Thursday, June 02, 2011

A philosophical treatise...

Don't Buy Cheap Guns

That doesn't mean don't buy INEXPENSIVE guns; lord knows, I've bought some great guns for very little money.

It means don't buy something cheap. Something poorly made. Something unreliable. Something made with poor materials. Something with poor quality control. Something with no support, and no parts. To a lesser extent, something unergonomic, difficult to shoot, or horribly inaccurate.

Well... unless you WANT a cheap gun, because it's interesting; not because it's going to be a real tool for you to use. I have a friend who buys tons of crap guns all the time, because he likes abusing them and seeing what it takes to break them; or blowing them up in new and different ways.

But he doesn't buy cheap guns to carry, or to really shoot, or to hunt with.

I get a lot of questions from people who read my posts for beginners, along the lines of "what's the cheapest .45 I can buy" or "What's the cheapest gun I can buy that will do this".

I have the same answer for all of them.

I believe in buying for value, not for price. I buy good things, because they are, in fact, better. I don't buy names, I don't buy fashion, I buy QUALITY, RELIABILITY, and CAPABILITY.

Most important, I buy things that get the hell out of my way and let me do the job; not have to worry about the tools I'm using to do it.

That applies to computers, tools, cars... It especially applies to guns.

When the job is putting food on the table, or defending your life, or the lives of others; buy the tool that will help you get the job done, and not get in your way doing it.

There is a difference between inexpensive, and cheap; and there is a difference between price, and value.

There's a saying "if you buy it cheap, you buy it twice".  I'd say that's an understatement.

An oil filter company used to advertise their better but more expensive (at the time anyway, now they're all pretty much the same) oil filters with the slogan "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later".

When you need a gun, to take that shot on game, or to shoot someone trying to kill you or your family; you need it to go bang and put the bullet where you aimed it, first time every time. You don't need to have "saved" $50 or $100 or even $1000, just to buy a gun that won't do that, first time every time. Nobody ever regretted spending more to buy a reliable and accurate gun.

And yet... I still get people constantly saying "why would I spend $500 on a Glock when I can buy a Hi-Point for $200", as if there was no real difference between them.

Actually, given this site, it's more frequently "Why should I buy a $1200 1911 when there's this perfectly fine $400 Philippino 1911 over here".

Remember, you are holding in your hand, or worse putting up to your face; a metal tube with explosives in it, and then setting those explosives off. Why on earth would you buy something that might not be able to handle that, just to save a couple hundred bucks? (not to imply Hi-Points or RIAs explode in peoples faces. They sometimes crack, but they don't actually blow up. Also not to pick on them specifically or exclusively, they're just among the more common examples of the question).

There are people who are perfectly happy with their RIAs and their Hi-Points, and some of them are perfectly reliable. Some of these people tend to get very emotionally invested in their purchases. They wrap their ego up in them, and their "great deal" just as much as the guys who wrap their egos up in their $1500 guns. They get angry and self righteous, and lash out at anyone who criticizes their gun, that they now so closely identify with.

But that's emotion, not reason.

What it comes down to is this: the metallurgy and quality control on cheap guns aren't good, so you never know if you're going to get a good one or a bad one (and sadly, there are some "cheap" guns, which are actually quite expensive). Worse, even if it seems you've got a good one, you never know if it's going to suddenly stop working. It might suddenly stop cycling for no apparent reason, or have a critical failure (frame crack, hammer crack, safety break, firing pin fail... you never know), when you need it to defend your life. It might even blow up in your hand, or next to your eye.

Why would you risk that?

Buy value. You won't go wrong. Spend the money.

With guns, it isn't even that hard; because for the most part, good guns don't wear out. Good guns are made of high quality steel and aluminum (and yes, plastics... but tough ones that don't melt or crack); and if they have parts that wear out with normal use, good guns have those parts available.

I personally own, and shoot, several guns that are over 80 years old. I have friends with guns over 130 years old that they shoot on a regular basis.

