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Original Issue

Electric Gunsmoke

Battery-packin' pistol gives Olympic shooters hope for bloodless win over Russians

"It's the greatest thing I ever saw!" exclaimed the man enthusiastically.... "The most wonderful weapon I ever heard of!"
—Victor Appleton, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

History has been working feverishly for nearly 50 years to catch up with Tom Swift, his wizard camera and his submarine boat, his giant cannon and his electric runabout, and now history has another victory to record. The electric pistol, soon to be followed by the electric rifle, is upon us. Gun experts are as certain as prognosticators can be that this new American invention, made by the High Standard Manufacturing Corp. of Hamden, Conn., will give the U.S. a better than even crack at the Olympic free pistol event, a competition at which Europeans, and latterly the Soviet Union, have excelled.

The free pistol event is an easygoing affair with a premium on calmness and care—the contestant squeezes off 60 shots in three hours. The event is called "free" because the pistol may be designed or altered in almost any way except caliber (.22). The standard gun has been the H√§mmerli, a Swiss-made prima donna which is so touchy that a mere increase in temperature or a slight breeze will cause an unintentional shot to be fired. American shooters have shied away from the free pistol event because they could not get used to the gypsy ways of the H√§mmerli; the new electric pistol, though it can be triggered by a feather {above), cannot go off accidentally. In Europe, furthermore, slow-fire free pistol shooting has been a highly popular sport for decades. The Russians alone have thousands of qualified free pistol experts; America has about 20.

The Hi-Standard electric pistol, which was rushed into the hands of the U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. in March, will even things up. Shortly after delivery, free pistol shooters like Sergeant First Class Nelson (Abe) Lincoln and Master Sergeant Roy L. Sutherland threw away their Hämmerlis for the new gun. Already they are shooting scores far superior to winning marks in recent international events. The Advanced Marksmanship Unit will provide almost all of the 10 American shooters in the Olympics, and their free pistol shooters will use High Standard's electric weapon. With it, they expect to win.

It is not unfitting that the first eight of the new pistols should have gone to the AMU; it was there at Benning that the gun was conceived. M/Sgt. Herman Gano, a 31-year-old armorer, figured that a simple electromagnet, actuated by self-contained batteries in the grip (see diagram), could fire a free pistol far more smoothly and quickly than the complex mechanical system of springs and lever arms normally used. Gano turned his basic idea over to High Standard's Gary Wilhelm, who completed the design.

The result is a supergun, the best free pistol in the world. One of its virtues is that it gets rid of the bullet three times as fast as other free pistols. Thus, if the shooter is on target when he breaks the trigger, the chances are that much better that he will be in the bull's-eye; there is that much less time for the barrel to waver off target.

"But the main thing," says thi gray-haired Sergeant Lincoln, America's best free pistol shooter, "is the confidence this gun gives you. It won't fire, it can't fire, unless you touch the trigger. No more of these accidental shots in the dirt or up in the air. And the trigger pull is the lightest ever. This is the first gun I've seen where the trigger pull is too light to feel." In fact, the trigger pull is 1/960 of that required to fire a .45-caliber revolver.

The Advanced Marksmanship Unit has been pointing for the 1960 Olympic Games ever since its creation by the Army four years ago. The Army's best shooters are all concentrated in this single 156-man elite unit at Benning. "If we don't have the best men," says the commanding officer, Colonel Robin Montgomery, "we go out and get 'em. We use everything short of kidnaping."

In guns, ammunition, shooting jackets, testing equipment, machinery, tools and dies, and techniques, the AMU is concentrating on perfection. The very boots worn by AMU shooters were designed at Fort Benning. The whole effort has been, as Montgomery puts it, "to provide a hallmark for the Army, and to win shooting events for the greater pride and glory of the Army."

To achieve this end, the men of the AMU are not counting on the electric pistol alone. They will have had five months to work out with it, and they are making the most of their time. Right now the team is on a warmup tour in Europe, and one of its matches will be over the Olympic range in Rome. Meanwhile, its members fire 500 to 1,000 rounds a week. They run cross-country, lift weights, roll their eyes in vision-sharpening exercises. Most of them have quit smoking (Lincoln smoked his last cigarette in October, plans to resume his pack-a-day routine after the Olympics). "We're trying to beat the Russians," says Gano. "That's what it's all about, and we think we've got 'em by the stackin' swivel."




PISTOL MECHANISM is activated when trigger (1) hits contact screw (2), completing circuit powered by batteries (3). The electromagnet (4) pulls down the sear connector (5), releasing rotary sear (6) and allowing striker (7) to slam into firing pin (8) which fires cartridge. Gun is recocked and made ready for next shot by pulling striker back.