Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What is Limp Wristing?

We sometimes hear the term "limp-wrist" in firearms terminology. So what is it? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? What should we do to counter it? This post aims to answer all these questions.

In the various posts in the past, where we dealt with semi-automatic and automatic firearms, we studied several different actions: recoil operated action, gas operated action, blowback action etc. The previous links can serve as a refresher course for the uninitiated reader of the basics of these various mechanisms. The one thing in common is that the firearm uses a force (either from recoil, gas pressure etc.) to push back the bolt or slide of the firearm, which then removes the old cartridge and cocks the weapon on its way back. It also compresses a spring on the way back and this spring pushes the slide or bolt forward, whereupon it readies itself to fire the next round.

Now, imagine what happens if there isn't adequate resistance offered to the firearm's frame during the backward movement of the bolt or slide (i.e.) if the frame of the firearm is allowed to move backwards with the bolt or slide. Then what will happen is that the operating cycle may not properly complete and the old round may not get ejected in time and the next round may get jammed, rendering the firearm temporarily inoperable. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon to occur, but one of the common reasons is because the user had a loose grip on the firearm, which is why it is called as "limp wristing".

Limp wristing isn't confined to pistols alone. For instance, a rifle or shotgun may also have problems operating properly, if the user doesn't provide a firm shoulder to  rest the butt on. Model of firearm also  has a lot to do with it, as some models are more vulnerable to jamming due to limp wristing than others. Also, the  caliber of the firearm and the recoil force that can be withstood by the user all play a part.

Obviously, the major cause is because the frame was not held firmly enough during the backward movement of the firearm action. So, the easiest fix is to maintain a stronger grip, perhaps by using a two-handed stance with a pistol instead of one hand. Some of the good two handed stances we studied previously are: weaver stance, chapman stance, isoceles stance etc. Similarly, for rifles or shotguns, the user may try improving their stance or grip to make sure that the rifle is firmly braced against the shoulder before pulling the trigger.

In some situations though, the user may just be too weak to provide a good grip, or have some kind of physical deformity which causes issues. In this case, a modification will need to be made to either the firearm or the ammunition.

In the realm of firearm modifications, the user may simply pick another firearm of a different caliber or type. For instance, a firearm with a heavy steel frame absorbs the recoil energy better than one made of a polymer type frame and rely less on the user grip strength to operate.

Yet another firearm modification could be to reduce the stiffness of the recoil spring to make the firearm operate properly.

The user also could choose a firearm that uses a different mechanism to operate, which is not vulnerable to limp wristing problems. For example, the user could choose a single-action revolver to use instead of a pistol. Similarly, a rifle with a manually operated action may be picked instead of one that uses a semi-automatic action.

In the realm of ammunition modification, the user may simply use some different ammunition that burns with a different rate which could cause the limp wristing problems to go away.

In the video below, a person demonstrates using a loose grip with different pistols:

The interesting thing to note in the clip above is that not every pistol jams even with a loose grip and even the ones that jam do not necessarily do it every single time. Some, like the Glock 17, seem to be more sensitive to grip strength than others.

Happy viewing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Set Guns: Trapper Guns

In the last couple of posts, we looked into the concept of set guns. In this post, we will look at some guns that were used for hunting. Such weapons were called Trap Guns.

Set guns have been used for hunting since the 1700s, but these guns were mostly home-built jobs and were usually built using damaged or obsolete firearms. In the 1800s and early 1900s, when fur trapping was at its zenith, well known companies started to get into the business of building custom trapper guns. Some of these companies include Getsem Gun Company of Lincoln, Nebraska and FC Taylor Fur Company of St. Louis, Missouri. In the early 1900s, a large part of America was still heavily forested and many trappers would get their supplies from St. Louis before heading off to the wilderness.

A man called Charles D. Lovelace had patented a set-gun design for trappers in 1905 and established a company called the Texas Firearms Company to sell them.

Click on images to enlarge. Public domain images.

The rest of his patent application may be viewed here. The FC Taylor Fur Company bought his design patent and started to sell it as the Taylor Fur Getter.

The Taylor Fur Getter. Click on image to enlarge.

The rifle itself was made under contract for Taylor by Mossberg, a well known firearms manufacturer. Operation of this weapon was simple. Simply stake the weapon into the ground via the large screw thread in the bottom. Then adjust the angle of the weapon depending on the animal to be hunted (racoon, possum, mink, coyote etc.) and put a bait item on the hook. Then cock the weapon, pull the safety and go hide somewhere. When the animal takes the bait, the trigger discharges and the animal is usually shot in the head. This and the fact that this firearm uses a small 22 caliber round ensure that it doesn't damage the animal's pelt as much as possible.

