The Ghost in the Shell… Uh, Ring

Ghost-Ring sights are mounted on pistols, shotguns, rifles and submachine guns.Their advocates claim that they allow the user to obtain a sight-picture faster than any other type of sight, excluding optical sights.  As such their most common application is on defensive or combat weapons.  Understand that this is not a conventional peep-sight, where the relatively thick ring obscures a large part of the target. These sights are designed to be used with both eyes open and the primary focal point is the front sight. This makes the rear aperture sight appear translucent, thus the term Ghost Ring.

I’ve been unable to find out who invented this sort of sight, but they have been around for a quite a while now. Their proponents claim they are very fast at target acquisition and their detractors claim that they lack precision. One thing is for certain- they are easy to use. Even used incorrectly they still work pretty well.

For handguns I have always used conventional sights, whether it was for IPSC competition, target shooting, hunting or defensive use. I trained intensively in a technique called the ‘Flash Sight Picture’ method. It’s very effective, very fast and quite precise when one is sufficiently trained. With practice one can obtain a sight picture as fast as they can bring the gun to eye-level. To me this throws the claims of the Ghost Ring being faster into doubt since I can already aim as fast as I can point the pistol. I’ve recently had the occasion to try out the Ghost Ring sight.

This autumn a dear friend passed away and left me one of his carry pistols- a Glock 23 in .40 S&W fitted with a Ghost Ring sight. This gun wasn’t just carried; he used it in tactical shooting courses as well and he swore by it. In his memory I’m not making alterations to the gun- with the exception of an after-market grip mod needed to keep the slide from chewing up my hand. So I tried the Ghost Ring.

For the first couple of shooting sessions I didn’t ‘get it.’ I used it as an aperture sight and it worked OK, but was less precise than I am used to from conventional sights. My wife Linda tried it out and quite liked it, but her testing was limited because she did not enjoy the recoil of the .40 S&W; she has a bad wrist and is used to 9mm.

OK, I’m a little thick, but eventually I realized how to properly use the sight. Both eyes open, focus on the front sight. This made an immediate difference in precision. Whereas at first it was all I could do to keep my shots on an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper at 50 feet, once I was using the sight properly groups shrank to a size more typical of my shooting with conventional sights. This was notably not faster than conventional sights; in fact it was slower because my eyes have not yet mastered the trick of focussing quickly and correctly for this device. I think in time they will; it’s simply a matter of practice.

For me it will be unlikely to ever be quicker than standard sights, but I have a great deal more training than most people. What about people with little training? I took the opportunity to have several other people at various levels of skill try it out at the range. The results were instructive. The more experienced the shooter was the less they liked the Ghost Ring. But people with little experience found it easier to use than conventional sights, and produced results comparable to or better than they were already achieving. Linda’s experience was similar.

I think that boils it down nicely- on handguns at least the Ghost Ring seems to require less training to produce acceptable accuracy for defensive shooting at close range. It may or may not be less precise when a sufficient amount of practice is applied; I haven’t shot it enough to be able to tell. I’ve put 500 rounds through the gun, but I’ve practiced the ‘flash sight picture’ thousands of times.

Is it a ‘better mousetrap?’ Not as far as I can tell. Is it useful and effective? Definitely. I will never part with my friend’s Glock, so there will be plenty of time for me to try it out and form a more complete opinion.

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Where are the Modern Top-Break Revolvers?

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My recent interest in shooting and modifying S&W .38 Safety Hammerless revolvers has spurred interest in top-break revolvers among my friends and raises the question of why there are no modern top-break auto-ejecting revolvers?  It seems like an eminently practical thing- open the action and the shells pop out, drop in a speed-loader or moon clip full of fresh ammo and you are on your way. Better and faster, right? Yes… and no… and maybe.

With only a couple of exceptions top-break revolvers all but disappeared after World War 2.  The only readily available new top-break revolvers are the Uberti copies of 19th Century Smith & Wesson designs- which run right around $1000 US. Later this year North American Arms will be reintroducing a .22 Magnum top-break micro-revolver as well, and as far as new top-breaks on the American market that’s about it. Other than those two if you want a top-break you are pretty much limited to buying an antique. So if these guns are such a good idea why aren’t there more of them? Let’s look at the issues.

