Category Archives: Weapons Usage and Employment

Holstered gun fires itself? How is this even possible?

ND-shot-in-footThat’s the way the AP, no doubt retyping a press release as is their usual wont, reports it:

A South Florida police officer is recovering after his holstered gun fired while he was chasing suspected thieves, wounding him in the leg.

Authorities said Monday that Officer Joel Basque of the Sweetwater Police Department was responding to a report of shoplifters at the Dolphin Mall near Miami. Basque and another officer tried to chase down the four suspects, who fled in different directions. They did catch one 18-year-old man.

via South Florida officer shot with own holstered gun.

But he has company walking the Limp of Shame, as a Columbus, Ohio cop also managed to shoot himself with a holstered gun on the way to work this morning.

Police say the officer was struck in the leg by a bullet around 6 a.m. in northwest Columbus, near I-270 and 33.

“He was on his way to work, was in uniform and the way our duty belts fit, if you have a car with leather seats, you won’t want to wear the duty belt while driving – because it will really mark up your vehicle. So a lot of officers will just take the belt off and put it on the seat or the floor,” said Sgt. Rich Weiner of the Columbus Police Department.

Weiner adds that the weapon – a Smith & Wesson MP40 – did not have a safety.

The Columbus officer, an 18-year veteran of the force, drove himself to the hospital and was not expected to stay there overnight. If he was not violating department policy, he won’t be disciplined for the ND.

We’ve heard of a few freak accidents with Glocks (and such Glocklike pistols as S&W M&P’s) and the pull-tabs on jackets, but the first incident was in South Florida in July — nobody’s wearing a jacket unless he’s a gangster trying to conceal a Desert Eagle or something. And we’ve heard of some accidents involving exposed-trigger and other badly designed holsters (cough Serpa cough). But generally it takes an application of force to the bang switch to produce a bang (and, in this case, a limping, and we suspect cursing, policeman).

We understand that the reporter in the first story wrote, “his holstered gun fired.” (The second story’s reporter got it right, describing what happened as the unlucky officer, “accidentally shooting himself.” True, that). Now, reporters may believe that holstered guns can just up and fire themselves, given the general level of hoplodementia in the trade, and the fact that what they think is the great education they got in J-School was shallow, narrow, and tendentious. Reporters can believe dumb crap like that, but for those of us in the physical world where Newton’s Laws remain, well, laws, guns don’t exercise their own designs on their own volition.

If they did, they’d probably clean themselves, like cats.

Amateur SWAT is Worse Than Regular SWAT

Fly SwatterA post at Extrano’s Alley reminds us that we’ve been remiss in following up the issues with a Georgia SWAT wrong-house raid that left a child hovering near death for days. The Stranger quotes a gut-wrenching paragraph from an article by the kid’s mother, in Salon:

I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him. He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib. And I could see a pool of blood. The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth. It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.

via Parents Report On The Child The SWAT Team Blew Up With A Grenade | Extrano’s Alley, a gun blog.

There are some serious training deficiencies evident with these County Mounties from Gaptooth County, GA, and their Good Ol’ Boys SWAT Team an’ Mixed-Race-Kid Huntin’ Club.

Flashbang 101

Let’s begin with what a flash-bang is, what it was invented for, and how to use it. It is an offensive grenade providing a disorienting less-lethal (as we’ve seen in this case, not necessarily non-lethal) explosion that is intended to distract a hostage taker long enough for a CT team’s assaulters or snipers to kill him before he can target them. It was developed for national-level CT assets and Is the sort of weapon you use as an alternative to seeing hostages murdered — it’s a lesser evil.

Here’s the employment scheme for a flash-bang.

  1. With eyes on target, locate an area to throw the grenade in that does not have anyone in it (except perhaps a hostage-taker).
  2. Arm and throw the grenade at that exact spot, while maintaining eyes on target.
  3. Take eyes off target and shield them for blast.
  4. Instantly after blast, make entry. Locate the hostage taker and kill him before he reorients himself.

The weapon was never designed to be used in a case where you are trying to take your opponent alive. Those safety measures (eyes on the place you’re throwing the flash-bang) are there because of the probable presence of individuals who are not your opponents (the opponents are designated to die in any case).

To pass flash-bang certification (required in ethical units/departments to be able to throw the things “for real”), an assaulter has to run that cycle or something very similar, usually involving an instructor on the target making eye contact and seeing that the student’s eyes are searching the room. Throw a flash/bang blind? Never get certified.

Team Operations Require Team Training

Here’s the key to clearing buildings and/or rescuing hostages: it’s a team sport, and apart from individual skills, the team needs the kind of teamwork that only high-intensity and frequent drills produce. The drills only work with the same guys in the same position — the position you play is as important here as it is on, say, a football team or rugby side. You can’t be a lineman one day and a receiver the next, and quarterback some other time. Not if you aspire to membership in the ranks of the professionals.

And Here’s What You Get When You Skip That:

Here’s a few fun facts about the incident that wounded “Bou-bou” Phonesavanh.

