Criminalization of Assault Weapons and Limitations on Federal Powers.

AR15

Honest, this is the last post on this topic for a while. This was originally posted on Facebook and I was asked to place it here so it could more easily be shared. This post addresses something I didn’t mention in the previous post on this subject, where I stipulated a buy-back would be necessary. This buy-back would need to be voluntary. Read on…

During prohibition criminal gangs employed submachine-guns to murder each other, hosing down innocents and targets alike. This created a public outcry against these and other weapons commonly used mainly by criminals.

But these weapons were legally purchased by citizens in good faith- the government was not legally allowed to make them illegal retroactively and simply take them. Our founding fathers came from a long history of the governments of Europe using de-legalization as a method of stealing from citizens, and they were determined not to have that happen in their new country.

So the government heavily regulated these weapons. Purchasing them would require special checks and licensing, and a hefty transfer fee when they were sold or traded ($200.) The weapons that were already in private hands were also licensed, ‘grandfathered in,’ and no other registration was possible unless or until the weapons were transferred.

This actually seems to have worked. There were other forces in operation; believe it or not gangster leaders were sensitive to public opinion, and the indiscriminate killings undermined their attempts to portray themselves as some sort of twisted Robin Hood sticking it to ‘the man.’ Regardless these weapons were used dramatically less in crimes. Score one for regulation.

But there were very few of these weapons in civilian hands- most estimates I’ve seen say something under 2,000 total. Auto Ordinance, maker of the ‘Tommy Gun’ was constantly on the financial ropes, barely scraping along from meager contract to meager contract right up until WW2. Most people did not want or see any need for owning their very own automatic weapon, and those that did could go through the difficult and expensive procedure of becoming a collector. Relatively few people bothered.

This is not England or Australia- it is still not legal for the government to outlaw and criminalize legally-purchased property retroactively. We might want to ban assault rifles, but the simple fact is the limits of the government’s powers are such that the best they could do is make further sales of new weapons illegal, or at least subject to the same sorts of restrictions as automatic weapons. Existing owners would be required to license their weapons- at no cost to themselves- but would be free to keep them indefinitely, or until they chose to sell them to a properly-licensed purchaser. This will leave somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000,000 or more of these weapons ‘on the street’ and potentially available to spree killers.

Maybe regulating these weapons will help; one hopes. But it will not remove these weapons from society- we’d better be looking for more permanent solutions, ones that address the root causes of so many young people deciding to become spree-killers.

If you want to empower the Federal government to criminalize possession of legal property purchased in good faith and seize it, it will require a some very, very serious work- like a Constitutional Convention. But think carefully- do you REALLY want the government to have that power? Do you trust them to restrict it’s use to the interests of the public good?

Addendum: Individual states are allowed to enact legislation to restrict these weapons of course, but they face the same limitations as the Federal Government. California recently tried to criminalize possession of any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds, and the courts told them that they could not do so, as these were previously legal property, and they could not simply criminalize possession.

I neither publicly advocate nor oppose strictly regulating high capacity semi-automatic rifles and/or handguns. This post is for informational purposes. Forgive me, but I have spent enough time arguing about this issue in other venues; I am disabling comments on this post. (OK, WordPress is smarter than I am; I cannot figure out how to disable comments for a single post. Please refrain from commenting- any and all comments will be deleted regardless of whether or not they agree with me.)

Michael Tinker Pearce, 24 Feb. 2018

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School Shootings and Banning Assault Rifles

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I try to avoid politics here, but sometimes I can’t.  Any mass-murder spree is horrific and tragic, and school shootings are particularly awful. We are the only nation in the developed world that regularly experiences these tragedies. Semi-automatic military-style rifles (commonly and incorrectly called ‘Assault Rifles’ in modern parlance) are used in almost half of these mass-killing sprees.

We have a problem in this country, and it’s not guns. We have created a toxic culture that spawns spree-killers. We need to address that fundamental truth. It’s not going to be easy, pleasant or fun but it has to be done or the killing will not stop. We cannot simply dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue; this is inaccurate and unnecessarily stigmatizes the mentally ill.  Most school shooters have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Oh, don’t get me wrong- they are not ‘right in the head.’ But generally speaking they are neither clinically nor legally insane.

No, they do not share commonalities like Satanism, Heavy Metal music, Goth Culture or violent video games.  Mental-health professionals actually maintain that playing violent video games provides an outlet for aggressive impulses and may actually help prevent violent outbreaks. Nothing so simple.

I am not a mental health professional or a sociologist; but you don’t need to be a pilot to recognize that a plane has crashed.  I don’t know the answers here- but I know that we need to ask the right questions before we’ll have a chance of finding out.

The simple and easy response here is to blame something, anything- to do something.  Anything. In this case to ban ‘assault rifles.’ If this were possible it would prevent mass shooters from using them. It won’t stop them from killing people; the most common mass-shooting weapon is actually a handgun, so I imagine they’ll use those. They are at least as easy to get as semi-automatic rifles.  Banning those is problematic; in Heller Vs. DC the Supreme Court ruled that individual Americans had the right to possess arms for ‘lawful self defense’ and that handguns could not be banned as a class because they were ’eminently suited to that purpose.’  Limit the weapons available, limit the number of bullets they can hold… the ideas go on and on. But banning tools is like slapping a band-aid on a sucking chest wound- beyond giving the illusion that you have done something it’s not going to help the root cause.

