Pythons Can’t Save Colt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have dumbwaiters

Accidentally or deliberately, you can kill yourself with practically anything. 

A 21-year-old college student was found dead in a dumbwaiter at the bar and grill where she worked in a small western Wisconsin town, authorities said on Tuesday.

There was no indication of foul play and authorities were investigating how the Winona State University student got into the food elevator at WingDam Bar and Saloon, Fountain City Police Chief Jason Mork said in a statement.

The woman, identified by the school as Brooke Baures from Chetek, Wisconsin, was found dead on Monday evening.

via College student found dead in Wisconsin restaurant dumbwaiter – Yahoo News.

This is a hell of a tragedy for her parents, family and friends, but for the rest of us it’s a stone mystery. How in the name of all that’s holy do you perish in a dumbwaiter?

Maybe she was a dumb waitress?

So, How Low is the Morale at ICE?

ICE_badge_-_Special_AgentMorale at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is this low. So low it’s gotta look up to see snake bellies. So low it’s measured in degrees Kelvin. So low that Robert Ballard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute can’t get to it, even with an ROV drilling for cores. That’s how low.

A newly released meta-analysis of three employee surveys at BestPlacestoWork.org had the agency tied for 314th of 315 agencies (in other words, last; it was tied with the 315th agency). The principal reason? Lack of faith in leadership.

It had scored low in every category in 2013, but sank even lower in every category this year. It scored low with every demographic last year, but sank even lower in every demographic. For example:

  • The agency’s over 300 in rank-order of agency in every single category except Pay and Work-Life Balance. In those, it’s merely poor, not record-setting-awful. (But DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has dismissed stories of low morale, and claimed it’s a pay and benefits problem — just what the ICE agents and supporters are not saying).
  • It’s last with Indians, Asians, Multi-Racial employees and nearly last with White, Black and Hispanic ones. It’s dead last with Veterans.
  • It scores badly with women, men, employees over 40 and under-40s too.

However, there is one ICE demographic that seems satisfied: members of the Senior Executive Service. (Hey, they got theirs, why are you complaining?) Their job satisfaction is the sole, solitary data point for ICE that breaks out of the 25th percentile.

Among large agencies, ICE’s parent, the Department of Homeland Security was itself last, underscoring such low-lights as the near-bottom, embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Departments of the Army and Air Force, nailed by budget cuts and sequestration, and constantly attacked by insiders.

It’s not money, Secretary Johnson. Its the constant reminders that the potentates in Washington don’t value the people they assign to enforce the laws they themselves write.

What’s with all the new M1 Carbines?

From the 1940s to the coming of the M4, when you talked about “a carbine” in the gun shop, everybody knew you meant the Carbine, the US .30 Carbine M1. Which was produced from 1942 to 1945 in such numbers that it took us until about fifty years for supply to tighten up.

Suddenly, there are new M1 carbines available, which has turned a drought of “shooter” quality guns into a flood of reasonably priced GI-spec carbines. We believe two things are driving this: the first is increased interest in the 20th-Century weapon thanks to movies and TV shows like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Saints and Soldiers (a little-known series of movies that have a much higher profile in the WWII buff and reenactor community). The second is the belated realization that once-common M1 carbines had become collectors’ items, their prices bid up into the stratosphere.

An original M1 Carbine.

An original M1 Carbine, as carried at Sicily, Anzio, D-Day, and Iwo Jima, among others. Typical early carbine with crossbolt safety and flip-up aperture sight.

Clinton and Bush administration decisions to destroy these carbines rather than release them through surplus sales or the CMP helped the supply dry up, as did the Obama administration’s insistence that these were “crime weapons,” banning their reimportation from the US allies who once depended on them just as GIs had (Clinton had also banned reimportation, which was quietly resumed after his retirement).

The Capsule History of the M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine was not the original Personal Defense Weapon — decades before the Army wanted something like it, the first PDWs were the stocked Mauser ’96 and the Lange Pistole 08 —  but it was an unusual idea when it was first proposed.

Several vendors competed for the contract. The Winchester design, which used a bolt and operating rod familiar to any M1 rifle operator, and a novel short-stroke gas system designed by a felon (!), won. While Winchester would build nearly a million of them between 1942 and 1945, over 50% of the guns were made by divisions of General Motors: Inland Manufacturing and Saginaw Steering Gear. Others were made by business machine vendors and even a juke-box manufacturer, Rock-Ola Co. You could amuse yourself for life just trying to collect one of each version of carbine that was produced during the production run of the gun, which barely exceeded three years.

Along with the variations in manufacturers, there were “high wood” and “low wood” stocks, a bayonet lug added in 1945, a select-fire version (yclept M2), a night-vision variant (M3), and, briefly, a paratrooper variant with a rickety folding stock (M1A1).