  • The individual who threw the grenade in Georgia had no such flash-bang certification. Neither did any of the SWAT members.
  • The thrower had not had any formal training on how to use the grenade, or its capabilities.
  • He’d never thrown one before.
  • The individual never looked in the room, but threw the grenade blind into the toddler’s crib.
  • The SWAT members didn’t just lie to the child’s stressed-out mother, Alecia Phonesavanh. They also lied to their superiors about the incident. Many departments will countenance the former, but not many have much toleration for the latter. (There’s also some question of the integrity of the officers in charge, who have previously been found to falsify records in other cases).
  • The SWAT team was all new and had conducted almost no individual and collective training.
  • They claimed they “knew” there were no children in the house, but no policeman had been in the house, and even their informant had not been inside. They actually had to move a baby stroller and walk past a minivan with four child seats to stack up on the house. Four child seats and a stroller are what an intelligence officer might call “indicators.”
  • News stories say the target of the raid was arrested “later,” but supposedly the investigation has uncovered that he was already in custody when the raid initiated. So the raid took place to grab a guy who was already in the back of a cruiser elsewhere. “Why waste a good (?) raid plan?” seems to have been their rationale.

A previous team with some of the same officers shot an innocent man in 2009, and investigation then determined that some of the officers had had no training but did have pencil-whipped training records. That one cost the taxpayers $2.3 million despite DA Brian Rickman’s efforts to cover it up. He was working to cover this one up, too, so the investigation has been taken out of his untrustworthy hands. There were no consequences to Rickman or county police leadership over the falsified records and cover-up attempt. In retrospect, that was probably one of the errors that led directly to the grave injuries visited on this innocent kid.

Now, the system is going all-out to protect these guys, who are enjoying the traditional non-charged vacation. But if you’re a serious cop who doesn’t want your department to star in a story like this, here are a few pointers:

  1. Know your limitations. If you’re a rural, small department with a tight budget, maybe a SWAT team is not for you, and you’d be better off relying on regional assets or coming up with more creative ways to collect your fugitives and serve your warrants,
  2. Don’t let your desire for shiny war toys from the Pentagon write a check that your training budget can’t cash. Bare minimum proficiency at clearing simple, small buildings can be achieved in three weeks of 16-plus hour days, with the same guys in the same positions. And that assumes that they’re already proficient with the guns they’ll be using. Any more than bare minimum proficiency requires more than this bare minimum training schedule.
  3. Never, ever, turn an officer loose without him having documented and complete training on his weapons systems. Trust, sure, but verify. Not having done that is about to bite the taxpayers of this jurisdiction in the wallet for the second time in four years. At some point, they’ll get tired of writing checks and shake up police leadership.

If you read #3 above and your approach is to make up fictional training and write it in your officers’ personnel jackets, you’re doing it wrong — you’re doing what these clowns did. Don’t be that guy.

Road to Precision

This YouTube playlist documents at excruciating length (the whole playlist is hours long) Canadian Ryan Pahl’s four-year effort to break into F-Class high-power rifle competitive shooting.

Spoiler: in the end, he decides he just doesn’t have the resources (human or capital, we’re not really sure what his problem is) to get to the next level. So he decides to take his shooting in a different direction, at the end of the playlist. But if you hang in for the whole thing, you’ll learn a lot about rifle competitive target shooting and the level of competition that’s out there these days. You’ll also learn quite a bit about what it takes to put lead on target, when “on target” is defined as very small and quite far away.

The fact is, Ryan shot better than many elite military unit snipers, and he was still, at the end, disappointed in his performance, measured against the real high-power competition gravelbellies.

And benchrest shooters look at high-power shooters’ best groups, kind of like physicists look at psychologists – “they do interesting stuff, but is it really science?” — and they have the groups to justify that attitude.

There are two sets of things that competitors do. The first is a variety of things that actually improve shooting performance, including such things as handloading with extreme uniformity. These things are mostly unchanged from competitor to competitor and year over year. Then there are the superstitions, which do tend to change: they get swept up as enthusiasms or fads by the community for a while, then they’re all on to the next fad. But an outsider has little hope of figuring out which is which. (Best guide to a fad is the absence of a plausible physical explanation of why it helps, but that’s not perfect as some useless superstitions sound perfectly plausible).

This could be edited down into a single, shorter presentation, that would be worth buying as a DVD or download. We’ll admit we fast-forwarded past the many groups that were recorded in apparent real-time. Shooting holes in targets is one of those things that’s much more interesting when you’re doing it than when you’re watching the other guy do it.

Good luck to Ryan, and thanks for the video tour of a short career in high-power.

Jerry Miculek on Open Carry — and Weaponsman, too: less politely.

Champion shooter, pro competitor, instructor and all around good guy Jerry Miculek has his own take on the bizarre phenomenon of attention-whoring “open carry activists” who go ditty-bopping into various unsuspecting businesses with TAPCO’d out ARs and SKSes carried at the ready. He gets the editorial comment out of the way — gently, and with humor — with his appearance in the first few minutes of the video, and then he spends the rest of it discussing when carrying what is appropriate. His advice is thoughtful, practical, polite to the point of courtliness. And certain to be ignored by certain perseverating camera hounds in Texas.

