Let’s Talk About Spree Shootings

Violent crime rates per capita in the US have been dropping steadily for many years, and continue to drop annually. This includes homicides using firearms, despite the fact that numbers of firearms in private hands and numbers of firearms owners has increased dramatically in the same period. Despite the AR15 being the most common rifle in the US only a tiny percentage of crimes involving firearms use this or similar weapons.
AR15
I am not suggesting that there is a causative relationship between firearms ownership and reductions in crime, and I honestly don’t believe that there is. But the statistics do tend to prove that there is no correlation between increasing firearms ownership or sheer numbers of firearms in private hands and increases in violent crime.
The problem is that while high-capacity semi-auto rifles are used in only a tiny percentage of violent crimes these crimes tend to be unusually horrific, even though they barely constitute a blip on the radar of numbers of violent deaths. The ones that most often come to the public’s attention are spree shooters- people who set out to create the maximum number of casualties in the minimum amount of time in a single area.
Note that I call these people ‘Spree-Killers’ and not ‘Mass Shooters.’  The way people count ‘mass shootings’ badly distorts the actual numbers. For example if a criminal shoots a police officer and in response two criminals are shot this is counted as a ‘mass shooting.’  Typically any incident where bullets hit three or more people, whether lethally or not, is counted as a ‘Mass Shooting.’ This does not address Spree Shooters like the Las Vegas concert shooter or the Texas church shooting, which are the major problem we are facing.
It’s easy to blame the availability of military-style rifles, but let’s get real here- if they were really the problem we would have vastly more spree shooters.  No one knows the actual numbers of these weapons out there, but it’s somewhere between 3.5-10 million. They are very, very common.  Yes, this makes them easier for killers to get their hands on. In fact it makes them the weapon-of-choice for spree-shooters. But horrific as they are spree-shootings are a tiny, microscopic percentage of the use of these firearms. We need to stop spree-shooters and spree-killers in general, but is it morally supportable to penalize millions of law-abiding gun owners to do so when it isn’t likely to be effective in stopping the killers? I’m not making an argument here, I am asking a question.
OK, let’s address this right now- if military-style semi-automatic rifles are the weapon-of-choice for spree-killers why wouldn’t banning them be effective? Because they are the weapon-of-choice, not the only option. Recently a fellow drove a truck into a crowd and killed 83 people. The Oklahoma City bombing killed hundreds. Terrorist bombings in the Middle-east kill countless numbers of people each year. Might Joe Psycho skip the whole spree-killing thing if it was hard to get a military-style semi-auto? Maybe, but the evidence seems to suggest not.
Suppose for a minute that banning, confiscating and outlawing these weapons would not deter spree-killers. This is a real problem and real people are dying. The fact that they  represent a very small number of deaths per capita is not a comfort to the wives, husbands and parents of the victims. So what can we do about it?
People are fond of pointing out that when high-capacity military-style rifles were banned in Scotland and Australia there were no more spree-shootings, and they are correct. If the United States were either of these nations it might work here, too.  Despite our (theoretically) shared language we are very, very different cultures from these two countries. Hell, we Americans are very different cultures from each other.  There likely is no single solution that will work nationwide- and there is absolutely no simple solution.
We need to address the fact that we have become a society and a culture that produces spree-killers. We need to identify the reasons that this is so, and take active steps to fix these conditions. We can glibly blame this on the poor availability of mental-health care, but while that may contribute to the problem there is a lot more to it. Poverty, lack of economic opportunity, lack of education,  hopelessness and despair, extremism- not coincidentally the same factors that cause people to join terrorist groups.
You will never stop all the bad apples- but we can stop a lot of them if we address the reasons why they are happening. Until or unless we do the weapon-of-choice may change- but the end result won’t.
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Mucking About in the Shop

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A while back Pinto’s had some cast .361″/150gr SWCs for sale. Perfect for my old S&W top-breaks, and at $3 per hundred? Shut up and take my money!

So far I mainly load .357″ HBWCs in .38 S&W, but I gave the SWCs a go. I use .38 Special dies to load this caliber, and with the HBWCs it works a treat. Not so much with the new bullets; most of them wouldn’t fit the chambers of my gun! Very annoying. I needed a dedicated seating/crimping die. I kept meaning to buy a set but it kept slipping my mind until I was in Pinto’s the other day and found a used .357 crimping die for just a few dollars and snagged it.

Today I was at loose ends and decided to muck about in the shop. I shortened the .357 die, then heavily chamfered the opening with a conical stone in my flex-shaft too. Getting it set deep enough in my press required removing the locking ring but this hasn’t proven to be a problem. I just bring the shell-holder all the way up and screw the die in until it touches. I ran all of the old ammo through it and presto! It fits the cylinder properly now. The die also produces a nice roll-crimp, so I am happy with it. I also loaded another fifty rounds; there’s a range-trip in my near future.

