Friday, October 31, 2014

Who decides who carries what, and where?

From the Washington Times:
3 robbed at gunpoint after N.C. state fair declares gun-free zone

By Jessica Chasmar - The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2014
Three people were reportedly robbed at gunpoint Saturday leaving the North Carolina State Fair after a judge ruled earlier this month that concealed weapons would not be permitted at the event.

Wake County Superior Court judge Donald Stephens decided more than two weeks ago that it would be “unwise and imprudent” to allow concealed weapons at the state fair this year...

Read more:
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

It appears to me that the most competent person to decide whether a gun should be carried or not is the person who might have a use for the gun. Individual rights come with individual responsibilities, and if it really is an individual right, the individual's discretion should be factored into its exercise. This is not necessarily an argument that anyone should carry anything anywhere one likes, but a call for a bit less micromanagement and a good deal less governmental oversight in the exercise of what I, with the framers, take to be an essential human right.

The right to bear arms is the right not to be coerced by threats of violence. Oddly enough, crime drops where a bad guy has to consider that there is a possibility, however slim, that his next victim may shoot him. That is the situation where people carry concealed weapons at their discretion. That is not the situation where the law calls on all law abiding persons to go unarmed. You see the problem with that? It creates a disparity. The law un-abider reasons, correctly, that he obtains an advantage by going armed where others will not.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rube Goldberg's contribution to small arms

A look inside the M2 Carbine

If the conversion of the M1 Carbine to the M2 was not done by the great master of mechanical silliness, it was certainly done by a student or admirer. An ingenious chain reaction among a series of retrofitted parts subverts the operation of the carbine's trigger group, which  worked in a straightforward manner originally, and does it in a way that will delight all admirers of perverted design. Conceptually it most resembles the old trick of tying a bit of string to the operating handle.

This Army footage uses a large cutaway model to explain the M2 Kludgebine's internal operation:

Monday, October 20, 2014

New dog on the block

Very good news for fans of bullpup rifles: Steyr has just released a new version of the AUG. It has a fully modern Picatinny rail system. You add the sight base that best serves your needs. Options include an AUG scope with rail slots on it.

Steyr AUG A3 M1

So now people shopping for a bullpup, and wanting to take advantage of modern options in sighting equipment, have an additional gun to look at. Steyr quality is always very good and the AUG is a well proven design. The basic AUG rifle has been around since the late seventies and is in military and police use in a number of countries around the world.

A rifle in the bullpup configuration makes outstandingly good sense for personal protection or home defense and is great for hiking. Because the receiver is set back into the buttstock, you can have a usefully long barrel in a rifle of short over-all length. The idea is an old one but it has taken a long time to catch on. There are certain technical issues to sort out in building a gun that way and there is a bit of traditionalist inertia involved too--riflemen who like rifles that look like what they have seen before, or work like the ones they had in the service, and some people just have an atavistic attraction to polished walnut and gleaming blue steel.

But the future has definitely arrived with the availability of top quality, up to date bullpups from Steyr, IWI and FN; doubtless more makers will join the market. These rifles look like prop guns from fifties sci-fi movies, but they offer an advantage in portability with no compromise of functionality.

You can read more about the new AUG here:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Swordsmanship the Navy's way -- Say what!?

Contradictory instructions and a touch of historical mystery make turn of the century Navy manuals more confusing than enlightening

Something very strange is to be found in The Petty Officer's Drillbook, Unites States Navy, 1904 Revised Edition: In this book there is a peculiar fencing method that combines the saber parries with point ripostes. Here is the PDF: Herein we read

"In this exercise all attacks are made by thrusting with the point of the sword, instead of attempting to cut with the edge. The attack with the point is more deadly, and there is less exposure to counter attack than there is in making slashing blows that alone render the edge effective."

That, of course, echoes common talking points in the point-versus-edge controversy as expressed around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Gen. George S. Patton or some other point-only enthusiast could have written those words. As to the provenance of the Drillbook method, we read:

"This Sword Exercise was originally prepared by Prof. A.J. Corbesier, Sword Master at the Naval Academy, assisted by Lieut. W.F. Fullam, U.S.N."

It is a curious thing that the method uses only point attacks, in that Corbesier's earlier method, published  in 1872, emphasizes using the cut, just as all broadsword, saber and cutlass methods did at that time. The parries illustrated in the 1904 version are those of singlestick or cutlass or saber, but the ripostes have been changed. You are supposed to turn your point toward the opponent and then thrust, after parrying saber-fashion.

Fullam was a Navy career man who lived October 20, 1855 – September 23, 1926.

Corbesier was employed for a great many years at the U.S. Naval Academy, from 1865 to 1914, as their fencing master. He lived January 22, 1837 – March 26, 1915.

In Corbesier's obituary, Fullam wrote

"Professor Corbesier's record was one of complete loyalty to naval and military traditions. For many years he was my assistant as drill master in the Department of Ordnance and I have never a finer example of attention to every duty. His success with midshipmen was insured by his never failing enthusiasm and patience."