Do make time to Watch The Whole Thing™ because it’s nothing but solid advice from a guy who stone-cold knows shooting and knows how to prepare for self-defense. And his gentle gibe at some of the guys who disengaged brain before engaging in open carry is frontloaded and over fairly quickly, while the whole video is a pretty good cross-check on your own carry plans and preparedness.

Now, Our Two Cents’ Worth

We do not get the fascination with rifle open carry. (And yes, we know that that’s their brain-dead way to protest the absence of handgun open carry in the Lone Star State). And we do not get the calculus where, if a bunch of weird-looking bozos brandishing guns are seen as threatening by a lot of not-weird-at-all people, the way to resolve that problem is to make the sight bands of bullet-headed bullet-launcher-bedecked bozos drearily commonplace.

We’ll tell you right now: ain’t gonna happen. What these guys have already done is torpedo Open Handgun Carry in Texas. On what they’re trying to do, they’re not only not helping, but their efforts obstruct and hinder the people actually working on the problem. Who could probably use plenty of help, but not this kind.

The activists’ idea of Tactical is more Tacticold, too. What’s next, a Mosin-Nagant in a plastic “sniper kiddie” chassis, with a Walmart Special scope?  If you want cool optics, nifty accessories, and to walk around with your rifle at the ready, the recruiter’s number is in the phone book, and he or she will get you together with a rifle that is not a pathetic laughingstock. For the sort of sedentary geeks we’ve seen representing Open Carry Texas in social media, there may be some problems with such hurdles as height & weight standards and drug testing. Think of it as an opportunity to excel.

This is particularly sad because one of the heads, if not the head, of OCT is a soldier, who ought to know better. But clearly doesn’t. Because his troopies keep doing dumb stuff.

Anyway, Jerry says it all with more tact and style. But they’ll ignore him just as much as they ignore our ruder attempts to transmit the message.

Negative contact with intelligent life in the OC activist community. Weaponsman, out.

Florida Highway Patrol does not train its troopers

Here is a remarkable video showing a very, very stupid and ill-trained Florida Highway Patrol officer

“You’re not allowed to carry your firearms like that.”

“Even with a concealed permit? On my person?”

“No you cannot have it like that…. From what we’ve been told… you can’t have one in the chamber. It has to be broken up, the magazine out…”

“I find this… befuddling.” Of course he does, because it’s bullshit.

Contacted by Lee Williams (modestly yclept “The Gun Writer,” but Lee is actually a pretty prolific… gun writer), the FHP’s spokeswoman, Capt. Nancy Rasmussen, initially suggested that the Patrol would retrain and retest Officer Stoopid, and then said, since the trooper in the video has quit for other reasons, basically no harm no foul.

Of course, there’s nothing FHP can do for someone who’s no longer with the agency.

Lee also learned, after talking to the bodyguard in the video (Sean Williams, presumably not a relation), that

The trooper tried clearing his .45, but left a hollow-point in the chamber, when she handed the pistols back.

You wonder: 

  1. What other department this nincompoop is now on, and
  2. How many other FHP troopers are as badly informed and trained as she is.

Third World police training standards right by the gates to Mickey’s house.

Hat tip: The Gun Feed.

911 Call: Person Suicidal, Armed with a Handgun

Farmington MO PDWe’ve seen how these end: with the suicidal person having accomplished his aims at the muzzle of a cop’s gun, and the cops only afterward discovering that the “gun” was a non-gun of some kind, or never existed at all.

But the incidents that make the news are not a representative set of “armed and suicidal” calls. Few cops want to shoot unarmed people, however bughouse crazy they might be. And most such calls end with the person alive, transported for evaluation and treatment, and no interest from the press. If it doesn’t bleed, it ain’t gonna lead.

In this case, the initial armed-suicide call got a local Missouri paper amped up enough to run the story, only to be left updating it after the Farmington, MO police deftly handled the situation:

Updated Info.: Upon further review of the incident, Chief of Police Rick Baker said officers were initially led to believe the suspect was armed and acted accordingly. Following the arrest they learned that the man was not armed with a handgun as reported. He was taken to a facility for psychiatric evaluation.

We’re sure cops in Farmington are just as aware as anyone how quickly a nutter can turn violent and deadly, but they still addressed the individual with care for everybody’s safety, including the suicidal person who was causing trouble for the police and public.

The situation unfolded on North Washington Street near the intersection of College Street during a busy time of the evening. More than one officer performed a traffic stop and the situation escalated to what appeared to be a brief standoff. Traffic on both streets was halted for a time until the person could be taken into custody.

According to Chief of Police Rick Baker, officers… took the necessary precautions to secure the safety of bystanders, other motorists, officers and the person being stopped.

The initial reports of the person being suicidal indicated he, or she, was also armed with a handgun. While witnesses at the scene indicated a weapon was involved, Chief Baker could not confirm what weapon, if any, was involved until he reviewed the reports and spoke with the officers on duty at the time.

[A]fter several tense moments the officers were able to take the driver into protective custody.

via UPDATED: Police diffuse potentially harmful situation.