Taylor also made a larger version of this called the "Taylor Sure Shot".

The Taylor Sure Shot Trap Gun. Click on image to enlarge

This was used for larger game such as bears and wolves and fired a .38 caliber round. The firearm itself was manufactured under contract for Taylor by Hopkins and Allen, another well known firearms manufacturer.

These guns continued to be sold for $3-$4 each until 1934, when the new Federal Firearms Laws of 1934 made it illegal to own these, because they had no stock or hand-grip and were therefore classified as sawn-off shotguns. These days however, these items are deemed as historic relics and collectors items and it is legal to possess them as collector items. The FC Taylor company has also survived to this present day and is now part of the Sterling Fur and Tool Company of Ohio.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Unusual Firearms: Cemetery Guns and Coffin Torpedoes

In our last post, we studied the topic of set guns and spring guns. In this post, we will look into a couple of kinds of set gun, the cemetery gun and the coffin torpedo.

First, we go to the development of modern anatomy and medicine. The early Egyptians, Greeks and Indians had done some anatomical studies more than 2000 years ago and had written books about them, but the knowledge was largely lost during the dark ages. During the 1600s and 1700s, the study of anatomy began to flourish again in Europe. Due to the lack of refrigeration at that time, bodies would decay very rapidly and so only fresh bodies could be studied. Certified anatomists were allowed to perform public dissections once a year, and the event would be performed in a public theater with medical students, art students, scientists and general public permitted to attend upon paying an entrance fee. In most European cities, the law specified that the body to be dissected had to be an executed criminal.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt
Click on image to enlarge. Public domain image.

In the above image, we see a painting by Rembrandt, which is dated to 1632. It shows the chief anatomist of Amsterdam, Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, giving an anatomy lesson to interested bystanders. The body in question belonged to Adriaan Adriaanszoon, alias Aris Kindt, who was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to death by hanging and executed earlier in the day. This painting was done by a young Rembrandt, who was only 26 years old when he painted this. There were probably many more spectators viewing the lesson, but Rembrandt only painted the spectators who had paid him money in advance for the privilege of appearing in the painting. This was the standard custom of portrait painters of that period. Some of the spectators were doctors as well and colleagues of Dr. Tulp. Interestingly, Dr. Tulp went on to become mayor of Amsterdam and he was also responsible for examining and signing the fitness reports of the first Dutch settlers of a little island in the new world, called Manhattan island!

As medical schools began to flourish, there began a demand for human bodies among several universities. However, only the bodies of those who were condemned to death and dissection could be used by law and these sentences were only handed out by the courts for harsher crimes. As a result, there was a shortage of cadavers to be studied. To fill this need, a rather unscrupulous class of criminal, the body snatcher or resurrectionist, was born. Shocking as it may sound, these people would steal fresh graves and sell their bodies to universities.

As it turned out, UK common law treated body snatching as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. This meant the offenders could only be charged with a fine and/or imprisonment, rather than execution or transportation to Australia. So body snatchers were very careful to not steal jewelry or clothes, in case they were caught in the act, as stealing clothes and jewelry constituted a felony offence, whereas stealing the body alone was a misdemeanor. The practice became so prevalent that friends and relatives of the deceased would often guard the grave for a few days after burial to prevent this from happening. It was soon after this that a type of set gun, the cemetery gun, was developed.

Click on image to enlarge.

These were usually large smoothbore flintlock weapons attached to a large block of wood. The block of wood could be fixed to the ground with a couple of spikes. Trip wires would surround the grave to be guarded and they would be connected to the trigger of this weapon. This type of firearm could be either used as an alarm gun by filling it with a blank, or loaded with light shot such as rock salt or bird shot to scare the intruder, or even with heavier shot with an intention to maim. An example of such a cemetery gun built in 1707 is on display at the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery in Pennsylvania.

After 1825, when set guns were banned in the UK, the practice of using cemetery guns died out and iron and cement coffins started to become popular. However, over in the USA, set guns were still legal. Moreover, right after the Civil war was over, the number of medical students increased tremendously. Between 1865 and 1890, the number of medical schools in the US doubled and with that came an increase in the number of body snatching cases, especially in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. There was even a public outcry in 1878, when the body of Ohio congressman John Scott Harrison, son of president William Henry Harrison, ended up on a medical table in Ohio Medical College at Cincinnati, and was recognized by his son, future US president, Benjamin Harrison.

