Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sky Marshal Story - Guns: Toys, Tools and Trophies - #25

To be perfectly honest, it was my fascination with handguns that drew me into the Sky Marshal (Air Marshal) program in 1970. Of course, the chance to confront terrorists had a lot of appeal as well. But, as I’ve written in previous episodes, when I first held Mike’s stainless steel Smith & Wesson Chief's Special shortly after he returned from Sky Marshal school I knew that I wanted one of my own.

Okay, so why not just go down a sporting goods store and just buy one you might ask. Frankly, that thought never occurred to me, and that’s because it wasn’t just the gun itself that appealed to me, it was the training, and the authority use that training in a real life situation that gave the gun its aura.

Like others who grew up watching Westerns and guts-and-glory War movies in 40’s and 50’s I developed a naïve, romantic attachment to guns…especially “cowboy” guns like the Colt Peacemaker and Winchester Model 1873. Later on, when I actually got to shoot some guns – in the Boy Scouts, the Army and as a Sky Marshal – the naïve fantasies were replaced by an appreciation for the materials, the machinery of guns and most of all their function. First the Army, and then the Treasury School drilled gun safety into my bone marrow. Nearly forty years later if someone hands me a gun I still reflexively open the cylinder or extract the clip and retract the slide if it’s an automatic to assure myself the gun isn’t loaded.

Few tools have the same mystique or hold their value over the years as do guns. Personally, I used to love Makita hand drills as the apotheosis of drill technology and durability. But as battery technology has improved other brands have challenged the green machine for cordless power drill dominance. However, a well-preserved 1911 Colt will still do the job nearly a century after it was introduced.

Despite an occasional flurry of interest in new types of propellant, or new ways of delivering a projectile – remember the MBA GyroJet rocket pistol that made an appearance a James Bond film? – handguns have remained remarkably similar to their 19th and early 20th century progenitors. Sam Colt would be quite comfortable with the great-great-great-great-grandson of the prototype revolver he whittled while at sea in 1836. While rifles – especially the assault type – are somewhat more evolved, I’m guessing that Daniel Boone or Alvin York would be a fair shot with anything issued by today’s Army of One.

While I love well crafted hand tools of all kinds – a 19th Century naval sextant is incredibly beautiful – I’ve never held anything that gave me a greater thrill than the first time I had to load and fire a Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece at the Treasury Air Security Officer School. What’s more, that experience has been repeated each time I had the chance to fire a gun that was new to me: the Walther PPK/S, a Glock, a Sig Sauer, the “Dirty Harry” 44 magnum…

Today, as an old guy musing about his past, guns have become keepsakes and mementos. You could say they went from being toys to tools and finally to trophies. Though I’ve owned a fair number of guns over the years, I don’t have many today. Those I do own are handguns, and mostly stay locked in a safe. Living as I do in an especially liberal county in Northern California I have limited opportunities take them out and shoot.

On those rare occasions when I get to a shooting range, I try to recall the drills I learned in Treasury Air Security Officer School: five shots with my favored hand and five with my off hand in 10 seconds or so. Five cycles of this exercise burns through a box of wad-cutter. Then for old time’s sake, I’ll shoot some full loads of .357 – with the exception of one 9mm automatic all the guns I own are .357 calibre revolvers. Assuming most of those rounds go where I intended I’m usually done in a less than an hour, after which it’s time to take the guns home and clean them. And then there's the fact that despite two types of ear protection my ears ring. And my hands are sore.

I bring the guns home, go into the garage, spread out a cloth and some newspaper and clean them. I don’t just swab them out, but I take them apart – not the inner workings of course. No, I’m not masochist or a clean freak, but I was taught that a gun isn’t clean until you can run a new patch up and down a barrel without picking up a trace of powder. So I unscrew the cylindrical chamber or if it’s an automatic, take off the slide and scour out as much dirt and powder residue as I have time to. Then I pass a hint of oil over the works, put the gun back together and return it to the safe.
Copyright Stephen Rustad, 2008

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