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.


A Well-regulated militia

As I listen to the comments about the need to do something to keep another Uvalde from happening, I’m hearing the usual comments that the second amendment is more to authorize a militia than the individual right to bear arms. 

That I disagree is not an adequate reason to ignore the argument – scientific method pretty much demands listening respectfully to folks who disagree.  Fortunately, the internet gives me access to historical research that was confined to university campuses a quarter-century ago.  There is the problem of avoiding confirmation bias, but I can cope with that.

Hartnation goes through the importance of the militias during the American revolution.  Remembering my long ago American History classes, I think George Washington expected a militia unit to be able to stand and fire 3 rounds, but not stand when the Brits closed with bayonets.  Hart described how dependent the Continental Army was on the local militias:

At the beginning of American independence an immense task faced the colonial revolutionary. The English army, the best-trained, best-equipped military in the world, had served in the Americas, enforcing the will of the crown for many decades. American victory rested in the ability of the colonists to put together a viable fighting army. We know from history that the American Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, defeated the superior British army and expelled the rule of the crown from the colonies by 1783.

. . . How much did the colonial militia contribute to enable the Continental army to defeat the British? I would posit that the militia movement was the driving force behind the Continental Army’s victory over the British because they were the main source of manpower, because they were already trained and armed with a 150 year harden tradition of defense to protect their own communities, and because the militia was made up of mostly  farmers and landowners, they stood to gain the most from independence giving them something tangible to fight for other than “liberty”.”

Militias also provided the Continental armies in the field much-needed manpower, albeit on a temporary basis. When British commanders planned for their campaigns against the Continental armies in the field, they had to take in account the size of the militia forces operating in those same geographic areas. The British knew the militia were unpredictable, but they could not totally neglect their presence either. In some instances, militia units were the deciding factors in important battles. The war’s first battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts were fought mostly by militia with some minutemen units. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, outside Boston, militia dealt a deadly blow to the British. Later in the war at battles such as Bennington, Vermont, King’s Mountain, Cowpens, both in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse, in North Carolina, the militia was crucial to American victories.”

Reviewing those historical comments, I get the feeling that the militia at the time of the American Revolution could have been described (as in the quote misattributed to Admiral Yamamoto) as a rifle (or at least a musket) behind every blade of grass.  The better regulated, the better drilled and prepared, the more essential to the security of a free state.

The Supreme Court  (Miller case) ruled that the Second Amendment did not protect weapon types not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”.  This kind of invalidates the arguments against “weapons of war.”  That 1939 decision protects them.


Firearms and Marijuana

An illegal combination, under federal law. Regardless of the legality at the state level, marijuana is still classified at the federal level as a schedule 1 prohibited substance. This means that possessing both is a federal crime, punishable by up to $10,000 and as many as ten years in prision.

The Montana Free Press contacted the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms to confirm, learning that the Federal Gun Control Act prohibits anyone who uses a controlled substance from purchasing firearms or ammunition.

Even if its medical? Yes. Even if it is medical, federal law still prohibits possession.

While the possession of marijuana alone is still a federal crime, it carries only a $1000 and up to a year of jail time for the first conviction. Add a firearm to the mix, and the potential consequence is multiplied by ten.

The state of Montana has an estimated 66% rate of gun ownership. Estimates suggest that about 20% of the adults in the state use marijuana, but those are probably low (given that using was illegal at the time of the survey, it seems very likely that people would under-report). Given these numbers, it is very probable that the two groups intersect. Federal law makes that risky.


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.

Community, Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Beyond Ghost Guns

I ran across an article called “Beyond State Control” published by

The report takes up 128 pages, and does a pretty good job of showing spots where gun control legislation has failed.  Page 80 shows production of submachine guns in Canada:

Canadian authorities have also seized significant numbers of craft-produced submachine guns from criminals. In December 2015, Toronto police found what was described as a ‘Tec9’ sub-machine gun in an abandoned vehicle (CityNews, 2015). The gun, actually a craft-produced copy of the Intratec TEC-9, was one of many produced at a plant in Montreal, Quebec. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have since traced more than two dozen of these to 18 locations across Canada (Berthiaume, 2018). The sub-machine guns in question were produced at a metal-working factory and feature two CNC-machined polymer halves used to form the frame of the gun, a distinguishing feature of other TEC-9/DC-10 copies (see Image 38). The barrels were threaded to accept craft-produced suppressors, also made in the factory. Two factory directors were charged with firearms offences; they had reportedly told factory employees that they were manufacturing parts for paintball guns (Berthiaume, 2018).”

