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Information Control

The problem with gun control is that in the end, it turns out to be information control – and that isn’t easy.  Japan has some downright strict controls on firearms – but this thing got next to the former prime minister:

No lathe.  No Mill.  A couple of pipes, home-made black powder, batteries to ignite the powder.  Looks to me that the most high-tech component of the gun build was a large roll of electrician’s tape.

People have been making black powder for most of a millennium.  Charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur.  Charcoal is easy to obtain.  Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) might take a while – but you could use the Confederate Jno. Harrison’s method and get it from your own urine.  Push come to shove, I could extract sulfur from sheetrock – from drywall.  The Japanese assassin opted for electrical ignition – so I could do that with 9 volt transistor radio batteries. 

The problem with keeping guns banned is that they are fairly simple tools – not so simple as an inclined plane or a lever, but still simple.  A tube that is open at one end and closed at the end that includes an explosive or propellant charge.  Basically a piece of pipe with an end cap.

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The Man Sounded Knowledgeable and Confident

A pleasant man stopped by asking to hunt on the place.  He explained that he uses black powder, and his bullet can only travel 70 yards.  He sounded confident in his assertion. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to teach a computer course for gunsmithing students half a lifetime ago, I might have believed him.  I did make the comment that I had watched a movie about a guy named Quigley, and he seemed to have shot a bit farther than 70 yards.  His response was that he uses round balls.

It wasn’t like I was being paid to educate him.  So he left with a no hunting answer – and yet the incorrect statement, and the confidence bothers me.  He isn’t making an Alec Baldwin quality mistake – but the error remains.  A round ball leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to aerodynamics.  That’s why the minie ball (invented in 1849) replaced the round ball when the war between the states came along.  Still, it’s not like a round ball rifle has a 70 yard range – my math tells me that if I can put a 50 caliber roundball out of the barrel at 1800 feet per second, I have a projectile that, if I sight in 3 inches high at 50 yards, will be pretty much on target at 125 yards. 

There’s the Civil War story of General Sedgwick – Confederate sharpshooters were firing from around 1000 yards away when the general said “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”  He was apparently unfamiliar with the Whitworth rifle and the fact that the Confederacy had at least 20 of them.  There is no record of the Confederates hitting an elephant that day, but one marksman did hit General Sedgwick. 

Tim Murphy is credited with a 350 yard shot from a flintlock at the battle of Saratoga, in the American Revolution, that ended the career of the Scots general Simon Frazer.  There are arguments as to who actually fired the shot that took the general out and what the range actually was – but it would take another 75 years before the minie ball was developed. 

Black powder has been effective for a long time.

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A little knowledge- Caplock Revolvers

When I began using percussion revolvers, my methodology was faith-based.  Put in black powder, lever the bullet in, and add percussion caps.  It worked great, until Mike Price used the same methodology and wound up with a multiple discharge.  Three chambers went off at once, and the scar on the cylinder pin convinced me of two things:  I didn’t want a multiple discharge, and I needed more knowledge.  I read George Nonte’s Home Guide to Muzzle Loaders with all the fervence of the newly converted.  The recommendations were either good or I was lucky – I have never experienced a multiple discharge.  One thing about my faith-based pistol shooting is that Nonte’s book was published in 1974, and he died in 1978.  That event kept him from advancing his knowledge – Home Guide to Muzzle-loaders is permanently limited to what George Nonte knew in 1974.  I didn’t get any update.

Still, the knowledge and science of percussion revolvers has advanced since then – an intriguing thought since they have been obsolete for a century and a half.  John Fuhring hypothesized, “The most important reason why black powder revolvers chain fire is – believe it or not – because powder grains get caught between the slug and the chamber wall, get crushed into an extremely fine powder and form a “powder train” between the bullet and the chamber wall.  This powder train resists all efforts to eliminate its effects and not even glomming on a ton of Crisco has any effect on it.  If the train is there, you will have a chain fire.”  A simple explanation, good face validity, and freedom from Crisco makes for a lot less high pressure grease movement.  After nearly a half century,  I’m moving from faith-based percussion revolver shooting to science-based.  Fuhring’s best advice was using a cut-down high power rifle empty as a funnel to avoid that “powder train.”  That’s an option that wasn’t available in Civil War days.

Nor were the black powder substitutes.  Black powder ignites somewhere around 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pyrodex is about 600 degrees.  There are some other characteristics of black powder that influence things, but changing to the modern substitute has face validity.  Instead of Crisco, I use over-sized soft lead bullets with greased felt wads between the bullet and the powder – and the powder will be going in as Fuhring suggested, with a cut-down 30-06 cartridge used as a funnel to drop all the powder deep into the cylinder. 

I think I’m a little safer – but I still recall the cylinder pin on my friend’s revolver. There is something to be said for finding better methods of using a tool that became obsolete while Custer was still on active duty – but I can’t prove my habits are actually safer.