Most affordable antique top-breaks in the US are available in low-powered cartridges like .32 S&W and .38 S&W. By todays standards most people consider these to be too anemic for self-defense, and there is no commercially produced defensive ammo in these calibers that is recommended for firing in a top-break revolver. Buffalo-Bore does make defensive ammo in .38 S&W but advise that you restrict it’s use to solid frame revolvers or Webley/Enfield Mk.IV revolvers.  The reason frequently cited for the lack of more powerful .38 S&W ammunition is that the top-break mechanism is ‘too weak’ for larger calibers. What is very often too weak are the guns themselves. Aside from the Webleys the majority of top-break antiques available on the used market can be lumped into Smith & Wesson and ‘other.’  The others include companies like Ivor Johnson, US Revolver, Harrington and Richardson etc. These others are mostly cheap knock-offs of the S&W guns, often using inferior materials like iron instead of steel for major components. Modern ammunition is loaded to be reasonably safe in these inferior guns.

The mechanism is not inherently too weak, as witnessed by Webleys which routinely fire .455 or .45 ACP cartridges, or the Uberti S&W copies that fire .44-40 or .45 Colt. Is it weaker than a solid-frame revolver? Yes, but it isn’t too weak. There have been a few prototypes for modern full-power top-breaks, but thus far none have made it into production. With modern materials and heat-treatment top-break guns could be made for any handgun caliber made today. So why aren’t they?

One reason is mechanical complexity. Auto-ejecting top-breaks have more to go wrong with them than conventional swing-out cylinder revolvers. Mechanical complexity is also expensive- there’s a reason that these guns went out of fashion and those Uberti revolvers cost a thousand dollars.

Another problem is that if you don’t do it right you can have a cartridge slip under the ejector and fall back into the cylinder, preventing you from reloading or even closing the mechanism. This isn’t a big deal on the range, but in combat it is a serious problem. It’s not particularly difficult to clear, but there’s no way to do it quickly.

But the real, largest and fatal flaw of top-break revolvers is simple; modern solid-frame swing-out cylinder designs are better. They are inherently stronger, they are easier to produce and contrary to what you might think they are just as fast to reload with speed-loaders or moon clips.

Say what?!

No, i am not on drugs. Rapidly and reliably reloading either sort of revolver is a two-hand operation that requires training. I do love the top-breaks so I am training- the S&W .38 top-breaks can use J-Frame speed loaders, so I developed a drill for using these. I can go into this in detail another time, but the net result was that with the proper drill for each revolver neither is notably faster than the other.  A person that is pretty good at a reliable reloading method with either sort of gun should be able to manage a reload in about 4-1/2 seconds. Someone really dedicated might shave a second off that, especially using a competition set-up where the reload is very easy to access. The best revolver shooter I’ve ever seen was able to reload a S&W 25-2 .45ACP revolver, using a competition gun-belt, in 2 seconds. I think it might be possible to achieve a similar level of proficiency with the right top-break, especially a longer-barreled example like a Webley reground to accept .45 ACP moon-clips. I honestly cannot see it happening faster than that, and repeatedly slamming the action open one-handed would accelerate wear on what is already an antique gun.

So basically the reason for the lack of modern top-break revolvers is simple- they are more complex, more expensive and offer no practical advantage. It’s sad- I would love to see a modern production Safety Hammerless, made with modern material science, chambered to take 9x19mm in star clips. But I doubt I’d love it enough to pay more than twice the cost of a conventional revolver to get it.

What is Lethal Force and When it it Justified?

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According to the Supreme Court of the United States citizens are allowed to have arms for ‘all lawful uses, including self-defense…’

What this means is that a law abiding American citizen has the right to employ deadly force in the appropriate circumstances. This is a serious responsibility- you have, in effect, the right to end someone’s life if that person’s actions demand it.  This can and does go wrong- like the woman that opened fire on fleeing shoplifters, or the fellow who dropped his gun in a restaurant and wounded a bystander when it went off.

In practice though there are relatively few abuses given the sheer number of people in America that possess guns. It’s rare enough that when it does happen it generally makes the national news.

