Writing, I have learned, is a funny business. When in the full throes of it and, doing so consistently you don't want to stop. At the same time you have this nagging bit in you secretly fearing that someday you will run out of things to say.
For me at least for me, writing can be a bit of a task master, requiring me to do it constantly in order to feel like I am any good at it. Step away too long and, it can feel as though you have moved out of a country whose language you once spoke fluently.
One must understand that these words are in effect and apology of sorts to Mike Barranti of Barranti Leather, the famed holster maker. As I sit and, write this, it is a beautiful Sunday morning, the last one of this particular June and, we are tent camped at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, along the Wood River, just North of Ketchum, Idaho. The Wife, the Kid and I. My pen scrawling it's way across the notebook that sits on a well worn wooden table top. My Ruger convertible Flattop .forty-five shucked into one of Mike's IWB holsters made for single action revolvers.
A far cry from a week prior to this trip when work took me to one of those not-so-gun-friendly big Eastern cities. Last year I sent Mike a request. Could he make me a leather "coin purse". One that could carry around ten dollars in quarters and, be worn on my belt as part of my everyday carry.
About a week later, I was stuffing quarters into the little leather pouch.
After carrying it every day for months on end, I have found it remarkably handy. It has a long leather strip that can be gripped in the palm of your hand, while it also folds over and, snaps together with the bottom of the "coin purse" to securely fasten itself and, ride on your belt.
The whole deal, is a long tear drop shape, very (very) similar to those old school blackjacks a man might have carried in his back pocket in the last century. Oddly enough, when jammed full of quarters, or dollar coins it even has a similar weight as one of those old time skull smackers.
Mike designed his "Barranti Life Changer" to have a small flap at the top of the "coin purse", to which you insert your change. This is in contrast to similarly styled "coin purses" that have a zipper down the center that could potentially bust open if it were to befall a hard surface. Not like those old blackjacks that were used to smack an attacker in the head. Those are of course, two different scenarios. The last one certainly not to be under taken by an all leather, one handed "coin purse".
Of course, upon seeing that the little leather flap is unsecured might make one wonder about the possibility of change flying out and, all over the pavement. Say, if you were required, for some unknown reason, to use your non-gun hand to reach back on your non-gun side and quickly deploy the "Life Changer" in a swinging arc. Perhaps to settle a sidewalk dispute with a parking meter that is just mere moments from expiring.
In order to assuage such worry about any unexpected lost of coinage, I decided to test the "coin purse" out. Because while it might look similar to one of those old lead filled saps of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this after all is a "coin purse".
Raiding an old camp coffee mug where I keep quarters, I managed to stuff in twelve dollars worth into the Barranti Life Changer. I gave it a few overhead swings and, didn't lose a single quarter. After wearing it on my belt for a few days, it felt a little too bulky for my preferences. Taking out two dollars worth of change flattened the "Life Changer" out were it rode a bit nicer on my belt, next to a single stack 1911 mag holster.
Not having any parking meters available at home at which to swing at, I opted for the next nearest option. My 1986 vintage, 80 lb canvas Everlast punching bag, to test the overall durability of both the leather and, the stitching against any potential loss of of change, should the "coin purse" strike a hard surface and bust open. Delivering more than a dozen blows against the canvas punching bag there were no rips in the leather, not a single stitch popped loose. There was only the oddly satisfying "thud" of the little leather "coin purse" hitting the bag.
One might find such behavior a little odd. Why after all would someone want to repeatedly smack a leather "coin purse" against a punching bag? Yet, I could contend that this is no different than when the employees of Cold Steel, the knife manufacturer, lock a folding knife into a vice by the blade and repeatedly add twenty-five pound plates to a piece of wire hanging from the handle until the locking mechanism from the knife fails.
Torture testing a product doesn't have to make sense after all, even it is proves to be informative.
Seventeen years into the twenty-first century, a "coin purse", like the Barranti Life Changer, might seem outdated. Loose change in a plastic card world and, what not. What surprised me was just how useful it has been.
Despite the fact that parking meters are going more towards a credit card based system in major urban areas, most of the machines I have encountered still take coins. On one recent business trip, I encountered a turn pike toll booth that was not only unmanned but, only accepted loose change. Ninety cents worth of loose change to be precise. Not generally an issue were I in my own truck but, good luck finding loose change in the console of a rental vehicle.
Should you find yourself, not needing a small leather pouch full of change, you can simply substitute quarters for dollar coins, of which you can carry around fifteen dollars worth. Which gives it real purpose in buying anything from a cup of coffee to a sub-sandwich. It being up to you to refill the pouch with money when it drops below the desired amount/weight.
Lastly, the nice thing about carrying a pouch full of legal tender on your belt, is despite an ever increasing environment of security theater, whether it's at your local court house, or flying these unfriendly skies as of late, a "coin purse" is perfectly legal. Though the Barranti Life Changer certainly sounds a lot more masculine than "coin purse".
There is also something to be said for going through your life carrying something handmade, especially when it's handmade by Mike.
In a world that is obsessed with plastic 9mms this and, kydex holster that, there is a lot of old school gentleman and, everyday usefulness for things like the Barranti Life Changer. Whether it's feeding an urban parking meter, paying your way through a toll booth or, the laundry mat in Ketchum, Idaho.
The Barranti Life Changer goes for $55 and, you can reach out to Mike at his website barrantileather.com
In the modern age we tend to attack conformity, disregard things that are consistent because we live under the false impression that it's not what our brains really want. The science on the matter however says differently.
The good people over at Shooting Illustrated let me pen my thoughts out from time to time and they have done so again this month.
The first time I ever dealt with law enforcement on a direct level was as a teenager. Unlike the conventional situations of many a wayward youth finding themselves talking with a cop mine came in the form of a grisly rape and, murder of a twelve year old girl.
Just a few days before my sixteenth birthday the body of Che Sims had been found in a creek bed. Her attackers after gang raping her, strangled her to death and, then to keep the forward motion of evil going they mutilated her body before leaving her.
It was one of those murders that gripped the Saint Louis area, one that was not, in 1990, exactly crime free. Her case, Che's, got the full court press from law enforcement, no stone was going to be left un-turned and in the next couple of weeks I'd be one of those stones. That came when the cops finally got solid leads and a sketch of one suspect was released to the paper. As the sixteen year old me read through the article my eyes at last fell upon the face outlined in graphite and, reprinted for the world to see. Che Sims, a young girl I never met, and I were now forever connected because I knew one of her killers and his face looked up at me from the newspaper. But it was a secondary detail from the article that solidified it for me.
She had been found with post-mortem cuts on her arms, and whether it was clear misdirection or an actual theory the police were running with, the article stated that the cops believe the cuts were made in an attempt to revive her via pain, after being strangled. The reality that was eventually revealed at trial, was that her killers had cut her, they had carved into her young body in order to make a blood oath to one another to never tell the world what they had done.
While I knew the face, I couldn't place the name exactly but I also knew that, the face went along with a troup of guys who carried the old style Buck 110 folders on their hips. It wasn't an uncommon thing for a teenage boy in the late 1980s or turn of the 90's but in this instance 2+2 = someone I had known.
Over the next couple of days I poured over that sketch with an obsession. I made photocopy after photocopy in the school library adding my own details to the face trying to jar something in my memory until it finally clicked and I matched it against the only data-base I had at the time. A middle school year book.
And there he was.
A day later found me sitting in a small room near the principal's office talking with two detectives from the Saint Louis Major Case Squad. No doubt for them it was likely just another false lead, some teenage boy playing junior detective. They would sit and talk to me and get on down the road to the next "witness".
Then, some weeks later Saint Louis County Police arrested four men, Jeffrey Grice, Matthew Funke, Chris Johnson, and Brian Faulkner. Funke would later be tied to killing another person just seventeen days after Che's murder.
If me identifying one of the suspects ever meant anything or not to the cops I'll never know. No one from STLCPD ever called. There were no thank you cards, no ham at Christmas, no recognition whatsoever.
In the coming years of my life where my work help put over a dozen criminals into prison no law enforcement official would ever thank me in any public fashion. Whether it was a federal agent, local cop, or in one case, an Assistant U.S. Attorney General.
It is, as they say, what it is.
