Ballistics by the inch

A couple of centenarians … in .32 ACP

Happy Anniversary/Birthday! By tradition, BBTI is 11 years old today!

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I recently got to shoot a couple of very nice little pistols in .32 ACP … which date back to before WWI.

The first was a Sauer & Sohn Model 1913:

The second was a Mauser Model 1914:

I’m not going to try and do an in-depth review of either gun. I didn’t shoot either one enough to really develop a strong opinion, and the two links above go into the history and context of the pistols is detail.

But I am going to say that I was honestly surprised at just how accurate and easy to shoot both of them were. Each one gave me about a 6″ group at 10 yards the first time I shot it, and I was sure that a little practice with either gun would have improved upon that quickly.  They both felt comfortable & solid in the hand, easy to hold, easy to shoot.

And, surprisingly, both “spoke with authority”. What do I mean by that? Well, I must admit that I don’t care for the .32 ACP round much, and consider it sub-optimal for self-defense purposes. Out of barrels about this size, you’re only going to get about 125 ft/lbs of energy. Just stepping up to .380 ACP out of a similar sized gun will give you about half again the power … or more.

But when I thought about it, I realized that most of the .32 ACP guns I’ve shot were smaller than these … they were what we would call “mouse guns”, and never felt very solid in my large hands. Neither of these two pistols are “large” — both are about the same size as a PPK — but they really felt like ‘real’ guns. That physical size difference made a big psychological difference for me. Just knowing that I could reliably  put rounds where needed matters.

Other factors to consider in understanding these guns in context: when they were made, and for what purpose. At the turn of the 20th century, people were smaller, hence the need for less penetration than is generally considered to be the case today. Medical treatment was both less developed and less available, and there were no antibiotics. This means that even a non-incapacitating wound had a very real chance of being lethal within hours or days — making getting shot something you wanted to very much avoid. While both of these guns did go on to see military service, they weren’t really designed as weapons of war. Rather, they were intended for police and private use, and by all accounts served in these roles admirably.

Given that both guns were over 100 years old, they were remarkably reliable. Between myself and my shooting companions, we put about a box of ammo through each. I don’t recall the S&S having any issues whatsoever, and the Mauser only had a couple of glitches with failure to cycle completely. Since we didn’t take the guns apart for a detail cleaning (though we did a quick inspection to make sure they looked to be in good condition), that could have just been due to build-up of dirt or weak recoil spring. At 61 myself, I sympathize.

Fun guns. If you get a chance, handle and shoot either one. You might be surprised at how much you like it.

 

Jim Downey

 

November 28, 2019 Posted by | .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m not wild about Wildey …

When you see this tag on a pistol, you know things may get interesting:

Can’t read it? Here’s the text:

CAUTION

This gun is unique in many
ways. Do not handle and/or
fire it without having read
the instruction manual.
If there is anything you don’t
understand, seek advice
from someone qualified in
safe handling of firearms.

 

Of course, we didn’t have the instruction manual. Details, details.

Here’s the tag in context:

Yeah, that’s a new production Wildey Survivor with a 10″ barrel, in .45 Winchester Magnum. Bit of a brute. Here are some other pics of the one we shot:

The Wildey is one of those interesting experimental guns dating back to the 1970s. It uses a gas-operated system at fairly high pressures to fling a substantial slug at high velocity: the .45 WinMag version we shot is supposed to move a 230gr bullet at about 1,600fps, for about 1,300 ft/labs of energy. Now, that’s about 40% more power than the .45 Super or .460 Rowland cartridges out of a similar length barrel, so it is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Even more interesting, the Wildey has a collar behind the barrel which allows you to adjust the gas pressure for different loads or to manage recoil while minimizing malfunctions. Well, at least in theory.

Why do I say “in theory”? Well, because in practice the thing was very finicky. Which certainly could have just been a matter of it being a brand-new gun in the hands of inexperienced shooters (well, inexperienced in shooting a Wildey … the three of us shooting it were the BBTI team, and I think it’s fair to say we have more than the typical amount of handgun shooting experience). But check out this video of Ian from Forgotten Weapons putting a Wildey Survivor through its paces and you’ll see what I mean:

He has all kinds of problems with it, rarely getting off two or three shots before experiencing a malfunction. That was exactly our experience with the gun.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I hated the gun. I don’t have enough experience with it to have that much of an opinion, having only run a couple of mags through it myself. But all three of us had major problems with the gun, even after we consulted online resources to get tips on managing the malfunctions and tweaking the gas adjustment.

It is a cool, innovative design. It’s very well made. You pick it up, and you know you are holding something high quality. And hey, it was even a movie star. How can you not like that?

But at 4 pounds+ weight, and a substantial grip size, it is, as I said, a bit of a brute. And interestingly, as Ian notes at the end of the video above, the thing is all sharp edges just asking for a blood sacrifice. In fact, the BBTI member who took it home to clean it sliced up his hands while doing so.

An interesting gun. I’m glad I got the chance to shoot it. But I wouldn’t want to own one.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 

November 22, 2019 Posted by | .45 Super, .460 Rowland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sig P365 SAS review.

Last weekend, I got to try one of these:

Yup, it’s the latest iteration of the popular Sig P365, the SAS (“Sig Anti-Snag”), designed to be the ‘ultimate concealed-carry gun’.

Well, is it?

Take a look at this pic:

That’s the first time I shot the gun. Draw from a low ready position, intuitive point and shoot as fast as I could, at about 5 yards. I didn’t even try to use the proprietary sighting system.

Which doesn’t mean that it is the ultimate CCW. But does mean that at least in my hands it was more than adequate for the job, right out of the box.

But what did I actually think of the gun?

I agree with most of the reviews I’ve read of the P365 generally: very small, well designed and well made (at least in the later guns, after Sig resolved some minor but real issues). Surprisingly comfortable even in my very large hands. 10+1 rounds of 9mm +P is damned nice to have in such a small package. Quite good trigger, somewhat lighter than I expected. And clearly the point & click ergonomics are very good.