Their illicit product looked something like this:

Earlier, the authors explain why the submachine guns are so common as what they term “craft-produced small arms: “Sub-machine guns are perhaps the most widely documented craft-produced small arms in circulation (ARES, 2018; ImproGuns, n.d.). Their high rate of fire and low cost make them attractive to organized criminal groups. Often chambered for the common 9 × 19 mm cartridge, they are frequently based on Second World War or cold war designs, such as the British Sten and the US M3 ‘grease gun’. As such, they almost always operate on the simple blowback69 principle, firing from an open bolt (ARES, 2018; Jenzen-Jones, 2017a). Pulling the trigger releases not the firing pin but the entire bolt, which picks up a cartridge from the magazine, chambers it, and fires it by means of a fixed firing pin. The bolt is then ‘blown’ backward by the fired cartridge, such that the empty case is extracted and ejected, while the bolt is returned to the rear, where it is ready for the next shot. These weapons require none of the complex machining and engineering needed to create a reliably functioning locked-breech firearm, and they can be relatively safe to operate.”

The photographic quality is probably lower than the machining quality – while these examples were taken from a protestant group in Northern Ireland, I suspect the Provisional IRA has equally skilled folks in their workshops.

Another article, from the same folks in Switzerland is “Craft Production”, found here.

It begins with “Craft production of small arms refers principally to weapons and ammunition that are fabricated largely by hand in relatively small quantities. Government authorities may tightly regulate and oversee these artisans’ activities and outputs (expensive replica antique firearms legally produced in the United States are a good example). Often, however, this material is produced outside of, or under limited, state controls. These weapons are often used in crimes and against government targets.” 

The problem with legislating gun control is that some folks out in the real world are better at making guns than the folks trying to stop them.  If they’ve been making submachine guns in Quebec, I suspect the idea of shutting down ghost guns by legislation is closing the barn  door after the horse is in the garden.

A Science for Everyone, Community

The Spin on Rifling

I watched a video of a 9mm being fired into a pond’s ice surface, and the bullet spinning like a top.  It’s an experiment that I don’t plan to duplicate, since my feet have enough problems without doing something dumb – but the video does lead in to an explanation of rifling.  The gun handling is not exemplary – but the results are worth watching.

I am not an expert on firearms – but during the middle of the 1980’s, I was tasked with developing a class that brought gunsmithing students toward computer literacy.  It was a time when personal computers and I were young – and the work assignment gave me a great learning opportunity, as well as teaching.

It’s common knowledge that rifling – the twisting grooves inside the barrel – cause the bullet to spin, and that spinning the bullet increases accuracy.  If you take that knowledge, and go to the tables that show rate of twist for rifling in specific calibers, and couple that with the tables on muzzle velocity, you can come up with some absolutely fascinating numbers.  Rifling Twist Rate is a good article by Chuck Hawks on the topic.

One of the problems I shared with my students was determining how many revolutions per minute the bullet from my 1903A3 Springfield was making, when I fired a 30/06 accelerator.  This required the students to find the muzzle velocity of the cartridge (listed at 4,000 feet per second, and the rate of twist in the Springfield (1 turn in 10 inches – and not ideal for match use).

If you’re willing to look at RPM at the muzzle, the math is straightforward – one turn in ten inches is 1.2 turn in a foot – so, as the bullet leaves the muzzle, it’s spinning 4800 revolutions per second.  Multiply that by 60 seconds in a minute and you’re left with a 55 grain bullet spinning at 288,000 RPM. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that something spinning that fast really wants to come apart.  It’s part of the reason ammunition manufacturers make different types of bullets – not everything is expansion.  During the War Between The States, the rate of twist for rifled muskets was somewhere between one turn in 48 inches and one turn in 72 inches – which provided pretty good accuracy for those 58 caliber beasts.  Muzzle velocity was around 900 feet per second – which, with a 72 inch twist gives 150 turns per second, or 9,000 RPM.  The spin was slow enough that a lead bullet could hold together easily.

Years ago, I spoke with a gun expert who had a 17 Remington – she didn’t like recoil and explained that her rifle substituted speed for bullet weight.   It’s another 4000 ft per second rifle – and the twist is 1 turn for 9 inches – 300,000 RPM in a 25 grain hollow point projectile.  Since I could do math, and she was certain of her expertise, there was no point in further discussion.   If she’s happy, she has a better deer rifle than I (or you, for that matter).

The empirical equation for rifling is (from Hawk):

While we don’t have exact numbers for the bullet in the video, 9mm barrels range between 10” twist and 18 and a fraction.  Since I’m ballparking, let’s assume 12” twist and a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second.  The bullet would have hit the ice spinning at 60,000 rpm.  Small wonder that it spun like a top – but I won’t duplicate the experiment, and I recommend no one else does either.


Remembering Hunter Safety

I was one of the lucky ones – we had a pair of instructors for Hunter Safety.  Danny On taught the sections on wildlife, and Ed Ruhl taught guns.  Danny On was a forester with a camera. For folks who lacked the privilege of knowing him, there is a page describing his life at Asian Pacific American Employees Association.  Books with his photographs are still in print and available. A trail on Big Mountain bears his name.  Ed Ruhl was a Marine. Chief Warrant Officer Edgar Ruhl, USMC (retired) – and he brought his own examples of every weapon he had used or encountered between Haiti and Korea.  Not “Gunny” you understand, but Mr. Ruhl, or “Gunner.”