Not to mention that in places where people have trouble getting guns- or where the would be at too great a risk of being shot- people use bombs. ‘It’s a lot harder to make a bomb than it is to get an assault rifle’ is the standard argument. Hogwash.  I could root through my kitchen cupboards and come up with a bomb in less than thirty minutes- and anyone with internet access could do the same.  Google is a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands…

Did you notice that I said ‘If this were possible’ regarding banning assault rifles?  Because I am not sure it can be done with any level of effectiveness. The previous ‘assault rifle ban’ had the primary effect of making these weapons more expensive. It did not take them off the streets and it didn’t keep people from obtaining them.  Proponents of the ban point out the decrease in homicides, but in fact they were decreasing before, during and after the ban at about the same rate. The ban had no chance of being effective because it didn’t do what it said- it did not ban these weapons, merely made them tougher to import and more expensive to buy.

To have even a chance of being effective a ban would need to take away the guns that are already out there, and the logistics of that are nightmarish because we don’t know how many there are or who has them. At a (very) conservative estimate there are over 8,000,000 AR15-based rifles out there, then there are all the millions of AK-based rifles and other platforms that are in private hands… I’m going to go with tens of millions of guns that fit the current definition of an ‘assault rifle.’ That’s the legal ones, which are the only ones that you can get rid of by legislation. Legal property, legally purchased by American citizens. Can you spot the problem with confiscating them?

Yep. It’s unconstitutional- it violates some of those pesky civil rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  OK, so buy them back at fair market value. Oh, and hire people to accept them and dispose of them properly- and maybe some more police to make sure they don’t just turn around and sell them on the black market. If we can spend billions to subsidize profitable businesses and military adventures overseas surely we can spend a paltry few billion to save our children.  Of course there is precious little interest in saving, caring for or educating our children under the current regime…  OK, that was a cheap shot. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.

OK, we have established a pool of money to buy back the guns. How do we find them, who is going to do it, and what do we do if people aren’t inclined to volunteer them? Go door to door and forcibly search houses without a warrant or probable cause?  We’re going to need more police. A lot more police. Maybe we should encourage children to rat out their parents? Pay rewards for people to turn in friends and family members? Yeah, that’s totally the precedent we need in this society.  That won’t piss people off enough to cause acts of violence and rebellion.

Oh, and since those police will be looking for people with assault rifles they are going to need military grade body armor, flash grenades and what? Say it with me now… assault rifles. Not a fan of ‘militarized’ police? Tough- because that’s what it will take.

‘But law abiding citizens will turn them in!’ Yep, some will- but some will consider keeping them an act of civil disobedience; we have a long and storied history of this in America. You’re going to have to track those people down, take their guns, arrest them and put them in jail. People will get shot. Some of them will be formerly law-abiding citizens responding to what they perceive as an injustice and government overreach. Some of them will be cops. Everyone that dies will be someone’s child, someone’s parent, sibling or spouse. It’s going to be a mess.  But in the end we will get most of them.

Congratulations- but we’ll still be living in a toxic society that breeds spree killers- and we cannot ban household chemicals, fertilizer, fuel,  laundry detergent, pressure cookers, plumbing pipe, trucks and cars, machetes (which have been used as a weapon of mass-destruction in Africa,) and all the hundreds of other items that can be used to kill a lot of people in a hurry… but we will have the militarized police to try, and we’ll have to do something with all those militarized cops…

Yeah, this will end well.

Maybe it would be simpler to find ways to keep people from wanting to kill a bunch of people in a hurry… like studying and dealing with the real causes of the problem.

Let me add this disclaimer- when it comes to this sort of rifle I can take ’em or leave ’em. I’m not a crusader for them, I don’t love them and haven’t made a hobby- let alone a lifestyle- of them. My main concern with banning them is that it will give too many people the illusion that they have done something useful to address the problem without actually accomplishing anything useful.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 19 Feb. 2018

Range Report for 18 Feb. 18

A day of good news/bad news at the range. The good news is that the Walker Conversion put all it’s shots in the same hole.  The bad news is only three of the fourteen rounds that I had loaded went off. It wasn’t striking light either, as you can see in the photo-

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I’m pretty sure I screwed up somewhere and contaminated the primers- annoying. Well, that’s why I have a bullet-puller. The good news is that the bullets stayed put nicely under recoil, so the ‘chemical crimp’ is working just fine.  The brass fire-formed nicely in the chambers-

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How is it to fire? Well, recoil isn’t painful, but you know you’ve fired a gun! There’s a definite snap to it, but the gun’s 3-1/2 lb weight really takes the sting out of it. Range wasn’t very far, but consistency was easy to attain- for what it’s worth here’s the picture of the three shots that worked. Obviously I’ll need to adjust the sights a bit:

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I had also done some test-loads in .44 Colt for The Dandy using the new collet-crimp die. They were consistent- consistently underpowered, at least one of them very much so.  I’ll keep working on that.