They were not intended as frontline combat weapons, except as personal weapons by the members of crews such as mortar crews. Paratroopers used them, with mized results. General James Gavin used one in Sicily that jammed badly, and he became an exponent of the M1 Rifle ever after. Marine Sterling Mace, in his memoir Battleground Pacific (we recounted his other thoughts on weapons in October) even used it as a put-down for rear-echelon Marines: “carbine Marines,” as opposed to riflemen who went out to close with the Japs; of course, Mace carried, until a leadership job took it out of his hands, the king of rifles, the BAR.

After WWII the military began to dispose of its carbines, and they were once very common (production was 6.2 million from 9 contractors, not counting Irwin-Pedersen, none of whose ~3,500 carbines was accepted by the Army). After all, some 6.2 million of them were made, and the US would never need so many rifles again. Many of them were supplied to allies. Short-statured nations particularly liked the M1 and M2 carbines. The late Ben “the Plunderer” Roberts swore by the M2 Carbine in Vietnam; he had access to other weapons, but, “I liked having the same weapon and the same round as my little people.” We still very occasionally see an M1 Carbine carried by a guard somewhere.

On the Civilian Market

Large numbers of carbines and lots of ammunition were released in the 1960s. The Army committed to the M14 and M16A1 rifles, which replaced all the carbines in inventory from 1957–72 or so. The carbines struggled to find a niche. Everyone who handles the compact gun likes its ergonomics and its light weight, but its round fell into an “uncanny valley” between rimfire plinking ammo and big-game hunting ammo. Most states would not allow the use of a .30 Carbine against big game such as deer and elk.

A few police departments used them, or to be more precise, trained with and issued them. They were used very occasionally by criminals. (The weirdo Symbionese Liberation Army of the 1970s was fond of carbines amateur-converted to full auto).

But the carbines still sold. Indeed, commercial copies with more or less interchangeability with the GI carbine were made by Plainfield, Universal and Iver Johnson. In addition, Melvin Johnson of Johnson Rifle fame (no relation to old Iver) designed a 5.7mm variant of cartridge and carbine called the Johnson Spitfire, which is itself a rare collector’s item today. A variety of other stocks (including an MP40-like underfolder and an M3 Greasegun-like slider) were sold on the market and sometimes turn up in your local gun shop. The production of all these commercial variants has long ceased (many of them are well-documented on the website M1CarbinesInc.com).

Prior to the Obama administration, many carbines were reimported, but that is now streng verboten. It’s possible that CMP, which receives arms directly from the USG rather than through importing channels, may get some more, but it’s not highly likely.

Over the decades the original M1s have been retired into collections, become corrosion casualties or are sitting forgotten in closets. These legacy guns occasionally show up on gun turn-ins, where clueless cops show them to muddled media as “assault weapons we got off the street”. But the supply of existing carbines was low when demand spiked after their above-mentioned movie appearances.

Enter the New Carbines

The vendors of current carbines, two of whom have revived old WWII trade names, include:

  • Kahr — Kahr Arms was the first of the new-line vendors to produce the old-school carbine. Kahr acquired the Auto-Ordnance brand and inventory from Numrich in 1999 and has produced carbines under that trademark; the original Auto-Ordnance firm founded by James T. Thompson produced carbine parts, including 50% of the required receivers, for IBM’s carbine contract, so bringing carbines to Auto-Ordnance seems logical, but… they actually came by accident. A Kahr partner firm, Saeilo Manufacturing Industries, made carbine receivers for Israel Arms International, which went paws up in 2003. Stuck with unpaid-for receivers anyway, and tooling it received as a bankruptcy settlement, Kahr went ahead and brought a carbine to SHOT to gauge interest. The carbine has been in production since, and several models are made.
    1. The Model 130 represents the D-Day era carbine visually. It has a walnut stock and handguard and a 15-round magazine. It has a cross-bolt “push” safety, and no bayonet lug, like early M1s. It’s also available as the Model 140, in ten-shot ban-state configuration. Both have an MSRP of $846.
    2. The Model 150 is the  M1A1-styled gun. It has the same (correct for 1942-44 production) safety and barrel band, but the M1A1-style stock. It has an MSRP of $933 and is the most economical route to stylin’ like Malarkey and the guys from Easy Company on your next range trip. We do note that while the M1A1 looks stone cool, the stock is actually pretty horrible (note that our experience is with GI M1A1s, not with any of the current copies). It’s not very rigid and doesn’t lock positively, either open or closed.
    3. The Model 160 is the “tactical,” folding-plastic-stock version. It has the stamped-steel handguard found on commercial Universal carbines (but never on a GI one). We guess every manufacturer has to have one of these variants, because they sell, but at $860 there are a lot of better “tactical” options out there. If you actually want a practical folding stock, this one is much better than the GI solution.

In addition to these current Auto-Ordnance models, some now-discontinued early models had more “commercial carbine” features, like stamped-steel handguards, and birch stocks.

Important note: Kahr’s parts and processes are not similar to GI. Key parts including receiver, slide and trigger group housing are cast. Interchangeability with GI carbines is limited. And Kahr has struggled with quality control.