So the two men were well acquainted and doubtless held each other in esteem. I can find no indication of when, precisely, the revised cutlass method using only point ripostes was created, or the circumstances leading to its creation, or the nature of the collaboration. Those details would be very interesting as bits of historical lore but, as so often happens, they may be lost for good. We know that that the collaboration happened when Fullam was a lieutenant, for so it says, and he ended up a rear admiral, so that narrows the timeframe a bit.

In any case, the sword was very nearly useless for naval warfare by 1904, so whether this method improved or degraded sailors' abilities as swordsmen is moot. I have some reservations about fencing this way. I see the wisdom of retaining the saber parries, for they can answer either cut or thrust, and enemies (if any with swords could be found in 1904) would be quite as likely to attack using cuts as thrusts.

The ripostes with the point, though, require rotating the point through a long arc and then extending it. That takes time. It might be argued that it does not take very much more time than simply taking a cut at the adversary. It has to take a little more time because the blade must be aligned to the target, then the thrust must be made, while in a cut the blade is accelerating all the way to its target. Furthermore, making a cutting riposte closes the opponent out of that line with an arc of rapidly moving steel.

It may be only a matter of naval disorganization, but The Ship and Gun Drills, U.S. Navy, 1914, has a different exercise, and it cites the 1905 edition of Ship and Gun Drills as its source. It says,

"In this exercise attacks are made by thrusting with the point of the sword, or by cutting with the edge. The attack with the point is usually more deadly, and there is less exposure to counter attack than there is in making the slashing blows that alone render the edge effective; both methods may, however, be used; circumstance must determine."

The citation for this cut-and-thrust version is given as follows:

"Note:-- From Ship and Gun Drills, 1905. Originally prepared by Sword Master A.J. Corbesier, U.S. Naval Academy, assisted by Lieut. W. F. Fullam, U.S.N. It is inserted in this book to serve as a guide to officers or men who desire to perfect themselves in the use of the sword as a weapon." 

Feeling curious by this time, I looked at the source cited and, indeed, there we see the cut and thrust version of the drill. In 1904 the word was to use only the point; in 1905 that is either contradicted or rescinded in a different book.

The existence of this cut and thrust version of the Corbesier-Fullam method, nearly contemporary with the thrust only version, and using similar language and illustrations, presents the reader with something of a puzzle to work out. Military manuals disagreeing with each other, even within the same service, is perhaps not a very big puzzle, but this case may suggest something beyond typical bureaucratic disorganization, indicating instead that I am not the first to feel some reservations about the thrust-only version of Corbesier's method.

As the plot thickens, Fullam, now a lieutenant commander, is credited on the title page as having prepared the 1904 Petty Officer's Drillbook. He is also the first listed on the title page of the 1905 Ship and Gun Drills, among the preparers of that book. Fullam's responsible in both places, in consecutive years, yet we see different versions, differing in a highly important matter, of what he "assisted" Corbesier in preparing, previously--when Fullham was a lieutenant. It's all rather mysterious.

If you want a really good manual about using a broadsword, saber, cutlass, hanger, etc., I recommend, once again, Corbesier's  1872 method. The original continues to carry my highest recommendation among books on the military saber. Read and study that one; treat Fullam's later revisions as historical curiosities.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rare fencing manual free online

Fans of fencing master A.J. Corbesier will be pleased to learn that his short treatise on fencing with the foil, published in 1873, is available online.


The printed book, Theory of Fencing; With the Small-Sword Exercise, sells for hundreds of dollars on the collector's market. If all you are interested in is the information in it you can save 100%.  As a bonus you get some extraneous diagrams of a rather curious sort of gun, a mitrailleuse, at the end of the electronic book. I am not sure how those got in there, but readers of this blog will likely enjoy them, anyhow.

A plate from Corbesier's Theory of Fencing

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing games with numbers

. . . There you have the reason why pistol caliber debates go round and round interminably. Everyone wants something that does not exist: a pistol cartridge that is small enough to be practical and is also highly effective.

At the same time that the military is making noises about going to a bigger pistol caliber than 9mm, the FBI is talking about going back to the 9mm, giving up their present .40 S&W pistols. A difference worth noting here is that the military mostly shoots FMJ while the FBI uses expanding bullets. But there is a sameness too. Arguments about pistol effectiveness are debates over very little. That is to say, pistols have little effectiveness to debate. The numbers can be jiggered any way you want, of course.

L: .45 ACP;  R: 9mm Parabellum
I remember that when the military's switch to 9mm was being debated back in the eighties, numbers and charts were offered showing that the 9mm was just as effective as the old caliber, the .45 ACP. This brought forth eye rolls from people who looked at the bullets side by side and concluded that the really important difference was obvious. One was bigger than the other.

"Yeah, but..." ran the counter argument, repeated so often that the words were soon running together into the familiar refrain "yabbut, yabbut, yabbut..." The 9mm bullet is faster, and also lighter, so it sheds its kinetic energy all that much quicker in the target...

Uh huh. One of the things you learn in the gun community is that if an argument can be made it will be made, whether or not that argument is outstanding for cogency.

In fact no practical type of pistol does what we would like, which is to stop an attacker reliably and instantly, every time. That fact is the little lost dog in the caliber debates, constantly running about and trying to be noticed, wagging, sitting, rolling over, trying in every way to be ingratiating but being roundly ignored.

