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Back in my airplane days, a trip to the shop hopefully resulted in an effective, inexpensive repair that was documented with a logbook entry that ended in something like “Ops check normal”. The thing was fixed and tested, and everything was OK. Well, everything wasn’t always OK and it was never inexpensive, but within the limits of human and mechanical frailty, ops checks are a good thing . . .

So guns are tools…we all know that. They can be much more than that, and we all know that, too. As tools, guns are unique. A wrench doesn’t take any thought at all to deploy. Owning it does the trick. There is always time to fetch it when you need it, and I don’t worry about my 10-year-old picking it up. And I have never, never, ever had a wrench fail to, um, wrench. None of that is true for guns. This is why people that are freaky about guns don’t buy it when we say “guns are just tools”. There is a little more to it than that, isn’t there?

Keeping a gun deployed (“in service”) so that it will be useful when needed takes a little effort. This is not much of an issue if you’re punching paper or just goofing off. If you have a problem then, you can do whatever needs to be done at your leisure.

But consider a gun that’s “in service” for defense. The object is to be able to shoot something or someone that needs to be shot right now. Little bits of metal flying through the air can’t solve very many of life’s problems, but they can solve a few of the really bad ones like nothing else. If you keep a gun or three “in service”, you might wonder if it your tools are ready for work. At least, I did.

At the moment I keep three guns in service. They are a Kahr PM9, a Browning High Power, and a SIG 229, 9mm all. The Kahr is in the car or in my pocket, the Browning in my briefcase or on my waist, and the SIG by the bed. It’s an odd collection, with a story behind each one. It’s odder still when I remember that I think of myself as a 1911 .45 guy, but there it is. That’s what’s actually in service.


I had a really great .45 stolen, another one rendered inoperable by a coating that could not possibly affect function, and another that throws brass into my left eye often enough to be annoying. I may get poked in the eye when I have my gun out for fighting, but I’d rather not have it done by Mr. Kimber.

I decided in a rare moment of organization and forethought that it would be good to see if my in service guns were actually ready for…service. So I resolved to go the range once a month and find out. Six months later, I’ve been three times for this purpose, which is three more than the Six months prior to that. A stellar performance, far as I’m concerned.

The protocol was to take each of the three weapons and shoot them as they are carried. They’ve been riding around wherever for a month or more, un-oiled, dust-collecting, getting more hot and less hot (this is South Texas, after all), bouncing around in a car or in a briefcase. Except the SIG. It sits by the bed subject to the temperature extremes of the nocturnal arctic environment my wife demands for sleeping. It goes in and out of hiding if we’re showing the house and gets carried around the property some. Overall none of the in service trio are in demanding service, I suppose, unless an unrestrained paper clip or something finds its way somewhere it shouldn’t.

So off to the range I went. One by one, I fired each pistol without doing anything whatever to them, just as I would if it counted. I was sort of wondering how it would go. My recent 1911 experiences have left me in a sort of gloomy dread when I get ready to pull a trigger. I was totally ready for failure.

And I was completely disappointed in that expectation. It went well. Wonderfully well. Prefectly, in fact. Everything went “bang” on demand. It was pleasant shooting. I cannot perceive recoil when I remember what the Gold Dot ammo cost per round. I went through a couple of magazines each of the Gold Dot, then finished up with some range ammo. Couple hundred rounds overall.

Shooting the three weapons back to back was illuminating. I don’t usually do this sort of thing. The Kahr is small and only has room for a three-finger grip. It doesn’t feel as good as the Hi Power, but then nothing else does either. The chief virtue of the Kahr is that it fits in front pockets easily and works every time. That’s enough. Despite that being enough, the thing is also ridiculously accurate. The sight radius is short, but it goes where you point it, assisted by a pretty great trigger.