Note #2: Kahr is in the process of building a new factory and headqurters in Pennsylvania. As of November, the steel frame was up. Whether the Auto-Ordnance line will move to PA is unknown; certainly production from New York is going there, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Kahr’s Worcester, Massachusetts plant, where the carbines are made, close. This may disrupt production.

Note #3: Kahr’s website (and the separate Auto-Ordnance site, which annoyingly isn’t linked from Kahr) load like they’re under attack by the Norks or somebody. Sloooow.

  • James River Armory — This firm, best known for its restorations of WWII rifles and careful reproductions of WWII sniper rifles, has revived the Rock-ola brand (not only for carbines, where it’s correct, but for M14s, which were only made by Winchester, Springfield, and TRW). Right now, JRA catalogs a single Rock-ola carbine style, which from the photographs resembles a late-WWII, 1945-production gun. It has a bayonet lug, an adjustable aperture sight like the one on the 1903A3, and a rotating safety. It sells for $1,194. JRA’s Rockola reciever is machined from billet steel.

On the JRA website, Mark Hartman, who shares our love for history and process engineering, explains why they chose this name as a tribute to the production warriors of WWII:

Production of the M1 Carbine is fascinating since the only contractor with any experience in the arms industry was the developer, Winchester. Ten additional companies were tasked with producing the rifle and what they accomplished is beyond amazing. In short within only a few months of receiving a contract Rockola Music Company completely transformed its production capabilities to making almost every part on this rifle and actually delivering completed rifles at a rate exceeding 10,000 per month. Coming from a modern perspective this is mind boggling. The company would have had to completely retool, add thousands of new employees, virtually all would need to be trained, engineer and fixture dozens of complex precision parts all with nothing more sophisticated than drafting tables and slide rules. The quality of Rockola’s supervisors, engineers, and employees had to be exceptional to pull off what they did. Any M1 Carbine collector will tell you that their product was among the best of the carbines produced.

We literally spent months with original blueprints and original parts creating the receiver into computer solid model and programmed for CNC production. Rockola pulled off the entire rifle in less time. The challenges they faced were unbelievable. Our victory in WWII started with companies like Rockola and this was repeated by small to mid-sized manufacturers all over the country doing war work. I remember a class on logistics at Quantico when I was a young Lieutenant, we figured training, tactics, and leadership won battles until an instructor commented that logistics is how war is won, (of course we didn’t understand, thinking “why die, go supply.”) In reality, he was right. The logistical support we needed started on the home front with companies like Rockola. This incredible support is what allowed the US Serviceman to defeat the enemy and win the war.

A long excerpt, but worth sharing. Indeed, go Read The Whole Thing™.

  • Fulton Armory  — Fulton builds their carbines to order. They say expect 8-10 weeks for delivery. They use old receivers and a mix of old and new parts (including new barrels and stocks) to make several versions of the carbine, including M1, M1A1, and updated railed variants, one with a plastic folding stock, and a fixed-stock one they call the M3 Scout Carbine. Their carbines are all list-priced at a stiff $1,500; they do have a reputation for using nice figured wood in their stocks. Numerous upgrades are available, including chrome bores. Fulton is also a good source for parts, accessories, tools and gages. (They have both throat and muzzle erosion gages, nice to have if you’re hunting quality carbines, in the small gun shops of America).
  • Inland Manufacturing — the name is being revived by a Dayton firm that builds its guns from bought-in parts on cast receivers. It  is the latest carbine maker to throw their hat in the ring. According to our information, it’s a separate firm, but connected to Springfield Armory and Rock Island Armory.

They plan to make three models, which will ship in the new year:

  1. The M1 1944 which is wood stocked and has a barrel band ($1049 MSRP)
  2. The M1 1945 which is wood stocked and has a bayonet lug ($1049), and
  3. The M1A1 1944 which has an M1A1 stock and barrel band ($1179).

inland m1a1

The Inland carbines are made on a cast receiver and have late sights and safety. They are distributed by MKS Supply.

An inspector inspects a barrel on a barrel-straightening machine, at the original Dayton plant of Inland Division of GM in WWII.

An inspector inspects a barrel on a barrel-straightening machine, at the original Dayton plant of Inland Division of GM in WWII.

What’s next, Winchester? (The Illinois firm Springfield Armory and its sister company Rock Island Armory produced some carbine receivers in the 1980s, and numerous other companies have had short runs of commercial carbines).

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: full30.com

You may have been to Full30.com already, as it’s the home of InRangeTV, which we’ve been remiss about promoting, and have been meaning to plug. We’ll let Ian and Karl explain what InRange is:

InRange is a collaborative project between Ian McCollum (Forgotten Weapons) and Karl Kasarda. After watching the gun program landscape of cable television decline into a wasteland of explosions and ginned-up drama, they decided to produce a show that would appeal [to] the intelligent and sophisticated gun owners and gun enthusiasts worldwide.