38SPSammo

The other project of the day was for a friend. She recently purchased a nice used Taurus Model 85 and wanted a concealed-carry grip for it. I fitted it up with a set of custom Olivewood grips today. Much flatter than most grips made for these guns, but still comfortable and secure in the hand. Came out quite nice; I think she’ll be very pleased.

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Nothing too exciting today, just some pleasant and productive shop time getting a few things done that I had been putting off.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 November 2017

Universal Background Checks

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OK, let’s talk about Universal Background Checks for firearms purchases. I see people on both sides of the argument that seem to be ‘stuck on stupid’ about this.Can we have a rational discussion?
There are people that object to this. Some feel that it will inevitably lead to gun registration and in the end confiscation. Others say it won’t help because there are too many alternative avenues for criminals to obtain illegal firearms. But most gun owners that I know object primarily because it’s a pain in the butt and costs money. In Washington State most firearms transfers (transactions which give a person unsupervised control of a firearm that they do not own) must be done through a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL.)
Let’s say I want to buy a gun from a buddy. Instead of simply meeting at a time and place convenient to both of us we have to arrange to meet at a gun store and fill out a bunch of paperwork, then pay them a fee (often around $40.) We’re busy people and live in a city with some of the worst traffic in the country. It’s a pain in the butt, and since we are both law-abiding citizens it isn’t keeping guns out of the hands of a criminal. It feels like a penalty that we haven’t earned and don’t deserve, with the net effect that the gun store makes some money off a transaction that they have no investment in. This isn’t an argument against the practice as such, just an explanation of why a lot of people don’t like it and feel it is unfair.
It’s not hard to understand people objecting to something they feel is unnecessary and unfair, is it? Yet at the same time people who do not have a legal right to own a firearm still transfer guns with no regard for the law, so it’s arguable as to whether or not it’s really helping.
On the other hand I have never been comfortable selling a firearm to a random person with no idea if they are legally allowed to possess it. Generally I sell them to a gun store or on consignment in a gun store, or to people or family members that I know well.
So, what to do…
There is a system in place to do an instant background check- NICS. This allows an FFL dealer to instantly check if an individual is legally entitled to own a firearm. Nothing is perfect but generally speaking it works well. In this state if you have a carry permit- meaning that you’ve already been checked out and can legally possess a firearm- the dealer simply makes a phone call and gets a yes/no answer on the spot. It’s quick, easy and pretty painless, and gun purchasers actually like it. Of course they still have to fill out the forms, because that’s how FFLs work and have for decades.
How about this- while you are advocating universal background checks why not encourage your representatives to fund the expansion of NICs into a resource for individuals as well as FFL dealers? A lot fewer gun owners would object if you make it easy to do an instant, free check to transfer a gun. Instead of meeting at an FFL dealer, filling out time-consuming forms and spending money you simply make a phone call and are provided with an instant answer and perhaps a code to record on the receipt. You get the ‘background check’ without the hassle or expense. A lot of gun owners would welcome this, at least as an alternative to the current system.
All it would take is some money to expand the system and rules that allow it. People that demand universal background checks get them, and gun owners are at least less unhappy and resistant.
Sorry, I know this is a sensible solution that doesn’t cater to knee-jerk positions on either side of the debate, but it’s relatively easy and painless and who knows? It might actually help.
Michael Tinker Pearce,  18 November 2017

Range Report, 11 November 2017

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From left to right- Abilene .44 Magnum, Colt Detective Special .32 S&W Long, Chiappa Rhino .357 Magnum, S&W M1903 .32 S&W Long, Rossi M68 .38 Special, Cimarron Richards-Mason .38 Special, S&W M1905 .38 Special

November has been interesting. I mean, if you consider getting migraines practically every day interesting. I don’t; it gets in the way of everything- including making a living. Then there was the fact that we had a novel to finish (we did,) a bit of hunting, stocking the freezer for the winter, butchering goats etc. In short there has been little time for shooting or writing about shooting. I haven’t been to the range in weeks.

That changed this afternoon. I needed to test some new loads in the .44 Magnum, test the modifications to the Rossi and S&W .32 and just do some shooting for pleasure. I took a fair selection of revolvers as you can see above and several hundred rounds in three different calibers. What I did not bring was the correct glasses- I accidentally brought my reading glasses. Bugger. So shooting the .44 at 25 yards was a matter of guessing where the target was and resulted in 5-6″ groups, which sucks. Basically I had a choice- wear readers and see the front sight, or wear regular shooting glasses and be able to see the target but not the sights.   OK, short range work then.

The Abilene shot well at short range. Recoil was quite easy to manage; between the porting, the 7-1/2″ ported bull-barrel and the reshaped grip it was very nice to shoot, and the loads were quite accurate- at least as well as I could shoot under the circumstances. It’s just that somehow posting targets from less than 25 yards with this gun seems a bit silly.

