Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Army Training Gets a New Face

H/T: Reader Scott F.

Via the Army Times:

WEAPONS TRAINING AND QUALIFICATION OVERHAULED

Too much to fisk, here is the teaser:

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Trainers here are testing a new marksmanship qualification course that stresses shooting from behind cover, fixing jams and changing magazines — key skills all soldiers need in combat.

The pilot program is a dramatic shift from the Army’s standard qualification course, an outdated exercise that trains soldiers on how to pass a test rather than how to master their weapons, said Col. Casey Haskins, commander of 198th Infantry Brigade. The 198th, a one-station training unit responsible for Basic Combat and Infantry Training at Benning, is overseeing sweeping changes to Basic Rifle Marksmanship.

Currently in Initial Entry Training, BRM culminates with soldiers taking a timed test in which they fire 40 rounds of ammunition at 40 pop-up targets. Firing from Cold-War-era prone and foxhole positions, trainees must hit 23 to earn a passing score.

“It focuses on meeting the minimum standard — 23 out of 40. Not too good,” Haskins said. “People train to the test ... We believe we need to teach people how to shoot.”

In the proposed qualification test, trainees would shoot a total of 30 rounds at 15 targets. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. The new test requires trainees to shoot from three firing positions — kneeling unsupported, kneeling supported and prone unsupported. They also would use available cover, change magazines, clear weapon stoppages and shoot until the targets are “dead.” Throughout the test, shooters would be required to perform these tasks on their own rather than waiting for commands from their drill sergeants.

“If we train soldiers properly, we should trust them to change magazines when they need to, not just when they are told to,” said Capt. Jeff Marshburn, commander of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment of the 198th at Benning. “We should trust them to seek cover ... and establish their position based on what they have at hand and the 40-out-of-40 really doesn’t get after that.”

This training regimen reminds us of the "First Ever Afghanistan 3 Gun Match" (Cogito Ergo Geek, April 29, 2008), which includes elements of shooting from cover and aggressive shooting while moving.

As a graduate of the Fort Benning 1969 Non Commissioned Officers Candidate (NCOC) course, I highly approve.

The Army firearms training 40 years ago sucked. Almost anything would be an improvement, and this appears to be the first concerted effort to improve firearms since then.

But I admit, I miss the M14.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Isn't that cheating?

Above The Groucho Line:
Ten years ago, The Unofficial IPSC List was the place to talk about competition shooting on-line.

Since that time, many other online venues have become available and most of these dialogues now occur in 'forums' or 'blogs' (like this one).

But when all we had to communicate with was a listserver mailing address, shooters of all stripes would use "The List" to discuss the most bizarre subjects.

Not surprisingly, some subjects came up again and again, and were fiercely debated with just as much vehemence on the umpty-umpth iteration as we enjoyed the first time it came up.

Also not surprisingly the same subjects are now discussed repeatedly on forums. See below. The difference is, the listserver/email discussions were ephemeral. The forum entries stay around for years and years. Also see below.


The three favorite topics (almost arbitrarily chosen) were:

1) Isn't that cheating?

IPSC is an acronym which includes the word Practical. There is an element (always has been, always well be) in IPSC competitors who were determined to insist that all stage designs, all rules of competition, and all equipment meet the 4th IPSC Principle of Practical Shooting that "Practical Competition is a test of expertise in the use of practical firearms and equipment. Any item of equipment, or modification to equipment, which sacrifices practical functionality for a competitive advantage contravenes the principles of the sport."

What some considered an "innovation", they considered an "abomination", and they were wildly indignant that the sport could be so arbitrarily prostituted to meet the needs of the sport to attract new participants.

Note: I can't blame them for this interpretation. In fact, this is the very point which caused Jeff Cooper to resign his position of 'President For Life' of IPSC, and entirely disassociate himself from IPSC for the remainder of his life.

They didn't like the introduction of stages which were not "revolver friendly". (That is, no target array required more than the six-shot ammunition capacity of a wheel gun.)

They didn't like the acceptance of high-capacity magazines, compensators, or electronic dot-sights.

On the other hand, when the IPSC rules changed to split the competition into two "Divisions", they didn't like that while "STOCK" division specified equipment restrictions more in keeping with the original vision of Col. Jeff Cooper (the originator of Practical Pistol Competition, originally "Combat Pistol"), it still allowed people too compete in the new "OPEN" division, using equipment (pistols, magazines, holsters) which were decidedly not "practical". No, they weren't required to compete directly, but they were still outraged that the new high-tech equipment was permitted to compete at all.

The equipment was not "practical", and so it must be cheating.

(NOTE: The "Stock" division quickly changed to the Modified division. Later editions of the IPSC Rule book introduced other divisions. In the United States, the USPSA version of the rule book used the term "Limited" division instead of "Modified", and eventually introduced "Limited 10", "Production", and "Single Stack" divisions ... which are differentiated almost entirely by the equipment restrictions.)

2) "IPSC will get you killed!"

One of the popular gun-rags (magazines: eg: "Guns & Ammo", not saying that's the gun-rag in question) of the time ran an article titled "IPSC Will Get You Killed". The thesis was that the rapidly evolving rules of IPSC encouraged non-Practical (read: "Not Tactical") practices which are not supportive of "Combat Shooting". For example, in IPSC competition you didn't have to seek cover; instead, you stood in the open and engaged (shot at) targets without cover, you made magazine changes while exposed to "enemy fire", and you may be using equipment which was too bulky to be easily concealed and (electronic dot sights warning) required you to 'turn on' your sights: "What if your battery runs down? You don't have a sight, and the Bad Guys will kill you!"


3) "IPSC: Is it a game, or is it training for personal defense?"

This third topic was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back". It was also the theme which allowed us ... forced us ... to find a way to accommodate all competitors under a common understanding.

The "Tactical Shooters" remained outraged. They felt that they had joined under the impression that ISPC competition would teach them how to defend themselves. Now they were forced to either discontinue their participation, or accept that, while IPSC may teach them valuable gun-handling skills, the successful competitor would usually win turn in a better score than the Tactical Ranger. (Sorry, that terminology is probably hurtful to the Tactical Community. Suck it up.)

In the final analysis, it became clear that the majority of competitors were not involved in IPSC competition to learn how to use their carry guns to defend themselves; most competitors were there to shoot as accurately as possible, as fast as possible. All considerations involving true "Practical Shooting" (combat shooting, defensive pistolry, whatevery) were going to be ignored if they were not competitive.

Competition includes getting the hits in the highest scoring portion of the target, as quickly as possible.

This is supported by the scoring algorithm:

Stage Score = Points minus penalties / time.

That's it.

Ultimately, you receive no points (no benefit, in terms of a competitive advantage) for assuming a defensive position by seeking cover, retaining partially depleted magazines, or evaluating the stage to determine the greatest threat and engaging/neutralizing that threat first. In fact, any stage-time devoted to tactical activities is penalized, because it consumes time and imposes awkward shooting positions which your competitors spend doing reloads and discarding magazines, moving to the next shooting position, or just shooting more targets.

The objections noted by the "Tactical Rangers" ... sorry, get use to it ... were reduced to two choices: either go somewhere else where they could spend their range-time training for a gunfight, or stay and play.

Fortunately, IDPA (the brain-child of Bill Wilson) came along about that time. While even IDPA is not practical enough for some of the practitioners, at least nobody has said that "IDPA Will Get You Killed!" ... yet. Some IPSC competitors trickled over to IDPA. A few trickled back to IPSC, for reasons which are beyond the scope of this subject.

You will perhaps notice that these three themes overlap. Give yourself a pat on the back for being aware that the single greatest source of angst for IPSC competitors during the 1990's was that we thought we were competing because it was fun, but we 'felt' that we should be training for some kind of personal Armageddon. Until we resolved this issue, we didn't know who we were.

Now we know: we're gamers, we're players, and we do this because we enjoy it, and we like the other people who have the same gamer attitude.

Can IPSC/USPSA competition teach you skills which may prove to be valuable in a "self defense" situation?

Only if you carry a firearm, or keep one handy in your home. Or, as Grouch Marx so often said:

You bet your life.

The Groucho Line:

(I loved that guy. What a sleaze ... the original Geek!)
_________________________________________

BELOW:
All of this reminiscing was inspired by my evening Internet Surfing, which turned up a 2003 page in the "The High Road forum".

On June 7, 2003, member jptsr1 opened the topic "Isn't That Cheating?":
I don't mean this in an accusatory tone, but for those of you who have a "special" gun and carry rig for IDPA, does it feel like you are cheating a bit? I'm going to be participating in my first IDPA event soon and ill be shooting my G26 out of a Royal Guard because its as close to how I carry every day as I can get (I actually carry it in a pocket holster or on my ankle). As I'm researching the boards looking for tips and tricks, I see a lot of post referring to "my IDPA rig" or "the gun I use for IDPA". Are you supposed to shoot what you carry or what you can carry?
The following comments (among many) were included:

Member Pat S immediately replied:
Some approach IDPA as a training exercise with their carry gear. For others it is merely a gun game like IPSC. Both can play the game, just accept the fact that the "gamers" will be posting the best scores. If you approach the stages from a tactical aspect to where the bad guy targets in the stage could shoot back you will be dreadfully slow on most stages, but tactically sound.

