Monthly Archives: April 2023

The S&W Model 1902 Snubby- Not so Much a Thing as a Process.

Model 1902 Customized and cut down to a 2″ barrel

This gun has been in a near-constant state of change practically from the moment I got it. It had a 6-1/2″ barrel and a butt-ugly pitted black finish and not a few issues. Had a nice trigger though, and I could see the potential. I learned how to gunsmith on S&Ws with this gun. a fix here and a tweak there. Eventually it got cut down to 3″ and carried quite a bit, but when I got a later M&P and gave it the treatment the old 1902 was redundant.

Then a gunsmith buddy was getting some Model 10s and cutting them to 2″. I rather fancied the look and did the same with the 1902. I did a half-round front sight to complement the Noir vibe I was going for, did a full trigger job etc. The trigger is now glass-smooth and breaks at 6-1/2 lbs. double-action. The top of the hammer is checkered so the gun can still be thumb-cocked, and I actually made the single-action pull heavier; it was a bit too light for my comfort on a carry pistol. Now it’s nice and crisp but breaks at 4-1/2 lbs.

The trigger-guard is relieved on the right side for faster access from the safe position with the trigger finger on the frame.

I wanted a wide front sight for fast target acquisition, but I made it a bit too wide and precision suffered more than I could accept. I made a ‘note-to-self’ to change that, and today as I was unwinding after a seriously stressful couple of weeks I decided it was time to tackle the job.

I heated up the sight to loosen the solder and removed the old sight, then cleaned out the groove in the top of the barrel where it had been. I got some 1/8″ mild steel plate and cut and ground the new front sight, then ground and filed the blade thinner. I soldered the new sight in place, cleaned it up with 220 and 400-grit sandpaper, then re-blued it with Oxpho Blue.

The new front sigh mounted, soldered and blued.

Gives a much nicer sight picture, but the rest of the gun was looking a little care-worn, so I cleaned it with acetone and touched it up with the Oxpho too.

OK, time to see how it shoots. I grabbed a box of .38 Special ammo and headed for the range. I ran the target out to 7-yards and shot it. Seemed to be hitting a bit low and right. I ran a new target out to 7-yards and shot a hole in it , then used that hole as my point-of-aim.

Deliberate and rapid-fire at 7-yards. Hitting a couple inches low and right.

The gun is consistently hitting low and right. Should be easy enough to fix and I will at some point. I rounded things off with two cylinders of ‘Panic-Fire,’ meaning I dumped the cylinder as fast as I could. This was also at 7-yards.

Not ideal, but it would probably do the job.

I want to correct the sights, but there’s no urgency; this is not a carry-gun for me anymore. It’s a fine gun and great to shoot but I have better options. Honestly it’s already good enough for the sort of gun it is, but for me correcting the sights is more about craftsmanship than capability; I want it to be right.

I like the new sight; It allows for a good sight picture and correcting the POI won’t change that. And yeah, I stuck with the half-round sight for impractical reasons. It just feels right for this gun, to me anyway.

This is one I’m not going to part with; I’ve learned a lot working on this gun and had a lot of quality-time at the range. This is probably the end of the modifications and tweaking though, and it’s a pretty good place to stop.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 9 March 2023

.380 ACP: The Minimum Caliber for Civilian Self-Defense?

The Sig P238 and it’s variants are popular choices for concealed-carry.

I hear a lot of trainers, You-Tubers and internet uh, experts say that 9mm is the minimum viable caliber for self-defense, and .380 ACP is too weak. Huh. Real Life would be very surprised to hear that. Greg Ellifritz compiled the results of a great many real-world shootings and discovered that overall there wasn’t a nickels worth of difference in effectiveness between the calibers between .380 ACP and .44 Magnum.

Service calibers and magnums are demonstrably much more powerful than .380 ACP and capable of doing greater damage. How is it possible that .380 could be ‘just as effective?’ The simple answer, as usual, is that it’s not that simple. Self-defense shootings involve a mind-boggling number of variables and caliber is only one of them. Also .380 ACP is hugely more likely to be employed by a civilian than a law enforcement officer, and as a result there are wildly different dynamics in play.

Briefly: a police officer is more likely to be involved in a gunfight. A civilian is more likely to be engaged by someone that is seriously not looking for a gunfight. It appears that in the majority of incidents of civilian self-defense any gunfire will result in the baddies attempting to disengage and flee. .380 ACP will invoke this effect as well as anything, and with the standard for a ‘stop’ being that the bad guy ceases all offensive action you can see where the statistics are skewed. This is referred to as a ‘Soft Stop,’ and as stated very often caliber is irrelevant to producing this.

There’s little argument at this point that 9x19mm is effective, and it’s cheap and readily available. But is it right for everyone in every situation?

OK, that’s the Soft Stop. But what about the Hard Stop? This is when you are required to physically disable someone in order to get them to cease offensive action. It is possible that one or the other service calibers is more effective than one or more of the others, but gun fights are such chaotic events that is is difficult to establish this definitively. In fact no handgun caliber is 100% reliable in producing a hard stop. After many years of study the FBI determined that a bullet must have sufficient penetration to reach critical structures in a variety of circumstances, it has to actually hit those critical structures and it’s good if the bullet expands and does greater permanent damage. OK, there’s the baseline.

Practically every caliber can meet the first two standards, from .22 LR on up. .380 ACP ball meets those standards, but since it doesn’t expand it is sub-optimal. This doesn’t mean it can’t work, but it reduces your margin for error.

There are however several expanding loads that do meet the standard for penetration and do expand reliably. Not all of them by a long shot, but there are several, and I’ll let you do your own research on that. So if we accept the FBI duty standard as the minimum then .380 ACP works with some loads. In civilian self-defense shootings even getting close to the FBI standard is probably sufficient. Probably.

So is the .380 ACP the minimum standard for civilian self-defense? As a rule of thumb I’d say yes. OK, why is it the minimum? Because Ellifritz’s survey showed a marked decrease in effectiveness for calibers smaller than .380. There could be a variety of reasons for this; the types of guns the smaller calibers are chambered in, the idea that more skilled shooters will choose the more potent calibers and the list goes on and on.

With 13+1 capacity and modern defensive ammo I’d be hard-pressed to consider someone packing a Model 84 .380 poorly armed.

Mind you this does not mean that smaller calibers aren’t or cannot be effective, but on the whole why mess about with them if you have a viable option? At very least smaller calibers give less margin for error, meaning they can require greater skill to employ effectively in a broad variety of situations. Modern bullet designs may yet up the bar for smaller calibers, but the jury is still out on that.

Are there advantages to the .380 ACP over more potent calibers? Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a simple answer? For persons with low recoil tolerance due to injury, arthritis or other conditions the lower recoil and generally easier operation of the slide can be a definite advantage. Likewise the lower recoil of many platforms in .380 ACP make it easier to rapid-fire accurately for many people, and they may feel that trade-off is worth the potential hit in terminal ballistics.

Then there’s size. There are guns chambering .380 ACP that are significantly smaller than their 9mm counterparts, and below a certain size threshold 9mm gets notably more difficult to manage. It’s not unmanageable by a skilled and robust shooter, but there’s a point at which you might question if the longer recovery time between shots and pain during practice is worth the extra oomf.

We’re back to that whole ‘we’re all individuals,’ thing again. It may work better for some people for the reasons cited. For myself I can see trading the lower recoil and higher hit probability in rapid fire in a smaller gun as being worth it. I certainly wouldn’t feel helpless packing my wife’s P-238 legion, but if circumstances permit I will opt for a larger, more potent weapon. As always YMMV.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 3 April 2023