The Rossi M68 is an ongoing project. We got it cheap and it had been messed about with quite a bit so I fell no compunctions about experimenting on it.  It’s been a learning experience for sure; it’s a part-for-part copy of a S&W Model 60. In the past I made a custom grip, shortened the barrel to 2-1/4 inches and re-crowned it, made and mounted a new front sight. Recently I considered ‘Fitzing’ it, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut away the front of the trigger-guard. I did bob the hammer, narrow and reshape the front of the trigger-guard and reduced the handle to the smallest useful size I could do.  This involved modifying the grip-frame and relocating the grip screw. Now that I have sussed it out I’ll make a new grip. I wanted to remove the writing on the barrel so I slab-sided it because I liked the look.  I also smoothed and rounded the trigger and chamfered the chambers.

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So how does it shoot? Unreliably and like it needs trigger work. Despite the fact that it gets 100% ignition with primed cases if I fill those same primed cases with powder and a bullet ignition drops to about 70% reliable. I have no clue why this is.

Accuracy is alright and it hides marvelously in a pocket, but it’s an experiment, not a carry piece. Unless or until I can make it 100% reliable it never will be, either. Still, it’s serving it’s intended function of education, so it’s all good.

I also fired the M1905 and the Chiappa Rhino. Both shot well as expected, but results were pretty typical for me and none of the targets were exceptional. I had really wanted to wring the 1905 out at 25 yards, but with the wrong glasses on-board that was not going to be a happening thing.

Next were the .32s, starting with the I-frame S&W.   This gun had serious issues when I got it; rust and pitting, massive end-play and cylinder-gap, timing problems… the list is long. I’ve already documented resurrecting this gun, and now it was time for more test-firing. Suffice it to say it is now tight and right, refinished and ready to go. Rapid-fire at seven yards produced an acceptable group- rather to the left. Since I reset the barrel I probably need to tweak it a bit to get the front-sight aligned.

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After I get this issue sorted I am probably going to make a period-style target grip; this is a range gun but properly kitted out it might make a fine small-game getter.

The Detective Special was the star of the show; as always a delight to shoot. This is a 7-yard rapid-fire target-

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I was pulling a bit to the left- need to work on that. I shot this target at ten yards, also rapid-fire-

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This was rather better. I do love this gun, and wouldn’t hesitate to carry it for self-defense. I’ve considered a Tyler T-grip to improve the grip, but my pinky-finger falls naturally underneath the handle and locates the gun quite consistently so it is not strictly-speaking necessary.

Despite the ‘oops’ with the glasses I had a good, much-needed range session. Since it looks like circumstances have conspired against hunting tomorrow I’m glad that I got out for this.

The reloads used for today’s shooting were:

.44 Magnum- 260gr. HC SWC over 9.3 Gr. of Unique with a CCI Large Pistol Primer. This should be making 1175-1200fps. and around 800ft/lbs. of energy. A nice mid-range load for Blacktail deer.

.38 Special- 148gr. BBWC over 3.3gr. of Unique with a CCI Small-Pistol primer. This load needs to be a little stouter; some hits are tearing the paper occasionally and I want to punch nice, neat holes.

.32 S&W Long- 96gr RNFP over 2.7gr. of Red Dot with a CCI Small Pistol primer. This is a pleasantly snappy load with modest recoil and excellent accuracy

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 November 2017

 

 

First Time out for Pheasant

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OK, not quite, but it was the first time I’ve hunted pheasant since I was stationed at Ft.Riley, Kansas about thirty-five years ago. It all started when I was getting my deer tag at Cabella’s.  The nice lady behind the counter asked, “Would you like Small Game and Migratory Birds?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

Well, because it got a lot more expensive. When Linda heard what it cost she said, “That’s it- you’re going hunting. Figure out what you need to do and do it.”

Uh… darn? OK, when I was stationed at Ft.Riley Kansas I hunted Prairie Chickens and Pheasant. Not a lot, but I enjoyed it. Of course living in the barracks I had no place to keep birds so one of my colleagues, whom we called The Great White Hunter, had to Tetris them into his already stuffed chest freezer.

When I got out of the army I never got back to bird hunting. OK, I shot some grouse back in the eighties, but that hardly counts. This consisted of walking down a logging road. The grouse would spot us and either stand there staring at us with their beaks literally hanging open until we shot them or they would run away. Straight down the middle of the road away from us. Until we shot them.

One time when we were driving in we ran across a group of six or so. They saw the jeep and ran. Straight down the middle of the road. We followed them for about a hundred yards. “Do you suppose,” I said, “That at some point it might occur to them that they can fly?”