If you're looking for tactical exercises you won't find them in IDPA you'll have to look elsewhere. What you will get is an opportunity to refine your shooting and gun manipulation skills under a slight amount of stress.

Once you've gotten your gun handling skills up to the level you would like you might look into scenario based tactical exersises. Especially if you carry a gun for self defense. You'll probably have to seek out a training school for these.
Wow, what a rush.

First, it's a game.
Next, the gamers may beat you.
Finally, if you really want to be tactical, seek training 'elsewhere'.

This is the same thing we said about IPSC in 1997, before the advent of IDPA. Now we learn that IDPA ... the response to "IPSC CAN KILL YOU" .. isn't Tactical, either.


But wait, there's more.

Big S is still bemoaning the "Equipment Race":
Most of the *cough* practical *cough* types of sports, including shooting, start off with their hearts in the right place but quickly become exercises in who can bend the rules the most without breaking them. It's human nature. Think of Sammy Soza with the corked "practice" bat. That's practical baseball. Don't get caught seems to be the watchword.

Why does IPSC have $4,000 rigs that you can't hardly conceal in a briefcase? Because the rules say you can. IDPA is not far behind.
[ED: Emphasis Added}

Later, Grand Master (and professional shooter) Matt Burkett contributes in a reply to faustus:
"Here's a secret if you are good with your IPSC race rig, chances are you are good with your carry gun."

Great statement! People that can shoot, can shoot anything. You won't find a highlevel [sic]IPSC open shooter that can't shoot a limited or IDPA gun.

Remember that if there is a clock and a scoresheet, it is a game. Please do not think that IDPA is tactical or can be approached that way. It is a test of shooting skills from concealment under pressure and can be a heck of a lot of fun. It will help develop your shooting skills and your carry equipment if you choose to use it. If you want to develop your "tactical" skills, go to an FOF class and learn what happens when people are actually shooting back.
This is classic IPSC List theme #4: "It's the shooter, not the gun."

Finally, classic IPSC List theme #5: "Bring What You Got" per member El Rojo:
I tend to look at it as practice. If I use my Glock 27, 870P , and my M1A at a three gun match, I might be at a disadvantage. I will just see how good I can do with what I have. What I have is all that I got, so no need to worry about anything else. Be good with what you have and be confident in your own skills. For those guys that beat you, make them your friends and not your enemies. :D
I really enjoyed this exchange, and there are more "classic IPSC themes" to be explored. I encourage you to go there and read the whole thing.

(There's also a 'wannabe' who pipes up from time to time, spouting bold assertions about how great he is but never convincing anyone. He's generally ignored, and rightly so. See if you can pick out the 'wannabe'. No, this isn't a contest, you don't win a prize if you name him in the Comments section. Just ... know him, avoid him, don't be him.)

The point of the exercise is, competition shooters like to talk about their favorite sport. Their concerns are common to us all, and they continue to re-hash the same questions. Even six years after they were"asked and answered", we continue to debate the major points.

This is a good thing. This is healthy dialogue (and often more respectful than the earlier versions ... it took me years to learn not to be accusatory when discussing these subjects, and I lost not a few valued friends due to the resulting acrimony.)

If you think you would like to involve yourself in this sort of dialogue, I encourage you to view, and perhaps even join in online forums to see what people are talking about, and what they say.

The following is a list of some of the more popular online Shooting forums, many of which are represented in links on the sidebar of this blog:

The High Road (Competition Shooting sub-forum)
Ask IPSC (questions for IPSC)
Vince Pinto's "Global Village" (the official IPSC forum)
The USPSA Forum (you must go to the USPSA Home Page, and sign on to the Members' Page which requires a userid and password. These are available from the first page of the Front Sight magazine, which you will receive if you are a USPSA member.)
The Brian Enos Forum
Canadian Gun Nutz, for our Canadian readers.

Most of these forums will allow you to view posts and threads as a guest; some of them require that you join, and sign on, before you can view them. All of them require that you join and sign on before you can post your own opinion.

Also, note that I am a subscriber to most of these forums, so my links may take you directly to a URL which assumes you are a subscriber, and if you are NOT the link may seem unworkable. Just delete the right-hand portions of the URL to the first backslash (\) and that will take you to the home page where you will be given the opportunity to view, or join, the forum.

Enjoy, but be polite!

Jerry the ("It's A GAMER, Folks!) Geek





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Monday, May 05, 2008

Microstamping Ammunition: Replacement Parts

As I understand the Microstamping process, either the firing pin or the slide breech-face of "new" semi-automatic handguns would be required to stamp unique codes on the primer and cartridge base, respectively. Most of the bills I've seen introduced in state legislatures require that both parts perform the microstamping process, which may be considered either "productive redundancy" or the "Belt and Suspender" method.

What I wonder is, what happens when either of these parts are broken, damaged, or otherwise rendered inoperable?

Since the bills, if enacted in law, specifically require this feature on "new" pistols, would it no longer be considered to be a "new" pistol after it has been purchased, if even a single shot had been fired?

My gun dealer doesn't think so, and the bill text offers no enlightenment on this point.

In the worst-case scenario (which is the only reasonable assumption, given the lazy thinking and perfidy of most politicians) I'll assume that for the purpose of this bill, any pistol purchased as a "new" pistol in these states will continue to be regarded as such no matter the degree of subsequent usage.

I put a lot of rounds through a pistol each year (your mileage may vary) and, as I have mentioned before, my experience is that it is not an uncommon incident that firing pins will bend, or become otherwise damaged to the point at which it is no longer usable.

I've even broken a slide ... big ol' crack from the ejection port to the LEFT side of the slide. It wasn't difficult, simple use can stress the most malleable metal to the point of breakage, and slides are not known for being malleable.

That's the reason why I carry a 'small parts' kit in my range bag. In it you will find extractors, firing pins, slide-locks, guide rods, "firing pin retaining plate" as well as various springs.

If a firing pin is rendered unusable during a match, I can fetch a replacement firing pin out of this box, replace it in about one minute, and go on with the match.

A broken slide is a more complicated (and expensive) proposition. I need to send the gun to a gunsmith or back to the factory to have a replacement fitted. This takes about a day to perform, not counting shipping time and the wait until the gunsmith can get around to it.

But what if I'm a resident where the "Microstamping Ammunition" bill has become law?

The law strongly implies that it is not legal to fire the pistol unless it is suitably accessorized with an encoded firing pin and/or slide.

That means that I can't replace my firing pin with a 'blank'. I have to use a firing pin which has been engraved with the appropriate microstamping information.

How do I get that unique part?

Regardless ofI will have to have the broken part replaced, with reference to the manufacturer (who is the 'only one' who is likely to have the necessary machinery, if it's a slide). If the broken part is the firing pin ... what do I do?

Can I just replace the broken firing pin with a blank, and continue shooting? That's against the law. I have to use an unique part.

It sounds as if I would have to ask the Manufacturer for a replacement part. Who knows how long that would take? Certainly it would prevent me from replacing the broken part from my small-parts box or from a gunsmith who could order up a blank, or who might already have one on hand ... unless I have already (showing great fore-though) asked for a 'spare' part from the manufacturer.

(I wonder how much that would cost, and how long it would take?)

REGISTRATION?
But wait! What if someone steals my spare firing pin from my range bag? How valuable would that be on the black market?

And by the way, how would the manufacturer know that I'm the legitimate owner of that make/model/serial number pistol?

Why couldn't someone else surreptitiously check out my pistol at a match, note the make/model/serial number, and send the request to the manufacturer? They could get their own part, and masquerade as "me".

Would the manufacturer be liable in this event?

You bet your bippy, in this litigious society. Do you remember how New York City and other municipalities tried to sue Manufacturers because a legally sold a firearm was later used in a crime? Do not doubt that city, county or state governments are still looking for an excuse to shut down firearms manufacturers.

The only way that the manufacturing company could protect itself is by requiring that the entire gun be sent for a 'fitting', at great expense to the owner and to the manufacturer (who would pass the costs on to the owner.) This would also cause a delay in returning the part/ repair to the owner, and greatly increase the cost to the owner of the firearm.

The alternative would be for the owner to have previously identified himself in a secure manner to the manufacturer, so a verification process would not be necessary.

Manufacturer records are available to the BATFE under existing law. This is de facto registration of firearms.

Thus the Microstamping Ammunition laws could be parlied beyond the point of a time-consuming inconvenience to registration ... which is the penultimate step before confiscation.

This process may not have been intended as a means to enact a firearms registry, but it is certainly subject to the ultimate abuse, in the hands of an agenda-driven legislature (and what other kind is there?)

MANUFACTURING PROCESS:
The current method of assembling firearms at the manufacturing level is that there are a number of parts in 'bins' at the station of the person who is responsible for the final assembly of a firearm.