The only reason to use a pistol to defend yourself is that you did not bring a proper self defense firearm. The pistol is the hardest of firearms to shoot straight, consequently has the lowest hit probability, is not very powerful in any manageable, practical version and its performance against modern body armor is roughly nil, though surely no less than that. The way a pistol stops the fight is by good hits, and those are difficult to obtain with a pistol. There you have the reason why pistol caliber debates go round and round interminably. Everyone wants something that does not exist: a pistol cartridge that is small enough to be practical and is also highly effective.

The 9mm cartridge has several things to recommend it. Its recoil is only moderate, at least in a full sized pistol, and is something a recruit can learn to manage in a brief course of instruction. Its use in many wars in the last century proves it is not useless, but generally satisfactory if your expectations are not set too high. (It performs just like a medium bore, medium intensity pistol cartridge.) It is lighter to carry in quantity than the .45 or the .40. It makes a usefully bigger hole than the .30 Mauser and 7.62 Tokarev pistol cartridges. This mix of virtues has made it vastly popular and, thus, ammunition is available in many parts of the world.

The debates continue, and will continue. So long as people look for something they cannot have, a pistol cartridge that is really appropriate for the job they would like it to do, their minds will continue to invest largely imaginary advantages into this or that cartridge, and in doing so they will provide material for gun writers to produce endless vapid articles about it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A headlight for your snubnose

I have mixed feelings about mounting a flashlight on a pistol. In some circumstances it is no doubt a good idea, giving you one thing to handle, a combined pistol and illumination unit, not two separate items. On the other hand, people got by for years and years with separate flashlights that they could pull out and use at the same time as the pistol, if needed.

If your flashlight is bolted onto your pistol you may be tempted to violate  Rule Two. For safety reasons, you should not pull out your pistol-flashlight combo unit and use it for illumination when all you really need is a flashlight.

All that said, here is an ingeniously compact version of the pistol light, designed for the little J-frame S&W revolvers. It is available from the NRA Store:  I am considering it, but it occurs to me that if I carry this I will still carry a separate flashlight, in case I need to look at something without pointing a gun at it. That leads to questions of redundancy, and excess weight and bulk, but then again, this small and efficient gun light is not very big or heavy. The light puts out a claimed 100 lumens and is activated by a pressure switch on the grip, located so that you press it when you grasp the gun.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The derp of the sword (snark)

Smallsword, mid-18th century

Online discussion groups tend sometimes to be weird echo chambers where people repeat each other as authorities, add to and encourage one another's suppositions and at last come up with ideas existing only in the hothouse environment of online fora.

Case in point--While looking online for something else, I found some talk going on in sword and fencing discussion boards that concluded that the smallsword must have been ineffective, lacking in "stopping power."

Let us grant that it is true that the smallsword was a deficient weapon. Then let us apply a little logic and see where that takes us. (Nyuck, nyuck.)

We must conclude that the typical socket bayonet was likewise ineffective, since it had a smallsword blade profile: hollow ground, triangular cross section.

Top to bottom: Socket bayonet, another socket bayonet, rod bayonet, knife bayonet

The numerous triangular, cruciform and square section poniards, stilettos and bodkins coming down to us as relics of bygone eras were poorly conceived weapons, obviously.

WWI trench knives made that way were likewise wrongheaded work.

U.S. Trench Knife M1917

We may likewise conclude that the inferiority of this blade type escaped the attention of military planners for a long time. Survivals of generally smallsword-like forms of bayonet may be seen even into the 20th century--pointed rods lightened by flutes, able only to make wounds like those from a smallsword. The Chinese SKS bayonet is an example familiar to many today.

The trouble is, I suppose, that back when people actually fought with and died by bladed weapons, they did not have the Internet to tell them that they were doing it wrong.

. . .

That is enough send-up, I suppose. In the era in which swords were in common use, it was often claimed and argued that a point thrust, as from a smallsword, was more decisive and deadly than a cutting attack with a saber. I find the Internet verdict that the smallsword was ineffective to be flawed because it is based on the wrong question. "Stopping power," the key criterion in the derpful evaluation, is an idea, and a term, from the world of firearms. Imposing it on a discussion of swords is misleading. There were many instances of saber cuts not being delivered with full effectiveness, due to the opponent's efforts to avoid that very outcome. The question was not how hard you could hit him with your saber if you got the chance to hit him as hard as you could, but whether you could hit him at all. He was parrying, he was moving, he was trying to kill you. Hitting flat with a saber or only nicking the opponent, or making a cut too rushed and feeble to be decisive, not unlikely outcomes in those circumstances, rather moots the question of what would happen if you took a full deliberate swing at a stationary man. Moreover, heavy clothing, as well as equipment worn on his body, would often protect a soldier from the worst effects of a saber stroke. The saber was a tremendous weapon, but direct comparison of its destructiveness to the smallsword's thrust is quite deceiving, simply because its full effectiveness was not always possible to achieve.

The idea of optimizing a sword for thrusting is found in the bronze age. If such a weapon is a mistake, people have been making it for a long time.