Cavalcade of Crap

Garbage Guns and the Schmucks that Make `Em

by LF (6/97)

One of the big-time firearm writers is constantly promoting the notion that "Only accurate guns are interesting." I'm a simpler guy: Unreliable guns drive me into a seething rage.

There are few things more gut-churning than to plop down good money for a new weapon (especially one that has been fawned over by the mainstream magazines) and have it turn out to be little better than an expensive paperweight. I'm originally from Ohio, a state renowned for anti-gun politicians like poop-licker Howdy Metzenbaum (I don't even know if the old bastard is still kicking -- hope he died of something real painful). But it was not as bad there as you'd imagine. Lots of Class III guys were around, Camp Perry was nearby, and all you needed to do to snag a pistol was to show off a driver's license, fill out that ridiculous federal form, pay your money, and walk out the door with DEATH in your sweaty hands. This ease of acquisition made it a simple task to build up a Crip-sized arsenal muy pronto. I went the gun nut route as soon as I started making money -- but it was not a lot of money, which meant that I was feeding from the bottom of the tank.

Cripes, the horror stories I can pass along. Grabbing everything that cost less than $200 was a great route to shit central.

(Tangential Aside: One of my takes on the old anti-gun "Saturday Night Special" ploy is that most of the guns originally targeted way back when were trash that could seldom be expected to function. Predators were thus motivated to acquire higher-quality arms. This resulted in more innocent civilians and cops getting killed in confrontations with criminals. This in turn gave the anointed more stats with which to gleefully generate more hysteria against all private firearm ownership.)

I was so used to Ohio's relatively laissez-faire attitude that I was sorta peeved after moving down to North Carolina six years ago. I asked the local Rubes what their laws were like beforehand, but all they had to say was "Jesse Helms is yer best friend, by cracky", or something equally rustic -- and wrong. Turned out that NC has had a Sheriff-discretion pistol permit system in place since the beginning of the century, put in place by the long-ruling Democrats who figured that guns should be kept out of the hands of uppity black folk (e.g., those that didn't take kindly to hooded visitors in the middle of the night).

What this meant was that now I was now expected to kowtow to an elected official, provide testimony from a friendly "witness," cough up five bucks per permit, and then polish my bayonet during a pre-Clinton five-business-day waiting period before my wish was granted.

I have never (yet) been blown any additional shit during this process, but it is still a time-wasting bureaucratic hassle.

However, having to hop through the flaming hoop did have a sole salutary effect. The amount of outright dreck in my collection began to drop. Since impulse purchases were rendered much more difficult to remedy, I was coerced into spending more time researching potential toys.

But I have never been accused of not being able to carry a grudge:


I grabbed one of these copies of the classic Baby Browning ("upgraded" with new safety features to please the company's liability lawyers) last year, and it really looked like a sweet little toy. Tiny, 10.5 ounces, apparently well-made, and surprisingly accurate despite horrible sights.

My gun came with a 1-year warranty, along and an insert that promised doom and destruction unless I purchased the extended 5-year plan for an additional $35. I called bullshit on that.

I soon found out how serious these dudes were.

My pistol exhibited feeding problems from the beginning, jamming on the fourth round from almost every mag. I'm used to balky micro guns, which have to be cut some slack, and bought six different kinds of ammo. None were better than 90% reliable. I tried running the gun bone dry and then went through various lubricants (from a thin coat of Break-Free to slopping on lithium grease), to no good effect. Five different shooters had the same problems, so it wasn't my particular method of hanging on to the thing, etc. I packed the pistol up and shipped it back to KBI.

I got antsy after a month went by without a word, so I gave 'em a jingle.

Listen to this: The fella on the other end told me that they have a ten-week turnaround time! Do the math. Including to-and-from shipping time, that means that almost three months should go by before a consumer could expect their lil' stocking-stuffer back. Better, that's a big-ass chunk out of a year guarantee, and is obviously meant to either sell more extended warranties or extract full boat rates from unfortunates stuck with the tab for "gunsmithing".

Not unexpectedly, mine came back with a note that read, "Gun was test-fired using PMC ball ammo w/no malfunctions after some adjustments." I happen to be a dedicated Shotgun News reader. I looked over the last two months worth of issues, and the ONLY kind of .25 Auto ammo that I could not find a distributor for was PMC. Plenty of folks carried the rest of their line, but the .25 was never mentioned. No local stores had it either. (I wonder if KBI cornered the market and is gonna start selling the stuff for $20 a box.) Of course, nothing else I could scrounge worked. There was one noticeable change, however. The gun began jamming on ANY round out of the magazine.

I called and called and finally got some greasemonkey on the line to admit that KBI's SOP for test-firing consists of running a "mag or two through the gun". That's six to twelve rounds! Heck, even a Smith & Wesson auto could be expected to work THAT long! So maybe the magical PMC ammo would NOT turn the trick.

I am declaring a gawdamn jihad! I will now do everything in my power to kick a two-by-four up KBI's corporate asshole. Here is a start: Please do not buy their useless products.

AMT .380 Backup

I'm referring here to the original single-action version here. I was really impressed by mine after first buying it. But the method of takedown smelled like trouble, requiring a pin to be driven out of the slide before the "breech block" (containing the firing pin assembly) could be slid free, permitting the slide to separate from the frame.