We have no doubt that this occurred “after several tense moments.” But it’s good to see a Chief who’s well aware that his duty is to the safety of the public and persons in custody, as well as to his own officers, and it’s good to see that his officers really act that way.

Farmington is a busy little police department which arrests 3 to 4 people a day on average, and answered 17,000 calls last year. Serious crimes are few, and their closure rate is high. Last year they were left with only one serious felony open case — a robbery.

No doubt, the Farmington officers took some risks to apprehend and transport this troubled individual. And no doubt at all that they feel better about the outcome than they would have done if they’d shot him.

Now, the poor wretch is in the hands of the gods, or at least the pshrinks, who often confuse the two. May his soul find peace and the love of life that comes so naturally to all of us.

And if we ever run into a Farmington officer, adult beverages are on us.

Timeless Advice on Point Shooting

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen.

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen. Hatcher considered it an archetypically well-designed pistol for instinctive shooting.

Sometimes the age of a document shows. But the underlying principles may actually be timeless. Take, for instance, this brief excerpt from p. 487 of Julian Hatcher’s 1935 Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers, a bonus bound in a single volume with his Firearms Investigation, Identification and Evidence, a wide-ranging book whose title does not truly do it justice. The subject Major Hatcher is discussing is one of great interest here — shooting without sights, and whether the ergonomics of some weapons (he is specifically talking pistols) enable this more than others. Here’s what Hatcher said:

While I fully agree with the ideas of Mr. McGivern about the necessity of sights, I consider it important for the practical pistol shot to know how to get fairly good results without using the sights at all, but rather, pointing the gun entirely by instinct, as the finger is pointed in indicating an object. This is really very important, because any shooting that may be done at night will have to be this kind. Also pistol shooting on the battle field or in holdups is more likely to be at night than it any other time.

Ed McGivern, who passed away some 20 years after Thatcher’s book hit the shelves, was already all but retired, due to rheumatoid arthritis. McGivern is less famous now than he was when Hatcher penned those words, but he was a legendary trick shooter capable of prodigious feats of shooting speed and accuracy. How good was McGivern? Watch the NRA’s National Firearms Museum’s senior curator Phil Schreier wax rhapsodic about him:

And in 1935, night shooting meant blind shooting. Night vision equipment was unimaginably futuristic at the time, and even the laser was decades in the future as a laboratory device, and decades more before anyone could do anything practical with one.

And it’s understood it when Hatcher speaks about holdups, he’s talking more about interrupting or resisting them, than he is dispensing advice on how to  commit them. (One hopes).

The sort of instinctive shooting Hatcher is talking about here, the sort made famous by McGivern, is even more out of favor these days. Modern instructors teach you to acquire and use the sights at all but the shortest — contact! — ranges. But the fact is, in 1935 as well as today, you can engage targets at quite a considerable distance without using the sights at all. The Major continues:

You will find that if you will suddenly extend your arm and point your finger at any object near you, the finger is pointing pretty closely in the direction of the object in question. In the same way a pistol or revolver can be pointed without looking at the sights. One thing that makes it hard, however, is the fact that pistols and revolvers are of so many different shapes and that most of them do not point in the same direction that the finger would — without considerable practice.

The Remington Model 51 automatic was carefully designed after months of study, with the object of having it point just where the finger would point if it were not on the trigger. Many other pocket automatics point the same way, and the Colt Woodsman and the Luger are among the best in this respect. The .45 Government Model Automatic also closely approaches this ideal, especially with the improved mainspring housing adopted about 10 years ago.

Now that’s dated. The “improved mainspring housing” he’s referring to is the arched housing, introduced as part of the M1911A1 upgrade in 1926. Even with that, we never found a 1911 pointed as well as a Luger or another gun with a similarly raked grip, like the Woodsman Hatcher mentions or the High Standards that he doesn’t, because they weren’t designed yet. That said, some prefer the 1911 grip, which is why High Standard diversified from its traditional grip (that was exactly the same rake angle as the Woodsman’s) and later added the Military product line with a grip angle that was an exact match for the Government Model .45.

Celebrate Diversity! we always say.

Hatcher goes on to describe how to develop the art of pointing a gun, like a revolver, that may not point as naturally as some of those early-20th-Century self-loaders.

If you use one type of revolver and stick to it, you can easily learn to point the barrel accurately without using the sights.

He suggested a five-step program to master point shooting:

  1. Select some distant object as a target, and then close your eyes and point the gun. Open your eyes. How near are you pointing to your target? With practice, you’ll get better at it.
  2. Standing about 10 feet from a mirror, point the pistol at your own eyes. The reflection should tell you how close you are. Again, the more you do this, the better you get at it.
  3. Once you’re “accurate” enough just drawing and pointing, it’s time to add dry-fire: snap the gun when you present it. What happens to the muzzle when you do this? Practice, again, is the key to muzzle control.
  4. Move to live-fire, working on shooting without the sights. This requires a range that’s safe enough; back in the twenties, Hatcher had used the ocean off a then-undeveloped Florida.
  5. Optionally, continue at night, with white targets. You’ll be sble to see the target, but not your sights, forcing  you to shoot by instinct.

