Some old "pols" and a new/old sight

Last month I reported on House of Representatives Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Representative Joe Hoeffel's (D. PA) calls for legislation to Federally regulate antique and reproduction muzzle loading guns in the same manner as modern firearms.

This month I will provide an update in this ongoing saga. Representative Hoeffel has, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, introduced a bill requesting the Treasury Department to conduct a "study" to determine "how often antique firearms are used to commit crimes." Backing off his previous certitude, Hoeffel is quoted as saying, "I think before we take any steps, we need to know what is actually happening." How novel!

The "study" may well just be a smokescreen for the good Congressman to hide behind, however, as he also maintained, according to the Inquirer, that he "will have a second bill ready to go if we find that there is a problem. It would include these guns under the same laws that govern conventional firearms."

Should Hoeffel's dream come true, it would supersede any state laws and would create major changes in the way Civil War era reproduction arms, as well as original antique arms, are bought and sold. A sutler who sells muskets and wants to continue to do so would have to acquire a Federal Firearms license (FFL) from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (BATF). He would then have to maintain records on purchasers, which would be subject to BATF inspection at any time. The sutler would also have to have phone lines available for the "instant check" required by current Federal law. Depending upon circumstances, the "instant check" can actually take several days. I know of one case where it took eleven!

Treating antique and reproduction arms in the same manner as modern ones would effectively end the sale of such guns by dealers at skirmishes, reenactments and Civil War shows. If a reenactor from, say, Ohio, saw a rifle musket he wanted to buy at a reenactment in Pennsylvania which is for sale by a sutler from North Carolina, he would have two options should the "instant" check not be "instant." He could drive to North Carolina to pick up the gun the following week, or make arrangements for it to be shipped to a licensed gun dealer near his home. Mail order sales to individuals would be strictly forbidden, unless the gun was shipped from one FFL dealer to another and then transferred from the second dealer to the purchaser. This practice is followed routinely with modern arms, but the receiving dealer generally charges a fee for his services, which would, of course, add to the cost of the purchase.

I would advise all muzzle loading gun owners and shooters to keep an eye on the actions of Mr. Gephardt, Mr. Hoeffel and others who support this type of legislation.

On the brighter side of muzzle loading rifle shooting, there is some interesting news on Civil War era shooting from England. David Minshall, whose Research Reference Notes web page ( is a must for those interested in a British and European perspective on 19th century military firearms, advises me that he recently acquired a set of reproduction "Goodwin orthoptic" sights for his Parker Hale Volunteer rifle.

The Goodwin long range tang aperture sight was designed by a Dr. Goodwin in the 1860s and produced by John Blanch & Sons, a London gun making firm. David's sights were made by British muzzle loading gunsmith Rex Holbrook and have markedly improved his shooting with the Volunteer, which has Henry pattern rifling. For short range (100 yards) David has "settled on a load of 70 grains of Swiss No. 4 [powder] with a thin card wad and a Lyman 457121PH 475 grain bullet." He intends to extend his shooting out to 1,000 yards and is currently working on loads to that effect.

The Goodwin/Holbrook tang sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation and features a screw thread of forty turns per inch. On a 100-yard target, using a gun with a 39-inch barrel, one turn moves the bullet's point of impact 2.52 inches. Holbrook provides a table with sight change results up to 1,000 yards with his sights. He also offers various front sight configurations, including one with a spirit level, to complement his rear tang.

Along with sights, Rex Holbrook provides a full range of muzzle loading gun manufacturing and restoration services. His underhammer target rifle was featured in a recent edition of the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain Journal. Rex may be reached at April Cottage, 11 Mill Lane, Broom, Alcester, Warwickshire B50 4HS (Tel: 0789-778371).

As this column goes to press, we will be at the height of the reenacting and N-SSA shooting seasons, with Civil War reenactors and target shooters camping out and wandering through woods and across rifle ranges nationwide. Part of this annual experience is dealing with the chiggers, mosquitoes, ticks and other insects that inhabit the places we like to play in. One of those pesky critters, the deer tick, is responsible for the spread of Lyme disease.

Over 125,000 reported cases of Lyme disease, from 49 states, were reported to the centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1982 and 1998. The potentially debilitating illness, which is most common in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific coastal areas, first appears as a "bullseye" rash accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headache, stiff neck and fever. It is usually curable with antibiotics. If undiscovered and untreated, however, Lyme disease can result in chronic neurological and arthritic conditions.

Until this year, the best preventative against ticks was protective clothing, insect repellant and a close inspection of the body after being in the field. There may now be a better way, however. SmithKline Beecham, a major pharmaceutical company, has developed a vaccine called LYMErix ™, which is available nation wide. Additional information is available at the SmithKline Beecham website ( or by phone at 1-888 -LYMERIX, extension 500. As with any kind of medication, there may be side effects in certain people, so consult your doctor.

1999 by Joe Bilby

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