This was back in the old days, when the ability to mix and match stainless steels was still evolving from an art into a science. AMT apparently did not have its mojo working, because in short order the breech block soon had metal chipping off all over because it was apparently too brittle. The slide was much softer, and its once-tight fit with the breech block soon developed a noticeable degree of slop. I dumped mine before it got too bad, but have seen some well-used copies that were so loose that the only thing holding the block flush up against the base of the cartridge was the tension from the recoil spring. If you pulled the slide slightly out of battery, the block drooped downward. I have heard reports from folks I trust that AMT has apparently gotten its act together, at least on some more recent efforts. If the quality of their metallurgy has indeed improved, and the design was reworked slightly, I might give this model another try.

The Grendel .380 P-10

Remember these? When they first came out they sure sounded like the answer to a whole helluva lot of wishes. Lightweight, decent cartridge, and high-capacity. And the internal magazine allowed it to be much slimmer in the grip than the similar (and still available) P-12.

Unfortunately, Grendel decided to make the gun very inexpensive -- I paid about $120 -- so that they would move quickly. But I'd doubt if many are still in the hands of original purchasers who bothered to test-fire them. Mine stovepiped and/or failed to ignite most loads on a regular basis. The most reliable ammo turned out to be the Winchester Silvertip, but even it took a dump at least once every 100 rounds. Not quite good enough.

The failures to go bang were a result of the choice to go with an extremely lightweight hammer driven by a clock-style helical spring. If the hammer was not released at the correct moment, and/or the slide and barrel were not perfectly in sync ("lockup" was quite sloppy), the result would be a very light strike.

If the folks at Grendel had spent more time on the design, and more bucks on its manufacture -- enough so that it actually worked every time -- a lot of consumers would've been gladly willing to shell out two or three times its original asking price.

The Mossberg 500

I bought one of these for my father for Christmas many moons ago. The safety did not work properly. I was pissed, but managed to fix it in half an hour. Just a fluke?

Nope. Not too long ago, a buddy bought a Mossberg riot combination package that looked sexy as all get-out. Since his kinda-new wife is kinda scared of guns, he did not get to pull his usual stunt of function testing it in the back yard after a twelve-pack and the fall of night.

A few weeks later, he had a need to pull it out when some loon charged around his neighborhood promising to kill anyone who crossed his path. When my friend tried to rack a round into the chamber while watching the festivities, he belatedly found out that it would not feed from the magazine!

Wacky boy went to the nut hutch courtesy of the local cops. My friend was spooked.

Turns out that a big-ass burr on the shell stop was preventing rounds from being advanced onto the elevator. Just took a minute with a file to fix. Now, would anyone seriously complain if Mossberg charged an additional five or ten bucks per unit to have some high-school kids actually shoot the guns before they left the factory?

Ruger Mini-14

Well, this was actually a pretty nice gun back when it was cheap. Fifteen years ago the bare-bones model was going for a little over a third of what a Colt AR-15 was commanding (say $189 vs. $525). Things have changed. About a year ago I got a Colt post-ban HBAR upper and complete Bushmaster lower for a grand total of $604 out the door -- but it's a neat trick to find a new Mini-14 for less than $425. That is WAY too much. Especially for a rifle with two simple problems that the company refuses to fix.

First off, the sights are crude and sloppy by today's standards. I tried shooting a DCM match with one once, and the results were not pretty.

This would not be so bad, but the handful of aftermarket alternatives all have big problems -- for example, I tried a Millett unit that replaced the whole rear assembly, and it sheared the head off a screw on the first test run because they hollowed it WAY out in order to insert a spring-loaded detent. I called them up to complain, and they informed me that I would probably also need one of their higher front sights so that I could center the rifle. Sounded like an invitation to pitching more good money after bad.

The Williams peep setup is also not acceptable. Three friends have reported big problems, all linked to the metallurgy.

Where the hell are all the entrepreneurs with their better ideas? There is plenty of room to work with, so it sure as hell does not look like a insurmountable engineering problem to me.

Second, the barrel is way too thin, and from what I've been told, it is turned too quickly during the machining process, which introduces additional unnecessary stresses. The result is that the point of impact starts shifting after just a few rounds. My stainless model would eventually end up walking three or four inches to the lower right at 100 yards.

It got shipped it off to Accuracy Rifle Systems in Odessa, Texas to get a 1-in-9" twist heavy barrel stuck on. This cost over $300. I had this done during the dark days after Stockton, when Colt pulled their ARs off the market, so it seemed like a real good idea at the time. (Don'tcha hate the damn government?)

This conversion would probably not have been necessary if the barrel was just .2" or so thicker (it would add some weight, but personally I would prefer the additional heft, and think that most buyers would accept the compromise).

To be honest, the biggest single reason I'm throwing this rifle onto the pile is because Bill Ruger has pissed me off several times as he groveled for crumbs from anti-gun politicians. Among other sleazy acts, he pulled the folding stock models and 20- and 30-round Mini-14 mags after Stockton, half a decade before he had to. But guess what -- he still sold hi-capacity mags for his pistols since there was no heavy pressure on handguns during that media feeding frenzy. Also, when the magazine ban was being debated, he lobbied for a fifteen-round maximum, which would have affected the hot-selling Glock 17, but not his own 9mm pistols. Wotta creep!

There. I feel much better.

Up the spout