40 Years of Gun Wisdom in 5 Easy Lessons

    Armalite AR-180 was popular with Cuban exile commandos in the late 60s.


    I’ve spent 40 years, studying, shooting and collecting all types of firearms, including Class III weapons.  I now find myself in the enviable position of having been tapped by The Firearm Blog to share some of that accumulated wisdom with you, the reading audience.  I’ll try hard not to screw up and I promise you honest and (hopefully) interesting writing.  You may not always agree with me so I welcome your feedback, both good and bad.   Let’s get started…


    My interest in firearms started at an early age and under circumstances that were not exactly your average American childhood.  It was the 1960s and my family had settled in Miami after fleeing Fidel Castro’s Cuba.  My oldest brother was a CIA-trained Bay of Pigs veteran and was secretly engaged in running spies and saboteurs into and out of the communist controlled island.  At any given moment, our modest little home contained enough small arms, ammunition and explosives to run a small war.  In fact, that was the idea– to run a small war.  All manner of small boats (used to insert and extract the spies and commandos) would be dropped off in our backyard, only to mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night a few days later.


    Being a normal inquisitive kid I was always snooping around in the dressers, the closets, and underneath the beds; but I never found many clothes, shoes or dust bunnies there.  Instead I found things like Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), M1 Garands and carbines, and the occasional Grease Gun or Thompson submachine gun.  Towards the end of the decade, AR-15s and AR-180s started to appear in those hidden spaces.


    It was an interesting time.


    Armalite AR-180 was popular with Cuban exile commandos in the late 60s.
    Armalite AR-180 was popular with Cuban exile commandos in the late 60s and early 70s.


    My older brothers and my mother sternly cautioned me never to touch anything… but that was like asking me not to like ice cream.  I was fascinated by the guns.  The fascination was made worse by the fact that one of the most popular television shows of the time was the World War II television series Combat! starring Vic Morrow.  Later, The Rat Patrol came along.  Every once in awhile, when no one was looking, I’d lift one of the heavy guns and make pretend I was either Sgt. Saunders or Sgt. Troy.


    Thus began my lifelong addiction to firearms.


    Given this background, you can surely understand why, after turning 18, I used my accumulated summer earnings to buy two things: A Valmet M-71/s rifle and a Colt AR-15.  I eventually sold the AR-15 (replaced by a Colt M-16A1), but the Valmet is still with me.


    This Valmet M-71/s was acquired by the author in the mid-seventies and is considered an excellent AK variant. It was originally imported by Interarms into the US.
    This Valmet M-71/s was acquired by the author in the mid-seventies and is considered an excellent AK variant. It was originally imported by Interarms into the US.


    During my long firearms journey, I’ve learned a few lessons about weapons and shooting that I’d like to share with you.  Older readers will probably agree with many of these observations.  Younger readers will perhaps learn a thing or two that will save them time, money and aggravation… and maybe make them better shooters:


    1.  Be leery of gun “porn”, gun forums and marketing hype:  I grew up reading gun magazines and a lot of my early knowledge was gleaned from them.  There were some great gun writers back then, folks like Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, Jack O’Connor, and of course Jeff Cooper.  There was, however, an awful lot of mundane writing and bad information.  Gun magazines were clearly in bed with their advertisers. Rarely was a new gun, caliber, optic or accessory anything less than a magnificent “must have” item.  Technology has since changed and print magazines are quickly going the way of the dinosaur.  Still, bad information remains with us, perhaps more so than ever.  The internet is filled with open discussion forums populated by instant experts dispensing free advice on everything firearms related.  Most of the poor advice is harmless to anything but your pocketbook.  Nowadays however, our wallets are a lot thinner than they used to be. We can’t afford to be buying things that don’t work as advertised, that we don’t really need, or that serve no practical purpose. Caveat Emptor “Let the Buyer Beware” is as important today as ever.


