Ballistics by the inch

Reprise: Is the Ruger LCR a perfect concealed carry revolver?

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 5/3/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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The Sturm, Ruger & Company line of LCR composite-frame revolvers have been available for a few years now (2009) and since expanded from the basic .38 Special that weighs 13.5 ounces, to a 17-ounce version that can handle full .357 magnum loads, and a slightly heavier one that shoots .22 Long Rifle.

Ruger makes excellent firearms and I have grown up with them, but I was more than a little skeptical at the prospect of a revolver with a composite frame when I first heard about it. And the initial images released of the gun didn’t belay my skepticism.

But then the first Ruger LCR revolvers were actually introduced and I found out more about them. The frame is actually only partly composite while the part that holds the barrel, cylinder, and receiver is all aluminum. The internal components like the springs, firing pin, trigger assembly, et cetera are all housed in the grip frame and are well supported and plenty robust. My skepticism turned to curiosity.

When I had a chance to actually handle and then shoot the LCR, my curiosity turned to enthusiasm. Since then, having shot several different guns of both the .38 Special and .357 LCR models, I have become even more impressed. Though I still think the LCR is somewhat lacking in the aesthetics department. But in the end it does what it is designed to do.

Like the S&W J-frame revolvers, the models it was meant to compete with, the LCR is an excellent self-defense tool. It’s virtually the same size as the J-frames and the weight is comparable (depending on which specific models you’re talking about). So it hides as well in a pocket or a purse because it has that same general ‘organic’ shape.

The difference is, the LCR is, if anything, even easier to shoot than your typical J-frame Double Action Only revolver (DAO, where the hammer is cocked and then fired in one pull of the trigger). I’m a big fan of the Smith & Wesson revolvers, and I like their triggers. But the LCR has a buttery smooth, easy-to-control trigger right out of the box, which is as good or better than any S&W. Good trigger control is critical with a small DAO gun and makes a world of difference for accuracy at longer distances. I would not have expected it, but the LCR is superior in this regard.

Like any snub-nosed revolver, the very short sight radius means that these guns can be difficult to shoot accurately at long distance (say out to 25 yards). But that’s not what they are designed for. They’re designed to be used at self-defense distances (say out to seven yards). And like the J-frame DAO models, even a new shooter can become proficient quickly.

I consider the .38 Special model sufficient for self defense. It will handle modern +P ammo, something quite adequate to stop a threat in the hands of a competent shooter. And the lighter weight is a bit of an advantage. But there’s a good argument to be made for having the capability to shoot either .38 Special or .357 magnum cartridges.

My only criticism of the LCR line is that they haven’t yet been around long enough to eliminate potential aging problems. All of the testing that has been done suggests that there won’t be a problem and I trust that, but only time will truly tell if they hold their value over the long haul.

So, there ya go. To paraphrase what I said about the S&W Centennial models: “Want the nearly perfect pocket gun? You’d be hard pressed to do better than a Ruger LCR.”

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It’s been six years since I wrote this, which means the early versions of the LCR have now been around for almost a decade. And as far as I know, there hasn’t yet been a widespread problem with them holding up to normal, or even heavy, use. So much for that concern.

And Ruger has (wisely, I think) expanded the cartridge options for the LCR even further. You can still get the classic 5-shot .38 Special and .357 Magnum versions, as well as the 6-shot .22 Long Rifle one. But now you can also get 6-shot .22 Magnum or .327 Magnum versions, as well as a 5-shot offering in 9mm. Each cartridge offers pros and cons, of course, as well as plenty of opportunity for debate using data from BBTI. Just remember that the additional of the cylinder on a revolver effectively means you’re shooting a 3.5″ barrel gun in the snubbie model, according to our charts. Personally, I like this ammo out of a snub-nosed revolver, and have consistently chono’d it at 1050 f.p.s. (or 386 foot-pounds of energy) out of my gun.

For me, though, the most exciting addition has been the LCRx line, which offers an exposed hammer and SA/DA operation:

I like both the flexibility of operation and the aesthetics better than the original hammerless design. But that’s personal preference, nothing more.

The LCR line has also now been around long enough that there are a wide selection of accessories available, from grips to sights to holsters to whatever. Just check the Ruger Shop or your favorite firearm supply source.

