It’s an unfortunate facet of human nature to take for granted a great many things. That tendency has caused those who support the Constitution — particularly the Second Amendment — to have to fight many long, and figuratively bloody battles over what has only recently, in the 2008 Heller decision, been recognized as a fundamental, unalienable right to keep and bear arms. Even though this right, based in the equally fundamental, unalienable right to self-defense, is now acknowledged as the law of the land, taking it for granted would be a deadly mistake. Those who fear firearms, and actually hate those that own them, never rest, and are in the battle for the long term. Particularly statists, who want to rule all for their own good, understand that their desires will go unfulfilled unless they can deprive the common man and woman of arms . . .
Even so, there is much for those who honor and recognize not only the rule of law, but the art and science of firearms, to appreciate. A few examples:
The Reliability of Modern Firearms
I began my career as a police officer in the mid 1970s. Very few police agencies carried semi-automatic handguns in those days, and the few that were widely available suffered from significant reliability problems. It was an article of faith that revolvers were flawlessly reliable and accurate while semiautomatic handguns weren’t, and there was more than a little anecdotal evidence to support this contention.
As a result, I carried only Colt Pythons, and eventually a stainless steel Ruger Security Six, but not until it had been Mag-na-ported and treated to a substantial action job. It wouldn’t be until 1996 that the law enforcement agency for which I worked transitioned to the GLOCK 22 in .40 S&W.
In the meantime, I owned and fiddled with a variety of semi-autos, including various 1911s, a Browning Hi-Power, a Browning BDA .380, and a S&W Model 59 that was so highly modified as to be barely recognizable as the original handgun. Of those handguns, the Browning DBA was the most reliable out of the box. I didn’t have to alter it at all.
For shooters of a more recent generation, this may sound odd. In those early days of development, out of the box semi-autos were notoriously rough and unreliable. Absent a loosely fitted, full-sized 1911 shooting ball (round-nosed, essentially military specification) ammunition, virtually everything else needed, at minimum, to have the magazine well beveled, the action polished and smoothed, far better and higher profile sights installed, all sharp corners rounded and smoothed, the ejection port enlarged and the feed ramp polished. Magazines were also commonly treated to rubber pads on their floor plates, the better to ensure retention in the mag well.
Compared to modern handguns, the weapons available to the budding semi-auto fan in the 1970s and early 80s were crude indeed. When I refer to lack of reliability, I mean that it wasn’t uncommon to experience at least one malfunction per magazine. My little Browning BDA .380 was absolutely reliable, but others that tried examples of the same gun–or its Beretta sister–had substantial troubles.
I eventually settled on the first GLOCK 19 I could find and haven’t looked back. I still shoot several hundred rounds through any new GLOCK before carrying it for serious social purposes, but that’s probably unnecessary. In many thousands of rounds of all brands and bullet configurations, I have yet to experience a single malfunction with any GLOCK. I don’t suggest all GLOCKs are flawlessly reliable. I have seen such malfunctions in friends’ and students’ guns, most attributable to limp-wristing and similar foibles. Still, that’s a remarkable record. And GLOCKs, of course, aren’t the only highly reliable semi-autos available.
There are those of us in the shooting fraternity who remember the days when one just didn’t take the reliability of any semi-auto for granted unless we spent thousands of rounds, and hundreds–sometimes even a thousand or more–of dollars on the ministrations of a highly competent gunsmith. There weren’t that many. I don’t think back fondly on those days, at least not when thinking on all the trial and error and expense I was forced to endure.
The Reliability of Modern Ammunition
Back in the 1400s when I was a police pup, the only way I could afford to practice and develop my skills sufficiently was by reloading. I did spend much time balancing a coin on the front sight of my Python–in dry fire mode–while pulling the trigger double action. Factory loaded ammunition–particularly with jacketed bullets–was expensive, and the profusion of factory reloaded–commonly called “remanufactured’–ammunition we now take for granted was rare indeed.
In those days, ammunition-related malfunctions were far more common than they are now. I suspect most were due to people doing a bit of shade-tree gunsmithing, particularly on S&W revolvers. I knew many officers that lightened their double action trigger pulls by the quick and easy expedient of clipping a coil or two off a mainspring, resulting in light primer strikes and no “bang” on command from time to time and unpredictably. My fellow officers that carried Pythons had no need of such butchery and didn’t experience that problem, but I’ve seen more than a few malfunctions with virtually every make and model.
