As seen in Guns & Patriots
by James Pontillo
In honor of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool…by accidentally removing themselves from it. By necessity, the award is generally bestowed posthumously. A quick perusal of the darwinawards.com website will reveal that extreme stupidity is usually a requirement to gain induction. Perhaps my favorite was the guy who used the top of a 300,000 gallon gasoline storage tank as a platform for his 4th of July fireworks display.It is only by the grace of God that I have managed to keep myself from being featured as an inductee to this storied club; as you will see…
An ambitious entrepreneur with pretty good manufacturing experience and general machining skills, my foray into the business of building pistols has seemed a natural evolution. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the actors from California’s infamous junk gun industry, and many of the vendors I have worked with for support services have had experience with these products.
As I have been writing in the three part series about California’s gun industry, today almost no pistol makers reside in California; only those with a pugnacious spirit, and naive idealism, would have the gall to try and fight this state’s rancorous left-wing politicians; that leaves only me!
I was assured by my material supplier that I could use a special glass reinforced nylon to manufacture our pistol slide, and it would be as tough as steel. If I could accomplish this I could cut a great deal of cost out of the firearm and present something revolutionary to the industry.
After a great expense in manufacturing an injection mold for the plastic slide that would accept a machined steel insert to form the breech face and take the brunt of punishment from exploding cartridges, I manufactured some of these hybrid slides and was ready for my first test shot. The dirt parkway planter in the back of my industrial building would serve as a good bullet trap. Not being completely stupid, I did wear a face shield for this introductory voyage.
I took careful aim, not to hit a rock or some irrigation pipe, and fired! The first thing I remember is the pistol becoming very light. It took a second to realize what happened. Only the frame remained in my hand. On the ground in front of me lied the barrel, recoil spring, and front half of our plastic slide. Behind me, the rear half of the slide with heavy molded in steel insert. In fact, the rear end of the slide whizzed by my ear and flew over a hundred feet away. It took a while to find it.
So much for bright ideas!
After purchasing a $250,000.00 horizontal machining center to manufacture proper steel slides and many months of redesign, I was ready for my next test shot. As police had been patrolling my area, the rear parkway was just not going to do for gun testing any longer.
In the past I had duct taped phone books together backed by a half inch piece of aluminum and shot inside my shop, but those don’t last very long and they are not shrouded very well for errant shots, so I filled a trash can half full of water and placed an aluminum plate at the bottom. This works pretty well if you don’t mind getting wet, but if you shoot holes in the side of your trash can, the water leaks out all over the floor.
Brilliant, I know!
After the 9C1 gun design evolved to the point where we could actually shoot a whole clip through without major malfunction, it seemed time to buy a real bullet trap.
We procured a heavy duty bullet trap from Savage Range Systems and proceeded to do all-encompassing durability tests on our product. California requires that three pistols be submitted for operational testing before they can be sold or manufactured in the state. To pass, each of the three can have no more than 6 malfunctions, where a malfunction is described as any failure to feed, fire, extract, eject, dropped magazine, slide not remaining open after last shot, etc. A stovepipe is a failure.
Needless to say, it’s pretty easy to have six failures in 600 shots, so to insure your product passes you can spend many hours and thousands of rounds behind that bullet trap. At last count, I personally have shot well over 50,000 rounds over the last three to four years.
We had set up a Mickey Mouse ventilation system to remove the smoke from gun firing, but until my youngest son received a high lead reading in a blood test required for school I never even thought that my shooting might be causing a lead contamination danger. As a matter of fact, when I first heard about the lead reading I was mad that my wife had let the kid play with Thomas the Tank Engine toys in the bath; some of these Chinese toys were known to have lead in the paint.
Our pediatrician ordered another blood test for my son because she thought his reading, though not in the danger zone (over 10, his was 8 was unusual. When it came back high again, the doctor asked if I was in law enforcement. “No, but he is making guns!”
To that the doctor only answered, “What?!”
Of course, when I heard this information I immediately got myself and my other children checked. I also had all employees with access to that area checked. Happily all tests came back normal, except for mine, and one buddy (tested lower than I did) who did a lot of testing for me.
My reading was 20; pretty high and cause for concern. The only silver lining is that prior to World War II it was not unusual for Americans to have lead blood level readings around 40. So any brain damage I incur should make me no dumber than my grandparents!
In retrospect, I am not quite sure how my youngest child got such a high count while my other two boys were normal (maybe it was the toys after all).
We have done a much better job at installing a proper ventilation system in our testing area, and I am looking at bolstering it even more.
The moral of the story?
Don’t make guns slides out of plastic, and if you have a gun freak buddy who has set up a makeshift shooting range in a basement or other confined space, warn him that his lead blood level will end up much higher than mine, in short order, so he better stop…
Unless of course he wants a Darwin Award.
copyright 2010 Jim Pontillo