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RETALES: The Bag of Shame

At some point in their lives, everyone has darkened the door of a retail firearms establishment, whether it’s to buy the latest new thing, shoot at a range, or just pick up a firearm they bought off Grabagun for 10% less than wholesale; we’ve all been there.

After having every other job in the firearms industry including media, sponsored shooter, and a whole bunch of other things I’m now running one of the largest brick and mortar gun stores in South Florida. I didn’t believe a lot of the stories I’d heard from my friends who worked retail until I decided to do it myself, and as it turns out they’re all true.


Weird things happen when you have a full-service gunsmith in your shop. The bulk of his work is usually what we'd classify as “normal” gunsmith work, ranging from installing sights to doing action jobs. Every now and then you get something weird, like the guy who wanted a Taurus PT111 Cerakoted fire engine red. Other times, you genuinely get to do the Lord's work and restore a treasured family heirloom that was damaged by a hurricane. On a really good day, you get The Bag of Shame. I think at some point, everyone who is into guns ends up creating a Bag of Shame when their ambition outruns their mechanical competency. Lord knows I have on more than one occasion.

The steps to creating a BoS are pretty simple. You start with a new gun that you like, but you want to improve in some way to better fit your desires. Step 2 is going to YouTube and searching for “1911 home action job” or some similar search string, then watching a grainy video of some guy doing a tabletop action job to his Taurus PT1911, perfectly framed against his ancient, stained rug, with one of his bare feet constantly in the shot. Step 3 involves duplicating what you see in the video, right up until the point where the gun is back together and you have three springs sitting on your desk and the hammer doesn't move.

1911 tools

Certain projects are more likely to create a Bag of Shame than others. The most likely culprits are first time AR builds, 1911 “trigger jobs,” and any attempt to disassemble a pre-MkIV Ruger .22. But if you're really lucky, you'll get one of the cool ones.

“Do you guys have a gunsmith?” The young man in front of me was quick to the point after being greeted with my usual salutation of “Welcome to the store, how can I help you?” I told him, yes we do, and paged our gunsmith to come to the show floor for a consultation. While we waited, I asked if I could see what he had. Wrapped in a bath towel was a ziploc freezer bag with the stripped remains of a Browning Hi Power inside. I immediately felt for him, as one of my more infamous Bags of Shame was, in fact, a Browning Hi Power that ended up having to be shipped away to Novak to be fixed.

“I was trying to remove the magazine disconnect and I found this tutorial on YouTube, and it said you had to remove the trigger assembly, but the pin wouldn't come out, so I finally got it out, and now when I try to put it back in it just falls out.” He was a little breathless after finishing that sentence, but I was initially impressed because the trigger strut pin had been where I'd given up on my own Hi Power improvement project. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last when I looked at his frame.

“How did you get the pin out?” I noticed that the hole in the frame where the trigger strut pin should go seemed elongated, and appeared to have metal shavings around it.

Our valiant home gunsmith replied, “I tried to use a block and a punch, but that wasn't working, so I drilled it out since I read that I could just buy another pin online.” Which to his credit is true, you can buy another pin on the internet. Unfortunately, that pin really won't help when your enthusiastic drilling efforts also contact the frame and turn a nice round hole into a weird, rough oval. That will ruin your gun.

Browning High Power

I waited for our gunsmith to let him deliver the bad news that the kid's gun was totally junked, and even offered to take the still useful slide components off his hands for above a fair price because I felt bad. It's a really a cautionary tale for anyone who's ever pulled out a dremel and thought “I can totally do this.” Dremel: not even once.

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