While my career has always been, shall we say, unconventional it always came with the idea that it was about doing the right thing. This despite having never carried a badge, or never served in any official capacity of governmental service. No one ever gave me a license to kill, or for that matter the license to arrest anyone.
In 1354 the 29th Clause of the Magna Carta was redefined and the world was introduced to the phrase "due process of law" and over the course of following centuries England and the Magna Carta would diverge from one another. It, the Magna Carta, however would become the base layer of American law when the Constitution became the Supreme Law of the Land in the 18th Century.
So important was the idea of Due Process to be made law, it was included into the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
The wording being precisely this...
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
Yet like it always does, the Bill of Rights proves that if the men who seek to seize power and control over their fellow man are viruses, then the Bill of Rights is anti-viral and due process it's firewall.
As stated by United States Senator Joe Manchin, whereupon he said when pushing for more gun control through terror watchlists.
"Really, the firewall we have right now is due process. It’s all due process. So we can all say we want the same thing, but how do we get there? If a person is on a terrorist watch list, like the gentleman, the shooter in Orlando? He was twice by the FBI — we were briefed yesterday about what happened — but that young man was brought in twice. They did everything they could. The FBI did everything they were supposed to do. But there was no way to keep him on the nix list or keep him off the gun-buy list, there was no way to do that.
So can’t we say that if a person’s under suspicion there should be a five-year period of time that we have to see if good behavior, if this person continues the same traits? Maybe we can come to that type of an agreement, but due process is what’s killing us right now."
So much for him protecting and defending the Constitution.
The reality is that, it's not killing us. Domestic terrorism is still a very rare thing here in the United States and our gun crimes continue to drop. Ironically given the rise numbers of new gun owners and continual push to relax gun laws and gun carry laws throughout the America.
So what of it.
Wouldn't it be wise to restrict the rights of someone under FBI investigation?
We have to remember that being under "investigation" does not mean guilty. I myself conduct investigations all the time and the idea of investigative work is to gather information in order to draw conclusions based upon fact.
Facts, John Adams said, are stubborn things.
A little over a month ago I was loading up my truck to head out to do just that. Investigate. As I walked back to the house I saw two vehicles come roaring up in front of my home. Matching vehicle manufacturer, dark windows in the front and back, hard brake-to-a-stop.
It was very classic law enforcement. I also realized that they had come to talk to me, atleast most likely. As to the why I had no idea. In all honesty it was a startling thing. The flipside of the coin is that there was some sense of relief when the car windows did not roll down with full automatic gun fire to follow. After all, I have some "fans" all over the world who are not fans. And they aren't friendly either.
Not sure of anything I called my Business Partner, who was on a field trip with his kid that day, to see if he knew something I did not.
The pounding on the door had begun.
When he did not answer I called The Wife. Because frankly in case she came home and for some reason I had been taken into custody I wanted her to have some idea of what happened to me. Even if I was not sure what was happening to me.
The pounding on the door had stopped and had moved to the picture window. I walked over to the glass and asked if I could help them. They asked if I was me. I confirmed that I was, indeed me. They then asked if we could speak outside.
At that point I asked who they were and they identified themselves as Federal Law enforcement, specifically with what agency. I asked if they knew what I did for a living and they said that they did not. So I went ahead and told them. I also told them I was armed and was going to take my gun off and leave it on the table that was within their view.
As I walked to the side door to meet them my mind ran through any number of reasons the "Man" would be wanting to talk to me. I came up with zero answers in the next fifteen feet.
When I stepped out, I greeted both of them and they introduced themselves and I followed with "what did I do to get on your radar?"
"Were you parked in front of the FBI building downtown a couple of weeks ago?"
I laughed. I knew exactly what this was about. "Yep. I was working a surveillance watching the hotel across the street." And then I began giving a general overall of the the case. I mentioned how at different times both my Business Partner and myself joked about what a bad idea it was and wondered if they were listening in on our walkie talkie communication."
This quickly became a non-issue by all appearances.
I had been parked on a public street, next to parking meters as a matter of fact, given them the reason and explanation for being there, my contact information, the name of my company, my business partner, et cetera, et cetera and while being parked in front of the Bureau's building wasn't probably smart by all accounts, at the time it afforded us the best surveillance advantage point and potential to conduct a mobile surveillance in downtown rush hour traffic.
