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Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 7:40 am
by Mike McCarthy
I've been on the planet for 71 years. In all this time I had never once heard of what new member JBnID does for a living. He is ... are you ready for this? ... drum roll please ... a forensic gunsmith. This means that when questions arise about why a certain gun blew up in the shooter's face, or why it fired when dropped even though its safety was engaged, JBnID is your go to guy for figuring out what happened and why. He has been an expert witness in more court cases than ... well ... than the Denver Metro area has chairs inside Mexican restaurants. (For you coast people reading this, that's a large number. We don't have any good kosher Jewish delis in state but oy vay do we ever have authentic Mexican food.)

JBnID is Jack Belk, a gun magazine writer -- and now book author -- whose name I think I recall from twenty years ago when I began reading, out of sheer curiosity, about hand loading of ammunition. You see, folks, I've been interested in guns on and off since I fired my first BB gun at age ... um-m-m-m ... it was probably age 11. My wife and I own a few guns but I wouldn't describe myself as a gun enthusiast. Why? Because I like to <s>watch</s> read about them rather than take the time, trouble and expense to actually fuss with them.

[An aside ... The ultimate gun that I've read about is actually a machine that houses three guns -- the 16" turret of a WW2 Iowa class battleship. I am such an inveterate nerd that I went to great lengths to locate, download and read the 950 page official US Navy operating handbook for this beast, which needed a crew of 75 strong young men to run it efficiently. Iowa class battleships each had three of these turrets. The shells they fired weighed either 2200 pounds or 2900 pounds depending on whether the shells were to explode on contact or pierce armor plate. They had so-called minute of angle lateral precision, about the same as a modern sniper rifle, except that these big bore naval rifles had a useful range of about 20 miles. But I digress ...]

Anyway, as I just remarked to a friend on a poltical/cultural website, Jack's "Unsafe by Design" is a a hilarious exploration of the world of guns that go bang when they shouldn't, or that fail to go bang when they should, or that explode instead of going bang. I recommend this book without qualification. The Kindle version cost me only $4.99, a bargain for any serious gun owner who wants to know how to improve his own gun safety though this may require getting rid of certain guns in favor of others.

What about people who don't know anything about guns and really don't care about them at all? Well, Jack's got you covered too, with lots of interesting ancecdotal entertainment. Here, for example, is his take on gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who was a PITA customer. (And that's PITA, folks, not PETA.) ...

"I have no idea how he functioned as well as he did, but we never saw him before late afternoon. There are times when two gears come together with slightly different geometry. They work OK, but there's a hum that eventually gets louder and then they solve the problem by coming apart in a semi-explosion. I had a Fiat that did that one time. Hunter Thompson and I were that way, too. I'd had enough of his company.

One afternoon Brian gave me a warning that Hunter was on the way in the door. I made sure I had something to do on the lathe so my back was to him at the window and he knew damn good and well not to holler, so I let him cool his heels a few minutes before turning off and around to 'finally see him there.' He bitched about the wait and the traffic and how bad he felt and then said he had a gun for me to see.

He brought in a German MP-40 machine gun in a black case. I asked him for the tax papers and he said, “didn't think to bring them.” I used the opportunity to ‘86’ him from the store forever and told him if he ever came back inside I would whip his ass and then call the cops. He was so out of it he nearly started crying. Our gears had shed their teeth. He had the gall to have the Pitkin County (Aspen) sheriff call me and try to tell me I was wrong and that he was really harmless enough. I told him I was very tired of a doped up idiot hanging around the shop and I considered H.S. Thompson a danger to the public and would not have him around and to please pass along he was to never come in again.

It worked. I never saw him again. We also had many 'celebrities' that did business with us and some fun times were had when Buddy Hackett came by to talk about his extra fine Colt single-action collection and check out the latest projects in progress in the shop. He always had a long, drawn out joke to tell. Race car drivers, sports personalities and all sorts of actors and actresses occasionally came 'down valley' to be seen by the natives and many would come in to buy or talk. My wife was the bookkeeper and nearly fainted when she saw I'd sold a gun to Kurt Russell. I'm not a movie guy and didn't know him, but the gun was for his son and he shot sporting clays with us. It is a small world sometimes.

Belk, Jack (2014-11-30). UnSafe by Design: Forensic Gunsmithing and Firearms Investigations (p. 21). Truth 'n Shootin' Books. Kindle Edition.

So ... You don't like guns? Well, as they said in an ad campaign in the NYC of my youth regarding rye bread, "You Don't Have To Be Jewish To Love Levy's".

Re: Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 12:50 pm
by JBnID
WOW! This might be the first reading of my book by a New Yorker, other than lawyers, of course. The lawyers have assigned people to read it and report. In fact, last February in federal court in Kansas City a young lawyer introduced himself and said he'd read the book. I asked him if he was the one that drew the short straw. Quite frankly, unless you have great interest in mechanics as applied to firearms, the reader might just want to pick out the multitude of stories. Most of them very painful to the victim...and mostly preventable by education.

"Unsafe By Design" is education far beyond what is taught in gunsmith's school and the information contained within it nearly impossible to find without immersion into the dark and complicated field of tort law. The courts hold secrets for decades. Those secrets have now been told.
I really appreciate the review and will be happy to answer any questions anybody might have.

