SOCOM Has Defective Body Armor

So there’s this site called GearScout, and it’s run by a real journalist named Rob Curtis.

Rob Curtis

Using his keen sense of journalistic smell, he discovered that SOCOM’s armor plates are defective. “They don’t stop bullets” defective, not “they might discolor in sunlight” defective.

The solution is…well there really is no solution. Bad plates are being identified through the highly scientific method of SOCOM dudes tapping their plates before every mission and listening for a “ting” instead of a “thud.” Yes, every mission. The problem is described as a “latent delamination defect.”

Which means that this defect just…happens. Randomly. Without warning, your body armor might come apart from the inside. While you’re asleep, or maybe ten seconds after you “test” it.

So while you’re emerging from a Thanksgiving food coma, men with amazing beards are going on DA hits with body armor that may or may not work.

Just something to think about.

Why My First Handgun Was a .45

The first handgun that I bought was a Kimber Custom II in .45 ACP. I still have it, and still shoot it a lot. Even underwater.

Not the manufacturer's intended use.

It’s had basically every major and minor part replaced, and it’s been completely refinished, because the original finish was simply unsuited to the real world. But that’s beside the point. Why did I buy a .45, especially after carrying and being completely satisfied with the performance of my issued 9mm Beretta M9?

Well, that story begins in Iraq, when I was about to redeploy to the United States. I was given an Ambien for the flight back, but ended up not needing it (I had gotten plenty of practice with sleeping in strange and uncomfortable places during my tour).

Once I returned to California, however, I was so excited to be back – and excited to see my family shortly thereafter – that I couldn’t sleep that first night and decided to take the Ambien. The next morning, after a solid night’s sleep, I boarded a flight for home and spent the weekend with my family before heading back to Pendleton to start checking out of the regiment.

A day later, my dad called me and said that some huge boxes had arrived at my parents’ house. Mystified, I asked him to open the boxes. Inside was a Dillon 550B and everything I needed to start reloading .45 ACP, along with a packing slip that put my purchase right in the middle of that Ambien-induced night of sleep. Apparently, I had wandered over to the MWR and ordered everything.

Since I had already bought all of this reloading stuff for .45, I went to a gun store and picked out the .45 that felt the best in my hand and wasn’t too expensive. I’ve since spent at least a grand on replacement parts and refinishing, but hey…

"You were a mistake."

So, there you go. I didn’t pick .45 for “knockdown power” or the 1911 because Det One used Kimbers. Or maybe I did pick .45 for that reason, in that Ambien fugue state, but I’ll never know for sure.

Sporting Purposes: How HK Really Does Not Suck Or Hate You

While searching an old hard drive for an essay I wrote in college, I came across some unrelated documents which I had saved at approximately the same time:  ATF position papers/reports on the importation of semiautomatic military-style rifles. I briefly skimmed these documents, and found several interesting points that I would like to raise. First, a brief refresher course on some recent history, with points illustrated by photographs of cute animals.

Jerry Tsai, former editor of Recoil magazine, made some comments about how HK MP7s served no sporting purposes, and therefore shouldn’t be imported. When a stink was (quite rightly) raised, he doubled down on his silliness and blamed HK.

Jerry Tsai was in a plane that was lost and on fire with Dog as both his copilot AND pilot, and didn’t see the rapidly approaching terrain until it was too late.

Not taking this lightly, HK washed their hands of any responsibility. Tsai, along with practically every Recoil advertiser, was buried under an electronic avalanche of angry messages. Heads rolled and the crowd mentality slowly subsided.

Here’s the problem: While Tsai’s comments were a) wrong and b) lacking in knowledge of the current firearm community, they did nothing to actually stop you from owning anything. He just said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You aren’t good enough to own this.” It’s the same concept as Jim Zumbo’s ill-advised comments about “terrorist rifles” a few years back.