So, a perfect pocket gun? Yeah, I think so. Also good for a holster, tool kit, or range gun.

 

Jim Downey

 

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February 25, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reprise: The Dark Side of the Force? Black Guns vs. Classic Wood & Steel Models

Caution: this is somewhat political. Again.

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/22/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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I was having a Facebook chat with a non-shooter friend and at one point I mentioned something to her about firearms. The conversation that ensued got me thinking about the strange emotional divide that exists between “classic” guns made of wood & steel and “black guns” made of polymer, and then ultimately about how the aesthetic appeal of a weapon really influences the public perception of firearms (even helping to dictate public policy in the form of gun control).  Here is an excerpt from our chat that illustrates a bit better exactly what I’m talking about:

Me: I’ve doing the Ballistics by the Inch project for some time now but I’ve also been writing for Guns.com.

FB Friend: O yeah, I forgot you are a gun person. I think guns are lovely.

Me:
Yeah, that’s a big aspect of why I’m into them: an appreciation of the engineering and innovation that went into making them.

FB: lol. I meant more than that. But sure.  I think guns bring something gratifying to the table, and I don’t mean in some lame Freudian way. They feel good in the hand, like their heft is sensual almost. They look pretty.  Even the way they come apart and reassemble is also pleasing in a way that’s not only aesthetic, it’s almost physically gratifying.

Me: All true. I think that may be one of the reasons that some people don’t like the so called ‘plastic’ guns. Hmm. Food for thought.

FB:
Yeah, metal and wood feels much better than plastic.

There was a time not that long ago when all guns were pretty much one-of-a-kind works of art, created by highly skilled craftsmen for clients willing to pay for their quality.  That is to say, at one time guns were really tools or toys for those Americans with substantial means. In the US, these cottage gunmakers were often located in Pennsylvania or Kentucky, hence the name Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle.

File:John Spitzer - Kentucky Rifle - Walters 511434 - Side B.jpg

This price point exclusivity changed drastically though when the confluence of two major events—the settlement of North America and advent of industrialization—presented a blossoming firearms industry with both the demand for affordable and functional small arms and the means to lower costs and increase production rates.  The resulting market surge flooded the United States with firearms (and gun tycoons’ bank accounts with profits).  It also made American makers like Colt, Winchester, Browning, and Smith & Wesson household names and perhaps represents the genesis of when firearms and American culture and iconography first became enmeshed in the imaginations of so many around the world.

However, not withstanding these historical factors, I think one reason why guns were so readily accepted (and remain largely accepted) by the public, was because, even though 19th and early 20th gun manufacturers experimented widely with design, they still incorporated the older cottage industry thinking when it came to both the level of craftsmanship and the material selection.  After generations of watching small arms “evolve” into something personalized and beautifully crafted, the average person expected guns to have a look that complemented the deadly seriousness of what the weapon was capable of (i.e. killing people) and this meant finer materials and engineering.

Consider this: even the mass-produced Colt Peacekeepers had an elegance and beauty about them with their rounded edges, high quality ornaments and ergonomic versatility. Today revolvers have been generally relegated to role of concealed carry guns and become plainer and more utilitarian—designed for specific function rather than general use by the shooter that owns it.

S&W29 gravé.JPG

It also seems to me that our emotional attachment to wood and steel charts much of our basic firearms vocabulary.  For example, if I say “Dirty Harry” or even just “.44 Magnum” most people will envision something like the S&W Model 29 with a long barrel.  If I say “Tommy Gun,” almost anybody would be able to conjure up an image of a classic Thompson submachine gun.  Even if you say something a little more vague like “hunting rifle,” chances are folks will picture a bolt-action gun, something along the lines of a Remington Model 700.

All of these iconic guns have classic lines and wood stocks. And I would bet most anybody would be able to recognize them to some degree.  This familiarity works to make them “warm,” almost “friendly” in people’s minds.

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Now, say “black rifle” and what mental image do you think most people have? Rarely a comforting one.  It’s usually a generic AR-15 or M16, and associated with military weapons (though the term “modern sporting rifle” is how many gun owners refer to them). How about the name “Glock”—which has almost become a generic term for ‘any plastic gun’?  I can tell you with all the bad press Glocks get, the homely little gun doesn’t generate much warmth on looks alone.

