Category Archives: Outdoors

I bought my first handgun…Why?

Last week I purchased my first handgun. It is a .45 caliber Heckler & Koch USP. This is a full-sized, semi-automatic pistol which means that every time you pull the trigger it fires a shot (if the chamber has a round in it.) A .45 caliber is a large and powerful load frequently propelling a bullet that weighs 230 grains or 15 grams. The specific cartridge for my gun is a .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol.) This cartridge was designed by the legendary John Browning in 1904. He designed it for use in his automatic handgun design, the M1911, so called because of its adoption by the United States army as its official sidearm in 1911. The cartridge is known to have superior “stopping power,” or the ability to do maximum damage to a human target. The gun’s magazine (legal in Connecticut) holds ten of these rounds and can also have one in its chamber for a maximum capacity of 11 cartridges. In other states it is possible to buy a twelve round magazine.

HK-USP1

The gun is German designed and manufactured. Heckler & Koch is a high-end armorer, know for innovative, reliable and durable weapons. It was expensive, costing just about a $1,000. I purchased it after shooting several different handguns, all .45 ACPs. I test-shot a Beretta PX4-Storm, a Ruger 1911, a Glock 21, a Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) and the HK USP. Each of these guns felt very different in terms of grip, recoil, weight, and sight-configuration. I felt most comfortable (and shot most accurately) with the USP so that is what I bought.

Owning this gun comes with a responsibility. It is a weapon designed to deliver deadly force – to kill another human being. Learning its proper operation and safe handling is something that I take very seriously. Storing it properly is very important. When it is in my house, I store it in a biometric gun safe which can only be opened by my fingerprint. I keep its ammunition locked up in a separate place. I try to follow basic safety rules – I always point the gun in a safe direction, never at something I do not want to harm or destroy; I always keep the gun unloaded but assume that it is loaded until I have confirmed it is not;  I do not put my finger on the trigger until I intend to fire and; I know my target and what is beyond it.

I have shot and enjoyed long-guns (rifles and shotguns) since I was twelve years old but until now I did not have an interest in handguns. When I took the Connecticut-required gun safety course at a local shooting range, I found that handguns are fun to shoot and much more challenging and exhilarating than I had ever imagined. Pistols are powerful, skillfully engineered tools and I look forward to becoming proficient in using them.

But why did I decide to buy this gun now? There are many parts to the answer. I first became interested in learning more about handguns when the national debate about gun control was re-kindled by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT, a mere 18 miles away from my home. As I observed the emotional and non-rational response to the tragedy and saw shameless politicians move swiftly to exploit it, I became concerned that the right to obtain a handgun was at risk of being taken away. And I believe that owning one may be a more important right than ever before.

For a number of reasons, I feel far less confident and secure about my family’s safety and my ability to protect them. We live in an affluent community that is only miles away from severe urban poverty. The national dialogue about income inequality, the vilification of capitalism, media caricatures of greed-driven, soulless corporations, our country’s confiscatory tax regime and the redistributionist rhetoric of the current administration are all of a piece. In today’s America, I have come to believe that protecting my home and family, and securing my personal property from conventional criminals or from the ones in our government are ultimately my own responsibilities.

Will I need a handgun to do this? If confronted by a home invader, would I be able and willing to use deadly force? I am not sure. I need to continue to practicing with my pistol and become expert in its use. When it comes down to protecting my family, I want to have every available tool and advantage. Though it may present me with hard choices to make, as a legally licensed handgun owner, I at least have the freedom to make those choices.

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My Month With Some Antifreeze…

My palms were sweating. But not because of the latte I had just chugged. I found myself in Starbucks with an NAPA shopping bag that had a bottle of antifreeze in it. All around me were cups of coffee, tea, mocha chinos and the antifreeze bottle’s deadly contents only a few feet away from contaminating any one of them and creating a potentially fatal cocktail…

Getting it had been easy. No one in the store asked me any questions or even for an i.d. I just picked out the bottle and went to the cash register. I paid for it and left the building. It must have been clear to the salesperson that I know nothing about cars or chemicals but he took my money just the same.

Driving to Starbucks I had a panic attack – what if the bottle opened up from jostling in the car, its deadly contents leaking out and poisoning any hapless pedestrians that I passed or drivers next to me with their windows open? I needed some advice so I pulled into the next gas station I saw. I asked a mechanic working on a transmission if the antifreeze was safe to transport just in its bottle. Would its cap stay on? Could the fumes harm innocent bystanders? He thought I was an idiot…He was right.

A journalist for Ms. Magazine is writing a piece about carrying a handgun for a month. She has decided to do this without, apparently, taking any course to train herself in the use of firearms. She hasn’t asked anyone for any advice other than a policeman involved in a traffic stop to show her that her gun wasn’t loaded. The above parody is a pretty accurate copy of her breathless prose.

The only point that her first article actually makes, is that it is relatively easy for a person with remarkably bad judgement to do something dangerous. WOW, polish up the Pulitzer!