But in the ’80s and ’90s, magazine editors, hunting guides, state game commissioners, and competitive shooting groups were consulted by the ATF in order to determine whether certain rifles were importable under the ’89 import ban, and taking into consideration the “sporting purposes” test. I won’t be debating the merits of that “test” here, because it is a somewhat complex matter, although my position on the issue should not be a huge mystery (hint: it’s dumb).

What I want to focus on is the response of the magazine editors in particular. On multiple occasions, ATF asked them if rifles such as the SG550, FN FAL, AK-47, etc. had any useful “sporting purpose.” When polled directly in 1989, 0 (zero) of 14 magazine editors responded in the affirmative.

Much like this gray fox, shooting and hunting magazine editors of the ’90s were asleep when ATF asked them if AKs, PSG-1s, and FALs were useful for hunting or sporting purposes.

When polled directly in 1997, only 2 of 13 responded that such rifles were appropriate for the hunting of medium to large game (why ATF decided to exclude the hunting of small game from their report is not stated). Of 70 magazine articles reviewed by ATF (again, the selection process is not described), only one described what the ATF calls “large capacity military magazine rifles,” or LCMM rifles, as being “excellent” for hunting. Two others described 7.62×39 as being acceptable for hunting.

ATF also put down the idea of action competition shooting as being sporting, for the simple reason that it wasn’t “traditional.” I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it is, “We didn’t like the idea of some sporting purposes, so we made up our own definition, and guess what, none of these rifles fit our new definition of sporting purposes. Except some do, but we’re going to ignore that.” I don’t grok this logic.

This owl is apparently unable to grok this as well.

What else is interesting about this position paper? Well, of the manufacturers, trade groups, and so on that received letters from ATF seeking their input, exactly one company made an active attempt to stop what they saw coming. This manufacturer placed an advertisement in Shotgun News, attesting to how useful their firearms were for various sporting purposes, and encouraged owners of their firearms to write ATF with accounts of how they use their products as sporting arms. Which manufacturer was this?


What? HK stood up for my right to own semi-auto firearms in use around the world by police and military organizations?

That’s right. The one company to step up and say “This isn’t right,” was none other than the much-vilified Heckler & Koch (see page 115 of the PDF linked above).

The magazine editors? A few attempted to tell ATF the truth – good for them. The rest were perfectly happy to watch “those other guns” get banned, as long as they could keep their fancy, imported Browning semi-autos. Really, this sentiment is made quite clear at several times throughout the study, including the Senate report on the 1994 AWB.

As for the 1998 “study,” it was noted that a reason for it being undertaken was that some time had passed since the last one (8-9 years), and that the times might have changed since then. Well, it’s been almost 15 years, and I’m pretty sure that ATF would find a slightly different response if it asked these questions today. Which might be why I can’t find a more recent version.

So harbor all the resentment and ill will against Jerry Tsai, Recoil magazine, and anyone-who-didn’t-pull-their-advertisements-from-Recoil-within-5-seconds-of-hearing-about-this-whole-thing you want. In reality, nothing Jerry Tsai did had any effect on how many self-loading firearms you can buy. A bunch of former – and possibly current – magazine editors did have an effect, though.

The Case For Mike Pannone

I have met a number of instructors in the, for lack of a better term, “tactical” world. I have the benefits of being a constant shooter and several years’ experience teaching in classroom settings to form opinions of instruction and training for real-world firearms use. And I have had the opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of various instructional techniques with professional military and law enforcement individuals who were willing to speak frankly and did not hold anything back in their assessments.

All of this has led me to the conclusion that Mike Pannone is one of the most effective and well-rounded firearm instructors in the world. Why?

– He has an extremely impressive military background, one which has given him a level of experience found in only a few modern instructors;

– He has studied kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement) at the collegiate level;

– He has experience as an instructor for federal law enforcement, namely being the head range instructor at the Federal Air Marshals Service school;

– He is very low key – mostly because he does not feel the need to impress anyone;

– He is not a “stick-in-the-mud” – he is always looking to develop new and more effective shooting techniques.