Somewhere at this station, the firearm serial number is stamped on the frame, which is the part which legally constitutes a "firearm" (and is subject to governmental control).

This legislation would require that the corresponding firing pin and slide be mated to the serialized frame. This constitutes a trifecta of trouble for the manufacturer, who is legally responsible for insuring that the serial number encoded on both the firing pin and the slide be accurately (100%) mated with the frame bearing the same serial number.

This requirement magically transforms the manufacture of firearms from an "assembly line process" (a la Henry Ford) to a "cottage industry". And the manufacturing expenses increase not alphabetically (see below), not geometrically, but exponentially .. as does the exposure to legal problems if the match is not absolutely correct, all day, every day.

We've just added another hand-fitted step in the inspection step of the manufacturing process, requiring workers to view the serial number on the firing pin and the slide breach to verify the serial numbers ... using microscopes.

MANUFACTURING COST:
Mr. Todd Lizette, inventor (or "co-inventor") of the Microstamping technology, makes much of the idea that the cost to the manufacturer would only be a minimal expense, not worth thinking about:
Microstamping is a one time cost to the firearm. If you figure a cost of $6.00 per firearm, than you are talking the price of two cups of coffee at Starbucks, divide that over a year and your talking about $.50 a month in the first year to cover the cost. If you figure that it costs about $15 for a box of .40 cal ammo, it means sacrificing half a box of ammo one time to provide law enforcement with an opportunity to track and target people who traffic firearms to criminals.
[Letter from Lizotte, 2-May-2008]

Well, that may or may not be true. Considering the problematic situations described above, Mr. Linette must be counting only the cost of the machinery, pro-rated at an undefined production level. As we have seen, the manufacturing process would be dramatically slowed down, resulting in dramatically increased production costs and dramatically reduced production rates.

Pretty dramatic, eh?

I think we've easily moved from "Starbucks" to "Cadillac" in one easy step.

In point of fact, I question the original "$6.00 per firearm" figure. The manufacturer would have to purchase microstamping equipment.

I understand the personal interest issue. That is why I offered a royalty free license to the technology, to the firearms industry (that manufacture in the US). Remember, we import more than 50% of the firearms purchased in the US. I figured I would give a leg up to US manufacturers who employ people.
and ...
I have agreed to give a free license to use the technology in support of the legislation. I am sure you are aware, only about ~900,000 pistols are manufactured each year for the US market. Many of those are law enforcement or military. Civilian markets, which the technology is targeting is very small in comparison.
(Both citations from Lizotte Letter of 2.5/08)

Although the technology is generously provided "... a free license to the technology ...", one can only assume that the actual machinery will not be available under such grandiloquent terms. After all, the statements are made in the context of patent rights.

As consumers, we are left with the impression that there is a dollar to be made here.


Cui Bono?

What we have here, is a failure to communicate.

Efforts have been made to generate quasi-gun-control legislation at the state level. This legislation requires that firearms manufacturing processes be altered to accommodate arbitrary standards which are not supported by current, proven technology, and which have not practically been proven to provide a benefit to society.

This is coupled with what is essentially a sole-source of the technology (read: machinery which can perform the necessary manufacturing functions), at an undefined increase in manufacturing costs.

When combined with the after market costs, and considerable inconvenience and delay of individual implementation for parts replacement to firearms owners, it is difficult to determine what the ultimate cost may be.


We know one thing many things for sure:
  • This technology will slow production rates;
  • firearms will be more expensive;
  • delivery dates will be later;
  • firearms manufacturers will be unable to meet market demands;
  • manufacturers will be driven out of business;
  • parts production will suffer;
  • another step will be taken closer to a national Firearms Registry;
  • because the bills are so ineptly written, the proposed system is rife with abuse and misinterpretation;
  • people will go to jail, or be fined, because the resultant laws will be enforced arbitrarily;
  • gunsmiths will be unable to meet the needs of their customers;
  • Todd Lizotte will make a ton of money because manufacturers are forced to buy his machinery;
  • no Crime Reduction goals will be met by enaction of these laws.
I don't see any "up-side" to this.

Do you?

Microstamping Ammunition: Letter from Lizotte, 5/2/08

Email from Mr. Todd Lizotte, Inventor (or "Co-Inventor") of Microstamping to Jerry the Geek: 02-May-2008:

Hello Mr. [Jerry the Geek],

I understand the personal interest issue. That is why I offered a royalty free license to the technology, to the firearms industry (that manufacture in the US). Remember, we import more than 50% of the firearms purchased in the US. I figured I would give a leg up to US manufacturers who employ people.

Another point many people don't fully understand is that licensing of patents is based on the scope of what the technology does. In this case, all that could be justified is a trivially small value. The patent is not something that adds value to the operation of the firearm; it is a simple tool for forensic use.

The tendency of people is to think people who have patents can become Billionaires just because they have a patent. You need to look at what the patent is really about and how it impacts the value of the product. In the semiconductor and microelectronic industry it is easy to justify a good royalty because you impact performance in commercial goods. But, even then it is based on volumes and the impact of the technology to the products and the market.

However this doesn't matter I have agreed to give a free license to use the technology in support of the legislation. I am sure you are aware, only about ~900,000 pistols are manufactured each year for the US market. Many of those are law enforcement or military. Civilian markets, which the technology is targeting is very small in comparison.

But, I also want to make a point. We all have a constitutional right to have a patent, as championed by one of our greatest founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. In Article I, section 8, the U.S. Constitution:

The importance of granting monopolies for new inventions has been recognized in the United States since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

"Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

What I find amusing is that the government through legislation offers everyone, including the firearms industry, a monopoly on their designs and inventions.

However, the industry is stating that it is unfair, even though it is a Constitutional right granted to all of us and is a legislative sole source monopoly right granted by the Constitution. Remember the right is short term, less than 15 years, by the time most technology is ready for the market. My first patent on the technology issued in 2000/2001. That was seven years ago.

Just my thoughts. Look forward to future discussions.

Best regards,
Todd

Todd Lizotte

Co-Inventor of Microstamping

Microstamping Technology Center

C/O Pivotal Development LLC

4 Delta Drive, Suite 6A

Londonderry, NH 03053

Ph: 203-304-2452

Fx: 603-421-0214

Sunday, May 04, 2008

USPSA New Shooter Training

Yesterday I talked about the New Shooter Certification "Field Training" experience (I have admittedly invented some of the terminology), formatted as a chatty letter about the interesting things that happened.

I spent most of my time describing our group encounters with situations "... not perhaps typically taught" in these classes. More accurately, these are situations which the class is not designed to teach.

"Repetition for emphasis" is a training tool, and I used it as much as I could during the class.

Now I want to use the same tool to examine the difference between the subject matter which the class is "designed to teach", and the things which I found were "necessary to teach".

The class is designed to give the new competitor some familiarity with they way matches are conducted:
  • the role of the Range Officer;
  • the 'drill' of being prepared to shoot when it is your turn to shoot (see the 'bonus' item);
  • what it is like to shoot at the basic types of targets (eg: steel targets, cardboard targets);
  • safe movement (finger off the trigger, muzzle always pointed downrange);
  • basic 'start positions' ("hands relaxed at sides", "wrists above shoulders");
  • how the competitor should respond to the various Range Commands ("Make Ready", "If you are finished, unload and show clear", "If clear, hammer down, holster");
  • how to reload -- change magazines -- safely (this was of great interest to the students, and unfortunately was only practiced one time due to time constraints);
  • how to shoot from behind a Bianchi barricade ... which we hope will be translated by the student to "how to shoot from behind any prop";
  • and as a bonus, we managed to give the students some practical experience of what it's like to shoot as a member of a squad -- knowing when it is your turn to shoot, knowing how to prepare for your turn to shoot, understanding that if you are not prepared in all aspects you will be sent back to prepare and the next shooter will be advanced to shoot while you are getting your stuff together.
This is a lot of information to convey in a single two-hour time period. In the actual event, because we had a very large class (13 people), we ran overtime rather than to cut the training short.

I wish we had started at 9am instead of 1pm, because the in-class portion of the training ran for an hour and our "Field Training" (range time) training took almost 3 hours.

I think the students were almost sorry to see it end. I know I was, because they could have benefited greatly from more time.

In fact, a minimum amount of time should probably be predicated on the number of students in the class, plus at least one hour "question and answer" time at the end of the class to discuss the questions which inevitably arise as the students gain more understanding of what the rules of competition mean, and their practical application during an actual match.

The situation cries out for individual instruction, which requires more staffing and more time allotted. Unfortunately, these resources (time, and experienced instructors) are not likely to be available.

But if they could be, there are a couple of subjects from which the students could benefit greatly ... if there were resources to make the training available:


GUN HANDLING:

For the purpose of this discussion the term Gun Handling is defined as "the ability to use ones personal firearm in a safe and confident manner, always being aware of the rules of safety, conversant with the technical and safe use of the firearm, and equally conversant with the design, features, and efficient operation of the firearm as a piece of machinery."

