Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Thoughts on the .45 caliber Model 1911 Handgun

The M1911 .45 caliber was (and remains) one of the finest handguns ever designed, produced, and carried. The problem for most folks firing a 1911 isn’t the firearm or the .45 caliber round - it's training.

My first experience with a 1911 was in the Army National Guard. I barely hit anything, found it cumbersome and heavy and was bitterly disappointed. I rejected the .45 and eventually settled on 9mm. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was searching for a tool that would minimize my deficiencies.

First, Army training for sidearms was (and likely remains) woefully inadequate. I was a recently minted lieutenant (after ten years as an enlisted soldier and NCO). For my introduction to the 1911 I was instructed to head to the range and “qualify.” The training consisted of a short review on loading, unloading, and reloading (all tasks required on the course of fire). There was no zero, no practice runs, no instruction on proper grip, stance, or recoil control.

Second, Army training was inadequate because the thinking was “If you need a handgun you’re screwed anyway.” I was a tank platoon leader — what tanker would exchange a 105mm main gun, .50 caliber machine gun, a pair of 7.62 machine gun, and 60 tons of mass for a pitiful handgun in any situation?

Third, just about every soldier I encountered (officer, enlisted, and NCO) treated the handgun as a birthright: “Of course I can shoot this — point and click, right?”

Thus, there’s no surprise people have bad experiences and chalked it up to the “recoil” of the mighty .45.

In fact, the M1911 is an all-steel weapon with plenty of mass. While the round is a bit larger than a 9mm (the .”45” refers to a fraction of an inch — thus less than 1/2” inch wide), the mass of the firing platform helps dampen felt-recoil. The standard .45 issue FMJ round is also a rather slow projectile (around 900 FPS, whereas a rifle fires 1700 and more FPS). Since Force = mass X velocity squared (F=mv2) (thanks for the correction), a heavy, slow thing might have the same felt recoil of a fast, small thing (all other factors being equal).

It wasn’t until several years passed I decided to get serious about handguns. I took some training, shot a lot, and settled on the 9mm as the default choice. More time passed, but I kept running into serious shooters who swore by the .45. After encountering enough of these fans of John Browning I decided to give the M1911 another look.

It was eye-opening. After more training and more focus on proper grip, stance, and overall engagement I learned how to properly fire a handgun.

I found the 1911 trigger was sublime. The recoil was actually less. My ability to put 7 rounds on target in a short amount of time improved. I bought a “Commander” size .45 and that has become my primary carry firearm.

I went from “Yeah, those things are a piece of junk” to “John Browning was a genius for the ages.” And now, I suppose, I’m also one of those old guys that shoots a .45 at the range and other shooters with plastic guns look over and think, “He’s so behind the times.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Words Matter

Words such as “slow” and “massive” are relative. The difference in muzzle velocity between a 9mm, .40, and .45 is a few hundred FPS. While a .45 round can be traveling as “slowly” as 850 FPS, it’s still fast enough to arrive at a target within handgun range far more quickly than any living target can move to avoid impact.

As far as impact energy being “massive” — the assertion suffers from three problems:

1) No handgun round imparts “massive” energy. Even the stupid calibers (e.g. .50) barely exert enough force to move a grown adult (the full force of any bullet is transmitted to the shooter as recoil. A gun you can hold and fire in one hand). While it might hurt your hands, it’s not as “massive” a force as being struck by a 10 lb sledge swung by gorilla.

2) “Impact energy” isn’t what slows or stops a person or animal. Rather, it’s the amount of damage imparted to an essential component of movement, thought, and/or will. Movement can be degraded by damage to bone, nerves, or muscle. Thought can be degraded by damage to the central nervous system. The Will can be degraded as the recipient of the bullet reconsiders the action that resulted in a bullet impact.

3) Handgun bullets are small — they penetrate and pass through muscle and/or organs, and are sometimes stopped by or shatter bones. The “impact” is a small part of the equation of damage and incapacitation. If we could design a handgun that fired the head of a ten-pound sledgehammer at Gorilla-capable velocity, we would be carrying those. But the size of the magazine would make the handgun unwieldy and inconvenient. So we carry little guns with little projectiles because they have proven reasonably effective at slowing and sometimes stopping threats. Line up all the popular handgun rounds according to size and you will see there’s not much difference.

Monday, July 26, 2021

A (very late) Review of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Devoted readers of the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien (“The canon” written by “POB” for those in the club) have read (and listened to Patrick Tull read) the entire 21-book series several times. Given Hollywood’s record of Disneyfying beloved novels, one can be excused for being less than enthusiastic about a film.

Thus, like every other POB aficionado, I approached Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World with trepidation. What film could convey even a hint of the rich depths of the novels? How many "screen adaptations" have fallen short by trivializing the characters, or oversimplifying the relationships, situations, and resolutions?

First, it’s important to understand that while the setting of the canon is the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era, the human condition is the true subject. O'Brien charts Aubrey and Maturin's lives through the vagaries of fortune, friendships, difficult families, poverty and wealth, honor and shame, success and failure. The relationship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin remains the core of the work and is what makes the books so compelling.

Second, novels are meant to be read, and the reader must create in his or her mind the circumstances, the tone of voice, the time of day, and all the other factors that come to mind as we read. Very often the author will use vague yet evocative language. Maturin’s love interest Diana is often described as “dashing” – which may evoke a very particular physical presence in one reader and not another. And so, each reader brings a host of memories that are either confirmed in film or –- more likely – contradicted. This is no way to make friends.