Maybe she could report on the dangers of poisonous chemicals in the home – number of accidental injuries due to poisonous substances in homes, 33,000,000  annually. Number of firearms related accidents, assaults or self inflicted wounds totaled, about 63,000 in the most recent yearly statistics.

People with bad judgement do stupid things constantly – including apparently lame journalistic stunts. There are no laws or regulations that will prevent this.

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Response to a Cynical political hack from Connecticut

Connecticut’s Senator Blumenthal published a letter in the Hartford Courant professing his shame at his colleagues and his disappointment at the failure of the Senate to pass “common sense” (talking point language from a careful ‘positioning’ document just like a ‘balanced’ approach to deficit reductions means higher taxes and no meaningful cuts in entitlement spending) gun control legislation. He vowed to fight on. He sent his letter to his constituents who have written him about gun violence. He sent it to me and here is my reply:

 

 

Senator Blumenthal,

What common sense is there in enacting cynical, opportunistic legislation that does absolutely nothing to solve the problem it purports to address? SHAME ON YOU for trying to exploit tragedy to advance a disproven agenda that curtails constitutionally enumerated rights and does nothing to advance public safety. You know that all rifles, much less the cosmetically defined “assault weapons” are used in a single digit percentage of all gun crimes. You know that magazine size limitations will have no impact on criminals who have ready access to whatever size magazine they want but will ensure that law abiding citizens are overmatched or limited in their ability to protect themselves. You know that these same criminals will easily circumvent background checks and that of the “2 million people prevented by background checks from buying firearms” virtually none have been prosecuted – what do you think they did next? You know that, as your esteemed colleague Diane Feinstein admitted, background checks would not have succeeded in preventing the tragedies that you so shamelessly seek to exploit.
Why don’t you try to do something real about gun violence? The violence that disproportionally affects poor black males in our cities? Why don’t you stand up for mandatory sentencing to prevent recidivists from committing multiple gun crimes? We know these criminals can get guns. We know they use them in crimes. We know that they will do it again but we still let them go free.
Why don’t you help our country follow New York city’s successful implementation of ‘stop and frisk’ policies in our cities? Wouldn’t Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven benefit from a reduction in gun violence? How about Chicago and its “tough gun laws?”
And when it comes to mass murderers, why don’t you advance better systems for mental health professionals to raise the alarm when they see patients who are likely to commit violent acts? Can you come up with a respectful, fair and thoughtful way to connect them to law enforcement officials and the NICs system?
I guess that would take uncommon courage, brains and effort – things utterly absent throughout your political career. “Common sense” as you define it is so much easier. Exploit a distraught mother – ask her to attend congressional hearings while she is still grieving and vulnerable and by all means have her talk to the press. Those are “common sense” ways to help her heal.
Told anybody about your distinguished military service in Vietnam lately?
Sincerely indignant and ashamed that you are my senator,
Critical Thinking
Weston, CT
PS – To the staffer who may have actually read this before chalking up one “anti” and throwing it in the bin, I hope you are proud to be working for such an upstanding public figure…Go do something honorable with your life (isn’t that why you got into politics?) and dump this sorry hack Blumenthal.

 

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Register reporter tries hand at NRA pistol safety course- The New Haven Register

Fantastic to see a newspaper publish a straightforward, no-agenda experience by a reporter. A shame that it is such a rarity but here is a story that reflects my exact experience.

Register reporter tries hand at NRA pistol safety course- The New Haven Register 

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So, you want to buy a handgun…You are not alone.

I took an NRA pistol safety course (required to obtain a Connecticut handgun permit.) And I was struck by the variety of students in my class. We were 12 in all and came from every strata of society, age and every background. So I asked them what had made each of them decide to take the course and how much experience they had with shooting. They all were happy to share.

There was a young financial services type from Greenwich, well dressed and unselfconscious about having recently purchased long guns and an expensive gun safe without really knowing much about firearms – “I want to have them now before we can’t get them any more.”

A zoftig, blond, single-mom bartender in her twenties – “I just really like shooting guns. It’s fun and I’ve shot with my friend a lot. Now I want a gun of my own. Plus living with my son alone in Bridgeport, getting home really late, at 3 or 4 in the morning, its seems like a good idea.”

A knowledgeable, well-off  grandfather who was no novice – “I have several guns and it used to be that you could always come to the range and practice. No big deal. But now everyone needs to see your certification before they will let you shoot. So I decided to finally get mine.”

A shoe repairman from Wilton in his seventies. “I got robbed a while back and felt so helpless. Never again. I will keep a gun in my shop from now on. I don’t want to be a victim.”

A New Canaan housewife (accompanied by her seventy-year-old plus father) who looked equal parts nervous and determined. “Guns have always frightened me but I figure it’s because I’ve never known anything about them. This way I can learn and hopefully get comfortable enough to have my own gun for self defense.”

