Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

What’s this 1911-based frame… whatchamacallit?

Every once in a while, something comes along that does a pretty good Stump the Monkey on is. This is one of those. Collector/Dealer Bob Adams thinks it might have been some kind of a test fixture.

Unknown device or test fixture possibly made from a ca. 1918 Colt 1911 frame. Fitted with what appears to be a large threaded ring. Equipped with two vertical uprights at the top of the ring and a hole on the left side. The grip safety has been replaced with a solid backstrap/mainspring housing. The non-functional half slide is not original to the device. There is no longer any provision for a breech locking mechanism, nor any way to secure a slide on the rails, so it could not function as a firearm. This appears to have been an unfinished or scrap frame extensively remanufactured into some unknown device or test fixture and is not a firearm. It may have been a fixture for testing hammer fall impact, or firing pin spring strength, firing pin protusion, or ???? Any ideas?

1911 whatsit 01

via Adams Guns.

We’re not so sure about that. It looks to us like those big threads were meant to receive a big barrel, and the two blocks — rear sights? suggest it might have been a long barrel. We also note the one piece backstrap (replacing the stock 1911’s mainspring housing and grip safety) doesn’t fit entirely well:

1911 whatsit 02

Could those gaps have to do with a removable stock? Perhaps the gun was meant to have some sort of single-shot action and a Marble Game Getter style stock that clipped on here. But we think it is more likely to have been a firearm than a fixture. Bob disagrees.

What do you think?

The Issue with Gun Publications

shootingtimes The issue with gun publications, whether they’re the paper kind or the online kind, is that they’re generally so dependent on the goodwill of manufacturers that they tend to puff everything. We’re going to pick on one article at Shooting Times, from earlier this year: a comparo of seven budget ($400-900) 1911 clones. The guns were from an array of mainstream handgun makers: Magnum ResearchAmerican Tactical Imports,  Auto-OrdnanceRugerParaSpringfield, and Taurus.


First, a disclaimer: there’s nothing especially bad about this article, and the author, Paul Scarlata, is a real gun expert who generally knows what he’s writing about. So we want you to understand that while we did single this article out, it was not because there’s anything specially wrong with it. Quite the contrary: we singled it out as typical of the optimistic evaluations gun writers tend to give to the hardware that the nice guys at the gun companies lend them to test.

First, let’s have a thought experiment. What would your requirements for a 1911 be? What features or performance would be mandatory (“must haves”) and what would be positive, but not mandatory, “should have” characteristics?

Let us propose one absolute requirement: it would have to work. That is, function: go bang and load the next round when the bang button is bumped, hit the target, that sort of thing. Ideally, it would have to work with a wide range of common ammo, and it would have to work almost all the time — an issue 1911 wasn’t terribly accurate, but it approached the quality control Holy Grail of six-sigma reliability with issue 230-grain hardball. None of the tested budget 1911s was a GI, milspec gun; most of them had all kinds of add-on features: extended triggers, skeletonized hammers, beavertail grip safeties, beveled mag wells. Most of this junk is marketing box-checking on a mass-produced gun. Most of the guns also used industrial processes that saved time, some of them doing it at the expense of quality, interchangeability (which was not tested) or reliability.

We learned through lots of gunsmithing that most of the things you did to a 1911 to make it more accurate had a deleterious effect on reliability. Adding target or tactical competition features to a low-cost mass produced .45 almost guarantees problems. And Shooting Times found the problems — and glossed over them.

First, two of the guns had key-activated locks. These feel-good gadgets add complexity without adding safety.

But the reliability of the guns was really the shocker. Each gun didn’t have to do a 6,000 round torture test; it had to make it through a mere two staged drills, the first comprising 2 13-round runs through a field course, and the second, 3 9-round runs against plates. So each pistol had to function (for each of five shooters) for 53 rounds, or a total of 265 rounds per pistol.

After that, there is a subjective rating score with thirty possible points, five each for “reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, recoil control, trigger, and sights.”