I’ve owned Hi Powers for years. I wish I had never sold any of them. The particular weapon I have in service has a seriously crappy trigger, thanks to the magazine disconnect, which I haven’t gotten around to removing. Need to do that soon. Nothing feels as good or points as well as a Hi Power in my hands. It’s a dead stock Mk III, and the sights are OK. It’s sort of accurate, and will improve a lot as soon as I get the trigger halfway reasonable. And if feels great, points wonderfully, and looks…OK. A MK III Hi Power is an ugly sister to an old Belgian Hi Power in the pretty leather case. But it still looks OK. It IS just a tool, right?

I got the SIG when I finally started wondering what was up with all of these new wonderguns. I remember when the BDA came out. It was a curiosity. Over the years we’ve gotten GLOCKs and HKs and M&Ps and a raft of other stuff while I soldiered on with 1911s, Hi Powers and absolutely no curiosity about any of the rest.

When my curiosity finally woke up, I decided I’d buy something “new” and check it out. I ended up with a SIG. SIGs are not really “new” unless you’re me. My SIG (one of many to come, I’d guess, all ending in “SAO”) is a 229 EE, and it’s a wonderful weapon. It is accurate, feels pretty good and has good sights. I will never like a DA trigger but it’s still a fine weapon. Did I say it’s accurate?

And I have to say that this new stuff represents some real progress. With some SIGs, and most any other wondergun you can swap out top ends and get a .357 SIG or a 40 S&W. Two new calibers to fool around with. You couldn’t do that when I was a kid.

The SIG P320 is part way out, and with that one you can switch everything but the trigger group. Irresistible. When all the different parts are out, I’ll have to try that. They’ve announced 10mm Sigs coming soon (or not so soon), and I’ll have to have a slice of that, too. These are good times. You can still do pretty much anything that needs to be done with a pistol using a 1911 or a Hi Power, but more is better.

It struck me how different all the weapons are. I have shot them all a fair bit, but never back-to-back before. The “manual of arms” (in quotations since I have never been exactly sure what that means…is there a real “manual” somewhere?) is completely different between all three, and it gave me pause. I also shot each of them left-handed — first time ever for that, which also gave me pause. If I had to do it for keeps it might be a problem. Will need to do that some more.

So they all worked as hoped. They are now all cleaned up and back “in service”, loaded up with new, expensive and recoiless Gold Dot. I learned a few things and gave myself something to think about. Best of all, “ops check normal”. One part of my life is now in good order. Now we’ll see if I can get a .45 or two running.

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  1. You wouldn’t let your kids play with an electric saw or a nail gun, would you?

    I get your point about tools but different tools come with different levels of risk. Guns aren’t exclusive on the list of semi dangerous tools.

    • I have also had plenty of wrenches that didn’t “wrench” when I tried to use them over the years. Tools are tools, take care of them, maintain them, use them properly, and they will serve you well.

    • To that end I’ve been pointing out to my 6 yr old son that when you pick up power tools you make sure your finger doesn’t go near the trigger (skill saw, power drill, saber saw, etc.). When he asked me why I explained to him the need to develop good habits and the concept behind muscle memory. And that it’s the same principle (when he’s old enough) when picking up a firearm: finger off the trigger.

      He also knows not to touch my power tools though I do keep the firearms locked in the safe.

  2. Put a “commander” length ejector in that Kimber, it’s an inexpensive fix. A buddy’s TLE2 had all sorts of erratic ejector problems until I swapped that out.

  3. You had a 1911 stolen, yet you leave guns laying around in your car, and one in your briefcase. Off body carry is stupid, and so is this article.

    • That’s a pretty broad statement you made there. Allow me to correct it for you.

      If you spend your days in downtown Chicago, yes it’s probably a foolish idea to leave a firearm in your vehicle.

      If, however, you spend your days in Whitefish, Montana, where everybody else in a town outnumbered by cows has a gun in their truck too, and your truck is always at the general store or in the fields, it’s probably not a stupid idea.

