Born Loser?

What’s A Guy With 18 Felonies Doing With Guns?

Convicted felons aren’t supposed to have handguns,
because when they do, bad things can happen.

Accused cop-killer Richard James Rotter already had what news agencies in Washington State described as “a lengthy criminal history including at least 18 felonies and hundreds of contacts with Kennewick Police over the years” when he ran afoul of the law again in March.

When he was arrested by Everett Police, his history as an outlaw may have finally run its course. Rotter is the suspect in the broad daylight murder of Everett officer Dan Rocha in a confrontation that began with Rocha investigating what the Everett Herald described as “suspicious circumstances.”

Subsequent reports suggest those “circumstances” involved Rotter moving firearms from one vehicle to another in the parking lot of a Starbucks. The Herald said dispatch advised Rocha there were misdemeanor warrants out for Rotter and that he was a convicted felon, so moving guns between vehicles was a definite no-no.

Within minutes of his arrival on scene, Rocha would be dead; shot in the head and subsequently run over by the fleeing suspect. A couple of miles away, the suspect vehicle, which had apparently run several lights at high speed, was involved in a collision. Total time laps: 16 minutes, according to the newspaper’s timeline.

Rotter’s background is primarily in Washington’s Tri-City area, consisting of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, all around the confluence of the Columbia and Snake rivers. It’s farm and ranch country and just about everybody has a gun, which seems to discourage the kind of activity one finds in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett west of the mountains.

Newspaper accounts say his criminal history goes back nearly 40 years, into the 1980s. He is 50-years-old.

So, what’s a guy with 18 felonies in his jacket doing with firearms? Nothing good, and in addition to being held initially for investigation of first-degree murder of a police officer, he was also held for unlawful possession of a firearm. Bail was initially set at $5 million.

We chatted briefly with the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s office. At last check, authorities were trying to learn where the guns came from. It’s a cinch the suspect didn’t buy them at retail, something the gun control crowd never seems to grasp.

Incredibly, the Rocha slaying came within a couple of hours of memorial services for Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Dominique “Dom” Calata, gunned down in the line of duty, also by a man with past convictions and a warrant. That guy also should not have had a gun, and he’ll never fire another one. He was killed in an exchange of gunfire after fatally wounding Calata.

Nothing like stag grips on a blued handgun, whether semi-auto like
this vintage Colt Commander, or Dave’s favorite N-frame S&W Model 57.

Simply Stag-gering

Tell me you don’t stop to admire, and maybe even drool a bit, when you see an image, or find a good looking pistol or revolver—any blued Model 1911 and any single-action blued sixgun—with stag grips.

James Arness’ Matt Dillon character carried a Colt Single Action with a 7 ½-inch barrel with stag grips. Pat Conway, as Sheriff Clay Hollister in the TV western “Tombstone Territory,” carried a matched set of SAA revolvers, also with the longer barrel.

Having carried various handguns with genuine stag or elk antler grips, it has occurred to me the material—and especially the naturally-textured outer surface—enhances a secure hold on any handgun, including big bore blasters with heavy recoil. Those Old West characters who stuck stag on their sidearms obviously did so for more than just a snazzy appearance.

Wet or dry, stag stays put!

European stag looks sharp on one of Dave’s Model 1911s. He’s fired this gun in
all kinds of weather conditions and that rough stag surface prevented the pistol
from sliding around in his hand.

My first experience was actually with fake stag when I stuck a set of old Jay Scott grips on a Hy Hunter .22 caliber single-action. The gun shot okay and I managed to topple a couple of raccoons when I hunted with a guy who ran hounds. That revolver is long gone, probably to imported sixgun heaven, but the experience stuck with me.

Years later, when better handguns became affordable to my budget and I graduated to Ruger Blackhawks and New Vaqueros, the utility of stag became quickly obvious.

There are different kinds of stag, including prized (and pricey) Sambar stag from India and Southeast Asia, and it is dense stuff. There’s Argentine stag and European stag, from those parts of the world. I suppose wherever there is antler, you’ll find someone making grips from the stuff.

Elk antler found by author a few years ago provided the raw
material for these grips on his Ruger Blackhawk.

