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Missive #70

The Conquerors describes the struggle between the Kuomintang and the Communists in the Cantonese revolution of the 1920s. It is both an exciting war story and a gallery of intellectual portraits: a ruthless Bolshevik revolutionary, a disillusioned master of propaganda, a powerful Chinese pacifist, and a young anarchist. Each of these “conquerors” will be crushed by the revolution they try to control.

The Conquerors is a difficult book. The book deals with a very specific time in history — in the chaos of pre-civil war China, just after the death of Sun Yat-sen, and just after the Shameen Incident of June 23, 1925, during the Canton-Hong Kong strike. If all of that is familiar to you, then most, if not all, of the difficulty involved in reading this book will disappear. In addition to Chinese history, there are other aspects of the book which might give some readers trouble… Thus, aside from the general history of the time, it’s is also helpful to have a feel for what the Comintern’s purpose was and what its members believed and fought for in the mid-twenties. — Edited customer reviewIn a new Foreword, Herbert R. Lottman discusses the political background of the book, and the extent to which Malraux invented the history he wrote about.

“[The Conquerors] is a valuable introduction to Malraux himself, who would, like his fictional counterpart, become an analgam of talents as novelist, essayist, Leftist and Gaullist, Resistance hero and art critic. He was among the most ‘universal’ of French men of letters.”—Choice

“No other writer of the 20th century had the same capacity to translate his personal adventure into a meeting with history and a dialogue of civilization.”—Carlos Fuentes, New York Times Book Review” — Book promo @ Amazon

Why Do People Buy These Things? or,
JR, the Gun Snob
By John Ross

Copyright 2005 by John Ross. Electronic reproduction of this article freely permitted provided it is reproduced in its entirety with attribution given.

“The novel can be enjoyed as a remarkable work of modernism. With images derived from the silent cinema and prose from the telegraph, it moves at a tremendous pace. Canton all comes to violent life, seen as though from a speeding car.”—Kirkus

This column probably belongs over in my “Gun Culture” section, but I think I’ll put it here, since more people check Ross in Range (and I’m way overdue for a RIR column.)  Any terms or gun designations you don’t recognize, don’t email me, that’s what Google is for…

         As most of you know, I teach shooting classes for people who want to get licensed to carry a gun for protection, and others who want to improve their skills and knowledge base.  I use only high quality guns for teaching purposes.  On a typical Sunday, the class will put 2000 rounds through about a dozen of my guns.  We average about one jam per weekend, usually from a semiauto I haven’t cleaned for some time as I wanted to see when it would complain.  This is with steel-cased ammo, which is a bit more jam-prone than brass.

        Having a range session every Sunday with a couple dozen students means I get to see what kind of guns (particularly handguns, though they can bring anything legal) the average CCW candidate already owns.

        I have decided there are three basic types of gunowners that come to my classes:

        At the one end, there are the people who think like I do. These people would rather own one (or one hundred) good gun(s), with good balance, trigger, and accuracy, than two (or two hundred) mediocre guns. Whether they have $200 or $200,000 in their bank account, they have S&W, SIG, Beretta, Walther, Glock, Kimber, H&K, CZ, Colt, or other quality guns in their range bag, and often several. (One of these guys brought an FN 5.7, which startled me a little. He was just as surprised when I pulled out mine…) 

        In the middle are the people who, I suspect, think of guns like they think of restaurants or cars: They’d never pay all that money for a steak at Morton’s or a Lexus sedan when Ponderosa and Saturn are serviceable. These folks show up with Taurus guns a lot. I think these people are mistaken about their priorities, and that guns are unlike food or cars and are more like real estate, but I understand their thinking even if I disagree with it.

        It’s the third group that baffles me.

        For some reason, a fair number of otherwise normal people who can obviously afford decent clothes and vehicles (not to mention another $200 for CCW training and permit) own some truly awful weapons.

        Ever seen a Phoenix 9mm, made in Texas? I’d never heard of it, and Fjestad’s used gun buyer’s guide (which is very thorough) doesn’t even list it. It’s a tremendously clunky BLOWBACK design for the 35,000 PSI 9mm Parabellum cartridge.  The owner was tickled to death to have paid $85 for it.   For $15 more he could have had a CZ52, and owned a gun that felt lively in the hand, and that he could have confidence wouldn’t put the slide into his forehead. On the plus side, the Phoenix didn’t jam during the two magazines he fired out of it.

        Jennings, Bryco, Raven, and Lorcin semiautos show up with regularity.  Every one of them has jammed repeatedly, if they ever worked at all.  Some, like the two yesterday, would not fire.  The triggers would not reset.  I am always asked if I can fix these problems.  I never can.  Then I am asked what I would give for the gun. I explain that as a dealer I have to take the trouble to enter the gun into my books and that means work I dislike.  Since I don’t want the gun myself, don’t sell junk to my customers, and I don’t do work I dislike for free, he’d have to pay me to take the gun.  I then suggest waiting for a gun buyback program, although most communities have figured out what a moronic waste of resources they are.

        I haven’t seen a Clerke revolver yet, but I will. These pot metal pieces of junk sold new for $15 when Jimmy Carter was President.*

        “Try this out,” one middle-aged fellow told me yesterday afternoon as he handed me a carbine. At lunch this man had mentioned he sells sports memorabilia, autographs, and other collectibles. I don’t know how successful he is, but he had a new pickup and a multicolored leather jacket that looked like it cost hundreds of dollars.

        The gun was a Hi-Point 9mm. In terms of build quality and overall feel it was the worst long arm I have ever handled. He seemed pleased to have picked it up for $125. It was one of two guns he brought to the range. The other was a Bryco .25 Auto that wouldn’t fire.  I have to conclude that these are the only two guns he owns.

        Do these people have no friends who are gun guys? People that they might ASK before they spent their money on junk? If you don’t have much money, or if you don’t think you should have to spend a lot to get a gun, that’s fine. Spend your $125 to get an SKS, and have money left over for ammo!  There are DOZENS of military surplus guns that are combat-proven designs available in serviceable to like-new condition. These are mostly rifles, but with the Makarov and CZ52 handguns available to sharp-eyed buyers for around a C-note, there is just no excuse for people to own ill-handling, unreliable, and potentially unsafe designs.

        My friend Tim Mullin has a much broader knowledge base than I do on available gun designs (particularly semiauto handguns), and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Tim has written the Testing the War Weapons series of books for Paladin Press about his hands-on testing of just about everything out there: Handguns, rifles, submachine guns, and machine guns. (I provided many if not most of the full auto examples for him to evaluate.)

        I have asked Tim to help me construct a list of recommended handgun choices at various price points, i.e. what should the buyer get if he is willing to spend no more than $200 total on gun, holster, and ammo. Then a $300 level, then $400, etc.  Naturally the more expensive levels will have more choices.  When we get the list together, I’ll put it up here.


John Ross  2/21/2005

*2/27/2005Update: A guy showed up with a Clerke today.  He asked If I thought it was safe to shoot.  I told him no.  He asked what I would do if it were mine.  I told him that since there aren’t any more buyback programs, the gun has no collector value, and an unsafe gun is a liability, I’d destroy it.  He told me to go ahead.  I tossed it out on the range and blew it to pieces with my BAR.  He thought that was cool.

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