This page is intended for the benefit of urban conservatives who get to reading about firearm issues on conservative forums such as FreeRepublic, and decide that in order to be a true conservative, they will have to buy a gun, despite not really knowing anything about firearms (and for people in similar situations).
There are four basic reasons for something like the second ammendment.
Every one of the founding fathers is on record to the effect that private ownership of firearms, the 2'nd ammendment, is there as a final bulwark against the possibility of government going out of control. That is the most major reason for it.
At the time of the revolution and for years afterwards, there were private armies, private ownership of cannons and warships. . . The term "letters of marque, and reprisal" which you read in the constitution indicates the notion of the government issuing a sort of a hunting license to the owner of a private warship to take English or other foreign national ships on the high seas, i.e. to either capture or sink them. The idea of you or me owning a Vepr or FAL rifle with a 30-round magazine is not likely to have bothered any of those people.
The most major motivation for the present generation of gun-control laws, i.e. the problem with drug-dealers owning AKs, is a drug problem and not a gun problem. Fix the drug-problem, i.e. get rid of the insane war on drugs and pass a rational set of drug laws, and both problems will simply go away. A rational set of drug laws would:
Do all of that, and the drug problem, the gun problem, and 70% of all urban crime will vanish within two years.
But I digress. The 2'nd ammendment is there as a final bulwark against our own government going out of control. It is also there as a bulwark against any foreign invasion which our own military might not be able to stop.
Just prior to WW-II breaking out in the Pacific, a meeting took place in Tokyo in which a number of Japanese general officers asked Isoroku Yamamoto, the only one of their number to hve spent any time in the United States, what the problem was; why not simply invade the place and get it over with. Admiral Yamamoto replied that the problem was not the US military, that there were fifty million lunatics in this country who owned military style weaponry and practiced with it, and that there would be "a rifle behind every blade of grass". This apparently bothered him a great deal more than the 300,000 or so guys in uniform prior to the war.
A third obvious reason for private ownership of firearms is to protect yourself and your family from criminals and wild animals. Criminals in fact are not the sum total of problems in the world which firearms can help in dealing with. In particular, we read about tens of thousands of people being killed every year by poisonous snakes in India; it's hard to picture that happening if the people were armed.
Finally there's a fourth reason for the 2'nd ammendment, which is to provide the people with food during bad economic times. When you listen to people from New York and from Texas talk about the depression of the 30's, you hear two totally different stories. The people in New York will tell you about people starving and eating garbage, and running around naked. The Texans will tell you that while money was scarce, they always had 22 and 30 caliber ammunition, and that they always had something to eat, even if it was just some jackrabbit.
Eating is habit-forming; in any general societal breakdown which might be caused by a war, a major terrorist success, or whatever other cause, this last rationale for the 2'nd ammendment could very quickly become the most important.
Politically correct history courses teach that the European white male is the primary source of trouble in the world and has always practiced aggression against other continents and races.
Would that it were so (from the point of view of us downtrodden honkeys at least). In real life, between the end of the Roman empire and the rise of effective gunpowder weapons and armies trained in their use, Europe was at a significant military disadvantage vis a vis Asia, and the ultimate weapon in war during that thousand-year period was the Turko-Mongol bow which you see pictured above.
Duels in those days were fought with swords, wars were mostly fought with bows, and it helped if you could shoot a bow on horseback. Europeans never really developed that talent; Mongols did that for a living. A friend once described watching a rehearsal for a sort of a high-asian olympic event, junior variety (14 - 16 year olds) which was an archery contest on horseback at 40 mph in which the old guy judging the event was holding the target to steady it in the wind and was not afraid of being hit. He told me the archers were using their legs like shockabsorbers much as skiers do so that from the hips down everything was moving and from the waist up nothing was moving, and he said the worst shot he saw all day was nine or ten inches from the center of the bullseye and they were jeering that guy unmercifully. That was the basic idea behind Chengis Khan's light cavalry.
The weapon in the picture is a fearful one and incorporates some of the same ideas which modern compound bows do. The center part of the bow does not move much when drawn; the ears are doing most of the work and behave something like the cams in a modern compound bow, most of the stored energy being transferred to the arrow. The bows were of laminated wood and animal horn and heavy, and were drawn with thumb-rings as shown which were much like modern release devices, the grooved part of the ring being locked over the bow string and the thumb snapped loose from the two fingers over it to shoot. The Turko-Mongol bow was much more efficient than an English longbow and shot an arrow faster. The difference is that the whole frame of the longbow moves, so that stored energy is being transferred back into the frame of the bow instead of into the arrow.