Don’t think it’s only people who don’t shoot who are susceptible to these aesthetic judgments. Hell, most gun writers and even owners call Glocks “ugly” – as in “ugly as sin, but very functional.” I’ve done that (see just above) and I’ve even taken the position many times before that I dislike polymer stocks of almost any sort, while I have gone out of my way to praise wood stocks on many guns.

And why not?  If you were planning on buying supposedly a high-end gun, wouldn’t you expect that it would have a nice wood stock? I do. In fact, many premier gun manufacturers offer different quality levels for their wood stocks, with fancy or exotic wood commanding a higher price. And there’s a huge number of after-market manufacturers of grips for all manner of revolvers, not to mention 1911s.

As my Facebook friend said: “Metal and wood feels much better than plastic.”

Overall, this thinking is pretty harmless; most people are smart enough to recognize their aesthetic bias and not import it to other areas of their life. However, in the case of firearms the bias has been, well, weaponized.

One excellent example of this is the absurdity of the Assault Weapons Ban in the early ’90s.  To the thinking of many gun owners, this ban effectively criminalized a certain aesthetic – polymer functionality – while ignoring the more genteel “steel and wood” guns that were no different in terms of firepower or effectiveness.  People who actually understand guns were appalled by the ridiculousness of the AWB’s emphasis on superficial features, but it was passed because of how easy it was to garner support “against these evil (looking) weapons.” Another example was the bullshit stories about a “ceramic Glock” which didn’t contain enough steel parts to be detectable by X-ray machine or metal-detectors.

I’m not saying that firearms manufacturers should get away from the use of polymers. I own a number of guns with polymer stocks, and think that it is decidedly superior for many applications, not the least of which is helping to keep the cost down on many firearms. But I still love the warmth and familiarity of wood stocks, and I think that it is understandable that many people who don’t understand guns, who don’t own them, feel the same way. Historically, that’s what they’re used to.

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I’m not going to step any further into the political debate about guns here, and I’m turning comments off for this post.

But I thought that it was important to point out that some of that debate is driven by the aesthetics of guns, and our aesthetic bias is rooted in history and class perceptions. Perceptions that people may not even realize that they hold.

 

Jim Downey

February 18, 2018 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: NAA .22 Mini-Revolver Review

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 1/23/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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North American Arms makes a selection of small semi-auto pistols, but they are perhaps best known for their series of Mini-Revolvers in a variety of different .22 caliber cartridges. They currently offer models in .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, and a .22 Cap and Ball. This review is specifically about the .22 LR model with a 1 1/8-inch barrel, but the information is generally applicable to the other models of Mini-Revolvers that NAA offer as well.

p-901-22lr_1_7

The NAA-22LR is very small, and would make an almost ideal ‘deep cover’ or ‘last ditch’ self-defense firearm. It isn’t quite as small as the .22 Short version, which has a shorter cylinder, and it doesn’t have quite the same power level as the .22 Magnum version either. It has a simple fixed-blade front sight that has been rounded to minimize snagging and it holds five rounds.

All the NAA revolvers I have seen or shot are very well made. They’re solid stainless steel construction, and use high-quality components for all other parts. The fit and finish is quite good, and there is nothing at all shoddy about them. The company also has a solid reputation for standing behind these guns if there is a problem.

The NAA-22LR is surprisingly easy to shoot. I have very large hands, and very small guns are usually a problem for me to shoot well. But most of the really small handguns I have shot are semi-automatics, which impose certain requirements on proper grip. The NAA Mini-Revolvers are completely different. First, they are Single Action only, meaning that you have to manually cock the hammer back before the gun will fire. Second, there is no trigger guard – something which may make novice shooters nervous. However, since the trigger does not extend until the hammer is drawn back, there really isn’t a safety issue with no trigger guard.

Further, the NAA Mini-Revolvers use an old trick of having the hammer rest on a ‘half-notch’ in what they call their “safety cylinder”. This position is between chambers in the cylinder, and ensures that the gun cannot fire when it is dropped. Again, you have to manually cock back the hammer in order to get the cylinder to rotate and then it’ll align a live round with the hammer.

