Category Archives: AR-15s

Reporting from the 25th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference

I just got back from the panels of the 25th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, and let me tell you, I sure am jazzed. I arrived early in the morning and was greeted by a handsome M1 Garand being raffled off by the Golden State Second Amendment Council (who I really need to join):

Garand.jpg

Needless to say, I entered the drawing!

The conference started off with Alan Gottlieb and his wife Julianne discussing the importance of unity among pro-rights groups and of not sitting on our laurels just because we have two major SCOTUS victories. I heartily agree.

One pleasant surprise was that each attendee was given a ton of books, all for free! Among them are Paxton Quigley’s Armed and Female, John Lott’s Straight Shooting, and Alan Gottlieb’s America Fights Back. These are not works of fluff published by nobodies.

John Lott.jpg

John Lott himself (right) was present in fact, and he was there trumpeting his groundbreaking work in criminology to statistically disprove anti-rights myths over and over again. His speech was a bit dry, but he’s an economist so I can’t blame him too much, and besides, it was very informative!

Among the more bombastic speakers was Jim Wallace, a lobbyist with the unenviable task of promoting firearms and freedom to the Massachusetts state legislature. He told a hilarious story of how he cowed the legislature by asking them to indicate how many of them thought that only the government should have firearms (most did) and then asking them what they thought of the at-the-time-in-power Bush administration (it was not polite). This delighted me because I’ve used this trick on liberal friends and family before and heads always explode!

In fact, back before I was a guns and freedom activist, my extremely liberal father once confided in me that he was considering getting a gun out of fear of government thugs enforcing the PATRIOT act against him and his extremely liberal publications. At the time I was shocked and appalled but in retrospect I’m terribly proud of his momentary breaking out of the anti-gun state-is-god box and I wish I had been in a position to help him along rather than disapprove.

I regrettably forgot to snap a photo of Mr. Wallace. Maybe that tells you a little bit about how enthralled I was by his speech!

Alan Gura was of course awesome:

Sorry for the shakycam effect. After I shot these videos I realized that a more stable platform was needed so I cut some stickers up into strips and used them to secure my iPhone to a pile of books. It worked like a charm!

Eugene Volokh.jpg

Eugene Volokh (left) spoke as well and I was really excited to see him, being a big fan of his blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Mr. Volokh ended up being a voice of reason but was therefore hardly telling us what we wanted to hear! His primary argument was that the second amendment will be treated like other amendments — that is to say, it will be found to be a good deal less absolute and off-limits than we would prefer. He pointed out the wide variety of permissible restrictions on such rights as the right to protest and speak, and suggested that even a licensing scheme could be constitutional given its legal acceptance in protests.

Volokh sort of ended up playing the part of the wet blanket. Much to the palpable disappointment of the audience, he included assault weapons bans in the list of likely constitutional gun laws, his reasoning being that banning them would not be found to substantially burden the core right of self-defense provided that other suitable weapons were still available.

Calguns’ Gene Hoffman, however, strenuously disagreed a few hours later, bringing up the excellent example of self-defense against mountain lions, pointing out that California police departments use AR-15s to dispatch such animals when they show up in cities, and that ranchers and other rural folks often encounter four-legged predators against which handguns would be poor choices. These seemed like very strong arguments to me, and I also think that Scalia’s “in common use” language would come into effect as well; in California at least there are over 500,000 bullet button-equipped ARs and AKs. I’m proud to have increased that number by one.

There’s just something about Gene Hoffman that makes you want to follow him. He has a natural leader’s personality and he’s unbelievably eloquent. Here, have a listen:

Don Kilmer also spoke a bit about some of his cases, like the now-famous Nordyke case in which Mr Kilmer was technically the first lawyer ever to have the second amendment incorporated against the states!

Finally, Alan Gura spoke again.

Then there was a free-form discussion. Kilmer, Hoffman, and Gura talked a lot about spurious arrests for possession of bullet button-equipped ARs in California (hint: if it happens to you shut up and call Calguns at 800-556-2109) and other immediate and near-future issues. I couldn’t help but feel optimistic.

I was super-excited to see Massad Ayoob. Back when I was just dipping my toes into the pro-gun waters, his books and articles guided me along. I fondly remember reading In The Gravest Extreme on a bus ride in New England three years ago and feeling the cogs turning in my head as he methodically explained things that made too much sense to deny.

Also, he has an awesome voice.