“Dis is a spring-gun.” he explained as he showed a nice looking air rifle.  “I got it on Okinawa.  Da little bastid dat was using it didn’ have any more use for it after I ran my baynit troo him.”  I suspect the little bastid actually shared Ed’s rations after he swapped the spring-gun away from him. It was similar to this photo:

I learned that the world’s finest handgun was the Model 1911A1 – “Except you want the old 1911 mainspring for women, ‘cause dey have smaller hands.  It doesn’t kick – my wife uses dis one.”   My first 1911A1 didn’t shoot so well – but I learned what a match bushing and a slightly longer link could do.  By the time I was 35, I had learned that the old Colt 45 automatic could match all of Ed Ruhl’s praise.

The finest hunting rifle was, of course, the Springfield model 1903A3 – “Used to think the 1903 was the best, but the A3 is parkerized and has a peep sight.  Much better.”  In the sixties, there were a lot of them available – and I looked for Ed’s preferred Remington, and replaced the cut-down military stock with an inexpensive, drop-in stock from a magazine ad.   A lot of them made it back to the land of the big PX, and became hunting rifles for two generations of hunters.  It was there when I discovered high power competition.

And I learned that my single-shot 22 just didn’t make the grade: “Dis is a Reising model 65.  Used it on Guadalcanal to take dare snipers out of da trees.  Didn’t like the model 50, but Reising did a good job with the 22.” 

It took me almost half a century to find a Reising.  A previous owner (probably named Bubba) had removed the original front sight and replaced it with a pricey target sight that guaranteed the rifle couldn’t hit anything – it was a half-inch too tall.  It did bring the price down, and when I removed it, I found that most of the threads underneath were intact, and I could buy a brand new, 70-year old front sight for $4.95 plus shipping from West Hurley, New York.  It shared the front sight with the model 50 that Ed despised – and with the sights returned to normal, I managed to set it up the way those WWII Marines used it.  There are enough elevation clicks in the rear sight to make it a 200 yard 22.  I realized as I brought it back into condition that a light trigger pull was not required for the old breed.

As I look back, Hunter Safety from Ed Ruhl was formative.  It took me a while to learn that the FBI wasn’t connected to the justice department – it was an informal group of elderly female residents of Fortine who relentlessly found the basis and actual story behind any and every half told piece of gossip in their community.  He installed respect for the relentless women of the Fortine Bureau of Investigation.  I don’t know how many people are still around who learned weapon voodoo from pre-war Marines who had served in Haiti – hand signals designed to make the real voodoo practitioners wake up in a cold sweat.  I signaled a Haitian grad student with one, and over 40 years after Ed had taught the voo, I got confirmation the hand signals were recognized.  “You don’t want to mess with those powers!  Where did you learn that?”  Jean-Michel still knew of the Marines who brought their version of peace to Haiti.

Ed’s life exemplified responsibility.  As his wife’s health failed, he moved to Great Falls to be near a military hospital.  I recall his story describing how Alzheimer’s had taken her memory, as she explained, “You’re a nice old man.  My husband would like you.”  While Danny On has public memorials, Ed’s memorial has been, and remains, intensely private – shared now with my son-in-law as he learns to use the 1911a1, and next summer when we move onto the Reising.

Community, Wildlife

I carry a gun

I carry a gun when I go for walks.  Occasionally I see an article about carrying an everyday pistol – yet these folks might as well be in a different world.  I don’t need the pistol to protect myself – I have two small dogs that are at some level of risk when we run across coyote or cougar.  Come to think of it, the last encounter was when Kiki decided to protect me from 2 grizzlies – they ran for about 80 yards, and then one must have realized that there wasn’t much dignity in 2 grizzlies being chased by a 7-year-old Pomeranian. 

The nice lady who handles problem bears for FWAP explained the advantages of bear spray to me.  I even kind of agree that my aging, overweight Pomeranian has an awesome ability to make a stressful grizzly encounter worse.  That said, bear spray is short range – 7 to 10 yards sticks in my mind.  My little companions can range 50 yards from me, and they have already encountered coyotes, a cougar, and an eagle that regarded them as prey.  I’ve had a wolf kill a fawn within 150 yards of the house.  They’ve all been beyond the range of bear spray, and they have all backed off at my confident approach.  Still, at 71, that confidence is enhanced by the pistol on my hip.

Robert Ruark penned the phrase, “Use enough gun.”  I believe – but it is inconvenient to carry enough gun for a pair of grizzlies everywhere I walk . . . and there are only a few moments of my life spent in grizzly encounters.  Coyotes are more common, as are cats – and over a half-century ago, Paul Totten explained that a 22 is adequate for cougar.  Even a 45 feels small when you’re looking at the real bear, and politely asking, “Please Mr. Bear, you go your way and I’ll go mine.  Neither one of us wants trouble, OK?”  So far the conversation has been effective every time.

So I carry a small, inadequate HK4.  It can protect my small dogs from the common predators, and, if worse comes down to worst, I think I’d feel more competent concentrating on my sights and trigger than praying.