George Voltz (left) with Denny Reichard (right) at Sand Burr Gun Ranch in 2013
I knew George Voltz for about three decades, teaching with him annually most years. He had served his country in Korea and Vietnam. He had raised a fine family, though I only got to know two of his sons, Wade and George, Jr. For many years, George owned a gun shop in Logansport, Indiana. I bought my younger daughter’s first firearm, a Smith & Wesson .22 Airweight Kit Gun, from him there.
George devoted his last several decades to sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of firearms and his passion for their safe and competent use. His wisdom can be found on many spots on the Internet gun forums such as stoppingpower.net, where he normally posted under his initials, GLV.
In person, George was patient, kind, friendly, and unflappable. He had a dry sense of humor, an uncommonly large supply of common sense, and was one hell of a shot.
I had the good fortune to spend some time with him while teaching in Indiana this past June. Though wracked by cancer and the side effects of radiation therapy, this octogenarian still stood tall, his signature .45 at his hip. He had, at 83, recently competed in a three-gun match…not as fast as in days of old, but showing the determination that characterized his entire life.
George passed at his son’s residence, with hospice care, and only after his death did I learn that George himself had been a volunteer hospice worker. It was characteristic of the caring and compassion that the man exuded. A born instructor to the end, he taught us all how to die with dignity.
In this case, it’s not a cliché to say…We Are Diminished.
On Tuesday, we lost one of our great modern firearms and self-defense instructors, Louis Awerbuck. He had seen the elephant in South Africa, and came to the US to do what he did best: teach good people how to survive when other people were trying to murder them. For many years lead instructor at Col. Jeff Cooper’s famed Gunsite training center, Louie went on to establish his own school, the Yavapai Firearms Academy.
A master with pistol, revolver, and every kind of long gun, he was particularly noted for teaching the defensive use of the shotgun. His trademark was innovative shooting scenarios that duplicated real-world difficulties in which firearms had to be employed to protect the innocent. Awerbuck was one of the great trainers in his field, but more than that, he was a thinker. He understood better than most that in the word “gunfight,” the operative syllable was not “gun.”
In person, Louis was an absolute gentleman with a broad knowledge of relevant history and philosophy. He spoke with the same insight and dry wit that characterized his last page column in SWAT magazine, the one I always turned to first when my monthly issue came in the mail.
Fortunately, he leaves a legacy of books and training videos for those who didn’t have the opportunity to study under him personally. A list of these can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Louis%20Awerbuck .
Of the many eulogies pouring in from the training world, I think the most memorable came from our mutual friend John Hearne, who wrote, “They say that when an old man dies, a library burns. We have lost Alexandria.”
After three weeks on the road, about 36,000 shots fired by 90 or so students. I have some time at home, which will be devoted to writing. “Instructor” cap comes off, “gun writer” hat goes on. Ten or so guns will be tested in the coming days.
A couple of ‘em, I’ve already been running while “on the road” teaching. One was a P320, SIG’s new striker-fired pistol. It gave me a 300 out of 300 when I shot a pace-setter qualification with it for our Illinois class. If you’re testing a deer rifle for an outdoor sports magazine, you’ll want to go deer hunting with it; if you’re testing a combat pistol, well, you’ll want to shoot a “combat pistol course” with it to see how it performs. I spent a day carrying it; it rode perfectly in a Leather Arsenal inside the waistband holster made for a P250 the same length; no surprise, since the brilliant SIG engineer Ethan Lessard developed the P320 from the SIG P250 platform. The P320 in the full size configuration is not a small pistol, but it’s no trick to conceal a fairly large handgun if you know how.
If you’ve read many of my articles in the gun magazines, you’ve seen me refer to the “test team,” a group which varies depending on where I am when the gun is being tested. If you read my latest book, “Gun Digest Book of the SIG-Sauer, Second Edition” you saw the picture of me with designer Ethan Lessard, and the prototype P320 whose frame was marked “P250” because it was an early version photographed at the SIG factory in Exeter, NH before the final gun actually came out. Researching who developed the gun, and why, and how is part of the story, too. When I write a gun up for a magazine, it ain’t just me pullin’ the trigger and puttin’ holes in targets: there are small people and big people, lefties and righties, men and women, to see how the gun works for different potential users.
Sometimes I feel like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence: my friends do the work, and I get the credit, and my friends like being “the first on their block” to test a new gun most others have only “heard announced on the Internet” but haven’t actually seen or touched. But, the fact is, it gives me a helluva lot more useful feedback to pass on to readers about how the given gun is gonna work for a wide variety of users.
Confession: teaching may be the most satisfying part of my job description, but testing is sometimes the most fun part.
Spoiler alert: No, the slightly higher bore axis of the SIG P320 doesn’t make it kick noticeably more than any similar 9mm pistol, and yes, you can shoot a perfect score with it out-of-the-box with 40-some people looking over your shoulder.