So he knows what is and is not relevant to real-world applications, he can explain in a scientific manner why a certain technique is effective or ineffective, he has the ability to impart this experience and knowledge to students, he does not showboat during classes, and he keeps an open mind about how he does all of this.

Mike Pannone with a fancy handgun

When I have occasion to discuss the merits of Mike’s instruction with individuals who shoot guns for a living, they express universal praise and admiration. They have no time for BS and while they often receive training from Mike as well as other instructors through work, they also pay for Mike’s classes out of their own pockets.

His training is in constant demand from actual military and law enforcement units. We hear this so often from various instructors that it becomes background noise – Mike actually tries to make this part of his life background noise. He teaches high-speed military and law enforcement units but never, ever talks about it publicly.

It’s almost weird – it would be easy for him to cultivate a following based on personality, but he doesn’t bother with such things. He’s so self-effacing that I feel a constant need to write about him. Part of it is that I consider him to be a friend, sure. The other part is that he is an intellectual and a true badass. That is a rare combination indeed.

Swiss Arms SG553s Available in the United States*

Ever since the dumbest firearms law in America, the ban on imported semiautomatic rifles, was enacted in 1989, it’s been difficult for foreign manufacturers to sell their products here. Naturally, because people are smart and politicians are not, we’ve basically gotten around that law by importing certain parts and manufacturing others here in the US. This means we can basically have all of the same rifles, as long as the manufacturer is willing to make an effort to import/manufacture what they need. A manufacturer’s willingness to go to these lengths is based on a number of things, including how much interest they see from consumers.

Some consumers’ interest in these rifles is diminished because the product isn’t a true “country-made” product. Case in point: Swiss-made rifles from the aptly named Swiss Arms. Designers and manufacturers of the SG550/551/552 rifle series, one of their newest products is the SG553. The 553 shares many of the same dimensions of the 552, but features a redesigned action spring more like that of the larger 550 and 551, making it easier to disassemble. It also has a machined aluminum receiver, as opposed to the stamped steel receiver of the 552  (Swiss Arms has tested the new aluminum receiver quite thoroughly. For example, the big brother of the 553, the 751 SAPR in 7.62×51, had reached over 18,000 rounds of full auto with no dimensional changes as of a year and a half ago).

This is the 553CH. It is cool.

Why am I telling you this? Because there’s another way to import such things, and that’s by manufacturing them as pistols. As long as the “pistol” has enough features which gain it “points” as determined by the ATF, it may be legally imported and sold in the United States. *Something I have been itching to talk about for more than eighteen months is that there were plans underway to import 553 pistols. Well, they’re here, and I can talk about them.

What was on display at SHOT? This thing. It's the diopter sight version, which isn't currently available in the US; the railed model, as seen above (but with stock, which isn't importable), is.

These 553s are made just as Swiss Arms intended them to be, and feature things like hammer forged, nitrided barrels that aren’t found in some competing products. There are no corners cut here. But cutting corners saves money, and sparing no expense…doesn’t.

They’re being imported by M+M/CO Gun Sales; the wholesaler/retailer is Armati USA. Because of the quality, workmanship, and number of hoops that had to be jumped through for them to be imported, they aren’t cheap. The first few were sold to another dealer and are currently being marketed for $4995; needless to say, they aren’t flying off the shelves. I would expect prices to fall somewhat, but still remain above $4000, as time goes on.

If you’re looking for a pistol-configuration thingy in 5.56×45, and aren’t especially concerned with getting a genuine Swiss-made product, then this probably isn’t for you. Actually, it definitely isn’t for you. Those who are interested in the 553P are likely to be a) those who enjoy finely made items and b) those who are fans of the 55X platform in its true form.

Here's a photo sent to me by Armati USA showing an imported 553P.