These are not necessarily rare and valuable antiques, nor do they generally require special care, or special ammunition. Guns are remarkably tough pieces of kit when not abused.  Most rifles and handguns, and many shotguns, made after the development and adoption of metallic cartridges with smokeless powder (1884-1891), are still shootable today (if you can find the right ammo). Some older blackpowder cartridge firearms are also still perfectly usable, in some cases even with modern smokeless ammunition.

And modern ammunition isn't exactly all that modern. The .30-06, 8mm Mauser, 7.62x54r and .303 British chamberings; which combined make up a huge number of Surplus rifles and were the standard service rounds for the United States, Germany, Russia, and Great Britain for more than 40 years each; date back 1906, 1905, 1891 and 1899 respectively (and even earlier, 1888; in blackpowder versions of the .303). All are being manufactured today, and most of then guns made in those chamberings are still safe to shoot with todays ammo.

My oldest gun is 97 years old, I still shoot it, and I bought it for $200. My second oldest gun is 95, I still shoot it, and I bought it for $20 (though I admit, it needed work to get it shooting again. It was missing a screw, and a small pin... all of about $5). My third oldest gun is 92, and it cost me $200.

All three are military surplus rifles (all in civilan, "sporter" type stocks, with scopes; not the original military configuration). All three fire modern ammo without any difficulty. And all three can put a bullet into the kill zone at 300 yards, whenever I choose to pull the trigger.

You don't need anything more than that for basic hunting and self defense. It might be nice, but you don't need it; and there are some more recently produced rifles that can't reliably do that.

If you don't care about the state of a finish, or that you'll need to replace grips, or worn out springs, or broken stocks; you can get some spectacular value, for not very much money (especially in old revolvers, shotguns, and milsurp rifles).

If you have to... if you have barely any money and you need a weapon to put food on the table with, or to defend your life; buy a good but ugly gun, not a cheap one. They'll probably cost the same, but the ugly gun, that was well made and well used, will do the job better.

Milsurp rifles, particularly really ugly ones cosmetically (though they have a beauty in both their form and function, regardless of cosmetic condition); unless they have special collector value, are generally pretty cheap (at least compared to commercial arms of equivalent quality). They're also generally very reliable, and accurate enough to get the job done, or they wouldn't have been adopted a military in the first place (there are, of course, exceptions. Italians in particular had a habit of adopting bad guns... then again, so did we Americans a couple of times).

The Mosin Nagant rifle is a true marvel of engineering. It was one of the least expensive and simplest to produce bolt action repeating rifles of all time. I believe it is as simple as you can possibly make a bolt action repeating rifle, and still have that rifle be reliable and reasonably accurate.

The Mosin is one of the most produced rifles of all time, having been in actual series production for 74 years,  over which time almost 40 million of them were made (3 million of them were even made in the United States. In happen to own one made by Remington in 1916).

I believe, as far as single design firearms go, the Mosin is second in production totals only to the AK-47; at about 75 million actual AK-47s and direct clones (like the Chinese type 56), and 100-125 million or so AK type rifles (and counting. The AK family is of course, still in production). The Mauser 98 family as a whole beats either, but has been made in thousands of variants, by hundreds of manufacturers (and is still in production today, by several manufacturers, in civilian form).

The Mosin is also one of the longest serving rifles of all time, having entered service in 1891; and is STILL in service in reserve and militia units (and with terrorists and insurgents) in Asia, and eastern Europe. Finland, despite being a modern, wealthy, northern European country; with access to many more modern, and more effective weapons (including many weapons they produce internally. The Finns are some of the worlds best gunmakers); only retired the last of their Mosins in the '90s (notably, the Finns are a - justifiably - paranoid people. They were keeping the Mosins around, just in case).

Note: A Finnish reader commented that in fact, they haven't retired all of their Mosins yet. There are still some TAK85 sniper rifles (which were re-manufactured with all new stocks, barrels, and triggers on Mosin receivers - some dating as far back as the 1890s -  back in 1985) left in service. 

In that 120 years (damn, that's a hell of a long time for a rifle) the rifle has served in basically every war in eastern and northern Europe, and Asia, from 1891 to today (including both official world wars, Korea, Viet Nam, all the wars in Israel, all three wars in Iraq, and all the wars Afghanistan). In most of those wars, it served on both (or all) sides.