The test was not begun until Scarlata had fired-in each gun with three brands of ammunition. Here the looming problem was foreshadowed:

I experienced several failures to feed or go into battery with the JHP ammo.

Afterwards each pistol was disassembled, cleaned, and lubed, which would be the only maintenance they would receive. If any of them choked during the shootout, we would attempt to clear the problem at the range and keep shooting.

When the test begins, we find the writer making excuses for the shaky guns. They were new; they weren’t shot-in yet. They seemed to be getting better in the second round. It was just some failures to feed and premature lockbacks… nothing big. (Huh?)

And from there, we see that the factory mags were supplemented, for the rest of testing, with premium magazines from well-known vendors.

The first to fall was the Auto Ordnance 1911, a Kahr product.

On the last run of the field course, Dick Jones experienced the first problem of the day when the rear sight of the Auto-Ordnance Thompson 1911 fell off. When we attempted to reinstall it, we discovered that the setscrew was cross threaded and could not be loosened or tightened. It had apparently been tightened just enough at the factory to hold the sight in place, but firing several hundreds of rounds jarred it loose. Because of that the Auto-Ordnance pistol was retired, and none of us were able to shoot it during the plate rack stage.

And then there were six left, moving on to the plate stage. More excuses (“…thanks to temperatures hovering in the mid-90s and the fact that there was no shade, they all got quite hot…”), and then the next one bites the dust:

…the ejector on the ATI FX45 sheared off, preventing me from completing the third rack of plates and one other shooter from using it at all.

And then there were five. Only five guns completed the course, two went down with hardware failures. But these guys applied tee-ball grading standards; the sightless AutoOrdnance (which was also noted for FTFs with JHPs) was given 13 out of 20 on “reliability.” And the ATI, down hard with a failed ejector? They gave that 12 out of 20.

Other guns that were singled out as failures to feed included the MRI Desert Eagle 1911G, and Taurus PT-1911, but none of the contenders were reliable enough to score 20 out of 20 points for “reliability.” But they were all 60% or more of the way there — including the two clunkers that fell apart during the test.

And that says something unkind about today’s commercial firearms market. Out of a sample of 7 guns, 2 of them (28.6%) failed in a very brief and mild round of testing. That’s a pretty lousy result.

Two Interesting Pistol Jams

Tam at A View from the Porch, who, thank a merciful God, is back posting (albeit with comments muzzled, which in her circumstances is understandable), earlier this month finally experienced some jams with her well-shot (and thoroughly documented) 9mm Walther PPX. Two jams in one session, actually, and both of them have some lessons for us, even though all our Walthers are so old they were made when lots of people still thought Hitler had some good ideas.

It confused us a bit because she listed the second, more interesting, jam first. We’re going to turn her order around and list them in chronological order, which is also the way they appear if you go to her blog and scroll down (way down, now, as these were posted 7 Sep 14). Our main points are: what are the causes, how do you ID and reduce the stoppage when it occurs, and what preventive methods are possible.

Jam #1: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. She notes that:

[One round in the mag] had enough friction with the side of the magazine that it bound up, and the spring and follower tried to force the bottom round past it, They were wedged tight enough that they needed to be poked out with some vigor.

ppx mag malf 2

She notes that she’s also seen a similar jam in a S&W M&P. We’ve seen this jam in a lot of double-stack mags, mostly but not all pistol mags, mostly but not all double-stack, single-feed mags. We’ve seen this a lot with M9 mags, especially el cheapo no-name aftermarket mags, but also with some issue mags. (We have not had trouble with Mec-Gar or Beretta factory mags, which we think are also Italian Mec-Gar mags produced for Beretta).

How do you recognize it?

