The Parable Of The Sling

Dave was waiting for me at The Citadel Gun & Safe shop in Las Vegas where I’d called to see if they had a Picatinny rail fore-end for a mid-length Bravo Company AR. Dave checked his inventory and allowed that, yes, by golly, he does have a Yankee Hill fore-end in stock.


“I’ll be right down,” I said.


“I’ll be waiting,” Dave answered.


I exited 15 North on Tropicana Boulevard, turned away from The Strip and turned onto Dean Martin Way. Pulling into The Citadel’s parking lot, I noticed I was the only car in the lot.


“You must be the guy looking for a rail,” Dave greeted me as I entered in the store.


“That’s me,” I replied. “A mid-length.”


Mid-length fore-ends are comparatively rare, the “length” referring to the position of the front sight post and gas block on an AR’s barrel. Most carbines have M4-length gas blocks (7 inches) but a mid-length like this Bravo Company AR, has its gas block 9 inches from the receiver. The reason it’s referred to as “mid-length” is because it’s in between a short-length M4 gas block and a full-length gas block on a 20-inch barreled rifle.


The theory is that an M4-length gas block is too short for a 16-inch barrel, having been originally designed for, logically enough, an M4 barrel length which is 14.5 inches. I’m not so sure if the theory holds water, but it’s a selling feature and, as I was soon to discover, any selling feature is a good thing these days.


Dave walked me over to a well-stocked glass counter display of Picatinny rail fore-ends. Unfortunately, the only model he had for a mid-length gas tube would not fit over the front sight post of my rifle. Darn the luck.


“I guess it won’t fit,” Dave said dejectedly.


“Doesn’t look like it,” I replied lamely.


Dave suddenly grinned. “You know, you can take the front sight off and slide the rail on, then put it back.”


Dave made it sound as easy as changing lug nuts, but I knew better. An AR’s front sight post is a royal pain to remove and even trickier to get back on. Press-fit roll pins hold it in place, and the gas port in the barrel must align perfectly with the front sight post. No thank you.


Dave looked a bit crestfallen. Maybe his down-in-the-dumps look was because he couldn’t close a sale for a rail.


“It’s one-forty-five," he offered plaintively. "I can let you have it for a hundred.”


“Sorry, I can’t use it,” I said regretfully. “But I tell you what, I came all the way down here, I have to buy something. Do you have a V-TAC sling?”


A guy can always use another sling.


Dave looked at me like I’d just asked for Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon.


“We don’t carry V-TAC. We can’t sell forty-five dollar slings! We have Voodoo Tactical. We sell fifteen-dollar slings here,” he said with a tone of “What are you thinking, dude?”


I was momentarily speechless, which is rare for me. I knew the economy was bad, worse yet here in Las Vegas with over 15 percent “official” unemployment, but really more like 20. But a $45 sling? Things are so bad a gun shop that specializes in tactical accessories doesn’t carry the V-TAC brand because their customers won’t spend more than $15 on a Chinese-made sling?


Industry watchers are expecting the tactical market to soften further in 2011, with as much as 30 percent drop-off according to one knowledgeable source. I might have doubted such pessimism before my visit to The Citadel. Now, the parable of the sling has me thinking the estimate is too low. The neon isn’t glowing in Las Vegas anymore.


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