One option available on most of the Mini-Revolvers is their “holster grip”, which is a snap-open grip extension that also serves as a belt holster by folding under the bottom of the gun. It is an ingenious design and makes it much easier to hold and fire the gun.

p-305-lr-hg-open_1

 

About the only problem with the gun is a function of its very small design: reloading. You have to completely remove the cylinder, manually remove spent cases, load new rounds into each chamber, and then remount the cylinder. This is not fast nor easy, and effectively turns the gun into a “five shot only” self-defense gun. But realistically, if you’ve gotten to the point where you are relying on a NAA Mini-revolver for self defense, I have a hard time imaging there would be much of an opportunity to reload the thing regardless.

Another point to consider with the NAA-22LR: ballistics. We did test this model as part of our BBTI .22 test sequence. Suffice it to say that the 1 1/8-inch barrel had the poorest performance of any gun we tested in terms of bullet velocity/power, which is to be expected, and is a trade-off for the very small size of these guns. If you want to check the data, use the 2″ barrel row for approximate results.

Bottom line, the NAA Mini-Revolvers serve a very specific purpose, and are well-suited to that purpose.

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There’s a fair amount I’d like to add to this post, since NAA has expanded their selection of mini-revolvers considerably, and there are some intriguing new models.

But first I’d like to point out that they’ve added some really solid ballistics information to their site for each of the models. Seriously, they give excellent information about what performance you can expect with a variety of ammo, and as far as I can see the results are very realistic in comparison to our own data.  Just one ammo example for the model above:

Tests with NAA-22LLR, S/N L15902 Tests with NAA-22LLR, S/N L15901
CCI Green Tag
40 Gr. Solid 1st Group 2nd Group Avg. 1st Group 2nd Group Avg. 2 Gun Avg.
High 598 609 604 666 609 638 621
Low 581 529 555 495 568 532 543
Mean 588 575 582 594 585 590 586
SD 7 29 18 63 15 39 29

That is extremely useful information, well organized and presented. Kudos to North American Arms for doing this! I’m seriously impressed.

As I noted, they’ve also added a number of new model variations to their offerings. Now you can get models with slightly oversized grips, with 2.5″,  4″, and 6″ barrels (in addition to the 1 1/8-inch barrel and 1 5/8-inch barrel models), with Old West styling, and a selection of different sight types & profiles. They even have a laser grip option available.

But perhaps even more excitedly, they now have both Swing-out and Break-top models which eliminate the problems with reloading:

Sidewinder with 2.5″ barrel

 

RANGER-II-Break-Top

RANGER-II-Break-Top.

Cost for those models are unsurprisingly higher than the older & simpler models, but still fairly reasonable.

I think that all models have a conversion-cylinder option available, so you can shoot either .22lr or .22mag ammo. As I have noted previously, at the very low end there’s not much additional power of .22mag over .22lr, but having the ability to switch ammo can still be worthwhile. And certainly, when you start getting out to 4″ (+ the cylinder), there is a greater difference in power between the two cartridges, and I think that if you were to get one of the guns with the longer barrel it would make a whole lot of sense to have the ability to shoot both types of ammo.

I’ll close with this thought: think how much fun it would be to have one of these mini-revolvers in something like .25 or .32 acp configured to carry say three rounds. Or you could even go nuts with a .32 H&R or .327 mag … 😉

 

Jim Downey

February 11, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Model Creep — When Guns Aren’t So NEW and IMPROVED

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/29/2012.  Some additional observations at the end.

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Whenever I read or hear the ad terms “new”, “improved”, or “now with even more features” I find that another cliché bubbles up inside of me:  you damned kids get off my lawn!

It makes my ass twitch.

That’s because I’m feeling a bit like a crotchety ol’ coot these days and I think I know the reason. I have been reviewing a lot of classic guns recently and during my research for these articles I have been noticing entirely too much model creep in these vintage offerings. What is model creep? When you take a basic, functional item, and keep adding ‘extras’ and ‘improvements’ every year or two in order to make it the “new hotness”, only to find you’re slowly sacrificing all those simple qualities that made it a classic to start with.

