Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 9, No. 1           January, 2001


Well, we made it, though it was definitely too close for comfort. The dreadful thing is that the nation seems to be ideologically polarized right down the middle, and can such a nation - "divided against itself" - truly stand? The philosophical differences are not minor, but hinge at the base upon fundamental ideas about right and wrong, and such matters are hardly negotiable. Walter Williams suggests secession:
"So here is my question: Should we Americans continue to impose our wills and values upon one another forcibly, or should we part company and be friends?"
"Those people" do not want to live with us, and we do not want to live with them. Out here in the boonies where I live, we do not meet them, but we know they are there. It is when we look at the major television commentators that we realize that they do not think we are here. The German word Schadenfreude denotes pleasure taken in the misery of others. This is not a nice idea, but one cannot pretend that it does not exist. The pundits of the left writhe there in their intellectual furnaces. One should not take delight in this, but one should not be condemned if the sight does not distress him overmuch. Some of the Founding Fathers foresaw this sort of thing, and they did their best to avoid it by drafting a constitution that both sides would sign. The chasm remains, however, and it does not seem to narrow with the passage of the centuries. It seems to me that the burden of accommodation is upon them. We could agree to be friends if they will just get off our backs, but they have to start the ball rolling by agreeing to do just that. Not very likely.

Daughter Parry, who lives in Colorado, informs us that yet another town has mandated personal firearms for home defense. Thus Utah now joins Georgia. May their tribe increase!

Karl Bosselmann, who is a venerable stalwart of the lever-action rifle, points out to us the unpleasant production of the cross-bolt hammer-block "safety" for the traditional American lever-actions. This arrangement is not only useless, but positively dangerous, and yet it is advertised as a "safety device." It is dangerous because it is quite easy to operate inadvertently, leaving you with a rifle which will not fire when you need it. It is easily deactivated by a quick touch-weld, but the fact that you have to do this is irritating.

The earlier lever guns do not have this nuisance installed. If you own one of the newer ones, fix it or get it fixed immediately.

If the polypragmatoi (that is the busybodies) must insist upon rustling up causes, let them get the cellular telephone out of the cockpit. There are several ways of doing this, but they, one and all, will be "bad for business," so do not hold your breath.

The arts of weaponcraft are difficult to maintain. We realize there are a good many target shooters who truly know what they are about, but fewer hunter/riflemen all the time. We recently ran across a professional outfitter up in the Rockies who had never heard of the sitting position, nor how to use a shooting sling. And he is a man who takes people out hunting!

But where today does one learn about shooting? There are two good private schools, but Uncle Sugar has pretty much given up trying. The self-taught sometimes do very well - witness Stuart Edward White - but these people are exceptions to the rule. Increasingly we see African outfitters advocating the "slave rest" in which a henchman trots around out between you and the lion and offers his shoulder upon which to rest your rifle. Apparently he assumes that you are not strong enough to hold your rifle up by yourself.

Most of my adult life I have taught rifle and pistol marksmanship. I have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations in several dozen cases. This is spitting against a tide but it is, of course, better than doing nothing. I really do not know why it should trouble me because it is not my responsibility to educate the public. It does trouble me, however, to see how thinly the word is spread.

Correspondent Milo Swensen of Rolling Hills, California, points out to us that in classical Spanish the word "education" denotes that which is provided to a young person by his parents and family, while that which he gets in school is called "instruction." This is a good angle upon the question we raised recently about the definition of education. I cannot consider tradecraft to be education, but then who cares what words mean nowadays?

What is all this about a beret? The beret, of course, is a Basque headgear which serves no purpose whatever. It does not hold off the rain. It does not keep the sun out of the eyes or off the back of the neck. It blows off in a wind, and it offers no protection against bumps and knocks. I have nothing against the Basques, but the beret is a silly hat and should not be given consideration as part of the modern military uniform. The fact that it has assumed a certain badge-glamour is apparent, but not irrevocable. There are ways of making a man's uniform more distinguished looking without attempting to be "fashionable."