With rights come responsibility. If you are going to own a gun you need to take reasonable precautions to insure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of children or other irresponsible individuals. You also have a responsibility to know your local laws concerning armed self-defense. You have a responsibility to seek appropriate training with your firearm so that you do not represent a danger to yourself or other innocents.  This is not usually mandated by law, and in a perfect world it wouldn’t need to be; people would simply understand the need and act reasonably, responsibly. I’m not holding my breath…

I’m digressing- so what justifies the use of lethal force? First off understand that I am not a lawyer or officer of the court, and I am not qualified to give legal advice. It is your responsibility to consult your local laws and ordinances. That being said-

In most places the use of potentially lethal force is only authorized when it is so important to stop someone from what they are doing that whether or not they die as a result of being ‘stopped’ is a secondary consideration.  What would make stopping someone so important? Generally if they present an immediate threat of death or grave bodily injury to yourself or another innocent person. Let’s break that down-

An imminent or immediate threat means that the person has the capability to follow through on the threat and is in close enough proximity to the object of that threat to carry it out. An unarmed person saying, “I’ll kill you!” does not necessarily constitute an immediate threat of death or grave bodily injury. A person with a potentially lethal weapon in their hand saying it may constitute an immediate threat. I would imagine that in most places an attacker holding a potentially lethal weapon and threatening to use it would justify lethal force in many cases.

Death is pretty self-explanatory, but what constitutes ‘Grave Bodily Injury?’ Again, definitions vary by local law. In the State of Washington forcible rape constitutes ‘grave bodily harm.’ In other places there are different standards, but typically these are injuries that could create permanent and lasting harm and/or be life-threatening.

So how do you ‘stop’ someone with a lethal weapon? Over the decades police have established that shooting them multiple times in the center of their body will do the trick. A question that is often asked is, “Why can’t you shoot them in the arm or leg?” The answer to that is simple. It’s hard.  Most police shootings happen at distances of five to nine feet- and police still miss 45% of the time on average. This is when they aiming at the largest, least moving target, that being the center of the person’s torso.

This isn’t because they aren’t trained; it’s because shooting at a living, breathing, mobile, hostile person that is intent on killing or causing grave bodily harm is a very different thing than shooting at targets on a range. In an actual shooting situation you will also have an adrenaline dump that can wreck your fine motor control. Every time a shot misses that bullet goes somewhere and hit’s something. It’s not the ‘A-Team’ where bullets evaporate if they miss the target.  The something that they hit could too easily be an innocent bystander. Shooting at relatively thin, fast and erratically moving limbs is a very, very bad idea.

One thing that needs to be clearly stated- the use of lethal force is always the last resort. Your weapon is there in the unlikely event that you find yourself living a worse-case scenario. It is not there in service of your ego, pride or honor. It is there to preserve innocent life. If you want to carry a gun for any other reason than you shouldn’t be carrying a gun.

It is your right as a law-abiding American citizen to choose to employ lethal force in defense of your life- but that right carries with it the responsibility of understanding and complying with your local laws regarding armed self-defense, and insuring that you obtain and maintain a level of training such that you are not a danger to yourself or others.

I seem to be collecting blogs…

One of the enduring interests in my life has been and remains firearms. Initially that interest was in defensive and competition guns. These days I’m more into antiques, unique and custom guns. I like the engineering, the craftsmanship and the connection to history.

I get real pleasure from a finely crafted weapon, whether it is a sword, knife, handgun or shotgun. The attention to detail, the feel, the design and history. Even better when I can shoot these weapons– most often at targets, but also a bit of hunting as well as time allows. Which it hasn’t lately; after the house burned down the rest of the year was pretty busy…

In the past year I have also come to view firearms as a canvas, a way of expressing my own sensibilities and preferences. It started with customizing a replica of an 1851 Navy Richard/Mason cartridge conversion. Then I made a single-barrel .45 ACP derringer, mostly just to see if I could. The photo above is of a .38 Safety Hammerless S&W with a bobbed barrel and a custom grip. I also constructed a single-shot .22 target pistol, sadly without as great of success as I would have liked. It works alright, but it’s really not good enough.

These days one cannot be interested in firearms without also having an interest in the politics and controversy surrounding the ownership of these weapons. I often feel a responsibility to comment on these issues and to do so in an informed, fair and balanced manner. As much as I can, anyway. None of my existing blogs are really appropriate venues for these discussions but hey, WordPress blogs are free. Why  not- what’s another blog more or less?

So here it is- yet another place to talk about yet another of my many interests. I can’t say that I’ll be posting here on any kind of schedule but it will be nice to have a place to do so as time allows.