One slightly unsettling undercurrent I noticed was the pervasive sniping at the NRA. Everyone was mad that they folded on the DISCLOSE act. Gura was pissed that they’ve been trying to take credit for his victories and was actually quite passive-aggressive about it. Smaller organizations like GOA were generally miffed that the NRA wasn’t absolutist enough. And one guy was steamed that they didn’t endorse Libertarians, leading to by far the most awkward moment of the day when he presented this to Bob Barr—who is an NRA board member—and got a good 15 seconds of tense silence as a result.

Given that Alan Gottlieb and his wife Julianne introduced the conference with a plea for unity and cooperation among pro-rights groups, it was somewhat disappointing. I would really have liked to see more solidarity, especially considering that the NRA has done 100 times more than most of the complainants (I’m looking at you, GOA!). We should rally around our power players, not snap at their heels for being more important and influential than we are.

There were a ton more people who were all great in their own ways. Hearing Michael Boldin the tenth amendment guy ask us if we had as much courage as the pot smokers in California who are actively disobeying federal law en masse was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and Nikki Stallard’s impassioned defense of gays’ right to defense was really something to behold.

It was a wonderful set of panels. After 10 hours, I felt rejuvenated! It’s great to be surrounded by fellow freedom-lovers, and I really think we have dream teams working all throughout the country to attack statist nonsense on too many fronts to count.

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Review: Midwest Industries SS7 free float tube

Now that I’ve finally finished my lightweight AR-15, I’d like to write a review of the Midwest Industries SS7 free float tube that I replaced the handguards with.

I’m going to be occasionally comparing the SS7 to the YHM Customizable Free Float System, which was my first choice before I discovered the SS7. I have nothing at all against YHM or their products, but I hope to demonstrate how the SS7 is superior to the YHM tube.

I got my SS7 from MidwayUSA for about $130. Since then, AR-15tactical has been selling them for $119, which is just ridiculous. Seriously, go get one. By contrast, the YHM tube can be found for as low as $100 at Area 51 Tactical, which is also a ludicrous steal.

First, here’s what it looks like on my AR:

AR-15.jpg

I stupidly forgot to take a picture of just the tube before I attached it, so here’s a generic marketing picture:

MI-SS7.gif

Now for the details:

Weight

This thing is light. Really light. Unattached, it feels like it’s practically not even there, which I think is mostly a function of its size given its mass; you expect it to weigh substantially more when you pick it up. In total, the whole shebang weighs 7.8 ounces without any additional rails segments attached, which is actually less than even the lightest single-shielded carbine handguards (including the factory barrel nut, delta ring, and handguard cap, of course). Remember, this isn’t a smooth carbon fiber tube or anything; it’s an honest-to-god aluminum free float tube with picatinny rails and everything. I am just absolutely astonished by the weight. By contrast, the YHM tube is 9.5 ounces with no rails at all, not even the permanent top rail that the SS7 includes. That’s heavier than the heaviest M4 handguards, which weight 9.3 ounces.

The weight savings is mostly achieved by perforating the tube with big ol’ holes, which are also used to attach the included accessory rails and are spaced 45 degrees apart around the tube. There are six holes at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, and seven at the 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, and 10:30 positions. I find the pattern to be very attractive, and the openness of the tube allows heat to dissipate very quickly — and right into your hand! In practice, it’s not going to be a problem as long as you’re not dumping multiple magazines in a matter of seconds.

Fit & finish

I have to say, the SS7 is a very handsome-looking free-float tube. I really like the clean design and the fact that the built-in top rail extends a little beyond the jam nut so it can touch the rail on the upper receiver for that “monolithic” look. I don’t plan to mount anything on it, and I would probably appreciate it being removable to shave off another few tenths of an ounce, but I have to admit that it looks very attractive. No biggie.

One thing I would prefer is if the tube were teflon-coated, like the Spike’s Tactical lower receiver that the gun is built upon. The SS7 feels noticeably gritty and metallic, not at all like the silky smoothness of the receiver. This is purely cosmetic and obviously not a big deal, but it would be nice. It really made me appreciate the Spike’s Tactical product even more, though.

Installation

Installation is pretty standard and matches the procedure for YHM tubes; with the right tools, it’s not a big deal. In fact, both tubes appear to use the same barrel nut and jam nut. Unlike the YHM tube, though, the SS7 incorporates an anti-rotation screw.