I’m not at all troubled by the lack of a manual safety, though that has been an issue for other people. If it’s a deal-breaker for you, then get something other than the SAS (Sig offers a version of the P365 with a manual safety, or you can just go with another brand.)

I don’t like the ported barrel. Our research has shown that it effectively makes the ballistic performance that of a barrel the length before the ports. And stepping down from about a 3″ barrel to about a 2″ one isn’t a good idea, if you want all the power the gun could deliver. Whether it actually helps with control/muzzle flip, well, you’d have to compare head-to-head with a non-ported barrel to see. I suspect it would help some, but that probably wouldn’t matter that much for people who aren’t recoil sensitive.

And while the proprietary sight is … interesting … I don’t think that it was that great. The idea behind it is that having a single long recessed fiber optic tube (with a tritium capsule at the far end) keeps the slide completely smooth while allowing a natural sort of parallax — basically, if you can see the green dot, then that means the gun is lined up correctly. That does work, and for very close-up defensive work it is sufficient. But for very close-up defensive work not using sights at all is sufficient, as generations of very small guns has demonstrated. I found that in bright light coming down from above the FO was bright, but in most other conditions it was weak. And the tritium capsule does work under dark conditions, but again really isn’t sufficient for anything other than very close defensive work. So personally I’d probably mostly ignore the sighting system in practical use.

Overall, I think it’s a hell of a little gun. Take a look at one if you get a chance.

 

Jim Downey

November 17, 2019 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The BEST way ever! Just like last time …

Recently I had the opportunity to take some defensive firearms use classes from some highly-respected pros in that field (no, I’m not going to say who). This was the first formal training I’ve had in a while, and it was a great weekend of experience which taught me a lot, and reminded me of a number of other things. Seriously, if you have firearms for any kind of self/home-defense, you owe it to yourself to occasionally get such training.

But in discussing the classes with friends later, I made a comment which surprised them: that while I found the classes both insightful and useful, I was going to continue to do one thing in particular the way I had previously, not the way that the instructor taught.

Why? Why would I take the time and pay the money to take a class and then not follow the lessons taught? That seems … foolish, at best.

So let’s talk about that.

First, I want to be clear on something: while I was taking the class(es), I did all that I could to follow the techniques and philosophy of the instructor(s) to the best of my ability. That started with using their preferred/recommended style of gun and extended to such things as proper grip on that gun, stance, carry style, aiming technique, reloading, etc. Because, yeah, I did indeed sign up for a class from those instructors and wanted to learn what they had to offer. It would have been foolish to take their class and not do my best to learn from them. Not only foolish, it would have been a waste of both money and time (mine & theirs) to do so.

And, as I said, I did learn a number of things, which I will be putting into my regular shooting practice going forward. Things I will share with others, as appropriate.

Yet I am going to stick with several of my previous techniques.

Is it fair to pick and choose like that?

Yup.

If you have enough experience, it’s not only fair, it’s smart. And expected. At least it is expected by almost any decent instructor I’ve ever known.

That’s because with something as dynamic as any serious martial art (and defensive firearm use is definitely a martial art), there are so many complex factors that are involved that it is impossible to reduce the skills used to one simple equation that works for everyone. And there are just too many variables in physical ability/limitation, reaction time, opportunity for practice, and so forth. This is obvious, but sometimes gets forgotten by people who become enamored of the “one true way” — whether that’s the “perfect” gun, or stance, or grip, or whatever.

And besides, I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen a LOT of fads come and go. Each time, there’s some set of true believers who think that their way is the objectively BEST way … until the next fad comes along to knock it off the pedestal.

So, what’s the “best” way? The way that works for you, when you need it. And really, only you can make that decision.

But make it intelligently. And I mean by exposing yourself to a lot of different possibilities, from different sources. And testing those possibilities with honest, conscientious practice.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

November 3, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

From Gatling Guns to Laser Pistols.

Again, it’s been a while. Partial explanation towards the end of this post.

So, the BBTI team finally got together to do something we’ve been wanting to do for several years now: shoot a Gatling Gun. Yep, a real, honest-to-gawd Gatling Gun. Well, not an original, but a faithful reproduction of the original 1862 patent version, in .45 Colt. This one:

Keith checking the gavity-fed magazine.

It’s such an iconic weapon, having been used around the world for about 50 years (from the American Civil War until World War One). And almost anyone who has seen Westerns has probably seen one depicted on the screen. So when the opportunity presented itself to get a fine reproduction one at a reasonable cost, we jumped on it. And last weekend we were finally able to coordinate our schedules to get out to shoot the thing.

But first we had to assemble it, because it breaks down into several components for ease of transport and use. Overall, the whole thing weighs more than 300 pounds. The main element is the barrel & mechanism assembly:

Barrels & mechanism.

We’ve got a nice tripod to mount and shoot the gun. Here we are assembling that:

Tripod base.

On top of the tripod is a pivoting mount, so you can rotate the gun from side to side. Into that goes a yoke mount, to which the gun is secured. Elevation is controlled by an adjustable wheel screw at the back.

The way the gun works (the Wikipedia entry is pretty good, as well) is that you put the cartridges into machined sections of heavy steel tube called a ‘chamber’ (essentially, a section of barrel), and those are placed in a magazine. The magazine goes into the top of the gun, upside down. Each chamber drops into position behind a barrel, then is pressed forward and locked in place as it rotates to the next position. The barrel then rotates again into the firing position, a firing pin ignites the cartridge, and the bullet fires. As the barrel rotates again, the chamber is released, and falls free out the bottom of the gun. This process is repeated for each barrel in turn as long as you turn the crank and there are chambers in the magazine.

Here you can see a test run with empty chambers to make sure everything feeds and falls properly:

 

Success!

Next, we wanted to make sure that the firing pins were working properly:

After that, it was time to load ammo and give it a try.

I’d loaded 1000 rounds of .45 Colt, using 200gr lead bullets and 6.1gr of Titegroup powder. This is a mild handgun load, but we weren’t looking for a lot of power, just a lot of fun. Still, out of the 30″ barrels we were probably getting about 1,000fps and roughly 450ft-lbs of muzzle energy — a respectable amount of power.

