New gun in the collection

by Sandy Keathley

Well, not exactly new. In keeping with my collection of Soviet-bloc Cold-war weapons, I recently acquired a 1953 Romanian TTC military sidearm.  It is a semi-automatic, chambered in an unusual caliber: 7.62×25, the so-called Tokarev round. This cartridge, and the pistols that fire it, were developed in 1930 by a Russian engineer named Fedor Tokarev to replace the aging Nagant revolver.  The Tokarev cartridge contains a .30 caliber bullet (smaller than a .32), but is much longer than a 9mm.  The result is a bullet that develops a muzzle velocity of 1500 FPS, which is considerably more than a .45, and comparable to a .357 Magnum. I wouldn’t recommend shooting a burglar in your apartment with this beast, as the bullet would go through the burglar, and probably through the adjoining wall!

Those of you who have studied wound ballistics will know that the most important factor in stopping power is not the size of the bullet (caliber), but the speed it travels. That’s why a .357 Magnum has greater stopping power than a .45, even though it is considerably smaller.

After WWII, with the new political alignments in Europe, the Soviets “encouraged” their partners (including Romania, Poland, Hungary, and later, China) to build their own weapons, but using Russian models. The Romanian TTC is an exact copy of the Russian TT-33. The Romanians wanted to chamber it in 9mm, as that had become the de facto standard, but political factors forced them to adopt the Soviet standard, 7.62×25 (Russian combat rifles had used the 7.62×54 for decades). Tokarev ammo generally can’t be bought off the shelf, but it is still made by some major European manufacturers (Sellier & Bellot and Prvi Partizan), and is readily available by mail and at specialty dealers.

This pistol is incredibly loud, and has significant recoil, as it essentially fires a small rifle round from a pistol, but the long, all-steel gun balances that recoil well.  The accuracy is very good, and it fired 30 rounds flawlessly, but the gun will require a lot of break-in, as it has been arsenal-refurbished, and the trigger pull is very stiff.  This would have been a very stout officer’s sidearm, and lethal at a considerable distance.  It came with a 1950s leather holster, with space for an extra magazine.

Buying your first handgun

by Sandy Keathley

While some people buying a first handgun may have learned to shoot without owning one (in the military, with family, or just taking a pistol class), it is likely that the majority of people shopping for their first gun are new to this world. The challenge for them is deciding what to buy, from the thousands of models available. They read articles, ads, and reviews online until they’re cross-eyed, go to a gun shop or a gun show, and talk to friends. Everyone they ask, friend or dealer, has a different opinion. The dealer may recommend what he has in stock; the friend will recommend what he shoots, but he may not have shot that many pistols. They are all different; all have upsides and downsides.  What to do?

Why do you want a gun?  Many people will recommend that you first decide the purpose for a gun. Common answers are “home defense”, “car/truck gun”, “concealed carry”, or even “protect sheep from wolves”. One lady told me she liked to hike in rough country, where she might encounter wolves or even bears. Those are mostly good candidates for a handgun. Protecting sheep from wolves, not so much. I would get a stout 30 cal bolt-action rifle with a scope for that. Actually, I would use a 1943 Soviet sniper rifle, but that’s just me.

Leaving that aside, the other reasons would steer you (or me) to different guns: a .357 Magnum revolver for the hiker, a 9mm or .380 sub-compact semi-auto for concealed carry, a .45 for the home, etc.

Learn to shoot first. I’m going to offer another, perhaps controversial, opinion. Small guns are more difficult to shoot for a beginner, for a variety of reasons. Light-weight guns, ditto. Larger calibers, like .40 cal or above, same answer. I would rather see someone get a full-size, fairly heavy 9mm pistol, maybe a 1911-style, one that is easier to shoot well. Learn to shoot it well, then, if the size is not appropriate for your purposes, get another. Does that mean getting two guns? Eventually, yes, I’m afraid so. The fact is, very few people have just one handgun, and many of the ones who do, have the wrong one (for them).

Over-achiever. Call me an over-achiever, but being able to hit a man-sized target at 5 yards is not good enough for me. My goal was to hit a paper plate at 15 yards, and a man-sized target at 25 yards. Once there, with longer guns, then time to reset that goal with shorter guns.

Larger guns help smaller guns. Having recoil problems with your pocket .380? The best answer is to borrow or rent a .45 for an hour. Then the .380 will seem easy. That is the whole point of this essay. Learn to shoot first, with a gun that helps you, even if it is not suitable for your purposes. Then leverage that experience on to a gun that is. You will find it a much flatter learning curve.

The Top 5 things to know when carrying concealed in Texas

by Sandy Keathley

Texas is one of the more gun-friendly states in America (despite not having open carry), and the laws are probably very similar to many other states, but it may be useful to the traveler from outside Texas to have a quick synopsis of things of which you should be aware.