The Steampunk Snubby has a new front sight so I wanted to test that. It’s shooting a bit high with a six o’clock hold, but I’m pretty happy with it, and with the 150gr. .361 LSWC load. It’s definitely got more pop than factory ammo, but that’s pretty weak stuff.  I ended by firing five cylinders at seven yards as fast as I could pull the trigger. Not the best shooting I have done by a long shot, but big fun!

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Finally I decided to wring out the S&W m1905 and see what I could do with it.  I rested it on my shooting bag, thumb-cocked the hammer and fired as carefully as I could. I got a one-hole group high and slightly left at ten yards, then moved the target out to fifteen yards and enlarged the hole slightly. Moved the target to twenty-five yards and things went to poop. The group expanded to four inches and was noticeably furthe.r off to the left. Huh.  Pretty sure it’s me, not the gun.

I’m not used to shooting a double-action revolver single-action, and I never shoot handguns from a rest so I decided to do what I am used to- standing unsupported double action. Given that this gun is over a century old and has a rudimentary rear sight I’m not embarrassed by the result- about a 4-1/2″ group.  Pretty sure I can improve on that, so I’ll be shooting this gun at 25 yards regularly from here out.

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The JP Sauer & Sohn single-action caused some consternation- it was not firing reliably and I thought I had more bad primers… until I realized the the primers weren’t showing any hits. Um… not sure how that could happen. I mean, the gun is pretty basic; there really shouldn’t be any way the firing-pin would not hit the primer. Unless the cylinder wasn’t rotating… yep. Bad hand spring- easy to fix. I’ll fabricate a replacement and she’ll be good as new.

So once again it was a mixed bag, but overall I came home pretty pleased. We’ll see if I can do better next time out.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 Feb. 2018

The Walker and Ammunition Completed!

IMG_0277With the addition of a front sight and the ammunition made this one is, aside from inevitable tweaks, finished. The biggest piece of the puzzle was the ammunition, but that seems to be sorted now.

I originally planned to use .445 Powermag as the donor cartridge, but the brass is very expensive and must be special-ordered online. I also considered .444 Marlin, but not only was that not much better then the .445 in terms of availability, but the case flairs slightly towards the base and might necessitate special reaming, which would make shooting .44 Colt problematic.  I finally bought some .303 British ammunition, which fits well at the base and has a rim. It also wasn’t absurdly expensive.

First things first I used the bullet-puller. The 180gr bullets were set aside and the powder discarded. Then I cut the brass at the edge of the shoulder, giving an overall length of 1-11/16″- right in the middle of the estimated range needed. I then tried to fire-form the brass, erring on the side of caution by using a thick wax plug over a substantial powder charge. No joy. Rather than fussing with that further I set to work on 1/2″ brass rod in the lathe. I produced two tools of increasing size, and a steel block bored and reamed to .454″

Insert the de-primed brass in the block, hammer in the smaller expansion rod, remove and hammer in the larger. I refined the shape as I went and was very quickly producing credibly straight-walled brass. OK so far.

Next I measure how deep the heel-base bullet went in the case and found that approximately 14 grains of Trail Boss would fit without compression. Backing off to approximately 70% of that load gave 10.0 grains- according to Hodgdon’s data this should be the recommended starting load for my cartridge.

Using my home-made swage I made the 200gr. heel-base bullets to be a tight fit in the cartridge- so tight that once seated with a soft mallet they could not be removed without using pliers. I experimented with my collet-crimp die and the results were not entirely satisfactory, so I tried a ‘chemical crimp.’  Basically I glued the bullet in with blue Loc-Tite. This works quite well actually, and in the limited testing I have done the bullets do not ‘walk out’ under recoil. I’m satisfied with this arrangement, but it feels like cheating so I am going to continue to experiment with the crimping die.

So how is it to shoot? Recoil isn’t bad at all; I imagine the gun’s 3-1/2lb. weight helps with that. Muzzle blast is loud but muzzle-flash is less apparent than I expected. I do not yet have a chronograph so I have to guess at the velocity.  The math I have done seems to indicate a muzzle velocity of around 1100 fps., and the rounds sound supersonic to my ear.  If this is accurate the gun is producing 537ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle. They hit pretty hard too- in my one penetration test the round penetrated 4″ of seasoned Beech wood before exiting the side and burying itself in the backstop. I’m pretty happy with that. I’ll develop some loads with heavier bullets after time and repeated firing have ‘proved’ this load.

The two questions that come to mind regarding this project. The first, which has often been asked, is, ‘You’re using the original Italian cylinder? Are you nuts?’ Yes, I am using the original Italian cylinder. I may very well be nuts- but not for that reason. As near as I and other more experienced folks can tell these cylinders are the equivalent of 1018 steel. The tensile strength of this material is well known, and the math says the cylinder will hold up to these loads just fine. In fact it suggests that a full 14gr. load would be fine, but I’m not going there. Yes, this is just a guess, but it’s a good guess backed by math and practical considerations. The practical consideration is that this cylinder is designed to withstand the maximum charge that will fit in it’s original form- 65gr. of black powder behind a 173gr. ball. The available information suggests that my load generates significantly less stress than that load in terms of both pressure-curve and recoil; black powder is pretty violent stuff.  Suffice it to say that yes, I guessed it would be OK- but it was a very well-informed guess.

