Home Editorials California’s Excellent Influence on Gun Culture By: Ed AKA “The Real Most Interesting Man in The World” LaPorta

California’s Excellent Influence on Gun Culture By: Ed AKA “The Real Most Interesting Man in The World” LaPorta

California’s Excellent Influence on Gun Culture   By: Ed AKA “The Real Most Interesting Man in The World” LaPorta
Jim Hoag at one of the Big Bear Leather Slap Competitions

Considering the politics and attitudes in California today, it may seem anachronistic, but California and Southern California specifically was at one time the epicenter of all things gun and shooting related. Yes, you read that correctly. When I started becoming interested in all things gun related, I was not aware of the resources available in my own backyard and of their importance.

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I grew up in the west end of the San Fernando Valley, a place that was referred to as “America’s Suburb.” During the 1950s and ’60s farmlands, citrus groves and ranches gave way to housing tracts, shopping centers, and schools. Amongst all that activity people sought pleasurable pursuits with new interests spurred on by all those returning G.I.s that were starting their families and inheriting all the opportunities that awaited.

Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper holding court
The man we must thank, the one that started it all, Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper holding court.

Pistol Shooting

Among the recreational pursuits was shooting — a sport waiting to blossom. In the 1950s and ’60s, there was an explosion of activity in that area the likes of which had never been seen before and likely will never be seen again. One of the prophetic events was the entrance of one John Dean “Jeff” Cooper — a former Marine Colonel who had an interest in how the current style of pistol shooting could be improved.


Cooper initially started holding what he called Leatherslap shooting events at Big Bear Lake in California. Those initial events consisted of quick-draw matches using Colt Single Action Army Pistols out of Cowboy Fast Draw style holsters. The winner was the one who could draw and hit a target at seven yards the fastest. Initially, competitors used some form of point shooting like the FBI taught at that time. It was a single-handed technique with the pistol fired from the hip that was believed to be the best-suited to the purpose.


It wasn’t until later that attendees started using two hands and the Government issued 1911, which had lots of shortcomings in the original issued form. From the experiences gained at those events by Cooper and others, the Colonel authored the Modern Technique of the Pistol that gave us most of the techniques we use and take for granted today. He subsequently founded and establishing the International Practical Shooting Confederation or I.P.S.C. and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pistol Upgrading

The good Colonel was also the founder of the Southwest Pistol League. (Photo 3) As it happened, one of the early competitors was a young Navy Veteran, tool and die maker, and aspiring pistolsmith, Jim Hoag. Jim quickly diagnosed the short comings of the stock 1911 and started modifying and improving its performance base on his and others’ observations.

Along with Jim and others, Custom Pistolsmithing blossomed locally, giving us some of the greatest to ever ply the trade right here in Southern California. They include Jim, Armand Swenson, Arnold “Al” Capone of King’s Gun Works, Frank Pachmayr, Jim Boland, Tom Dornhaus, and Craig Wetstein to name but a few.

A match grade “Pin Gun” by Arnold Capone of King’s Gun Works
A match grade “Pin Gun” by Arnold Capone of King’s Gun Works.

Early on, Jim Hoag worked for a short time at King’s Gun Works. During his tenure there, Jim was building 1911s for Mickey Fowler and Mike Dalton — the two shooting phenoms of the time. Mike Dalton went on to create the Steel Challenge, one of the premier shooting events in the world. I didn’t meet Jim until sometime later, by happenstance, when I was in need of a gunsmith to work on a pistol. The local sporting-goods store owner mentioned to me that a new gunsmith had set up shop only blocks away, so off I went. I met Jim at his new shop in Canoga Park. Quickly, he became my number one go to pistolsmith and friend. Unfortunately, his like will not pass this way again.

Interestingly, my meeting Mike Dalton had nothing to do with guns or shooting. I was driving a 7 Series BMW at the time and was unhappy with the dealer’s service when a friend mentioned an auto shop on Sepulveda Blvd in Mission Hills California that specialized in German cars, that was both good and reasonable. As an aside, he mentioned that the owner was a shooter. I went to that shop and met Mike who was the owner and we have been friends ever since. If you ever get a chance to meet Mike, do it, for you will never meet a finer gentleman.

With interest in the new shooting styles espoused by Cooper, new holster makers such as John Bianchi (who started in Burbank CA), Ted Blocker, Gordon Davis, and Safariland also established themselves to accommodate the new style. At the time, the majority of the top shooters in the world came out of Southern California, so it is no wonder the industry developed there to service their needs.

Ed LaPorta and Jerry Miculek at a Steel Challenge shoot
Jerry Miculek and the author at the last Steel Challenge that was held in California by Mike Dalton at Wes Thompson’s Piru Range facility.


Let us not overlook what was happening with rifles. Have you ever heard the name Weatherby? That’s right, Weatherby is best known for its very fast, high-powered rifle cartridges, all bearing the name Weatherby Magnum and its unique custom rifle styling. In 1950, the famous Weatherby stock came into being. It was a real departure from the English and traditional American-style rifles then in existence.