Here’s Keith of the BBTI team giving the Gatling Gun its first live-fire trial;

Yay! It worked!

Soon, I got my turn:

Dude, that’s way cool.

OK, several things we discovered in shooting the Gatling Gun …

One, you quickly realize that once you start turning the crank, you find there’s an optimal speed where it feels easy and consistent. I got there at the end of the video above.

Two, you can go through the 44 rounds that our magazines hold in about 20 seconds when you know what you’re doing.

Three, it helps to have someone actually hold the magazine in position, rather than relying on the small set-screw to hold it.

Four, the gun is surprisingly accurate and consistent. Once we got the hang of it, at 20 yards (the effective distance we had to shoot it), we were all getting paper-plate sized groups. Like this:

The first target. All the rest were this good or better.

Seriously, I was very surprised by this. I expected something more like “minute of cow”. I look forward to shooting it sometime at longer ranges to see just how good you can get with such a gun.

After we all had fun shooting the modern ammo, it was time to try the gun with black powder cartridges. Specifically, 30gr of Goex FFg and the same 200gr lead bullet. I shoot a fair amount of black powder, and know that it can be messy … but man, it was an incredible mess in the Gatling Gun. But it sure was spectacular. Check out the long tongues of flame from this sucker:

And just think about what a battlefield with a bunch of those cranking out rounds would have been like. Blimey.

Now that we’ve finally had a chance to get together for an inaugural shoot of the Gatling, it’s something that each of us is going to take for a while, and share with friends. Look for more coverage of it in the future.

So, what was that about Laser Pistols, and why have I been so absent/quiet here for so long?

Well, about a year and a half ago I got a Glowforge laser cutter, which I mentioned in passing in my post last November. I kinda fell into a deep hole playing with it since then. But it’s all good, because one of the things I have been doing with it is making a whole bunch of handgun display models/art, like this:

Springfield XDM

That’s one of the 42 contemporary designs I’ve done.  I’ve also done a bunch of historical firearms, such as the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver:

Colt Navy Revolver

And even favorites from various Science Fiction franchises …

Farscape Pulse Pistol

The whole thing can be found here:  Art of the Gun and I invite you to stop in, check it out, see the many different designs I’ve come up with so far.  I’ve just launched the site, but already it is starting to get some positive feedback — so maybe you’ll find something you like there as well.

One last thing: we’re not done with the BBTI project. Something else we did this past weekend was to start talking about future projects related to our ongoing research. It’s too early to say too much, but rest assured that we have more work yet to do, more data yet to gather and share.

Thanks for coming by, and for your ongoing support.

Jim Downey

 

August 21, 2019 Posted by | .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And then the one day you find, Ten years have got behind you …*

Happy Anniversary!

Yup, the BBTI website launched on Thanksgiving weekend, 2008. That first weekend we had over 300,000 hits, and it’s been something of a roller coaster ever since, with millions of visitors, thousands of discussion threads, and countless references to our data. I can honestly say that we have made a fundamental change to the industry, pushing manufacturers to be more transparent in their claims for ammunition performance and allowing individuals to make better decisions about their purchases.

I recently made custom pistol cases like the one shown above for the four members of the BBTI team using my Glowforge laser. And I’m going to give away one more to some lucky person. Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page  before December 1st wishing us a happy anniversary, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for the case. On the first I’ll draw one name at random and arrange delivery. One entry per person, please.

Thanks to everyone who has posted about us, who has written us, who has made a donation to help support the ongoing costs of hosting our data and making it freely available to all. I try and respond to each message, to thank each contributor, to answer each question, but I don’t always succeed in doing so as quickly as I’d like. And if I have missed you, please accept my apologies.

We don’t have any concrete plans to expand our data at this time, though we’re always happy to get recommendations for new calibers/cartridges to test or ones to revisit. I don’t think that we’re completely finished with the BBTI project, but for right now we’ve all got very busy lives and considerable demands on our time and energy. I hope you’ll understand.

Happy & safe shooting to all —

Jim Downey
*Obviously.

November 25, 2018 Posted by | Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

EMP4 can’t handle the pressure.

Earlier this month I took my EMP4 out to the range, and ran into problems documented in this post. My conclusion:

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

With one thing and another, it’s been a busy month, and I didn’t have a chance to get back out until this morning to test my conclusion. But first I did a thorough cleaning of the gun, pulled the firing pin and examined it closely. One possible problem could have been the firing pin having sharp shoulders, which could have led to it punching too hard into the primer metal. But upon close examination the firing pin looked perfectly normal and very much like every other firing pin I’ve ever seen.

In preparation for going out to the range today, I picked up some additional good self-defense ammo and grabbed a box of standard factory target ammo:

Starting on the top left (all 9mm Luger ammo, of course):

I started with the Remington, and ran a couple of mags through the gun, examining it closely between reloads. No problems.

Then I switched over and shot each type of ammo, a full mag (9 rounds), again checking the gun between reloads. It ran absolutely flawlessly with each and every kind. I checked some of the spent cases of each type, and all of them showed a perfectly normal primer strike.

Then I loaded up a mag of the Underwood 124gr +P+ I had shot previously. The first couple of rounds were OK, though I checked the spent cases and saw that the primers were completely flattened — the firing pin strike was still visible, but it was no longer an indentation. That’s a sign of too much pressure in reloads, and something you always check when you’re working up a powerful load. The next shot was similar, but there was a missing disk of metal on the primer, which was stuck on the firing pin of my gun. I popped it off, shot the next round. Same thing happened.

I unloaded the gun and the magazine, put the rest of the Underwood ammo aside. Then I loaded it with the Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo. Basically, the exact same thing happened, though I think I made it through three rounds before the first punched-through primer. Again, I unloaded the gun and the magazine, and set the rest of the Buffalo Bore ammo aside. Again, I checked the gun thoroughly to make sure everything looked right. It did.

Then I went back and tried each of the lower-pressure ammos again. Each again ran flawlessly.