But it looks like Midwest industries has taken the jam nut and drilled shallow holes in it so that it can interface with their proprietary tool. This seems a bit unnecessary, since it already had slits that worked perfectly fine:

ss7_holes_and_slits.jpg

A happy side effect of this is that you can tighten the nut with YHM’s tool or any of the newer AR-15 armorer’s tools that include free float wrenches to tighten the nut. My armorer’s tool does not include this, so I bought Midwest Industries’ proprietary wrench and it works fine. I probably could have banged on it with a hammer and a flathead screwdriver if I was desperate enough.

Once mounted, the tube feels absolutely rock solid. There’s no play or flex at all, which is of course what you should expect for any decent free float tube, and the SS7 is no exception. It also feels very nice in the hand due to its round shape. I specifically wanted to avoid quad rails that need rail panels all over them to be comfortable. The holes in the tube give it a slightly grippy texture, too. As you can see, the tube’s top rail lines up perfectly with the one on the upper receiver:

ss-sa.jpg

Accessory rails

The included accessory rails mount easily enough and they can go right where you want them, even in weird places like the 11:30 position — anywhere there are holes. I didn’t have anything to mount to the rails, so I haven’t made use of them yet.

Just by looking at them, though, I can tell that they’re quite thick and chunky, extending about 3/8″ from the tube. By contrast, YHM offers lower-profile attachable rails that are only 1/4″ high, although to be fair, the small one that comes with the YHM tube is as high as the ones that come with the SS7 so you’d have buy it separately. But buy it separately you can, whereas the same can’t be said of the rails offered by Midwest Industries. You’re stuck with fatty rails.

Sling mount

I opted to attach my sling (the excellent Viking Tactics two-point adjustable sling) to the tube via the Midwest Industries SS-SA sling adapter. Like the rails, it’s a fairly chunky piece of hardware, and it requires three holes worth of space on the tube to attach. Although the whole thing isn’t very heavy (1.5 ounces, including the sling loop itself), it is bigger than I would prefer.

In trying to find a good place to put this thing, I ran into a problem: there weren’t enough holes in the tube where I wanted them. I really wanted the mount to be as close to the upper receiver as possible, but the closest hole was 2 inches in. Due to the length of the mount, this meant that the sling loop itself would be about 3 inches from the receiver—almost in the middle of the 7-inch tube!

I ended up mounting it like this:

ss7_on_upper.jpg

Even though it’s only attached to the tube with one screw, it still feels rock solid due to the interior curvature of the mount hugging the exterior curvature of the tube. This seems sort of like a hack, though, and I’m sure the sling mount could be better designed to more efficiently make use of available space.

One final gripe is that the QD sling loop itself feels low-quality. The gritty finish is already coming off the loop itself, and covers my fingers in black stuff whenever I handle it. By contrast, the QD loop I bought from UTG feels much nicer and smoother (yes, I’ll be a man and actually admit that I bought a UTG part). I know that looks aren’t everything, but the UTG one has ’em, and it doesn’t seem to function any worse for it.

sling_loops.jpg

Midwest Industries QD sling loop at left; UTG one at right

Overall

Despite minor quibbles, I heartily recommend the Midwest Industries SS7. If you’re currently looking at the YHM Customizable Free Float System, going with the SS7 is a no-brainer unless you absolutely hate the built-in top rail or the holes. I mean, the cost difference is less than a few pizzas, and the SS7 is almost two ounces lighter, which is a big deal. Here’s the breakdown of advantages for each product:

Midwest Industries SS7:

  • 1.7 ounces lighter
  • Anti-rotation screw
  • Built in top rail

YHM Customizable Free Float System:

  • A bit cheaper
  • Can buy lower-profile attachable rails

I think there’s no contest. YHM could put themselves back in the running by shaving an ounce or two off their tube. As is however, you owe it to yourself to pony up the extra $20 and get the lighter SS7 rail. You’ll love it.

Not so sure what the message is

…but the video sure is awesome:

Maybe they’re trying to push their service in lieu of guns? But let me tell you, I don’t think many looking to abduct a child would want to get near anyone related to those badasses!

Why waste time arguing that crap is good when you can buy good for the price of crap?

I came across someone on Arfcom today who was trying to get the hive to vindicate his desire to buy a DPMS bolt carrier group (full disclosure: I’m pointedstick in that thread).