This definition is proposed as a provisional definition, and is subject to revision. That is to say, if you can provide a better definition, you're invited to contribute.

The nice lady who had never fired her brand new Kimber before this class is perhaps an extreme example, but it illustrates the external pressures the student may feel when entering this class.

We assume that the student already knows how to shoot, and I found that all students were indeed quite accurate; they knew how to shoot.

But they were often unprepared for the structure of competition, which imposes an uncommon combination of a deeply ingrained understanding and appreciation of the safety rules, and the twin imperatives of fire-and-movement which typifies Practical competition.

Ideally, each student will be interviewed before the training starts to determine their familiarity with their firearms, to demonstrate their level of expertise with the firearm, and to provide immediate remedial training to correct 'bad habits'. The term 'bad habits' would include:
  • familiarization with the controls (magazine release; slide lock; safeties and modes of operation especially with Production-type pistols which have 'selective safeties', 'decockers', thumb and grip safeties.)
  • how to grip the pistol, position of the hand on the draw, when to set the safety 'off' during the draw/first target engagement, where to put your thumb when firing.
Obviously, the line between 'gun handling' and 'accurate shooting' is a little blurred. The above list is imperfect because "gun handling" should probably be be restricted to those items which are safety related.

It would be nice to have the time to include some of the marginal items, such as the points related to finger placement on the trigger and balancing your grip, but these are advanced techniques. While they would be of benefit to the student, they properly belong to the realm of 'individual competitive instruction' which is available from professional trainers, available in most USPSA section.

PRE-MATCH:
Students seem to be concerned with questions such as "what should I do to get ready on the morning of the match?"

What they really want to know is:
  • When should I put my gear on ... holster, magazine carriers?
  • Should I carry my pistol in my holster all day, or should I carry it in my bag?
  • What about this 'gun bag' thing? What are the reasons why I should not carry my gun in my holster? If I do that, when and where and how should I transfer it to my holster?
  • When should I load my magazines? Do I load them full in the morning and top them off as needed, or should I unload all my magazines after each stage and fill them again when I get to the next stage? Why?
  • What is a stage?
  • How many magazines should I carry to the firing line? Why?
  • How many magazines should I buy? Why?
  • Does everybody walk around all day with a pistol on their hip and a belt full of magazines, or do they carry everything in their range bag until they're getting ready to actually shoot?
And the least asked question (but perhaps the most interesting, even if they haven't thought to ask it yet:
"What do I need a Range Bag for? What do I carry in it?"


BUYING A GUN FOR COMPETITION:

It seems inevitable that someone who is just starting is waiting to learn more about the sport before they buy a firearm for competition. The circumstances may vary; they don't know if the firearm they know own is 'competitive', they don't know what is the 'in' firearm is, or they don't know what the 'best' firearm is for the division in which they expect to compete.

What they are really looking for is some assurance that they aren't making the wrong decision in what is, to most of us, a major purchase. Worse, they are painfully aware that whatever decision they make, they will have to live with it long enough to (a) justify the cost of the original purpose, or (b) learn to be so dissatisfied with it that they feel forced to Buy a New Gun'.

When I was asked "What's a good Production Pistol", I dodged the bullet as by tap-dancing as fast as I could.

I don't know much about Production pistols, and I would hate t0 recommend one out of ignorance just because I heard a gun-owner bragging about how good his Glock/Sig/Ruger/Smith etc is.

My best reply is to plead ignorance (which is honest, if not helpful) and make a few suggestions ... which are also not helpful to the new competitor who wants to buy The Perfect Pistol now.

My only suggestion is to talk to people who shoot, and find out what they recommend. Ask to try their pistols, if only at the safety table, and see how well it fits your hand. (A person with small hands may not like a HK USP; a person with large hands may not like a sub-compact 10mm Glock 29.) And a person who has experience shooting a .45 ACP 1911 may not like the ergonomics and grip-angle of any Glock at all.

The best advice is 'talk to the man who owns one', and in any training class there may be a plethora of owner/pistol combinations to provide data for making a decision. The best anyone can do is to know what he wants; this isn't always the case for a new competitor, so it would be helpful to provide a "Kumbaya" session where everyone can sit down and talk to each other, to share experiences and discuss their personal preferences.

Again, not likely to happen when the class is only scheduled for 2 hours. But meeting other shooters and discussing the sport of shooting is often as important as the shooting experience itself. If nothing else results, it helps to get to know the people who share your interests. At best, the new competitor can gather information which may help him/her to decide what firearm best meets personal needs and expectations.

SUMMARY:
When I go to club matches, I enjoy meeting new shooters and helping them to meet their Certification requirements by shooting a safe match. If I can help make it a fun experience, one they are motivated to repeat, that's even better. Most of us enjoy Practical shooting competition, and we want everyone to enjoy it as much as we do; that unstated goal implies that we volunteer to be part of the recruitment process, and that we enjoy the company of other good people who like to shoot.

But the experience is only enjoyable if you don't feel like a total dork at your first match. The best way to avoid that feeling is to be prepared, and to know that you are prepared.

I remember that I was feeling dorky most of the first year that I competed, and the only reason I stayed with the sport is because individuals encouraged me.

The best thing that I can do for The Sport, to pay back the rewards that I discovered (a fun activity, a way to use the firearms that I like to shoot and to compare my performance to that of others, training, establishing a reasonable set of goals and meeting them, and the camaraderie or fellowship of like-minded people) is by easing the Rite of Passage which we all endure on the way to becoming membership of the fraternity of competitive shooters ... and making new friends who enjoy similar interests and values.

Sure, the goals I have defined here are probably not practical. The expense is unbearable, the people willing to put in the time are not available, and the club/range resources are limited. Perhaps more important, if you advertise that you can certify people in two hours, they are more likely to show up for the class than if you tell them in advance that they can expect one hour of classroom instruction and four or five hours of range time.

On the other hand, what's wrong with four or five hours of range time?

Nothing. It's all good. Except when you find yourself spending more time watching other people shoot and waiting for your time, than you spend shooting.

The key is to make the 'waiting time' part of the training. Involving the people who are 'waiting for their turn', encouraging them to watch the other folks shoot and then using whatever happens as part of their training, is the most efficient use of range time.

It teaches observers (other students waiting for their turn to shoot) to be aware of what is happening on the stage. This is "Situational Awareness", which is difficult state to attain but can be encouraged by including the entire class in any corrections or comments the trainer may make to an individual student.

Comments made to a student, to correct a less-than-optimal practice or action, will take a certain amount of time. If you only make those comments to one student, the rest of the class doesn't learn from it.

Instead, turn to face the rest of the class and describe the situation, describe what action the student made, define what made it a good (or not-good) action, and then describe the preferred manner of handling the situation. The lesson is made to the shooter, and the rest of the class may learn from it as well. If nothing else, it relieves the boredom holds the attention of the waiting students; ideally, the instruction which may be "Information Overload" in a classroom situation becomes intuitively obvious instruction when combined with real-time, real-life situations in which the students ... all of the students ... have become participants by virtue of being informed observers.

The people who show up for these classes are highly motivated, as a rule. They want to learn, and they readily accept lessons if they are presented within the context of a situation which is presented as a part of the real-time, real-life experience of shooting a match.

This is the reason they are participating; everything is new to them, but their motivation is to shoot a match without screwing up or looking like a dork. They are as hungry for usable information as 'we were' when 'we' started shooting competitively. As a rule they are bright, aware, and they know bullshit when they see it or when they hear it.

Instructors who can make the lessons interesting even to the part of the class which is not actively participating will find that their students achieve a higher rate of success.

DISCLAIMER:
I'm making authoritative statements based on a single large-class lead instructor experience.
I can only back this up with experience in the business arena as a trainer, and training in "Supervision and Training" classes, often out-of-pocket, extending over several years.

While many of the "I wish we could do this" suggestions present here are obviously not practical because of resource shortages, the principles are sound and verifiable. Experienced trainers are invited to suggest corrections, or to offer suggestions which expand on the theme.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Flight of the Phoenix

I told you last weekend about Poko, That great Paragueyan National, who got tangled up with a rope on a stage and was unceremoniously fell.

I also mentioned that Bonnie T. was filming at the time.

Here's the video, in raw form (not edited) for your pleasure.


Note that the rope is not featured in the film. You'll just have to use your imagination to visualize it.


video

USPSA New Shooter Certification Class

A few days ago I was having an email exchange with Mike McCarter about ... something or other ... and I said:
"Oh, BTW, I see that you are offering a lot of training at the ARPC (Albany Rifle and Pistol Club) range on Saturday. There's a "Home Protection" class, a "new shooter gun-handling" class, and you personally are responsible for three classes: Junior USPSA practice, New Junior USPSA training, and adult USPSA training/certification. It looks like you are spread pretty thin. Could you use some help?"
Mac allowed as how he would "take all the help I can get!", so I suggested that I might show up before the classes started, and he might find something for me to do.