It shows up, from behind the gun, as a stovepipe or as slide closed on an empty chamber. (Tam’s pistol stovepiped, and it was immediately obvious to her).

ppx mag malf 1As you can see, a couple of rounds have jammed in her mag, and all the rounds above that are not being fed. The “slide closed on an empty chamber” variant is particularly insidious; it’s a rare shooter who’s so attuned to the gun as to pick up a loaded chamber indicator’s failure to, well, indicate a loaded chamber. So you get click when you expect boom; an irritant at the range, but more serious if you, in the immortal phrase of unfortunately mortal, late Paul Poole, “dry fire in a firefight, mwah-hah-HAH!”

If you shoot enough to see this failure, you will come to recognize it with a glance in the magwell (neither rounds nor follower showing up between the mag’s feed lips is a dead giveaway). Note that while this exact problem is, by definition, restricted to double-stack mags, single-stack mags can have a similar problem when a round tilts “just right” and jams inside the magazine.

A loaded or partly loaded magazine in which the top round is not retained by friction, and just falls out, is also an indicator of this problem. The rounds above the jam can be easily shaken out of the mag; the rounds below are trapped behind the jam.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide doesn’t help, as the mag is not feeding rounds. Sometimes the jam will respond to a sharp blow on the mag base or pistol butt, but the sure-fire (no pun intended) immediate-action drill is to dump the jammed mag, check the gun is clear of loose rounds, and load a fresh mag.


The causes can be: oversized rounds, mung (especially gritty mung) in the magazine, and bad mags. Mis-sized ammo and mung are normally hadmaidens of bottom-feeding at the ammo counter, but not always (as we’ll see).

Magazines themselves have lots of failure modes. Mags can have dents or deformities that you can’t see with the naked eye but that can be measured — and that can cause this problem. They can also have surface issues: rust and pitting on the inside of the mag can create enough friction to encourage rounds to hang up. There are things you can do to repair mags, although most smiths don’t have the tools on hand.

With magazine issues, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action,” as our hero Auric Goldfinger amiably pointed out to his guest. For the average trigger-and-hammer-applicator, the right thing is to expend the mag as a target (so that no one can ever rely on it) and replace it with a new one, if it has done this to you three times. Untold mischief is caused in military units and police departments (especially academies or other training facilities) from bad mags that are turned back in to supply and keep circulating. Supply hates to face the fact that mags are an expendable item; every dollar spent on mags from the supply account is one that can’t be spent on other equipment. But don’t let their economy leave you with the dreaded “Dry fire in a firefight!” Poole is laughing, wherever he is, but that ain’t funny.

The feed system is a very critical part of any autoloading or automatic firearm and the best preventive measures are (1) to clean and maintain your magazines, (2) to use only high-quality mags, and (3) to weed out ruthlessly all substandard mags.

Jam #2: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. And here’s what she says about it (at somewhat greater length):

The second one was the more interesting because in the middle of a rapid-fire string, I got a dead trigger.

The slide was too far out of battery to fire, fortunately. A smart rap on the rear of the slide only succeeded in getting the case stuck further. With the assistance of an RO, the round was extracted and a quick examination of the breechface, extractor claw, feed ramp, and chamber mouth showed nothing obviously out of the ordinary.

As she quickly figured out, being a sensible and systematic troubleshooter, the trouble wasn’t the gun. Here’s what it was:

overlength_winchester_9mmSing with us, kiddies: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong….”

The culprit is the round on the right, with a random exemplar round from the same box on the left. Now I need a good caliper to measure it. It appears almost to be roll-crimped rather than taper-crimped.

I can’t count this malfunction against the PPX, since the round was subsequently tested in my Gen 3 Glock 19 and one of my M&Ps and wouldn’t fully chamber in either.

We can’t judge it with the Mark I eyeball on that photo, although we could probably use the photogrammetry tools in photoshop or GIMP to have a hack at it. But several dimensional failures could have caused this: bad taper on the case, case length too long, bullet badly seated. Most pistol rounds headspace on the case mouth, including the 9 x 19, so odds are the case length was too long or the taper insufficient (probably the former, given the thing imitating a no-go gage in three different brands of 9mm pistol).

As a side note, this malfunction tied the gun up hard; if somebody had been shooting at me, I’d have been hosed.