I could do more testing, but I’m convinced: the problem is that the +P+ ammo is just too damned hot for the EMP4. Now, my other 9mm guns do shoot it fine (even the little Boberg, which is really picky about ammo), so I guess I could say that the EMP4 is somehow flawed in design or construction. And if you want to hold that against the EMP4, then go right ahead.

But I’m happy enough with the gun otherwise, and there are plenty of types of good self-defense ammo available which are just a little less powerful. Works for me.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 30, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The curious case of the gun that wouldn’t bark.

Popped out to the range for a brief bit of testing this morning. And found something interesting.

Last time I was out, I ran into a problem with my Springfield EMP4 (9mm, 1911 platform), which I got earlier this year. After a couple of rounds of good Self Defense ammo, I started getting light primer strikes and FTF. When I got home and checked it, I found a small disk of metal stuck to the end of the firing pin, which was preventing getting good strikes. I removed it, cleaned the gun (including the firing pin assembly), tested it with a case which had only a primer in it, and everything looked fine. But of course I didn’t want to trust the gun for carry until I had proven that it was working fine at the range. Hence today’s trip.

Started with my reloads, and everything was fine. Switched to Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo (my preferred carry ammo for most of my 9mms), and the first few shots were perfect. Then I had another FTF. I cleared the gun, checked, and sure enough, there was a small disk of metal on the firing pin again.

Knowing what to expect, I just popped the disk off with a knife, reloaded, and went back to shooting. It happened again after three or four shots.

This time I cleared the gun, popped off the disk with my knife, and switched ammo. I went to Underwood 124gr +P+ ammo, and … yup, happened again. Here’s the gun:

You can see the disk of material stuck to the firing pin.

And I found the brass from that shot and one of the previous ones:

Underwood on the left, Buffalo Bore on the right. You can clearly see the punch through the base of the primer.

Curious.

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

And ammo that works consistently is the most important thing of all.

Jim Downey

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Handgun caliber and lethality.

This post is NOT about gun control, even though the article which it references specifically is. I don’t want to get into that discussion here, and will delete any comments which attempt to discuss it.

Rather, I want to look at the article in order to better understand ‘real world’ handgun effectiveness, in terms of the article’s conclusions. Specifically, as relates to the correlation between handgun power (what they call ‘caliber’) and lethality.

First, I want to note that the article assumes that there is a direct relationship between caliber and power, but the terminology used to distinguish between small, medium, and large caliber firearms is imprecise and potentially misleading. Here are the classifications from the beginning of the article:

These 367 cases were divided into 3 groups by caliber: small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

And then again later:

In all analyses, caliber was coded as either small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

OK, obviously, what they actually mean are cartridges, not calibers. That’s because while there is a real difference in average power between .38 Special, .380 ACP, 9mm, and .357 Magnum cartridges, all four are nominally the same caliber (.355 – .357). The case dimensions, and the amount/type of gunpowder in it, makes a very big difference in the amount of power (muzzle energy) generated.

So suppose that what they actually mean is that the amount of power generated by a given cartridge correlates to the lethality of the handgun in practical use. Because otherwise, you’d have to include the .357 Magnum data with the “medium” calibers. Does that make sense?

Well, intuitively, it does. I think most experienced firearms users would agree that in general, a more powerful gun is more effective for self defense (or for offense, which this study is about). Other things being equal (ability to shoot either cartridge well and accurately, concealability, etc), most of us would rather have a .38 Sp/9mm over a .22. But when you start looking at the range of what they call “medium” and “large” calibers, things aren’t nearly so clear. To borrow from a previous post, this graph shows that the muzzle energies between 9mm+P, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are almost identical in our testing:

MEgraph

 

Note that 10mm (and .357 Sig) are another step up in power, and that .357 Mag out of a longer barrel outperforms all of them. This graph doesn’t show it, but .38 Sp is very similar to 9mm, .45 Super is as good as or better than .357 Mag, and .44 Magnum beats everything.

So, what to make of all this? This claim:

Relative to shootings involving small-caliber firearms (reference category), the odds of death if the gun was large caliber were 4.5 times higher (OR, 4.54; 95% CI, 2.37-8.70; P < .001) and, if medium caliber, 2.3 times higher (OR, 2.25; 95% CI, 1.37-3.70; P = .001).

certainly seems to carry a lot of import, but I’m just not sure how much to trust it. My statistical skills are not up to critiquing their analysis or offering my own assessment using their data in any rigorous way. Perhaps someone else can do so.

I suspect that what we actually see here is that there is a continuum over a range of different handgun powers and lethality which includes a number of different factors, but which the study tried to simplify using artificial distinctions for their own purposes.

Which basically takes us back to what gun owners have known and argued about for decades: there are just too many factors to say that a given cartridge/caliber is better than another in some ideal sense, and that each person has to find the right balance which makes sense for themselves in a given context. For some situations, you want a bigger bullet. For other situations, you want a smaller gun. And for most situations, you want what you prefer.

 

Jim Downey

 

July 29, 2018 Posted by | .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, 10mm, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Review: AMT Lightning — the Ruger Mk II Clone

I recently had a chance to shoot an AMT Lightning — it’s a clone of the Ruger Mark II .22lr pistol, but in stainless steel. Here it is:

That’s a 10″ factory barrel, which was one of the options available when these guns were being produced back in the 80’s/90’s.

I remember these guns, or more accurately the lawsuit about them, from when they were being produced. Ruger didn’t take kindly to AMT using their designs (AMT also had a version of the 10/22), and took them to court over it. Ruger won the suit, as I recall (though there isn’t much readily available online to document that) and a few years later AMT went belly-up. Whether that was a result of the lawsuit or poor sales is still a subject of some debate.

Anyway, these guns are still kicking around, and every so often you can see one in a local gun shop or on your favorite auction site. My buddy picked one up, and we shot it last weekend.

In checking online, it seems that the quality control on the AMT guns varied widely — from year to year, specific model guns could range from great and reliable to a major nightmare. Evidently the biggest problem was with the hardness of the stainless steel used.