The Mongol Empire did one major sort of a good deed for humanity when Hulagu destroyed the Ismailian (assasin) sect in the process of his invasion of the Levant and Baghdad in 1256. This motley crew had terrorized everybody within a huge territory for centuries before making the ultimate mistake of threatening to assasinate Mangu Khan. They occupied a number of fortified castles in mountainous areas, the weakest of which was said to be impregnable, but the Mongols conceived the notion of hurling gunpowder bombs into these castles with catapaults, and one assumes that European emmisaries who were in Mongolia watching rehearsals for all of this brought gunpowder and some idea of its potential for use in weapons back to Europe.
Mongols are said to have had primitive cannon by the late 1200s, and the first major use of cannon occurred when the Turks took Constantinople in the mid 1400s.
The one kind of fighting Europeans excelled at was seige warfare. The first major use of gunpowder therefore involved rolling barrels of the stuff up to or underneath (in tunnels) the other guy's wall and blowing the wall down. Once there was that much of the stuff sitting around, the economics of using some of it for hand-held weapons became attractive, as did also the idea of not having to train people for such weapons since early childhood. Primitive muskets were used with little effect at Agincourt and by the early 1500s, one started to see gunpowder weapons which were actually dangerous.
The first generation of such weapons, match-locks, involved pulling a trigger to bring a lit piece of slow fuse into a flash pan and send a spark through a small hole to the powder behind a stone or lead ball. Weapons for the wealthy (wheel-locks) used a mechanism much like that of an old-fashioned flint cigarette lighter, but were difficult to make and expensive. Flintlocks eventually became the most common sort of firearm and involved a clever mechanism in which fine powder in a flash pan was ignited by a piece of flint held in the hammer striking the lid of the flash pan and moving it aside in a single motion.
Flintlocks were in common use until around the late 1700s at which time percussion caps were invented. Percussion caps used a tiny quantity of fulminate of mercury to produce enough of a spark to operate a firearm. The percussion cap was placed on a nipple leading into the breech of the gun, and the gun's hamnmer struck the cap. Once such a weapon was loaded, it was sealed, and could be fired even in the rain.
Cap and ball revolvers were a natural next step from percussion caps in the early 1800s. Modern kinds of bullets as opposed to round balls came in also around this time. Cartridges as we know them came in during the Civil War and, finally, smokeless powder in the late 1800s. At that point, the age of modern firearms was essentially in place.
One of the major questions in the first few centuries worth of wars in which gunpowder weapons were used was rifles vs. muskets. Did you ever wonder why the vanes on an arrow cause it to spin, or the rifling in a rifle barrel cause the bullet to spin? The human race apparently figured this one out early. Nobody can manufacture an arrow or a bullet in which the distribution of weight is perfect. If you shoot either without causing it to spin, one point on the thing will be heavier than the others and this will lead the arrow or bullet off course. If you make it spin, however, the effect of this will be cancelled out.
Rifles were always more accurate than muskets which lacked rifling, but were more difficult and expensive to produce, and always more difficult and time-consuming to load. Armies sometimes had guys with muskets standing with riflemen to keep the riflemen from being overrun while reloading. Muskets were still being used in the Civil War but, by then, were basically outmoded.
The museums at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia show Hall rifles, basically a sophisticated breech-loading rifle using miniballs and percussion caps which was being made in the early 1800s. The Union could easily have begun the Civil War using those rifles and, if it had, the Civil War might easily have lasted a year or a year and a half.
Another major dichotomy and divide involved in firearms is the question of modern smokeless powder vs black powder and modern variations of the theme of black powder.
These are the major differences between the two.
Modern versions of blackpowder equivalents using a cleaner chemical rather than the sulphur in blackpowder are available, and burn clean and are fairly easy to clean up. CleanShot is one such product. Most modern blackpowder equivalents come in pellet form to prevent yuppies from blowing themselves up should they mismeasure the stuff. You can still buy it in powder form if you want to, but who'd want to?
The first repeating rifles used in the Civil War were lever action Henry rifles (Henry later became Winchester) which gave the Union army an overwhelming advantage in firepower. Trap-door action and similar rifles were seen in the mid to late 1800s and were replaced by the bolt-action type rifles introduced by Mauser towards the end of the 1800s. American forces in the Spanish American war suffered against forces armed with Mausers and quickly went to a knockoff of the Mauser made by the Springfield armory.