This wasn’t with Acme imported-from-Bufugliland steelcase crap; it was economy bulk Winchester, but still, Winchester ammo. Name brand ammo has fewer brand rounds than budget stuff, but not zero. An occasional bad round is kind of inevitable when you produce ammo in great bulk: you can’t measure every case and every round, so you rely on statistical quality control. SQC is great stuff, but just because you have got your standard quality out to four nines to the right of the decimal point, your error rate is still nonzero. Somebody’s going to get the turkey round, and this time, it was Tam. 

How do you recognize it?

It shows up as a failure to chamber. Trying to force the slide or bolt home will either succeed in chambering the round (in effect, the gun becomes a resizing tool) or, more likely, lock the gun up tighter than the action’s ever been. (This is part of why the forward assist on the M16A1 and its successors was always a bad idea.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide or bolt is the only possibility, but it might require force and/or tools, especially if the gun has been forced towards battery. Take great care to prevent a negligent discharge when clearing the gun. (Be cognizant of the rules if you’re at a range, and make sure the RO knows you’re having a problem. They may have a policy you need to follow). Save the stuck round for examination. Note the lot number of the failed ammo (if it’s available) and contact the ammo manufacturer.


This is pretty much a bad ammo thing. Relegate that lot of ammo to training only. It probably does not make sense to change ammo brands, unless your brand is “Uncle Bubba’s no-name mixed-brass reloads). Preventive measures include careful ammo selection, and, if you’re seriously expecting combat, ammo inspection (World War I fighter pilots used to do this to prevent jams of their MGs due to slapdash ammo quality). We should probably do a post on bench and field-expedient ammo inspection sometime.

The M1917 Revolver: Brilliant Adaptation

Two Colt 1917 revolvers (one repark'd for WWII), from an excellent article in

Two Colt 1917 revolvers (one repark’d for WWII), from an excellent article in

One of the most remarkable and unique improvisations in American military history was the M1917 .45 caliber revolver. There were actually two: one made by Colt, and one by Smith & Wesson. The Colt was quite close to the Model 1909 that the company had made for the Army in cal. .45 Long Colt; the Smith was based on the company’s large-framed revolvers. But both were chambered for a first among revolvers: a rimless cartridge, using the then-novel, now-routine improvisation of a “half-moon clip.” It was the success of the M1917 that made the idea possible.

Reviewing a period (1918) source on this weapon’s development, the 7 Nov 1918 issue of American Machinist1, some things jump out at us:

  • The mechanics of the day had a remarkable can-do spirit;
  • Even then, there was a tendency for some people to condemn service weapons; the purchase of revolvers, “led to the circulation of the gross fallacy that the 45-caliber Government Colt automatic was a failure and that it was given up by the Government in favor of a new type of double action revolver.” (In almost everything written postwar by an Ordnance man, whether members of the tiny prewar cadre of 100 officers and 750 men, or one of the many thousands of engineers and workmen called to the colors, you can expect to find reference to unfair press criticism). Plus ça changé, plus c’est la même chose;
  • The Army made plans for a certain level of handgun issue, but the demand for handguns on the front was much higher, leading to a doubling of the order of Colt pistols, and still leaving unmet demand even after Colt upped production “200 percent in six months.” That was the impetus for the 1917;
  • Institutional memories of ammo mismatches in the Spanish-American War made Ordnance peremptorily rule out reissue of stored .38 Colt M1904 revolvers. (The article does not mention stocks of .45 LC revolvers, so they may have already been through disposition by the time the US entered the war);
Here's a Colt 1917, one of many now for sale on GunBroker.

Here’s a Colt 1917, one of many now for sale on GunBroker.

  • The article, which was “Passed by the office of the Chief Military Censor, Washington, DC on 16 Oct 1918,” was lighter in technical depth than we’d have liked to see. Whether those two facts were related, we can only speculate.
  • The article contains some errors, many of them small: “Smith-Wesson” instead of “Smith & Wesson”, etc. The mere contemporaneous nature of a source is no guarantor of accuracy, it just removes one potential cause of inaccuracy.
And here's a "Smith-Wesson" -- heh.

