Snub Training – Internal Locks (Cont)

July 1, 2009

While an internal lock offers an unobtrusive method to secure the weapon the entire idea of an integrated keyway requiring a miniscule key is in my opinion fundamentally flawed. Consider only a few problems:

1 – A small key is easily lost.

2 – Small keyway is easily plugged by pocket lint or from being dropped in the dirt.

3 – Putting a small key in a small hole under stress is a difficult.

4 – Putting a small key in a small hole under stress in the dark is very difficult.

5 – The gun can be pocketed or holstered without noticing that it is locked and later drawn under an assault with tragic results.

6 – The lock can lock up under recoil.

Yes, you say, buy I never use the lock. Your using or not using the lock is not the problem. The problem is that the guns are locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN.

The lock is a simple mechanical device. It certainly can’t be expected to know whether the owner is deliberately applying mechanical leverage (the key) or if under recoil the frame is rotating around the lock.  The mechanical result is the same.

Again you say, But a writer from American Handgunner wrote that the lock danger is a myth. Well I can’t speak to what the other fellow knows. I can only speak about what I know. And I know two things.

First, John Farnum wrote about the guns locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN in his e-newsletter in 2002.  Massad Ayoob wrote about in the January/February 2005 issue of the American Handgunner.  In one case the lock on a Taurus actually blew out of the snub. One staffer at the Manchester (NH) Firing Line shooting range reports that he no longer bothers to keep track of the number of guns he has observe locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN.  I‘ve have also seen it occur in my classes with one student’s gun locking up so tight he could not unlock it with the key. 

Second, the fellow from American Handgunner  was “testing” the trouble with a very large frame revolver and not a very small and light frame snub. Not, in my opinion a small flaw in the research.

Consider the core of the problem.  You shoot the gun to test it and recoil preps the lock to be one round away from self-locking but you would have no way of know this. You could re-test the gun by firing another round, but now you can’t be sure that that second round set the stage for a “one shot then locked” situation. You can see what problem this leads too. You can always key check that the lock is fully seated by unlocked the lock but every time you do you are causing more wear on the lock and possibly making it more prone to lock under recoil.

There is some indication that the problem is limited to the very light weight weapons and possibly only when shooting heavy or magnum rounds. 

To quote Ralph Mroz from his article My Favorite Gun from the January 2008 issue of Law Officer magazine: “If I had to buy a key-lock I’d have it removed – after all its not a safety it’s an access denial mechanism.” That is a great line and I want to repeat it. An internal lock are NOT a safety, it is an Access Denial Mechanism.

My advice was always to buy only a snub manufactured prior to the introduction of the lock and hope that market pressures will encourage the makers to either drop the lock or make it an optional feature. 

If you can not find a snub available without the lock then buy one with a lock and ship it up to Karl Sokol of Chestnut Mountain Sports in West Rutland, VT.  He is a master gunsmith and is currently refitting the guns to pre-lock reliability. Failing that you might consider either a Ruger SP101 or a Smith and Wesson Centennial. There is a run of these which is currently lock-free.

Even better, Smith & Wesson was the first major manufacture who announced that starting in March, 2009 it would begin phasing the internal lock out of its revolver lineup.


Snub Training – Internal Locks

June 29, 2009
Taurus Key and Lock

Taurus Key and Lock

There are currently several revolvers are now produced with internal locks. These include Ruger, Taurus and others. Some revolvers feature a built-in locking mechanism with the keyway located just above and behind the cylinder release on the left side of the frame. Once inserted the key can be rotates 90 degrees to either lock or unlock the weapon. In some revolver models featuring an exposed hammer, when you activate the lock a small metal tab will protrude from the frame adjacent to the hammer to indicate the status of the locking device. Currently some hammerless models have no such external indicator. There are two common questions posed regarding internal locks. First, are they a valuable feature and second, if not, what actual risks if any are associated with internal locks.

Snub Training – Ported Barrels

June 28, 2009

I don’t like ported barrels on self-defense guns nor do I care for them on range training guns. The clearest danger is the risk of hot, explosive gases vented up into the shooters eyes and face.  It is true that a ported barrel will let a shooter shoot faster because it will reduce muzzle jump. And unlike the barrel porting on majority of semi-auto pistols, a ported revolver barrel generally adds nothing to the barrel’s length that could reduces concealability.  And yes some shooters who praise barrel porting argue that since they neither plan to shoot from a “close in” retention position where the gun is held close to the floating rib nor practice the growingly uncommon “speed rock” draw-and-fire drills they are never going to have the gun directly below their eyes, and can therefore benefit from the advantages porting offers.  Regardless, I believe a ported barrel on a self-defense gun remains a poor idea.

First, porting reduces velocity which in turn makes bullet expansion out of a short barrel even more unlikely.  Diverting 5-, 10- or 15% of the already limited velocity cannot possibly advance the goal of rapidly incapacitation of an attacker.

Second, redirecting some portion of the muzzle flash in front of, behind or on both sides of the front sight blade only adds to the difficulty of locating the front sight between low light shots.

