Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Full-Auto Airguns and the Law

Ahhh, gun control- a tyrannical government’s best friend. Right now in the US, firearms are well regulated. To buy a firearm you must pass a background check and in some cases you must wait a period to take possession. Also, if you want to buy a gun online or from out of state, then you must arrange the transfer of that gun through a Federal Firearms License holder. States have different rules about where and how you can carry/transport your firearm; some even require special permits to conceal a firearm for protection. Also, you can’t take guns across state lines without some red tape. Some guns are essentially banned by heavy regulations… of course they are the most fun guns to own; California prohibits .50 caliber rifles. Machine guns are strictly controlled across the country- it takes a great deal of work and money to legally own one, so they are simply outside the reach of the normal gun enthusiast. Never mind gun control only troubles law-abiding persons, leaving criminals with no respect for the law in the first place to arm themselves as they see fit… no, never mind that fact- that’s another discussion; right now I think I’ll have a conversation with myself about airguns.

So what about airguns? Air rifles? BB guns? Pellet guns? Are they controlled?
Joy be to us in the airgun community- all airguns are THANKFULLY still unregulated in the US; no background check, no need to use a special license holder for transfers, and no rules about carrying or transporting across state lines. You can buy one online, and have it shipped to your doorstep from across the country without having a thing to do with any government. Twenty years ago, a federal law was passed which PREVENTS state regulation of airguns; states can restrict airgun sales to minors, but that’s all. So essentially any gun which fires a projectile using compressed air is safe from state regulation (any time soon that is).

What about a fully automatic airgun?
No regulations- It uses compressed air to launch the projectile, so it is completely legal to own.

What about .22 caliber? Or .50 caliber?
No regulations- So long as the .22 or .50 caliber projectile is being shot out by compressed air and not gunpowder, then the airgun is safe from regulation.

Okay… how about a fully automatic .50 caliber airgun?
Ohhh good one- I like the way you think. Remember- no gunpowder, not regulated. Even a fully automatic .50 caliber airgun is completely legal. States can prohibit minors from buying them, but anyone is free to make and sell pneumatic machineguns of any caliber.

SWEET! But if such an air machinegun is legal, why isn’t anyone manufacturing and selling them on a large scale?
Here is the interesting twist to the situation; fully automatic airguns are regulated by the legal system.

Wait… they are legal but regulated by the legal system?
Precisely! The current trend in America now is to sue manufacturers of products in the event of an accident when using that product. Sure a product can be in high demand, sure a product can be readily manufactured, and sure it is ‘technically’ legal to sell, but companies are scared to make certain products. They are scared a customer will hurt himself or someone else when using the product, and then that irresponsible person will blame the product. It is not an airgun’s fault if someone shoots their neighbor or catches a ricochet in the eye; someone made an error in judgment or lacked sensible gun usage. It’s their own fault, but somehow the manufacturer gets blamed for an injury.

So why do people blame the product manufacturers?
Unfortunately, America has a legal system which enables and almost encourages this behavior. If I sue a company claiming their product hurt me- there are usually only 3 outcomes: I can win the lawsuit, they could settle with me out of court to shut me up, or I could loose the lawsuit… basically I could get money, or I could not get money. Either way I have nothing to loose. If the company were found innocent of wrong doing, there is really no punishment for my inaccurately accusing them, so why NOT sue? Besides, for some people it’s a lot easier to say ‘It’s YOUR fault’ than it is to say ‘I made a mistake’… sadly that is the way some people get by.

Can companies protect themselves?
A company can get insurance to protect themselves against these lawsuits. Insurance such as this could pay legal expenses or settling costs should someone get hurt and blame the product. But from an insurance provider standpoint, all products have a calculated degree of risk- a probability that someone will get hurt and sue. If a certain product’s risk is too high, then the insurer either cannot insure that product or the premiums are not affordable for the manufacturer.

So let’s examine a product like the GSMG in a hypothetical situation. You own AIR Incorporated. You make airguns. You have thousands of customers sending you letters to make a fully automatic airgun, and all of these customers say they will pay $1,000 for it. You have your engineers design one killer full-auto airgun. You have vendors agree to sell it. But wait, you can’t find an insurance company to insure the airgun and protect you from lawsuits. Were someone dumb enough to look down the barrel while firing, and were that person irresponsible enough to blame AIR Incorporated for their injury, then AIR could be slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Of course your airgun would not be to blame- this idiot simply shot himself in the face, but that decision of blame would be put in the jurors’ hands… maybe they wouldn’t see it so simply. So would you even make the airgun in the first place when millions of dollars are at stake? No- probably not.