I arrived at the range at noon, and Mac found me eating my lunch at the car. He said he would get some supplies and be back to me after I finished lunch.

It was, as it turned out, a good idea to get some lunch.

A half-hour before the classes were scheduled to start, as we were toting targets and props up to Bay 9 (where the USPSA New Shooter Certification class was scheduled), I casually asked how many students we could expect.

Mac said: "I have six new shooters confirmed. I'll handle the classroom preliminaries, and then you'll run them through the field training while I run the Junior practices." (One if the scheduled instructors for the Junior program was a no-show, so Mac had to combine the two Junior classes/practices into one. This was a job which couldn't be delegated... Mac is very involved in the Junior Program.)

When all of the people were counted, we had 13 ... not 6 ... new adult USPSA students.

Fortunately, Chad M. showed up to do some private practice: Mac drafted him to help me, and I was grateful that I wasn't the only instructor in the Field Trials portion of the class. (In the actual event, Rob and Caryn S. of Major Nyne Guns showed up to do their own practice, and stuck around for an hour to help organize and explain the process of squadding, and getting the next shooter ready on time. We could never have completed the training requirements without them.)

The experience of leading a USPSA Certification Field Training class was an absolute blast! And it was a new one, for me. Sure, I've helped on such classes before, and I've run the Field Training Certification for individuals before, but jumping into a class of 13 good folks who had a widely variant of experience with pistols ... and I didn't have background information on anyone ... was both daunting and exhilarating.

I consider myself to be a good trainer: I've trained individuals, I've been an IPSC competitor for 25 years, I've taken three NROI courses on Range Officer (one Level I RO course, then a Chief Range Officer Course in 1999, then an Audit of the CRO course on the new USPSA rule book a few months ago).

But running 13 strangers through a 5-stage Field Training course is a new Personal Best.

At the end of the day, I gave out "Get Out of Hell Free" cards to all of the students, along with the URL for this blog and my associated email address. So I'm not telling tales out of school.

Well, actually I am. But what follows is not an attempt to hold up anyone to ridicule. I'm just trying to provide some background on what the Field Training part of the certification process feels like from a personal point of view.

First, I saw a lot of new guns today. Most prominent in my memory were various models of Kimbers, an unexpected number of Ruger USPs, and a couple of Glocks.

What I didn't understand at first, is that a significant number of the students either had not shot that particular pistol before, or were not familiar with it.

I found three students with leather holsters that featured a thumb-snap. They were not aware that they had to be engaged (the strap had to be fastened by the snap, if the holster was so equipped.)

Two of the 13 shooters were "lefties"; I was reminded again that Range Officers need to be aware of this when the shooter comes up to the line, and position himself on that side to observe the "Load and Make Ready" ... no, now the Range Command is just "Make Ready" (I found myself forgetting that time and again) process.

Some of the students were very apprehensive. I can understand that, as I found myself to be nervous for the first several months when I first began competing. My instructors, and Range Officers in the first half-dozen matches in which I competed, were patient and understanding with me. I had learned a lot from that experience, and I hope I managed to convey a similar mien of understanding, patience and unflappability.

The experience levels of the various students were dramatically varied; however, the more experienced shooters did tend to shoot faster than they needed to, and were not as accurate as they could have been, had they taken to heart the admonishment to "take your time, don't try to shoot fast".

Generally speaking, every shooter was an excellent shot. When they got over their initial nervousness, everyone got good hits and had no problems with range commands, the need to obey the safety rules, and they paid attention to detailed explanations of "you have read the book; this is what it means in a match". (Eg: what is "standing in the box" vs "this is not in the box" and "you can reload while moving, or while you're standing still, but you must always keep the muzzle pointed downrange and your finger off the trigger when reloading").

Here are some of the unique situations we encountered --- I offer them not to embarrass the individual, but to illustrate the training deficiencies which are probably not atypical:
  • One gentleman didn't know that his Kimber had a safety, let alone when and how it should be applied;
  • The lady who was shooting her new Kimber for the first time (she had been shooting a Revolver before, which had obviously punished her badly) didn't know how to grip the pistol "as if you were holding a hammer". She drew the pistol very low on the grip, and then shifted to a higher grip after the draw. This was very awkward for her, and time-consuming in terms of stage-time;
  • One gentleman shooting a new Kimber had formed the habit of placing his weak-hand thumb over his strong hand, with the result that his thumb was very close to the space where the slide would travel in recoil. I explained that he needed to move his thumb on the off-side of the pistol to avoid having the slide in recoil engaging the knuckle of his thumb resulting in great personal injury to his thumb, damage to the meat and bone, and a lot of pain and unseemly caterwhaling. He acknowledged this advice and moved his weak-hand thumb further down-limb to the near vicinity of his strong-hand wrist. This was the most I could accomplish, because when you get locked into a very bad habit it is almost impossible to break it without the reinforcement of a corresponding breakage of bone mass;
  • One gentleman did the "Make Ready" part okay, but when he started his first stage, the first action after drawing his pistol was to rack the slide ... dumping the chambered round and needlessly chambering the second round before his first shot. He immediately recognized that this was not necessary, and never did it again;
  • One gentleman was devoted to 'flamboyant gestures with his firearm", a term which I defined on the spot when, upon being given the command "If you are finished, unload and show clear", he dramatically dropped his supporting arm to let gravity bring the pistol swooping down, down, down until the weight of the gun allowed the arm to swing past the perpendicular-to-the-earth position in an arch which allowed the muzzle to point to the rear of his position. When advised that this could result in a Match DQ, he discontinued the practice in subsequent stages;
  • One gentleman swung his pistol UP and over the top of a Bianchi barricade in moving to engage targets from the other side. When it was pointed out that this may, in a spate of over-exuberance, lead to breaking the 180 degree rule if the muzzle of the gun should accidentally point to the rear of the stage, it became a good training point about the best way to traverse from one side of a barricade to the other (pull the gun back into your belly, rotate your torso toward the other side of the barricade, and push the gun away from you ... always attempting to keep the barrel horizontal and pointing downrange);
I note that some of these lessons took me 20 years to learn, and they are not perhaps typically taught in USPSA Field Training Certification exercises.

These were not "problems', they were only lessons that needed to be learned, and until an event occurred which provided an opportunity to become a Training Lesson it was not generally recognized that training was necessary.

I emphasize that these illustrations are not intended to denigrate the students. They were universally enthusiastic and ready to learn. To belabor a clumsy expression: "You don't know what you don't know until you know what you didn't know".

The entire experience was revelatory both to the students, and to the instructors.

And it was a total thrill.

I've regaled you with what might be considered "war stories", now let me tell you some of the very positive outcomes of the training.

I have often said, and always held that "shooters are some of the finest people in the world", and this day at the range proved it once again. I think there's something in the mind-set of people who have convinced themselves that shooting is a great way to have fun and meet like-minded people; maybe it's an indicator of a healthy mind and a healthy self-image, but the reason we all congregate at a rocky shooting range is that we consider it an adventure to be shared, and enjoyed, and cherished. USPSA competition is one of the most demanding shooting sports in the world; the safety rules are daunting, the penalties for violating these rules are embarrassing and the standards are so high that they may seem impossible to meet.

But they can be met, and when you have put yourself unto the touch, to win or lose it all, and have met the test, there's an exhilarating sense of self-worth which is lacking in the daily life.

Every student who attended the class was eager and open to learning what they didn't know. They had questions ... lots of intelligent, good questions. They listened to the answers, took them to heart, and applied them immediately.

Nobody was cranky, or resistant to being told that they just did something 'wrong'. Instead, they maintained a positive mental attitude and never, never interpreted criticism as a personal affront.
_______________________________________

The moral to the story is probably best exemplified by the sound-bites after the class was over:
  • I suggested that "this was so fun we should do it all again next year". Jan Hase (pronounced, I think, 'Yawn Hawsah' ... I hope I've finally got it right!) said "We should do it all again next Saturday" (when the students complete their certification by completing an actual match, safely.)
  • One student said he couldn't compete in the next match due to a scheduling conflict, and anxiously asked if he could complete the three-part test (written test and online instruction; verbal "classroom" instruction and Field Training; and the final exam of safely shooting at an actual match) at a later date? Mac's response was that they only had to safely complete an ARPC match, and if it was the match scheduled in 3 months, that was acceptable. I think he meant that it didn't have to be the 'very next match', only that they had to successfully complete any match at ARPC.)
  • I challenged one lady with the comment that "Now, that wasn't so very hard after all, was it?" She replied: "It was wonderful. I loved it! I can't wait until the match!"
  • The lady who was shooting her brand new Semi-Auto (Kimber) for the first time, and her husband, talked to me for a half-hour about techniques, training, gun-handling, and about how nervous she was at first. (She was obviously nervous, but she had the courage of a Grizzly bear and was undaunted by the training. She shot so well, I wasn't aware that she had never shot that pistol until she told me about it after the class.) We discussed gun-handling training techniques, and other technicalities ("try dry-firing at home, put a penny on top of the gun when you're dry-firing and see if you can squeeze the trigger without dislodging the penny"; "Where do you put the penny?" "Anywhere that you can make it balance, preferably near the muzzle of the gun, even on the rear sight.")
SUMMARY:
I very much enjoyed my day, and I think that most of the students in the class did, too. Until and unless they read this, they may not realize that I learned at least as much as they did. As an example, half-way home I discovered that I was drained of energy and had to be careful to stay alert enough to drive safely. Even now, I'm groggy with fatigue and almost half asleep but I am so energized about my day that I couldn't rest until I have told the story.