    2. There is nothing new under the sun: Every firearm, ammo and accessory manufacturer wants you to think that their new gizmo is the best thing ever invented.  Think again: it is not.  For better or worse, firearms technology has progressed in an evolutionary rather that revolutionary fashion.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  Modern alloys and polymers have made our guns lighter, more weather resistant, and ergonomic.  CNC machines have improved tolerances and accuracy.  Optics have improved and let us see our target better than ever.  Chances are however, that in the hands of a skilled marksman, your grandfather’s 30-06 Winchester Model 70 with a Weaver K4 scope is as effective and adequate a killing machine as the latest exotic-caliber precision rifle built by a custom gunsmith.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have a fancy gun.  I have a couple…but they aren’t really necessary and it is tough to justify their high expense…not to mention their dramatic depreciation when you decide to sell them.  Focus instead on high quality used guns. Good guns do not have built-in obsolescence.  If well maintained, they can easily last you a lifetime.


    Inland M1 carbine originally manufactured in June, 1944 still shoots beautifully.
    Inland M1 carbine originally manufactured in June, 1944 still shoots beautifully.

    3.  Stick with proven guns and calibers:  There is a reason why proven designs and proven calibers remain popular year after year, decade after decade, and even a century (e.g. the Colt 1911A1) after their introduction; they work.  It is tough to improve on the bolt action rifle as perfected in the Winchester Model 70 or the Remington Model 700.  Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 pump action shotguns have sold by the millions because they get the job done efficiently and inexpensively. With rare exceptions, a Glock pistol will go “bang” every time you pull the trigger; that is why they dominate the law enforcement market in the United States.  AR-15s had their growing pains, but there is arguably no better defensive weapon in the world today than an AR-15 style carbine from a quality manufacturer like Colt, Knight’s Armament, LMT, Bravo Company, or Daniel Defense.


    The same logic holds true for calibers.  Modern cartridges like the short, fat magnums may theoretically be more efficient but they are rarely more effective than the tried and true 30-06, .308, .270 and the older, traditional magnums.  In addition, the older calibers are generally cheaper, easier to find in a store, and don’t suffer from the feeding and extraction problems that seem to bedevil the short magnums.


    4.  Let your reality drive your gear selection:   Be realistic when you make your firearm choices.  If you’re an urban dweller like many of us, will you really use that .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle you’ve been lusting after?  It may look really cool in the hands of that SEAL Team Six member shown in the latest Gun Sex forum or magazine; but ask yourself:  Am I a SEAL Team Six member?  How often will I get to use it if the nearest 1000 yard range is 4 hours away?  Can I really afford a steady supply of ammunition?


    The gear question is especially relevant when considering accessories for a defensive carbine.  Generally speaking, a modern defensive carbine requires only three good accessories: a simple single point or two point sling, a top quality short range optic, and a rugged, recoil-proof flashlight and mount.  Railed handguards, exotic grips, lasers, infrared illuminators, night vision devices and suppressors are rarely needed….unless of course you are a member of SEAL Team Six…in which case they will be issued to you.


    Unless you're a Navy SEAL, chances are you don't lead an infrared laser.  This real SEAL keeps it simple with irons and a Surefire light.

    Unless you’re a real commando, chances are you don’t need an infrared laser designator. This real trooper keeps it simple with irons and a Surefire light.  U.S Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II.


    5.  Buy less guns, buy more ammunition and train, compete or hunt more often:  I’ve been able to afford the purchase of many guns over the years and I’ve accumulated a fair number of them.  I won’t deny that I’ve enjoyed the experience.  Truth be told however, most of my guns are safe queens and wall hangers; I really only use a few of them. Those four or five guns satisfy 90% of my current and anticipated shooting needs.  They do the trick.  If I had to do it all over again, I would buy a lot less firearms and I would use the money saved to buy more ammo and shoot more often.  I get a lot more satisfaction from shooting than collecting.  I think most people do. I would encourage young gun enthusiasts to do as I say…not as I did.


    There you have it. A few decades of shooting wisdom distilled into a couple of bullet points (pun intended).  I hope you found it useful…or at least entertaining.  I welcome your feedback.

    Frank is a businessman, educator and writer based in South Florida. He has 40 years of experience studying and collecting firearms, shooting competitively, and teaching others to employ guns properly. When not working or shooting, he is a tireless advocate on behalf of America’s military veterans.