The Ruger Mini-14 has had a huge following everywhere from the halls of law enforcement to the survivalist. It has been a popular gun and part of the mystique is the fact that Ruger made nothing short of a ton of accessories for it. This led to books about utter nonsense to some surprising efforts to turn it into a well tuned machine. If you read those links and you think about the Virginia Tech shootings, realize that things could have been worse. While the VT shooter didn't use a Mini-14, they have been popular among other mass murderers. The problem is mostly in the manufacture. Having owned the plinker version, I can say it is built cheaply. Most of the Mini-14 is stamped steel, and it likes to fall apart when warming up or cooling down. The plinker handled recoil well enough, but a 22 Long Rifle doesn't have to take much recoil in the first place. Drop it, and the rifle quickly became a mad rush to pull all the screws out of the grass before they were stomped underfoot or started to rust. Trying to find screws under a pile of those 22 casings wasn't fun. After the stamped steel and poor fitment, the wood itself wasn't laminated. I had complained about this before with my Ruger 96/17. Neither weapon was built to be the Real Ultimate Sniper System out of box. Neither one had a free floated barrel, the trigger was coarse and heavy, and the wood wasn't laminated. The stock was prone to swelling and absorb water, and this oftentimes translated to jamming. What might have been a good buy turned sour quickly, but with a little work, the 96/17 turned out OK. The Mini-14, however, was a complete wash and eventually passed off to family looking for "something to survive the end of the world".
We don't like them much anyway.
Sturm and Ruger: The People
Both men are celebrated for starting the Ruger Firearms Company but Ruger was the brain behind the operation. Ruger and His Guns recounts the story:
Bill Ruger was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 June 1916. He developed his passion for guns when his father presented him with his own rifle. As a college student in North Carolina he converted an empty room into a machine shop and came up with preliminary designs for what evolved into a light machine gun for the Army. ... In 1949, a 33-year-old Bill Ruger partnered with Alexander Sturm to establish Sturm, Ruger & Company "with a meager $50,000 investment" to produce a .22 caliber target pistol in a little red barn near the Southport, Connecticut train station. GunZone
Alexander Sturm died in 1951. Bill Ruger would live until July 6th, 2002. There isn't much to know about Alexander Sturm:
Ruger fortuitously met the eccentric Alexander Sturm, a Yale grad, artist, published writer and gun collector living in Westport. Sturm was willing to finance Ruger's Mark I design for $50,000 (about $350,000 today). They joined forces and names, and the Mark I was a hit. A reviewer in American Rifleman said, "We like this new gun a lot and at the very moderate price of $37.50 it represents real value."
In 1951 Sturm died from hepatitis at age 28, and Ruger took over the business (the red eagle emblem Sturm designed was forever turned black when embossed on the company's guns). New York Press
Sturm kept himself out of the lime-light. He was the son of sculptor Justin Sturm, and the grandson of World War I hero Alexander McCormick. Sturm wrote The Problem Fox and From Ambush to Zig-Zag (also about foxes) before he graduated Yale. What we do know about Sturm is that he met Ruger purely by chance and was impressed with Rugers Mark I design. The Mark I was a hack, Ruger had copied it from World War I machine guns, but it was enough to convince Sturm to invest in the company. In the five years after 1940, Ruger had tried to sell the Mark I to the Army and eventually founded the Ruger Corporation. However it wasn't until Ruger met Sturm and fully separated from Auto-Ordnance Company that Sturm and Ruger finally took off.
Ruger's early life is a bit more public. He lived in New York city with his mother and her father. Ruger spent his childhood in the library studying mechanics, cars and engineering. Fairly typical for a youngster, but what really inspired him at the young age of 13 was the 30 Krag he purchased for $15 out of the back of Popular Mechanics. According to Ruger and His Guns, Bill Ruger and William Lett took the train to Forest Park and spent the afternoon in front of a campfire and target shooting. It was a different time, and this was considered a social norm. The Krag young Ruger had purchased must have been quite a kit or come with considerable ammunition, perhaps the new smokeless powders which so interested Ruger, because surplus Krags were sold stateside for $1.50 at their introduction. Ruger's first commercial gun from Sturm and Ruger - the Mark I pistol - would sell for $37.50. A target version would sell for $57. Sturm did not have any connection to Hitler or Ernst Hanfstaengl, to the best of my research the Ruger Mark I's design is purely original.
Things went along swimmingly for the fledgling company. Ruger produced new gun designs: The Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum revolver in 1959 (updated to the Redhawk in 1973), and the Model 77 hunting rifle in 1968. The Hawks would become a police staple due to their excellent design and affordability. Modern versions are popular in hunting and Taurus now produces a line of Ruger hunting pistols. The Ruger M77 is still produced today in over 20 calibers with only minor changes in the design. New plants were opened in New Hampshire and Arizona in 1980. But, times were changing for the man who had won "best marksman" in his New York highschool.