(I have one more story to tell, and dinner to heat&eat, so I'll probably stay awake for a while although my planned evening with SWMBO will have to wait for another day.)

Oh yes, two more points.

First, that I spent at least a half-hour with a father-and-son pair (one of the more rewarding consequences of interest in USPSA competition) discussing technical and administrative issues of USPSA competition. The son was obviously offended when I lit a cigarette, but he stuck around 'upwind' long enough to learn the lessons.

Second, I made the point to a husband-and-wife team that the husband/boyfriend was not the best person to train his wife/g-friend. The best person to help train a lady shooter, I averred was probably an experienced lady shooter.

Later I circumspectly discussed this concept with SWMBO. She graciously disavowed any protestations on my part that am not a great trainer, and completely ignored my subtle hints that she would be doing a service to new lady shooters if we were squadded with them at the 'certification match' next weekend, and she would offer coaching during the match to new lady shooters.

I'm not done yet. Watch this space.

Note to the lady shooters at the class today: if you are reading this, I strongly encourage you to show up early next weekend, and squad yourself with us.

I suggest this, of course, only because new lady shooters are more comfortable shooting with other lady shooters ... especially when shooting with experienced lady shooter who may have a few tips and other encouragement to offer.

I'm just saying ....

Friday, May 02, 2008

Microstamping: Reader Responses

Yesterday's publication of the defense of Microstamping Ammunition Technology by Mr. Lizotte has already generated some reader response.

I'm not prepared to present a counter-argument at this time, and frankly I see some merit in some of the justifications there presented.

You may be interested in some comment which I received today from readers by email.

"Jim":
Read all of this hype from the inventor of micor stamping, but I am not convinced that the reloading issue was addressed well. The idea that everyone always tumbles their brass before reloading thereby making it possible to identify older micro stamping is ridiculous. I certainly don't always tumble my cartridges and if I shoot one weekend, reload during the week and shoot the next weekend I would have some serious doubts about them being able to determine which was the oldest after the cartridge had been exposed to dirt, weather and other elements of nature for any time.

In the case of reloading, you could conceivably have 8 to 10 or more micro stamps on any one cartridge if the micro stamp is added at any place but the firing pin. And if placed on the firing pin so the micro stamping would be removed each time the cartridge was reloaded might answer the reloading issues, but it would be simple to replace the firing pin. The inventor of microstamping didn't address this well. Also the idea that guns used in crimes are not usually used very much really is a stretch as far as I am concerned, while that may be true in the majority we are more concerned with the minority who will be affected by a faulty reading.

I still don't agree with "intentional" micro stamping unless they can better answer reloading questions. In fact, I would suggest that the unintentional marking of bullets and/or cartridges is a better way of identification and if micro stamping were in fact to become law, should be used in conjunction with the "intentional" marking.
Jim presents some pertinent arguments.

To expand on this position, I agree that Mr. Lizotte dismisses the reloaded-ammunition question with an almost cavalier manner.

He approaches the entire subject of ammunition usage with a certain set of preconceptions, entirely ignoring that not-inconsiderable set of people who shoot a lot of ammunition and, because ammunition is (increasingly) expensive, are encouraged by economic pressure to retain their expended brass and reload it ... often.

Mr. Lizotte's position seems to be that:
  • it is a simple manner for forensic technicians to determine the "most recent" microstamp on frequently microstamped ammunition;
  • In a relatively short period of time, Microstamping will become the norm;
  • The scenario where a potential violent criminal will glean expended cartridges from a shooting range, and re-use them to be used in a crime, is insignificant because ...
  • Criminals are too lazy, too indifferent, or too stupid to dump microstamped cartridge cases from someone else's gun at a crime scene as a foil to the police.
However, I'm still skeptical about this last assumption. When police track ammunition found at a crime scene to an innocent gun owner, the least ill effect is that their attention has been distracted. It's easy to imagine that police become complaisant because they have been assured that the scenario is unlikely, or at least that the probability is "insignificant".

The owner of the gun that actually fired that cartridge is forced into the position of proving his innocence, because the available 'evidence' is that he is the owner of the gun which fired shots at the scene ... even though neither he nor the gun were there.

Next, from "Paul":
You say the handguns already micro stamp the brass in their own way. First what about steel cases.... The second question, for years NY and Mass have been saving a factory fired case from each handgun bought, or in those states cases registered. The states are spending $4 and $7 million per year in this endeavor. With all these cases and data on file they have yet to solve a shooting case. What will make yours any different.

This looks like more buearacracy, [sic] registration and more fees for each state that takes it on. You are playing to the ignorant, in this case the state legislatures who will buy into anything that gets them votes and where they can make the public all touchy feely safe which as we know is a real misbelief.
Hmmm, I hadn't thought about steel cases. Or about aluminum, or nickel-brass cases. Do these metals take a microstamp?

Mr. Lizotte's interview responses seem to accept 'toolmarks' to be a currently legitimate and helpful tool to firearms forensics. How is Microstamping an improvement on the that technology?
________________________________

It's clear that one man can't properly evaluate such a complex innovation, and I do invite your comments. In fact, I encourage you most strenuously to contribute to the dialogue. Just in one day I have all of these 'issues' that I either haven't conceived or thought through.

I remain skeptical of the technology, although I do recognize that Mr. Lizotte didn't just make up the technology without researching the supporting systems which allow the police to follow up the information provided there. He has done his homework and is quite prepared to defend the concept.

Ultimately, I think the flaw ... whether or not it is a 'fatal' flaw remains to be seen ... in the system is that it embraces the technology and the legal aspects, but disregards what we may think of as the 'social' aspects.

And it absolutely dismisses the effect it may have on marketing of firearms. Although it is easy to fall into the "if it saves just one child" fallacy, this is not a crime-prevention system. The most obvious objections are that it imposes a requirement on manufacturers to incorporate new manufacturing processes at a not-insignificant expense, for a market which is not universal, and for a social benefit which has been no more proven by actual experience than has been the technology.

California has enacted this into law. We will see, over time, whether the benefits expected by the progenitor and the firearms-fearing State of California are justified by the actual crime-solving results.

The Road Less Travelled

El Camino del Rey, Spain.

A disintegrating concrete 'path' hugging a 100% cliff face, overlooking incredible scenery which I couldn't bother to look at because I was too busy watching my step.

No, really, I'm not the intrepid hiker who wordlessly conducted this tour. He was too busy filming every step of the way. His nonchalance is terrifying to this viewer as he calmly walks along stretches of suspended cement walkway with huge holes in it. At one point he balance-walks along a two-inch framework bar because an entire six foot section of the walkway has somehow collapsed into the river far below.



My attention was drawn to this acrophobic's nightmare by Xavier Thoughts, whose website is the inspiration of too much of my blogmeat.

He in turn got it from Crime, Guns and Videotapes. I would have just linked to his article to give him the traffic, but when I tested the permalink I discovered that he has an annoying commercial pop-up. Follow the link if you wish: I did not choose to force you into it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Microstamping Ammunition: Todd Lizotte Attachments

This provides the Attachments" which accompany the original "Todd Lizotte Interview", in the order in which they were presented.

(1) --- CartridgePrimerMicrostamp_2528_40CalS&W.jpg


(2) --- Critical_Role_Of_Firearms_Examiners.pdf

(3) --- Microstamping Microscopy Methods.pdf

(4) --- PatternCrimes6.pdf

(5) --- PivotalBreachFace3.40CalS&W.bmp

Microstamping Ammunition: Todd Lizotte Interview

Three weeks ago Todd Lizotte, "the inventor of Microstamping" technology, responded in my Comments section to some statements I had made.

I invited him to consider some concerns which I felt were common to American gun-owners, and he was kind enough to respond.

It has taken a while for him to work through the list on questions, and we're grateful for his dedication.

Today he sent an email with my questions and his responses. I present it here, unedited. It's very long, so I'll save comments for a later post:

__________________________________________

Hello Jerry,

Apologize for the delay.

I attempted to keep it condensed. I might expand on a few of my comments if you get feedback or would like further clarification or dig deeper into the technology or implementation strategy.

Hello Mr. *******,

[Todd E Lizotte] No worries, the microstamping technology is straightforward. Firearms have been microstamping cartridges for over 100 hundred years and it is these “unintentional” markings that are used and form the basis of current firearm and tool mark identification in the forensic community.

Microstamping just builds on the current process, by adding several new “intentional” marking features which can be linked to the serial number. This will allow a firearm to be identified if the firearm is not recovered from the crime scene.