To prevent such events from happening, people in the US developed a firearm known as the coffin torpedo, which was a booby trap designed to go off when a coffin was opened. We have records of an improved coffin torpedo invented by an enterprising gentleman named Philip K. Clover of Columbus, Ohio. The two images below are reproduced from his US patent claim (#208672) in 1878

Click on images to enlarge

This was a shotgun that was designed to go off when the coffin lid was opened. A full description of the working method of his model may be viewed in his patent claim here.

With the advent of new laws that allowed medical schools to use unclaimed bodies and with the advent of refrigeration, body snatching cases became much more infrequent.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Set Guns

Since the days of wheel-lock guns in the 15th century, people have been devising traps that use firearms. Such guns are called set guns or spring guns. We will study them in this post.

The basic idea of a set gun or a spring gun is really simple. First, a thin thread or wire is stretched across the zone that is meant to be protected. Then, one end of the thread is tied to the trigger of a firearm, which is then tied to a tree or a support pole. The firearm is then loaded and prepared to be ready to fire. Any person or animal that walks into the zone will then set off the firearm. In some cases, the firearm is simply meant to fire a warning shot and scare the intruder into leaving the area (as well as warn the defenders of the presence of an intruder). In other cases, the firearm is aimed at the zone it is meant to protect, so it may end up killing or injuring the intruder. These have been used historically for various reasons, such as guarding a campsite from wild animals, setting a trap for an animal, maintaining a defensive perimeter around military stores, guarding against poachers etc.

Typically, the firearm in question is usually some kind of shotgun because it sprays a wide area.

A 19th century alarm gun designed to deter poachers by firing a blank in the air.
Image released into the public domain by Simon Speed. Click on image to enlarge.

A Spring gun currently on display in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford England. Click on image to enlarge.
Image released under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 or later, by user Throwawayhack at Wikipedia

Such traps were very popular in England during the 1700s, but became illegal to use after 1825. In the United States, such traps have made it to the 20th century, though they are not used as much now. The firearms are also generally loaded with non-lethal shot to avoid lawsuits and the areas are generally marked with warning signs and high fences to reduce legal risks as well. One famous legal case to study in this regard is Katko vs. Briney, which took place in Iowa in 1971 and the defendant (Briney) was held liable for injuries caused to the intruder (Katko). Briney had an old unoccupied farmhouse on his property, which was in a state of disrepair and had "No Trespassing" signs all over it, but was often broken into and burgled constantly. Hence, he rigged a shotgun to fire at any intruders that opened one of its doors. The shotgun was aimed to fire at an intruder's legs, so as not to cause mortal injuries. A few days later, Katko broke in to collect some old bottles and was injured by this trap. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the defendant's use of deadly force on unoccupied property was not reasonable or justified and Briney would have been justified in the use of a shotgun, had he been in the farmhouse during the intrusion. After the lawsuit, some news papers incorrectly reported that the Briney residence had been broken into (not the unoccupied farmhouse). Therefore, several other states introduced "Briney bills" for laws concerning self-defense of property and family.

Instances of set gun traps were also seen during the Vietnam war, as well as other guerilla conflicts around the world.

One more famous incident where a set gun was involved, was the Gunpowder Incident, which happened shortly before the American Revolution. In Williamsburg, Virginia, the British governor, Lord Dunsmore had begun to move supplies of gunpowder to Royal Navy ships against the wishes of the locals, who believed that the gunpowder belonged to the colony and not the Crown. On the night of June 3rd 1775, two local youths were injured by a spring gun set up to protect the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The local population were outraged and the governor was forced to flee with his family, on to the British vessel Fowey, which was anchored off-shore. Governor Dunsmore then declared Virginia to be in a state of rebellion. Incidentally, the local force that opposed governor Dunsmore was led by Patrick Henry of "Give me liberty, or give me death" fame.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Woo hoo. This blog now has 100 followers!

Started a little under two and a half years ago as a personal research project, this blog has now crossed a a new milestone -- there are now 100 followers of this blog. Thank you to all the faithful readers for all their support and encouragement, you know who you are.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What is a STANAG magazine?

In our last article, we looked at what the deal about teflon-coated bullets was about. In this next post, we will look into STANAG magazines. So what's the big deal about STANAG magazines and why are they called that anyway? This article aims to clear all that up.