It has been pointed out to us that most people do not know about the receiver on the Steyr Scout rifle, which is non-ferrous and which does not bear upon the barrel. This means, of course, that when the barrel heats up it does not alter the position of the two telescope bands. Consequently the rifle does not crawl as you heat it. This is another of the dozen or so features which make a scout a scout. The finished weapon is an aggregation of desiderata (!!!), rather than just another gun, but the marketers are doing their best to keep that a secret.

We were recently interviewed on the subject of the Bren Ten. The writer involved seemed more interested in the weapon itself than in its cartridge, which idea seems to us somewhat out of sequence. The reason for the original Bren Ten cartridge was power, though in looking back on it, that seems to have been a needless attribute. The 45 ACP cartridge has almost enough power. No conceivable cartridge can have "enough" for all conceivable circumstances.

The Bren Ten pistol was an attractive artifact, and I am glad to have had a hand in it, but it did not invalidate all existing sidearms. Its main drawback was that it wore itself out too quickly. It utilized the Browning tilt lock, and the extra violence of the full-house 10mm cartridge wore off the interior sharp edges rather quickly. It was a nice looking gun and felt good in the hand, but any new development of this sort calls for a government contract in order to popularize it, and such was not forthcoming. If you have one, good for you, but shoot it sparingly, and do not confuse the full-house 10 cartridge with the various reduced 40 caliber pistol cartridges.

Nature note: Dogs should not attack pigs. Smart dogs do not attack pigs. There are, however, a lot of stupid dogs around.

Having jiggled the schedule for 2001, we are now off to Rome in February to participate in the Feast Day of San Gabriel Possenti, who is the patron saint of pistoleros. It is rumored that I am scheduled for some sort of an award on this occasion, and this makes me happy indeed. I have not been to Rome since I was a mere tad, it has been many years since Lindy visited, and the Countess has never been there, so we look forward to this occasion with delight. I will make an attempt to run down the absolute straight word about the exploit which resulted in the canonization of San Gabriel. Nobody ever gets shooting stories straight, but I promise to make a vigorous attempt.

"Unlike its antonym, 'hoplophilia' does not describe an aberration: A man who loves weapons is no more abnormal than a woman who loves babies. Countless millennia of hunting and war fighting have programed man with the knowledge that a weapon means LIFE. This stark realization repels some - they are the hoplophobes. To us hoplophiles it is a delight."

Paul Kirchner

We hear that they had to abandon plans for a nativity pageant in DC, since they could not locate three wise men nor a virgin.

Having grown up with the idea that there should be at least a half-dozen guns in every well-organized household, it has come as something of a shock to us to discover that in frontier America general poverty dictated only one firearm per household. That was the flintlock hanging in honor above the fireplace. This meant that when a boy ran off to war he could not bring along a gun since his family needed that at the homestead. It is therefore possible to assume that while guns were the common experience of all young Americans (at least those who lived outside the city limits), there were never very many guns, and even if the young men could "spring to arms overnight," there could not be anything for them to spring to. Thus getting a force together, in either the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, posed a serious problem in logistics.

This pattern was repeated to a certain extent in the Boer War, wherein every Boer had his rifle but usually there was only one per household, and large numbers of 1896 Mausers had to be fed into Southern Africa before they could proceed with the war. The Boer, however, was used to rifle shooting from as early as he could heft a rifle. This gave him a decisive advantage over the English soldier who had never touched a rifle until he put on the uniform. The English won that one as, of course, they were destined to do, but they took a nasty pasting in the attempt. "God and the Mauser" was Kruger's war cry, and it established that, while armies may defeat farmers, they cannot in the long run overcome them. The armed citizen was and remains the only guarantor of political liberty.