The second question is ‘Why?’  That’s harder to answer. This gun does nothing that modern firearms won’t do better. The only answers I have to this are, ‘Because it’s cool,’ and ‘because it was fun to do.’  It’s cool because I did it myself, and no one else has done exactly this conversion before. Yes, others have done big-cartridge conversions of Walker reproductions before- notably Gary Lee Barnes’s .45-60-225 ‘Brimstone’ conversions. But mine is the first using a heel-base bullet and uses a proprietary case of my own devising.

Here’s the idea- if someone in the 19th Century wanted a high-powered cartridge revolver- maybe as a sort of revolver ‘Howdah Pistol,’ they could have done exactly this conversion, and it would work exactly as it does today. The goal here was never to improve the state of the art; it was to make something fun and historically plausible. It does succeed in that- this gun is significantly more powerful than a period .45 Colt. In fact it is more powerful than any revolver cartridge of the period, excepting 11.3x36mmR used in the Gasser and Montenegrin revolvers in Europe.

But mostly this, like many of my other projects, is about finding, pushing and ultimately expanding the limits of what I can do- and creating something unique and, for lack of a better word, cool. Mission accomplished.  Now I need to make a holster for this beast… and come up with a name for it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 Feb. 2018

Once More, With Feeling…

BoolitsFrom left to right: .357 Magnum, 45 ACP, 9x19mm, .45 Colt, .38 S&W, .25 ACP Bottom Right: .38 Special

This keeps coming up. over and over. OK, seriously- which bullet has the most Stopping Power?  There is an actual answer, but you aren’t going to like it, because it is not .45 ACP. It is not 9mm. It is not even .357 Magnum.

Ready?

The bullet with the most stopping power is the one that breaks something your attacker cannot function without.  This means the bullet penetrates deeply enough to hit that thing, and- here’s the part that you won’t like- you have to make sure it goes there. Sorry, there is no magic bullet that will do it for you. No, if you hit them in the big toe with your 45 it will not kill them instantly. .44 magnum is unlikely to actually tear someone’s arm off- and if it does that may not stop them.

Some guy in the Korean war shot a couple guys with a .45, and it worked. His assumption was that this meant it was the only thing that worked.  This became like a religion in some parts of the gun culture. 9mm? ‘Bah! If you shoot me with that and I ever find out I’ll kick your ass!’  .38 Special got an even worse rap.  And anything smaller? Puh-lease! You might as well spit at them!

The sum total of our knowledge about handgun ‘stopping power’ came from anecdotes and some really, really unscientific tests performed early in the 20th C.  Tales of one-shot stops with .45s were like candy, and never mind there were also plenty of stories where it didn’t. There were also stories where someone dropped like a stone after a single shot from a .25 Auto. ‘Just a fluke,’ we were assured.  The fact is for any caliber- up to and including .44 Magnum- one can find tales of them failing to stop someone. Equally one can find a story just about any caliber dropping someone with a single shot. But people tended to only focus on the one’s that supported their pet theory or preference.

Now we don’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence. People have studied actual shootings over a period of decades to see what really worked in real life. What they discovered is that any service caliber- that being .38 Special, 9mm, .357 Magnum or Sig, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .45 ACP- all work about the same.  If you use a modern hollow-point they all work a bit better- but still about the same as each other.

Coroners report that among these calibers- presupposing the use of a good hollow-point- the only way they can identify the caliber that caused a given wound is by finding the bullet. Seems unlikely- these rounds have wildly varying amounts of energy and expand to different sizes in ballistic gel. The fact is that human tissue is not ballistic gel- it is inconsistent in structure and density and very elastic. Yes, a more powerful bullet may produce more damage- but not as much more as you might think, and the evidence suggests it’s not enough to make a difference in something that happens as fast as a lethal confrontation. Adding power adds penetration more than it adds damage, and that’s great if you are hunting large game. Less vital in a lethal encounter.

Calibers smaller than .38 Special get a little more complicated. Sub-calibers like .22LR and .25 ACP may not penetrate deeply enough to cause a solid ‘stop,’ and may not do enough damage if they do. Best bet with these is quantity- but not quantity over quality.  You still need to hit things that matter. If you can put a half-dozen of these in someone’s heart-or face- in short order they are likely to reconsider their life-choices.

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Small calibers like .32 ACP , .32 S&W Long, .380 ACP and even the venerable .38 S&W can all do the job, but hit location is crucial with these calibers- even more so than with service calibers. Generally hollow-points are not a worthwhile proposition for these cartridges; either they don’t expand and the round behaves like ball ammo, or they do expand but don’t penetrate deeply enough to interrupt vital structures. Best to use ball ammunition in the semi-autos and wadcutters in the revolver cartridges.  Options to this in .32 ACP and .380 ACP are offered by Lehigh Defense in their Extreme Penetrator and Extreme Cavitator bullet designs; these seem likely to be somewhat more effective than ball ammunition. There are also a couple of hollow-point offerings in .380 that may perform adequately, but I am a bit leery of them.

