Mar 132011

There’s more to do than merely adjusting your clocks

Some people advocate making the switch to/from daylight savings a trigger event for checking the batteries in your smoke detectors.  That’s a good idea, even though probably all smoke detectors these days have low battery alarms that make annoying chirping sounds when the batteries get low.

It is barely conceivable that the low battery alarm might have failed, or that the battery died while you were out of town, so a formal test every six months is a good routine to get into.

But I’m not writing today about smoke alarms, as important as they are.  Let’s think about some other things you should do maybe every six months, maybe every year.  And if you’ve additional items to add to this list, share your thoughts with us in the comments, below.

1.  Check, Clean and Oil all Guns

This isn’t essential, but it is a good thing to do – to renew your familiarity with your weapons, to give them a bit of tender loving care, and to check, clean and oil them.

Depending on how and where you store them, maybe they’ve got some dust on them, maybe even mildew/mold (I find that even with a heater bar ‘dehumidifier’ in my gun safe, I still have problems), and maybe you might have forgotten to clean them after the last time you used them, or maybe someone else has touched/tampered with them, or who knows what else.

I’d put this on a six monthly cycle.

2.  Replace Critical Ammo

By ‘critical’ ammo I mean the ammo you keep loaded in your self defense and carry guns, and potentially in the spare magazines you keep loaded with them.

Sure, ammunition can last decades if stored properly, but the ammunition in a carry gun is stored anything but properly.  It is is a warm humid environment, and when there isn’t sweat seeping in through the seals and into the propellant, there’s gun oil or who knows what else.

Plus, if you ever find yourself needing to pull the trigger ‘for real’ on a carry gun, you’re in a critical situation where you have to be 110% guaranteed that you’ll hear a ‘bang’ rather than a ‘click’.

So – and I put this on the six monthly cycle too – go to the range once every six months, and shoot off the ammo in the guns that you keep loaded 24/7 and replace it with fresh out of the box ammo.  This also gives you ongoing feedback that your ammo is good and feeding reliably.  Which leads to my next point.

3.  Range Time

No matter how much you have practiced in the past, the skills you’ve mastered at handling your weapons erode quickly, and need to be freshened up from time to time.  The good news is that if you’ve been formally trained to a high level, you’ll find it easier to quickly do a self-administered refresher course.

So once every six months, do some dry firing practice at home (rapid presentation from concealment using the actual holsters you carry in, trigger control, and malfunction clearances), and then go to your local range and shoot some rounds through each of your primary self defense guns (yes, I am using the plural, because you do have multiple self defense guns, don’t you?).

Doing this helps you combine the preceding point about replacing critical ammo, and then encourages you to do the first point, about checking and cleaning your weapons, too.

4.  Springs

I don’t know about you, but I never keep any magazine fully loaded to its capacity with ammo, except when I’m on the range and about to use it, or temporarily in an ultimately hostile environment.

All my carry weapons have at least one (single stack magazines) or two (double stack magazines) unfilled position, so the springs are never compressed to their maximum.

I also rotate magazines on a regular basis so that some are always kept empty and some are kept nearly full, to further reduce spring fatigue.

This is important.  Make no mistake – good men have lost their lives because they’ve been relying on a magazine that has sat, passively, with the spring fully compressed, perhaps for a year or more at a time.

I swap full and empty magazines over much more often than once every six months, but if you only do it twice a year, you’re still much better off than never doing it.

Now, let me tell you what I do do every six months.  I disassemble my magazines and check the springs to see if they still have enough tension in them.  This is easily done by simply seeing how far the spring extends out of the magazine once you remove its end cap.

Most gun manufacturers will tell you their specification for the minimum amount of additional spring extension outside of the magazine (usually expressed in so many zigs and zags of spring, or perhaps more simply in how many inches stick out).  If you can’t get this information, buy a new magazine and immediately disassemble it.  Take a picture of the spring sticking out the end of the magazine with a ruler alongside so you can see how many inches out it sticks.  Print out a copy and keep it in your gun safe with your spare magazines, and use that as a reference point.

You can allow springs to lose a small amount of tension compared to a new magazine’s spring, but if you see any magazine spring losing more tension than the others, you know it is time to replace the spring, and when they all have significantly deviated from the new magazine spring, it is again time to replace their springs.

5.  Batteries

What do you have in your ‘kit’ that uses batteries?  Several tactical flashlights, for sure.  Maybe a laser sight.  Goodness only knows what else.

Make the daylight saving switches a time to check batteries, and also to inventory your reserve of spare batteries.

Open up the battery compartment of everything that has batteries, and make sure the batteries haven’t swollen or started to leak.

