Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Greatest Gun Salesman

The other day at the monthly member meeting of a gun club I belong to, the treasurer reported that the club had a very successful gun show the past weekend, including a record profit. I quipped that "We should all give a big round of applause to the greatest gun salesman of all time - Barack Hussein Obama". It got a fair number of chuckles. My little quip got me to thinking though.

I attended that gun show. I arrived about 11:00 am. The parking lot was full. The show had sold out of dealer tables, and indeed every conceivable spot for a dealer table inside the venue had a dealer table set up. The crowd packed the aisle ways to the point where it was difficult to move around. The club had already sold out of raffle tickets by the time I got there. Unlike previous gun shows the club put on the last couple of years, the dealers were actually well stocked with both guns and ammunition, and even some reloading supplies. There were no bargains, but the tables were full and it appeared the dealers were selling.

During previous economic declines, the club experienced net membership losses, as one might expect. Most similar private organizations lose members in trying times. People feel the need to spend less, and an easy way to do that is not to renew club memberships, especially memberships that are kind of on the pricey side. This time around the club has even raised dues several times during economically unsettling times, something that could well have been the kiss of death in previous declines, but continues to see strong membership growth.

So what is different this time around? Ego would say that its because the club is doing something better this time around, but it appears gun club growth is widespread, so that is probably not the case.
I suspect a confluence of economic, political, legal and social factors have resulted in a unique opportunity for my club and for gun clubs across the country.

Possibly the most important reason is the election to the presidency and the take over of congress by radical leftists who have dedicated large parts of their political careers to killing off the second amendment, and have come close to doing so. This seems to have pushed people to make gun purchases. The huge increase in gun and ammo sales over the last few years is not limited to existing gun owners though. A lot of people who might not otherwise have purchased firearms probably did so, just because they might want or need a firearm, and it seemed like the right to acquire effective defensive firearms was in jeopardy. Some people will want a place to shoot those new guns, and gun clubs on the whole offer a nicer shooting experience then the typical commercial range, especially if there is a desire to get involved in organized shooting activities.

There is also the Dick Heller factor. If you don't know who he is you should. The Heller case changed the legal climate surrounding the 2nd amendment forever. Just how far the courts decide the RTKBA extends is any one's guess at this point. Certainly the McDonald (Chicago) case seems to be headed toward the second amendment being incorporated, meaning the states can no longer outright prohibit handgun ownership as Chicago and NYC have done. Keeping arms is a lot easier for most people (judges are people too) to accept then bearing them (can't have the riff-raff carrying firearms around), and my guess is at some point the courts will gut the the 2A as they have the 4th and 6th amendments. But its way too early to tell. Over the next decade or so, the courts will determine just how much infringement "shall not be infringed" actually allows.

Here in Illinois, there is a ground swell of support for licensing law abiding people to carry firearms concealed for their own defense, as there has been across the country. That swelling of support for the right to carry is giving gun clubs across the country a boost, maybe more so in states like Illinois where the privilege of being legally allowed to engage in effective self defense is presently reserved for government employees.

There is also the deeply unsettling nature of the current political and economic situation we find ourselves in. Its not surprising that people might recognize the need to protect themselves in such times.

Gun clubs have a once in a generation opportunity to take advantage of these external factors. How best to do so? I suggest a few things.

First, recognize that its not something your club did, or your club's leadership did, or the NRA did that made this opportunity possible. Your club can take advantage of this unique set of circumstances, and should, but don't fool yourself into thinking you are geniuses for the growth your club is seeing.

At least some of the new interest in firearms is going to come from less traditional sources. Women, and even liberals are buying guns. Welcome them into your club. This may mean you have to pass on some of the good old boy stuff, off color jokes, and picking on liberals. There is no need to offend potential new members with such antics. It does not mean you can't be yourself, or not have any fun anymore. It does mean you need to be aware there are people in your vicinity who might not appreciate what you think of as fun. Its just a matter of courtesy.

Keep in mind that its likely that some of the newly interested people are more interested in firearms for self defense and feel the need for informal shooting practice, but are not all that interested in competitive shooting. Some are going to want to get concealed carry permits. Your club should consider either offering the training necessary to get the permit, or allowing outside instructors to use your facility to do so. There are some minor insurance issues with allowing your facility to be used in this manner, but that is what being an additional named insured is all about.

I also have some thoughts on helping new and potential new members feel comfortable and integrating into the club.

A lot of the new people will not have much in the way of firearms knowledge. Make an effort to help them where you can. Many clubs offer low cost NRA gun safety classes. That's a very good way to start them out. But they may also need some help when out on the range. Offer to show them the ropes, and explain the rules and practices of your club in a friendly way so they feel comfortable using the range. Invite them to organized activities and have people available to help the new people through the event. Its always a little intimidating the first few times to do something new, especially with a bunch of people you don't know watching. Remember, there is no need to hurry. Let them take their time and go at their own pace. It might even make sense to have a beginner's session for some activities. Be gentle when they make mistakes.