Only time will tell, but the one we had seemed fine. The fit & finish were OK, with no obvious problems. It shot just fine, and didn’t feel much different than any Mark II I’ve ever shot, though the trigger seemed a little rougher.  Without doing a head-to-head comparison, I can’t really say much more than that. Accuracy was as good as I could expect, limited more by my ability shooting it standing than by any issues with the gun. The long barrel certainly made it soft to shoot in terms of recoil.

So I wouldn’t call it a collector’s item, or comparable in quality to a real Ruger. But if you come across one at an attractive price, and it looks to be in decent shape, don’t be afraid to take a risk.

 

Jim Downey

April 8, 2018 Posted by | .22 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Springfield 1911 EMP® 4” Concealed Carry Contour Model

Earlier this year I added this note to my reprise review of the Springfield EMP:

One thing additional to note: recently Springfield came out with a slightly different version of the gun called the “EMP® 4” Lightweight Champion™ with Concealed Carry Contour“.  Here it is:

See that cut-off angle on the bottom of the grip? That’s Ed Brown’s “Bobtail” from his Kobra Carry. I haven’t shot the new Springfield version yet, but I really liked how that felt on the Kobra Carry. A friend of mine got one of the new guns, and I look forward to trying it. I could see trading-up from my original EMP for one of those.

Well, last weekend I had a chance to shoot my friend’s gun, and … yeah, baby, I likes it!

OK, first thing: pretty much everything I’ve said about the EMP previously applies to the new 4″ barrel model. Yup: great gun, extremely reliable for me, minimal recoil, fit & finish is fantastic, and I loved shooting it. If you want details, go read that review.

What else to add? Well, here’s the actual gun I shot:

You’ll note that it still has the tag on it — my buddy hadn’t had a chance to shoot it yet, either. So this is straight out of the box, without doing anything other than running a boresnake down the barrel and then taking it to the range.

Unsurprisingly, it shot flawlessly. And dead-on accurate.

The extra 1″ of barrel does help the sight radius some, though I never had any problems hitting my target with my 3″ barrel EMP. And it probably helps tame recoil a bit more with that extra 3.5 ounces of additional weight, though again that wasn’t a problem with the slightly smaller gun.

But what I really like is that Bobtail cut, as I thought I would. Because it meant that the relatively short grip fits my large hand better, without the extra corner digging into the bottom of my palm. Shooting my EMP was never a problem, but this is a whole lot better. It’s like the first time you put on new prescription glasses: suddenly things are better than you thought possible. For someone with smaller hands, it’s probably less noticeable, but for me it was surprising.

The other notable difference between the EMP and this EMP4 is the grips: on the new gun, they’re not as aggressively textured. I thought that it wasn’t *that* big a difference, but it might matter to some folks.

Something to think about. I’m certainly giving serious consideration to trading up from my old EMP to the new one. If I was going to rely on one or the other for concealed carry, I’d probably just keep the 3″ EMP. But for my needs, the new model is probably the right choice.

Gee, it sounds like I’ve talked myself into it …

Jim Downey

April 6, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Browning 1911-380

Over the weekend I had a chance to try one of the relatively new Browning 1911-380 models.  It was one of the basic models, with a 4.25″ barrel:

I like a nice 1911, and have owned several over the years. I even like a ‘reduced’ 1911, such as the Springfield EMP (a gun I still own and love), and I have previously shot the Browning 1911-22 , which I liked quite a lot more than I expected. So I was excited to give the new .380 ACP version a try.

What did I think? Well, I liked it. About as much as I liked the .22 version, though of course the guns are intended for two very different things. I see the 1911-22 as being a great gun for learning the mechanics of the platform, and building up your skill set with less expensive ammo. It’s also a lot of fun just for plinking, as are many .22 pistols.

But the 1911-380 is very much intended as a self-defense gun, and that is how it is marketed and has generally been reviewed. From the Browning website:

Conceals better. It is easily concealed with its smaller size and single-stack magazine that offer a compact, flat profile that fits easily inside the waistband and keeps the grip narrow for shooters with smaller hands.

They also tout modern .380 ACP ammo for self-defense. Which I will agree with, but not enthusiastically — even out of a longer barrel, I consider it sufficient, but only that.

Still, the extra sight radius and weight of the 1911-380 does make it a better self-defense gun than sub-compact and micro .380s, and plenty of people are happy to rely on those. Though those advantages come with a cost: this is NOT a pocket pistol. Still, anyone who may be recoil shy but still wants an adequate self-defense round should check out the 1911-380. It is small enough to conceal well, and follow-up shots are very quick and easy to control.

One thing I really didn’t like were the sights. The matte black sights on the matte black slide were almost impossible for my old eyes to find and use quickly.  Seriously, look at this image from the Browning site:

Sights

And that makes it look better than it did out at the range. Even just a white dot/white outline would have been a great improvement, and I’m honestly surprised that Browning seems to have made no effort at all to make them more effective. If I got one of these guns, the very first thing I would do would be to upgrade the sights, even if that meant just adding a dab of paint.

So there ya go: if you’re in the market for a low-recoil, quality made, 1911 platform self-defense gun, check out the Browning 1911-380. But if you get one, do something with the sights on the damned thing.

More complete reviews can be found all over the web. This one is fairly typical in having positive things to say.

 

Jim Downey

 

April 4, 2018 Posted by | .22, .380 ACP, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Sterling PPL .380 ACP

Sometimes it’s a good thing to look back at failed experiments, to better understand how we got to where we are today. It can be instructive, as well as cautionary — what we think of as innovative and brilliant now might well look a hell of a lot different in 30 or 40 years.

Such is the case with the Sterling PPL, a small self-defense handgun built and sold for just a couple of years in the early 1970s. Here it is:

A fairly complete story of the Sterling can be found here. There’s not a lot to tell, though it does give a nice description of the gun:

It is a blow back operated, semi-automatic pistol that is chambered for the .380 ACP(Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. This pistol incorporates a blade type front sight and a V notch rear sight, both of which are not adjustable. It is fed by an 8 round detachable box magazine. On the pistol’s butt there is a European style heel magazine release. The push button manual safety is located toward the front and directly above the trigger guard. In the photograph on the right, this push button safety is shown in the fire position. The plastic grip panels are secured to the frame by two hex or Allen key screws with a hexagonal socket in the head. The left grip panel will need to be removed in order to disassemble the pistol. This pistol has a one inch barrel and a total length of 5.38 inches and an unloaded weight of 22.5 ounces.