In the end, Hatcher promises that such a program will lead you to success:

Such practice as this, especially if you will stick to one particular gun, will rapidly train the subconscious mind so that the hand will always hold and point the gun so as to send the bullet into the right place.

It is surprising how soon you get so that you can simply extend the gun toward the object in question, at the same time smoothly contracting all the muscles that do the trigger pulling, and strike just about at the mark.

We have mentioned several times, both in this chapter and elsewhere, that the best way to aim is to extend the revolver straight out the object you are going to shoot, and not swing it from the shoulder in the old western style. This gesture had a reason in those early western days and was necessary. The reason was that the muzzle-loading or cap-and-ball revolvers were used, and when a cap was exploded it split in fragments which were liable to get into the revolver mechanism and clog the works. Swinging the gun with the muscle vertical when cocking allow these pieces to fall off the nipple and drop to the ground.

We can confirm that practicing instinctive shooting, which the Army once taught as “quick kill,” does rather rapidly show up as improvement in your instinctive fire results. But we didn’t know that percussion Colt trick before reading of it here.

Hatcher continues (p. 489 and following) with a discussion of the pros, cons, and methods of instruction for “hip shooting,”  which he considers “spectacular and interesting,” but more or less completely lacking “practical value.” There is no royal road to Ed McGivern level skills, Hatcher explains: “Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in hip shooting.”

You could substitute any other modifier for “hip” in there. Or leave it out entirely. Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in shooting.

Of course, it has to be focused, disciplined practice with concrete objectives, but that’s a post for another day.

Russo-Japanese Riflery

Over the century-plus since its decisive conclusion, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 has faded into obscurity, but quite undeservedly so. When it is remembered today, it is either for the brilliant Japanese naval victory at Tsushima Straits, or for President Theodore Roosevelt’s efforts in bringing about a peace treaty, efforts which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize. (In those backward days, this came to pass only after peace had been concluded between the warring parties, not in the modern fashion of participation trophies and forsworn scorekeeping. But we digress).



Setting the impact of Tsushima Straits on history aside, the War was not entirely a naval war, and the land conflict was broad, vast, and modern, in 20th Century terms: it was a massive land war in Asia featuring two Great Powers’ armies. The army of 1905, as deployed by both Russia and Japan, was the levee en masse of Napoleon supercharged with modern smokeless, small-caliber repeating rifles and breechloading, recoil-managed artillery. Along with these vast increases  in infantry and artillery firepower and lethality, the Russo-Japanese War also introduced two new complications to field fortifications: machine guns and barbed wire. The last wars of great consequence, the US Civil War (1860-65), the Lopez War of Paraguay against all its neighbors (1865-70), the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Russo-Turkish War (1877), and the Spanish-American War (1898) had predated most of these developments, although the Russians had seen the sharp end of repeating rifles at Varna and the Americans had been given cause to reassess their choice of breech-loading rifle and had already copied the superior Mauser. But in America in 1905, the Army left barbed wire to cattlemen and were content with adapting their hand-cranked Gatling gun to newer cartridges, despite a few visionary soldiers’ experiments with Maxims, which we’ve recounted here before.

Russo-Japanese War

In addition to the armaments and their employment, which are of greatest interest to us, military-technical developments since the mid-19th Century included the telegraph, still exclusively wired, and the increased use of specialized support troops such as combat engineers. In some ways, Napoleon would have recognized these armies, drawn by horse and trailed by disease. But Napoleon would probably have grasped the tactical utility of the new weapons, and there’s evidence that not all the combatant officers did.

American soldiers were also little interested, it seems, in the doings of the great Asian empires, but not so the British. The British sent a doughty expedition of field grade and general officers to the combatants as observers, these men, men of considerable talent and accomplishments both before and after this war, wrote detailed and highly readable accounts of the efforts of both sides. We have at hand a collection of British attaché officer reports from the victorious Japanese side of the war, and it’s fortunately available to all through Google or here as a .pdf.

(stand by, we are experiencing technical difficulties loading the file).

We’re looking for the countervailing reports of the officers who traveled with the defeated Russians, and expect it, too, will be rich in insights. The books were published by the GPO in three volumes in 1908, with Volume 1 being the reports of the officers attached to the Japanese forces. It also contains, as an entirely unexpected bonus, a transcript of a lecture given by Japanese staff officers to their British counterparts.

One gets a very strong impression that the Japanese Army had its act together in ways that the Russians did not. This general operational superiority seems to be more than just the expected ability of an advancing army to hold together vis-a-vis one driven into retreat, but seems to flow from superiority in leadership, tactics, drill, and, frankly, grit. The Japanese superiority extended even into the fundamentals — such as riflery.