Alarms, locks, gates, lights, ventilation systems, and the like can be a little daunting at first. Its probably a good idea to have someone who is already experienced show new members how these work. Consider written instructions that a newbie can use until they are comfortable with the equipment.

Open access. Many (probably most) private gun clubs offer virtually unlimited access to their members, and often to their guests. New members may be a little uncomfortable coming by themselves the first few times, so consider having times when there will be someone there to help out new people.

Encourage them to help out with the club, but don't overwhelm them demanding they come to work parties. Many people are just uncomfortable (or unfamiliar) with physical labor, or are just unable to perform hard labor, and trying to force them to help out doing hard labor is counterproductive. There are a lot of things anyone can do to help out. Even things like helping to address and stamp the club newsletter gets them into the idea of helping out.

Many clubs require some number of annual mandatory work hours from each member. My personal opinion is that doing so is a mistake because the requirement tends to drive off people who are not in a position to do the work. A lot of clubs (including the one I belong to) do not have a well organized system of soliciting and using volunteer labor. If you want people to volunteer, you must make it easier on them to do so. People want well defined tasks, and you will get a whole lot better response to requests for volunteers if people know what they are being asked to do up front, rather than a vague request for work party participants.

One thing to remember that is almost universal in most private clubs, whether they are firearms related or not. The heavy financial lifting comes from dues, and a LOT of members pay their dues every year but rarely if ever participate. The dues from less active members are what carries most clubs. Without them, most clubs would be in a world of hurt. I can't tell you how many times I have heard the complaint that "we have 400 members and no more than 50 of them ever help out". Its probably true, but those that do help out get the most benefits out of the club, and the ones that don't help out rarely use the facilities. There is an old saying "don't look a gift horse in the mouth". If you have a couple hundred members who are willing to pay their dues every year and rarely if ever use the facility, that is one heck of a gift, and you ought to be grateful for it instead of whining about it.

[Added in response to a couple of requests to reprint this in gun club newsletters.

Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial use of this work as long as it is properly credited to the author. ]

Chinese Jungle Boots

This is kind of a gear review.

I wanted to get some boots I could use for light hiking this spring and summer. Years ago I had some milsurp jungle boots. I remembered them as being comfortable and cheap (I think they were $3 a pair at the surplus store back in the late 70s). So I thought I would look around for some jungle boots.

As you might guess, the era of surplus $3 boots is long past. In fact, there just are not any surplus boots at all these days. However, there are plenty of overruns, and extras military suppliers make for sale outside the normal military channels.

I wear a 13W and it can be really hard for me to find shoes. There just is not much choice in the stores around here in 13W, in any style.

I eventually settled on a pair of boots from an eBay seller. I must admit I was a little suspicious of the listing since the title said "New Military Black Jungle Boots", but the body of the description said:

New military style black jungle boots.
Made from leather and nylon.
Features panama soles.

The fact that it used the word "style" buried in the description but not in the title worried me a little. I emailed the seller (taylorsarmysurplus) a question "The description says military style. Just how close to issue boots are they?" and got a response back "they are mil-spec so they can't get much closer than that".

Despite my initial reservations, I bought a pair from this seller. The main reason being it was the only listing at the time for black jungle boots in 13W. They were $29.95 plus $9.85 USPS priority mail shipping, so I figure worst case I am out 10 bucks to return them. I waited 4 or 5 days, and when I did not get them in the mail, I emailed them asking about the order. Never did get a response to that email. But maybe 8 or 9 days after placing the order they were delivered by UPS. I was a little miffed that they would charge me for priority mail shipment and then send them by slow boat UPS, but that's a minor issue.

On opening them up, they looked pretty decent. The boots came with an instruction card labeled "Made in China", with the usual interesting Chinese to English translation. The instructions suggest wearing fluffy wool socks, and that turned out to be pretty good advice. It also said something about doubling the lace on the 3rd or 4th eyelets. Not sure what that is about.

The made in China part does not bother me a whole lot. The Chinese have gotten very good at making things with favorable price/quality ratios, and they make a lot of shoes for the US market.

They are lightweight, and pretty comfortable. I bought some Dr Scholl's inserts from WalMart ($16 or $17). I have been wearing them everyday since I got them including while walking the dog. So far, I like them. They are not for cool weather though (not surprising being jungle boots). I wore them to walk the dog one morning when it was about 30 degrees out. My feet were a bit cool. Not frostbite cold, but I would have been more comfortable with warmer shoes on.

I am not an expert on boots by any stretch of the imagination, so I am not in a position to declare them a great buy or not. But so far, I like them. And that is what matters to me.

If I think of it, I will try to post my experiences with them a few months down the road after having worn them a while. I am substantially overweight (but dropping steadily) so I put some stress on shoes. If I can't break them, they are probably pretty decent.

Here are some pictures.

Note a couple of small stones got stuck in the tread.

Screened drain holes.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


A basic staple of survival kits or EDC is a multitool (MT). They come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, colors, features, and costs.

