Friday, June 2, 2017

Doesn't designing guns automatically mean you're an asshole with no regards for life?

In a word, fuck no.

*Editing notice: this is a draft that is getting refined into final form, pictures videos and visual aids are still being added.*

So, this topic is a can of worms, and I see too many people arguing on all sides about it- and with valid arguments on all sides, which rather than making things clearer, makes it harder to be objective. There are real costs to every trade-off regarding this, and I have had to think long and hard about this, from the perspective of the set of knowledge that I have, and so I've decided to break the silence and become more open about this, what it is, what it means, why I did and still do it sometimes, and what can come next and which section of the 'next' I'm optimistic and worried about.

First, why guns?

Well, they're fun.  They're fun to disassemble and reverse engineer; they're fun to handle, psychologically, because of how our brains evolved.  They're incredibly fun to shoot, especially if you can shoot well- but they're incredibly fun to shoot even if you've never done it or are terrible at it.

So I see fun, so long as it does not put an undue burden on anybody else, as a valid reason to have something- recreational shooting, so long as you aren't shooting bystanders, should be as legal as alcohol and recreational marijuana, for the same reasons.

Second, aren't guns just for killing?

Yes and no.  It is true that this is the origin and specified intent of guns, but it also needs to be acknowledged that
  1. Guns used to be tools of necessity and mostly aren't anymore.  The change is mostly thanks to mechanized agriculture supplanting much of subsistence hunting, and particularly the technology of the last century- artillery, aircraft, radios, computers, and the lot- have made individual firearms as a viable means of self-defense largely obsolete, especially as the emergence of assymetric warfare has necessitated weapons capable of destroying vehicles and infrastructure, weapons such as IEDs and rocket propelled grenades (which are far simpler than most people realize- a black powder rocket on the back, a fuse on the tip, and a shaped charge inside two cones glued end to end for a warhead- and various types of warheads are available, and even the auto self-destruct that causes these to detonate at 800 meters has been used as improvised airbursts to attack aircraft, particularly helicopters on patrol).  Basically, if you're going to war these days, the guys with the guns are either the guys without a real army, or else they're the cleaning crew to come in and police a scene. Even the SEALS deal with hostage rescue and only shooting bad guys.
  2. Just because they're mostly toys doesn't mean we shouldn't have them. The capacity for humans to play with dangerous machines within acceptable margins of safety, especially where some small segment of experts perform well for the entertainment of others, is already a widely disseminated form of entertainment- look at car and motorcycle racing, for example, or other combat sports. The argument for gun control in spite of recreational shooting is the same argument prohibitionists made against alcohol, the same nonsense spewed against most recreational drug legalization.  The argument to limit features, like magazine size, is understandable but still based on cowardice about the nature of guns, rather than an understanding and acceptance of what they are and a resolve to be responsible about them.  Telling the good guys that they must have a gun that is clunky and difficult to use is an immoral proposition if they must use those guns against bad guys without that engineered disadvantage.  To those bleeding-heart liberals here reading this scoffing about "then everybody could have machine guns and silencers and magically be ninja assassins!"- machine guns have specific uses, should be legal to people who have demonstrated competence and trustworthiness (think "drivers license"), and suppressors shouldn't just be legal, they should be fucking mandatory, as they reduce hearing damage, increase bullet stability, facilitate communication, NONE of them make the bullet silent (particularly bigger faster bullets that make a bigger 'splash' as they go through the air, because that 'splash' of air is the source of part of the sound of a gunshot, the same way lightning makes thunder), and they reduce the recoil and make the gun longer AND make it more obvious which direction it's pointing AND the extra length keeps the muzzle further away from hands and face.  Silencers don't make you a killer, they make your gun safer and you less of an asshole- and in some places in Europe now, hunting without them is banned for all these reasons and then some.

    Perspective: the guy who invented the firearm silencer was the son of a machine gun inventor, and he also took his silencer and put it on the then-new car engine and called it a 'muffler'.
  3. There is virtually no possibility of effective gun control, nor will there be, ever.  The only thing that can stop a human motivated human from making or buying a gun is death. Guns are sufficiently easy to improvise that the bad guys gun control is intended to keep them away from remain largely unaffected by bans, either because of black market supply of existing manufactured guns, or of the opportunity of smaller manfacturers to improvise guns, and the examples of this I know of off-hand include everything from single-shot guns being made in US prisons in the late 20th century to white supremacists in the US making "AK Pistols" with scrounged parts, including rubber bands as a 'main spring' to close the bolt, to the plethora of Luty home-made submachine guns being confiscated by Australian police these days, to the the improvised weapons captured by the Russians in the Chechnyan conflict, to the entire illegal city economies of Danao, in the Philippines, and Darra, in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan- two cites where the literal backbone of the economy is otherwise generally unskilled and uneducated people making varying quality of working firearms, from scratch, with hand tools