And here’s a “Smith-Wesson” — heh.

  • Some errors are larger, like the suggestion that the velocity lost by gas leakage in the revolver’s cylinder/barrel gap was “balanced by that used in the operation of the automatic pistol.” But the revolver’s gap comes before the barrel exits the bore; most of the auto’s use of the shot’s energy comes after the bullet exits the bore, and after the bullet exits the bore it has all the energy and velocity it’s ever going to get. As a simple matter of physics, Mr MacKenzie should have caught this.
  • This may also be an error, but the article suggests that Winchester was about to begin producing M1911 pistols. Fascinating if true; imagine the collector enthusiasm for them, if the programmed half-million Winchester 1911s had been made.
  • One of the keys to the success of the 1917 was the three-cartridge half-moon clip. Colt and S&W revolvers both accepted the same clips, and the ammunition was supplied to the front like that, in clips.
  • The initial 1917 revolvers were made from revolvers and parts that were in inventory at Colt and Smith.
  • An Army pistolero was supposed to be content with 24 rounds of ammunition, back in those days!

By December 7, 1918, the US Army Ordnance Department had accepted 417,275 “Pistols, cal 0.45, Model 1911″ from “Colt and Remington, Bridgeport.” (We’re not sure whether that means that the pistols were made or inspected there), and an additional 289,211 “Revolvers, caliber 0.45, Model 1917 (Colt and Smith & Wesson)2. We are not sure whether production stopped at that time, but we know rifle production, at least, continued into 1919, so it’s possible that revolver production was continued to fulfill new contracts.  However, the November, 1918 article only described contracts for 250,000 revolvers; there must have been another order beyond those noted by MacKenzie.

The text of MacKenzie’s article is attached, after the jump.


1. MacKenzie, Paul Allen. Using Rimless Cartridges in New Service Revolvers. American Machinist, Volume 49, No. 19. 7 Nov 1918. Contained in Volume XLIX, July 1 to December 31, 1918, p. 366. Retrieved from Google Books.

2. Colvin, Fred H. How Ordnance is Inspected. American Machinist, Volume 50, No. 7. 13 Feb 1919. Contained in Volume L, January 1 to June 30, 1919, p. 312. Retrieved from Google Books.

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Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 2

You can find Part 1 here: Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 2

In Part 1, we describe the pistol and the principles of troubleshooting it. In Part 2, we do some mechanical training with the firearm, and learn something’s not right about it. What? Read on.

Kid’s Naïve Observations of Luger Design

It was interesting and rewarding to see how this firearm looked through a new set of eyes, coming to it with no preconceptions. In the first place, he was amazed at some of the good features of the design, considering that the gun he held in his hands was quite literally 100 years old. Georg Luger’s design has a nearly perfect grip angle, is practically compact and well-balanced, points naturally in large hands or small, and its important controls fall near enough to hand. The magazine release is of a type that Browning also used, and that has become the modern standard: the push-button set where the bow of the trigger guard joins the magazine well. True, the safety is awkwardly placed for single-handed operation. But contrary to the practice on a range, a military pistol in the field in those days was generally left on safe until combat is joined, and only taken off safe on emerging from the other end of the dark tunnel of combat alive.

Many Luger features would become standards, such as the clearly labeled safety (which says”Gesichert,” or “safe,” when activated) and the loaded chamber indicator which has visual and tactile signals of a loaded firearm. These were both novelties in 1900, when the first Lugers began to be noticed worldwide. (Luger the man had been working on improving the Borchardt action since 1895 or so).

Kid made no comments about the weapon’s secondary weakness, its sights. We expect those will come when we get the range renewal unscrewed.