The first semiautomatic military rifle, the M1, was designed by Browning with patents in place around 1898 and the first one was actually built in Germany prior to WW-I. Military organizations are conservative, often valuing tradition over innovation, and the rapid changes between the time of the Napoleanic wars and WW-I were as much as German military planners could deal with. They not only walked into WW-I with Mausers, they walked into WW-II with Mausers as well which was idiotic. George Patton called the M1 one of the super weapons of WW-II. It isn't just about aircraft carriers, tanks, and bombers; if your side has a major advantage in their rifle, the most basic weapon of war, that's gigantic.
The US military thus went to bolt-action rifles prior to WW-I and to semiautomatic rifles prior to WW-II, other than for sniper rifles. Bolt-action rifles are generally more accurate than semiautomatic rifles and snipers prefer them for long range shots.
These then are the main US military rifles:
Lever-action rifles such as you see in western movies are generally seen in the forms of guide guns and a certain number of traditional 30-30 deer rifles. The problem is that the tube feed needed for a lever action rifle does not allow bullets with a sharp nose and good aerodynamics to be used since the recoil of the rifle could slam the nose of a cartridge in the tube into the primer of the cartridge in front of it with undesirable consequences. That means that only relatively flat-nosed bullets can be used and limits the accurate range of such rifles since such bullets slow down dramatically with air resistence over any significant distance. Particularly in the case of a guide gun which is meant to kill any sort of a grizzly bear or other dangerous animal which gets too close to both guide and client, that doesn't matter.
Semiautomatic rifles have a greater rate of fire than bolt-action rifles, and for many military applications, that overrides any other considerations. They are considerably more complex to clean after using, and in general they are not as accurate, although some are reasonably accurate. They generally use detachable magazines and can fire the same kinds of ammunition which bolt-action rifles fire.
Bolt-action rifles comprise the bulk of hunting rifles and target rifles, for which accuracy is more important than rate of fire. They are much simpler and much easier to clean than semiautomatics. About the only thing which really gets dirty and needs to be cleaned every time you use it is the bore of the barrel itself. After using a semiautomatic, you generally need to clean the rifle bore, the bolt and bolt carrier, the piston (other than in Armelite-style rifles), the receiver, the tube in which the piston moves, and anything else you can think of.
A true assault rifle is a semiautomatic rifle which fires ammunition of a certain size: just big enough to kill or seriously injure anybody it hits, yet small enough to allow rapid follow-on shots and/or aimed semiautomatic or automatic fire. The Germans invented this idea around 1943 with the 8 mm kurz cartridge and rifles which used it, too late to reverse the outcome of the war fortunately. True assault rifles today include mainly the M16 and various other rifles made to use .223 ammo, and Russian Kalashnikov rifles using 7.62x39 and Russian variants of .223 ammo. In particular, FAL rifles, HKs, M1s and M1A1s are not true assault rifles since they cannnot be aimed and fired rapidly due to the recoil of their heavier ammo. These should be called "battle rifles", "military rifles" or some such, and not assault rifles.
The thing being sacrificed in order to have a true assault rifle is power and range. The general assumption being made is that the bulk of military shooting will be at ranges not over 300 yards. The M16 does a bit better than most of the others in this regard due to the relatively high velocity of the .223 ammo. Marines practice at ranges to 600 yards with it and competition versions of it using heavier bullets are accurate out to all competition ranges.
The fact that competitive events are generally won with m16 type rifles is due to the fact that it takes much less time to get the rifle back on target for follow on shots.
If you've never owned firearms previously, you are in all likelihood not interested in semiautomatic rifles or, at the very least, take some sort of a civilian marksmanship program course which teaches you how to use AND CLEAN them before buying one. Much better to simply purchase a bolt-action rifle and figure it out first.
The main questions you want to answer before doing that are probably some or all of the following: What exactly am I looking for? Where do I go to buy it? What manufacturers am I interested in? What calibers make sense?
22 caliber rifles make sense for hunting small game and target shooting at relatively short ranges, but you can buy 22's all day long at WalMart and I assume you're not reading any of this because you're interested in 22s.
The two calibers I might recommend for a first rifle would be 308 and 243 and there are several real reasons for that, i.e. it's not just a personal prejudice. 308 Ammunition is inherently accurate and packs enough of a punch to kill any North American game at reasonable ranges. It is the caliber of the last generation of 30-caliber US military rifles; that means it is generally viewed as the replacement for the 30:06 and is the best supported 30 caliber cartridge in America. NATO surplus ammo for it is plentiful and cheap and hunting ammo with various weight bullets will always be easily available. Within 300 yards, you can pretty much shoot a 308 without having to think terribly much. If you set it to be dead on at 300 yards, it will only be two or three inches high at 100 and 200. And, this is a critical point: assuming that you do not do something stupid like manufacture or buy a light 308 bolt-action rifle with a short (under 20" barrel), the recoil from a 308 bolt-action is not going to hurt most people. I mean, you'll notice it, but you won't really get hurt by it.