    I've personally made a small improvised rifling machine with a bench vise, a cold-rolled steel tube, a long plank as a bed to mount the barrel on, and a block with a pin to guide the tube. This shit is NOT rocket science.
  4. Since we can't get rid of guns, we have no choice but to be responsible with and about them instead.  Since we can't completely keep them out of the hands of bad guys, we need to keep them available to the good guys to shoot back with, or else grow the fuck up about giving them to robots to shoot at the bad guys for us, because if that's happening, then it's literally as simple as the robots only needing to shoot at people with guns to keep the rest of us safe, and their efficiency at it now already renders human-driven combat obsolete.
  5. Without the technology of firearms, much of the modern world would not have been possible.  Making firearms is not rocket science, but the development of firearms, starting in the 12th century with the introduction of gunpowder to Eastern Europe and the Middle East and the first sort-of-cannon-things shooting rocks at walls, paved the way for first greater quality metallurgy and materials science. As parts became more reliable and safer, they got smaller and more usable by single men. As the expertise in making these parts increased, new tools were developed that allowed greater and greater precision of manufacture.  In fact, one of the most important advancements was in using threaded rods- like on a screw or bolt- to control moving tools back and forth, since moving to the same place time after time was reduced to a problem of turning the rod the same number of times to move a piece across a tool, or a tool across a piece.  This in turn allowed for greater precision of tools, allowing us to correct smaller and smaller errors in manufacture, ultimately giving rise to the logistical possibility of a concept called "economies of scale" by virtue of making repeatable mass production possible- because Firearms are the highest-performance mass-produced machine currently produced by the human species.  Computers are higher precision, but have few or no moving parts, only very occasionally contain explosives or projectiles.  Rockets and engines are higher performance, but are not mass-produced on the same scale, especially when you consider the scale of precision and the scale of manufacture of ammunition, which typically has a margin of error of +/-0.003, or approximately the width of a piece of phonebook paper, between a usable cartridge and a catastrophic explosive failure (well, depending on a lot of things, especially how much gun, bullet, case, and powder there are and how they're configured when the powder starts to ignite).

So how did I get into this?
When I was 18, I was up watching a movie in my house alone, and somebody egged my window. I heard the first egg hit and looked and couldn't process it, and the second and third hit as I watched, and I didn't process it for a second, until I remembered having heard of it (if you haven't, "egging a window" means "throwing an egg at somebody's window"). My reaction was to go in my dad's closet, get his shotgun, bring it out, and try to figure out how to take the lock off it, and fail utterly. That experience made me realize- anything can happen, the best civilization can do to a situation is react quickly, and I didn't have any capacity to respond in kind if shit hit fans.

I don't remember if it was the next day exactly, but more or less immediately I bought my first gun, a Ruger Mini-14.  It's a great gun and I won't disrespect it, it functioned well, and I put a few thousand rounds through it happily over the next year and a half before leaving for Thailand- you can read about that elsewhere on here- and, in taking apart my gun for maintenance, I became familiar with how the individual parts matched up, what each part was doing, and how they all worked together, and it also provided a test-bed for creating models of how to think about different things, like material interactions, or how explosions progress through a compustible material and expand it into a large compressed gas, or how the shockwave of the impact of the energy of recoil of the shot propagates through the body of a weapon and moves the weapon, the bullet, the shooter, etc, in slow motion, what the stresses are on the pieces of metal holding a door on the ass of a pipe bomb until the big piece of shrapnel goes past the explosion valve at the front end of the pipe and lets the 'BOOM' hit a piston and drive the firearm's engine to reload itself.

The opportunity, via shooting clubs and particularly machine gun clubs and a marine delayed entry program, to inspect, fire, and even in some cases disassemble a wide variety of venerable and then-modern firearms (for military buffs the m16a2 was still standard issue) exposed me not only to the guns but the culture of discipline surrounding them- how to use them safely, down to the specifics of "how do you stand, sit, kneel, squat, and bend over when you're carrying a rifle, so that you don't accidentally point it at somebody?"- which is the sort of detail that I think is not visible enough for outsiders, especially with the visibility stupid assholes with guns are able to gain. I also want to specify- this was not my original introduction to gun safety, but as with any skill, the safe and effective handling of a firearm increases with practice- and these guys gave me the model, and I put my own time in on it substantially.