If I correctly understand your position (compared with mine), you take exception to two issues which I mentioned:

1) you object to my assertion that Microstamping is confused with "cartridge/bullet serialization";

[Todd E Lizotte] I only object to the two technologies being associated, because they are two different approaches with far greater differences than complementary attributes. Bullet Serialization is not Microstamping; it is true serialization or product registration.

Clarifications:

Microstamping is a passive device that marks the cartridge upon discharge of the firearm. (This is what the firearm currently does, except the marks the firearm produces today are random marks that are used for firearms identification by forensic professionals.) All microstamping does is add a few more marking structures to the existing firearm surfaces that currently produce the random markings. This new code is linked to the serial number at final assembly, when the firearms serial number is loaded into the internal accounting system at the firearm manufacturing facility. That is where the code is activated or associated to the serial number of the firearm.

What this means is that the BATF have to use the existing trace system to gain access to the serial number, no change in the status quo.

Microstamping is a one time cost to the firearm. If you figure a cost of $6.00 per firearm, than you are talking the price of two cups of coffee at Starbucks, divide that over a year and your talking about $.50 a month in the first year to cover the cost. If you figure that it costs about $15 for a box of .40 cal ammo, it means sacrificing half a box of ammo one time to provide law enforcement with an opportunity to track and target people who traffic firearms to criminals.

On the other hand:

Bullet/cartridge Serialization (Not Microstamping) is a product coding system and back door registration system which requires a complete upheaval of the existing manufacturing process of ammunition, as well as the distribution chain for ammunition. Furthermore, it requires that each state and the federal level maintain its own database for tracking storage and distribution of ammunition, the certification and licensing of every distributor within the ammunition manufacturers distribution chain, allowing the distributor the ability to sell or distribute the ammunition. In a nutshell, this is a multi-billion dollar infrastructure overhaul that would need to be funded by each state and the federal level to put in place just the tracking system, let alone the network system maintenance that would have to be supported to keep it operational and up to date.

Pitfalls of Bullet/Cartridge Serialization:

· Requires a national database system to track the domestic and international manufacture (both military / civilian markets), importation, transport and distribution of ammunition by the state and federal government. (An integrated system that someone needs to develop and fund) Figure it has taken approximately $1 Billion to create the NIBIN platform and the BATF still does not have the system integrated across state boundaries effectively. Nor does NIBIN involve tracking billions of cartridges. In ten years only ~1.2 million cartridges have been entered. Even the most integrated and well maintained databases in the financial sector are prone to fraud to the level of millions of customers having their information hacked into by criminals.

· Bullet/Cartridge serialization requires a new licensing system so that ammunition can not be purchased using fake ID or ID Theft issues, such as driver’s licenses, which might be given to illegal aliens or criminals.

· Bullet/Cartridge serialization process requires the ammunition industry to either change its production method, since they would have to mark two separate pieces and ensure that they are mated together in the final assembly.

· Bullet/Cartridge serialization requires a similar coding and tracking system that can tie an individual assembled cartridge to a group of cartridges within a box; a series of boxes that form a case; the case to the shipping documents; and linked to the distribution chain at each step of the way until it reaches the shelf for sale.

So, if you want to know, I do not support Bullet/Cartridge serialization. Bullet/Cartridge serialization is a bureaucracy based technology that costs more money on an annual basis, to maintain the infrastructure – in fact the cost of maintaining the database will outstrip the actually cost of putting codes on the cartridge / bullet.

2) Microstamping technology is mis-perceived as 'requiring a national database" to be effective, which I have mis-characterized in my article.

[Todd Lizotte] That is correct; Microstamping the firearm requires no new database. All the data is part of the existing internal accounting system used by the firearms company/industry in order to conform to the BATF requirements. The codes placed onto the two surfaces are linked to the specific serial number of the handgun at final assembly, when the serial number is entered into the ERP/MRP accounting system. Simply put, it is an added field in the software – simple.

For my part, there are many other issues pursuant to the development of 'microstamping' as a legal requirement in firearms manufacture. But first:

1) I think I understand the difference between "Microstamping Ammunition" and "Encoded Ammunition" technology. (If I have given the impression that I think the two are identical, I apologize and will correct such misapprehensions as they are identified.)

Note that terms are often braced by quotes; this is not an attempt to establish a 'so-called' and derogatory (or dismissive) bias. Rather, it is to establish the quoted terms as a precise and legal definition.

[Todd Lizotte] (No worries I am good with your bracketing and I do not take offense to your wording or opinions)

Feel free to correct my mistakes.

"Microstamping" refers to the formation of structures on internal parts of a firearm, which currently mark unintentional tooling marks. The code structure is on the micro sized. These new structures will in turned be embossed/stamped onto some part of the cartridge case or primer upon the firing of ammunition (a 'cartridge') in that firearm. This code is unique to that firearm, and is only transferred to the ammunition component when the cartridge is fired. (Note: we have found that it actually marks misfired cartridges as well.)

[Todd E Lizotte] Correct, however, this is not a new process, all firearms currently microstamp cartridges. The current microstamps are surface features, such as tooling marks, left over from the production processes that are used to form the components of the firearm.

The tooling marks on the internal surfaces come in contact with the cartridges and transfer “unintentional” markings. These unintentional markings have been used for over >70 years by forensic investigators for firearm identification. However these marks are only used when the firearm is recovered from the crime scene.

“Microstamping” technique is just the addition of two new features that are “Intentional”, there is no change to the process. The markings are formed the same way. Many people are trying to say this is a new process, it isn’t. Instead of using only the “unintentional” tooling marks, we are proposing the addition and use of two “intentional” micro codes. Furthermore the new codes are optimized to the dynamic action of the firearm; specifically we perform “cycle of fire analysis” and determine the characteristics of each model of firing mechanism and then use a series of markings to test optimum feature geometries to establish the best configuration for the firearm. It is a very simple approach using existing methodologies for analysis developed by the forensic firearms investigators.

"Encoded Ammunition" is an entirely different process, in which a code is embossed or engraved upon one or more parts of the ammunition (specifically, the bullet, and/or the cartridge case). That code is unique to that cartridge or bullet (or other component?) and is embossed or engraved during the manufacturing process. The code is unique to that piece of ammunition, or to a batch of ammunition which is manufactured at the same time and place.[Todd E Lizotte] Correct

In shorter terms:

Microstamping is done on the firearms, which in turns stamps the ammunition when fired;

Encoding is done on the ammunition during manufacture, and bears no direct relation to the firearm. [Todd E Lizotte] Correct

Have I got the crux of the difference? .[Todd E Lizotte] I believe that defines it clearly. I made some slight changes to the microstamping description.

I'm assuming that you agree in principle to these definitions, and further discussion can ignore to the manufacture-process of "encoded ammunition". Please correct me if I am wrong.

(I'm sorry this is so stilted; I'm attempting to establish a common definition and I'm trying to be precise.) Your approach is fine with me.

______________

Given that the above are common terms of understanding, can we advance to a discussion of "Microstamping of Ammunition" as defined?

For the sake of discussion, all firearms will be defined as having a single firing pin and a single breech mechanism. The options are to provide either the firing pin or the breech part with engraved (defined as "you make indentations or bas-relieve protuberance") marks which will be stamped on a part of the cartridge when the gun is fired".

[Todd Lizotte] The markings we create are designed to maintain the surface integrity (i.e. maintain the spherical datum of the pin or surface as well as the surface of the breach. We create what we call “recessed protected indicia” which in simple terms means we do not change the dynamics of the interaction of the firing pin to the primer, but design for a coining of the surface metal of the primer. As for the breach, we developed a means to analyze the “cycle of fire” of the firearm and place our recessed protected indicia at locations that provide the best marking capability.

All firearms currently microstamp and these unintentional markings form the basis of firearms identification that is used by law enforcement. All we have done is add optimized / intentional marking elements that can ID the firearm, using the existing trace system and without the need for any new infrastructure. The best part is the firearms industry controls the information.

We have four affected parts:

Of the firearm: the firing pin, or the breech. [Todd E Lizotte] Yes, however we specifically had the California policy people leave it less defined to allow each firearm producer the opportunity to use other surfaces within the firearm, such as the ejector and extractor or custom designed elements.

Of the cartridge: the primer, or the base of the case. .

Speaking of the firing pin:

You may agree to any or none of the following statements:

. The firing pin of the firearm is a small part which is not necessarily intrinsic to the manufacture of the basic firearm. The firing pin is a two-dollar 'consumable' part (like pencils in an office) which is expected to wear or deform, requiring occasional replacement.

[Todd E Lizotte] Correct. It is a consumable, not sure I have ever paid $2.00. In fact the ex-head of Ruger (Sanetti) stated in his testimony in Connecticut, that the firing pin is the highest mortality part of Ruger firearms (I think this might be a Ruger issue though – my S&W .40 has a pin that has nearly 6000 rounds fired without failure.)

