Category: guns Page 1 of 2

Ghost guns

Back in 2015 I started working on a project for producing a kit for home builders to make their own AR-15 lower receivers. I called the idea Silver, and it was really going to be a sort of hobby thing for me, separate from my day job. Life got in the way and I never did anything with it, until this week when I sent out to have glass filled nylon SLAs (3D printed models) of the parts made. I’ll have more on that project in a few days after I receive and assemble the parts.

Since I started working on Silver, home-made firearms have been very much in the news, not because they are causing a lot of problems, but because a lot of politicians want something to talk about besides the difficult problems they were elected to solve, because solving difficult problems is hard. So they have a new word for home-made firearms: they call them “Ghost Guns.” Get it? No, I don’t either. But politicians like to put out a lot of press releases and hold press conferences about “Ghost Guns,” and the press, generally not being very thoughtful or intelligent, well, they just east this stuff up. Ghost Guns!

Americans, probably uniquely, are legally permitted to manufacture firearms at home, and there are a hell of a lot of Americans doing it. They mostly do it for fun, as a hobby, in the same way that home woodworkers will build furniture that they could easily purchase at a fine furniture store. That’s kind of an American thing, actually, always has been.

There are several different categories of home build. First you have the scratch builds, basically shade-tree engineers coming up with new and novel firearms designs and making them from materials you might find at the scrap yard. These aren’t as common as the other sorts of builds, because working out new firearms designs is hard (not as hard as solving complicated social problems, but still harder than a lot of other things you can do with your time). It takes a special creative and mechanical talent to successfully scratch build firearms (and, let’s face it, a degree of bravery, or maybe foolhardiness). Also, if your firearms design is too novel, it can run afoul of state laws prohibiting “zip guns.”

Next you have the kit builders. This is a much bigger hobby in the US, and is a direct result of the 1968 Gun Control Act and later clarifications by the ATF that prohibited the importation of “non-sporting” firearms into the US. Now, military designs of all types have always been of keen interest to American firearms enthusiasts, but the “non-sporting” clause basically cut off the supply of many foreign military surplus platforms. So instead a new industry emerged where importers would buy up lots of surplus rifles from various governments; “demil” them by literally chopping them up with a saw or acetylene torch; then import them into the US for sale to hobbyists as parts kits. After that it was up to the hobbyist to make a new receiver (usually out of steel) and put the parts back together.

Then there is the so-called “80%” market. This came about because of the modularity of the AR-15 pattern rifle (which I will get into below), and the opportunity for non-FFL manufacturers to produce “80% complete” AR-15 lower receivers that the hobbyists could finish making at home with a drill press and/or a router. The 80% business has spread to many other platforms, including some handgun designs.

Finally, there is the vast universe of the homemade AR-15 lower receiver itself. As I mentioned, the AR-15 pattern rifle is extremely modular, with all its components available from any of hundreds of manufacturers and suppliers, and all these parts can be fitted together more or less like LEGO to build rifles. All the parts except the receiver, including the bolt assemblies and barrels, can be purchased without paperwork by anyone, from anywhere, at least within the US (ITAR regulates and restricts the international commerce of gun parts). So anyone with a credit card can buy everything he needs to build an operational AR-15 rifle without leaving his couch, except the receiver, which has a serial number and which (when buying a new one) requires a background check and a Form 4473.

So lots of guys like to come up with new ways to make an AR-15 lower receiver, because once you have the receiver you can get the rest from Brownells or MidwayUSA.

I have long kept a modest supply of AR-15 lower receivers (or “lowers”) on hand so that in case I want to build a rifle project I don’t have to start by visiting a gun store and buying a lower receiver, with all the necessary paperwork; I just grab one out of this bin:


These have all been purchased over the years from gun stores, with the background checks and Form 4473s, etc.

Over the last couple years my cache of lowers has been depleted by projects, including rifles I built for two of my employees. A local gun store had a sale where they were selling Anderson lowers for $39 each (regular price $60). I bought four $39 lower receivers, and brought my supply back up to 12 proper AR-15 lowers (plus two clear plastic lowers I might someday build into .22 rifles; a weird skeleton lower I’ll probably end up selling; and a pair of lowers that don’t accept magazines that I bought during the California AR-15 interregnum of 2000-2005 and which are now museum pieces).