So this is what I want to convey to outsiders; I like shooting, and I do not like killing, although I can kill and live with it.  I do not hunt for sport. What shooting I do for recreation falls into the most common category of shooting, casually referred to as "plinking", but you might think of it as "target practice", since that's the most common form ("Plinking" refers to the "plink" sound of a bullet hitting a can).  In fact, the sort shooting I advocate for is generally of a non-lethal variety, and directly comparable to sports like boxing, racing, golf, or anything else where individuals or team.  I am also a fan of IPSC ("International Pistol-Shooting Competition", which is also an Olympic sport.

So, all of that's neato, but don't I design guns? What kind, and why?

Well, let me step through this process logically.  I don't have graphics available anymore on some of these, but there is a series of designs I have come up with based on the knowledge I had at the time, and the circumstances under which I was able to proceed about conceptualizing these weapons (some of which I built pieces for, none of which were ever assembled into actual firing weapons, if I were to assess it now I would say perhaps 1/3 of the designs have enough technical merit to be, say, products on the american civilian gun market, if not more, but some of the designs had fundamental flaws or techincal hurdles that were not overcome).

The first major gun I developed from the ground up was a 45 caliber submachine gun based roughly around implementing a complete set of working dimensions of a barrel and magazine, and then having to work things out. How the fuck do you control this fucking little pipe bomb when it goes off 15 times per second? How does it take the old brass out of the barrel? How does it spit it out the side of the gun? How does it pick up the new cartridge? How does that go into the barrel, every fucking time, like clockwork? how many pounds would it weigh if you measured the force going forward on a bathroom scale, and how many pounds going backward, and what direction(s, if it's more than one) is that going? how much pressure is holding the brass outward, sticking it to the inside of the barrel, for how long, and what does that depend on? How does a barrel make a bullet spin, why is that important, and how the fuck do you make the rifling?  So that was my practical introduction, and I didn't learn everything- it would be another year or two before I really started to understand the black magic of rifling*, and it's something I continue to refine my understanding of.

After that I began working out the importance of lockup mechanisms, and my research started to point out the importance of removing mechanical interference from the barrel, turbulent interference from the gases pushing the bullet down the bore, especially at the exit of the muzzle (there are a whole category of muzzle devices and configurations- particularly large projectiles, artillery rounds, tank shells, and some high power rifle rounds, divert gas backwards to pull the gun forwards like a rocket, reducing the amount of recoil the shooter feels when firing or controlling the direction of the exposed flame, limiting the visible distance of the shooter when fired, and guns that specialize in long-distance shooting, again think high-powered rifles as compared to pistols, tend to have special geometry around where the bullet exits the gun to keep the gas from exiting behind it in a lop-sided fashion and pushing it off balance.

So, being an H&K fanboy at the time, I loved the MP5 and wanted to make something like that to correct what I thought were the ergonomic failures of the gun- the magazine in front of the grip to copy the rifle the action was scaled down from was unnecessarily clunky, a magazine through the grip decreased the amount of work needed to balance the gun on the hand for shooting, a bolt lockback was nice but needed to be ambidextrous to be a truly ergonomic weapon (I had not seen the g36 charging handle at this point and actually came up with something very similar, except cylindrical and intended to be pulled back and locked upwards- on either side- like a classic mp5), and the other gun I spent a substantial time studying at the time was the ak47, so my intent was to take the ease-of-manufacture of the AK and put the operating principles of an MP5 onto a new 9mm submachine gun.

Which, since I was a missionary at the time, that informed a lot of design decisions; the people I saw who might possibly want or need something like this were tribal minorities on the border with Thailand, and the idea was that a 9mm, particularly a suppressed 9mm, would be an excellent defensive weapon against attacks by the enemy troops- remember that the SPDC in Burma were actively trying to ethnically cleanse out many of these people, they were conscripting their children as soldiers and the adults as slave laborers- without giving the people who had these too much power to inflict evil on their neighbors- and also it is an economical gun to have, manufacturable locally, and the manufacture of it could provide the basis for further industry, as I was just learning it had done- arguably, in some ways- in Danao, in Cibu in the Philippines, and in Darra in Pakistan since around the time of the British invasion of Afghanistan.

There were a set of designs around taking the lockup of the Mp5, making the locking parts out of heavy gauge sheet steel, replacing the rollers with wedges (I hadn't seen a Tokarev at the time, I eventually worked out that there would be problems from pressure squeezing the interior bolt causing it to stick), and I found a patent that put it on top of the barrel- rather than in line behind it- and it blew my mind, so I have looked for novel ways to lock up guns consistently in line with the bore ever since then.

Shortly after that, I began looking into medium-caliber self loading rifles ("assault rifles", essentially things like the ar-15 and ak-47). I was and am horified by the prospect of child soldiers, and so I wanted to make something deliberately unusable by children, and beyond making some things specifically sized in ways that make it unsafe for smaller users, I don't really think that's possible now. But at the time, I devised combination grip and trigger safeties to keep small hands from firing and so on.