First, stag and elk antler are pretty tough material on the outer surface. Longtime pal Raj Singh—the proprietor at Eagle Grips in Illinois (and one of the nicest and most knowledgeable guys you could ever meet)—once explained that antler of any kind is essentially bone. Properly handled during production and treated with some care over the course of years, stag/elk grips can last a lifetime.

Having made a set of elk antler grips for one of my Blackhawks, I can attest to the sturdiness of the outer surface, though inside antler is largely softer marrow/pulp, and to keep it from crumbling, it needs to be treated with something. In my case, I hand-rubbed in some off-white epoxy for hardness and it seems to have worked okay.

Antler polishes up surprisingly well I discovered, with 1000-grit sandpaper, and for a nice buff, use 1500 grit. I also did some polishing with a Dremel wheel, but Raj warned me against getting the antler surface hot because that can make it turn yellow. He was right!

Rag Singh, proprietor at Eagle Grips, shows off a sixgun with genuine stag grips,
along with a double-action wheelgun with traditional hardwood.

‘Fill Your Hand!’

Another thing I’ve learned is that genuine stag (or antler) offers a good hand-filling surface. Hand palms cup a little in the middle, and a properly finished set of grips will fill that area, and help manage recoil.

One thing to look for, and avoid when possible, are grips featuring a recess in the antler surface. At least, that’s been my experience. Touching off a full house load of any caliber can whack your palm rather uncomfortably with such grips.

Some years ago, a pal of mine helped me buy two sets of stag grips for a couple of Colt Commanders. Both sets have served well in all kinds of conditions, including winter snow. Anyone who has ever fired a Model 1911 knows they recoil, and I’m happy to say both sets of stag panels have worked very well, rain or shine, under full recoil.

The naturally rough surface of stag and antler doesn’t slip around. It’s the same principle for using checkered wood, ivory (where legal) or synthetic material on a handgun. Not to be misunderstood; I like smooth grips on some handguns to allow that movement during recoil, but during the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest—that would seem to be anytime between September 1 and June 30—I want to hang onto my handgun when the shooting starts.

Dave’s Ruger New Vaquero with a 7 ½-inch barrel looks straight out of the
Old West resting on this fencepost. Raj Singh at Eagle Grips produced the elk
antler grips, and they’re more handsome than this image reveals.

Raj Singh and his team at Eagle produced a set of elk antler grip panels for a Ruger New Vaquero I bought early on with the now-discontinued 7 ½-inch tube and they have stood up well to the kinds of abuse one might experience afield. They’re still in good shape.

However, the best specimens in my gun safe are for a Model 57 Smith & Wesson with a 4-inch barrel. I’ve told Raj these are my “barbecue grips,” to be worn on the revolver only for social events. They’re much too pretty to be banging around with me on the trail!

In addition to Eagle, I’ve seen online images of stag grips from Tyler Gun Works, and I’m certain such grips are available from other sources. If you have a gun with stag or antler grips, good on you. If not, you’re missing something special.

Call for Investigation

Get a grip on this: After NBC News aired a “hidden camera” report on how kits for so-called “ghost guns” can be purchased at gun shows—in this case, an event in Oaks, Penn.—and assembled with the aid of some people in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, the Second Amendment Foundation called for an investigation.

It’s possible, said SAF, that several laws were violated in the process of producing the sensational story, which aired back on March 17.

“This sort of sensationalism is designed to generate ratings and raise viewer alarms,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb in a prepared statement. “However, our alarms were raised because of the possible felonies that may have been committed by the reporter and the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.”

The issue revolves around past Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives decisions that these “readily convertible” kits are considered firearms, and the reporter was not a resident of Pennsylvania. It could be a big “oops.” When the kits were subsequently transferred to employees of the AG’s office, it could have been another illegal act.

Gottlieb thinks this is worthy of investigation. So far, it hasn’t appeared there is much interest from the Biden Justice Department to launch one.

NRA in Houston Next Month

The National Rifle Association will hold its annual meetings and exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas the weekend of May 27-29.

NRA is expecting “tens of thousands of patriots” to attend. Scheduled on the Memorial Day weekend, the event reportedly will feature “14 acres of guns and gear.” Firearms, hunting gear, reloading equipment and more will be on display, and there will be the annual Members’ meeting on Saturday.

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