It didn’t, so we stopped, got out and shot them. Stupid birds. Anyway I hadn’t done any wing-shooting since Kansas. I have some nice antique doubles and had been intending to go hunting. Y’know, some day.  OK, looks like that day had arrived. Of course I had no idea how to go about it.  Fortunately we live in the internet age. Pretty quickly someone said, “I could probably take you out on JBLM”

This is Joint Base Lewis Mchord, a very large military installation south of Tacoma. There was a certain symmetry to it since last time I hunted Pheasant was also on a military base. Linda was keen on it; she liked the idea that I would be in a controlled space with folks that knew what they were doing. It appealed to me, too. My host JB is active duty stationed there and explained the process. Basically I had to go to the Skeet range on post, register and pay a fee. That turned into a whole adventure all by itself but we don’t need to go into that.

There was an issue- you can’t use lead shot on post and none of my shotguns are good for shooting steel shot. I can order Bismuth on the internet but it’s heinously expensive and wouldn’t arrive in time. Fortunately JB had a gun I could borrow, so I picked up some #2 steel shot 12-gauge loads. Good enough.

There is a process for hunting on JBLM. First you need to look up where you can hunt what. Then you need to call the day before the hunt and make a reservation. I was advised to call in early, and be prepared to redial a lot. So I was up at 6 am. and started dialing. Over two hours later I finally got through- it turns out the system was down. Oh. Anyway when I finally got in I discovered that JB had already made my reservation. OK then. He also sent me a link to Google Maps that would take me directly to the designated hunting area.

This morning I put on thermals, a t-shirt and jeans and grabbed my ‘please-don’t-shoot-me-orange’ fleece pullover.  I took extra layers in case they were needed, clean socks and shoes to change into on the way home if needed, water, a knife, a cooler etc. A 53 minute drive later and I was there- too early but no problem; I brought my Kindle too.

JB showed up and we chatted- nice fellow. He provided me with a Tri-Star pump shotgun in tasteful woodland camoflage. He also brought a pair of dogs. In fact most people brought dogs. I’ve never hunted with dogs before, but it’s not complicated. I mean it isn’t when it’s not your dog. The primary rule, as you might imagine, is ‘Don’t shoot my dog.” I had kind of assumed that, but I can’t blame JB for mentioning it.

At 1PM we were lined up along the road at roughly 100-foot intervals. Everyone loaded their guns, let the dogs go and we started walking. The area was pretty open- the occasional old tree or stump but mostly wrinkled land covered in grass and low bushes. They guys hunting were great, communicating and making sure everyone was staying safe. When one fellows dog was working a bird too close to use he told us to take the shot. Now that’s a gentleman!

Now, on Ft.Riley we basically just walked through a field until a bird got tired of running away through the grass and took flight. Here the birds don’t flush unless you practically step on them. How stubborn are they? Two dogs actually got hens before they could flush. The dogs were absolutely necessary, and watching JB work the dog was an education. He kept it about 20-25 yards out with verbal commands, and he read the dog like a book. He knew when the dog was onto something, knew where to direct it and could reel him in with a word when he went too far.

Before long people were shooting, and then we flushed a bird. I shouldered the gun, fired… and missed. JB loosed a couple rounds, which also missed. There seemed to be a lot of that going around, which made me feel a little less like an idiot. After two misses I realized I was leading too much. The next two birds I knocked feathers off of but didn’t drop them. JB shook his head and wondered if the birds were in Kevlar. OK, at least I was in the ballpark. Then a bird rose and cut across right to left in front of me and I dropped it. A nice rooster, which the dog obligingly fetched and brought over.  JB knocked down a nice hen, but that was the last shot of the day for us. Around three we called it a day and headed back to the parking lot.

I felt pretty good; I hadn’t shot birds on the wing for 35 years. It would have been nice to take a second bird (there’s a two per day limit) but I was pleased enough. JB actually gave me his hen as did another fellow- damn nice of them! We arranged to do it again next saturday, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. A nice day out, pleasant company and the added spice of taking home food that I shot myself. Well, a third of it anyway.

On arriving home Linda and Tony took charge of the birds, peeled them, cleaned them and cooked up an excellent dinner.

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Linda dredged the pieces in flour, browned them and simmered them with white wine, salt, pepper and onions for an hour. Not very tender, but very tasty. With a serving of my home-made coleslaw on the side it was wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I like pheasant, and Linda is already planning how to cook the next ones…

To top off an already great day a Facebook friend asked if I might be interested in hunting some geese this week.  Yes. Totally. This will be a genuine first since I’ve never hunted waterfowl before.

“You’re going to need a gun for shooting steel shot,” Linda said. “That bismuth shot is just too damn expensive. We should swing by Ben’s tomorrow.”

So she insists that I go hunting, cleans the birds when I do and says I need another shotgun. Yeah, she’s a keeper.

A special thanks to JB, who walked me through the set up, was good company on the hunt and basically went above and beyond to make sure this old veteran had a great experience.