In an internet video world that’s dominated by the childish play of FPSRussia and the soporific ramblings of 30-minute gun reviews, is there room for a show for the thinking gun enthusiast?

Here’s a far-out example: Karl in a 2-gun match with an updated FG 42. Before you laugh at the idea that a 70-year-old design can keep up with a “modern” AR (which is, after all, a 60-year-old design), watch to the end and see how Karl did out of 47 shooters. And here’s a follow-up with Karl and Ian discussing the features of the modernized FG. It’s like hanging out with two fellow gun nuts — in HD. “We’re putting out this video because we think this is an awesome gun,” Ian says.

In addition to those, there are a handful of other videos from InRange already posted. They’re all good, whether it’s Karl describing the forgotten battle at Dragoon Springs where a small Confederate foraging patrol found itself overwhelmed by… Apaches, one of their patented historical-gun matchups at a live 2-gun match, or an interview with AR pioneer Jim Sullivan.

“But wait!” our inner Ron Popeil cries out. “There’s more!”

Because Full30.com isn’t just the host of InRange TV, even though InRange is our favorite channel there (imagine a cable network with different channels; that’s what Full30 is for people interested in gun-related videos).

Some of the bigger guns (pun definitely intended) of YouTube notoriety are here, including MAC (the Military Arms Channel) and Iraq Veteran 8888. Here, for an example, is a very thorough video by MAC about the FN F2000 and especially FS2000 rifles that hits all the high points (ergonomics, for example, forward ejection makes it ambi-friendly) and low points (STANAG mags only, thank you very much) of the system. The video actually made us want one.

 

The Press vs Remington: Fable vs. Fact

Remington Outdoor LogoA series of lawsuits have been pursued by a variety of ambulance chasers against Remington over the model 700 rifle, thanks to TV publicity about some accidents. In most of these accidents it seems that someone was careless with the gun ,but after negligent-discharge remorse, came to forget the carelessness. Instead, they conveniently blame the gun, its safety and trigger, and since you can’t slake your greed by suing yourself and your own property, Remington’s deep pockets. It was a case of mass hysteria like the Audi “unintentional acceleration” cases — imagine the Salem witch hunts of 1692 with an added profit motive.

Well, that’s what makes “class actions” go. Class actions are a racket in which lawyers, supposedly enjoined by “legal ethics” (ha) from suing on their own behalf, grab some token “plaintiff,” and… sue on their own behalf.

The plaintiff’s insignificance in the whole lawyer-driven thing is clear when you see how class-action settlements generally go. The lawyers get millions, and the class members get, generally nothing — the people who were allegedly wronged get nothing from the courts. It’s just a form of legal extortion by the lawyers.

Remington recently settled a class action suit about Remington 700 (and just about every other bolt-action Remington) safeties. As is usual with these settlements, those who are supposedly victims get next to nothing (there will be a way to send your Remington rifle for new parts and a new, heavier trigger) and the lawyers get piles of sweet cash, which is what you worship instead of God if you are a lawyer.

The lawyers are evil, but not stupid. They know that sooner or later any going concern will pay the Dane-geld. Remington is not stupid either: they calculated the least costly way of making the lawyers go away and clearing this problem from the balance sheet. Shot made.

So, who is stupid? That would be… the press. Who have been, after misreading this story, trumpeting it as a recall of all Remington 700s ever made.

It isn’t, but that didn’t stop Scott Cohn at CNBC from writing an unsupported report claiming the guns were being recalled. CNBC and Cohn have been the happy PR venue for the plaintiffs’ attorneys for years, and they both wave the bloody shirt. (Note that Cohn’s report has been dishonestly stealth-corrected to insert Remington’s and the attorney’s corrections on the “recall” language, subsequent to another story giving — and dismissing — Remington’s point of view).

Is gun. Is not safe. Tell us what’s wrong with this picture:

Among the deaths was nine-year-old Gus Barber of Montana, killed during a family hunting trip in 2000 when his mother switched off the safety on her Remington 700 rifle and the gun went off.

A brief refresher: Rule #1: all guns are loaded; #2: never muzzle anything you don’t intend to destroy; #3, finger off the trigger until sights on target; #4: be sure of your target. Even giving the best possible interpretation of facts, that this was a safety failure and not an inadvertent trigger activation, why was the gun pointed at poor Gus? Why did she take the gun off safe when pointed at her son? And why does Remington get all the blame for that irresponsible and negligent action, the proximate cause of Gus’s demise?

It turns out, she seems to have been perfectly innocent in this case. One of the best reports (i.e., not based on CNBC’s) described the accident in a way that makes us much more sympathetic:

 Model 700 rifle fired when Barber’s wife, Barbara, released the safety as she prepared to unload the gun, the family says. The bullet went through a horse trailer and hit Gus, who, unbeknownst to her, had run behind the trailer.

That makes Mrs Barber’s actions look a lot more responsible, and highlights why The Rules can’t always save you, and a mechanical safety — a reliable mechanical safety — is an essential belt to wear with the suspenders of The Rules.

