Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 2, No. 4           22 March 1994

April Fool, 1994

The first day of April, 1993, was the date of the great lynch party and auto da fe at Gunsite. Just one year ago the extent of my folly in selling the body of my life's work was made clear to me by the purchaser, in front of his henchmen assembled. Selling the ranch and the school was not in itself a disaster, but selling it to the wrong man was the greatest mistake of my life. It was entirely my fault, an error in character evaluation that I simply cannot explain nor excuse. It is bitter to be frustrated by enemies, but it is dreadfully moreso to be conned by one who posed as a friend.

Well, so be it. It was my blunder, and now I pay the price, along with my friends and followers. I have not entirely "plowed the sea," however. There are those who know, and they will continue to preach the word.

Mark Moritz informs us that he has given up all of his 9 millimeter pistols for Lent. Good thinking!

This is the centennial of the great Model 94 Winchester, one of the outstanding artifacts of modern times. It is unsound to make the claim that any one instrument "won the West," but the 94 was the mainstay of the wilderness during the early years of the twentieth century, and in the days of my youth it was a rare household that did not contain one. This excellent weapon is still with us today, and rendering good service wherever it is found. It you do not own one, you should get one, and not only for the sake of sentiment. If the public scene turns nasty, as some say it may, you will be far better off with an M94 in 30-30 than you will be with an SKS, AK47, or an M16.

I recently ran across a very thought-provoking piece from Forbes Magazine, which hypothesized that products are not necessarily designed to meet a perceived demand, but that sometimes the existence of a product may create the demand for it. A good example is the fax machine, which no one knew he wanted until it appeared, and which now we can hardly do without. The Scout rifle concept may be an example of this theory, since only a few people have ever handled a Scout, either on the range or in the field. They simply do not know what they are missing, and consequently they make no demand for it. This is the primary reason it has been fruitless up till now to try to persuade the industry to manufacture a production Scout. Oh well, as I have said before, "I got mine!"

Amid all the dismal news that we acquire daily about the state of the nation and the world, some dim but promising lights appear. For the first time since the reign of Roosevelt II, people are beginning to notice the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Much as liberals may laugh, that Article is still on the books. It establishes beyond any question that powers not granted to the US government by the US Constitution are specifically unlawful and need not be obeyed.

Note this from the Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Section 177:
"The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having formed in nature of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void and ineffective for any purpose, since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment and not merely from the date of decision so branding it. An unconstitutional law in legal contemplation is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted."

"Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principles follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection and justifies no acts performed under it."

"No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it."

A woman who cannot cook, like a man who cannot shoot, is in important ways incomplete.

The Guru

At this time the "Firestar," from Spain, in caliber 45 would seem to be the logical defense weapon of choice, assuming that it holds up to hard use. In the past I have known Star products to be somewhat less than fully durable. It will take a year's testing before I am ready to recommend the piece without reservations, but as of now it looks good.

The father of one of the more prominent American pistol shooters has seen fit to whimper in print about my conduct at the shoot-off at Bisley last September. As it happens, the organizers of that event seeded an asymmetrical ladder, and the result was that the two finalists had matching scores, and everything depended upon the outcome of that final bout. At its conclusion, each contestant had lost once, but the winner had beaten the loser in a fair fight. When the bout came up I explained this situation to both contestants, and to the match committee which was standing right behind me. I am quite satisfied with my decision, but I did run it past the committee before it was executed.

It is undignified to whimper. It is more undignified to whimper in print. And it is especially undignified to whimper in print when you are wrong. It is, of course, too much to expect dignified behavior in this age of sleaze.

Please note the date of the next Keneyathlon at NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico, which is 2-5 June. All Orange Gunsite graduates (who are in shape to run) should enjoy this one.

Incidentally, Dr. David Kahn, inventor of the Keneyathlon, informs us that the Greek word for scout is proskopos - the one who looks before. Perhaps we should nickname the Scout rifle a "periscope."

A young lady recently queried us about her choice of a deer rifle. She claims to be of small stature and somewhat recoil-shy, and had acquired a Model 99 Savage in caliber 250. It appears that her brothers had jeered at her about this, claiming that the 250 was a "mouse gun" and of insufficient authority to take deer. In our opinion they were quite wrong. The 250 Savage cartridge, using the heavier pattern of bullet (100-or 105-grains), is a completely reliable deer slayer when the bullet is placed correctly. (If the bullet is placed incorrectly no cartridge will make up for the mistake.)