Anyway, the AR-15 lower receiver design is essentially in the public domain, and the dimensions, including 3D CAD files, freely available online. So there are a lot of hobbyists making lowers from lots of different materials, just because. I have seen lowers produced at home using the following techniques:

Finally, there is my own Silver design, using aluminum extrusions.

As you can see from the photos and videos at the links above, most of these home-built AR-15s are really rather ugly. The steel and wooden ones especially are a lot of work to produce. People aren’t making these just because they need or want an AR-15 rifle; they are doing it for the fun and the challenge.

Despite the rantings of grandstanding politicians, these “Ghost Guns” are rarely being produced for nefarious purposes. There have indeed been occasions when prohibited felons made their own firearms and used them in crimes. But generally if you are a prohibited person and aren’t worried about following the law anyway, you will probably procure a firearm either by stealing one; buying a stolen gun on the back market; or buying a legitimate gun in a face-to-face unpapered transaction in any of the 40-45 out of 50 American states where this is legal and common (the dreaded “First Amendment Loophole”). You aren’t going to go through all the hassle of making a “Ghost Gun” out of aluminum or plastic; that is strictly for hobbyists and enthusiasts.

Practice video

Came into the office early this morning to make a quick installation video for our new Truckeee forend for the Benelli M4 shotgun, all in one take.

We’ve been meaning to make some high quality installation videos for years now, but we are always allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We are reluctant to do anything until we have the sound and the lighting right, and we also want to set up a little studio. So nothing ever gets done.

But we are sending this prototype assembly to a guy in the Navy this week and I needed to make an installation video to show him how to install it. No time to make everything perfect. But as you can see, this is on a personal YouTube account of mine and is not ordinarily visible if you don’t have the URL. It’s too crappy and amateurish for our official channel.

More than a year ago we purchased a video editing workstation, lavaliere mic, headphones, Sony Movie Studio 13, etc (we already had a camera), and all this stuff has been sitting in a corner of the warehouse gathering dust. In fact, when I fired up the software this morning to edit the video I had to register the software for the first time.

As with so many things, making videos in-house is a matter of just doing it. I think we can nail the lighting and sound without too much of a problem, so we need to just start shooting stuff. Editing is easy (ironically, over ten years ago I started making innovative (for the time) hiking and shooting videos, but for whatever reason I stopped doing it. Each video was substantially better than the previous one). I’d like to think this first effort has maybe broken the dam, at least a little. It’s no big deal to grab the camera and shoot footage, let’s see what we can do with this.

The joy of Solidworks configurations

Last week I met with some local machinists to work out the best way to produce some new AR-15 handguards we’re workingon, and now I’m ready to go. I whipped out the final design:


The magic of Solidworks, the program I use to design parts, is a feature called configurations (I think I went over this a few years ago concerning some other parts I made). You can design the basic part, and then use configurations to more or less automatically produce similar parts with different dimensions. Well, it’s not automatic, but it’s a lot simpler than designing a new part for every, say (as in my case), barrel length you need to support.

The parts above are for barrel lengths of (left to right) 10½, 14½, 16 and 20 inches. I use the configurations feature with a chart like this one to come up with the different parts:


The green-tinted cells are fixed constants, basically the numbers I use to derive all the rest. I started with a design for a 16 inch barrel and worked out how many recoil grooves I need (the slots at the top of the part) as well as the length of the top of the rail. Because the recoil grooves are 0.394 inches center on center, all the rail lengths are increased or reduced from the 16 inch barrel length by multiples of 0.394 inches. That’s where the spreadsheet comes in handy.

Thought I’d be able to come in and get more work done seeing as it’s a national holiday, but the phone started ringing off the hook an hour ago and it’s driving me nuts (I’m not answering it, fuck it, it’s a holiday). Time to take a walk.

There is nothing really new in war

ISIS weapons arsenal included some purchased by U.S. government

Not surprising at all.