It's ugly. Most of them weren't pretty when they were first made, and the last 120 years haven't made them any prettier. They're roughly made. They've got an awful trigger. The sights are iffy at best. Finishes... who knows... The stock is awful, and it pounds the hell out of you when you shoot it.

You can usually buy one today for under $100.

...And it will shoot.

Every time you pull the trigger on a live cartridge, it will shoot.

The Mosin Nagant is an inexpensive rifle, but it is not a cheap one.

Roughly made, isn't poorly made.

It may be ugly, it may have no finish left on it, it may take some serious arm strength to cycle the action (that can be worked on, but not completely fixed), it may have an awful trigger by rifle standards (again, that can be worked on, but not fixed)... But it will shoot.

Bury it in the ground for 50 years with enough grease to keep it from dissolving into a pile of rust (which is pretty much what comes on them when you buy them anyway. Millions were put in barrels full of grease in the 50s and 60s and just left in warehouses and bunkers by the Finns and the Russians... just in case... the Russians are also a notably paranoid people), dig it up, clean it off, hose the crud out of the bore, close the bolt on a live round and pull the trigger... it will shoot.

A Mosin won't win you trophies. It won't shoot great groups (usually anyway). But it will shoot well enough to take an animal at 100 yards, or put a man down at 300 yards (and as generations of Russian, Finnish, and Israeli snipers can testify, even 600 or 800 yards); and it will do it every damn time you pull the trigger.

That's value.

I have a $3,500 custom 1911 pistol. It's beautiful. I love it. I wouldn't give it up for the world (it was a gift from an amazing group of friends and I would sell my kidneys first). It shoots amazingly well... It feels incredible  in the hand, and it points so perfectly and so naturally I can't properly describe it.

But functionally, it shoots no better, and no more reliably than the $250 German police surplus SIG I bought a few years ago.

And no better or more reliably than the $250 used Glock 21 I bought (well... once I did an internal polish job, put in a worked over 3.5lb trigger, new springs, and an A-grip anyway... I don't like Glock ergonomics, and I hate Glock stock triggers; but that's a matter of preference). Hell, when I bought it, the Glock had a broken ejector, and it STILL functioned 100% (I replaced the ejector for a total of $15).

Yes, ultimately, from a mechanical rest, the custom pistol is certainly more accurate and precise; and it certainly feels better to shoot... But functionally, it does the job of a defensive handgun no better than the $250 or $350 pistols.

All three would put four rounds in two big ragged holes at 3, 7, and 10 yards, and 5 rounds into under 4" at 25 yards... Actually, all three will do a lot better than that, but that's more than good enough.  All three go bang every time I pull the trigger. All three would put a bad guy down just as well.

That's value.

Even new, there are very good guns that are not very expensive. The typical retail price of the Remington 870 express 12ga shotgun (which I recommend) runs around $350, or $315 from the big discounters. It can be had on sale for as little as $280 if you hunt around, and wait for specials. Mossberg 500s (which I also recommend) typically run about $20-$50 cheaper than the Remington.

That's certainly not nothing, but compared to the value you get from that gun... It's a bargain. And frankly, that $300 shotgun... You can spend $3,000 or $30,000 and not get anything better. Sure, it'll be prettier, it might fit better, it might even feel better; but it won't be any better at putting meat on the table, or a bad guy on the ground.

That's value.

And a lot of gun people are fickle. They buy a gun, shoot a few hundred rounds through it, decide they don't like it, and sell it on, all the time.  Or they buy a gun, shoot it a few times, and it sits in their safe until next time they want a shiny new gun... and there they go selling that safe queen.

You can find damn near new guns in pawn shops and used gun cases all over the place, or through private party sales in classified and at swap meets, flea markets, and gun shows; and if you know what you're looking at (or have a friend who really knows, not just bloviates about knowing) you can get excellent value there.

Cheap is an illusion. Cheap, ultimately, is expensive. Value is real.  

Buy value. Buy quality. Buy reliability. Buy capability. Spend the money.

Ok, rant over.