Remington called Cohn’s report “fundamentally inaccurate” and said that, “once again, CNBC did not comply with the most basic tenet of reporting – fact checking.” We’re not sure how Remington got the idea that reporting involves fact checking. For today’s media, it includes finding a story that’s “click-bait that pops” and that meets the “consensus media narrative” on a subject, and then sourcing a few quotes and details to give the advocacy a sheen of truthiness. Most reporters not only refrain from checking facts, they’re not interested in collecting facts and we reckon that eight out of nine of them could not identify a fact in bright sunlight at seven yards.

Remington also had the jaws that CNBC bad-mouthed the 700’s sales record:

[C]ontrary to CNBC’s story, it is undisputed that the Remington Model 700 is the best-selling American-made, bolt-action rifle of all time. The Model 700 has also been and continues to be the tactical sniper rifle of choice for the U.S. armed forces and special operators and is widely used by state and federal law enforcement agencies.

It does appear that some of that language has also been inserted in Cohn’s report.

The original Cohn report was picked up (usually uncredited) by:

And many more. Not all reporting on this settlement sucked, though. The Missoulian of Missoula (where else?), Montana, had by far the best report on the settlement, with a fresh interview with Mr Barber, who comes across as a pretty righteous guy, magnanimous in his long-sought victory; and some details on the settlement.

Who Gets What in the Settlement

Because the settlement is being badly misreported, we thought we’d read it and tell you who gets what — and who doesn’t.

  1. Nobody gets anything until the judge approved the settlement. This is normally a formality, but judges have been known to demur in cases where all benefits accrue to the attorneys. However,
  2. “Class Members” — Remington owners — get a replacement trigger at Remington’s expense, and a gun-safety DVD. Except…
  3. Some 700-based actions can’t be retrofitted with Remington’s new trigger. Owners of those guns (600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722, and 725) will get a token “settlement” — a worthless coupon. Oh, they do get the DVD.
  4. “Representative Plaintiffs” — the eight named plaintiffs who lost family members in gun accidents — get $2,500 each. No, that is not a typo. (We believe that most have previously won other settlements or awards).
  5. The nine law firms who represented the eight named plaintiffs split $12.5 million within seven days of the approval. This is who the suit benefits, and this is who it was always going to benefit. However, Remington is reserving as much as $17 million for the trigger fixes. They took a charge of $29.5M against earnings last quarter.
  6. Contrary to several of those media reports, government purchasers at all levels get no trigger repairs. They’re explicitly excluded from the settlement class. Of course, we teach our snipers not to point their M24s at each other, in mistaken trust of the safety catch.  (Is gun. Is not safe).
  7. There are two separate settlements, one for the previously recalled post-2006 XMark Pro trigger, and one for all other 700 series guns going back to the 1940s, but they differ primarily in the technical fix required. The XMark Pro was already recalled to fix assembly problems.
  8. If current owners don’t put their gun in for repair within 18 months of the judge’s OK, they have no further benefits — and no further right to sue for a trigger or safety failure. Basically, these nine law firms get the money for all potential plaintiffs, for which the potential plaintiffs lose their personal right to sue. That’s how a class action works, and why it’s great for companies and lawyers, and lousy for injured people.
  9. You only have 21 days from the judge’s approval to file to preserve your personal rights.
  10. Guns don’t have to go to Remington, there are a large number of authorized service centers that can do the trigger work. Remington will set up a website to direct you to the most convenient site. (Shipping of the firearm is also Remington’s concern).
  11. If the gun is irreparable, Remington will return it with a notice it is irreparable; or if the gun needs other work to be safe, Remington will notify the owner and ask him to pay for them to proceed. A master gunsmith named Chris Ruger has been named to mediate any disputes that may arise. Since lots of covered guns are Social Security age, they’re probably going to see a few rust ranches and soiled farm implements in those rehab shops.

How common is this problem?

After a decade plus of publicity, the attorneys had eight named plaintiffs and claim to have identified 75 cases of Remington 700s that fired without trigger command, including 24 fatal accidents, in approximately 70 years. Given the sales of the 700 are about 78 million, that is about one ten-thousandth of one percent of Remington 700s, and the likelihood of it happening in any one year is about 1.4 millionths of a percent.

Not common, but extremely serious if it happens to you. Watch your gun muzzle, and watch your backstop. Remember Barbara Barber, who thought her 700 was safe when she flicked the safety on fire to permit unloading (as the old Walker trigger design used to require).

And if you hunt with a 700, like half the hunters in America, you might want to get into the queue as soon as the website is live. It may appear here.

Hat tip, Miguel at Gun Free Zone.

 

 

Hot Ivan-on-Ivan Action!