One of the seminal books about the folly of the Vietnam War is Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie. It describes the career of a former US Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann who by the late 1960s was working with USAID in the Mekong Delta. The Saigon government was so corrupt that most of the arms the US sent there ended up almost immediately in the hands of the Viet Cong. Vann would plead with his superiors at the State Department to stop sending weapons to the Saigon government, but he was ignored.

Of course, as with all the other crazy parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan, the same thing happened in the latter country as well (probably still going on). ISIS could have been supplied by friends in Afghanistan, or simply by corrupt officials in the Iraqi government.

The wonder expressed by the media of the discovery of a “rifle manufactured by the Nazis,” a 1941 Mauser k.98, is amusing. This was the standard German infantry rifle during both World Wars, and zillions of them were produced and later sold on world markets, to governments, insurgents and American collectors (like me; I have one, with a plywood — oh, excuse me — laminated stock). Early in the American war with Afghanistan I recall seeing photos of stacks of recovered WWII bolt action rifles such as Mausers, Mosin-Nagants and British SMLEs. I am surprised they found only a single Mauser. It was probably the beloved trophy of some Iraqi townsman or villager who was executed by ISIS.

Leetle calibers

A Scandinavian academic asks:

Why are military rifles changing to such small calibers? One would think that would give them lower stopping power than say the Garand M1 rifle with 7.62 mm bullets.

Lighter recoil (and hence less fatiguing and easier to shoot accurately), less weight (so you can carry more ammunition), and potentially smaller and lighter weapon (AR-15 weighs less than an AK-47). 5.56mm may deliver less energy on target than 7.62mm, but it’s still an effective round at typical combat ranges.

So on balance, 5.56mm is probably a superior caliber for an assault rifle.

The US and NATO standardized on 5.56mm over half a century ago. The AK-74 was introduced a decade later, though I am pretty sure 7.62mm is still the “standard” for Warsaw Pact-derived small arms.

The Garand M1 was a “battle rifle.” These designations, “battle rifle,” “assault rifle,” have more to do with the ammunition than the configuration of the weapon. The “battle rifle” was the primary infantry weapon for the first half of the 20th century, and chambered extremely powerful cartridges of roughly 7.62mm-8mm caliber that were effective out to 1,000 meters. The Russians/Soviets had the 7.62x54R Mosin-Nagant; the British had the .303 SMLE (Lee-Enfield); the Americans had the .30-’06 Springfield M1903 and later the M1 Garand; and the Germans had the 8mm Mauser k.98.

It was the Germans (naturally) who figured out that since 1,000 meters was about two or three times the typical infantry engagement range, it made sense to downsize the ammunition and its platform so the soldier could carry more firepower with him. So they developed the StG 44, the first assault rifle. The Soviets recognized a revolution when they saw one, and they followed suit with the SKS and later the AK-47.

It took the Americans another 20 years to pull their heads out of their asses and read the writing on the wall. The platform they adopted, the AR-15 (M16) is still in use, as the M4 Carbine.

Now the 7.62x39mm cartridge the AK-47 chambers might have the same caliber as the more powerful battle rifle cartridges, but it is smaller and much less powerful. The age of the battle rifle is long past.

So going for smaller and lighter ammunition is just a continuation of the evolution of the original assault rifle concept.

Moar gun control fale

I don’t even know where to start with this article, it is so full of fale. … 807b4f8a63

It underscores why thoughtful gun nuts are so impatient with the ridiculous clamor for gun controls. The article about National CCW Reciprocity (obliging states to recognize other states’ CCW licenses they way they recognize drivers licenses and marriage licenses (but not, sadly, beautician’s licenses)) makes no sense whatsoever.

Gun violence experts and victims’ advocates say the legislation is particularly alarming for domestic violence survivors, who are in more danger when their abusers are able to carry hidden firearms.

Because without this legislation, abusers are not able to carry hidden firearms? Is there something wrong with their hands or arms this legislation will fix? And WTF is a “gun violence expert?”

In another example, an abuser who is convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend cannot currently legally carry a concealed firearm in Massachusetts. But under this bill, he could obtain a permit from nearby New Hampshire ― which issues permits to nonresidents and does not consider that offense prohibitory ― and carry his firearm back into his home state.