1. Weather
In the summer, it can be very hot. 105 is not unusual, and temperatures above 110 have been recorded. In 1980, Dallas had 40 days in a row that hit over 100 degrees. Wearing a suit or coat is insane, so have a backup plan for concealment. In the winter, you might expect (and get) temperatures in the 20-30 range, yet even in Feb you might see a sudden unseasonable warm spell of 75 degrees. When traveling, always have a backup plan.

2. Vehicles
Texas does not require a license to carry a gun in a vehicle, but with or without a license, it must remain out of sight. It does not have to be in a lock-box, but out of sight.

3. 30.06
This curiously numbered statute is the part of the Penal Code that allows any private business to declare themselves a gun-free zone. As to why anyone with a brain would do that is beyond me, but they exist. Almost all hospitals and surgery centers do post this notice, as well as Cinemark Theaters, Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, and a few others. Otherwise, it is not really common. Signs are sometimes seen that do not contain the exact verbiage required by the statute (sometimes not even close), but it is not well-advised to try to split hairs with police over this. Due to the way the law is written, you will probably still go to jail, at least overnight. Note: gun shows are almost always posted.

4. 51%
Any business that receives 51% of their revenue from the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption must post this sign. Carry is forbidden there, whether or not you are drinking. This is mostly bars. Some restaurants fall under this category, but most do not. Note that liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores also do not, as their sales are not for on-premise consumption. They have to post a sign stating that unlicensed carry is a felony, etc., etc., but that does not apply to a license holder.

5. Off-limits by statute
These would be locations that are automatically off-limits, with no posted notice required. Some are mandated by Federal law, while others are state law. This includes

All schools and colleges, all levels (except parking lots, for non-employees)
Any location where school athletic events are staged, all levels
Federal buildings and Post Offices
Courthouses and court rooms (state or Federal)
Secure areas of airports
Places of execution (on execution days)
Voting locations (on election days)
Horse/dog race tracks that allow pari-mutual betting
Sporting events

Note that facilities owned by state and local government (other than courtrooms) CAN NOT be off-limits (the State Capitol, convention centers), except that government meetings can be posted by request.

Range Etiquette

by Sandy Keathley

Like most communities of like-minded individuals, the gun community has its own rules of protocol and accepted behavior. For obvious reasons, much of that revolves around shooting, much of which occurs at shooting ranges. While a range will always have a list of its rules for visitors to read, the legalese doesn’t always translate well to the standards of behavior expected by many more experienced shooters. Range etiquette is not just rules, but behaviors that will help you avoid the disdainful glances from other shooters. After all, there are many things that are not illegal, yet are considered gauche.

There are some differences between indoor and outdoor ranges, so let’s look at standards that are common to both, then break out the variances.

Always point the gun downrange. This is Job 1, but it’s not always clear what it means. Of course, point it downrange when shooting, but also when not. Treat the muzzle like a needle on a compass that always points to magnetic North. Never allow the muzzle to point anywhere else, even when casing, uncasing, loading, unloading, racking, etc.

Keep your finger off the trigger. The big one. I see people at the range all the time (not just new shooters), racking the slide with their finger inside the trigger guard. That is dangerous, and perhaps the biggest mistake on the range. It can get you ejected.

Bring the gun to the range unloaded and cased. It won’t go off in your range bag, but a mistake while uncasing a loaded gun could be a tragedy. Wait until you are on the line to load it.

Always use eye and ear protection. If you think this needs explanation, you are not ready to go to a range.

Keep all your stuff near you. If your range bag is several feet behind the line, you may end up carrying a gun to or from the bag. See the next item.

Never carry a gun away from the bench uncased. If trading guns with someone, leave the guns and trade lanes. In case of a malfunction, clear and case the gun before leaving with it. People do not want to see someone wandering around the bay with a gun at their side.

Never draw from a holster. Some ranges have special facilities for this, but most don’t allow it. It can be dangerous, especially when re-holstering. Go out in the country to practice that.

Never shoot at someone else’s target. Does that really have to be said? Evidently so.

Never shoot at the device that holds the target. Ditto. Paying for those repairs makes range fees go up.

Never bring to the range tracer ammo or ammo with steel cores. These are fire hazards, and have started major fires at ranges. Many Safety Officers check for this, but sometimes they get busy. Don’t be an idiot.

Do ask for help. If you have a malfunction or jam, trouble with the target trolley, or just need to ask something about how your gun works, range personnel will always help. More than that, the shooter on the next lane will probably help. Gun people are very willing to assist others, to the extent that they can. By the same token, don’t be offended if another user points out that you are doing something dangerous. Everyone needs to watch out for others on the line, in the absence of a Safety Officer.

Outdoor ranges.