      This article brings up a very good point, in my opinion. It’s important to test your defensive weapons in the conditions in which they may actually be needed. Sprucing them up and taking them to the range is great, but that doesn’t simulate the nature of their service.

        • I wouldn’t actually know anything about Chicago, having never set foot in that God-forsaken hellhole.

        • I go there every few years. I was last there 6 months ago on business. I walked or took a taxi all over the place, and never once saw anything remotely seedy. But all of the areas I was in were places where the privileged lived and worked.

    • Hey you don’t say that! I haven’t read ttag is a couple of days, so now everything I am reading now is just golden.

    • Since you know nothing of my actual carry habits, I’ll disregard your comments. Pays to be sure of your target sometimes. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • You presume that my stolen 1911 had something to do with with carrying. Wrong. Since you know nothing about my personal carry habits, I’ll weight your comments accordingly. Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree, he rambles some.. ok a lot, and a lot of those rambles don’t really go anywhere, BUT and I put lots of emphasis on that BUT, the article has a very important message. Anyone who loads a gun and puts it in a holster, leaves it in the bedside table, or briefcase, or car or wherever, and does not check it periodically in the condition it was sitting is asking for a failure when they definitely do not want one.

      I have always adhered to the principle of putting a few fouling shots through all of my firearms before they are put back into use after a detailed take down and cleaning just to make sure everything is functioning properly before they go back into self defense service. This can be annoying because you cant really detail clean a handgun at the range, but you are rolling the dice if you take it apart, clean it, oil and put it straight back into service without checking if it will go bang. Its also just good principle to get a few fouling shots through a clean gun as a freshly cleaned gun could have oil where you dont want it, namely on the breach face where it can contaminate the primers of a chambered round. Not a big deal if you load/unload every day, but what about after it has sat in the bedside table for a month or two?

  4. “Back in my airplane days, a trip to the shop hopefully resulted in an effective, inexpensive repair that was documented with a logbook entry that ended in something like “Ops check normal”.”

    Last time I went flying with a buddy of mine who has a ’63 Cherokee 180, the engine had an odd stumble while warming up. Taxied it over to the other side of the field and dropped it off at his A&P. Week later went to pick it up. Looking over the work order I noticed his hourly rate was 35 bucks an hour. A few weeks earlier I had the Honda dealer put in a new clutch in my Civic si.

    75 bucks an hour. If that mechanic fvcked up the install on that clutch at the worst it would be bent sheet metal and maybe a hike in the summertime Florida sun. If his A&P fvcked up the work on on his plane it would likely cost him (and pax) their lives.

    Something to keep in mind the next time your gunsmith works on your carry piece.

  5. “And I have never, never, ever had a wrench fail to, um, wrench.”

    I have. I’ve had the best wrenches fail to dislodge a stubborn wheel hub mounting bolt or caliper bolt. Tools do take thought to “deploy”, you’ve got to utilize them in a particular manner, for a definite time, in order to achieve a desired result. To use a line from a pop culture reference, Do you even wrench, Bro?

      • I’ve had socket wrenches crack the socket.

        I’ve had socket wrenches snap the shaft. I’ve had ratchets break.

        I’ve had the heads twist right off the bolts. I’ve had end wrenches snap.

        And I don’t even wrench often. (And this is usually all name brand stuff).
        Anything can fail; something’s are just more durable.

  6. Please, with the 1911 garbaaj already and I’m no fan boy. A rattle in your 1911 is ok. My Brazilian Springfield Government got ramped, a trigger, and sights. No match barrel or bushing or full length guide rod or hand fit slide.

    It shoots the center out of the target at the 10 yd line, rattles and all. The only problem ever, was not enough lube. They like a drenching. Problem solved forever.

    Please someone author an article titled “The Just Enough 1911”.

  7. If I were you, I wouldn’t keep gold dots in the Kahr. With the short barrel they over penetrate and don’t expand a whole lot. Federal HST is what I have in mine after watching the Shooting The Bull 410 9mm short barrel ammo tests.