The M99 Savage, like the M94 Winchester, is a tribute to American ingenuity and stands as a very superior, if unappreciated, sporting rifle. It was marketed over such a long period that variations in quality control and even design have made it inconsistent. The first thing to consider when acquiring a Model 99 is its trigger action, which is not always good, but the 99 with a good trigger is a gem. A friend of mine, who was left-handed, acquired one of these when we were at Stanford together. After I set it up for him with proper sights, loop sling, and a good trigger, I was most reluctant to give it back to him. On the range it shot up a storm, and I would like to think that it went on to a long and distinguished career as a venison fetcher.

I counseled the huntress to be happy with her M99 and to invite her two brothers over for dinner when she put her first venison on the table. I also pointed out that an excellent way to serve venison, if you are not familiar with cooking processes, is in fondue bourguinonne. (And I told her I would pay for the wine.)

And while we are speaking of scouts, let us consider the words of Major Frederick Russell Burnham, DSO, Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts:
"Under the administration of [Cecil] Rhodes there were the fewest laws, the widest freedom, the least crime, and the truest justice I have ever seen in any part of the world."

Those of you who are old enough may remember the figure of Colonel Howland G. Taft, USMC, who pioneered practical pistol shooting with me at Quantico as early as 1948, and whose photograph appears various places in my early works.

Howie was a great man, who served his country with distinction throughout two wars. He was also a distinguished pistol shot and a theoretician of marksmanship.

We now learn with deep sorrow of his death in February of this year. He was a good comrade. May he rest in peace!

"Lesson from Rothbury" (From the Daily Telegraph (London,) Saturday August 28, 1993.)
"Country dwellers would not mind the withdrawal of policing from the countryside nearly so much if it were not also deliberate police policy to leave households unarmed and defenseless against criminals."

"The small town of Rothbury, in Northumberland, which was terrorized for the best part of three hours this week by five ruffians armed with crowbars, may feel annoyed that its police station is open only from nine to five on weekdays. This would not matter if law-breakers were like the rest of us, but criminals are so disrespectful of British habits that they are prepared to commit their burglaries out of office hours and without charging overtime."

"The villains spent two hours removing a post office safe while residents watched in terror. In America, of course, there would have been a short fusillade and all five thieves would be riddled with bullets, as every window in town bristled with sophisticated automatic weapons, not to mention the occasional bazooka."

"We do not wish to be too slavish in our imitation of this fine American culture, but it would be foolish to suppose we have nothing to learn from it. As we get poorer and less able to pay the huge demands of a police force which appears to have the country over a gun barrel, the least the Government can do is allow us to defend ourselves."

Auberon Waugh
Here is yet another assumption by the ignorant that somehow automatic weapons are more efficient in the suppression of violent crime than repeaters. It does not take a lot of shots to take out your man. One will do. We would like to remind Mr. Waugh of Alvin York. Of course we were better men in those days.

Have you noticed how some of these peculiar police departments have been opting for backup weapons that they refer to as rifles, even though the pieces shoot pistol cartridges? Evidently we have been too long without a war, when we have senior public officials who cannot tell a rifle from a pistol.

Apparently the only thing that keeps the cops alive today is the fact that the crooks cannot shoot either. A horrible example of that sort of thing was revealed not long ago here in Arizona, where a particularly bad guy chose to get out of his car and shoot it out with the cops. The cops - and there were a lot of them - returned his fire with enthusiasm, if not precision. The whole episode was caught on someone's camcorder, and though it turned out all right in the end, the only one who was not embarrassed was the felon, because he was dead. He was hit seven times for thirty-three tries, as I hear it, at the range of a few paces.

We must note that these horrible examples are the ones that make it to the press. There must be plenty of cases where weapons are handled correctly, but they do not seem to make the news.

Rumor has it that Sarah Brady is being put forward by the Shooting Industry Magazine as "saleswoman of the decade." It is quite obvious that Sarah has done more to boost the sale of personal arms than any person in recent memory, and she should be appropriately honored.

