Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 10, No. 13         December 2002


Picture: falling acorns.
The world scene may be pretty bleak, but we certainly have a lot to be thankful for at home. With a serious president in the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress, our ship of state rejoices in a sound hand at the helm and fair winds aloft. Despite the general moral decline in our society, we still have great things to appreciate - the first of which is having been born on the right side of the Holy War. We have been reading up on Islam and discover that while Western Civilization is far from perfect, it is infinitely better in all respects than that which looms "East of Suez." We may need to clean up our act, but at least we are in the right theater.

Our new book, to be entitled "C Stories," is now in complete narrative form and awaits the essential contribution of Paul Kirchner's excellent illustrations. Paul has undertaken the creation of twenty-four, full-page line drawings, ranging in subject matter from a head-on with a mamba to the Lebanese War. A picture is worth a thousand words, and we expect great things.

Field report:
"The Steyr Scout was like cheating. It was all you said it is and more. I really enjoyed putting it to use."

William Usilton, Champagne, Illinois.

Suddenly we discover that the operation of the slide on the 1911 pistol is too difficult a task for the common people. This was not true until recently, but it seems that while our organized athletics have produced new records in achievement, the generality of mankind has slid into us a race of watchers rather than doers. We have never before encountered man, woman or child here at the Ranch who could not work the slide on a 1911, but now we hear about this difficulty from a couple of sources. Any homemaker who operates a satisfactory household must be plenty strong enough to handle all of her kitchen appliances and, therefore, certainly strong enough to manage a pistol. Perhaps the postmodern housewife does not operate a successful kitchen, but buys everything prefabricated in the supermarket. People certainly do come in different levels of potential. It has been our privilege to have had very little to do with the conspicuously incompetent.

As to that, we hear back from the war area that our ragheaded adversaries are displaying gratifying incompetence in their war-making capacity. Evidently many of them cannot work the slide. Additionally they have no interest in maintenance, and machinery of any sort does need to be maintained. The prevailing attitude amongst their leadership class is that knowledge, being power, must not be disseminated. If you know how to do something, keep it to yourself lest the peasantry discover it. And beside this, the class system seems irresistibly entrenched. The A class people do not work physically. Officers, for example, will not pick up brass nor set targets. In one incident, an officer trainee declined to walk upon the grass for fear of contamination and required his troops to carry him from one point to another. It may be wishful thinking, but amongst those people the slave mentality seems to be rife. This is certainly good news for us, if true.

This journalistic attempt to condemn "sniping" as a criminal act must be shouted down. A sniper is a highly qualified technician, and only the very best individuals may qualify. A dim-witted murderer who happens to use a rifle should not be dignified by referring to him as a sniper. A creep is a creep, but a sniper is an expert.

Since most government departments have now abandoned the revolver in favor of the self-loading pistol, revolver technique is not as widely understood as it used to be. The ignorant may denigrate the revolver out of some sort of lemming principle, but the wheelgun still fills a niche that the auto cannot. This is especially true in the game fields, and on jobs where the operator must work with both hands free. The "heavy wheel gun stroke" for the Magnum revolver, in which the piece is cocked on recoil with the left thumb, permitting instantaneous, precise second shots, is not widely understood. Yet it is exactly the right technique for the serious use of the heavy revolver - 44 and up.

I repeat that the bench rest is a distinct obstacle to the understanding of the art of the rifle. The bench rest is a device intended to eliminate human error, and relates to the rifle the way the dynamometer does to the motor car. It is properly used to evaluate output of machinery - not of man. A shooter's expertise is always measured from a field position, and usually under time limitation. Unfortunately, most public ranges are confined to the bench rest for reasons of administrative safety. Sometimes I think that if safety is all that important one should give up shooting and take up the frisbee.

This from Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe.
"Time and again we have been instructed that Islam is a `religion of peace.' Over and over we have been assured that most Moslems are non-violent and tolerant. Yet when Islamic fanatics commit acts of horrifying atrocity, and do so as Moslems, the peaceable Islamic majority has nothing to say. Why not?"

It is interesting to note that the people who put on television programs about matters of wildlife are not outdoorsmen. I get the impression that TV producers are not the sort of people who sleep on the ground, clean their own fish, build their own fires, or really enjoy getting off the pavement. Outdoorsmen are an increasingly rare breed. They have much to teach, but it seems that few people want to listen to what they have to say.

