Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another answer in search of a question.

I don't get out to gun stores much, these days.  There's a variety of reasons for that, most of them personal to me, but anyway, I had completely missed Ruger's introduction of the SR22 rimfire pistol.

I saw, I handled, I gagged.  Look, I realize I've become a bit of a 'mudge about a variety of things, but here it is:  I cannot for the life of me figure out what this pistol would be for.

The most offensive part about the thing, covering any possible use to which it might be put, is that the safety is both frame-mounted and backwards. Up for fire, down for safe.

I don't think this is trivial, and for two reasons.  The first is the design itself.  The most ergonomic active safety systems yet devised are both found on John Browning's M1911 pistol:  the sear-blocking, frame-mounted thumb safety lever and the grip safety.  Now I think that great strides have been made to improve the implementation of those designs (with low-profile, semi-extended thumb safety levers and high-sweep ducktail grip safeties), but nothing I have seen has improved the design itself.

This is because there is a consistency across the M1911 design, and it works with a core ergonomic concept:  when you want to make the loud noise, you close your hand.  When you want to prevent the loud noise, you open your hand.  This fits conspicuously well with the sort of high-stress environment that a life-and-death encounter represents, and is simply intuitive in all lesser environments.  And so when you close your hand to take a solid firing grip, you naturally depress the grip safety, snap the thumb safety down to lock your hand into place, and let the trigger finger engage the trigger itself.  When disengaging, your trigger finger comes off the trigger and out of the guard, the thumb sweeps up snapping on the safety, the fingers relax and the grip safety re-engages as the hand comes completely off the gun.  Close, open. The name "Yankee Fist" is highly appropriate.

Something that works counter to this concept, I think, is just asking for trouble, and moreso the higher the stress level gets.  Now for years we've also had around the slide-mounted, up-for-fire safety lever--at least since the 1920s with the Walther PP.  I would say this is backward too, but at least it is usually mounted so high on the slide that it gets outside the most efficient reach of the thumb for normal hand opening/closing operations--requiring something deliberately different.  I find it interesting that the most efficient practitioners of this design have adopted the "straight-thumbs" approach as the best way to deal with the problem.  It's still not fully faithful to how the human hand works, but by stabbing the thumb forward at such a height that it effectively cams the lever upward, the goal is accomplished without completely inverting things.  And again, we've had this arrangement since at least the latter 1920s--it's been around, and is at least understood.  Many people have trained themselves quite effectively on nothing else, and although I don't like it, I can't argue with their success.  Just not for me.

This frame-mounted, backward thing though--the Ruger's lever lies beautifully under the thumb--I just don't get that.

And there's the second reason I think this is a really, really bad idea:  this safety will work backward from everything else that you might have.  Again, in a high-stress situation, this is not a recipe for success.  If the Ruger is the only gun you have, and you train well enough with it to overcome the problem, great.  Or perhaps you're one of those few who is cool enough under stress to remember precisely which gun you have on at the moment of truth, and go the appropriate direction for the safety at hand.

Look, I'm pretty well trained in gunhandling, and I would not want to stake my life on that.  I wouldn't even buy the gun as a plinker, on the off-chance that enough repetitions with it might confuse my response with a different gun at a really vital moment.  No thanks.

And that brings me around to the more general "what is it for?" question.  For me, the safety issue is enough to qualify the SR22 (or anything else designed like it--not to pick on Ruger specifically) for a "Waffenposselhaft Award" entry, no matter what your intended purpose might be.  But even beyond that, the question remains vague.

What's a .22 for?  Again, opinions vary, but it seems reasonable to posit:  plinking/fun gun, training, small-game hunting, and arguably personal defense.  (There may be, for some people some times, good reasons for going the.22 route for defense, but I certainly couldn't recommend it in general.)