A tradesman from Norwalk. “I had my permit for years but I let it lapse. A long time ago my wife bought me a pistol. It just sat in my closet with a trigger lock and I never shot it. Then I lost the key and just gave it away to a friend. I want to get my license  in case I decide to start shooting again. [He lived close to the shooting range where the course was taught.] I don’t think I’ll buy another pistol unless I start coming here a lot. I mean, I’ve got a hunting license and a fishing license. I may as well have this too.”

A middle management type from Fairfield who said, “I never had any interest in guns. But when the government goes after shutting something down, I figure I should act.”

There was also an illegal gun-owner, formerly from New York city who having moved to the suburbs wanted to legitimize having a gun in the house. “When my wife first saw my holster on my bed’s headboard, she said ‘Get that thing off our bed.’ But now she has changed her mind and she was happy when I got a shotgun to add to the pistol we have. She says she feels more secure having something now that we live in the suburbs.”

Finally there were two young hipster friends in their early twenties. “Shooting is fun. I really like it. I might be getting a gun soon but I’m not sure what kind I’ll get.” And the more thoughtful one, “We have done some shooting and have had fun. I want to be sure that I don’t get prevented from getting a gun once I decide on what I can afford.”

So every possible type of person came to my completely unscientific sampling of prospective American gun-owners, in ultra-liberal, Fairfield county Connecticut. The only common denominators were diverse interests in pistols and a distrust of the government and its motives. Its not surprising when you observe politicians’ blatant disregard for the solid pro-gun orientation of the U.S. population. The final commonality was a responsible instinct to comply with the law and take prudent instruction in how to handle something that can be dangerous.

The urge to own a firearm is fundamental for many diverse Americans. The right to do so is enshrined in our constitution. From this experience, I’d say that America’s ‘gun culture’ is something to be admired not vilified. So what are the underlying motives of the politicians that do vilify it?

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Learning to shoot Trap

I have shot guns since I was a child. BB guns, pellet guns, .22 rifles and shotguns. As a twelve-year-old I was trained in “instinct shooting,” a technique based on hand eye coordination, taught to the US military during Vietnam by a close friend of my father. After traveling the world training soldiers, he trained me and my four brothers using a BB gun and hardware washers with their centers filled with kleenex. He trained us to shoot the thrown washers and once we had mastered one size and the kleenex went flying, he would throw up the next smallest. This technique had all of my brothers able to hit a thrown BB out of the air with another BB! As the youngest son, I never did better than hitting a dime.

As an adult I have regularly enjoyed upland bird hunting with my brothers. For me, few things match the camaraderie  and excitement — walking through woods and fields with well-trained bird dogs ranging out ahead; the burst of adrenaline as pheasants explode upwards out from their  cover in a cacophony of wings;  you swing your gun and  then the twelve gauge crack! crack! of a double-barreled effort to bring down dinner. With full-sized shotguns we are still pretty good shots though age and lack of regular practice have let many birds fly safely on their way unscathed.

I had never shot competitively, though I had practiced a few times shooting clay pigeons.  This week I shot my first round of American Trap and it was a blast – so to speak.

I had visited a local trap club a few weeks back to get vetted for basic gun safety and competence. I signed up for a season pass and shot with a range warden to get acclimated to the intricate choreography of trap shooting.

The targets, clay pigeons, are flung from a low house in a random direction while five members of a “squad” shoot one at a time in order from one of five stations 15 yards behind the trap house – calling “pull!” for the target to be released. After progressing through all five shooters five times, everyone moves down the line to the next station where they will shoot in sequence five more times. And so on until everyone on the squad has shot five times from each station. Twenty-five shots in all. I hit 12 clays which I am told is not bad for a first round.

Here are some very competent trap shooters in action.

I look forward to shooting trap more in the future and would like to get better. I am sure it will help me in the field and let fewer pheasants fly free.

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Exercise, travel, jet lag and really seeing the city you are visiting

There is a great piece on running and travel in today’s Wall Street Journal. Exercise when trying to acclimate after a long plane ride is a proven way to reset circadian rhythms and begin to feel human far from home. A colleague of mine who travels even more than I do, runs three miles every day wherever he finds himself – the discipline is admirable, especially since many locales (or weather situations) require him to hit a hotel treadmill instead of the streets. For me, a regular 20 minute set of calisthenics works best, since I can do them anywhere and can never justify skipping them as long as I wake up in time.

But hitting the streets in any city is essential. Even with a busy meeting schedule, there is always time to step out of a conference room and take a walk for 5 or ten minutes during a break. Sunlight on your face will get your body clock on track and as Mr Quinn says in his Journal story, the street view give us the essence of a city – pedestrians, traffic, commerce in all its forms.

So often, “glamorous” business travel consists of running through a generic airport, getting to a generic hotel or office tower, sitting in a generic conference room and trying to stave off jet lag. You could be in Istanbul or Cleveland and never know the difference. Getting out on the street and making your body move can connect you to your location and remind you that it is an incredible privilege to see the world on your company’s dime.

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