In a self -defense situation a bullet can produce one of two kinds of stop. The first and most desirable is a ‘Hard Stop.’ This means they stop because they have no choice; you have broken a part of them that they cannot function without. This can be produced by a hit to the central-nervous system or upper spine. This is the only thing that will reliably produce a Hard Stop, but multiple hits to the heart are almost as effective. This is good thing, because in the heat of the moment it’s a lot easier to hit the middle of someone’s body than it is to hit their head.

The second and far more common is the ‘Psychological Stop’ or ‘Soft Stop.’  This occurs when you shoot them and they decide, consciously or unconsciously, that they are done. People don’t like to be shot. It’s traumatic as hell and it can be fatal, and your brain and body want nothing to do with it. Pretty often the fight/flight/freeze instinct kicks in and they run away or simply fall down. Sometimes their brain decides, ‘Nope. Shit got real, we’re done now.’  Sometimes they consciously realize they’ve been shot and decide their best chance to survive is to not get shot anymore. Whatever, when a ‘Soft Stop’ occurs the person stops being a threat, either by running away or effectively surrendering.

Any hit from any bullet can produce a ‘Soft Stop,’ but it’s more likely to happen if the person notices they have been hit. It is possible that this is where service calibers have their largest advantage- they produce more damage, which means there is a greater likelihood that a person will notice they have been hit. People involved in a gunfight have to be told they’ve been shot surprisingly often; they did not experience a Soft Stop because they weren’t aware that they’d been hit.  This seems to happen less frequently with service caliber and larger hollow-points. This can be viewed as an argument in favor of calibers like .357 Magnum, .45 ACP and 10mm, but this is often argued to be countered by 9mm’s ability to put more accurate rounds on target faster.

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Soft Stops are common and probably that’s what will happen if, God forbid, you are required to shoot someone in self-defense. But it might not- in which case your only option is a Hard Stop, and that probably means more bullets. One Marine was asked, hit for hit- which caliber he preferred. He shrugged and said, “Who shoots them once?”

It does seem clear that while small calibers may work your best bet is a service-caliber using modern hollow-points. Whatever caliber you choose to defend yourself with, you need to make sure you can hit what you aim at- preferably quickly and more than once.

The Walker Cartridge Conversion

Last year I came up with the idea of converting a Walker reproduction to something a bit stronger than .45 Colt. After all, the original load for the Walker was a 210gr. Pickett bullet over 60 gr. of black powder; that’s 50% more powder that a .45 Colt… Of course people immediately informed me that it had been done- the .45 BPM, .45 Walker, .45 Brimstone etc.  OK, that meant I knew it could be done. A buddy of mine found an Armi San Marcos Walker repro at a good price and I snagged it.  So far so good.

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God, what a beast! 4-1/2 pounds of Italian steel.  I prefer a more compact package, so I cut the barrel at the lug, giving me 3-1/2″ of barrel. That took a full pound off the weight… better. I re-crowned the barrel, then modified the loading lever to use as a disassembly tool and I was ready to tackle the cylinder.

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Oops. Too big to fit in the chuck of my metal-lathe. Bugger. Other concerns (like paying the bills) intruded and the project languished. Over the months the project was waiting patiently I started reloading .44 Colt (original.) This used a .452″ heel-base bullet in a straight-bored chamber. I got to thinking- what if I did a longer version for the walker? It would simplify things quite a bit as I could straight-bore the chamber using tools I already have… interesting, but the cylinder was still too big for my lathe.

Yesterday we were having a rather stressful morning and Linda said, “OK, just go in the shop and play.” Okey dokey, I can do that! I removed the nipples and set to boring through the cylinder and reaming the chambers to .454″-

Next I chucked the cylinder up in the lathe and turned the base around the ratchet to 3/4″- this allowed clearance for the cartridge rims. I used .44 Colt ammo I had on-hand to test this-

 

Of course it’s still very rough in the photo; I did clean it up before bluing!  I apologize for the lack of further in-progress pictures- I got far too involved at this point to remember to take them.

Next it was time to make the breech-plate. I grabbed a hunk of 1020 steel, bored a 3/4″ hole and cut and ground to shape. This involved relieving a 1-1/4″ circle about 3/32″ deep around the central holes so that it would sit flush with the gun’s breech, and I did this with the Dremel using sanding drums and grinding wheels. Life will be easier when I get the mill running…

Once that was fitted it was time to do the loading-port in the frame. Once again the Dremel with sanding drums and grinding wheels went to work… After I had cut the frame I made a matching cut in the breech-plate, a little bluing and that was done.

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Last thing to do was to make a firing-pin. I inserted a Sharpy-marker in the chamber and marked where the firing-pin needed to be, then bored a 5/64″ hole at an angle to put the end of the pin under the hammer. I then bored this hole from the hammer-end to 3/16″- not quite through- and found a suitable spring to fit the hole. I had a firing-pin that I’d turned for another project that didn’t work, and it was a perfect fit! I staked this in to retain it and the gun was basically finished. OK, I still need a front-sight, and I am planning on permanently mounting the breech-plate, but the gun is functional.  I used primed .44 Colt brass and it went ‘Pop!’ so it’s all good.