Soviets at Hungarian BAse

The image isn’t from Chernobyl, but from a reminder that the US military isn’t the only one that’s a shadow of its former self: a photo essay on an abandoned Soviet base at Nagyvaszony in western Hungary. The mighty Soviet Army fled, beginning in March, 1990, as the Hungarians planned their first free elections; it was pretty clear that no plausible election outcome would lead to a continued welcome for the folks who called themselves “fraternal Socialist brothers” but kept a mailed fist poised to strike their “hosts” since a violent Soviet invasion in 1956 ground a flowering of freedom underfoot.

(The 1956 Revolution tried to overthrow a Quisling government set up by Soviet WWII hero, and de facto Reichsprotektor in Hungary, Marshal Klimenti Voroshilov. Fascist Hungary was a Nazi ally during the war, and the Hungarian forces had enthusiastically participated in the invasion of Russia. Knowing what retribution was coming as Russian prisoners, the Army ignored a surrender signed by their government and fought pretty much to the last man and last round alongside the Germans. So the Soviets came by their hostility to Hungarian aspirations honestly).

Writing about environmental problems at former Soviet bases, Reiniger and Horvath give us an idea about the size of the former Central Group of Forces in Hungary:

As a result of the government agreement of March 19, 1990 concerning the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Hungary, 100,000 soldiers, 25,000 weapons and more than 560,000 tons of war equipment were withdrawn between March 10, 1990 and June 10, 1991. In accordance with the agreement , And assessment of the environmental damage caused by the Soviet troops was undertaken. The assessment was managed by the ministry for environment and regional policy between September 21, 1990 and June 10, 1991.

There were 171 garrisons, 340 settlements, 6,000 major buildings and 46,000 ha of land to be surveyed.

Former Soviet bases. Nagyvaszony is in the second grid square in from the western tip of Hungary.

Former Soviet bases. Nagyvaszony is in the second grid square in from the western tip of Hungary.

One thing that the authors of the dry chapter in an environmental tome didn’t note was that, on their way out, the Soviets demanded that the Hungarians pay $800 million for the buildings and things they left behind on their polluted bases — their “investment in Hungary.” The money was probably actually intended for the “retirement fund” of General Matvei Burlakov. The Hungarians, needless to say, didn’t pay.

The buildings, some of which are shown in the above-referenced slide show, were useless:

There are buildings that the Soviets built secretly, in violation of Hungarian building codes – barracks where the toilets are holes in the floor, apartment blocks where several families shared one kitchen at the end of a corrdidor. These, the Hungarians say, are simply unusable, and will probably have to be bulldozed.

”They call them communal apartments, but they can not be considered homes,” [Hungarian Deputy COS] General [Antal] Annus said.

After 1956, the Soviets never developed enough trust in their Hungarian subjects again to allow their troops and their families to live off base.

Little Moscow lies in ruins. Once a Soviet base where the Red Army may have kept a stockpile of nuclear weapons, the abandoned facility today looks like a set for a post-apocalyptic film.
The barracks, similar to prefab apartment blocks found across eastern Europe, still hold outmoded kitchen appliances and wrecked furniture. Many of the military installations are rusted and moldy. A large painting of a red flag covered with the faces of communist icons Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin provides one of the few dashes of color.

Located in a wooded area near the village of Nagyvazsony in central [sic] Hungary, the base nicknamed “Little Moscow” by locals was one of four nuclear storage facilities in the country. It was abandoned by the Soviets in March 1990, shortly before Hungary’s first post-communist elections. Historians say there is no documentation on whether the Soviets ever stored nuclear weapons there.

via Former Soviet base now a ghost town.

The image of the knife-fighting Russian privates is from a slide show of photographs by Darko Vojinovic (a Serb? Croat?) of the Associated Press, and they all have that fascinating aspect of ruins. The possible nuclear bunkers are two ammo bunkers on one side of the base.

It would be trivial to find out whether nukes had been stored there — every place we’ve ever had access to and documented Soviet nuke storage has come up hot on a Geiger counter. Soviet weapons are not remotely as well-shielded as Western ones, and you have to wonder about whether the long-term health of the guys that worked on them is any better than that of the guys we subjected to nuclear atmospheric tests in the 1950s and early 60s, or the doomed heroes of Chernobyl who gave their lives to fight the fires and install the carcass on the failed reactor.

(It’s interesting to study the Chernobyl nuclear accident, not just in isolation but compared with the Three Mile Island accident in the United States and the Fukushima accident in Japan. Each mishap seems to have characteristics that reinforce the impression one has of national character. Or, perhaps, everybody in the world is messed up, just in different ways).

These abandoned Soviet bases, both in the former slave states of Eastern Europe and in the former USSR, are reminders that, while the US’s power has declined, Russian power has, also. While Russia has preserved more of its nuclear forces, its general purpose forces in all realms — air, naval, and the greatest might of the former USSR, ground forces — have shrunken in capability as well as size. One thing Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is loved for in his own country is his strenuous efforts to rebuild the lost capability symbolized by this closed base, and especially by the other Vojinovic photo, showing a stray dog and a cardboard cut-out guard:

cardboard guard

 

Rotten Read Review: Berenson: The Shadow Patrol

Berenson Shadow PatrolThere is a downside to having the sort of personal characteristics that Special Forces either selects for, or develops in, a guy. Prominent among these characteristics is a level of persistence that is not normally found in neurotypical human beings.