Two STANAG compatible magazines. Left is a 20 round magazine made by Colt, right is a 30 round "High Reliablility" magazine made by Heckler & Koch/
Click on image to enlarge.
Image licensed under GNU Free Documentation License v 1.2 or later, by user Raygun on wikipedia.

Back when NATO was first formed, they agreed to develop a set of common standards that all the member countries could use, in order to ensure that the various countries under the NATO umbrella could share arms and ammunition. These standards were called STANdardization AGreements, or STANAGs for short and many were published for various military hardware. We start our story in 1980, soon after NATO had standardized on using the NATO 5.56x45 mm. cartridge for their assault rifles. STANAG 4172 was the document that specified the standards for the NATO 5.56x45 mm. cartridge.  Soon after this, STANAG 4179 was proposed, which described the standards for how the magazines were to be made. Now for the real amusing part: STANAG 4179 was a document containing a proposed standard for magazines, but was never officially accepted by all the member countries and therefore remains as a "Draft STANAG" to this date! Therefore, calling these magazines as "STANAG compatible magazine" is not technically correct.

Nevertheless, many manufacturers started making magazines to the standards proposed by the document, even before it was officially ratified. Some people are under the impression that the STANAG standard specifies the magazine capacity, along with the dimensions of the magazine, but this is an incorrect assumption to make. Even though most of the magazines made for military purposes are usually 20 or 30 round capacity, there exist other STANAG compatible magazines that hold 40, 50 or even 100 rounds. The shape can be different as well, as there are drum magazines and box magazines that are both STANAG compatible. The STANAG 4179 document only specifies some of the dimensions of the magazine and also doesn't specify the materials to be used or manufacturing standards. Therefore, different manufacturers can make the magazines to any length, with different kinds of material (e.g. aluminium, steel, plastic etc.), and still claim to be STANAG compatible. This causes production quality from various manufacturers to differ.

There are now many rifles that can take STANAG magazines, such as AR-15, M-16, Heckler and Koch G41, FAMAS G2, Tavor TAR-21 etc. and some other rifle models such as SIG 556, H&K G36, IMI Galil etc. can also use them with a magazine adapter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's the deal with teflon coated bullets?

During the early 1980s, there was quite a bit of controversy about teflon-coated bullets. Some news articles even went so far as to label them as "cop killers". The reader is probably thinking at this point, "Teflon? Isn't that the stuff that they coat non-stick cooking pans with? Why is that so dangerous?" This article aims to clear up the mystery.

Teflon coated bullet

Our story starts in the 1960s, when a company called KTW Inc. (named after the founders last names, Kopsch, Turcos and Ward) from Ohio was trying to develop a bullet with better penetration characteristics. Common handgun bullets which were largely made of lead, had the problem of deforming upon hitting a hard surface, such as a car door or a windshield, and became less effective after they deformed. KTW was trying to invent a better bullet for use by police departments (in fact, one of the founders, Daniel Turcos, was a police sergeant at that time and the other two founders worked in the coroner's office of the Ohio police department).

They eventually settled on a bullet design that consisted of a steel core, with an outer jacket made of hardened brass. This bullet offered much better penetration than older lead bullets, but it had a problem because of the hardened brass layer on the outside of the bullet. This hard layer did not engage the handgun's rifling very well and the friction caused the barrels to wear out prematurely. To reduce the barrel wear, the inventors coated the outside of the bullets with teflon, because teflon is very slippery and is one of the best lubricating substances known to man (the same reasons why teflon is used to coat the surfaces of non-stick pots and pans).

In 1982, NBC ran a special television report on these bullets where they argued that these bullets were a danger to police officers (many police departments had requested NBC not to run that program). After that television show, many American gun-control groups started to call these bullets as "cop killers" because they could penetrate the ballistic vests that many policemen used to wear at that time. Unfortunately, many of these reports wrongly reported that the teflon coating was the reason that these bullets had better penetration, rather than the hardened brass jacket which was the real reason. Movies and TV shows continued to spread the myth that coating ordinary bullets with teflon suddenly made them capable of piercing armor plates.

Because of the publicity, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Oklahoma have laws that make it illegal to possess teflon coated bullets, while Virginia makes it illegal to use teflon coated bullets to commit a crime.

KTW stopped producing these bullets in the 1990s and they're not encountered as much these days. However, there are other manufacturers who coat their bullets with other lubricating substances, such as molybdenum disulfide, wax, lubalox etc.