The first time I watched I was happily surprised by the way actors Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany portrayed Jack and Stephen. While Bettany does not look Spanish and doesn’t sound Irish, is not “slight” or have "reptilian eyes,” his mannerisms and deep well of inner life and competence are apparent. Other roles are also somewhat miscast, such as Bonden (who O'Brien described a strapping bare-knuckle prizefighter), yet others seem spot-on (Killick, Aubrey’s perpetually put-out foremast jack steward). But Crowe is absolutely convincing as Lucky Jack and commands the screen as Jack commanded a quarterdeck.

The storyline is a rather simple chase using vignettes culled from plots across several books. (Master and Commander was the first book of the series, early in Jack’s career when he was not yet a Captain and did not yet have Surprise). Nevertheless, the care and dedication to the accuracy of the period were apparent from the opening montage. Every scene is perfectly framed. There is no sequence that seems out of place, awkward, or gratuitous. Even the hard, grizzled, superstitious seamen display moments of tenderness, solicitude, and grace.

On each successive viewing, I do less comparing and more appreciating. Peter Weir’s film artfully conveys the spirit of the books while avoiding any single book. The film ignores Jack and Stephen’s life ashore, espionage, romance and dalliances, rambunctious family, scheming admirals, political intrigue, churlish mother-in-law, dashing Diana, the horrible old Leopard, and the murderous Dutch 74 Waakzaamheid. We readers know the tapestry of situations and relationships, failures and triumphs behind the characters portrayed on film, and nothing the actors do contradicts our consciousness of these old friends. Nothing they do or say is anomalous to the people we have come to know.

And that may be the film’s greatest achievement. For while the film is masterfully shot with convincing action scenes and perfect framing; directed so that the actor’s glance speaks volumes; edited so that every ambient sound supports the narrative; scored masterfully using both period and modern music to lovingly capture the mood. The film’s greatest accomplishment is what it does not do: it never panders, and it never breaks the trust of the loyal fan of the best historical novels yet written. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"What should I do...?"

"What should I do if I catch an intruder in my house and am holding him at gunpoint?"

This is a question every gun owner should think about and plan ahead of time. Because if you don't, you will be so amped on adrenaline you will likely make a mistake.

If you are alone you will have your hands full, but the best advice is to have the perpetrator face away from you (on his face hands behind his back) while you make the 911 call on speakerphone. Tell the operator your location, what is happening, and what you’re wearing (“I’m a male, 45, 6′, average build, wearing a blue bathrobe. I have a shotgun pointed at the intruder’s head — he’s laying on the floor in front of me.”) This will help responding officers.

Unfortunately, 911 operators are trained to extract as much information from you as possible during the call. However, your first priority is keeping the intruder covered! DO NOT be distracted by this call!

Once you provide the basic information, put down the phone (still on speaker), and remind the perp that you have a shotgun pointed directly at the back of his head. Remind him that any moves will be taken as aggression and that you fear for your life. Tell him you will shoot him if he moves (It’s fine to say this several times).

Do not debate, argue, negotiate, talk with the intruder. You aren’t a psychologist, priest, lawyer, or buddy. Ignore the crying, pleas of innocence, promises to never be bad again — the rest of the schtick. Too late.

Think like a soldier: you are holding a prisoner until relieved.

The responding officers will know that you are holding the perp at gunpoint. Once you see flashing lights stay on task. Wait until you are instructed by the responding officers before setting the shotgun on safe and relinquishing control (keep in mind they may approach from behind or through a window — don’t turn to face them — keep your focus where it needs to be — on the perpetrator.)

Once you are relieved, do NOT engage with lengthy descriptions with the responding officers. Immediately point out any evidence (such as broken glass where the perp broke in, a dropped tire iron or knife, whatever) and witnesses. Then say “I plan to be as helpful as possible but any further conversations will be in the presence of my attorney.”

Now it’s time to ignore the “You have nothing to worry about…” talk from the cops. You have no idea who the perp is or who his attorney might be, so don’t gamble your freedom and finances on the word of a cop who just wants to write up a report and end his shift. Any further discussion needs to be met with a firm but polite, “I’m happy to help in any way, but I will not talk about this except in the presence of my attorney.”

Is this a lot to think about and remember? Yes, yes it is. This is why you need to think very carefully about what you will do if you ever find yourself in this situation. If you don’t, it’s likely you’ll make a mistake that can cost you your freedom, your fortune, or your life.

Friday, February 5, 2021

History Lessons

Lately, it seems one cannot mention “Nazis” without being banned or accused of being a Nazi. Nearly as bad is the response of those who laugh and claim that any mention of Nazis belies a misunderstanding of present reality: “That was a unique moment in time – that can never happen again.”

This should be expected from dimwitted, reactionary, and context-free minds.

A group of angry, dim witted, reactionary, and context-free minds

Slightly wiser people are interested in avoiding the errors of the past by learning from them. This requires the study of history. This study is not the mere collecting of antiquities as decorative trivia (the domain of the “history buff”).

The study of history is a continuous examination of the unvarnished record of past events, many of which can only be appreciated after significant study, exposure to many viewpoints, and confrontation with evidence and logic that may or may not align to presuppositions and conclusions.

In other words – it’s work. 

The Assertion that Firearms are designed to kill

A common "talking point" circulating in the "gun control" debate is: "Firearms are designed to kill." I have s...