I recently taught a class at the Illinois State RifleRange in Kankakee, Illinois. Set in the “breadbasket of the nation” farmlands surrounding that small city, it’s a great range and getting greater, with substantial construction going on as I write this. More ranges, and also a spacious classroom are being built. However, there’s not yet a classroom on the range per se, so we rented the nearest hall for that part of the program. This year and last, that was the Lions Club in Bonfield, IL.
With a listed population of 364, there isn’t exactly a “downtown Bonfield.” They used to have a café there. The village restaurant is where the locals gather to talk about everything from crops to local politics to solving the problems of the world and hey, how are the grandkids? When the café closed its doors, the Lions stepped in to fill the gap.
They configured part of their meeting hall to a separate-able coffee shop, specifically a coffee-and-continental-breakfast shop. Menu prices look as if they came back from the past in a time machine. Think “donation,” not “bill.” I learned that the coffee shop is not run for profit. They just ask enough to cover expenses. The Lions Club is one of our great civic groups, and their purpose in opening their club for this purpose was to serve the community. To maintain a gathering place for the citizens.
For the four ten-hour days of a MAG-40 immersion course, the ladies of the Lions did noble service feeding the thirty-some students and seven staff that MAG and its host entity, MTG, brought in. They fed us splendidly, and we collectively groveled in gratitude.
Chris Supinski, Riley Armellino (9), JoCarol Emling
I discovered that, at least in this chapter of the Lions, the ladies who fed us so well are not to be called Lionesses. Apparently, that element of the Lions Club is falling by the wayside and the women are, in most chapters, Lions like the men.
The Lions Club is one of our greatest civic groups, particularly important to the smaller and more rural communities. They embody all the best values of America. Our time there was sort of a Norman Rockwell moment.
That classic phrase among lawyers aptly describes how things work. When criminal charges are levied by the authorities, far more cases are closed by plea bargains than go to trial. In civil lawsuits, far more result in out-of-court settlements than in full blown trials.
My own schedule as an expert witness in cases involving weapons, shootings, and assorted homicides is a good example. Let’s look at the second quarter of 2014 from the perspective of one denizen of The System.
April, 2014: Three cases, done.
Case One: A Federal lawsuit with heavy political overtones, which had to go to trial, both sides being implacable in their positions. I testified for somewhere between two and a half and three hours (I don’t keep a clock, but it turns out the judge had a “Chess Clock” on the bench, having allowed a certain amount of hours for each side to state their case). The opposing side chose not to cross-examine. Never a bad thing. We are waiting now for judge in this bench trial to give a ruling, because it is a complicated matter. And, whichever side is ruled against, is sure to appeal, so the case is sure to remain alive…
Case Two: An excessive force case filed against a law enforcement agency, in which I was retained as expert witness on behalf of the involved officer and his department. Plaintiff claimed that he was shot and wounded for nothing by out-of-control rogue officer; officer who unleashed his department-issue SIG stated that the suspect was trying to run him over when he fired. Case ends shortly after deposition of plaintiff, who claims under oath that he was backing up away from officer when officer shot him for no reason; plaintiff and his attorney are shown the video of the shooting in which the plaintiff can be clearly seen attempting to crush a police officer to death with his vehicle, at which time the cop opens fire. Because judges in civil cases know how costly it is to the taxpayers to pay for days or weeks or months of trial – particularly when the plaintiffs have a bullshit case – they encourage the defendants in civil suits to at least attempt to settle. A chump change offer has been put on the table accordingly, shortly after the case was filed. After seeing the video of the actual incident, plaintiff and lawyer take the chump change and run. Case closed. It would have cost far more to try the case and win. (I don’t like it… the lawyers defending the cops didn’t particularly like it…and the wrongfully accused officer couldn’t have liked it, but that’s how things work in this society.)
Case Three: Big strong guy tries to beat the crap out of little guy for no good reason. Little guy pulls out his legally carried gun, shoots big guy, makes big guy stop. Big guy lies about it; little guy does what the Internet told him and doesn’t say anything; having only big guy’s word for it The State charges little guy with attempted murder. I and another expert analyze the case, send in our reports, and wait. Initial prosecuting attorney believes the big guy, who after all is the Injured Party and the Victim, and trial is scheduled. New prosecuting attorney is assigned, and smart defense attorney sits down with new prosecuting attorney and explains exactly what is going on here. Smart new prosecutor analyses the evidence and realizes, “Holy crap, this was clear-cut self-defense! I’m supposed to try to prosecute this? No Way!” Case is dropped, ordeal is over. Nobody gives the defendant back the money he spent on his defense team, but justice has finally been done.
Quiet month for this sort of stuff on my end. One coast-to-coast trip to view shooting scene and interview the involved officers I’ve been retained to speak for. Evidence absolutely confirms what the criminal justice system has already determined to be a justifiable shooting…trial in the civil lawsuit over the matter is down the road.
Take-away lesson: Most of these things end without going to trial. By and large, the system works. MOST prosecutors take seriously their role as ministers of justice, responsible for the exoneration of the innocent just as much as they’re responsible for the prosecution of the guilty. SOME plaintiffs’ cases are absolutely righteous, but SOME are nothing less than legalized extortion.