If you have devices that use non-standard sized batteries, make sure you have spares, and make sure they are where you expect them to be.

And for all the things you have that use AA and AAA batteries, consider replacing the batteries ‘whether they need replacing or not’ in items that you occasionally use, and give a good test of the batteries in items you seldom or never use.

For batteries you’ve left in devices for some time, check their expiry dates.  If you’re within a year of the expiry date, why not replace them anyway.

Feb 132011

Charter Arms Pink Lady in .38 +P

So I was doing what I like best the other day – browsing through a gun shop.  As seems to so often be the case, it was busy with lots of people and too few store assistants, and I found myself chatting with a woman waiting to be served.  She was probably in her early 60s.

She was considering the purchase of her first ever firearm.  Her adult children were encouraging her in this and were also in the store, but they had been distracted and were looking at other gun goodies themselves, leaving her to look at a small light weight short barreled pink revolver.  Her son had recommended this would be a good gun for her.

I guess it might work as a carry gun, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a lady’s purse the way an ‘evil’ workmanlike blued steel creation might.  So I approached the matter cautiously and asked her what she wanted it for – a carry gun or a home defense gun.

She said she’d never choose to carry it.  She just wanted something for home defense.  There had been burglaries in her neighborhood, and after years of hating and being scared of firearms, her worries about her own safety overwhelmed her dislike of guns, and with the active encouragement of her adult children she was now about to buy her own gun for self defense at home.

Her sons had recommended this pink revolver to her, because it looked nice and because it was small and lightweight.

Which scored them a fail on all three points.

Listen up, ladies.  If you’re confronting a bad guy, you don’t want to show him a pink pistol.  The only way that would work would be if he died laughing.  If you need to present your weapon at a bad guy, you need to put the fear of God into him, and to immediately dominate and control the situation.  He needs to know, at a very basic primal level, both that the gun pointed at him could kill him, and that the person pointing the gun is ready and willing to do so.  Paradoxically, the more lethal looking your gun – and you – are perceived to be, the less likely you are to need to actually take a life.  A pink gun doesn’t have nearly the same authority as does a regular blued, or black, or even stainless steel gun.

Now next, let’s talk about size.  The heavier the gun, the easier it is to shoot, with less recoil.  The longer the barrel, not only the heavier it is, but the more accurate it becomes and the ‘nicer’ it is to shoot, with less muzzle flash and muzzle blast.

If you’re not needing to choose a small lightweight gun to carry with you, then choose the biggest heaviest longest barreled pistol you can find as a home defense weapon.  You’ll shoot straighter and better, and you’ll also dominate the situation much more with a big and ‘dangerous/deadly’ looking pistol than you will with a tiny ladies gun.

I tried to explain these issues to her, but her sons had told her to get a small pretty pistol, and I was merely a passing stranger in a gun store.  Who was she going to believe?

And possibly, for some of you now reading this, I’m similarly merely some guy writing some sort of blog.  That’s okay.  Because you don’t have to trust or believe me (or, even if you’re tempted to, take note of that famous line ‘Trust, but Verify’).  So, before you buy any gun, try it out, and also try out some other guns – bigger and smaller in size/weight; and of larger or smaller caliber.

You want to get a gun that you can fire a dozen times without it becoming painful to you, and which you can fire without flinching.  Any such gun, for sure, will be much bigger and heavier than what you might have first expected.

As for the issue of revolver vs semi-auto, that’s a really complicated topic and the subject for another discussion entirely.  And please don’t even get me started on the choice of caliber…..

Feb 092011

A CZ75 showing impressive accuracy

I went shooting with an acquaintance the other night for the first time (that is, for the first time with him, not the first time I went shooting!).  He could out-shoot me every which way, and did an excellent job of getting rounds close or exactly on the target bullseye, at quite impressive ranges.

But.  And it is a big but.  Although he could shoot very accurately, he would not be a good person to take lessons from in learning the art of prudent firearms-based self defense.

Firstly, he was not wearing a rimmed hat at the indoor range we were at.  What is wrong with that?  Well, he discovered that himself when an ejected shell casing dropped down and wedged itself in the frame along the side of his safety glasses.  Indeed, he was lucky the shell casing didn’t go down the front of the safety glasses.  You should always wear a rimmed hat at the range to protect yourself from ejected shell casings (they can be very hot and burn quite severely).

Second, his Glock was dripping in oil.  Glocks are dry guns, they run best with almost no oil at all.  With any gun, too much oil can provide a base to attract dirt, dust, grit and grime, and can actually increase rather than decrease the chance of the gun malfunctioning.  It is best to almost underoil rather than overoil most guns, and this is absolutely the case with Glocks, which work astonishingly well with little or no oiling, ever (just the slightest hint of Break-Free on a few of the surfaces).