This excerpt comes from Page 46 of the book, and is the sixth numbered point in remarks of Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton on the subject of operations along the Yalu River, or the Ya-lu as Sir Ian transcribes it:

Another marked contrast between the two armies was in their musketry. The Russians mainly used volleys, even in the confused struggle at Ha-ma-tang ; the Japanese, individual fire. It was thought that the experiences gained in the South African war had given its quietus to volley firing, but there is no doubt as to the fact, which I have had from the mouth of a divisional general, as well as from numerous junior officers. Moreover, l have satisfied myself that, whereas the artillery practice of the Russians was good as long as it lasted, the musketry was inaccurate to an extent not entirely explicable by the fact that they were attempting to fire volleys in face of combined shrapnel and individual rifle tire. This is specially interesting on account of the different principles underlying the musketry training of the respective armies.

The regulations and conduct of Russian musketry practice have been dominated for the past few years by a school of thought which is not unknown in our army. It is urged by these officers that the most practical method of instructing a. battalion is to cause it to expend the greater part of its annual allowance of ball cartridge at Field Firing at unknown distances in the open country, because it is “just like the real thing.” Their opponents, whilst admitting that a little field firing may be useful, protest that as far as instruction in marksmanship is concerned, a soldier might just as well fire blank cartridge if he does not know where his bullet has struck, or what faults he has committed in elevation or direction. As in most technical and theoretical disputes there has been much to say on either side. Now, however, we have the Russian army, which expends a. large proportion of its rounds in Held firing, meeting the Japanese army, which expends all but a. very small proportion of its ammunition on the rifle range, in the careful individual instruction of each soldier at target shooting. The Russian infantry shot badly, the Japanese infantry shot excellently.

You could sum up the entire war using that sentence as a model, just substituting any arm or service for “infantry” and the appropriate verb for “shot.” But the superiority in shooting is noted. One expects that it is rooted in Japanese superiority at even more fundamental martial arts: discipline and drill. And it always comes back to leadership. Despite its assistance from European powers (including Britain and Prussia), Japan resisted the taint of class or aristocracy and their officer selection and development was considerably more meritocratic than their counterparts’. Imperial Russia selected her officers from among an inbred and enervated aristocratic and gentry minority.

RussoJapaneseWar.Print2This had consequences on the battlefield. While the Japanese had rifle superiority overall, the Russians were not without their marksmen, and Japanese depth and sang-froid of leadership was occasionally tested by the decapitation of units by precision shooting. The overall tendency of the infantry and cavalry actions of the war seem to suggest that technology had given a boost to the defensive over the offensive art.

The reports do not mention the quality of the nations’ small arms, suggesting that the attaché officers thought them unremarkable. Indeed, the rifles were not vastly different in quality or capability from one side to the other, or from those of other Powers. Russia fielded a modern, reliable and lethal weapon in the M1891 Mosin-Nagant Rifle, and Japan had a counterpart in the Type 30 Arisaka with many borrowed Mauser design features. (Not enough to be sued by Mauser, unlike the USA). While the Japanese rifle was better, it was probably not better enough to make a difference; Russia’s World War enemies would be similarly equipped, and Russia would hold her own with the Mosin. (Special Operations Truth #1: Humans are more important than hardware. Applies to conventional operations, too). Both sides had formations still carrying previous-generation large-bore black-powder single-shot breechloaders, the Russian Berdan and Japanese Murata being similar to that generation of weapons worldwide.

The machine-gun balance was different: technically, Russia’s Maxim was arguably superior to Japan’s Hotchkiss, but Japanese officers were satisfied enough with the Hotchkiss to stick with it for 40 more years, and they either had more of them, or employed them with so much more skill that it appeared that way. Humans > Hardware, again.

James Aylmer L. ("A.L") Haldane, later Sir James GCMG KCB DSO.

James Aylmer Lowthorpe (“A.L”) Haldane 1862-1950, later Sir James AL Haldane GCMG KCB DSO.

The entire book is of great interest. This paragraph which begins on p. 60 is the redoubtable (then) Lieut-Colonel A. L. Haldane, D.S.O.’s, assessment of the problem of assaulting positions defended with wire and Maxim. (Among other Eminent Victorian achievements, Haldane helped Churchill escape during the Boer War). Ten years later, British officers, and their French and German counterparts alike would be at a similar loss for a solution to this problem; one suspects from reading the report that Japanese officers might have thought more and hoped less than the collective combat leadership of Europe 1914-18.

In the battle of Nan Shan the men of the Second Japanese Army, for the first time in their existence, found themselves opposed to barbed wire and machine guns, and in almost every succeeding engagement the main difficulty to be overcome has arisen from the presence of these two creations of modern war. No entirely satisfactory method of destroying either has yet been discovered, though artillery has, on rare occasions, been pushed sufficiently near to silence machine guns, and it is stated that bombs charged with dynamite are effective locally in breaking down wire entanglements. The matter is still engaging the earnest attention of the Japanese, and is no doubt receiving due consideration in England and India.

As a Corps commander in World War I, Haldane would still have no “entirely satisfactory method of destroying either.” Haldane also noted heavy, largely ineffectual, volley fire from the Russians. “The Japanese certainly did not fire away as many rounds as the Russians.”