I’ve seen just about every problem one can imagine. Faulty primers, loosely seated bullets, fouled powder, and even in one case, a cartridge that obviously had no powder, as the primer had only enough juice to lodge the bullet in the barrel of a revolver. Fortunately, it was the first round fired in a freshly cleaned gun, so we could tell no powder had been ejected or burned, and none was left in the empty brass, and this from a major manufacturer.
It has been many years since ammo has failed me. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I had a malfunction attributable directly to ammunition. That said, the combination of ammunition, shooter and handgun can often cause difficulties.
My wife and I own Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .380s. Mine is completely reliable with every cartridge I’ve fired in it, including inexpensive steel cased ammunition of Russian manufacture. My wife’s is finicky with that ammunition, but shoots everything else reliably. Why? Not a clue.
During the age of Obama, Americans have suffered through several ammunition and firearm shortages, driving prices up and availability down. Most of those shortages and soaring prices, with the exception of .22LR, now seem to have mostly abated, and with the utter failure of Mr. Obama’s run at gun control, it’s unlikely we’ll experience similar shortages and price hikes in the remaining two years of his term in office. But even through those troubles, ammunition reliability has apparently remained high and consistent.
I suspect my good fortune with ammunition has to do with my habits. I keep my weapons scrupulously clean and well maintained. I store all ammunition properly in the appropriate environment. I regularly rotate to new ammunition in my few carry handguns, and practice with the ammunition I’ve replaced. I even regularly change magazines, every magazine I carry, with fresh magazines, allowing the springs to “rest.” Of course, all of this may be nothing more than superstition, but if so, they are superstitions that have served me well.
The Profusion of Accessories
Returning to the 70s, the accessories available for any class of small arm were few and small in scope. For revolvers, perhaps colored front sight inserts–usually orange–and a few models of differing grips were about all one could hope for. Speedloaders were all the rage, and action jobs and Magna-porting were available, but parts and enhancements that were truly useful, inexpensive and easily installed by the user were not nearly as common as they are now.
The state of the art for semi-auto sights for a time was a small, fully adjustable rear sight manufactured by the Miniature Machine Company. I had one on a Colt Commander and it worked well. Night sights were in their infancy and weren’t nearly as sharp and useful as contemporary models, and electronic sights simply weren’t available. Those few that were finding their way to the civilian market, such as the Armson OEG, were expensive and figuring out mounts was a pain.
Rifle accessories were equally uncommon. Some police agencies were beginning to pick up a few AR-15s, usually with the full length 20” barrel and even the original triangular hand guards, but apart from the small Colt optical sight that came with a mount for the carrying handle, there was little available. Twenty round magazines were as common, and for a time, more common, than 30 round magazines, most of the production of those going initially to the military. Flashlights, slings, lasers, different hand guards, grips, and the contemporary profusion of magazine types were also uncommon, and in many cases, just not available.
Contrast this with what confronts the shooter looking for an AR-15 variant in gun stores today. Not only do many models come standard with a wide variety of accessory rails and other features that once would have been unimaginable, the options, including in various colors(?!) are staggering. Anything one can imagine, and quite a bit one can’t, is available, actually useful and usually, inexpensive.
Many Americans have been born into a world that has always had the Internet, and its convenience in shopping. Because I was born into a world without cassette tapes, I’ve never taken the Internet for granted. Even residents of the smallest towns have access to the same accessories, ammunition and related goods as the residents of major regional population centers.
I take no small amount of pleasure in knowing that those that would gladly destroy the Second Amendment, and following that, the rest of the Constitution, find this happy state of affairs most distressing. May it always be so.
There are many more things in the world of firearms for which to be thankful, things we so often take for granted. The ease and lack of expense with which one can be better equipped than the best equipped soldiers or police officers of only a decade ago is amazing, but a great benefit to those that take seriously their duty to protect themselves, those they love, and their communities. This too makes would-be tyrants, petty and great, very angry and restless.
May we take nothing for granted, and may the discomfort of despots never be relieved.