Monday, March 30, 2009

Brandon is introduced to the .22

Sister-in law Theresa and nephew Brandon were just in town, and I took the chance to introduce Brandon (age 9) to the .22 rimfire.

Circumstances were pretty far from ideal. With me still looking for work and our tiresome little housing crisis in full swing, we were all about cheap fun, the cheaper the better. With all my .22s still back in Colorado, we had an equipment problem. And, still being relatively new to the area, I didn't even know about suitable places for me to shoot, much less where best to work with a newbie.

Ah, but problems can be solved. This was something unique I could do with Brandon, and of course any chance I can get to "go all educational" is pretty much a no-brainer. First, we cleared the idea with mom, who paid me the compliment that if Brandon was to get an introduction to shooting, she would want it to be from me. (Thanks, Theresa.)

Securing a .22 actually proved to be a reasonably simple matter. Many thanks to Mark Whatley, who graciously loaned me a Browning Buck Mark pistol for the event. This particular gun even had a pistol scope mounted on it:

This is not exactly what I had had in mind from the beginning--the ideal first gun would have been my little Henry youth-sized lever-action rifle with a ghost-ring tang sight--but the Buck Mark is a great pistol (I used to own one and frankly I miss it) and most importantly it was available when we needed it, while more ideal pieces sit waiting back in Colorado. We'd simply learn to use the scope. I rounded up a few 50-round boxes of .22 ammo to put through it, including a couple to return with the gun to Mark.

For the location, timing threatened to be an issue. I'd got a few suggestions of local places that might be suitable, but without really knowing the area I was still a little anxious. A first-introduction needs to be about shooting, not finding a place to shoot. In the end, we settled on a little indoor range maybe 10 miles away, and I'm glad we did--it was certainly the best available option at the time, and I will probably use the range again myself.

We got set up on the far left of the line, with the cheerful assistance of the staff, who helped us rig a couple of my self-sealing Newbold targets onto the range's target holder. (I still consider any range that has automatic "dial-your-distance" target tracks to be by definition a fancy range.) This bode well as reactive targets are always more fun than paper.

B handled the eye and ear protection well; he did end up swapping muffs for plugs in the middle of the session, as the muffs clamped the glasses a little too tightly onto his head to go the whole time that way.

I figured that the two biggest potential problems we would probably have to overcome were 1) the weight of the gun and 2) using the sight without getting frustrated. And so it proved. After trying a few different configurations, we settled on a rest which supported the muzzle fully and the butt partially, allowing B to hold the pistol properly and adjust it without having to take its full weight. (Rule: hit first--then make it harder.)

The scope, as I figured, proved the more challenging problem. On a pistol, a scope is actually a tool for an advanced user, not a beginning one. For someone who already knows exactly how to hold a pistol, with a firm and repeatable grip and stance, the scope allows a small degree of magnification and, more importantly, a single focal plane. The costs it exacts are bulk, weight, fragility and speed. It is very, very easy to get "blacked out" in a pistol scope, since its long eye relief permits a very small window in which the eye can operate.

Using the stability of the rest, and after a bit of back-and-forth with B in which I learned how to diagnose what he was seeing, I concluded that he was getting lost in the scope, and probably because he was too close to it. We adjusted him to allow a little more eye relief (meaning: we made sure his arms were at full extension) and he then said he could see through the glass better.

He hadn't hit before that adjustment. He may have missed twice after making it. Initial distance was at five yards, and we backed him out to twenty-five by the end. The Newbold targets were four and six inch disks. I said I'd start calling him Dead Eye Brandon.

I was impressed with his technique and his attention. He never let the muzzle stray, even when looking up at me, and it only took a couple of reminders to take his finger out of the trigger guard between shots. (We had gone over the Four Rules the day before.) Even as we were trying to get his blackout problem remedied, I would watch him settle the gun, place his finger on the trigger...then the finger would go straight, and I could see him readjusting the sights before returning to the trigger. Gratifying.

Of course, once the hitting began (bless those reactive targets!), the fun kicked in, and he had a lot of fun. He also has reason to be proud of himself. 25 yards is a long way for a pistol, even with a rest. And he comported himself very well, and safely, even in his excitement. This bodes well for the future.

And did I mention that I love this? There is little that I'd rather do than teach open-minded newbies; even without the ideal piece or location, there is just nothing like introducing something as fun as the .22 rimfire to someone who's never had the chance before.