We learn that the last Finnish sniper of the Russo-Finnish War has passed away at age 95. The point here is that his activity was all conducted with a straight-forward, bolt-action, iron-sighted military rifle. These elaborate devises we see in the magazines called "sniper rifles" are very elegant and we would not turn them down, but we remember that above all it is the man, not his weapon, that makes the difference.

Lance Thomas, the jeweler who set the record out there in Southern California in the matter of self-defense, has been characterized by some people as the idealized "gunfighter" of the late 20th century. Certainly he did well, but I cannot think of him as a gunfighter. His tactical skill was only mediocre - it was his attitude which makes him stand out. Above all he typifies the dignity of the individual. There are those who whine, "Why not give them the money. It's only loot, as against your life." Actually that is not entirely it. Your dignity is involved. Lance Thomas refused to surrender his dignity to a series of armed punks. That makes him a hero first and a gunfighter second, in my opinion.

We are reminded that when the Spanish Civil War broke out the position of prime minister (upon victory) was offered to the Duke of Alba. He refused it with asperity, declaiming, "Prime Minister! But that's a job for a clerk!" He was then asked what he intended to do after the war was over and won. He said, "Well, I suppose I will continue to go hunting with his majesty, as usual."

In viewing all the family festivities in retrospect, we conclude that every extended family should include a physician, an attorney, a tycoon, a brewer, and a jeweler. This year we have taken full advantage of the last two.

We are informed by our good friend Count Antonio Randaccio-Lodi that the motto of the Savoyard Cavalry goes something like this:
My soul to God,
My life to my King,
My heart to my Lady,
My honor to myself.
Good, hey?

If one is to acquire a dog by breed, rather than by personality, I suggest the Corgi. I have met several in the past couple of years and each was an outstanding hound - outstanding for both wisdom and a sense of humor.

The Guardian, which is a local newspaper in London, became totally flummoxed by the American election. A recent editorial refers to Bush's victory as "a calamity without precedent." If there indeed is a calamity, it does not lie in the election, but rather in the ideological polarization of the American nation. I do not think, however, that is what this editorialist had in mind.

Having received a good many cheerful Christmas messages from friends, and having sent one out ourselves, it appears to be time to produce a manual on the production of Christmas messages, to include such items as: Do not include measles, mumps, nor sprained ankles. And: Do not assume that your reader instinctively realizes that your pets are not your progeny, and so on.

Now that the White House staff will be directed to wear underwear and socks again, fumigation can proceed. George Bush may be no knight in shining armor, but at least one would not be ashamed to have him to dinner. Besides, Americans do not, or should not, need a caudillo. We make out better without one.

Curious how our worldly and articulate TV commentators come agley on the name of the great Mexican volcano. Popo cah TAY petal is just not all that hard to pronounce. Easier than Pascagoula or Possawatomy, e.g.

So now we sail on into the third millennium of the Christian era. The first took us from the first Christmas up till the year 1000. The second from 1000 to 2000. And now we are in the third. A thousand years includes a huge chunk of human experience. Consider that a thousand years ago we had no machinery to speak of, no paper, no books (apart from those handwritten), no firearms, no running water, no electricity, no money, and most shocking of all, no chili. That is a lot of stuff to do without, and yet people thought much the same way, felt much the same way, and acted in ways entirely explicable to us. If we went from Point One to Point Two in that second millennium, it staggers the imagination to consider what the world may look like at Point Three. A group of talented fiction writers has been exploring these matters since I was a child, and some of their work is superb, but all they can tell us is what may happen, with nothing more than a vivid imagination to back it up. To me this is a troublesome thought, since the state of the world right now in 2001 is certainly no better than it was in 1901, and in many ways much worse. We conquered the air. In return we wiped out the wilderness. We conquered syphilis and got AIDS in return. We devised the Internet without producing anything worth reading. (And perhaps worst of all, we devised the M1 Garand and we got the M16!)

And time marches on. We must look at the good side. Despite the cell phone, the laptop computer and the personalized water bottle, we have the Porsche, the Ferrari and the Steyr Scout. Hurray - I guess.

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