After a lifetime of study, it has become apparent to me that the single most important element in the composition of a utility rifle is trigger action. A good trigger makes a rifle easier to hit with than its accuracy, or its sighting system, or its cartridge, or its action. A 2 minute rifle with a perfect trigger is more useful in the field than a 1 minute rifle without one. Today, unfortunately, most manufacturers do not realize this (or possibly they do not care) and since we live in the Age of Litigation, the idea of a delicate trigger out-of-the-box fills industrial directors with horror.

One reason why this matter of poor triggers is not as well appreciated as it might be is our preoccupation with the shooting bench, where a good trigger action is not nearly as important as it is in the field. The more stable the firing position is, the less the trigger matters, and most of our group-testing is done from the bench, which is the most stable position we can get. As the stability of the shooting position decreases, the delicacy of the trigger action becomes more important. It is less important, for example, from the prone position than it is on the snap shot. The "hitability" of a given rifle should always be tested in a field trial, to which few people have access. Thus we are stuck in most modern production with rifles that have many good features, but lack the most important one. (The exceptions to this general rule are Mauser, Mannlicher, and Blaser. Possibly these people are simply not as scared of law suits as the others.)

A good trigger should be light about 40oz. will do nicely - but more important than weight is an imperceptible let-off. The surprise break of the rifleman must indeed sunrise him, and thus he must not be able to detect any movement at all in the trigger when it releases the striker. Such a trigger should come with the gun over the counter, but with few exceptions it does not, though it did at one time. I have a Model 70 Winchester (dating from 1937!) and its trigger, though never touched by a gunsmith, is perfect. Do not look for any such thing, however, on any of its descendants being produced today.

Orange Gunsite stalwart Gabe Suarez contributes the following from California:
"As for myself, I have not achieved 'ace' yet in spite of taking every possible step in that quest (good things come to those who wait!). I did have the opportunity to study CQB and hostage rescue tactics with the Force Recon at Camp Pendleton. I was very impressed with their professionalism and skills. When we realized that most of us had been to Gunsite, the conversation stopped abruptly. Then one of the Marines carefully asked, 'Orange Gunsite or Grey Gunsite?' I've never been one to mince words. I proudly proclaimed, 'Orange Gunsite of course. Only a Democrat would want to learn shooting from a pill peddler!' This was met by cheers and laughter and the jovial conversation continued on course. I imagine that if I'd said 'grey', I'd have had to shoot my way out of there."

I recently had the pleasure of accompanying shooting master John Gannaway on a delightful morning's walk at the Arizona Hunt Club, which is handily located exactly between Gunsite and Phoenix. We were harassing pheasants and chukars, with the aid of a pair of perfectly splendid dogs whose work was a marvel to behold. They were German Shorthairs, and the only flaw I can find in their behavior was that they had not been trained to bite people who miss. Dog trainers should give that matter some thought.

As we have long taught, the rifle and the pistol serve two conceptually different purposes, and while each may be called upon to perform the function of the other, this is not a good practice and best results should not be expected.

The essential difference is that the pistol is designed to solve totally unexpected problems, whereas the rifle is taken in hand when the problem is foreseeable. Thus instant readiness is the primary quality of the pistol. As has been well said, "You cannot make an appointment for an emergency." When you know there is going to be an emergency, you pick up your rifle. Now there are all sorts of curious circumstances which may pose specific exceptions to the foregoing principles, but the fact remains that the two instruments fill different tactical niches, and training and practice should be based upon that concept.

The following from family member Paul Kirchner:
"Congratulations on your elevation to public enemy by the 'Physicians for a Violence-Free Society'! Despite my best efforts to annoy the liberals I fear I am not destined to achieve such prominence. Interesting how the name of this group instantly identified it as liberal, with its characteristically utopian aspirations. Why not stick with what they know, and form a 'Physicians for an Illness-Free Society'? They could have sub-chapters such as 'Psychiatrists for an Anxiety-Free Society'. If we wish to address violence, it makes more sense to have a 'Gun Owners for a Violence-Free Society' or we could associate ourselves with the 'Clear Thinkers for an Inanity-Free Society'."

With all due respect and full apology to Mr. Lincoln, the following:
"Now we are entering the opening engagements of a great civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that free men bear arms, can long endure."

Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal use only. Not for publication.