The Lawsuit Era
Hamilton vs AccuTek was the landmark case for anti-gun legislation. Filed in 1996 and judged in 1999, appeals continued through 2001. The case currently sits in a somewhat strange state:
On April 26, 2001, the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision that declined to subscribe to a radically expanded view of tort law liability, the "market share" theory of liability, in run-of-the-mill tort cases. The decision was a victory for WLF, which filed a brief urging the court not to expand tort liability in that manner. Under a "market share" theory of liability, a plaintiff seeks to impose liability on a manufacturer based on its share of the market for the product that injured the plaintiff; it is pursued in cases in which there is no evidence regarding which manufacturer's product caused the injury. The court agreed with WLF that market share liability undermines a bedrock principle of tort law that a manufacturer can be held liable in product liability actions only when the plaintiff can demonstrate that the manufacturer actually made the product that caused the injury. WLF
The current state of gun liability for manufacturers then is held to the same standard as appliances. If someone can prove injury through a defective product, the manufacturer is liable. However, misuse of the product is not something the manufacturer can be held accountable for, much in the same way Ford is not held accountable for traffic accidents between two vehicles in good mechanical condition. The appeal cited settled the case and overturned the lower courts decision, thus vindicating Ruger. While the case was being conducted, Ruger started to have second thoughts. He had grown up shooting as a sport, seen two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the A-Team and countless uses and unintended misuses of his company's products. On March 30, 1989, Ruger penned a letter to the house which would go on to be called The Ruger Letter.
The Ruger Letter
My opinion of the Ruger Letter has always been that Ruger was looking to end the endless stream of lawsuits in some way which would not compromise the design of his guns. Being a mechanic at heart, this was the fun part for him and changing the design of a weapon for a legal requirement wasn't something which Ruger was interested in. In an interview with Tom Brocklaw, Ruger made the statements: "No honest man needs more than 10 rounds in any gun", "I never meant for simple civilians to have my 20 or 30 round mags or my folding stock" and "I see nothing wrong with waiting periods". This incensed gun owners but reveals that Ruger, rather than compromise the design of a weapon, would rather offer up accessories divided between the civilian and law enforcement markets. To this day, Sturm and Ruger does not directly sell magazines over 10 rounds to the public and marks such items as folding stocks and magazines "Law Enforcement Only". Critics are quick to point out that the intent of this policy may simply be to stoke the ego of gun owners since accessories can be purchased easily through resellers and there is no legal requirement for this, but most likely this is simply a result of overseas competition making parts for a rifle they saw used by foreign militaries and in a caliber they could find ammo for aplenty. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Ruger found it aplenty once the Mini-14 was chambered in Soviet calibers, and cheap knockoffs from the Asian market soon flooded the US market where Ruger had left the gap.
Foreign Knockoffs and Ruger: The KAC-556
The KAC-556 deserves a mention here. It is the Asian market knockoff of the AC-556. Despite poor assembly and metallurgy, the KAC-556 with Russian or Chinese stamps actually commands more than a Ruger Mini-14 or AC-556. Most of the imported KAC-556s were sold for under $100 and considered unreliable crap, but for unreliable crap, the rifle was treated as a grab bag of Mini-14, Mini-30, and AC-556 parts. The K, to the best of my recollection, is a slur for Kalashnikov. Somewhere along the line, this copy of the AC-556 (Rugers "law enforcement" carbine) lost whatever name it was originally assigned and gained legendary status. An honest, original KAC-556 with Chinese, Korean or Soviet stamps commands upwards of $10,000. However most AC-556s on the market and KAC-556s on the market today are a horrible agglomeration of each others parts and the names have become synonymous.
...but back to The Ruger Letter
The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete, and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining "assault rifles" and "semi-automatic rifles" is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could prohibit their possession or sale and would effectively implement these objectives.
People with a forgiving attitude see this as Ruger trying to compromise between owning sporting arms and military arms. They have a point: Because we can't put inanimate objects on trial for murder unless we assign them human characteristics through magical thinking, we can only limit these objects by limiting their configuration. The Ruger Letter directly led to the Assault Weapons Ban. Opponents to this view are quick to point out that the Mini-14 and the Mini-30 had already been released. Rather than say that Ruger saw beauty in the design, the opposing camp simply points out that Ruger as a company would have been in serious trouble had the legislature divided up weapon classes beyond what we have today. Instead of what became the Assault Weapons Ban which limited accessories in exactly this way, this camp would have divided up weapons based on their reloading mechanism. Bolt weapons would have been one class, followed by lever action, followed by semiautomatic, followed ultimately by fully automatic. Today the law is written to simply distinguish weapons between fully automatic versus everything else. Either way, Ruger's Mini-14 and Mini-30 design carried on as weapons produced before the Assault Weapons Ban were grandfathered in. Since the Assault Weapons Ban couldn't actually deprive people of arms they owned before it went into effect and could not grab these arms as estate when their current owners died, the ban proved ineffective and was allowed to expire.
The Chapter Ends
Sturm and Ruger still produce designs Ruger had come up with looking at World War 1 weapons and older even through today. Nothing much has changed in arms from the bow and arrow. The arrows became smaller and made out of better metal. The string has been replaced with fire, and eventually better and quicker powders. The shaft has been made hollow. Instead of a curve or wood, we use a long tube of inflexible steel. While some gun owners will never forgive Ruger for his letter and it's offer of compromise, Ruger still believed in the second amendment:
"The people who are demanding more laws to control guns should instead be demanding more laws to control thugs. Americans, especially in suburban and rural areas, have a right to defend themselves; a concept lost on urbanites trained to dial 911. The Constitution says what it says. 'The right to bear arms shall not be infringed.' If you can't live with that, then you shouldn't be trying to be an American citizen.