But he did zero in on the gun’s achilles’s heel: its complexity. He marveled at the design decisions Georg Luger made, many of which seemed to complicate the firearm. Not knowing, yet, the Borchardt and the Luger’s prototype history, he’s in the dark about just how evolved the Luger really was. Every single change from the Borchardt to the P.08 made a gun that was more compact, more reliable, easier (although not easy) to manufacture, and better suited to the rigors of military service. The Borchardt today is a collector’s item because of its position in history, which was largely assured by the Luger, and by its rarity, which resulted, frankly, from all its problems as a practical pistol. (Remember the buyer of a Borchardt wasn’t operating in a vacuum — even on its introduction in 1893, he had many less expensive, more robust, well-proven revolvers to choose instead, and in a few years he had Mauser’s C96 as an autopistol alternative). The Luger is a collectors’ item because of its position in history, and despite its mass production and the survival of many thousands of examples.

But there is something Heath Robinson about the Luger’s intricate toggle, about the way its mainspring works through a system of levers and a bellcrank, about its very indirect trigger mechanism. Let’s describe that, so you get a feel for it:

The trigger moves the short arm of a lever that pivots on an axis parallel to the bore down, which moves the long arm of the lever in towards the lateral centerline of the pistol. The bearing surface of that long arm presses on a spring-loaded pin that protrudes from the nose of the sear, which is pivoted at its center on a pin arranged vertically. If the safety is on, i.e., gesichert, the sear is blocked from pivoting. If the safety is not on, the nose of the sear pivots in towards the centerline, and the tail of the sear pivots out, disengaging the bearing surface of the sear from the engagement lug on the firing pin, and releasing the firing pin to race forward under the power of its spring.

After the weapon fires, the slide and toggle recoil together until the mechanical advantage of the toggle is broken by contact with the frame’s opening ramp. As the toggle opens, a protrusion on its nose withdraws the firing pin, recompressing the spring. The spring-loaded pin in the nose of the sear acts as the disconnector.

Hey, don’t feel bad if you can’t visualize it from that. Just visualize it from this:

Yes, that’s an awesome animation. Here’s another one by the same guy. They’re over with pretty quick, so you may want to play them a few times:

There are a number of other animated Lugers out there on YouTube, thanks to the engineering drawings of the gun long having been available. (Hey, SolidConcepts, 3D Print that!).

Simple Takedown — and a Discovery

As anyone who’s handled one extensively knows, the Luger is pretty easy to take down and field strips with no tools into six mostly good-sized parts: barrel & slide unit; toggle assembly; toggle pin (best reinserted in the toggle or slide immediately, when disassembling in the field, as this is the smallest part); frame; sideplate assembly; and magazine.  Assembly can be more difficult; as aircraft mechanics say, it comes apart a thousand ways, and there’s a thousand ways to put it together, but only one of those thousand methods of assembly is right. In particular, it can be tricky to get the “handlebars of the trapeze” (part 9 in the illustration below) caught just right under the “hands of the acrobat” (the bellcrank, part 23 in the illustration below).



In time, though, Kid mastered it and was happily assembling and disassembling the Luger. He knows that if you want to learn how to do something, the best way by far is by doing it — by drill. (This is part of why so many colleges do better at producing athletes than thinkers: the coaches, unlike the professors, have not lost sight of the utility of drill in human education).

(Aside: it’s amazing how the human mind works. Kid is bright, but badly dyslexic. He struggles to read, which is a challenge he’ll face all his life — they teach him some coping mechanisms, but we can’t just hand him the Sturgess book and say, “Study this.” Yet he instantly grasps the purpose and orientation of each part, and while there’s something awry in the part of his mind that tells “W” from “V”, he can look at a Luger part a year from now and say, “oh, that’s a Luger toggle pin” without the slightest difficulty, or identify a Smith from a Colt by its shape — the same shapes that bedevil him when trying to turn them into words. Hell of a thing).

Then, disaster struck. Or at least that’s what it looked like on his face. “It won’t come out!” After several frantic attempts to remove the toggle pin (part 20 in the illustration), he reluctantly handed the gun over. Didn’t want to give up. We almost hated to show him up.