Technically, any airgun you can imagine is legal to make and sell in the US, but in actuality airguns are a regulated commodity; they are restricted by people’s inclination to blame anyone but themselves and a legal system which perpetuates the blame game. I could go on about people’s unwillingness to be responsible for their own actions and gun control in general, but I’ll stop before I ramble; plus the thought is bumming me out.

Hey thanks for reading. Be sure to check out updates to the GMG here.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Dark Side of the Drozd

Today I want to discuss the IZH-Baikal Drozd. The Drozd is truly an awesome and revolutionary airgun, and it has been widely popular in a worldwide market. However, even with it's decided success, there are several problems with the Drozd which have been gnawing at my brain during 'ponder-time', and I want to share them in hopes of encouraging discussion. For this blog I would like to look at The Dark Side of the Drozd.

The most frustrating problem I have with the Drozd is it's difficulty to modify. Admittedly, there are many 'hacks' to improve the Drozd, but they are exactly that- hacks. The modifications require great skill, intimate knowledge, or extensive cutting/drilling/removing plastic. After studying the device for some time, I almost want to say the Drozd was designed specifically to limit a customer's ability to modify or improve the airgun. Of course I cannot prove that assertion, nor do I even have enough data to effectively argue it. More logically I would need to blame the Drozd’s difficulty of modification rooted in the designer’s need to make the airgun safe and affordable… respecting the component design, manufacturability, assembly time, material selection, packaging size, liability insurance, and regulation compliance which are all relevant to a product’s retail cost. Whatever the reason, allow me to continue into the frustration of modifying a Drozd.

The 'easiest' and most readily available Drozd modification is an extended barrel. A longer barrel will improve the airgun’s muzzle velocity and potentially accuracy. But what does it take to install this barrel? Well, highlights from instructions to install the aftermarket barrel include: gripping the stock barrel's threads with needle nose pliers, holding the gun in just a manner such that it does not fall apart when the barrel is removed, and keeping the magazine installed during the barrel-swap or else an internal part comes loose which then requires the Drozd's complete disassembly to fix. What? You need to grab the stock barrel's threads with pliers? That does not sound good for the barrel! And it will disassemble itself if you don't hold it correctly with the magazine installed? Would it have been terribly expensive to add a screwdriver slot or wrench flat to the barrel? Or to hold the internal pieces differently such that the entire assembly is not dependent on the barrel?

And who wouldn’t want to add a cool laser or dot sight on their favorite airgun? Or how about attaching a flashlight for nighttime rodent hunting? Sorry… no dovetail, Weaver, or Picatinny rails were integrated on the Drozd. Well, yes a dovetail was molded just fore of the rear sight, but it is too short for many common accessories. If you want rails or mount points to add sights or accessories, then you have to carefully drill into the plastic housing and screw one on- lovely. How easy would it have been to add more rail to the top or bottom of the Drozd? To add those features into an injection mold tool would have added negligible cost- yet it was not done. Why? I could reason why a Russian company would not add a commonly American Weaver/Picatinny, but why no 11mm-13mm dovetail which is so common across the globe?

Another common upgrade to the Drozd is a bulk gas supply. Yes, it's hard to believe, those little 12 gram CO2 bulbs just aren't enough for an energy-thirsty device like an automatic BB gun. So after a while on the market, kits began to appear which adapted paintball style C02 tanks to the Drozd. Tank adapters were easily made to fit inside the Drozd's shoulder stock attachment taper, but to route the new gas source to the magazine took a good bit of 'hacking'. The plastic shroud on the magazine is modified for an NPT elbow which feeds pressure to a part replacing the intended 12g bulb. Some kits even used an actual 12g bulb with 1/8 NPT threads right in the side! Which, need I say, is a freaking scary liability considering the thin wall of the C02 bulb. The ‘hack’ has been quite popular, and honestly the end result is not horrible, but it is obvious that the Drozd was never meant to utilize gas from any source other than a 12g C02 bulb, which is silly considering the volume of gas required by an airgun designed to shoot such a large quantity of projectiles. I don’t know if the ASA tank mounts are common to Russia, but I do know they are common all across the globe, and the Drozd was designed as a global product- why not make amendments for the adapting of an ASA or even an 88gram bulb for all those BBs? Which brings me to my next point...

