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December 18, 2003

Knoxville Gun Show Notes Vol. I

Jay and I went to the Smokey Mountain Gun Show yesterday at the Knoxville Expo Center. Here's a summary of what we saw. If you have a 9 mm or .40 caliber pistol, be sure to read about the Kel-Tech Sub 2000 carbine, my pick of the show. You'll also be interested if you need a light system for your shotgun, or have an interest in French pinfire guns of the 1800s.

Commando carbine, made in Knoxville, TennesseeWe found a piece of local history at the show. In the picture at right Jay is holding the Commando, a .45 caliber Tommy Gun look-alike once manufactured in Knoxville, Tennessee. We also found a single shot shotgun marked "Volunteer Arms" with a hang tag saying "paint it orange and white." I had never heard of the company, but according to this page they were headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, so the Volunteer name is apparently a fluke. Too bad. It could have been the official boarding weapon of the Vol Navy.

I didn't buy any guns, but I picked up a bore light, range bag, and rifle bag. I also snagged some ammunition, including some short, light-recoil 12 gauge shells that looked interesting.

The best thing I bought was an Advanced Technology light clamp and a TacStar light switch for my Mossberg shotgun. The clamp holds a standard Mini-Mag or other 1" flashlight below the tubular magazine. The switch replaces the Mini-Mag's tail cap, and has a curly cord running to a pressure switch that I mounted on the shotgun's fore-end stock. Tapping the switch turns the Mini-Mag on and off. It's a complete tactical light for about $40, as opposed to $300 or more for a SureFire or similar lighting system. (Later: I've decided the switch is flaky, so I'll use the light's own on/off switch instead.)

Jay's favorites of the show were the various Browning shotguns, from the early autoloaders to their beautiful over-and-unders. It's too bad they cost as much as any one of my first three cars! I'll stick with the Mossberg, thanks.

On the utilitarian end, there were several Baikal Bounty Hunter side-by-side shotguns for around $400, in both exposed hammer and hidden hammer designs. The fit and finish were just so-so, and the checkering was atrocious, but for a functional side-by-side they represent a real bargain in a market where double guns cost a grand or more. The new Stevens guns are made by Baikal, and are reportedly made to better quality standards than products made under Baikal's own brand.

Show Pick: Kel-Tec Sub 2000

Kel-Tec Sub 2000In the same affordable and practical category is the Kel-Tec Sub 2000, a semi-automatic carbine chambered in your choice of 9 MM or .40 S&W. Short and light when extended, the Kel-Tec breaks at the trigger to fold in half, for total storage dimensions of just 16" by 7". Thanks to polymer components, total weight is just 4 pounds. Most vendors were selling the Sub 2000 for about $315, which is remarkable.

What will really sell the little carbine is the magazine. Every time you buy a new autoloader, you wind up having to buy another set of magazines, right? Not so with the Sub 2000. It's available in a variety of models designed to use the same magazines as popular 9 mm and .40 caliber pistols from Glock, S&W, SIG, and Beretta. GunBlast reviewed the Sub 2000 earlier this year. Gun Tests magazine also wrote favorably of it.

Ryan at the Guncraft Sports booth told me that the Knoxville Police Department doesn't issue shotguns or rifles to their officers, but they're free to buy one on their own. A number of officers have chosen the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 because it uses the same magazines as their department issue Glock .40s. Best of all, the folded carbine takes up very little space in the modern patrol car, which is packed to the ceiling with radio, computer, radar, and rescue gear.

I don't know that I have a practical use for this gun, but it would be awfully fun to shoot, and for the price it's worth having just for plinking. Consider it the modern version of the M1 carbine, but with a lower price and more practical magazines and ammunition.

Historical Arms

Any gun show will have guns that are old, but several collectors took the time to arrange educational displays of their permanent (not for sale) collections. One collector had flintlocks from the Revolutionary War and early American period.

Pinfire RevolverThe most interesting display was of pinfire revolvers. These days we take for granted that a self-contained cartridge has a primer mounted in the center of the cartridge bottom, but there was once several competing systems. In the 1820s, a French gunsmith named Casimir Lefaucheux invented the pinfire system, which featured a priming pin that protruded from the side of the cartridge.

Lefaucheux's original design was for a double-barreled shotgun. A pinfire revolver was patented in England in 1854, though my sources disagree as to whether it was Casimir or his son Eugene who patented the design. In either case, the pinfire revolver was used extensively during the Crimean War and adopted by the French Navy. The example shown to the right is an 18-shot pinfire revolver with twin barrels.

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Posted by Les Jones