RussoJapaneseWar.cartoonIt is quite an interesting book, and one is left with a profound impression that the Japanese, only 45 years from being a feudal empire without firearms or modern machinery, had built a uniformly first-rate war machine from sheer stubborn discipline and hard work, and that the Russian Army had pockets of excellence in a vast peasant mass of mediocrity (or worse). Would that impression be changed if we read the reports from the attachés to the Russian forces? Probably not. The verdict of history is that the Russians botched the war; the verdict of the Russian people was that the Russians botched the war, and it led them into revolution; and the British are likely to have had more and better officers placed in better position with the Japanese, who were closely allied with Britain at the time. It seems unlikely that the Russians would have been quite as willing to open up to foreign observers as the Japanese Army did to their distinguished British visitors.

“Call out the Posse”

A posse hastily formed on 30 Apr 1884 to pursue bank robbers. Elaboration at 11. (This one doesn't embiggen, sorry).

A posse hastily formed on 30 Apr 1884 to pursue bank robbers. Elaboration at 11. (This one doesn’t embiggen, sorry). Turns out not all posses are in old tintypes.

These words, spoken by many a lantern-jawed leading man of the 50s and 60s, were the first bold strokes of the writing on the wall for many a celluloid desperado. It was a surprise to us, living between two modern seaside communities on the hard-right seaboard of a continental nation, to learn that “the posse” still thrives in America. (We’ll follow this up with an article about an event with a historical posse: the exact one on the left).

Law Professor Dave Kopel explains in brief in a post at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, and in depth in an upcoming Northwestern Law School Journal Symposium; his draft of the long-form article is available at SSRN. It’s 95 pages long, a lot of them being an appendix describing the posse laws in many American states, and the first footnote runs for three pages, listing a fascinating 2000-year library of history books that Kopel consulted in his analysis of posse comitatus history and legalities.

The Sheriff, an office that is more or less deprecated in its native England, got a new lease on life in the New World, and when a Sheriff’s manpower did not suit the task, he could call out the able-bodied manpower of the county: in Latin, the posse comitatus. The term is known to most modern Americans as the name of the post-Reconstruction law that forbade use of federal troops under the fig-leaf of posse comitatus, the law that now enforces, somewhat, a separation cleft between the national security apparatus and the common police. But the posse long predated 1878 and continues to function thereafter.

The decline in use of the posse in the Northeast, Kopel notes, may trace directly to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. If you’re not enthusiastic about getting called for jury duty, imagine if instead of that, the call came compelling you to bring your firearm and help hunt down some poor wretch of a Dred Scott and send him back to the living death of slavery.

But having lived a lifetime where the posse never recovered from that sour era, we were astounded to find that the posse has been working all along out West. It’s always good to have our thick, egotistical layer of omniscience holed. It’s a good counterweight to our usual burden of massive self-regard. Kopel:

For the century after 1878, federal uses of the posse comitatus were infrequent, and rarely controversial. Among the county Sheriffs, the posse thrived, in its traditional roles of ordinary law enforcement, suppression of riots, and so on.

In Colorado today, at least 17 county Sheriffs’ Offices have organized posses. These days, posse service is not a matter of being summoned, but of volunteering. The volunteers are trained to high standards by the Sheriffs. To the extent that the posse needs be armed at any given time (and the Sheriff has always had complete discretion in this matter), posse members provide their own arms according to the Sheriffs’ guidelines. Posses provide everything from gate security at the County Fair to assistance in hostage situations and high-risk arrests.

These county posses are supplement by the Colorado Mounted Rangers, a statewide volunteer organization which has memoranda of understanding with over two dozen local law enforcement agencies to provide support as needed. Again, this can involve everything from directing traffic at a bike parade, to emergency services during a wildfire or flood. During natural disasters, a Sheriff may also deputize posse members ad hoc, to prevent looting in towns which have been temporarily isolated.

Large posses have been used in exceptional circumstances, such as when serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from the Pitkin County (Aspen) jail in 1977, or in the manhunt for a pair of criminals who murdered the Sheriff of Hinsdale County in 1994. In both of these situations, the posse proved decisive in preventing the killers from leaving the county.

via Sheriffs and the posse comitatus.

Again, this was news to us, although it might be old hat to our readers in Colorado and other Western states. The long form paper goes on to consider the nexus between the office of Sheriff and the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. This is a very interesting paper that stands at a crossroads of law and policy.

Like most law professors, Kopel is a skillful writer and you don’t need to be a law geek to understand or appreciate his material, although some of the abstruse points of law may slide by you. Here’s just three separate sentences to think about:

The posse comitatus law of the 21st century United States is essentially the same as the posse comitatus law of England during the ninth century.


Posses have thwarted the escapes of criminals, including serial killer Ted Bundy.

We didn’t know that. Did you?

One reason [King Alfred, 871-899 AD] is the only English king called “the Great” is that he recognized that he could not fulfill his own duties solely through his own appointees.

Yeah, it’s that kind of law review paper. The past is another country, sure, but Kopel shows how, in one way, we’re still living in it. How cool is that?