The second big problem with the Drozd is it’s magazine. The magazine in the Drozd contains not only the ammunition, but also the gas supply and the valve. Normally, the purpose of utilizing a removable ammunition magazine in a gun is to allow the shooter to load several magazines before engaging whatever target they feel the need to destroy. This is especially important with automatic weapons which have the tendency to exhaust said magazine fairly quickly. Now, by integrating the ammo magazine with the gas supply (and all associated parts and support geometry) and the gas valve (with its tight-tolerance fits and complicated parts) the Drozd magazine now becomes a very expensive part of the airgun... around 50USD. This therefore renders moot a removable magazine, as it is too expensive to buy multiple magazine to load and have at the ready.

Furthermore, because the bulk paintball tank adapter discussed above ‘permanently’ attaches to the magazine, a shooter cannot use more than one magazine with the same bulk adapter. Yes you could devise some sort of double-tank and double-magazine or a tank magazine with another 12g bulb magazine firing scenario... but that is irrelevant. It is difficult and expensive to concurrently increase the gas and ammo supply to the Drozd... to the great irritation of nearly every user.

Speaking of increasing ammo capacity; what a crock! How long have people been trying to invent and market a bulk magazine for the Drozd? Why is it taking so long? That should be an easy task right? WRONG! Even I 'gave it a shot', and I promptly quit after finding so many faults in the Drozd design relating to upgradeability. It is very difficult to make a market-successful bulk magazine for the Drozd. Why? Firstly because the valve and gas supply are integrated into the magazine- that immediately makes an aftermarket magazine expensive because the manufacturer must either reproduce valve parts, use Drozd valve parts, or modify Drozd valve parts... and all of those options require expense. It would be exponentially more simple to design a bulk magazine were the valve not integral.

Secondly, the Drozd fires into an open breech which places a high force on the stack of ammo below the projectile being accelerated down the barrel. This is a serious design problem. This force is why a magazine cannot simply be made with a longer track and spring, and this force is exactly why you cannot use an airsoft style hi-cap magazine... because the back-pressure of the open breech damages or disrupts the feed wheel mechanism. Novel attempts to overcome or 'deal with' this force have been presented, but the resulting concepts were either expensive, cumbersome, or ineffective.

Another big problem… steel BBs or lead balls? Steel BBs are supplied with the Drozd, but distributors and the manufacturer state to use lead balls. Lead balls often jam in the magazine and quickly become a pain to use; steel BBs on the other hand work flawlessly in the magazine even at 1200rpm full auto. The barrel of the Drozd is rifled- which would require lead balls to ‘take’ the rifling. Steel BBs simply damage the rifling (as a side note- no one has proven with certainty that spherical projectiles benefit from a rifled barrel, and one could argue convincingly in loose conversation that the projectile’s lack of a polar moment bias along the axis of travel causes rifling to actually decrease projectile accuracy). Were I to choose a projectile, lead balls would be more satisfactory because of increased impact energy and reduced possibility of harm from ricochet. However in my dealings with the Drozd, lead balls are just not practical. The Drozd more effectively shoots steel BBs, but consistently launching lead balls (or even better- lead pellets) would make for a much better product.

My last grievance with the almighty Drozd is it’s feel. Thinking back a few years to the arrival of my first Drozd- after much anticipation my excited hands ripped open that cheap Ruskie (or Chinese for all I know) cardboard, and I quickly picked up the Drozd. I remember thinking 'Oh jeez! It feels like a toy!'*. The feel certainly did not live up to my mind's preconceptions about the world's first commercial fully automatic airgun**- with the potential to fire 6 BBs over 500 fps in under a second with one trigger pull, I would have assumed it would be a meaty, metal, gnarly, aggressive ... GUN... not the soft-curved, comfortable, plastic, ray-gun I held. Those plastic/sticky/fragile switches worried me. At that point I hadn’t even read that it required batteries. BATTERIES? You mean… like in a toy? So I loaded it up and went out to shoot. That first trigger pull of the Drozd… what a let down. No kick. No recoil. It was like shooting a rubber band gun. Sure the BBs were traveling 500fps… but it didn’t feel like they were. The Drozd has serious performance- it needs to feel serious. It needs to feel threatening. It needs to demand respect. But alas, I remain disappointed.