Ah yes. I see you. Shaking your head in disapproval. Thinking "say nothing! Call the attorney!".
You may do as you wish. I saw reasonable questions that held reasonable answers therefore held no qualms in talking with them. Are there times when one should "lawyer up"? Absolutely. I've written about that before. This situation was not one of them.
As it would turn out, the situation also wasn't over.
Two weeks later they returned.
The questions were different only because I was told that "nothing" I had told them "had checked out." Not my phone number, not my company, and not my Business Partner's name. It turned out that they were both on an FBI task force.
"I have my cell phone right here. Call it."
The phone number had been transposed.
A number I might add that is readily found with my name and a google search, along with what I do. Even this blog.
They misspelled both the name of my Business Partner and business. Then stated they could not find any information on the later.
This was getting cleared up today. I called my Business Partner and put him on speaker phone. We discussed back and forth between us whether or not for them to call our Client who had hired us for the job that now had me under the watchful eye of federal law enforcement. Both agents assured us that it wasn't necessary and they had things right now. I offered up copies of our state business filings and gave the address to our office.
Perhaps the real caveat was my Business Partner mentioning that he was a former federal agent.
So much for governmental databases.
All, I was assured, was now a-okay. Things had been explained out. Answers given and now verified even further. It was never unfriendly nor unprofessional between them, or me.
Mistakes happen, people have off days at work. I know I have had them.
Man have I had them. So I don't begrudge either of them.
But here in lies the rub. I have no idea if the file that was opened on me is closed. I have no idea if I'm on some list for anything because for all I know some tech clicked the wrong box someplace on some bureau inter-agency file form. No law was broken. I literally was parked on a public street and sat there for four and five hours over the course of a few days. Something I have done for thousands and thousands of hours in twenty years.
The problem isn't two federal investigative agents just doing one more case in the middle of the day. The problem is that if people like Senator Manchin get their way my due process, my rights, are just gone because I parked in front of the wrong building.
To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven "taking away a man's rights is a hell of a thing. It's all he's got. And all he's ever going to have."
When the NRAAM (the National Rifle Associations Annual Meeting) in 2014 was in Indianapolis I came walking out of the convention hall looking for a cup of coffee and a place to sit. I found the first and was stuck leaning against the wall as no chair was to be found. Left alone long enough to stand around and do nothing the old bodyguard in me comes out and I start people watching, and to be real honest the NRA convention makes for pretty good people watching.
At some point and time I saw Jeff and Boge Quinn step off an escalator and I pushed off the wall to go and introduce myself and chat for a moment. As I recall, Jeff was carrying a microphone and Boge a camera and they started setting up to record a piece. As soon as I saw this I decided against, as not to interrupt a couple of guys working, the problem was having pushed off the wall and I was now committed in my head that I was going to talk to the now occupied Quinn brothers. So there I was standing away from an otherwise decent wall to lean against with no one to talk to.
It just so happened that I looked up at the top of the escalators and saw Richard Mann leaning against a rail watching the world go by. Earlier in the day I had the opportunity to meet him in person, while having a ham sandwich and talking with Ed Friedman and Jay Grazio (I'm just going with the name dropping at this point. Stick with me it might get better). We had exchanged pleasantries and then Richard went on to talk with Ed about how he could wound animals with a .223 or something.
Now he was standing all alone minding his own business with a posture that said clearly "Leave me alone I've had enough of people today".
"Perfect!" I thought "I'll go talk to him."
Ordinarily I'd leave another man alone but I had always enjoyed his writings and he looked kind of old and tired standing up there and I thought "Well Jeff Cooper died before I could meet and talk with him. I'd better risk it".
Fortunately for me Richard didn't throw me over the rail and we spoke for a few minutes and he gave me some advice here and there on writing and then we parted ways.
Last year he self-published a book called "Under Orion: Hunting Stories from Appalachia to Africa" and a couple of weeks back I ordered a copy for myself from Amazon.