Well, no. Anyone who is convicted of sexual assault — or any other felony — is not legally permitted to possess a firearm in any state in the Union. National Reciprocity is not some kind of magickal Get Out of Jail Free Card for convicted felons. Do people really believe it is? Or, as I strongly suspect, are they deliberately lying?

Oh, BTW, this also applies to anyone with a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence. That’s right, domestic violence is the only misdemeanor conviction that will cause you to be deprived of an enumerated Constitutional civil right — nationally. Forever.

“Imagine fleeing to another state where you believe your abuser won’t be able to carry a gun, and then finding out that Congress says that he can bring his gun with him ― and he can hide it,” she said.

Really? So your abuser won’t do that now because Congress hasn’t yet allowed it? Do these people really believe a person bent on mayhem will suddenly stop and have second thoughts because he doesn’t have a permit to carry a gun? Is this how it’s supposed to go:

“Damn. I really wanted to go across town and shoot my ex to death but I wasn’t able to before because I couldn’t get a CCW in this state, but thanks to National Reciprocity I can get a Utah CCW and go out and blow her fucking head off!”

Are they really this stupid? Is anyone?

In fact, since guns are actually more useful to women who need to defend themselves from abusers than they are to the abusers themselves (a 220lb man doesn’t need a gun to abuse a 130lb woman), anything that makes it easier for at-risk women to legally acquire, possess and carry guns will make them safer.

“How’d I do?”

Farewell to (neutered) arms

The magazine release shroud for California AKs is a pain in the ass, much worse than the AR-15’s bullet button. I have two Saiga 12s (12 gauge shotguns based on the AK) that I’m taking to a gunsmith in Sparks as soon as I unpack them to install standard magazine releases.

Other than that I have three Saiga rifles. Saigas are commercial AKs, with the trigger moved back and the pistol grip removed, to get around the 1968 Gun Control Act’s prohibition on importation of “non-sporting” firearms. The lower rifle below is a Saiga in 7.62x39mm (the typical AK-47 caliber) with an aftermarket walnut stock and handguard:


It’s basically a semi-automatic AK-47 with fancy walnut furniture. Losing the pistol grip makes it “sporting.” But because it does not have that pistol grip, it doesn’t need a magazine release shroud in California. Most guys buy Saigas and then “convert” them (move the trigger up to its proper location and add a pistol grip), but I never though that made any sense in California, because then you’d have to add that stupid magazine release shroud. With a standard Saiga you can drop mags all day long, no tools required.

Because of the magazine release shroud requirement (or even worse, the Raddlock), I never really wanted to get an AK in California. But now that I am in Nevada, I’ll probably get one pretty soon. I just have to decide on which one I want (there are lots of choices).

I was shocked to learn fire is a bigger risk here in Northern Nevada than it is in the Mojave, where the bushes are generally six or ten feet apart and maybe sand or very short grass between them. Up here the desert vegetation is much thicker, and the dry grass is dense and tall. I am actually very worried about shooting in the desert here (at steel targets or with steel-jacketed ammunition). At the very least we will have to carry water-based fire extinguishers, something I admit I never even thought of doing in the Mojave.


Some six or more months ago I designed a set of stencils to mark AR-15 magazines. I wanted to differentiate the ten rounders (legal in California) from the 20 and 30 rounders (not legal in California, but legal almost everywhere else), since they all look the same. Also, I wanted to personalize magazines, so that people could hang onto them if they took tactical training classes or whatever.

It took me all this time to find a waterjet or lasercut vendor who could do it. My regular guy was too expensive. Others backed away for whatever reason or just stopped returning calls. Finally I was referred to a company the San Fernando Valley, and the aluminum stencils arrived on Thursday. I had long ago built a little jig for registering multiple colors.

This morning I bought some spray paints at Walmart did some experimenting:


That’s the teeth emoji I use as a sort of personal logo or avatar on some websites including Flickr.

Radio man

Did a radio interview with the NRA: … pisode-155

Starts at 0:25:50 mark

I have a voice that was made for silent films.

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