The 243 uses the same basic case as the 308 but a smaller bullet; naturally, the smaller bullet flies faster. The 243 is the most reasonable of the smaller rifle calibers for all but a few purposes. With light bullets it can be used to shoot groundhogs or crows out to extreme sorts of distances and, with heavier bullets, can kill whitetail deer with no difficulty. You wouldn't want to go out after elk or grizzlies with a 243. Unlike some smaller calibers which are basically overpowered, 243 ammo is not going to burn out rifle barrels in any particular sort of a hurry. Recoil from a 243 is completely minescule.
Remington, Winchester, Ruger, Savage, and several foreign manufacturers all make good quality bolt-action rifles at reasonable prices. The Savage and Ruger rifles are less expensive than most and the quality is very good; those are the two brand I'd recommend for a first rifle.
Ruger rifle with laminated stock and stainless barrel and receiver.
Savage rifle. The head spacing of Savage rifles is set by using a locking nut to join the barrel and receiver; this looks funky to a lot of people but produces a very high quality and accurate rifle which is very inexpensive for what it can do.
That last question was, where do I go to buy this kind of stuff? Local gun stores are one possibility. Gun shows are another. You can get schedules for gunshows in your state on The Shotgun News Web Site by clicking the Gunshows tab at the top right. You'll generally get a vastly larger selection of things at gunshows than you will at any one store. And then, there's another possibility. Gunbroker dot com amounts to the exact same thing as Ebay for firearms, which Ebay refuses to deal with. It's just a tiny bit more complicated than that since you can't really just buy a firearm over the net and have somebody ship it to you. You bid on a firearm and, if you win, you need to find some local dealer who will transfer the arm to you. That means that the seller ships the arm to the local dealer and for a fee generally ranging from $20 to $40, the local dealer lets you fill out the proper forms and does the necessary checking, and you walk out with the arm as if you'd bought it from the local dealer. Gunbroker keeps a database of dealers willing to do transfers and can usually find one near you. The selection on Gunbroker is enormous and you'll generally save more than enough to offset the transfer fee.
George Patton said the M1 was one of the super weapons of WW-II. They can still be bought but I don't recommend it to friends. The 30:06 ammunition they use is not as accurate as 308 ammo, and the metallurgy involved is that of 1940. If I HAD to buy such a thing, I'd want it to be the Israeli Arms version of the thing with modern mettalurgy and good overall quality. Notice the long sight radius, i.e. the fact that the rear sight is as far back as it's possible to put it on the rifle. This is a feature of all American war rifles and, compared to many other kinds of rifles with much shorter sight radii, makes the American rifles more accurate.
The three rifles pictured above are the three major NATO 30 caliber rifles from the period after WW-II: The M14/M1A1, the German HK91/G3, and the FN FAL. These are the 30 caliber semiautos you see at gunshows; there are arguments for and against each. The US went with the M14, a modified M1 using 308 ammo and detachable magazines, Germany went with the HK rifle, and most of the rest of the world went with the FAL. The FAL was designed by a student of John Browning's and may in fact be stronger and more reliable than the others, but accuracy is limited by the lack of high-grade triggers. I don't recommend any of these to anybody as a first rifle; the best choice of the three is probably the match grade of Springfield Armory's version of the M1A1, which can sometimes be found for around $1300. The FAL has become the weapon of choice for home gunsmithing and building projects. The web sites for that are Gunthings and FAL Files
The US switched to 223 caliber rifles during the Vietnam war; the M16 and civilian variants of it are the closest thing there is to a real assault rifle which is also a believable rifle and can hit things at significant distances. In particular, in a gunfight at 500 yards between a guy with an M16 and a guy with an Ak47, the guy with the AK would most often be SOL.
The first M16s had all kinds of problems, most of which have been resolved. The remaining problems mainly amount to jamming due to dust or sand during long periods in the field. Since civilians almost never spend weeks in the field, a civilian owner will almost never see one of those problems. The M16 is different from other military rifles in the following respects:
The basic Kalashnikov rifle, the AK47 and variants, is the other common true assault rifle. It uses a minimalistic 30 caliber cartridge (7.62x39) and is meant to be easy to manufacture and maintain. Actually hitting anything with one much past 100 yards is problematical.
