So I decided to shoot an AR-15. Better sooner than later. I watched a video of a convincing argument by Colion Noir about why he should have an assault rifle or a semi-automatic rifle, and I've been trying to figure out the difference between .223 and 5.56. A combination of circumstances that found me at my local range renting an AR.
I brought my own pistol and rented the AR. The dude gave me basic instructions but there were a couple of weird things. He said only put in 8 rounds (although the magazine holds 10) so it won't jam, and if it does then somebody will come out to the firing line and help me. But the really weird thing was that he used the cap of a Bic pen to stick in a little hole which had previously been some machined part, in order to release the magazine.
I went to the firing line and took my time, loading up my pistol mags. Then I broke open the box of 20 5.56 rounds that I purchased from the counter and pushed 8 of them into the rifle magazine. I had that same feeling, literally of 'cheap skates' that you get when you rent ice skates at the rink. These ain't the sharpest tools in the shed. I shot the two mags from my pistol, felt good about it and then picked up the rifle.
Slammed the mag in, pulled back the bolt and looked down the iron sights 10 yards to my zombie target, slowly squeeze and boom. Hmm. A bit more kick than I expected, but completely reasonable. The plastic stock wasn't very comfortable but not awkward. I was low and left, but left a neat hole. I shot four more booms and then click. What? So I executed from my training, tap, rack, squeeze. Another click. I tried to put the gun on safety and it wouldn't go. Then I pulled out the magazine, completely forgetting the Bic pen cap. It came right out. There was no cartridge in the chamber. Failure to feed.
So I slammed it in again, racked the bolt. Click. WTF. I haven't even gotten through one magazine and this piece of crap is already malfunctioning. I removed the magazine (again without the pen cap) and walked over to W. A new friend that I met just that day, W was geared out in a chav suit with a XXL jersey with Run DMC -style fonts. His cap was turned backwards and he wore a single black shooting glove. W had a whole arsenal of pistols in his stall, one of which looked very much like a Desert Eagle, only blacked out. There must have been 8 guns. I didn't watch him shoot, but every thing about him smelled very Wu Tang Clan. W's not somebody to fuck with. I asked him to come over and take a look at my AR. He went through a couple well-practiced motions and remarked that the gun was dry as a bone. No lube. Hmm. Then he handed it back to me. I aimed and got a boom. And then another click. I handed him the pen cap and he nodded thoughtfully, rolled his eyes and uttered two words.
He used the pen cap, replaced the magazine and handed me the gun. I got the last two booms out of it and then realized what he was on about. My rented gun was in the twilight zone between manufacture and legal compliance. In other words it had been crippled in order to make do. Obviously, the normal magazine locking and release mechanism had been altered, so that's why the pen cap was used. My guess was that this was a non-standard magazine, shortened to handle only 10 cartridges at a time, which is the California limit. I hadn't realized that the magazine wasn't locking properly into place - the fit was less than perfect, and less than perfect on a machine such as an AR-15 is sufficiently dangerous to piss me off. A lot.
In normal life, especially when talking about human effort, perfect is the enemy of good. In engineering, good is the enemy of perfect. When it comes to engineering firearms, perfect is the only thing that's acceptable. I've been overthinking firearms for over a year now, and have had the good fortune to have serious, smart men and women as my shooting buddies. Even now as I improve my shooting skills and expand my knowledge, I am coming to understanding the logic behind the sentiments of the shooting public. Only experts have, or should have, the patience for guns that fail for various reasons. When our gang goes shooting and a gun misbehaves, there's immediately a set of troubleshooting procedures and discussions that go into effect, most of it over my head, but all of it comprehensible if you are a mechanical engineer.
I have put about 1000 rounds through my new Sig pistol, and oiled it for the first time over the weekend. It has never failed. This AR-15 failed within 5 shots. That's unacceptable.
Last month or so, I entered the debate surrounding microstamping. I understood quite clearly why shooters would be opposed to some mechanism that changes the trigger system in order to stamp a code onto the brass so that 'criminals could be identified'. You have only to shoot a semi-auto once to recognize that hot brass pops out onto the ground when you shoot. Any 7 year old knows you should pick up your trash and recycle it, but somehow we are to believe that crooks are too stupid to pick up their brass, right? The trigger mechanism, especially in handguns, is one of the most sensitive and determining aspects of their quality. More than anything else, the difference between a good gun and a bad one is the trigger. Microstamping tech is a monkey wrench, which means, to the delight of legislators with a view to suppress the sales of guns in this state, that guns would have to be redesigned. Those that don't, if such a requirement were to pass into law, would be prohibited. There's no gun grabbing going on in California, all the would-be gun grabbers are attacking the supply side.
Despite Peruta, such protectionists have ample precedent to be hopeful in the auto industry. California standards are different and more stringent for auto emissions than those in other states. We all can remember when catalytic converters in exhaust systems were new (and troublesome), and we can all remember how poorly engineered were the cars of the 80s. Today, cars are over-engineered and have few if any user servicable parts inside. Few people change plugs or use timing lights. Some of that engineering is perfect. But guns aren't cars, and over-engineering bullets and their firing mechanisms is not a good idea. Keeping it simple is the best, and the most elegant design when it comes to firearms are the simplest. Reliability is the most important engineering goal, if I may state the obvious, when it comes to dealing with explosives.
So now I have the real experience of dealing with a faulty firearm. And I tell you I was still angry about it after I left the range. I have always been drawn to the precision of working these machines. That's my gearhead sensibility. I just can't stand the idea of explosives designed by political committees. I don't think any reasonable person would.
BTW. It should come to you as no surprise that I think there are few things a foolish as firearms manufactured by 3D printers. This ain't Star Trek.
Update: Aha moment. The Bullet Button.