Okay, let's run that list against the SR22.  Plinking/fun gun?  Sure--although as mentioned before I'd pass, because there are other .22s out there that are conspicuously better at ingraining good gunhandling habits.  Training?  Fail.  The whole purpose of training is to ingrain good habits, either gunhandling, marksmanship or both, and with a backward, non-ergonomic safety, I just can't imagine using this piece as an effective training exemplar.  Hunting?  At best, arguable.  There does seem to be some single-action capability, although employing it in the field against the decocking safety would not be intuitive, and the release is adequate but nothing compared to, say, a Ruger Mark II/III or Browning Buckmark, which are excellent field pieces, if a bit heavy and large.  (I'll shortly have another post about the need for a precision, small, lightweight field .22;  stay tuned.)  And defense?  Okay, let's say for argument's sake that the person in question really is best served by a .22, whether for reasons of recoil, gunhandling manipulation, or some other perfectly legitimate reason.  Is this the right .22?  If I (grit teeth) completely put aside the safety argument, since I've beaten that one to death already, it's again at best arguable.  I'm not a fan of DA/SA for defense pieces;  I'd rather an SAO with positive safety (think 1911) or DAO without manual safety (think Kahr or Centennial J) any day;  the SR22 combines the worst of all worlds with that backward safety.  It's not a particularly small piece, in any dimension;  my .40-caliber Kahr is smaller in every dimension, the same weight, with an amazingly sweet trigger, and passive internal safeties.  So if our .22 toter doesn't mind the size/weight combination, the DA/SA trigger system and decocking behavior of the safety lever, and either doesn't own a differently-operative piece or trains well enough with the SR22 to overcome any ergonomic conflicts, well then, it might work just fine.  I did note that the magazine did seem particularly smooth and well-designed, especially for a .22;  its biggest problem for carry will probably be that the baseplate is large enough to not lay perfectly flat against the body.  At least the baseplate is not sharp like a P35's is.  :-)

Anyway, I can't figure it out:  I tried, and came up short.  Other than distributing one to every FedThug available, as a trainer for whatever their main carry piece may be (go nuts guys!), I can't think of a good use for this piece.  The best I've been able to come up with is that the SR22 is intended to capture some of the market for the Walther P22--another piece that seems to be an answer in search of a question.

Perhaps others can educate me here?  Again, I'll admit my 'mudgery, but seriously, what's the functional argument?


Joel said...

I dunno what it is about Ruger and semiautomatic pistols. The only one I've ever seen that makes any sense is the Mk I .22 and its descendants, and even those I curse luridly when it comes time to clean them. I've got a 22/45 that does its job, but every other kind of Ruger auto I've had or held was shite.

But their revolvers are solid, simple, salt of the earth. What gives with them?

Kevin Wilmeth said...

I've got no argument there, Joel.

Ruger is an interesting one, for sure. One could look at it as an outfit which from the beginning specialized in bringing something recognizable back from the brink of the grave and putting it within reach of the average Joe, often with useful modern refinements. The original .22 pistol was like that, being Luger-like in appearance, solid, reliable and inexpensive. Ditto the Blackhawk, which was essentially an affordable, better-built Colt SAA--and the transfer-bar improvement in '73 was a masterstroke. The No. 1 single-shot resurrected the falling-block Farquharson style, but with modern metallurgy and (I'd argue) a beautifully improved aesthetic. The Mini-14 was actually fair genius, being part "affordable AR" and part "affordable, scaled-down M14" at a time when people wanted both; I still can't figure out why I'd want a Garand-style .223, but clearly a host of others suffer no such crisis. You could advance a similar argument about the M77 bolt rifle (as resurrection of the pre-'64 M70), and certainly the Bisley variant of the Blackhawk (there's another example of Ruger improving markedly on the aesthetic of the original while retaining all the functional benefits).

I see their DA revolvers as the success that emboldened some of the less explicable experiments, such as all their centerfire auto pistols and the pistol-caliber tacticool carbines. The Security-Six, GP- SP- and Redhawk designs did and do well because they're just like you said, and also had the positive effect of reining in some of the stupid from the folks at Smith & Wesson and Colt. I always saw the conventional DA/SA pistols as an attempt to address the lowest common denominator in the "wondernine" craze, which strikes me as pretty dumb since the whole point of that exercise seemed to be innovation (innovation of the inconsequential, maybe, but still). Despite the uninspiring designs they seem to have sold a stack of 'em, but I do wonder how much of that is a coattails-of-better-things sort of thing.

It's not like Ruger can't innovate. I've got no stomach for auto-pistol-caliber carbines (if you're going to lug around a long gun, why on earth waste your time with the 9mm or .40 or even .45?) But quite a few years before those...curiosities showed up, Ruger had that elegant little .44 Magnum carbine, with rotary magazine and all... I still wonder if Jeff Cooper didn't base elements of his "Thumper" concept on that handy little rifle.