The rifle on top is a normal Ak47. The rifle on the bottom, the Vepr which Robinson Arms sells, is the one variant of the AK which I'd recommend to anybody. The Vepr is Michael Kalashnikov's ultimate civilian firearm. Made with Steyr tools, it amounts to a medium-heavy, chrome-lined and hammer forged barrel mated to a RPK (squad light machinegun) receiver which, while stamped, is the strongest stamped receiver ever made. The Vepr comes in 223, 7.62x39 (AK caliber), and 308, is stone totally reliable under almost any imaginable circumstances, and is accurate enough to produce inch or inch and a half groups at 100 yards. The Vepr at $500 - $600 is one of life's bargains.
All Russian and Eastern Block semiauto military rifles work pretty much the same way and are similar in their mechanisms, with just a few exceptions. The most basic criteria for an AK if I had to have one for some reason would be that it cost no more than $250, tops. The idea of paying $500 for a Bulgarian AK with a forged receiver makes no sense to me at all. One other thing which makes no sense to me at all is wanting to own the very bottom end of all Russian rifles, i.e. the SKS. The SKS was made to be so simple to manufacture that anybody with a lathe could make one, and that's about all there is to recommend it.
Scope or iron sights? For military applications and usually for competitive shooting, iron sights are often used. They have the advantage of being quickly adjustable for elevation and windage out to extreme ranges. For sniper applications and for hunting at ranges beyond 100 yards, scopes are preferable. The necessary ingrediants are the rifle, a set of base mounts, and a set of scope rings which attach the scope to the mounts.
The biggest beginner's question with scopes is how much to spend; you can buy usable scopes for $30 and very good ones for $1000 and more. My own experience indicates that the least amount of money to be spent on something you'd be happy with, particularly for shooting past 100 yards, would be in the $200 - $400 range. Gunbroker has bargains on scopes as does Ebay, and the other resource I'd recommend is Riflescopes dot com. Riflescopes dot come has had a $300 price on Japanese Tasco sniper scopes and one or two other interesting Tasco scopes in the same price range.
Other desirable and new kinds of features which you find in modern rifles include the following"
Remember the section about rationales for the 2'nd ammendment at the top of this page? There were four basic reasons for the ammendment, and only one of them, the notion of self-defense against criminals and wild animals, had anything much to do with pistols; the others basically involved rifles.
Pistols are simpler to buy, use, and deal with than rifles generally. Unless you're shooting something truly monsterous you don't need to worry about recoil with a pistol since movement of your arm absorbs most of it. In fact recoil in a pistol often is related to the mechanism of the pistol more than to the size. An automatic in which two metal parts hit will often produce substantially more recoil than a revolver in which nothing like that happens, even though the revolver is a heavir caliber.
Pistols have much shorter barrels than rifles, therefore they use faster burning smokeless powders; if you've only got two to six inches to burn and expand in, you've got to do it faster. They generally fire larger bullets than rifles do, at lower velocities. Velocities for pistols generally range from around 800 feet/second to about 1600 or thereabouts.
The most basic choice is between revolvers and automatics, the term "automatic" generally being used for semiautomatic operation in the case of pistols. Automatic pistols have only existed within the age of smokeless powder. They generally use smaller calibers with shorter cases which provide adequate power for the purposes for which they were designed, while allowing for faster and more reliable functioning of the semiautomatic mechanisms. Such cartridges have only been possible within the age of smokeless powder. Many typical revolver calibers, on the other hand, are little changed from the days of blackpowder cartridges.
Most people would prefer an automatic for a concealed carry pistol, but you wouldn't want that for a sidearm in grizzly country. Moreover, cops generally prefer revolvers and most people prefer them for home defense weapons. They're simpler, more reliable, and generally pack more of a punch. Seeing the difference between 38 special and 357 magnum ammunition is a bit of an education. Before buying a pistol, have somebody who owns a 357 take you to a range and let you shoot both 38 and 357 ammo with it. The 357 magnum is a prefered caliber for police revolvers and is pretty much the fist pistol caliber which is guaranteed to stop pretty nearly anything.
The two pistols pictured above are two which I would recommend to friends. The revolver is a Taurus 41 magnum 5-shot with a 4" barrel which can be found at gunshows for around $400. The auto is a Ruger 9mm which can be bought for around $300.
Whatever you end up buying will need cleaning, every time you use it. Have somebody at the NRA or a local gun store or range show you what goes into cleaning firearms before you do any shooting.
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