Unexpectedly, I finished it tonight. It had not been my plan, which was to do some reading from Morton Hunt's "The Story of Psychology". Richard's book happen to be on top and I could see I was getting near the end and I was trying to preserve it just a little longer but, then I opened it up to the dog eared cornered page that was titled "I don't believe in ghosts". Had it been only titled and been devoid of any photos I might have been able to resist. The problem was, there was a photo near the bottom and it was of Finn Aargaard.
As a gun obsessed teenager I loved anything Finn Aargaard wrote and, when he passed away in 2000 it struck a real cord with me at the time because his death made real to me that the last of the great gun writers were starting leave us. Gary Sitton would go in 2005 and Jeff Cooper in 2006. As much respect and admiration I had for the late Colonel Cooper and everything he did for modern hand-gunning, Finn Aargard's death, to me at the least, ended the golden age of gun writing.
He was my generation's combination of Townsend Whelen and Frederick Selous. So it didn't take much persuasion to disregard Hunt's book of psychology for Richard's brief moment shooting Finn's well known Model 70 in .375 H&H.
Then twenty pages later it was done. I had finished Under Orion.
In this age where 90% of the gun writers are not really gunmen and not even really writers, Richard Mann is both. And he writes in the way the old timers did. His own.
What makes Under Orion so worth while is that, it's not a chronologically written autobiography of Richard's hunting life nor a book that is page after page of "So I got me another trophy animal after the last trophy animal and I wasn't even...."
Instead it's about the triumphs and sorrows and at times hilarious moments any man or woman who has ever loved to hunt and had the chance to do it enough experiences, with a little bit of the West Virginia Hillbilly waxing poetic about wool collars and cold breezes. Which you may roll your eyes and think that part unimportant but, for those of us who have in fact buried ourselves a little lower into a wool collared hunting jacket on a cold morning watching the sun break the woods orange and the squirrels make as much racket as a city street the poetry and motion of life in the woods matters.
The title of course refers to the constellation known as Orion which is the best constellation because it belongs to the hunter. When I see him, Orion, up in the night sky I am taken back to my formative years deer hunting with my dad and my first real rifle, a Remington 788 in .243 Winchester. I'm huddled in an old wooded tree stand hours before sun up watching Orion through the pines. Crossing an early morning field with a buddy, or in the San Juan mountains north of Durango.
Perhaps most of all Under Orion is a book that gets it. And by it I mean how the small things in life matter so dearly much. The value of good friends, smart dogs, beautiful country, the smell of early mornings and good rifles.
Tonight in a "town hall" meeting President Obama told a woman who survived a rape and was now pro-gun that she may not have been able to use a gun to thwart the assault on her and that it may not really make her any safer.
The real war on women continues as the men of the Left continue to see women as helpless, weak and their role best left to being a victim, while not offering any answers, encouragement nor decisive statement where he could have said "I'm only sorry you didn't shoot the son of a bitch."
Because that is what he should have said.
Yet there was a time when Presidents were different, even before they became President.
On a hot autumn night back in 1933 Melba King was walking to her home in Des Moines, Iowa after being at nursing school when she felt a gun pressed into her back and a man demanding all of her money and one wonders possibly what else.
But it was never to be known, because out of the dark came a voice from above.
"Leave her alone or I'll shoot you right between the shoulders!"
And there, two stories above, leaning out of his apartment window with a .forty-five revolver was a young sports reporter named... Ronald Reagan.
The robber didn't debate, he didn't threaten, he didn't shoot instead he fled back into the night from which he had came. Reagan told the young Ms. King to stay put long enough for him to put on his robe and slippers so he could escort her home...no doubt the .45 concealed in a pocket.
Some fifty years would pass before Reagan would see Ms. King again. In 1984 at a Republican campaign event then Governor Terry Branstad had heard of the story, and invited her to the event where Ronnie was going to be in attendance.
In true Reagan fashion when the story was told, remarked to the crowd "The gun was empty! I didn't have any cartridges! If he hadn't run when I told him to, I was going to have to throw it at him." laughing at himself. However, when the reporters asked Ms. King for a comment about that night she responded with "And he said 'Leave her alone or I'll shoot you between the shoulders.".
Martin Luther King junior once famously made a remark about not judging someone by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character.