Like a .357 shooting .38 special, while the gun is designed for a longer cartridge .44 Colt will work just fine- better, even as the cylinder is bored straight-through. So what is the guns actual cartridge? A wildcat based on .445 Supermag that uses a 200gr. Heel-base bullet loaded over the equivalent of 50 grains of black powder. The new cartridge will be called .44-50/200 Walker. I still need to obtain brass and dies, but until then I can shoot .44 Colt.

The new cartridge should, with the correct smokeless load, drive it’s 200gr. bullet at 1150+ fps. from this gun’s 3-1/2″ barrel, yielding in the neighborhood of 600ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.

So, here is the gun, if not finished at least in it’s final form- shown with a custom Richards-Mason conversion for scale:

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Now I just have to wait for the brass and dies…

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 01 Feb. 2018

A Good Week for Cartridge Conversions

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This week I finally finished ‘The Cherub.’ This was an unidentified unfinished gun when I got it. It was full assembled, but many of the parts were ‘as cast’ and only the internal parts were finished at all. It was also missing it’s locking-bolt.  I had the impression that it was bought as a kit and thrown together without any effort to finish it. This is the gun as I first saw it-

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I’ve covered the details before so I’ll stick to general comments here. This project took some serious gunsmithing! First I had to replace the locking bolt- with no idea who manufactured the gun. The gun had no manufacturer’s marks or proof marks of any kind, but I eventually decided it was probably an Armi San Marcos. Naturally the part wasn’t available, so I got an Uberti part and fussed with it until it worked. This process continued throughout the time I was making other modifications to the gun and ended  yesterday.

Oddly turning down, boring through and lining the cylinder was very straightforward. Likewise shortening and reshaping the barrel, fitting the wood grips etc. presented no novel issues. But the timing? Oh yeah… headaches galore.  Take the gun apart, make a change, reassemble, test, swear. Repeat until you lock yourself in a dark room and cry forever.  Well, for a long time anyway. Pro Tip- start with a gun that already works!

The Breechplate presented it’s own issues, most of which relate directly to the fact that the milling machine is still not up and running. In the end there was nothing insurmountable. The firing pin was also problematic, mainly because I wanted a rebounding firing pin, and there really wasn’t room for the spring. Finally I just used a design that omitted the spring, and it works quite well.

Finally with all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed I refinished- well actually- finished the gun; it had never been finished to begin with. I used a simple cold-blue as I wanted to test the gun before committing to a final finish. I actually like the results-

 

The other gun has been finished for some time. Technically. But it never felt finished because I couldn’t come up with proper ammo for it. It’s chambered in .44 Colt- the real .44 Colt, not the cartridge used in Italian reproductions. The original cartridge used a .451 heel-base bullet; .44 percussion revolvers were actually 45 caliber. Because reasons.

.44 Colt brass is easy to make from .44 Special; just shorten it slightly and turn down the rim a bit. easy-peasy. What isn’t easy is keeping the bullets in the cartridges. With the bullets being the same diameter as the case a conventional crimping die won’t do it. Old West Bullet Molds offers a customized Lee collet-crimp die to accomplish this, and that’s what a reasonably intelligent person would buy.  Naturally I didn’t.  Because reasons.

I tried a taper-crimp, and that held the bullets quite well. Especially since my loads were so wimpy they barely made it out of the barrel. OK, I was a little too cautious starting out, but smokeless powder loads for this cartridge are hard to come by.  Next I tried Trail Boss’s recommended method for developing a load. Fill the case to the bottom of the bullet, weigh that charge and start with 70% of that weight. OK then, 6.5 grains of trail boss under a 200 grain bullet.  This failed because bullets were backing out under recoil, and even if that weren’t the case I was getting a lot of un-burned powder. Bugger.

Next I tried the taper-crimp with what a friend of mine calls a ‘Chemical Crimp.’ Basically you glue the bullet in.  This solved the problem with un-burned powder and the loads had considerably more pep. So much that bullets were backing out in the cylinder again. Bugger.

Next I tried modifying a pair of wire-stripping pliers to make the crimp. Ugly not uniform… and the pliers broke. Next! I took a suggestion from a gun-store acquaintance and dulled the cutting-wheel of a pipe-cutter and used that. It crimped them alright- but pieces of the lip of the cartridge came loose and went downrange with the bullets. Others just stuck out at random angles so they could cut you after you removed them from the cylinder. Uncertain of the effect of this crimp on pressure I had also reduced my load. It was perfect- a combination of weak and inconsistent but still strong enough to tear the cartridge lip. Bugger.

Finally I did what any rational person would have done to begin with- forked out $50 for the customized crimp die. This arrived today and I gave it a go. Works a treat- as you would expect, since it’s actually the right tool for the job. I also went back to the original load I had developed, and I am quite confident that things will work out properly this time.