The major rifle that came out of that development is a lot like a famas, really. It's a wedge-delayed non-inline blowback rifle with a large carry handle with a grooved picatinny rail and a backward tilted windage-adjustable barrel sight allowing a sight picture down the groove to a post, with an ambidextrous pull-to-lock charging handle, and a full-length-freefloated barrel, in a stock that's solid enough to hit someone with if you have to without fucking up point of aim. I came up with rail-mounting grenade launchers and bayonets and the lot for it.

After these developments, I've continued on my own with smaller thought experiments, such as retrofitting existing rifles into modern weapon systems, exploration of 3D print guns, and the only current backburnered project I might consider pursuing in this regard is a 9mm carbine, roughly modeled on the handling and characteristics of a gun from the company KelTec called the "sub 2000" on the american civilian market- it's a popular competition shooting and recreational gun that uses cheap and easy to obtain interchangeable parts (like magazines from popular pistols that fire the same bullet- so if you have a 9mm handgun you can get a sub 2000 that uses the same magazines and bullets) on a gun that folds in half- so my project on this is essentially an open-source version of this format of gun, a simple, useful without being overpowered gun, where the intent is to 3d print the parts necessary to make a fully functioning gun that is actually worth having, using 3/4" threaded rod for a bolt, a 1/4" drill bit to make the initial hole, and a 3d printed rifling head to hold the tool to cut the rifling with, probably segments of hacksaw blade, and then a case-hardening treatment to actually change the weak mild steel of the threaded rod into something with a tough high-carbon steel skin by a metallurgical process called 'case hardening'.**

Why contribute a 3d printed gun, you ask?

Because these weapons are fucking inevitable, and I want the fewest deaths fucking possible, and the way to do that is to make sure that the guns that are available are safe to use, accurate and effective, but without the damage characteristics of guns that, for example, overpenetrate and will cause casualties in nearby buildings.  So this is a nice handy little carbine that would be great for police work or for sports shooting, and maybe as a backpacking rifle that you could hunt small game with and at least have a shot at deterring a bear attack with, and the idea is that it's open source and produceable anywhere, just like all the other shit I come up with.

Pretending you can put technology back under a rock, pretending you can make guns go away, is fucking nonsense until it's robots with guns and not under human control, or some other force of weapon capable of inflicting extinction on us. As long as some of us have guns, as long as they're in the hands of bad guys, there is a case for them to be in the hands of good guys too.  As long as they can be responsibly used, there shouldn't be fundamental restrictions on who can get one, the same way that there isn't a restriction on getting a driver's license unless you've really fucked up. And I do think there should be a barrier of entry to test and ensure competence, and that the criteria and the registry of who tried to get on it and who got on and who didn't and why they failed to should be public information, so that even though it's tracked, it isn't information that can give any side an asymmetric advantage.

But then, I think that about political donations and politician salaries and military spending, including for intelligence work, because you don't have to publish a spook's name to disclose "we're paying x in rent in Kabul at y number of locations", which doesn't give anybody anything except fiscal fucking accountability.

*roughly, "rifling" is the way a gun's barrel spins the bullet, so that instead of wobbling around like a rock, it flies straight because the spin averages out the shape of the bullet, so that it has a consistent and equal forward momentum and wind resistance, rather than building up pressure on any one side the turning of the bullet averages to 'turning back to straight', like a football.  This is done by 'firing' or 'pushing the bullet with an explosion' through a "rifled bore" or a "hole that's slightly too small for the bullet, so it is slightly squeezed, with slots cut in a spiral in that hole on the inside surface so that as the bullet goes through the hole it spins like a drill".  Different bullets

**Basically, it boils down to adding carbon atoms into an iron atom matrix, so that the bigger carbon with more bonds binds to the iron the same way, but stretches the bonds so they are under stress- think of it like pulling a rubber band tight. How can this be done? with a chemical reaction, of course- the old way is to fill up a sheetmetal box with activated charcoal and the parts you want to harden, and then put on a metal lid and seal it from the outside air with clay, so that when you put the whole thing in a furnace and heat it up to about 1400 degrees farenheit- so hot that the emanating heat from the parts inside literally lets you see through the steel box- the carbon, without any oxygen to burn with, accumulates a lot of energy to bond with, and begins to bond ferociously with the surface of the iron, a bit like the carbon version of rust, except that instead of causing the iron atoms to flake off, the carbon compacts them together under differential pressure- it's pulling with different amounts of force on different atoms, which is in turn putting pressure on the atoms surrounding it, a bit like stretching the corner of a spiderweb, or drawing a bowstring.

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