That sounds like a wonderful thing, and it is, when you’re trying to cover 12 miles in 2 ½ hours with a broken rucksack frame, after a week with little food and no sleep. It comes in handy when you’re dealing with such persistence-killers as the cable monopoly and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, too. Or trying to train a teenager, or a dog. But you can probably imagine some circumstances when it’s maladaptive. For a bunch of guys who probably hold some global collective divorce percentage record, we have a tendency to cling to exes that ought to be set free. And we tend to finish every book we start, even if the book stinks.

In middle age, we can remember every single book we didn’t finish — fewer than 20 –, and we’ve probably averaged four books a week since childhood. We have no illusion that’s normal, even if Dogged Book Syndrome lacks a definition in the DSM-IV.

And that was our exact problem with Alex Berenson’s The Shadow Patrol. (New York: Putnam, 2012). That mindless compulsion to finish a book that we did not like.

It started off well enough. The book has an attractive jacket, with mountains that really look like Afghanistan, unlike so many illustrations that draw their inspiration from the Southwestern USA — or from Warner Brothers’ cartoon version of Road Runner fame. True, the four or five mosques cheek by jowl is a bit puzzling, but we put it down to an artist who thinks Islam is just like Christanity and so various mosques cluster like churches in a New England town square, Sunni and Shia and Ismailis nodding to another on their way to prayers like Lutherans and Congregationalists and Episcopalians (whom you can tell, as their nods are a bit shallower and more uptight).

That’s not a view anyone who’s lived among the Moslems of Southwest Asia might take, but, we can cut the artist some slack. No Afghan mountain tribesman lives in a society more rigid or isolating than the New York arts and publishing circle, after all.

But the book, per the sort of glance one gives a blurb and front matter in a store, had more promise. Many reviewers praised Berenson as a spy novelist. There were red flags, if we’d caught them. Berenson’s a New York Times reporter who’s covered three stories the Times has done a lousy job on: Iraq, Katrina, and the Madoff fraud. Anybody writing for the Times has to be assumed to be hostile to, and mystified by, today’s military. But… against that, there is this: a dedication To all the men and women still fighting. And an acknowledgement of an embed with American troops. Could be promising.

And all those reviewers said he was the best since Len Deighton, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler.

Nope.

While the story starts off promising, with a much-altered retelling of the incident in which a supposed agent turned out to be a double and eliminated a number of CIA officers and contractors with a suicide bomb, it quickly devolves into a canned retelling of all the 99 bad movies about troops smuggling drugs in Vietnam.

Even his infantrymen come right out of bad Vietnam movies — poor, minority, stupid, in the Army only because they lack any other options in life. The rogue troops doing the drug smuggling — how they do it is never made really clear — aren’t even bright enough to do crime on their own, but they have to be led by, wait for it… rogue CIA agents.

It’s one more tale in which the valiant guy with the pedigree like a New York Times writer has met the enemy, and they are, naturally, the renegades and bloodthirsty, soulless vampires of the Stryker Brigades and, naturally, Delta.

Here’s an example of the sort of bullshit Berenson writes:

Francesca would be bummed when this tour was finished. It was his third and last. Not his choice. The Army gave you only three. In the three tours, two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, he’d racked 56 kills, a good number, especially with the drones doing so much work these days. Maybe good was the wrong word. Francesca wondered whether all that killing had changed him. Course it had. Back home, civvies called guys like him serial killers. The more he pulled the trigger, the easier it came. He’d given up waiting for God or anyone else to punish him. He hadn’t been hit by lightning or gotten cancer or gone blind. He was in the best shape of his life. Plenty of money in the bank, and more coming. The Joes treated him like a minor god.

He wasn’t too worried about payback in the next world either. He’d watched close through his scope for souls leaving the man he killed. Hadn’t seen a single one. Only the red mist, the cloud of blood and tissue that shrieked from the body when a bullet cut through. The afterlife was a fable for little boys and girls. Not real men like him.

Yeah, that’s definitely how snipers think. And that’s why they start smuggling drugs and murdering Americans.

If you’re some assclown with a cube on 43rd Street, that’s how you think they think, anyway.

Berenson’s dim insight into the inner lives of his own characters doesn’t end there; it’s pretty universal. Another character is supposedly a convert to Islam, a conversion that not only is never explained, but that makes no visible impression upon the character, who can’t even bestir himself to salat. It seems more likely that what we’re seeing is Berenson’s projection of his own wishy-washy and disbelieving relationship with his own ancestral faith, whatever it isn’t.

The guy can write reasonable dialogue, and he can write a reasonable action scene, although some of his stuff, again, indicates he slept through his embed and falls back on movie fandom to understand guns and gunfights. In one crucial scene, a character sneaks up on a sniper team armed only with a Makarov and no spare mag, and a knife. (It’s OK, though, because his Makarov fits ten rounds in the eight-round mag; yes, there’s allegedly a 10-round Mak magazine out recently, but you won’t find it in Afghanistan).