This past weekend I had the chance to shoot this gun. It was an original, but was “New, Old Stock” — while it was indeed made back in ’72 or ’73, it had never been fired and was still in pristine condition.

It’s a solidly made little thing, and while it was clearly not intended to be a fancy, high-finish gun it wasn’t bad in terms of fit & finish. All the parts were tight, well machined, and worked together well. The plastic grips were fitted well to the frame, and the checkering and emblem were clean, sharp lines — not the cheap sort of injection-mold grips which were common on many small guns of that era. The sights were milled into the top of the slide & barrel, and were reasonably clean and low-profile while still functional. The one magazine we tried fit flush into the gun, with no slop. The trigger was better than I expected, though like most of the gun would probably improve with some use. All in all, it really didn’t feel bad in the hand, and the ergonomics were better than I expected, particularly given the small size of the gun and my large hands.

Shooting it felt more natural than I expected, with the fairly high weight taming recoil — remember, this thing weighs more than twice as much as most micro-.380s do today. In fact, it felt a lot like shooting my Boberg XR-9 9mm, which isn’t surprising: compare how the guns look side by side:

And when I laid one gun on top of the other, they were nearly identical.

But the Sterling PPL isn’t the 70’s version of the Boberg. Note that the barrel in front of the cartridge is just 1″ whereas the barrel on the Boberg is almost 3″ in front of the cartridge. That means that the BEST you could hope for out of .380 ACP ammo would be under 200 ft-lbs of energy, while the Boberg (or the current Bond Arms version) would give you more than twice that.

And that extremely short barrel on the Sterling led to another problem: keyholing. That is where the bullet doesn’t have enough time to stabilize (which is the function of rifling in a barrel), and so tumbles. You can clearly see that in four of the first five shots we fired, in this target:

All five of the next shots also keyholed. And that means that the bullets would hit the target in such a way as to minimize penetration, rendering them much less effective in terms of ability to incapacitate. Which is very much not what you want in a defensive handgun.

So it’s not too surprising that this design didn’t succeed, even though it was a very compact little gun. But I do wonder whether if they had extended the barrel another inch or so, would it have survived?

Speculating a little more … what do you think the chances are that the design of the Sterling might have somehow inspired the Boberg? The size, shape, and appearance of the guns are surprisingly similar. Hmmm …

 

Jim Downey

April 2, 2018 Posted by | .380 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: the *other* perfect concealed carry revolver(s).

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 11/26/2011.  Some additional observations at the end.

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The Smith & Wesson models 442 and 642 revolvers have their roots back more than 60 years ago. Needless to say there have been any number of variations on the J-frame theme over time (there are currently 49 versions offered on the S&W website), but perhaps the most popular has been the Airweight 642 (in stainless steel or brushed aluminum, and a variety of grips). The 642 certainly has been a very good seller, and has been at or near the top of S&W’s sales for most of the last decade. The 442 and 642 models are identical in every way except finish (the 442 is blued), but the 642 is more popular.

Why is this gun so popular? Well, it does everything right, at least as far as being a self-defense tool. It’s small, lightweight, hides well in a pocket or purse, is intuitively easy to shoot, and it handles the dependably potent .38 Special cartridge.

But let me expand on those points.

The first three are all tied together. For anyone who is looking for a gun to carry concealed, the J-frame size has a lot going for it. The 642’s barrel is one- and 7/8-inches. Overall length is just a bit more than six inches. Though the cylinder is wider than most semi-autos, the overall organic shape of the gun seems to make it hide better in a pocket or behind clothing. The Airweight 642 weighs just 15 ounces unloaded, and not a lot more loaded. For most people, this is lightweight enough to carry in a pocket or purse without really noticing it. Put it in a belt holster and you’ll not even know it is there.

Easy to shoot? Well, yeah, though it takes a lot of work to be really accurate with one at more than close self-defense distances. The 642 is Double Action Only (DAO), which means that the hammer is cocked and then fired all with one pull of the trigger – nothing else needs to be done. There’s no safety to fumble with. Just point and click. Almost anyone can be taught to use it with adequate accuracy at self-defense distances (say seven yards) in a single trip to the range.

The modern .38 Special +P cartridge is more than adequate for “social work”. From my 642 we tested five different premium defensive loads and four of the five were between 900 and 1000 fps. Tests from Brassfetcher have shown that these cartridges both penetrate and expand well, too.

One more thing – the design of the Centennial models, with the internal hammer, means that they are snag-free. You don’t have to worry about some part of the gun catching on clothing or other items when drawing it from concealment. This can save your life.

With all the good being said, I do have two criticisms. The first one is minor, and easily fixed: the trigger. Oh, it’s good, but it could be a little bit smoother right out of the box (like Ruger’s LCR). The good news is that this can usually be worked out with just some dry-firing exercises.

The second is the front site. S&W is still offering the guns with just a simple ramp sight. They should switch over to some variety of tritium sight or fiber-optic (or combination), as they have done with many of their other J-frame models. This is one change which would help in low-light conditions.

So, there ya go. Want the nearly perfect pocket pistol? You’d be hard pressed to do better than a 642 or 442.

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There’s not a lot I would change in the seven years since I first wrote this, which in itself says a hell of a lot about the popularity of the 442/642 models. They’re still ubiquitous, high quality, and effective self-defense guns.