This had an unexpected effect- I hadn’t realized it but I’ve been harboring a niggling feeling that The Dandy wasn’t really finished. I didn’t realize this until having proper ammunition cured that. I finally feel like the gun is complete!

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I recently acquired a new SAA clone- a story for another time- and took it, The Pug and The Outlaw to the range. There I discovered that my ‘cowboy’ loads for the two cartridge-conversion guns look exactly like my hunting load, which is significantly stouter. That was… exciting. It also meant both guns needed some degree of repair. I needed this not to happen again. I needed my cowboy loads to be unmistakable, and the solution was easy- .45 Cowboy Special.

This is basically .45 Colt shortened to .45 ACP length. You reload it using a .45 Colt shell-plate and .45 ACP dies- which I have. I also have quite a lot of .45 Colt brass, so I shortened a box of it to the appropriate length and loaded it with a 200gr. LRNFP over a modest .45 ACP load of Trail Boss. As long as I stick to these the conversion revolvers will have long, happy lives.

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Both of these guns- my first home-made cartridge conversions- will be going to the range later this week for a good wringing out, and I’ll test the new .45 CS ammo as well.  Ought to make for a good time!  Naturally I’ll let you know how it goes.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 January 2018

Front-Stuffers

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I started out my civilian hand-gunning career- if one doesn’t count CO2 pistols- with replica cap-and-ball revolvers. Partly this was because of a fascination with them. It’s funny; most people develop an affection for these guns because of Western movies or TV shows. I was the opposite. I didn’t much care for westerns, but the first time I handled an 1851 Navy it was instant love. More than that, it felt familiar. Like a combination of coming home and a surprise encounter with a long-lost friend. It was a little uncanny actually. Handling, loading, disassembly were all felt like familiar operations. If there is such a thing as reincarnation I’m pretty sure that in one of my past lives I was intimately familiar with these pistols.

I bought a number of these pistols starting with an 1851 Navy, an 1861 Navy and an 1860 5-1/2″ and 7″. My pride and joy was a Colt New Production 1862 Pocket Police. That was one beautifully made handgun!

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I was not what you would call careful with these guns. I had a flask that threw a 30gr. charge, so that was how I loaded them- dump 30gr. in the cylinder and stuff a ball on top of it. In the .36 Navy revolvers this took a lot of stuffing, and  what was in the cylinder could no longer be properly called a ‘ball.’  Eventually I bought another 30gr. flask and cut the nozzle down to throw 22-23gr.  This made for no loss of performance in the .36s, but less recoil and fireball.

I didn’t just target shoot with these guns. One of the ways a young soldier on Ft.Riley could supplement his income was hunting coyotes, since there was a plague of them in the local area. Dealing with Kansas wintertime weather I quickly learned to weather-proof my cylinders. I’d stick a pin in the nipple and drip candle-wax around it, so that when I capped the cylinder the edges of the cap were pressed into the wax, not only holding the cap securely in place but giving a water-tight seal.

I rapidly determined that the standard greases used in cap-and ball revolvers genuinely suck and melt far too easily. Now, the ball was wedged in there tight enough that I seriously doubt any water could get past it, but just to be safe I’d cover the ball with more candle-wax. On a particularly bad day one of my guns got submerged in the river and still functioned after. Typically I’d load both .36s before setting out on a hunt, but this wasn’t really necessary; on my best-ever coyote hunt I only emptied one cylinder (5 shots)

I didn’t take chances resting the hammer between cylinders or some such; I actually removed the nipple from one chamber and always rested the hammer there. In true cowboy fashion I often had a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill in this chamber ‘just in case.’

When I got out of the service I continued to target-shoot with these guns, but since I had turned 21 I was increasingly interested in cartridge handguns; in fact on my way home after mustering out I had my first 1873-clone handy… complete with a rolled-up twenty in one cylinder.

I moved back in with my folks and a number of factors drove me away from my beloved percussion revolvers- not the least of which was moving back in with my parents. My mother, never a fan of guns of any kind, was less than thrilled with me cleaning these guns in her kitchen and drying them in the oven. One by one they were sold off in favor of more modern guns, and that was the end of my cap-and-ball days. I always had a certain affection for these guns, but it was never enough to put up with the mess and glacially slow reloads.

Eventually my lovely wife found the perfect solution- for Christmas one year she bought me a Cimarron Richards-Mason conversion replica in .38 Special!  It was love at first sight all over again. I loved shooting that gun and even took it as a holster-gun when deer hunting.

That was my introduction to the world of cartridge-conversion revolvers, and with my new hobby of gunsmithing and my love of percussion revolvers you can imagine how I’ve been spending my spare time… but that, as they say, is another story.

3moSUZK

Michael Tinker Pearce, 5 Jan. 2017

‘A J-Frame doesn’t need sights… PERIOD’

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‘A J-Frame doesn’t need sights… PERIOD’

This was a statement by a person on one of the gun forums I frequent, and it is absolutely true as far as it goes. A gun- any gun- is an inanimate object; it doesn’t need anything.