Realistic? Did we tell you he kills them?

…even though they detect his approach?

…. and without any injury to himself?

… and… and…  (here’s the best part) … he sneaks up to them on a motorcycle?

That’s how dreadful this book is.

 

Homemade Shotgun Sabot Ammo

The following very brief video (00:35) shows some proposed designs for subcaliber fin-stabilized rounds for 12-gage shotgun.  Previous attempts at discarding-sabot ammunition failed because the sabot failed to separate, yielding an unstable, tumbling (and velocity- and energy-shedding) projectile.

In an attempt to work around the sabot problem, he’s discarded (no pun intended) the sabot and instead increased the fin thickness, making the fins bore-riders. These new rounds haven’t been fired yet, but we can pretty confidently predict weak results.

The previous rounds were made in many different types (here’s the project’s imgur page) but generally produced disappointing results. It’s unlikely the low-pressure environment in a shotgun can produce enough velocity to make these projectiles effective at any range, and it’s even less likely that the various resin and nylon parts can either produce a bore seal and sufficient velocity, or accuracy.

penetrators and fins

There’s a lot of work in these hand-machined parts. Here’s a video look at what goes into manufacturing a penetrator from a stainless-steel bolt.

And here’s a resin-cast version of the fin-set part, which was intended to replace the white delrin parts.

Resin cast sabors

While we admire the guy’s ingenuity and diligence, his aerodynamic savvy is not in the same league. Pro tip: learn what a Reynolds Number is, and you’ll understand why it’s working against you here.

Also, there’s a ton of literature on sabot separation, if one seeks it. Trial and error is great, but the reason we can sustain great efforts as a species is because today’s trial stands upon the lessons learnt from yesterday’s.

She Put the Space in Aerospace

"Places we don't want stoners to sit," for $500, Alex!

“Places we don’t want stoners to sit,” for $500, Alex!

An Air Force missile launch officer is jammed up with the authorities in a long-running drug probe. She’ll be court-martialed starting 21 January 2015 on drug and obstruction charges.

2nd Lt. Nicole Dalmazzi of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, is the first missileer, as launch officers are called, known to have been charged since the drug investigation was made public in January on the same day Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the headquarters of the Air Force’s land-based nuclear missile force.

The twin disclosures of alleged exam cheating and illegal drug use accelerated a wave of embarrassing news about the nuclear missile corps, which has been beset with discipline problems, low morale, leadership lapses and resource shortages. Last month Hagel announced plans for top-to-bottom changes in how the force is managed and operated. Ten days later he resigned, although Air Force officials say they are confident the reforms will move ahead.

Dalmazzi was charged with illegal drug use and obstructing the Air Force Office of Special Investigations probe by dyeing her hair to “alter the results of potential hair-follicle drug tests,” according to Josh Aycock, a spokesman at Malmstrom. He would not elaborate on her alleged actions or the tests. He said her court-martial was scheduled for Jan. 21.

Efforts to reach Dalmazzi for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. As a missileer she is trained to operate the Minuteman 3 missile, which is armed with a nuclear warhead and stands ready for launch on short notice from an underground silo that is electronically linked to a launch control center, also underground, where two missileers are on duty around the clock.

Because of the sensitive nature of the job, with its many classified procedures and potential for costly mistakes, any allegation of drug use by missileers is concerning. A RAND Corp. report last year on workplace stresses for missileers and others in the nuclear missile corps found some suffering “burnout.” It also found an elevated rate of behavioral issues, including domestic violence.

via Air Force drug probe snares 1st nuke missileer – Yahoo News.

The Air Force takes a dim institutional view of drug and alcohol issues in the nuclear force. Indeed, all services maintain a rigid Personnel Reliability Program that pulls service members from nuclear duties any time their health, well-being, or emotional state is in question. Being on PRP is a huge pain in the neck, but the powers that be consider it a necessary one.

Young Lieutenant Dalmazzi appears to be the first of three accused drug-using missileers to stand trial. A number of other missileers were cleared of drug involvement, but charged with cheating on proficiency exams. The investigation began, as they so often do, with cell phone data on another base.

Of four missileers who were subjects of the drug investigation, three were at Malmstrom and one at F.E. Warren. The investigation began in August 2013 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. When investigators examined the cellphones of two airmen at Edwards they found text messages to or from 11 other Air Force officers at several other air bases.

The text messages detailed “specific illegal drug use that included synthetic drugs, ecstasy and amphetamines,” according to a report released in March that looked mainly at missileers’ exam cheating but also traced a connection between the drug and cheating issues.

Imagine that. “A connection between the drug and cheating issues.” It’s almost like integrity was a single standard, and any violation of that standard bespoke further violations. No doubt some Air Force officers find that an achingly old-fashioned idea.

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, with fire and brimstone return.