Now, first of all, the BCG is the heart of an AR-15 rifle, and cheaping out on it is generally unwise. But people started lining up to defend the DPMS part, saying they’ve never had any problems with theirs, so what’s the big deal? Here’s my favorite comment:

Is it the Mercedes of bcg’s? No. But it’s a damn fine Honda Accord.

The thing is, nobody would buy a Honda Accord if they could get a Mercedes for the same price! The DPMS part is in fact more expensive than two very highly-regarded bolt carrier groups by major manufacturers with good reputations: LMT and Spike’s Tactical. LMT is even a military contractor and their parts make it into rifles that fight overseas wars. Why waste time arguing that crap is good when you can buy good for the price of crap?

I had a similar experience myself. A few months ago, I was considering buying a Del-Ton upper receiver. It seemed like a great deal… Until I learned about Spike’s Tactical.

For example, this Del-Ton upper costs $460 when you add chrome lining to the barrel, which I was going to do. And yet Spike’s Tactical sells a remarkably similar product for only $20 more that is superior in practically every way: it has a better bolt carrier group and M4 feed ramps, the barrel is chrome-lined by default and has a faster twist rate, the Handguards are the double-shielded M4 variety… and it comes with a free heavy buffer! That’s a lot for a difference of less than a few pizzas.

It pays to do your research, especially if you’re looking to save money by going with a lower-quality manufacturer like Del-Ton, DPMS, or Stag. It’s likely that you can get a product that’s superior in every way for only a very small increase in price, and sometimes not even that! For example, this DPMS upper is $556 with chrome lining and nowhere near as good as the $480 Spike’s Tactical upper mentioned earlier.

$75 more for a worse product. Do your homework!

BCM strikes back

Spike’s Tactical is the new hotness over at Arfcom because they offer amazing products at prices comparable to those of manufacturers who sell far inferior products. Many are asking, “how do they do it?” and frankly I don’t know. Nobody seems to know:

Spike’s Tactical offers a very high quality product at a price normally reserved for much lower quality products. I don’t know how they’re doing it – and yes, I’ve asked. They’re working very hard to establish themselves as a quality brand, and they’re doing a good job of it.

It seems that one of their primary competitors in the high-end civilian AR-15 market, Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM), is feeling the heat. Bravo co. used to have the best price/performance ratio and would be recommended accordingly, but these days it’s all Spike’s due to their lower prices without visibly poorer quality.

So BCM has just written a huge thread about just what goes into their products, ostensibly as a way of letting people know just what they’re getting when they spend the extra hundred or two dollars on a BCM product.

I applaud BCM for doing this. It’s not often that a manufacturer puts so much honesty into their sales. But I suspect that in the end Spike’s will win anyway; as the BCM folks say, “To 95% of shooters these cost saving measures [that we don’t implement] would never affect the performance of their rifle with the type of use it would see in its life span.”

My sense is that Spike’s Tactical is actually very close to BCM in terms of quality, just not quite there. This means that when comparing Spike’s and BCM products, it’s probably more like 99% than 95% of people who won’t be able to ascertain the BCM advantage.

I sure know where my next purchase is coming from.

I don’t get quad rails

I’ve long wondered what the appeal of quad rails on AR-15s was. They’re generally heavy and my sense is that most people really don’t need that much rail space. I mean, do you have so much stuff to bolt on that you need more than 28+ inches of rails? I get the light, and maybe the vertical foregrip, but after that, what more do you need? Sling mounts? A laser too? Can’t forget the tactical can opener! And then they wonder why their weapon weighs 9 pounds and go start a lightweight build…

I’m even more confused by people who buy quad rails and don’t use them at all, like this chap:

full_rail_covers.png

(found at Arfcom)

This setup duplicates the functionality of standard handguards, but with greater expense, weight, and external diameter. What’s the point? Is it so you can later remove the covers and utilize the rails? If so, then why not just go with a round tube that you can bolt rails onto when you need it, like the Midwest Industries SS series:

One Piece FF SS-Series.gif

(No, I do not work for Midwest Industries, nor have I received any of their products free of charge; I just really like them!)

I’m incorporating an SS7 into my first build, which I’m trying to make as lightweight as possible. The SS7 weighs 7.8 ounces, which is less than even the lightest standard handguards, and you can put rails on it where you need it. It also incorporates a strong threaded barrel nut, unlike the popular TRX Extreme rails. I think it’s pretty close to a perfect design.