The Weatherby style was most recognizable by its squarish fore-end with the angled rosewood tip. The stocks also featured white spacers, an accented pistol grip with flared cap (also of rosewood) with white line spacers, and a white diamond-shape inlay. A forward-sloping accented Monte Carlo comb and recoil pad that included a glossy finish and skip-line checkering completed the look that became know as the “California Style.” Roy Weatherby’s need for speed also revolutionized cartridge design.

What about reloading… Ever hear of RCBS in Oroville California? Fred T. Huntington founded the company when he could not get good quality varmint bullets to shoot rock chucks with. He created the Rock Chuck Bullet Swage dies to make bullets, later shortened to RCBS.

Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for RCBS Gun & Die Shop

In the late 1940s, three aircraft machinists rented space in a machine shop in Whittier, California to produce precision rivets for the aircraft industry, along with fishing rod guides and rifle front sight ramps. After World War II, there was a shortage of bullets, especially quality rifle bullets. One of the three, Frank Snow, began manufacturing match rifle bullets. Before long, they were selling a 53-grain match bullet to the Hollywood Gun Shop.

That bullet is now known as the Sierra #1400 53-grain MatchKing. They outgrew that location and built a larger facility in Whittier, California. They also changed the company name to Sierra Bullets, and in 1963, Sierra moved to a new plant in Santa Fe Springs, California.


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Other Contributions

How about Hogue International that started in 1969 making grips? Pachmayr started in a small shop in downtown Los Angeles and proved so promising that it was purchased by Lyman when it was headquartered in Monrovia CA. Lest we forget, King’s Gun Works in Glendale CA that supplied custom parts to satisfy both individuals and the trade.

Speaking of parts, let’s not forget Jack First Gun Shop and Northridge International that started warehousing parts and supplying them for obsolete and military firearms. How about Bar-Sto Barrels or the first progressive reloading machine from Star Manufacturing in San Diego (whose business was making irrigation systems for agriculture).

In 1970, Auto Mag Corporation president Harry Sanford opened a factory in Pasadena, California. The Auto Mag Corporation morphed into Arcadia Machine & Tool. Commonly abbreviated to AMT, it continued to manufacturer firearms from Irwindale, California. The company opened and closed several times from 1973 through 1982 under several different names: TDE (Trade Deed Estates), OMC, Thomas Oil Company, High Standard, and AMT (Arcadia Machine & Tool). It produced several weapons along with the Auto Mag series that were primarily clones of existing firearms but made from stainless steel rather than the standard steel used for most firearms of the time.

Auto Mag Pistol, right profile
An example of the Auto Mag Pistol.

On December 13, 1979, Thomas Dornaus and Michael Dixon decided to start the development of a new semi-automatic pistol to address the gap between existing revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. The company was formally incorporated as Dornaus & Dixon Enterprises Inc. July 15, 1981, in California, and a new factory was set up in Huntington Beach to manufacture their new design the Bren Ten that eventually morphed into the .40 S&W.

Final Thoughts

That is just a touch of the influence the Golden State has had on the firearms community and that’s without even mentioning Bob Petersen. The Petersen Publishing Company magazines, Guns & Ammo and Petersen’s Hunting influenced and informed their readers and opened the shooting sports to the world.

Additionally, local organizations such as Safari Club of Southern California evolved into Safari Club of Los Angeles, which formed Safari Club International and encouraged other similar groups to organize. I attended the Los Angeles Safari Club as a guest a few times. They held their meetings at the very ritzy Scandia Restaurant on Sunset Blvd. Very Pricey.

Scandia Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California
Scandia Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Following are some ads from Guns Magazine, December 1959 with more proof of what a hot spot California was for all things gun related.

I hope this provided some insight into what an influential force California was to the shooting community. The next time something stupid, insane, and crazy comes out of the state, rather than talk about how you want to leave, think about how we can save California and bring it back where it belongs, making untold contributions to our sport.

How much of the Golden State’s firearms history did you? What can you add to the story? Can California be saved? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Eddie Bauer
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Early & Modern Firearms Co., Inc.
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Hollywood Reloading Equipment
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Mershon White Line
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Edward H. Bohlin
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for Sierra Bullets
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for U.S. Sniper Scopes
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for gun books from Jack First
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for a Western Fast Draw Holster
  • Guns & Ammo Magazine ad for RCBS Gun & Die Shop
  • A match grade “Pin Gun” by Arnold Capone of King’s Gun Works
  • Ed LaPorta and Jerry Miculek at a Steel Challenge shoot
  • Scandia Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California
  • Auto Mag Pistol, right profile
  • Ed LaPorta and Jim Hoag with a long slide 1911 pistol
  • Jim Hoag at the front counter of his shop in Canoga Park
  • Jim Hoag at one of the Big Bear Leather Slap Competitions
  • Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper holding court
  • Hollywood sign