Father Flanagan, the renowned founder of Boys Town, opined that he had never met a bad boy. Perhaps the good father did not get around much, for horrible examples of sheer unmotivated malice are more often committed by adolescents than by adults - or so it would appear. To declare that we should withhold capital punishment because the goblin is too young seems unreasonable to me. A creep is a creep is a creep, regardless if whether he is old enough to buy a package of cigarettes.

This talk of peace is wrong. Peace is the absence of struggle, and Moslems, if they are sincere, are dedicated to struggle. Tacitus said of the Romans, "They make a desert and they call it peace." (Solitudinum faceunt. Pacem apelant.) The Moslems' idea of peace is the extinction of Christianity. Let us not dodge that!

When the revolution in pistolcraft began back in the 1950s, the original purpose of the exercise was to learn how to shoot better, in the sense of better using the handgun as a combat instrument. Marksmanship standards up till that time had been measured on bullseye courses, which are certainly better than nothing, but hardly relevant. In those days we all shot one-handed, standing erect at 25 and 50 meters. This is an interesting and challenging exercise, but it has almost nothing to do with fighting. A man who earned his Pistol Expert badge in those days could establish that he knew how to work the pistol and handle it safely with precision, but that was about all. Any relationship between marksmanship and weaponcraft was coincidental.

Then the light dawned, commencing in primitive fashion with the FBI and rapidly advancing with the introduction of practical pistol competition in Southern California. This activity was enjoyed, naturally, by enthusiasts, and I did not realize that sporting enthusiasm is not necessarily an attribute either of the uniformed public servant or of the private citizen. We did indeed develop the modern technique of the pistol, and we evolved it by means of a competition program which rewarded dexterity to a possibly unrealistic degree. A great many people who own or carry pistols do not pursue technical excellence, and it is possible that what evolved over the years has become unrelated to the fighting skill which is the purpose of the handgun.

I have just now noticed a commentary in a South African periodical pointing out that the sighted fire, which is an element of the modern technique, is irrelevant to the real world in which lethal gunfights take place at distances so short as to make any sort of accuracy unimportant. The author goes on to maintain that sighted fire is simply too slow to matter in a pistol fight. I have heard this argument before, specifically at the FBI Academy in Quantico. This is theory, and I oppose it with practice. The fastest controlled shot I have witnessed in competition was a point thirty-nine, executed by Leonard Knight at Big Bear. It may be possible to do better than this, but clearly it does not matter. In a face-off, a point thirty-nine is not going to beat a point sixty-five or, for that matter, a one point two.

The essentials of a successful gunfight remain precision, power and quickness (DVC). These elements are equal, but they are surpassed by one other thing, and that is attitude. It is great to be quick, accurate and powerful, but it is more important to be ready. The readiness to take the irrevocable step is what will save your life. The Weaver firing stroke will do the job, but only if you are emotionally ready to employ it.

Captain Tyler Heath, USMC (our grandson), is looking forward to a forthcoming assignment eastward. We cannot, of course, predict what sort of close encounter, if any, he may come to enjoy, but though he is a very fine shot, he is going to be handicapped by somewhat less than satisfactory personal armament. Of course a captain is not supposed to shoot people, rather he is supposed to direct operations, but fights do not always turn out as planned. We know that Captain Heath will hit what he shoots at, if that sort of thing comes to pass, but if he sticks to issue equipment, he will hit it with a second-rate round. Most people I have heard from the forward areas have been able to wangle themselves a 1911 pistol. But if that cannot be arranged, the skillful pistolero can always fall back on the head shot.

This precision assassination from on high is certainly a dramatic development of our technology. Potting a specific bad guy from aloft is a pretty spectacular trick, as now practiced by both ourselves and the Israelis. Hitting the target, while an excellent technical exercise, seems to be far less exciting than specific target acquisition. How do you know who is in what car down there below you, or in what office building? This G2 technique is way ahead of my time in the spook business, and I marvel at it. I can think of several systems which might be used, but clearly they are not advertised. How do we arrange to slip a sensor into our target's wallet? Intelligence operations often fail, and we hear about those. But, sad to say, our praise must be withheld from our successes, if we want to be able to repeat them.