Based on the forensic community (CA-DOJ), a majority of new model firearms recovered from crime scenes have been fired less than 500 rounds and in many circumstances retain the original lubricant from the factory. Microstamping targets these new models, to track firearms that make it into the market via thefts and straw purchases.

. Replacement of a firing pin may or may not be governmentally controlled; if it is controlled, the cost to the retail customer of the replacement may involve more than the manufacturing costs plus overhead, and may involve considerable delay because the part cannot be stockpiled by the manufacture (more overhead to the manufacture is involved in this.)

[Todd E Lizotte] The California law is specifically written to allow this freedom allowing for owners to switch pins for competition or sport shooting activities. The targeting of straw purchasers is the key. My belief is that you should be able to purchase firing pins. California law should be the model legislation, since it is a simple approach, but maintains the status quo for law abiding citizens.

. Because the bills requiring "Microstamping of ammunition" by a firing pin is based on state law, it is possible to replace a "Microstamping" firing pin by one which is readily acquired out-of-state, or out-of-country, thus obviating the state law. (Note that current California state law only required "Microstamping technology" on "new" firearms, and could take decades to become enforceable.)

. The firing pin is a part which is one of the most wear-susceptible of the entire firearm, not including the barrel and the breech face. As such, the micro-encoding of the cartridge (in this case, the primer) is most likely to be blurred with usage.

[Todd E Lizotte] All of your statements are correct. We figure the firing pin code, should outlive the life of the firing pin. Once again we are not talking about firearms purchased by law abiding citizens.

We have demonstrated >5,000 using live fire testing.

Speaking of the breech:

. "Microstamping" on the breech will only impinge upon the base of the cartridge. This portion of the cartridge is typically pre-embossed with the manufacturer's name, caliber, and any special markings. The embossing is typically deep and prominent. [Todd E Lizotte] Correct

. Given that the "microstamping" of the base of the cartridge may often be obscured by the headstamp, and that headstamp may cause "microstamping" to be imperfectly transferred to the base of the cartridge, what is your estimation of the failure (number or percentage) of "microstamped" codes to be unreadable?

[Todd E Lizotte] The key is redundancy, using standard cartridges there is an ability to get the entire code out of three partial codes. (The sum of the parts scenario) We have designed a method of placing separate codes at angles that guarantee at least one full code and two partials, with the two partials being aligned so one is the front half and the other the back half of the code.

We always test the extreme, a point that is not discussed in the literature done by others you tested circa 1999 technology. We have always tested 8 characters; however our technology will start at six characters for the first 20+ years. Many of the testing using non-optimized firearms, i.e. Krivosta and UC Davis (Which we partially funded) had eight digit codes for a reason. Eight digits represent the largest area on the tip of the pin. We always design and test for added capacity, to give us higher transfer rates. This is shown when people attend our live fire testing. It is not a laboratory setting.

We have other surfaces on the breach face that do not even come near the head stamp locations. Because we work on a micro level there is plenty of real-estate to work with. However, we also balance the size to the dynamics and wear characteristics of the mechanical process of a firearm, which in itself is multivariate.

. Given that ammunition is endemic in the shooting community, it is reasonable to assume that a 'found' cartridge case may have been previously "microstamped" by two or more firearms. What are the chances that such a cartridge case, found at the scene of a crime, will be either unreadable (see above), or legally defensible as "not definitively, reliably, or objectively provable" to have LAST been fired by the firearm in question?

.[Todd E Lizotte] We have run reloads, typical tumbling processes of brass cartridges eradicates the previous markings. However, this is one of those “what if” questions that the Forensic professionals laugh at. Forensic investigators know how to determine fresh from old cartridges. They also understand that, even if there are two markings the newest one will have minimal oxidation as compared to the new markings. The science of microscopy is very well developed and it is commonplace to use scanning electron microscopy to identify and verify gun shot residue.

Another point to be made is that “WHAT IF” arguments are scenarios that the forensic community has had to deal with currently. Planting cartridges is not as easy as you might think. I was given an overview of how a crime scene is analyzed. Firearm ejection patterns, projectile trajectory, gun shot residue analysis and general crime scene data, such as foot prints are analyzed.

If someone scattered or planted cartridges; they would conflict with the cartridges that were fired and ejected. The planted cartridges would need to be the same make and model ammo, same gun powder and would have to be placed in reasonable proximity to the ejected cartridges. On top of that, the forensic professional’s comment that planted cartridges open doors for further leads, since the cartridges will be shown to be plants, since there will be no projectiles to match them. A planted cartridge offers a potential for fingerprints, DNA and possibly the location where the criminal acquired them, which could lead to a security camera where the cartridges were taken. All in all, the planting theory seems to be not an issue to law enforcement. That is what they say.

The introduction of new forensic technology has never created a paradigm shift in the intelligence of the common criminal.

In either case:

. Given that cartridge cases are often left on the surface of shooting ranges around the country, and that they may be picked up and retained (and reloaded) by any casual bystander, and;

. given that these cartridge cases may be reloaded by anyone in possession of an (unregulated) reloading press, and;

. given that reloading ammunition is a decidedly unregulated process, and;

. given that the majority of firearms will for the foreseeable future (decades, at least) NOT be subject to these "new guns" laws, what are the chances that a pre-microstamped cartridge case will be used in a capital crime to draw police attention to a shooter whose only crime is failing to recover ALL of his expended cases at a public firing range? .

[Todd E Lizotte] Next to zero – consider that we are talking about opportunistic straw purchasers, who trade in firearms to criminal networks. These are not the type of people to go to the local gun range to test their newly acquired stolen or illegally acquired firearm. I am not sure about where you shoot, but the facility I use has security cameras and requires that you give your license and fill out a form every time you go there, even as a member.

Take for instance a gang drive by shooting, the criminal rolls down a window, points the firearm and rapidly unloads into someone … at the same time they have to reach into their pocket and throw out cartridges. They are too juiced to think straight, let alone plant cartridges.

I do agree with you that the "Encoded Ammunition" laws now being proposed should not be confused with "Microstamping Ammunition" laws based upon your technology.

"Encoded Ammunition" laws (bills) are ipso facto an infringement upon the Second Amendment, in that the cost of conforming to such regulation includes manufacturing controls which are so prohibitively costly that ammunition manufacturers cannot provide affordable ammunition to 99+% of the consuming public.

[Todd E Lizotte] I agree, I am against encoded ammo, it is a new government controlled bureaucracy and default purchaser registration.

However, I hope that you will perceive that "Microstamping Ammunition" bills, while they initially seem to be 'low impact' on the consumer (in terms of purchase price of the original firearm) can reasonably be expected to not only promulgate unlimited expense in terms of maintenance, but are also (in the viewpoint of my fellow firearms owners) rife with future restrictions on the second amendment ... to say nothing of the possibility of unreasonable criminal charges being levied upon honest citizens.

[Todd E Lizotte] Sorry, I do not agree. I see Microstamping “handguns” as a firearm industry controlled technology and a law enforcement tool for targeting those <1%>nd amendment right they are given. Furthermore, the firearms industry was provided with the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005), the purpose of the act is to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products. I think adding microstamping is a quid pro quo to law enforcement to assist them in targeting the trafficking of firearms. The industry should self police itself, but it should also look for simple ideas to improve the quality of investigative leads, i.e. evidence for incidents where firearms are used to commit a crime.

As for unlimited expense, that is not the case. With most law enforcement tools that have been implemented, the costs is continuous – such as CoBIS in NY and RBID in MD or even the ballistic imaging technology by the ATF called NIBIN. Microstamping is an initial per gun price once or in the worse case if you replace a firing pin.

We pay ~$15.00 / box of ammo; we pay upwards of ~$27.00 / firing pin for one that is made with high precision, exotic materials/replacement springs and balanced weight.

If you go to Dunkin Donuts you pay ~$2.00 for a cup of coffee and if you are a Starbucks drinker, you pay ~$4.00, and then we pay almost $4.00 for a gallon of gas.

With that said, when looking at a technology that could allow the industry to assist law enforcement and hold off seriously bad legislation, like bullet serialization and RFID tags in the future, the cost is insignificant.

Instead the firearm industry representatives tell us they will be able to defend our rights. The ole camel nose under the tent they tell us, well it is time to hike out into the desert and shoot the camel before it even gets to the tent. A microstamping strategy would allow the firearms industry to work with law enforcement; target trafficking using an industry controlled technology; hold of legislation like RFID tagging and ammo serialization; hold off imaging of newly purchased firearms using new 3D high resolution technology (being tested by the ATF as we speak) read the NAS report; all with a simple passive code added to the firearm.

I attached a multi-hit cartridge that was deemed illegible (unsatisfactory) by one of our opponents. As you can see it is easily readable by using scanning electron microscopy. Much of the data gathered by people who have evaluated the technology used low end microscopy without metallurgical lighting. I added another image showing how using appropriate microscopy improves the readability.

I included a reference about pattern crimes. Just like hunting terrorists, good “fresh” INTEL – Data is what is needed to combat trafficking.

Microstamping is a forensic tool.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Best regards,
Todd Lizotte


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