I, on the other hand, am not an inanimate object. I’m a human being with individual strengths and frailties, and a few decades of experience to back that up. I do need things, or at least want them. One of the things I want is to never draw a weapon in anger again, but you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and I think we all know which hand will fill up faster. I can be vigilant, I can be careful, I can do everything I reasonably can to avoid needing a gun and it might still happen. If it does I want to be as certain as possible that the bullets go where I want them to. The best way to accomplish that is to aim, and to do that I need sights.

Seven yard rapid fire targets, one with sights and one without. 

 On the average a civilian defensive shooting takes place at 3-5 feet, and no- I probably don’t need sights for that. But if the action occurs at any greater range I want them. There are a number of reasons for this. Police used to be taught to ‘point-shoot.’ Great theory- unfortunately in practice it meant 3 out of 4 bullets missed the target in actual gunfights. When they began teaching cops to use the ‘flash-sight-picture’ this jumped immediately to 2 out of 3 bullets hitting the target- in actual gunfights. Not in training, not in theory, but when it mattered.

I also have a significant amount of experience, and every bit of it tells me the bullets are much, much more likely to go where I intend if I aim. Yeah, I keep harping about that- because it matters. Stopping an attacker depends on  breaking something they can’t live without. That means the bullets have to hit those things. In the right-hand target above, with the bullseye representing the heart, every shot would have missed. Sure, the attacker might have stopped- but I don’t prefer to bet my life on ‘might.’ I much prefer the target on the left- even using .32 S&W Long with semi-wadcutters instead of .38 Special hollow-points.

Handguns- all handguns- are not good at stopping a determined attacker.  The only way it works is to take out the central circulatory system- the heart and aorta- or the central nervous system. Yes, a bullet has to penetrate deep enough to hit vital structures, and a larger permanent wound cavity is better than a smaller one, but none of those things matter if you don’t hit the things you meed to hit. You probably don’t need sights at an arms length, but anything longer than that? Learn to aim quickly. You can, with practice, get a sight picture as fast as you can point the gun.

In my opinion any gun that is not a last-ditch, point-blank SHTF gun needs decent sights- and I’d prefer that even those have them, because you won’t get to dictate the circumstances under which you need it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 December 2017

Test Firing/Range Report 23 Dec. 2017

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Some time ago we picked up an old 4″ Rossi M68 figuring that I would customize it as a range pistol for Linda. Before I could really get it properly sorted she got another Kahr E9 which she loves desperately. The Rossi has become my ‘bench gun,’ the gun that I experiment and try new things on.  I’ve learned a lot of useful and potentially useful things, which is good because it is a part-for-part clone of a S&W J-frame. Hey, if I’m going to wreck a gun experimenting I’d rather it be a cheap one!

Went through a couple of custom grips, shortened the barrel to 2-1/4″ and re-crowned it, worked on the springs and mechanism etc.  Recently I decided to see how small one could make a J-frame without compromising function or shootability. I modified the grip-frame and cut down the existing grips. It was definitely easier to hide, but it became unreliable as the firing-pin bushing became worn. The easiest way to replace this was with the barrel removed. I fabricated a new bushing and staked it in, then got to looking at the gun and thought ‘If that barrel were shorter it would be even more concealable…”

Since the barrel was already out of the gun I ground off the front sight, chucked it up in the lather and turned down the back of the barrel and extended the threads. I measured it and cut the forcing cone to length. I then measured and cut the ejector to length and carefully filed the forcing cone until the cylinder would close comfortably. I used a tapered reamer to re-cut the forcing cone and installed and pinned the barrel and I was in business. I still hadn’t mounted a new front sight but I wanted to test the gun with live ammunition, so it was off the Champion Arms indoor gun range. Of course there was no point in taking just one gun, but we’ll get back to that.

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So how did it work? Pretty well for a gun with no sights. No rounds keyholed or otherwise misbehaved. Recoil was quite mild with target wadcutters and easily managed. I didn’t see any point in trying for accuracy; basically I ran a target out to five yards, pointed the gun and blazed away. Two cylinders full produced this- proof of why sights are necessary!

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As I said, no point in taking just one gun… I ran a box of ammo through the Colt Frontier Scout, but results were less than spectacular- I had real trouble seeing the sights. Very nice gun to shoot regardless.

I also took along the Egyptian Contract Beretta M1951. I’d function-tested it but never really wrung it out. A couple of boxes of reloads changed that, and the gun continues to function flawlessly. The only stoppage was when I didn’t seat the magazine properly and it dropped just far enough to prevent the next round from feeding. Seven-yard targets shot at the 1-shot-per-second rate (or maybe just a bit faster…) allowed by the range rules produced results pretty consistently like this-

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Pleasant to shoot and reliable- but I very much want to paint the front sight red.

Finally I trotted out The Shopkeeper. I recently became re-acquainted with how much I enjoy shooting this gun and happily burned through a box of ammo. Results were pretty much what I have come to expect-

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Five shots in five seconds at seven yards. I’m Okay with this! This gun genuinely works for me- well enough that I wouldn’t feel completely stupid carrying it, though the reload sucks…

Anyway a nice way to enter the holidays and a pleasant afternoon.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  23 December 2017