Cop killed in local crime

Steven Arkell, RIP

Steven Arkell, RIP

In rural Brentwood, NH (close enough to Hog Manor to be the origin and service station of our lawnmower), a policeman, Steven Arkell, responding to a routine call — how routine, you’ll see in a moment — was shot dead with multiple gunshots. Brentwood is far too small to have its own newspaper; the Union Leader’s coverage is as good as you’re going to get.

Arkell was 48, but looked younger. He was a part-time cop (a pretty normal thing in NH cow country) and had been on the job for 15 years. He also was a carpenter and was the town’s animal control officer, collecting, caging and caring for stray cats and dogs. He was born and grew up in Brentwood, and knew many if not most of the citizens. He leaves behind a wife and two teenaged daughters.

We don’t know a lot of facts yet, but we do know that a lot of shots were fired at the cop and he was hit by multiple rounds, and killed, probably instantly. We also know that police had never responded to that house before, and neither the 47-year-old suspect (who is dead either in a fire or of self-inflicted gunshot, the autopsy may tell) nor his 80-year-old father had a criminal record or even a traffic ticket.

They are not your usual cop killers, who tend to be guys who’ve maxed out the points on their Judicial System frequent flyer cards. (ETA following): But then again, Brentwood’s not your usual crime scene, either. (Click on image below to see it in Wikimapia).

Brentwood, Rockingham County, New Hampshire

Naturally people are jumping to conclusions across the state and the country. Cops, of course, see this as a reminder that no matter where you are, any shift might be your last and any call might punch your ticket. Liberals see this as a sad consequence of the proliferation of guns; conservatives see it as a crime, consequences of innate wrinkles that can’t be ironed out of the human heart. We’ll tell you a few more facts after the excerpt from the Union Leader.

We just went through this in Greenland, NH, two years ago, with the murder of police chief Michael Mahoney and wounding of four regional drug task force detectives by a small-time dope dealer who’d always gone along meekly on prior arrests. Still, living in a kind of Norman Rockwell’s New England utopia, we can’t shake the feeling that this kind of thing’s supposed to happen in Baltimore, not Brentwood.

Just before his deadly confrontation with Arkell, [47-year-old Michael] Nolan had been yelling at his 86-year-old father, Walter, prompting a neighbor to call Brentwood police.

“The caller indicated that they could hear the son swearing at the father, but that the argument was taking place in the house,” Associate Attorney General Jane Young said.

Brentwood police had not been called to the home before, but the caller told police that the father and son had argued in the past.

Michael Nolan and his father had no criminal record or motor vehicle records, according to investigators.

Young said Fremont police Officer Derek Franek arrived at the home to back up Arkell about four minutes later.

Franek found Walter Nolan in the front of the home and handcuffed him as a safety precaution.

“He indicated that when he went in that residence, he noticed there was a wall that had been sprayed with bullets and he saw Officer Arkell on the floor on his back,” Young said. “He walked toward him and saw that Officer Arkell had sustained what was later to be determined as a fatal injury.”

When Franek entered the house, “he was immediately met with gunfire,” Young said. “That drove him from the front of the house to the back of the house,” Young said. He was able to escape into the tree line behind the home and call for backup at approximately 4:15 p.m.

Smoke became visible from the rear of the home around 4:41 p.m. as multiple first-responders were arriving. A fire soon broke through the roof of the home.

Officers with the Seacoast Emergency Response team and the New Hampshire State Police SWAT team found Walter Nolan cuffed on the front lawn. He was treated and released at a local hospital and is currently being cared for by family.

via Police had never been to Brentwood home before Monday night | New Hampshire Crime.

Right now, we don’t even know how the fire started, although the working supposition is that Michael Nolan started it. The fire destroyed the house and didn’t do any evidence in the house any good. Nolan continued to fire wild, unaimed shots for many minutes. Officers who took up a perimeter did not have a target, and did not return fire. (This is how it’s done, Miami).

Since we don’t know what Arkell said or did and how or why Michael Nolan shot him, as there are no living eyewitnesses, we can’t say much about what happened in that house, except that Nolan killed him and was still alive when the next officer responded. Some uninformed people are criticizing Derek Franek’s decision to cuff Walter Nolan and enter the house alone; from our seat the first decision looks sensible — he didn’t know who Walter was — and the second, frankly, ballsy.

His decision to bug out to the treeline? Pure self-preservation at that point. When the guy’s shooting at you, has already killed one cop, you don’t have a clear target, and your backup is still minutes away, what are you supposed to do, dodge the bullets like the clown in The Matrix? That’s fiction, folks.  Could he have stopped to pull Walter to safety? Maybe, but let’s not second-guess the man on the ground.

What we are hearing is that there is a reason that 47-year-old Michael Nolan was living at home (and sometimes having loud arguments) with his widower father: young Nolan was mentally ill and under treatment for unspecified mental illness. Some of the papers, though, are saying that there’s no positive evidence that Michael Nolan was under treatment.


There’s an advantage to posting late: new information comes in. We have heard from police sources that Arkell never fired his service pistol. According to Walter Nolan, he invited Arkell in and Michael almost instantly shot him dead in a wild spray of gunfire. The press will have those details shortly, if they don’t already.