  8. Darn near need a lawyer to type anything anymore without having somebody picking nits. The article was about operation check of various firearms as they are. How they are carried and where and in what is an aside. Pre- flight check would strike me as more critical.

  9. the term “manual of arms” brings to mind…”how does the thing work?” DA0? SAO? both? night sights? three-dot? something else? manual safety? decocker? no safety? magazine interrupt?

    in order to simplify things in a stress situation, decided all my handguns need to be either 380 or 9mm (cuts down the ammo supply complication, and reaction to recoil pressures. next, decided it best to have only one trigger action – SAO. finally, decided all handguns would have a manual safety that functioned precisely the same…frame-mounted, up is safe down is not. one might go further and decide the takedown/field cleaning process would be identical, also, but given the rarity of field-stripping amidst a gunfight, maybe this is not so important.

    so, having different manual of arms would seem to mean multiple tools operate in different ways, ways that can be troublesome in threat situation. while i may shoot someone else’s tool at the range (just a few rounds for fun), i would not want a bag full of this, that and the other for serious training/practice.

    rwoao –

  10. Did the same thing the other day with my PM9 that rides around in my pockets (85% of the time) or IWB (15% of the time). The cloud of lint and dust that flew out after the first round fired was comical. But the gun runs 100% for me, so I trust it!

  11. I have several guns in rotation, including a CM9 and a Mustang Pocket lite. Both ALWAYS go bang, and are easy to conceal. Whenever I pocket or holster the Colt, I make a mental note that I have to switch off the safety if I need to draw. Have been making sure that every time I shoot it, I turn safety on every time before putting it down to force myslef to remember to turn the safety off before pulling the trigger. Some posters have good points about carrying similar guns so you dont make a mistake under stress, but IMO, that problem is resolvable.

  12. Good article.

    And important for the following reason …

    I carry a full size semi-auto handgun in .40 S&W with brass jacketed hollowpoint ammunition. And I carry it every day. One day, I decided that I would shoot some targets with it since I had not done anything with it for the last nine months or so (other than carry it every day). And since hollowpoint ammunition is much more expensive than full metal jacket plinking ammunition, I set out to unload the hollowpoint round in the chamber. Much to my horror, my slide was stuck and didn’t seem to want to budge. After a couple moments, I managed to get enough grip and leverage to finally muscle the slide back and eject the round in the chamber.

    I couldn’t believe what I saw when I inspected the brass casing of that round that rode in the chamber for the last nine months: it was discolored, oxidized, and slightly corroded even — like it was in a salt solution and touching dissimilar metals. Fortunately, my handgun operated normally and had no trouble cycling the full metal jacket plinking ammunition. I can only wonder if the action would have cycled properly if I had needed to shoot that corroded round in a self-defense situation.

    Because of that event, I now inspect my handgun every two to three months which includes cycling the action and cleaning/lubricating if necessary. And I make darn sure that there is enough gun oil in the chamber to coat the brass casing of that round which sits in the chamber for months on end.

  13. I think some of us are missing the point of the article, i.e., function test and practice with the firearm you hope you never have to use. That’s good advice any day of the week.

  14. My New Year resolution is to shoot at least once a day, rain or shine, even if is just 5 shots a day. So I am always looking to add some different ideas into my routine to make it feel like I am accomplishing something with the extra time and money that I am spending on ammo (not so much) and cleaning (I despise cleaning). This story will probably get added into the mix of things to test during the extra time that I am shooting. This idea will be as good as what I have done before- I have always taken my guns out on the coldest day of the year and let them sit for a hour and then took some shots (how do you know it will work in those conditions unless you try)

  15. It is always funny shooting my j frame after a month or so in my pocket or backpack and seeing the poofs of dust and pocket lint coming out of it on the first few shots.


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