I bought a Leatherman PSTII back in the early 90s and carted it around a lot. Eventually it got relegated to my computer bag, as I rarely used it. After a while, I realized that the thing I used the most was the scissors, screwdrivers, and the pliers/wire cutters. Eventually it made it into my desk drawer at work after I put a real screwdriver and wire snips in my computer case. Then,last summer, I was rummaging through the desk drawer and came across my MT. It occurred to me that it might be handy to have it closer at hand so it went from the drawer into the pouch of my lunch bag. It seems to me that I used to have a Swiss Army Knife. Not sure what happened to it.

One thing about MTs is that while they can be handy to have around for occassional use, they are not really very good tools. The screwdriver blades are adequate for many tasks, but it is difficult to get much torque on them. The scissors and pliers on mine work OK, but the scissor blades are small and the pliers are a bit awkward, if servicable. I have used the wire cutters, and they work OK, but not great. The knife blade is pretty sharp but it is not locking, and I can't say I used it all that much. I might have used the file a couple of times, and I am pretty sure I have not used the can opener or bottle cap lifter.

So what is the attraction? Well, sometimes you need a tool, and a MT has a variety of useful, if not ideal tools to choose from. Better something not ideal then nothing. You cannot carry a tool box around, but you can carry a MT.

In fact, I have a number of the cheap generic MTs stashed in various places. I have found they are just about as useful for my purposes as the more expensive name brand units with one exception. None of the cheap units I have tried has a decent wire cutter. Another difference between name brand MTs like Gerber or Leatherman, and the cheaper units, is that the name brand units seem to be of consistantly high quality. I cannot say that about the cheap ones I have run across. Sometimes even "identical" units are substantially different in quality. The most noticable difference is play in the individual components. Sometimes they are pretty tight and other times not. Even on the same tool you can sometimes find components that are nice and tight and others that are not. And none of the cheap ones came with a knife blade that was well sharpened from the factory.

What MT is right for you? Like many things, it depends on you, your needs, and your situation. You probably will not go wrong with a Leatherman or Gerber, but there are others that you might want to look at such as Swiss Army or SOG. If you are unoffended by an "experienced" tool, there are a lot of MTs stolen by the TSA available on eBay. A used MT seems to go for about half what the same MT goes for if new.

What features does your MT need? Here are some of the more common in no particular order.

Knife blade - an obvious thing to have on a knife like tool. Some MTs have just one blade, while others have multiple blades.

File - a file can be handy for touching up a torn fingernail, or a scraped edge on a piece of wood. Some MTs come with files that work on metal as well, and can even be used as a metal saw of sorts, although it would appear to be really tedious to use it that way. But if you need a hacksaw and this is all you have, it is better than nothing.

Saw blade - a lot of people who use their MTs for outdoor activities like a saw blade on their tool. Its not going to be the greatest saw, but it gets the job done for cutting small limbs. Not a bad thing to have as a small pruning saw when out in the yard. Better than having to walk back to the garage to get your pruning saw.

Scissors - I used to use mine a fair amount.

Awl - Great tool if you need to punch a hole in a piece of leather, cloth, plastic, or light sheet metal. Some MTs have a small hole in the awl blade so it can be used as a sewing awl.

Screwdriver blades - MTs usually come with one or more straight blade and/or Phillips head screwdriver blades. Its kind of handy to have one close by sometimes.

Cork screw - never saw the sense of this, but it is pretty common.

Pliers - I have gotten the most use of mine as a pair of needle nose pliers.

Wire cutters - mine has a pretty hard wire cutter blade on it. The cheaper ones seem to have softer wire cutters that the wire can ding up. I have all but destroyed the wire cutters on a couple cheap units I have. I think I have seen some MTs with replaceable wire cutter blades.

Ruler - A lot of MTs have a ruler on the case. I never found this to be real useful, but its just some stamped numbers and lines on the side of the case, so it does not take up any extra space or weight.

Bottle cap lifter - pretty nice if you need to lift a bottle cap, but thats not a common problem these days.

Can opener - works about like a P38 can opener. Basically you work your way around the top of the can a bit at a time, until the lid can be swung out of the way.

Accessories - Swiss Army Knives often come with accessories such as small pens, toothpicks, tweezers, and straight pins. They can be pretty handy if you need that particular item. MTs often come with a sheath. I prefer nylon, and that seems to be the most common, but some come with leather. Some MTs come with accessory bits like screwdriver tips or nut drivers (sometimes at extra cost).

There are plenty of reviews of various MTs on the Internet if you want to know more about a specific MT. Some of the reviews are quite good, others less so. There are a lot of video MT reviews on Youtube. Many are pretty superficial. Some are more in depth and can be useful. Its pretty clear to me that some of the more prolific MT reviewers could not possibly have actually used them all that much, and are just reciting its features and adding their commentary. Thats OK, but I'd rather have the impressions of someone who has used that MT over a period of time. Unfortunately, the production value and watchability of the more useful videos are sometimes pretty low (occassionally painfully so), while the more prolific video producers have videos that are easier to watch, but sometimes less useful overall.