The tidal wave of firearms ignorance sweeps along. When I was young every family knew at least something about guns. Today a lot of people are not even embarrassed about how little they know. This is especially exasperating in journalism. Note this: "All the victims who were apparently chosen at random were hit with the single .233 rifle bullet, a caliber favored by expert marksmen due to its accuracy at long range." This is from the British periodical "The Week." How dismal it is that people who know nothing at all about the subject at hand assume that nobody else knows anything about it either!

Henry the VIII, quite reasonably, sought to encourage skill-at-arms among his subjects. At one point he decreed that both bows and arrows must be sold to young men between 14 and 18 at half price. Now there is an aspect of gun control that had not occurred to me. Let's tell Schumer about it.

Note that defense can never win. Defense gives the initiative to the aggressor, and leaves the field to the foe. Thus "Department of Defense" is an unfortunate concept. Doctor Rice is supposed to advise the president on the proper methods available for both him and the country, but note that the enemy in the current Holy War has already won the first three or four rounds. He has killed kaffirs in quantity, without let or hindrance. He strikes without the prospect of being struck. He attacks where we can only defend. By the middle of the first quarter he already has a ten point lead. We hope that Mr. Rumsfeld and Dr. Rice have an answer to this. We hope.

Our sociology questionnaire has produced almost no result. We asked a selection of ladies to list those things about husbands which they found to be memorably irritating, and we have come up with very little in response. One wonders if men who are shooters are just nicer guys than others. Charming thought!

Doctor Robert Hannan, a Gunsite family member and cardiovascular surgeon, has digested and condensed our Principles of Personal Defense into a satisfactory foursome: "ALERT, DECISIVE, AGGRESSIVE, COLD." That is easier to memorize than our entire pamphlet on principles, but it covers the subject pretty well. The PPD pamphlet (Principles of Personal Defense) treats the subject more thoroughly, but the Hannan quatrain is a neat package to keep in mind.

It is somewhat off the subject of guns and ammunition, but the question frequently comes up as to why people write books. Let us consider this:
  1. As a means of making money. This is not a good reason, since only rarely do books make money. You may make money writing a book, the way you may feed yourself hunting deer. It is a cheerful thought, but seldom productive.
  2. As a way of putting out the word. Some people feel the need to preach. This is presumptuous, of course, but not entirely unreasonable. Children are taught in schools to respect the printed word. "If it's there in print it must be true." One who seeks to improve the general scene feels that a published book is more forceful than a verbal argument. A statement committed to a bound volume truly relieves the author's feelings.
  3. To create a collector's item. A surprising number of people feel that a book is not so much to read as to have. To have a book sitting there on your desk which is clearly attributable to a personal friend satisfies many people as evidence of their participation in the public scene. Additionally, some books, under some conditions, become surprising financial assets. One is unlikely to become rich swapping books around, but every little bit helps.
  4. For use as a doorstop. (Enough said.)
  5. As an art form. Some books can become surprising works of art in their production and composition. Properly illustrated and illuminated, such books become very pleasant possessions. This is most apparent when the author becomes his own illustrator, as with Tom Lee, John Thomason and Frederick Remington.
  6. As a cultural milestone. This is true of most scripture, but it also extends to philosophy and health - as with Decartes, Thomas Jefferson and Sigmund Freud.
  7. As a training aid. Teachers normally employ books as training aids, not always wisely.
In the early 20th century, books served several other purposes. The current popular novel was a conversation piece, more entertaining to discuss than a television series or a movie. In those days, books made ideal Christmas presents, not only as expressions of affection, but as useful tools for self-improvement. And lastly, books were often aspects of courtship. Presenting one's object of affection with a really good book was often evidence of honorable intentions.

So books do have their uses, even in the age of illiteracy. We use them to fight a rearguard action and hope for the best.

The front office of the NRA has come up with some gratifying analyses of the election just past. We did not win them all, but we won a lot. The overall picture deserves thorough and detailed evaluation, but a couple of points are well worth considering by those of us who insist that the United States of America remain the last best hope of earth. The 108th Congress begins with the following NRA ratings: 230 A, twenty-one B, thirteen C, twenty-two D, and a 141 F.

The front office analysis is quite complete, and shows a generally liberty-oriented electorate.

Our political position is far from perfect, but it could be much worse. The cause of personal liberty in the United States may not be completely safe, but it is strongly in the lead, for which we may be honestly thankful on this occasion of Thanksgiving.

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