Re: Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 4:25 am
by BlueStrat
Wow!, vey interesting stuff (if as a total novice I might say). I had some not so different association with forensics, but mine was with Footwear. While working for one of the largest sneaker manufacturers in the U.S.A., I would receive photocopies of (sometimes bloody) footprints on celluloid so I could overlay them on outsole patterns that we had designed going back several years. I happened to be the "lucky one" to receive them because I had the longest design history with the company.

As for the Firearm category.....before I switched to commercial product design, I was an Electro-Mechanical Designer with government contractors. We did most of the electronics for great items like the MAAW Dragon which was a shoulder fired RPG with 3 miles of copper wire attached, so the soldiers could move the "tube" and the rocket would follow his lock on the tank or whatever target. Then there was the Howitzer-155 shell, that would separate half-way to the target, and drop a multitude of small listening devices to help pick up troop movements. We were also bidding on the Gatling Gun electronics, but after a year of prototyping, lost the bid. Then I switched to smaller weapons for Colt and Ruger, but this part of my career was only for the aesthetics! I would do very large drawings of things like Moose, Elk, Pheasants & Golden Retrievers, which would then be put into a large format camera for reduction & subsequent Photo-Etching onto the breaches, end stocks, loading mechanisms, etc. It was allot more cost effective than having someone hand-engrave the pictures.

Re: Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 8:07 pm
by Mike McCarthy
What a small world we live in. It may interest both of you to learn that I did all the outboard device driver and chip driver code for a remotely operated mine clearing bulldozer that was rushed into service in Kosovo.

That was the only time in my long career in the computer business when I worked directly on a weapons system. The other times it was mainly indirectly, when I was a marketing suit with Digital Equipment Corporation concerned with such weird issues as why a particular 11/45 system that was part of the China Lake instrumentation range was failing when none of our other stuff failing, not even in the same equipment room. I didn't do the trouble shooting but I had major account responsibilities along those lines.

At one point I was the addons marketing manager for our multinational PDP-15 18-bit computer business, for which I also had factory book/ship responsibility. Two of my -15s were the computer basis for the first B-2 flight simulator. The first version of AFIS -- the federal fingerprint ID system -- was developed on one of my -15s. PDP-15s were used to test out design concepts for the redundant majority vote software logic for Space Shuttle. And so on.

So, I've read about your stuff, BlueStrat. Isn't it interesting how three very different techies are getting together in this thread. We're different -- yet deep down inside we're the same because ... well ... because we're techies and we love to read and talk about this tuff.



My wife and I have committed to driving East in late September and early October. I haven't spoken with Werman yet and for all I know I won't -- but we're going to arrive in the general Massachusetts area late on September 30 or early on October 1. We'll be staying with friends in the Boston area beginning sometime on October 2, but maybe we could pick you up on the 1st or whatever and run back to Tanglewood/Werman for a short visit.

I also may be having an old friend fly himself up from Florida to join the Werman party if there is one. This friend, computer and broadband pioneer Dave Waks, is a folk music fan who was my first boss out of college. He admits to playing badly :) but as I said to him yesterday by email, by now his knowlege of that genre must be encyclopedic -- and if he joins the site to run a Folk/Bluegrass/Newgrass section, he wouldn't be playing, he'd be more of a DJ. I don't know what he's going to end up doing, but that's the kind of fun thing that's going to make this site really interesting.

Re: Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2015 2:55 am
by BlueStrat
Mike, that sounds great! The Fall in New England is so very beautiful, especially around the early part of October. And the area along the Mohawk Trail is even more so with the scenic vistas. Great camera and drawing opportunities ! I don't know if you are into "Art" in the form of paintings, but if you are, Williams College has an outstanding gallery, with some priceless pieces. And, the Rockwell museum is always a fun take. Not too far away, is the old homestead of Herman Melville (just finished Moby Dick for the 3rd time).

By the way, you mentioned the Space Shuttle.......early on, I did some drafting work on the Docking Radar System, that linked-up the LEM with the Command Module after the lunar expedition....."So VERY small a world that we coexist upon! lol :ugeek:

Re: Forensic Gunsmith ... (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2015 5:38 am
by Mike McCarthy
Yes, the Williams Museum was recommended to us and we plan a side trip to it. Why don't you come along and be our guide.

We'll be staying with Werman the nights of Wednesday, 30 September and Thursday, 1 October. However, our days will be completely free, and anyway beginning on the afternoon of Friday 2 September and running through Sunday, 4 September we'll be staying with old friends in ... drum roll please ... Belmont. (I think that our Florida friend will not be coming after all.)

So really, Den, there should be many ways of having you and Werman meet, and many ways of getting to the museum. My wife and I are accustomed to driving 1,000 miles per day when doing long haul traveling by car, so Greater Boston to Lenox and then the museum, and all the way back, in one day, would be no big deal for us. As I like to say regarding distance driving, the first 250 miles of the day are the hardest.

You might also enjoy dropping in on our Belmont crowd, which is an artsy crowd. What's going on here is that I went to a boarding school in the mid 50s, and we are still friends with three of my classmates, all women. One is Sue Ranney Bass, whose husband Henry used to do documentary films but is also an accomplished artist in his own right. Another is a single lady named Peppy Vulliet, who majored in art history and used to own/run an art and crafts gallery in ... um ... was either Wellfleet or Provincetown. The third is a lady named Jenny Fincke Polcari, a daughter of the school's headmaster.

The Basses live on five acres on Route 60, I think it is, in Belmont. It's maybe 15 miles northeast of Wayland. I've never been to the Basses place so I'm guessing.