Now, to get my stuff from Colorado up here to Alaska. By the next time Dead Eye Brandon shows up, I'll need to have some more difficult problems for him to solve, and he may make me work for that. :-)

Thanks, B. That totally made my day.

The Four Rules

Jeff Cooper left us with many things that are priceless. One of those was his insistence that gun safety could be distilled into four rules. Other sources (such as NRA) put forth a greater quantity of rules, but many of those are just variations on a theme.

The Four Rules, then, are these:

  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for the vast majority of inadvertent discharges.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified. You are responsible for every round discharged from your piece, from the muzzle until the projectile stops.
That's it. Just four. And they cover it all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Zero Aggression Principle

I will speak much of liberty in these pages, and it would do well to establish just what I mean by it. By their very nature, libertarians (please notice the lowercase "l" there--it is absolutely deliberate) don't exactly tend to band together well, a trait which carries the unfortunate side effect that more imperial types regularly try to lay claim to the name. This seems to come and go with time; it gets especially bad when a group has thoroughly tarnished its own reputation and needs to appear more principled without actually doing anything about that. The tragedy is that most "real" libertarians are so busy minding their own business that they don't notice they're being impersonated, and the pretenders then enjoy some success in selling the public their flashy but empty new identity. With a little time, it serves its duping purpose, and they simply discard what they never were to begin with. It's sad on a number of levels, but not really all that surprising.

Fortunately, these pretenders can be spotted a mile away, because despite what you may have heard, libertarianism is not complicated. The best working definition of a libertarian is someone who judges everything against the Zero Aggression Principle, or ZAP*:

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

That nails it. It is the initiation of force that is the important detail; a defensive return of force is entirely permissible under the ZAP.

And this is what exposes pretenders for what they are. Anyone who would support using the power of the state to coerce, force, or compel others to do their arbitrary bidding, no matter how noble or agreeable the topic may be to anyone, is no libertarian.

Thing is, anything that uses tax dollars is immediately in violation, isn't it? Throughout history, taxation has always been arbitrarily legitimized theft, enforced at the barrels of the guns of the guys with the tin stars. (For Pete's sake, it's a primary reason we fought the Revolutionary War to begin with.) "Don't think government is all about compulsion and force? Try not paying your taxes." "Governments are the only vendors that don't let customers walk away." And so on. It's no less initiated aggression than the mugging it so precisely resembles, and it is used to fund all the other, more obvious aggressions that we mostly preoccupy ourselves with.

So, the next time you see a "libertarian" championing a tax-funded government program--any such program--you'll understand why some of us start chuffing and rolling our eyes. It's not because we're snobs for purity... It's that nobody likes to be impersonated that badly.

*Thanks to L. Neil Smith for popularizing the ZAP, and certainly for bringing it to my attention. The elegance of the wording is modern, but the idea is pretty much straight out of the book of Jeffersonian liberalism.


A brief note about the purpose of this blog seems appropriate, since I do have a habit of ranging considerably, and it's possible that someone may ask. So: what is it for?

The overall purpose is to serve as a repository for items that may be of interest to shottists* everywhere. (Commentary is a welcome indulgence for writer-types, and I might as well channel the enthusiasm constructively.) If it happens to be of use to others, marvelous!

Okay, great: that can still cover a lot of ground. I suspect that most items will fall into one of a few broad categories, given both my personal interests and the documentable history of what I've done before. The most likely are:
  • Liberty. Any writings on liberty will certainly be grounded in the human right to keep and bear arms, but my libertarianism (please note the deliberate lowercase "l") is more general than that, and if all I manage to do is to help a few people realize that there is another way of looking at the world, then I can feel satisfied with the work.
  • Rifles and pistols. This topic may represent the zenith point of indulgence, since I simply enjoy talking about mechanics, ergonomics, purpose and certainly the style of function. (As Jeff Cooper would say, it's great fun, so let's have at it.)
  • Riflecraft and pistolcraft. Both because I am an educator and because I appreciate the art of craft, I find that I am at least as fascinated by technique as by equipment. And, I have had the great good fortune to have been exposed to some incredibly impressive (for any discipline, not just shooting) training curricula, in the form of basic rifle and pistol technique.
  • Education and training. This is what I do and what I am, so invariably I will write about bringing technique, awareness, perspective, and evaluation to those who seek it.

There of course will be other items of true miscellany, but the above categories will probably encompass the bulk of what is found here. With any luck, someone will find it useful! :-)

* Yes, the term is shottist, not shootist.