After that was written we did another large BBTI test which included the .38 Special cartridge, which confirmed what I already knew: that while there are indeed some better and some worse performing brands of ammo available for the snubbie, for the most part all decent ‘self-defense’ ammo performs adequately. While my friend Grant Cunningham recommends the Speer 135gr JHP Short-barrel ammo (which I used to carry and still like), I now prefer Buffalo Bore’s 158gr LSWCHP +P for my M&P 360 — I’ve repeatedly tested that ammo at 1050fps out of my gun, which gives me a muzzle energy of 386 ft-lbs. But it’s not for the recoil-shy, particularly out of a 11.4oz gun. As always, YMMV.

While S&W hasn’t changed the sight offerings on the 442/642, there are lasers available for the guns, which some people like. Personally, at the range which these guns are likely to be used, I don’t see the benefit. But if you like a laser, go for it.

Bottom line, the 442/642, like the Ruger LCR, are nearly perfect revolvers for concealed carry in either a pocket or a belt holster.

 

Jim Downey

March 11, 2018 Posted by | .38 Special | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

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

Reprise: When is a Magnum not really a Magnum?

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 6/5/2013.  Some additional observations at the end.

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Those are all claims taken right off of the box of three different boxes of .22 Magnum (technically, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridge) ammo. And when you see numbers like those, it’s really easy to get excited about how much more powerful the .22 Magnum is over your standard .22 LR.

But what do those numbers really mean? And can you really expect to get that kind of performance? Do you get a different kind of performance out of your rifle than you get out of your little revolver?

That’s one of the reasons that our Ballistics By The Inch project exists: to find out just exactly what the reality of handgun cartridge performance is, and to see how it varies over different lengths of barrel.

And the first weekend of May, we did a full sequence of tests of 13 different types of .22 Magnum ammo to find out.

About our tests

About four years ago we started testing handgun cartridges out of different lengths of barrel, using a Thompson/Center Encore platform, which has been altered to allow a number of different barrels to be quickly mounted. The procedure is to set up two chronographs at a set distance from a shooting rest, and fire three shots of each type of ammo, recording the results. Once we’ve tested all the ammo in a given caliber/cartridge, we chop an inch off the test barrel, dress it, and repeat the process, usually going from an 18-inch starting length down to 2 inches. The numbers are then later averaged and displayed in both table and chart form, and posted to our website for all to use.

For those who are interested in the actual raw data sets, those are available for free download. To date we’ve tested over 25,000 rounds of ammunition across 23 different cartridges/calibers.

To do the .22 Magnum tests things were slightly different. We started with a Thompson .22 “Hot Shot” barrel and had it re-chambered to .22 Magnum. Since this barrel started out 19-inches long, we included that measurement in our tests.

So, how did the .22 Magnum cartridge do?

See those claims from manufacturers at the top of this article? Two of the three were supported by our test results. The third was not.

Data sheet from the test.

I don’t want to pick on those specific brands/types of ammo, though. I just grabbed three of the boxes we tested at random. Altogether we tested 13 different brands/types of .22 Magnum ammo, and let’s just say that the performance you actually see out of your gun will probably vary from what you see claimed from a manufacturer.

Now, that’s not because the ammo manufacturers are lying about the performance of their ammo. Rather, the way they test their ammo probably means that it isn’t like how you will use their ammo. This is most likely due to the fact that the barrel length and testing conditions are pretty different than your typical “real world” gun.

So, what can you expect from a .22 Magnum cartridge? 

Well, that pretty much depends on how long a barrel you have on your gun.

Most handgun cartridges show a really sharp drop-off in velocity/power out of really short barrels. Typically, going from a 2- to 3-inch barrel makes a bigger difference than going from a 3- to 4-inch barrel.

Also typically, most handgun cartridges tend to level out somewhere around 6 to 8 inches. Oh, they usually gain a bit more for each inch of barrel after that, but the increase each time is increasingly small.

The real exception to this, as I have noted previously, are the “magnum” cartridges: .327 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum. The velocity/power curves for all these tend to climb longer, and show more gain, all the way out to 16 to 18 inches or more. There are exceptions to all these rules, but the trends are pretty clear.

So, does the .22 Mag deserve to be listed with the other magnum cartridges?

Well — maybe. Compared to the .22 LR, the .22 Magnum gains more velocity/power over a longer curve. But it also starts to flatten out sooner than the other magnums — usually at about 10 to 12 inches. Like most handgun cartridges, there are gains beyond that, but they tend to be smaller and smaller.

Bottom line

For me, the take-away lesson from these tests is that the .22 Magnum is a cartridge that is best served out of rifle barrel, even a short-barreled rifle. At the high end we were seeing velocities that were about 50 percent greater than what you’d get out of a similar weight bullet from a .22 LR. In terms of muzzle energy, there’s an even bigger difference: 100 percent or more power in the .22 Magnum over the .22 LR.

But when you compare the two on the low end, out of very short barrels, there’s very little if any difference: about 10 percent more velocity, perhaps 15 percent more power. What you do notice on the low end is a lot more muzzle flash from the .22 Magnum over .22 LR.

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot of rifling past the end of the cartridge when you get *that* short.

While you do see a real drop-off in velocity for the other magnums from very short barrels, they tend to start at a much higher level. Compare the .357 Magnum to the .38 Special, for example, where the velocity difference is 30 to 40 percent out of a 2-inch barrel for similar weight bullets, with a muzzle energy difference approaching 100 percent. Sure, you get a lot of noise and flash out of a .357 snubbie, but you also gain a lot of power over a .38.

But then there’s the curious case of the Rossi Circuit Judge with an 18.5-inch barrel, chambered in .22 Magnum. You see, it only performed as well as my SAA revolver with the 4.625-inch barrel. This was so completely unexpected that we thought we had to have made a mistake, or the chronos were malfunctioning, or something. So we went back and tested other guns for comparison. Nope, everything was just fine, and the other guns tested as expected.

So we made a closer examination of the Rossi and it just goes to show where there’s a rule, there’s an exception. Yup, there’s a good reason why it was giving us the readings it was. And I’ll reveal why when I do a formal review of that gun.

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OK, first thing I want to say: the reason the Circuit Judge performed so poorly was that it had a forcing cone the size of a .357 magnum on it, either allowing far too much gas to escape as the bullet made the transition from the cylinder to the barrel or because the chamber was so badly out of alignment with the barrel that it was necessary for the bullet to be guided into the barrel by first striking the side of the cone. Either way, it was a problem.