Third, he proudly showed me how he had a custom trigger job on his Glock.  He had a lighter pull trigger installed by a gunsmith, and then he personally polished and smoothed all the moving surfaces to make the trigger even lighter still.  The gun  probably had no more than a 1lb (2 lbs max) trigger pull and almost no movement in the trigger.  Indeed, it was so extreme that at one point in these modifications, he told me the gun started firing full auto rather than semi-auto.

Yes, a crisp trigger that doesn’t need a ton of pulling power or much finger movement is a good thing, but this was far beyond that.  And it opens him up to increased legal liabilities.  Which brings me to the fourth point.

Fourth, he proudly told me how he had managed to secure a supply of ‘law enforcement only’ (LEO) ammunition.  He said it was hard to buy the LEO ammo, because most places wanted details of his employment in a law enforcement organization (which he is not), but he managed to find a mail order place that sent it to him no questions asked.  He showed me a box of it, with ‘Law Enforcement Only’ prominently labeled on the front.

He said ‘it is legal to own this in Washington’ but that is beside the point.

Let’s look at these last two issues and their implication.  What say he was your friend, and you eagerly copied everything he did, and you too had a massively worked-on pistol with LEO ammunition.  Now let’s say you ended up having to use your gun in self defense.  The police are going to impound your gun and examine it, and also examine the ammunition you were using, as part of their formal review procedure.

They’ll see a modified gun with a much lighter trigger pull (and you better cross your fingers and pray the gun doesn’t suddenly start shooting in full auto mode for them too!), and they’ll see you using LEO ammunition.  If the shooting is in a somewhat grey area, these factors will count against you.

You have three things to worry about after any use of lethal force.  The first is the police and whether they will choose to arrest you and file charges or not.  Their decision will be influenced by all the facts in the case, and for sure, your demeanor, as demonstrated by the type of gun you were carrying and the type of ammunition it was loaded with, are relevant and influential facts.  If you have a stock standard pistol, with ‘off the shelf’ ammo, you score positively or neutrally in both cases.  But a heavily modified gun to make it easier to fire quicker, and restricted ammunition that in at least the opinion of the ammo manufacturer you should not even own?  Those are two big negatives that will definitely increase your chance of having charges filed.

Now the second thing to worry about is how the DA will handle your case.  Will he proceed to take it to court?  Will he go for the most severe charges possible?  Like the police, he too will look at all the facts of the case, and from two perspectives.  First, he’ll look at it from the perspective of the applicable law.  And secondly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘Is this guy a sympathetic or unsympathetic person – will the public support me for prosecuting him or not?’  And, thirdly, he’ll look at it from the perspective of ‘If I proceed to trial, how likely am I to win a conviction?  How can I sell this to the jury?’  And you’ve just given him two huge selling points, haven’t you.

There’s a third thing to worry about.  At least the police and prosecutor are reasonably fair minded people, and stand to get only minimal personal gain from winning a conviction against you.  But what about a civil case filed against you by the bad guy (or his estate)?  You’re in a totally different scenario there.  They have a huge upside if they win a financial judgment against you (for potentially all the money you have in the world, all your houses, cars, and everything else).  They have no fairness factor shading their actions at all.  They are motivated by money, by greed, and by revenge, and they will be aided in this process by an attorney representing them for free, in return for picking up a share of any winnings they get against you (probably 30% – 50% of their winnings will go to the attorney).

Maybe you lucked out, with friendly fair police and a high-minded realistic DA and you had no criminal charges filed against you.  Or maybe you did have charges pressed against you, but managed to beat them at trial, because of the very high burden of proof placed on the prosecution.

But now you’re in a civil trial, with a much lower burden of proof, and you have an attorney opposing you who won’t hesitate to use every unfair play he can come up with, including making you out to be a gun crazed killer, a wanna-be Rambo, with a gun modified to make it more deadly, and with ammunition so dangerous that civilians aren’t trusted with it, but which you had somehow dishonestly obtained.

When you combine this type of rhetoric with the general misunderstandings of firearms-based self defense in the first place, and a jury that will inevitably have at least one or two people who hate firearms with a passion, you’re in a world of hurt.

About the only thing we could hope for is that your over-oiled gun would jam before firing the first shot.

So – moral of the story?  Just because a guy can shoot well at the range doesn’t mean you should turn to him for advice on self defense in general (or even about how to shoot well, either, but that’s a story for another time…..).