But — we couldn’t get it out, either. The Luger had come apart normally. Then it went together — normally. Several times. All was copacetic. But now, it wouldn’t come apart at all. After attempting to do it with fingers, and to do it with inertia (swinging the gun by the barrel, landing a light tap on an upholstered chair arm, which should have sent the toggle pin flying), we looked around for a non-marring tool and tried the cap of a Sharpie. No joy. We actually broke the cap of the Sharpie. Ruh-roh.

OK, lets get serious. Support the receiver, orient the flanged end of the pin down, line up an unsharpened pencil (serving as a dowel) on the opposite end, and whack it.

No joy.

Whack it with a mallet.

Still no joy. Even swearing at it in its native German isn’t helping. That sucker isn’t coming out. We’ve come as far as we can in the living room. (What, there are no mallets in your living room?)

Kid has a sick “I broke it” look on his face. But he didn’t; he didn’t do anything wrong. We tell him this. He does not believe, and still looks stricken.

Down to the machine shop. Teachable moment about wood in vise jaws, when to use soft and hard wood, when to use rubber (“Ah, that’s why you don’t throw away inner tubes from the bikes but bring them down here”). Teachable moment on shop philosophy. “Don’t be Bubba, we’re only custodians of these guns during our short lives on earth.” Align pin with the lasers on the drill press. (One excellent feature on an otherwise el cheapo press). Insert a dowel in the chuck and press the pin out.

We could have done it with the big press, but there’s a bunch of stuff piled on that, so we bent the “right tool for the right job” rule a little bit, but didn’t bend the Luger, which is the important thing.

One gentle cycle of the downfeed lever, and out it comes. Mechanical advantage FTW.

Minute eyeball examination of the pin. Nothing the least bit unusual about it. Nothing unusual in the holes in the receiver or toggle. A quick look with some measuring tools found nothing out of alignment (despite the bozo stunt with the chair arm).

Luger parts tend to be a very tight fit and the toggle pin is no exception. (When it is in place in the receiver, the line that separate the two is barely visible to the naked eye).

Placing the pin in the receiver and rotating it gave us our first clue: there was one point in its 360º travel where it froze up. Either the pin, or the holes, is out of round enough to be dragging, both in rotation and in attempts to withdraw the pin. Force-rotate it away from the “sticky” spot and it slides right out.

Could this intermittently sticky toggle pin be responsible for our maddeningly intermittent failures to feed in the Artillery Luger? What’s causing it, and how do we fix it without leaving Bubba prints for some future gun blogger to mock us for?

Looks like there’s going to be a Part 3. Sorry about that!

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Luger

artillery_luger_siteMauro Baudino, an Italian who lives in Belgium nowadays, is an expert on the very beast we’re currently wrangling; he’s written a book on the Artillery Luger, although his book is aimed more at collectors and historians than on our current role, poor beggars trying to make the thing run like Kaiser Bill intended it to. So Mauro’s website on the Artillery,, is of great interest.

At the very beginning, it has a graphic in which a commemorative Artillery photo fades into a cut-away four-color drawing, which then cycles, and you can see the intricacies of the action — which all appear correct.

Baudino also co-wrote (with Gerben Van Vlimmeren) a book on postwar Parabellums, The Parabellum is Back: 1945-2000.  There is a website with information on this book including errata, like drawings of the magazines developed by Haenel for the French. Here’s a review of the book by Ian from Forgotten Weapons:

Unfortunately, his Artillery Luger book, which is available direct from the author, is primarily in the Italian language, albeit with bilingual (Italian/English) photo captions. But the website is all in English, and quite entertaining to explore.

Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 1

The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).

So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)

First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.

“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.

The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.

(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).

Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.

While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.

Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.

On to Troubleshooting

There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:

  1.  All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
  2. All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
  3. As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
  4. The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.

And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)

It's many things, but a Luger is not simple.

It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.

With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.

We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.

So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.

And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!

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:


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:


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).


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):

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.


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.


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:


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.


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.