Next thing: since I wrote this 4+ years ago, I have seen countless examples of people insisting that even a little NAA .22mag pistol is MUCH more powerful than the .22lr version.

No, the .22mag is not more powerful at those very short barrel lengths. It isn’t until you get to 5 – 6″ that the .22mag starts to really outperform the .22lr. Take a look at the Muzzle Energy charts yourself:

 

This is not to dis the .22mag. It’s a fine cartridge — in the right application. For me, that means out of a rifle. And there are good reasons to have a handgun chambered in .22mag, such as ammo compatibility with a rifle or just flexibility in ammo availability in the case of a convertible revolver like the one I have. Just understand what the real advantages and disadvantages actually are before you make a decision.

 

Jim Downey

January 21, 2018 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reprise + New Review: Uberti Lightning and Taurus Thunderbolt pump carbines.

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, 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 2/27/2012. In addition, I am including a new but related review of the Taurus Thunderbolt following the original review.

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I have owned several lever guns over the years—a style I deeply enjoy. Currently, I have a Winchester 94AE in .44 magnum, which I love. However, I always keep my eyes open for a lever gun in .357 mag. It’s a cartridge that really begins to shine when paired with a carbine length barrel. Based on BBTI testing, it gains upwards of 50 percent velocity and pushes 1,200 foot/pounds of muzzle energy. But then the Uberti Lightning came into my life—a .357 pump carbine—and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel.

Don’t Forget Where You Come From

It’s a reproduction of the original Colt Lightning, originally manufactured in 1884 (but, curiously, listed as the Model 1875 by Uberti), and a pretty faithful reproduction at that. The only changes it has are to meet modern safety demands. Specifically, there’s a new hammer safety (of the transfer-bar variety), which eliminates the option to fire the gun just by pumping new rounds while keeping the trigger pulled. This also greatly reduces the chance of an accidental discharge.

Uberti Lightning

The Uberti Lightning I shot was the ‘short rifle’ version, meaning it has a 20-inch barrel, with a case-hardened frame and trigger guard. It’s a very attractive gun with a top-notch fit and finish, a beautiful walnut stock—smooth in back and checkered on the slide—and good detail work. The case-hardening is quite attractive, but the gun is available in just a blued version if you prefer.

When first loading the gun I experienced a common problem that Uberti cautions about (and something I was warned about by several other reviewers): it is relatively easy to get a cartridge wedged under the carrier that loads a round from the tubular magazine into the chamber. This can also happen when you cycle the gun, if you’re not careful to push the slide grip fully forward and fully back. I wasn’t the only one of the three of us trying the gun who had this problem, and each time we had to stop, dislodge the cartridge with a small screwdriver, then cycle the action fully.

It’s a flaw in the design, there’s little doubt about that. However, once we all got the hang of it, we had no problems firing the gun quickly and accurately.

And I think that is the nicest thing about the Lightning: once you learn how to use it, it is faster and easier to stay on target than using a lever gun, at least for me. And I have a fair amount of experience shooting lever guns. You can run through 10 rounds almost as fast as you can pull the trigger.

Shooting

The gun shot well, and was very accurate. At 25 yards (the longest distance we had available) it was no challenge to keep rounds in the X. Others have reported that it is just as accurate out to 50 yards, and I have no difficulty believing that.

Recoil is minimal, even with ‘full house’ 158 grain loads. The gun does have a curved metal buttplate, so the recoil-sensitive shooter could easily add something there to cushion recoil if necessary.

The gun is built robustly enough that it should handle just about any .357 magnum load out there without excess wear, and of course you can shoot .38 specials if you’re looking at reduced power needs or want to save a little coin at the range.

Conclusion

The Uberti website no longer lists the Lightning as available for sale, so if you’re interested in one of these guns you’ll need to hunt for it on your favorite firearms auction/sale site. The MSRP was $1259 last I saw.

So, if like me you’ve been thinking that you need to get a .357 lever gun, broaden your horizons a bit and consider the Uberti Lightning pump, instead. I am.

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And about a year ago, I found one. Well, kinda.

What I found was a Taurus Thunderbolt:

That’s a 26″ barrel, and the tube mag holds 14 rounds of .357 mag (I think it’ll hold 15 of .38 special, but I would have to double-check that). Stainless steel, with walnut stock and fore-grip. The MSRP was $705, and I got mine (new, unfired, but it had been a display model for Taurus, so it had been factory reconditioned) for about 2/3 that price. You can still find them on various auction/sales sites for about $600 and up.

The Taurus isn’t as nice as the Uberti was, in terms of the finish. Still, it’s quite nice enough, and the mechanical aspects all seem to be fine. Particularly after breaking it in (say 3-400 rounds), there’s much less tendency for the design flaw mentioned above to trip you up, and most of the people who have shot mine have gotten the hang of it quite quickly.

It really is a slick-shooting gun, and once you’re used to it you can fire the thing almost as fast as a semi-auto carbine. It’s also easy to keep the gun shouldered and on-target, which I find difficult to do with a lever-action gun. I’ve found the gun to be quite accurate, easily as good as the Uberti version.

Being able to ‘top off’ the tube mag is nice, and there’s no need to fuss with magazines — though reloading it is definitely slower, and an acquired skill. Also, you have to carry loose rounds in a pouch or pocket.

My Thunderbolt weighs more than the Lightning (8+ pounds compared to less than 6 for the Lightning), due to the 6″ longer barrel/magazine. That makes recoil even more manageable, and I haven’t had anyone complain about shooting it even with hot .357 magnum loads. With mild .38 special loads it’s like shooting a .22, and a lot of fun for plinking.

I’m really happy I found this gun, and again I find myself saying what I did in my original review six years ago: if you’re in the market for a lever-gun in .357 mag, consider opting for a pump version, instead. And definitely, if you get a chance to shoot either of these guns, take it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Jim Downey

 

January 14, 2018 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment