Hunting season is upon us. Be sure to sight in! The deer rifle that was spot on last year may not be so as of now. Moisture getting into a wooden rifle stock, swelling the wood so that it applies pressure on the barrel…a bump to the scope or the iron sights between last season and now can throw shots of the course of aim…a change in ammo can alter elevation and even windage…there are lots of things which can mess up point of aim/point of impact coordinates.
I was reminded of this some ten days ago in Arkansas, when I was testing a new pistol and teaching a first-level class simultaneously. Using the test gun to teach with seemed like a good idea. I sneaked onto the line with the new 9mm Walther (the PPQ M2, a pretty cool little gun, actually) and put a few shots downrange offhand with 115 grain ammo. It shot where it looked. I figured it would do to demonstrate the qualification course to the class on the last day.
When that day came, I loaded the Walther with 147 grain ammo I grabbed out of the back of my van. All went well until we hit the 15 yard line, and after the first six shots I noticed the group was going way high. I corrected with “Kentucky windage,” holding proportionally low, and finished with a 298 out of 300 possible points. Four of the rising six had gone into the upper part of the eight-inch circle in the center of the IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) target, but two had gone just over, costing me one point down apiece.
The deal I make with my students is that I and the staff will demonstrate the course of fire they’re expected to perform, to “model” it so they have a fresh mental image of what is expected of them in the next few minutes, and to “set their internal clock” as to the time frames in which they’ll have to perform the sequences of fire. If they tie my score, they get an autographed dollar bill that says “You tied me at my own game,” and if they beat me, an autographed five dollar bill inscribed, “You beat me at my own game.”
Out of 40 or so shooters, that 298 cost me four five dollar bills and change. It’s more than worth the money to have graduates who can shoot like that. Still, as much as it pleases me to give out the $1 bills, I confess to mixed feelings about the $5s.
In the advanced course that followed, on the first day when that crew of students was watching the mandatory safety film, I slipped out to the range and tested the Walther on a bench rest. Interesting thing: that particular pistol put its shots center at 15 and 25 yards with 115 grain ammo, but sent them way high at both distances with the 147 grain rounds I used in the qual. I should have done that part of the test before the first qualification.
Nobody’s fault but mine: I had not tested that gun with that ammo at “predictable using distance” before shooting it for anything serious.
There’s a lesson there.
The price I paid was cheap compared to losing the winter supply of elk meat because I had sighted in with a different load than the one I took into the hunting field. And a whole lot cheaper than if I had been shooting for survival instead of a “fistful of dollars.”
Learn from my mistake. Get sighted in.
And if you have any experiences in this vein, please post them here, so others may learn in time to prevent poor shot placement.
The firearms and ballistics evidence in this case was very important, one reason why the Kel-Tec PF9 9mm death weapon was first and foremost in the minds of journalists reporting on Eric Holder’s recent decision to have all evidence in this case held pending Federal investigation (again). One of the area newspapers reported in March that the death weapon was found with a spent casing still in the chamber. This would have been consistent with someone’s hand grabbing the gun and retarding the slide mechanism at the moment of the shot, and I surmised as much in the one blog entry I made on it at that time, prior to being contacted by the then-defense team and confidentiality issues kicking in from then on.
It turned out that this was not the case. The officers who recovered the evidence unloaded the death weapon. The spent casing from the one shot fired in the incident was recovered from the ground on which it had ejected, and another live round was ejected from the firing chamber after the officer removed the magazine. All eight cartridges, the gun’s full capacity, were accounted for. The pistol had functioned normally, as designed.
Prosecutor John Guy, in his dramatic opening statement, made a big deal out of the fact that Zimmerman carried the Kel-Tec with a live round in the chamber, as if this implied malice and a man looking to kill someone. Over in CNN Headline News Land, Nancy Grace took up the same cry. Zimmerman’s after-the-assault attackers even made a big deal out of the fact that he had a pistol with no dedicated manual safety. Ms. Grace claimed that he carried it with the safety off, and when a friend of Zimmerman’s was on her show and told her the gun HAD NO safety catch per se, she yelled at him that he was wrong, she knew all about Kel-Tec PF9s, and implied that Zimmerman must have flicked the safety off beforehand. (Premeditation, don’t cha know?)
Of course, the PF9 pistol DOESN’T have a safety catch. Ms. Grace apparently Googled “Kel-Tec PF9” and mistook the slide lock lever for a safety lever. Did any of you folks ever hear her apologize to Zimmerman’s friend, who was right when she was wrong? Let me know, ‘cause I must have missed it if she did.
For perspective, very few American police officers carry guns with manual safety levers. The most popular police pistols don’t have them, including the Glock and the SIG, the two most widely used. The Smith & Wesson Military & Police has an optional ambidextrous thumb safety, but most police departments order those guns without that feature, and the same is true for the majority of defensive pistols bought these days by America’s armed citizens. The old style service revolver didn’t come with a safety either.
Like those revolvers, semiautomatics such as the Kel-Tec are normally carried ready to fire with a simple pull of the trigger, i.e., with a round chambered.
Another element I warned O’Mara and West about back in second quarter 2012 was that they could expect the prosecution to attribute malice to Zimmerman for loading with hollow points. Such ammunition is standard in virtually every police department in our nation, and is the overwhelming (and logical) choice of armed citizens. The expanding bullet is less likely to ricochet, and it is more likely to stop inside the body of the offender instead of passing through to strike an unseen bystander. It also, historically, stops gunfights faster, saving the lives endangered by the attacker who had to be shot. Finally, for that latter reason, it reduces the number of wounds the offender must suffer before he stops forcing good people to shoot him. Except for the ricochet factor, all of those elements were present in the Zimmerman>Martin shooting. The prosecution didn’t harp on this as much as I expected, but prosecutor Richard Mantei did bring it up: http://statelymcdanielmanor.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/george-zimmerman-hollow-points-and-reality/ .
Fortunately, the defense covered this superbly. They did so with the testimony of material witness Mark Osterman, the Federal Air Marshal who trained Zimmerman, told him to get a double action only pistol with no manual safety and carry it with a round in the chamber. His personal knowledge carried more weight than any outside expert could ever have brought to the game, but defense expert Dennis Root did a good job of batting clean-up and filling in other points. Together, they tanked the bogus allegations of the prosecution in this case insofar as guns, ammunition, and malice or premeditation that could be ascribed to either.
The take-away is not to avoid such unmeritorious courtroom attacks by carrying a .25 auto with an empty chamber. The take-away is, be able to logically explain your choice of gun and method of carry. The defense did exactly this, to their credit.
This case, of course, was about much more than guns, and we’ll continue with that in the next entry.
In the current conflict, no American warfighter emerged with a more recognizable name than Chris Kyle, a SEAL who set an awesome kill record as a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book “American Sniper” became a huge bestseller, and not just among military and shooter folk. The story of a young man who came to terms with killing other people to keep them from killing his people struck a responsive chord throughout our society. (If you haven’t read it, do.)
He captured the nation’s attention again a few months ago when, home stateside and working hard to help vets who came back damaged, Kyle and a friend took a PTSD-suffering veteran to the range at his request. They became victims of cowardly murder at that man’s hands.
At the time of his death, Chris Kyle was working on a second book which celebrated his life-long understanding and appreciation of firearms. His wife and friends finished the job, and “American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms” came out this week. The partial manuscript was completed by a team that loved him and understood him: his young widow Taya, and his friends William Doyle and Jim DeFelice.
I was in a Barnes & Noble this past Monday, and even though they had cases already in stock, they adamantly refused to sell me one until Tuesday, the scheduled release date. So, on Tuesday, in another city, I got to another book store and bought a copy.
It lives up to its title.
“American Gun” smoothly weaves firearms development with the history and needs which drove that development. Though it focuses on ten iconic firearms, each is set into the context of generations of development before and after that specimen. Kyle and company make clear how the guns were used, by whom, and for what purpose. Famous battles and shootouts are described, not to revel in morbid bloodshed, but to illustrate how understanding of human conflict led to the creation of better fighting tools.
Like Kyle’s first book, this one does not appear to be written so much for the specialist in the field, though that reader will certainly appreciate it. It seems to have been written more for the person new to the topic. It clearly shows that the gun is a tool, its effect driven by the people who use it. The Thompson submachine gun favored by Al Capone and John Dillinger was considered a life-saver by the Americans of The Greatest Generation who used it to help defeat the Nazis on one side of the world and simultaneously avenge Pearl Harbor on the other. The book makes clear how the duality of the gun, in that respect, is simply an allegory for the duality of Man.
I hope this book becomes a huge best-seller, too. More Americans need to understand what Chris Kyle was trying to tell us when he died, a message I thank Taya Kyle and William Doyle and Jim DeFelice for finishing and bringing to a nation which desperately needs to understand it.
Back in the grim days following the Columbine High School atrocity, I pushed hard for the “Israeli model” of armed school personnel. After the Maalot massacre, an all-volunteer program was put together for school personnel and family members of students who were trained by Israel’s civil guard and reported to school with concealed handguns. It was fabulously successful in both stopping and deterring armed terrorist attacks on schools. The concept has much in common with the hugely successful FFDO (Federal Flight Deck Officer) program for armed airline pilots. (It matters not whether the “terrorist” in question is motivated by religious zealotry, politics, or madness. What matters is that a protector with a gun be in place to stop the evildoer with a gun.)
After the recent Sandy Hook atrocity, not only did the NRA come up with a plan for something similar here (while also pushing for more armed police assigned to educational institutions as SROs, or School Resource Officers), but we’ve seen similar plans actually implemented in places like Texas, Utah, and Arkansas. It is a solid, realistic approach to a genuine problem.
I call your attention to an excellent little book published in December of 2012, “School Administrators Guide To Practical Handgun Training.” The author is Richard Rosenthal, a retired lawman with an impressive 40-year career behind him. The first half of that was twenty years with the NYPD. There, he worked Homicide and Narcotics, served as a helicopter pilot, and spent many years teaching at the Firearms and Tactics Unit, which is where I first met him long ago. Retiring after putting in those twenty, he spent a like period as Chief of Police in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.
Having dealt with school administrators as a chief of police, Rich understands their thinking. His credentials make it clear to them that he’s not some sort of right-wing lunatic, and give him credibility in certain circles where gun enthusiasts simply will not be listened to by decision-makers. Rich is not only a master firearms instructor, but a shooting incident survivor himself. His advice on vetting and training armed volunteers and managing such a program is absolutely spot-on.
I highly recommend “School Administrators Guide to Practical Handgun Training.” It’s available for $19.33 plus shipping here.