Third, there always remains the risk of venting gasses into the shooter’s eyes. It may be true that the shooter never plans to have the gun in a position where the gasses can be vented up toward his face, but his attacker may not be so obliging.  If the gun owner hear a 2 a.m. noise he may just decide to check it out, and he may do it with that snub tucked in close to his ribs.  Then if he has to fire, the vents are positioned in a line beneath his face and eyes.  Even if he does keep his arms extended while he peeks around the halls looking his a.m. guest, the dressed, alert and awake attacker might lunge for the gun owner’s gun. Might that gun owner not reflexively retract the gun and end up in the same close in shooting position described above.  And if he doesn’t retract the gun back in time and both the gun owner and the intruder start fighting over control for the gun, well then that bad guy may just decide to live-test the “walk-through” disarming technique commonly practiced by bad guys in prison. Just before the gun comes ripping up and out of the gun owner’s hand the walk-through will positions the top of the snub’s barrel inches in front of the owner’s eyes. Now you have 200-plus pounds of home owner and 200-plus pounds of attacker fighting over a weapon designed to discharge with at maximum 14-pounds of pressure.  Might the gun now inches in front of the gun owner’s eyes discharge?  Did he plan on wearing his safety glasses during his house search?  Even if he commonly wears prescription glasses, can he expect to keep them in place during a violent fight over that gun?

Sometimes the risk from the ported barrel doesn’t come from choosing to keep the gun tucked close in. J.H. FitzGerald wrote decades ago in his book Shooting about the advantages of the short barreled revolver in close confines such as an automobile.  Swinging the snub from inside the automobile invariably keeps the barrel and any barrel porting close to the defender’s face. I would rather not have to factor in defending myself from a driver’s side carjacker (when I’m driving) while I have the ported vents directly below my face.  Nor do I wish to have to defend against a passenger side carjacker when my wife is riding next to me and the vents will be directly under her eyes.

I favor harnessing all of the available expanding gas to drive the bullet at maximum velocity and into my attacker rather than diverting some portion of that gas away from my attacker and venting it into the eyes of someone I love.  Armed self-defense is challenging enough when you have working vision.  It can hardly be any less challenging when you willingly choose to either temporarily or permanently injure your vision at the opening bell of the fight.

Some shooters counter with “I only use it as a range gun.”  While almost any range training is better than no range training and I can and will argue for the many benefits of training with smaller caliber, reduced caliber and Primer Only Propelled (POP) substitution ammunition. I am at best leery about earmarking gunsmithing funds for a “feature” that does not enhance the snub’s effectiveness as a self-defense weapon. The amount of money spent on porting is better spent on other more effective and practical features that clearly enhance self-defense.

Snub Training – Ultra Lightweight Alloys

June 26, 2009

I am under impressed with the popular ultra-lightweight titanium and scandium snubs.  They may be a joy to carry but they suffer several disadvantages as self-defense weapons. 

First, responsible gun carrying requires competence and a simple measure of competence is range qualification.  A basic qualification score against a standardized range exam can be extremely challenging with these ultra-light guns.  Recoil is often severe due to the gun’s light weight.  A majority of shooters find a fifty round qualification exam with an Airweight snub challenging but not punishing.  That same fifty round exam with an ultra light snub can be something between unpleasant to a downright brutal experience. Doing well against a life-threatening assault would be made even more difficult by using a weapon that taxes low-stress range exam standards. 

Second, in order to continue to minimize weight many of the traditional solid one-piece barrels were replaced with a two piece barrel consisting of an outer shell and an inner sleeve.  While lighter, the resulting two piece barrel generally does not produce the accuracy normally expected with the traditional barrel. How bad a spread? I know of one very skilled shooter who could not get his ultra-light weight gun to group smaller than 8-inches at 15 feet. Maybe it was a fluke. Was it only one gun out of tens of thousands? Maybe. A portion of the folks who come the snub program and shoot ultra-light snub tend to shoot poorer groups by the end of the day rather than better.  Of course it could be just poor instruction (mine) but if it was, I would expect to see the same results with the Airweight, blue steel and stainless steel shooters and I don’t. I suspect it is more a problem with the punishing recoil adding up over 100 or 150 rounds.  Some shooters either swap out the light guns early in the class or dismiss the whole problem by claiming that in a “real” fight they will only need (or have) five rounds or ten rounds.  Again maybe, but if I had a gun that I would not or could not shoot responsibility over a 100-round training course would I want to rely on the same gun as my primary summer access weapon or my final last ditch uberemergency back-up gun?

Third, ultra-lightweight snubs can occasionally prove less than 100% reliable with the classic plus-P lead semi-wadcutter self-defense hollow points.  The sudden violent recoil is known to pull cases away from the unjacketed bullets while in the cylinder’s charge holes.  The cases can be pulled so far rearward and away from the bullet that the freed bullet nose will sometimes move forward enough to block the rotation of the cylinder, seizing up the gun. It is also not unknown that under recoil that some rounds will actually disassemble while still in the cylinder.  This is not known to me to ever have happed with Airweight or all-steel snubs. If a shooter insists in loading plus-P pressure rounds in his ultra-light snub he should consider limiting his ammunition to a round with a jacketed bullet.

Snub Training – Avoidable Features

June 25, 2009

Studying, training and teaching snub skills has lead me to believe that there are a few common features that do little or nothing to enhance the snub as a self-defense weapon.  While almost all features have some value my experience is that there are three features in particular have passed the point of diminishing returns. These include ultra-light frames, ported barrels, and “that-what-must-not-be-named.”