Don’t mistake my complaints for ingratitude. I wholeheartedly respect every man-hour which went into designing, manufacturing, marketing, and distributing the Drozd. The airgun is very well designed and executed- even if the end product does have serious shortcomings. Some would ask why… Maybe product planning was distraught with compromise and bureaucracy. Maybe Baikal seriously underestimated the wide acceptance and desire of such an airgun in the market and undercut its features accordingly. Maybe the powers that be were hung over during that phase of the project. Whatever the reason… it leaves me very excited, because we live in an economy where competition is encouraged. Therefore the market is free to respond to the Drozd by improving upon all of it’s problems to release an even more impressive product. Perhaps someday the world will see such an airgun.

cough, aahem, GSMG, cough, Sorry- something in my throat.
Thanks for reading,

*'toy': I strongly believe that airguns should never be referred to as toys. Any airgun, even the weakest single pump pistols, has the potential to kill a person. They should never be thought of as toys- they demand the respect and safety which is required of anything that can cause harm or death to a person. My comment was only meant in comparison to Baikal's other products and the Drozd's mismatch of performance to perception.

**I do not consider the Larc an airgun. It was a sandblaster fitted for lead shot.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A fully automatic pellet and BB machinegun - the GSMG

fully automatic pellet and BB machinegunThis is my first blog. Not only here, the Fully Automatic Airgun blog, but anywhere. I've never 'blogged' before, but wow do I have a reason to start.

The GSMG is a semi and full automatic gas powered pellet and BB machinegun. It uses gas pressure from a standard ASA paintball tank, and shoots pellets or BBs at very fast velocities... over 600 feet per second. This is a project we have been working on for quite a while, and it is nearly ready for the market.

The GSMG is a response to a very popular airgun- the IZH-Baikal Drozd. The Drozd has been around for a few years, but has some serious shortcomings. I will go over those issues in a later blog. For now- you know where we're coming from.

The GSMG is a
Gas Sub Machine Gun. It's design was inspired by modern day firearms... rugged tools which perform flawlessly for years (the good ones do anyways). The receiver is a hard-coated aluminum which is durable and will not rust. The pistol grip is a high-strength engineering resin to withstand impacts but still be comfortable in the hand. Internal parts are made of hardened steel to last a lifetime with proper maintenance.

fully automatic pellet and BB machinegunThe GSMG was laid-out to be a versatile weapon used for many tasks.
It can fire lead pellets which are accurate... to hunt. It can fire steel BBs which are cheap... just to destroy paper targets or soda cans. And it can fire lead round balls which are heavier and safer than BBs... to hunt, plink, or just plain have fun.

The GSMG uses a 30-round ammunition magazine; 2 of which come with every airgun. The magazines are fairly inexpensive, so you can buy several to load up at the same time. The magazines are easily and quickly installed and removed from the GSMG. You can unload an entire magazine then switch to a fresh one quickly... just like a real gun.

This BB machinegun uses standard paintball style air tanks and functions on C02, nitrogen, and high pressure air (HPA). Even the small paintball tanks provide enough pressure for hundreds of shots, or several clips, so you can focus on shooting and having fun. The larger HPA tanks will last you days of shooting.

An aspect key to the design of the GSMG, was optimal versatility and modifiability. This airgun can be readily adapted to suit the owners' needs and desires.

  • Want to attach a flashlight or laser sight? ... the GSMG has integral upper and lower accessory rails.
  • Want to add a strap or a sling? ... the GSMG has integral sling mounts.
  • Want to increase the projectile velocity? You can easily change to a longer barrel or install a hammer/valve upgrade for maximum muzzle energies.
  • Want more than the 30 round capacity of your magazine? ... a bulk magazine will soon be available for the GSMG.
Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading this brief rundown of the GSMG automatic airgun. Please visit the GSMG website at www.fullyautomaticairgun.com for more information.