared to the Glock.

One has to have a certain sympathy for the PSP managers. They have a tough situation, even if it’s partly self-inflicted. There’s a solution at hand, but they’re not willing to take it: if they made a public vow that an ND was an automatic dismissal, they’d see NDs wither away to an irreducibly low level, especially after they made one or two negligent cops walk the plank pour encourager les aûtres. Many years ago the Ranger Regiment, inspired by another ARSOF unit, made such a determination and even though every Ranger is a young, impulsive male, and every Ranger probably fires more live ammo in a year than the ammo budget of the entire PSP, NDs are a once-in-several-years event. Rangers are not supermen, they’re merely carefully selected, well led, and properly incentivized. PSP ought to try it.