Maintenance is the kryptonite of entropy. Maintenance can also be a chore. The word chore is generally a bad word but, it doesn’t have to be. Chores in the form of routine maintenance can actually be looked forward to if you care about what you’re looking after. Maybe that comes in the form of cooking a meal for your family, or changing worn brake pads on your dinky minivan (which you regrettably had to sell the Mustang for when junior came along). We do these things because we visualize the fruits of a good end result whether the chore is enjoyable or not, whether you like changing brakes or not.
Despite some folks’ best intentions, laziness, procrastination, or just being too darn tired after an honest day’s work can stand in the way of taking care of business. This, of course, can lead to unwanted consequences. For instance, if you never changed the brakes just because you hate that dustbuster you cruise around in, the state you live in would eventually deny you a certificate after the annual inspection, as your non-roadworthy van was now a public safety hazard.
That’s just one example of many things we are required by law to maintain to a minimum standard. Most folks would consider vehicle inspection a reasonable requirement of the state since we all want to share the road safely. But what about things that aren’t required? What about firearms? Even where the law is silent on the maintenance of potentially dangerous mechanical items we use in our personal lives such as power tools or firearms, don’t we owe it to ourselves and our families to make sure what we use is safe? Absolutely.
Back in 2015, I happened to find myself at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo one fine cold March morning. Norway has a proud hunting tradition, and they take firearms maintenance seriously. I even learned from one of the placards that a couple hundred years ago, men were required to keep their gun in working order to protect their villages from invasion—or pay a fine. In the United Kingdom, even a new firearm cannot be sold unless it has been proofed by a proof house. A proof house will test small arms to make sure they are safe to fire before sale. The proof house then imprints a stamp on the firearm showing it has been tested to meet a minimum safety standard—or putting it more colourfully, that it won’t blow up in your face as you’re drawing a bead on that perfect pheasant.
Well, in the United States, it’s not a requirement to keep your gun working perfectly as it was in old Norway. Proofing is also not required, neither is the US a member of the Belgian based Commission Internationale Permanente pour l’Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives, or CIP for short. CIP is a crowd that ensures firearms withstand certain pressures and are safe to fire, and many European countries comply with their standards. Their role is comparable to the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI), of which most US firearm manufacturers, and some foreign, are members.
If you’re planning on purchasing a used firearm, or have an old clunker in the closet you’re planning on taking to the range or use this hunting season, remember to give your gun what I like to call a BATHSS check.
B-arrel: check the barrel inside and out for signs of major pitting, denting, or other obstructions.
A-ction: loose actions are an accident waiting to happen. For instance, in the case of a shotgun, the barrel should not even be able to close on cigarette paper.
T-riggers: adding a high-quality scope to a rifle is a good improvement. Filing down a trigger sear is not. If your gun has a hair trigger, it might’ve been modified. Have a gunsmith rectify the problem by ordering an original sear.
H-eadspace: this one applies to rifles. Before purchasing, consider having the merchant insert what are known as go and no-go gauges into the chamber to ensure there’s not too much play when a bullet is chambered. Best case, too much play equals diminished accuracy. Worst case equals a safety hazard.
S-afety: when I was a kid I sat through a hunter safety course. The instructor, a wise old Vietnam vet, defined a safety as “a mechanical device that can fail”. He was right. Ensure the safety is working by locking it into place and applying gentle pressure to the trigger. If it fires with little input, have it serviced. Ensure that when conducting this test you use a snap cap to protect the pin from dry fire damage. This test will also alert you to the condition of your trigger.
S-tock: a cracked stock can be a potential danger so be satisfied your stock is sound before firing the firearm.
Obviously, that checklist is not exhaustive, nor does it apply to all types of firearms. You really should have a gunsmith check out any old clunker before investing. While a safety is a mechanical device that can fail, all mechanical devices can fail. That’s just the law of entropy. So be vigilant, be entropy’s kryptonite. Use your brain and maintain. Maintain your guns and you’ll maintain their future—likely a few fingers too.