While indoor ranges typically have targets that can be moved individually, on a trolley system, outdoor ranges generally have targets that have to be moved or replaced manually, by going ahead of the firing line. For safety, you must wait until the RSO (Range Safety Officer) calls a periodic cease-fire. At that time, you are expected to remove magazines, lock the action open, lay the gun down (pointed downrange) and step back several yards while the RSO inspects each weapon. Once that is done, the range will be declared “cold”, and you can move downrange to replace or move
targets. On returning, you have to stay away from the bench. When everyone is back, the RSO will declare the range “hot”, and firing can commence. It is important to follow the RSO’s instructions carefully and literally, else you will be corrected. That is embarrassing.

Range etiquette not difficult, and it is part of the discipline that is required to shoot safely among a group of people, and have fun at the same time.

First Range Experience

by Sandy Keathley

I had a pistol class the other day. We spent time learning about handguns, how they work, safety rules, ammo, loading, cleaning, stance, grip, etc. After some dry-firing, we went to the range. There was a young woman in the class, who had never even held a gun, much less fired one, but she was given a semi-auto for her birthday, and wanted to learn about it the right way. I give her credit for that, as many people just go to a range, point, pull the trigger, and hope for the best.

Her gun was a polymer 9mm, so muzzle-flip was expected, especially for a new shooter. She was nervous, and intimidated by the range noise (indoor range). I was right at her elbow the whole time, and that helped. The first time she fired, she almost jumped out of her skin. The next few shots were trepidatious, and she was ready to go home. I let her sit out while someone else shot, then made her shoot again. The third time she came up, I gave her a choice of shoot one more time, or go home. She said “let’s shoot!“.

By the third time, she could shoot a 6-inch group at 3 yards, which, in my view, is pretty good for a brand new shooter.

She left feeling pretty good about herself, excited by the experience, and wanting more. Her comment, though, common for new shooters, was, “it wasn’t what I expected.”  I told her, it’s not like it looks on TV.

Thinking back on it, I can see how intimidating the first range experience can be. It was busy that day, crowds of people, some of whom knew where they were going. You have to go through several doors to get into the shooting bays. It was dark in there, and hot, and very loud. People were hammering away with all kinds of guns, brass was flying, the floor was littered, there were no RSOs evident. I’m surprised anyone would go to a range the first time without a guide to show them the ropes.

If you are a shooter, you know that shooting a gun is very empowering. It requires responsibility, and accurate shooting requires controlling all those factors that would distract from the goal: stance, grip, control, breathing, visual focus, mental focus. When you get all those ducks in a row, you feel that you have succeeded in controlling a device of unimaginable power, like defeating the dragon. With a high like that, who needs drugs?

Aim Small, Miss Small

by Sandy Keathley

Shooting a pistol accurately requires not only practice, but the right kind of practice. The fundamentals (stance, aiming, breathing, trigger work) still apply, but the type of target is also important. Any bullet that misses the exact bullseye is traveling at an angle to the desired plane; the further out the target, the greater the arc of that angle, and the greater the error. In basketball, a person might shoot better from the 3-point line than from the free-throw line, but that doesn’t work with
firearms. It is necessary, instead, to master the fundamentals at a short distance, and achieve consistently small shot groups, then move the target a little further out and repeat.

I often see shooters (sometimes new, sometimes not) at a range, shooting at a large zombie target at 5 yards. They put 20-30 holes in the target, and never have one closer than 3 inches to another hole. It looks like a shotgun pattern. They’re having fun, and that counts for something, but the only thing they’re getting better at is spending money.

If your goal is home or personal defense, then realize this: the odds of you ever having a crisis requiring a gun are slim, and if it does happen, it will only happen once. When and if that time comes, nerves, fear, and adrenalin will cause you to only perform at 70% of your ability,
perhaps less. If you doubt that, ask any musician about their first recital!  And that wasn’t a life-or-death situation (although it seems so).

Consequently, your training needs to lead you to be an over-achiever. Use a bullseye the size of a paper plate, and work to get a small, consistent 3-5 shot group at 3 yards. Start there every time, then move out to 5 yards, 7 yards, 10 yards.  That should be enough, but keep going anyway, to 15 yards.
Once there, move the goal again, to 25 yards.

Why? If the biggest room in your house is 21 feet across, why would you need to be able to hit a 9-inch zone at 45-75 feet? Because if you can do it at all, then even under pressure, 21 feet will be easy. It’s all about training.

I have said before, that many homeowners buy a gun (often without knowing what they need), shoot it twice at the range, then put it in a drawer and leave it for a year (or three). They think they are ready for an emergency. They’re not.

If that SHTF (look it up) moment ever arrives, you have to have the attitude, and some of the training, of a combat soldier. That means automatically taking the stance, aiming quickly, squeezing, and taking multiple shots, without thinking too much about it. If you follow this training plan, you will be there. It’s not a matter of days, but months, but you will be there.

How much is your life worth?