Manufacturers do this in order to keep their product line fresh and exciting. It gives the ad wizards something to hype. It gives the dealers something to push. Hell, it even gives gun writers something to review (I’m as guilty as anyone).

But it still makes my ass twitch. Why? Because often, the “NEW!” “IMPROVED!” features are just bloat. Sometimes they take a perfectly fine gun and needlessly complicate it or change the design just enough that parts are no longer interchangeable between models. Or maybe accessories you had for one model will no longer work with a new model. The frame is just a little bit bigger, thanks to that rail they added. So the holster you love and have finally gotten broken in just the way you like it no longer fits. Or those special exotic wood grips that have been something of your trademark at the range won’t mount on the new gun. Or the stockpile of magazines you’ve built up is now useless.

To my thinking, these changes effectively render the previous model obsolete for a frugal person like myself And it makes finding parts for it difficult or impossible. I just want to grab the manufacturer and holler in their ear that the damned gun was fine, and to leave it well enough alone.

What makes my ass twitch even more though than the degradation of classic firearms is the torrent of tacticool “novelty” guns currently being released by many gun manufacturers. Sometimes I feel like a maker will produce a gun, just to have their name in that niche market and without really intending to make a quality product.  Half a dozen pistol-grip pump shotguns, one of them for shooting Zombies?

Really?

At what point is it just overload? At what point does the average consumer have their eyes glaze over because of a thousand different choices, most of which seem to be nuanced beyond all reason? No, thank you, I do not need the bayonet option for my J-frame. I’ll pass on the modular Picatinny rail system on my muzzle-loader. And I don’t want to have to select from 33 different finishes for my carry gun.

And then there are the inevitable changes from year to year:

“Oh, sorry, that style laser grip is no longer available, but there’s a new *green* laser that you can get which should fit your gun.”

“Apologies, but that basic trigger has been replaced by this new titanium trigger which weighs three grams less and is Very Cool Looking!”

“Your old rubber grips have been discontinued, but the replacement silicon-rubber grips with Grippier Grip Dots will work at just slightly more $.”

My ass is twitching. Gah. When did I turn 107?

Usually though, when I see the words, “new!” “improved!” in glossy script in gun magazines, it just means that the gun makers figured out a new way of making a part for a penny less. Though they may hype it as such, the technology isn’t as much of an improvement to the gun’s ability to shoot as you may believe and though the Mad Men aren’t lying when they say it’s “better” (yeah, sure, whatever) what they really mean is just that it is “cheaper”.  And usually not cheaper for you because rarely, if ever, do we see this lower cost of production passed along to the consumer.

But hey, it is the new hotness, so tradition dictates the gun makers are gonna charge you a bit more for their newest products. You’ll like it. Really! Trust us!

The truth is that this has been going on forever — but it is also one of the basic ways that long-term improvements are made to the firearms we own and shoot. A little change here, a little tweak there. A slight modification to the grips. A new sight which is better for low-light situations. A finish that protects better and reduces glare. An honest-to-goodness improvement to the recoil spring which means more reliable operation as well as reduced recoil.

These improvements wouldn’t have been made if not for manufacturers trying new things. It’s a kind of evolution, driven by competition. Each manufacturer wants to make their product just a little more appealing to the customer, so that they will sell more and make more money and all these tiny little steps add up over time (even if some of them are in the wrong direction), creating substantial improvement when you look at the long arc of history. Lord knows that just about any of the current ‘micro .380s’ are a hell of a lot better than the .25 or .32 pocket guns of my youth – they’re smaller, lighter, more reliable, and pack a bigger wallop.

OK, my ass is twitching a little less.

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Gods, I’m glad the whole Zombie thing seems to have finally run it’s course. I’d much rather ignore the spate of “NFA-compliant non-shotgun firearms” which are suddenly so popular. I think *those* things were sponsored by the Guild of Orthopedic Surgeons, to make sure that their members would have more wrist repair operations to do. But at least they’re marginally less obnoxious than the Zombie crap.

Yeah, OK, I’m as much of an old coot as I was when I wrote the article six years ago.

 

Jim Downey

 

February 4, 2018 Posted by | .25 ACP, .32 ACP | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment