Is The Snubby “Enough Gun?”

A series of conversations and events has left me thinking a lot about snubby revolvers as primary carry guns, lately. If you subscribed to the “conventional wisdom” of the gun culture, the lowly snubby wouldn’t be enough for daily carry. Its low capacity, slow reloading characteristics, and perceived lack of power make it an unsuitable choice. Plus, everyone knows that snubbies are “phone booth guns,” and useless beyond arms length, eh?

Not Listening 

The funny thing is, I know a lot of serious guys who don’t seem to be getting the message. I talked to a pair of them this week, in fact, and they encouraged me to challenge some of my own beliefs about the proper role for a snubby. Although both of these pistoleros are required to carry autopistols on “company time,” they pack snub revolvers on their own time and don’t feel disadvantaged in the least.

If you can do this on demand with an SP101 loaded with Gold Dot, aren’t you armed with “enough gun?” Photo courtesy of RevolverGuy Jim

They’re not outliers, either. In fact, they’re joined by some of the most notable and respected names in the business. Noted trainers like Ayoob, Bane, Bolke, Dobbs, Ellifritz, Haggard, Lovette, Mroz, Rauch (RIP), Werner, and so many others have all made it a practice to carry snubs at least some of the time, if not routinely. What do they understand about the snub that others don’t?

Delusions of Clarity

There’s a class of people who suffer from what I call “delusions of clarity.”(1) These are the people with unwarranted—yet unflappable—confidence in their ability to “know” the unknowable. Gun people with delusions of clarity know, for example, what your gunfight will look like before it happens. They “know” all the unknowable details, from how many rounds you’ll need, to how your foe(s) will react to your gunfire.

These are the high priests and statisticians of the “average gunfight” cult. They’re the purveyors of magic bullets, the hawkers of chamber empty carry methods, and the fevered advocates of the “one true doctrine” (whatever that may be, to them). They’re also the self-appointed, final arbiters of equipment selection—the ones who “know,” without question, what you need.

Revolver Testing Standard Operating Procedure

You’ve met them before at the gun counter, on the range, and in their natural habitat—on Al Gore’s internet. They’re quick to tell you their widgets are better than other widgets, their kung fu is more powerful than other kung fu, and all other religions worship false idols. With ultimate confidence, they caution that  if you deviate from their recommendations, it will get you—let’s all sing along, now—killed in the streetz!

Unfortunately for us, they “know” that a revolver—any revolver, but particularly a snub—isn’t “enough gun” for daily carry.

What I don’t know

Is a snub revolver enough gun? I don’t know. I don’t know, because I don’t know a lot of things.

Starting with the basics, I don’t know if I’ll ever need to use a gun to defend innocent life. In the unfortunate event that I do, I don’t know whether I’ll need to actually fire it. Smart guys like Gary Kleck tell me that a gun only gets fired in a minority—about 24%—of the 2.2 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year in America, and if that’s true, then merely having a gun—any gun—will do, won’t it?

I don’t know.

I also don’t know what the situation will look like, if I actually do have to pull the trigger. Will it be dark or light? Close or far? Will I be injured or not? On my feet or on the ground? Will I get both hands on the gun, or just one? Which one? Will I be facing a lone attacker, or the “5th Dismounted Hell’s Angels” (H/T Michael Harries)? Will I be facing a coward who bails out at the slightest hint of resistance, or fighting the bullet magnet of my nightmares who won’t go down?

I don’t know any of these things, so I can’t say with any kind of clarity or assuredness that a snub will be enough gun. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. (2)

What I do know

What I do know is this:

What’s in your hand matters less than what’s in your head, and in your heart. I know men I wouldn’t trust with my security if they drove a main battle tank. Conversely, I know men that I’d trust even if they were completely disarmed. While proper equipment is important, I think there’s a tendency in our culture to focus too much on gear. In the end, it’s not about the weapon, it’s about the person who wields it. Heraclitus understood this 500 years before gunpowder was invented;

Your equipment is less important than your skill at arms.  This is a hard pill for many Americans to swallow. You cannot buy competence with money, and simple ownership of a fancy, hi-tech blaster doesn’t guarantee squat. A skilled man with a simple weapon can easily outclass an unskilled man with a more sophisticated or capable one;

Your skill at arms is less important than your tactics. Good tactics can help you win the fight before a shot is even fired, and may prevent you from having to rely on your skill at arms to save your hide. If you do have to shoot, good tactics will dramatically enhance the likelihood of victory;

Your tactics are less important than your preparation and awareness. If you walk around in a blind fog, oblivious to your environment, or haven’t prepared your mind to act decisively when required, it doesn’t matter how savvy a tactician or skilled a gunslinger you are;

Luck has a lot to do with it. Murphy’s a real bas**rd, and he’s taken many a good man down with his tricks. He’s the wild card that can trump awareness, preparation, tactics and skill. He can turn certain victory into defeat on a whim. Unfortunately, he gets a vote, and there’s nothing you can do about it;

There are no magic bullets. Some are better than others at certain jobs, but there’s no guarantees;

One size doesn’t fit all. What works best for me might be a terrible choice for you, because we have different bodies, abilities, skills, and needs;

The mission and environment drive the gear train. The best tool for one job is not the best tool for all jobs;

Every tool has its advantages and disadvantages. Our job is to maximize the former, while minimizing the latter. There’s a tradeoff inherent to every equipment choice we make, which must be actively managed;

The gun you have is better than the one you left behind. Even if it only has 5 shots, and the caliber doesn’t start with a “4”;

You won’t know for sure until it’s over. 

Enough gun?

So, is a snub enough for a carry gun? I don’t know. I tend to think it is for a lot of the situations an armed citizen is likely to find himself in, if he’s up to the task in other regards. I think a snub certainly has advantages that make it worth considering for certain missions, even if it’s not the best tool for every mission.

I do know that I carry one sometimes, and it seems I’m in good company. That’s comforting, even if it’s not definitive.

Is a snub enough gun? I don’t know, but I’m starting to think that the question tells me more about the person asking it, than anything else. I think a fixation on equipment over other things like training, awareness, tactics and mindset betrays a misunderstanding of the priorities involved.

So, if you’ve weighed the options and decided that a snub is the best tool for your job, don’t waste your energy fretting about whether it’s enough gun. Accept the fact that you don’t know—can’t know—and focus your energy on the more important pieces of the puzzle. Build on-demand skill with your gear, hone your tactics, stay alert, and get your mind right. Tune  out the chorus of “experts” with clear vision through murky waters, and—as my friend Brian Willis is fond of saying—focus on “What’s Important Now?”

If you can do that, you’re probably carrying “enough gun,” no matter what type it is.

God bless, and be safe out there.

*****

ENDNOTES

(1). I’ve noticed that the young and inexperienced are more commonly afflicted with this condition than more, um . . . seasoned individuals. It seems there were certain things that I “knew” as a younger man that I’m not so sure about today, after making a few more trips around the sun;

(2). If we’re honest, the same applies to every other gun. The latest and greatest WonderPistol with a bandolier of magazines might not be enough either. You might have the misfortune to stumble into a rifle fight with a handgun, or show up solo to a team event. As Forrest says, with an accepting shrug, “it happens.”

 

 

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Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a certified revolver nut, an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor, and a columnist at PoliceOne.com. He is also the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

50 thoughts on “Is The Snubby “Enough Gun?””

  1. Thanks, Mike. My only conceal-carry gun is a snub. Is it enough? I do not know. My AR-15 might not be enough. As you wryly note, “You cannot buy competence with money.”

    I am no LEO, who has a legitimate professional need for a different gun and a backup, but I train monthly at the bare minimum. Should do more. I stay in shape. I watch my surroundings. I do not know if that is enough, but it is more than the typical owner who goes to the range once per year with friends. They assume annually shooting an unmoving piece of paper at 30 feet, two-handed while standing, is enough.

    I have seen these average gun owners shoot. You could not pay me enough to be an RSO. And I do not go to the range on weekends.

  2. This is excellent. For one, it perfectly describes why I’ve been turned off by so much of what the ‘experts’ in the SD community espouse, with such over-the-top, aggressive, black-and-white certainty. It’s much harder to sell yourself as an authority on something by admitting that you don’t know, can’t really know, that things like equipment selection are rarely the most important deciding factor compared to your skills and awareness, that there’s an element of luck in every defensive encounter, like it or not. In fact, it takes someone with real experience and a healthy dose of humility to do so.

    Most people crave simple certainties, even when a modicum of reflection shows that there’s rarely any such thing. But for those who can appreciate nuance and uncertainty, this post is far more ‘authoritative’ than 99% of what I see and hear being put out there about self-defense these days.

    1. Thank you Sir, I’m truly humbled. I don’t make any claims about being an experienced fighter, but I’ve been fortunate to spend lots of time with people who are, and learn from them.

  3. Mike,

    Spot on. I know we’ve discussed this whole matter before… 😉

    It seems that more and more, the popular answer is to smash down the accelerator as a solution to ANY problem that arises. If they aren’t tailgating you doing 80 in a 65, they’re buying cameras with more pixels, #10 cans of whatever at Costco, TV’s the size of my living room wall…more…More…MORE. It’s a common theme with everything. On the firearm side, common thought is that any weapon with a single digit capacity is useless and more than likely going to get you killed than save your hide.

    This whole “mindset” (more like delusion) was recently hammered home in a 2-day pistol class that I attended. I walked out of that class on Day1 (a story in itself, did not return for Day 2) in complete dismay of what was being “taught”. Flinging lead at a target is NOT shooting in self defense. 8”-10” groups at 5yds isn’t “fight winning”…it’s irresponsible and borderline criminal. The answer isn’t to shoot MORE, it’s to shoot LESS and shoot BETTER. Leave area fire for the infantry and the SAW.

    Is my 5 shot Ruger enough? Like you say Mike…”I don’t know”. What I DO know is that 5 shot Ruger is with me all the time. I don’t have to dress around it. It’s small enough to get away being in places I “probably shouldn’t be carrying it”. I’m effective with it. It’s chambered for a round and shoots a load that has a decent track record.

    I remember a really insightful quote from Donald Rumsfeld during the height of hostilities after 9/11. Paraphrasing: “There are things we know. Those are knowns. There are things we don’t know. Those are unknowns. Then there are the things we don’t know that we don’t know.” He also had a doosie about “Going to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” All the above are somewhat applicable here I think.

    Carry. Practice. Use your head.

    1. Same in the AR world. I reluctantly got one for a SHTF weapon and my wife and I learned to shoot it well. I took a two well taught classes about modern carbines, including time in a shot house.

      I had one of the better made guns, an Aero mid length, but it was bone stock save for a field sling, as I consider ARs field arms. Other classmates had cheap guns with thousands of bucks in gizmos on them. Most shot fair or outright poorly. The instructor told me I had done well to master iron sights and point shooting…old revolver habits.

    2. Jim, I think your last line says it all, and I wish I’d been clever enough to coin it, myself. I look forward to hearing “the rest of the story” about your aborted training. It sounds to me like you had a much better handle on things than the instructors did. I wonder if they were smart enough to consider the lesson you taught them? Sadly, not everyone “gets it.”

  4. Good article Mike. I tend to think of carry guns a bit like spare tires. Many people seem to feel the need for four full-sized spares, and deride the snubby because it is just a doughnut. They may be right, but, as you pointed out, that may be enough. I like to think that, by carrying a 3 inch revolver, I have upgraded to a single full-size spare, but I might be deluding myself.

    Part of the reason I like this analogy is because it segues into another point so nicely: it is really easy for us to get our priorities wrong (or, at least, it is for me). Almost all of us are way more likely to need a spare tire than a gun (unless you rely solely on public transportation, of course). What is it that makes us think that we need such-and-such a carry gun when we still have a doughnut in the trunk? If I had to pick one, I’d rather upgrade to a full-size spare tire for the car and carry a snubby than the other way around.

  5. Colonel, you are spot on with the notion of knowing what you don’t know – and especially if you’ve ‘been there-done that’. Even having those face-the-leopard moments, and surviving them, in some cases several times, leaves you with more questions than answers: Did I do this right? (well, you survived, so that’s good), was there something … anything else I could have done? — the list is endless. Trust me, the I. A. shoot team has a complete list of such questions. After well over 30 years of things, I still have more questions than answers.

    “You cannot buy competence with money, and simple ownership of a fancy, hi-tech blaster doesn’t guarantee squat.” <— one of THE most accurate, yet ignored observations in the 'self-defense-guru' world. I can't count the number of times I've run into someone who dumped thousands of bucks into a Wilson Custom Combat Super Whizbang, and thought they were prepared for anything. And here I figure putting Hogue boot grips on my J frame is 'tricking' it out.

    Decades ago, I had a shift sergeant once make a comment in jest, but the more time I got on the street (and under the street) it made total sense: He said that the most deadly person out there is a scared woman with a .25 automatic. He went on to explain that if you give that POS .25 auto to your master class shooter, he likely won't be able to hit the broad side of a barn with it. But, give that same gun to a woman who is terrified for her life, and she will likely plant all six rounds in your face.

    The #1 way to win a gunfight is to not be there. But real life says you don't get to pick that #1 way. Mindset is more powerful than hand tools. Also remember that in the Old Testament, David wasn't given a snowball's chance in hell against Goliath.

    1. If a person with your experience tells me I’m onto something, then I know I must be. Thank you. I’m grateful that my words resonate with you, Sir. That means a lot to me.

  6. Nice article. For me a SP101 or 640 is overweight. Anything heavier than a Airweight I will not carry all the time. I have a 686 and a CZ75 and a long guns in my safe. They don’t do av whole lot for me there. Many armchair experts today that cast shade basically on anything that isn’t a plastic auto. I’ve tried one of these little numbers (a Ruger EC9s) and can make it jam on command. Several replacement parts and 4 different mags from Ruger and the same problem. I just don’t trust it to work when I may need it.

  7. Mike Wood,
    Thank you for your thoughts on this, the entire article is very good.
    I have read where trained professionals have crumbled under pressure for situations for which they were trained. I have also read about regular people with no training, perform beyond measure to beat insurmountable odds.

    This from your article ——> “What’s in your hand matters less than what’s in your head, and in your heart.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up nicely I’d say.

    Thank you,
    Mike (not Mike Wood)

    1. Thank you Sir! I’m really pleased that you found it worthwhile. On a side note, I get a chuckle out of your sign off each time! ; ^ )

  8. Is a snubnose enough gun? I don’t know, but it’s what I carry.

    I love revolvers; they’re the only kind of handgun I carry. But I can’t carry my K-Frames, because they’re too large and heavy (although I’ve acquired a Model 12-2 recently, going to do some testing there). L or bigger would be for field use in the woods only.

    My Model 37 or 642 J-Frames can be carried in a pocket and I don’t have to dress around them. And their aluminum frames can tolerate being in my pocket in the heat and humidity of Spring and Summer. They’re not something I’d want to practice with all day, but if I put in the practice they’ll do their part.

    1. We think along similar lines. I’ve always loved the K-Frames, but the J-Frames are what I actually carry. If I had to guess, 9 in 10 carry revolvers are snubs. Please keep us posted on your progress with the Model 12! Neat gun!

      1. Don’t know if you’ll see this, but I do have somewhat of an update. I’ve been practicing trying to carry the Model 12 this past month, and to my surprise, it is doable as a pocket gun (in cargo pants/shorts). While it’s not a true deep concealment revolver like a J-Frame, its Airweight frame coupled with a 2″ barrel make it more versatile than any other K-Frame I’ve handled. It’s a shame that S&W no longer have anything like it, or at least some kind of in-between J and K with a 6-shot cylinder.

        1. I agree, Axel. That would be a neat reintroduction to their “classic” line, such as it is. I’ve never owned a Model 12 but the idea has definite appeal.

  9. EXCELLENT, Mike! I think I heard a little Louis Awerbuck in there. I “think” a snub is enough, although I feel better with a pair. Again, outstanding thoughts.

  10. Thanks for *yet another* great article!

    Question: who makes the holster and speed strip setup pictured at the beginning of your piece?

  11. Two thumbs up. Excellent article, as usual. I have an SP101 and a 642. I carry either one at different times, depending on the situation. Both make it easy to remain ‘carry compliant.’ Neither are easy to shoot well, and firearms skills are quite perishable, so I dry fire often and live fire whenever I can. As noted in my IDPA article I shoot them both in matches for the ‘practical practice’.

    To be honest, I don’t even own a semi-auto currently. Not that I have anything against them, I just don’t have the spare income right now. But again, to be honest, if I had some spare income I’d probably spend it on the Kimber K6s 3″ I’ve wanted for a year or so now. 🙂

  12. Really great article Sir! I have mentioned before in comments to your articles, I regularly carry a K frame, and a J frame back-up, but there are times when I am only armed with a J frame airweight and a Comp I reload. Staying alert, planning my outings, and making an asserted effort to avoid certan locals deemed as having a high potential for problems, based on previous experience as an LEO, keep me out of harms way regardless of the tool I choose to carry. I think if more gun schools focused on those elements of situational awareness, in addition to weapon handling and marksmanship, people would come away with a much more efficient “toolbox” of knowledge. I have become so tired of all the so called “experts” claiming what people have to buy or have to have in order to survive a violent confrontation. You are so right when you said “One size doesn’t fit all”. While I am certain one or two of my wheelguns is enough for me, I also will place a Winchester 3030, or a Remington 870 in my vehicle before I head into the woods or take to the highway for a road trip. While not hi-cap black rifles, they fit my lifestyle and abilities. Thank you again for your insight. It is truly refreshing.

  13. Mike,
    You’re the Socrates of wheel-guns; you know that you don’t know, and thus do not get tangled on the delusions. I’ve read your book and agree 111% that equipment<training<tactics<awareness. Keep up the good work!
    On a side note, I *only* carry revolvers off-duty; mostly my 642, but quite often either my 4in Mod 10 or 2in Mod 15. The latter two had to be neutered by the LAPD armorer, so as to not get cocky 😉

    1. I think I need to order new business cards and put that on there! “Socrates of Wheelguns!” Thanks for the chuckle, and enjoy those great guns—I presume the Mod 10 and 15 were your duty guns at one point, before the change to bottom feeders?

  14. Mike,
    You continue to bring clarity in a world of mixed messages! I had a lady sign up for my Fundamental Handgun class a couple weeks ago, and asked her what she would be shooting. She told me: a S&W Model 19!! I was elated!! Bless her heart she struggled, but she stuck with it and learned a lot. She will be returning for individual training because she wants to shoot that gun well.
    I wondered afterwards how many “Go fast, super tactical” instructors would have refused to train with her because of her preference for the wheelgun. My guess is it would be a large number, probably not due to the antiquated revolver as much as their lack of knowledge and ability with one.

    1. Funny you mention that, WS. I just had a conversation with a new shooter who received a lot of flak from the instructor for bringing a revolver to the class. It went beyond friendly ribbing, and the student told me that when they weren’t being teased, they were essentially ignored, and given no instruction. Aside from being a poor and immature instructor, I happen to think they were completely ignorant about revolvers and simply didn’t know what to teach about them.

      They’re out there.

  15. Excellent write up,
    I am working on becoming a firearms instructor and find more and more that I shoot my revolvers much better than I do my bottom feeders.
    The mind set over equipment is a great way to better understand this and also an excellent way to help potential new POTG to not focus on equipment so much and just enjoy what you’re doing, thank you.

  16. Another great article. I appreciate that we must each make our own Threat Analysis to determine what CCW we need. I served 26 years in the Army in various combat arms MOS’s but as a retired citizen I do not feel the need to be heavily armed. I own and shoot my semi-autos but I love J frame sized revolvers and shoot one every Saturday morning. I do not place my speedloaders on the bench put always grab it from my concealed pouch. I try to take every class I can and feel pretty confident I can defend myself and family from the threats I am likely to encounter. I carry the same J-frames,either a 642 with a 2.5″ barrel or a 637 with a 2.12 ported barrel, every day – all day. Sometimes in a IWB or upside down shoulder holster or in a front pocket. I feel absolutely that I have enough gun.
    Love this site and appreciate all the great articles.

  17. Mike,

    I’m now not certain if I should refer to you as “Sir” or “Socrates of Wheelguns.” LOL Maybe I will just stick with Revolver Guy Mike.

    Loved this article. I don’t know what I don’t know, but I also know that I need to know a lot more than I know now. Whew. That what a handful. So I’m carrying my LCR every. time. I. leave. the. house. Today was yoga – took it with me.

    Ever since I made the decision that I wanted to shoot and CCW a revolver, I don’t care what other people say about my mere 5 shot LCR. My reply to others is, “If I can’t stop the threat with 5 well-placed shots, then I shouldn’t be carrying.” Especially if what they say is true – that most gun fights happen within X number of feet and are over in 3 seconds. I know I can depend on my LCR to fire every single time, with no malfunctions.

    Where I go, my LCR goes. I have yet had one single person ask me why I am wearing a small cross-body purse and also carrying a handbag. No one gives a thought that I might be CCWing. Not even my Gun Girls.

    I do my best to maintain situation awareness, pay attention to words of wisdom from Revolver Guys who have much more knowledge and experience than I do, and always make sure I walk out the front door with my cross-body purse on.

    Have Wheels Will Travel – does NOT mean the vehicle I am driving.

    Please continue with the excellent articles, Mike. I am learning so much from you, and also from the comments by the learned snubby lovers here.

    WGJ

  18. Not knowing is the first step in getting to that rare place where we, maybe, _do_ have a clue.

    In a world gone soft, a world born of the mythos of Hollywood and spun from the loins of weak women and even weaker men, the man who chooses to carry a sword has already set himself apart from the many who don’t. The kind of sword is the very least of it. If he can just ignore the noise and listen to the truth that is in his heart, he’ll be on the right path.

    That was the wisest story I’ve read in some time, Mike.

      1. Mike, I have no doubt whatsoever that Ellifritz took his inspiration from your article!
        A lesser man would sue him…

        1. Ha! He doesn’t need any inspiration from me—that man has a brain stuck on Overdrive, and is always cooking up great ideas on his own. I’m sure it was just quirky timing.

  19. Dang, I hope a snubby is enough–at least in terms of ammo capacity. The last few days, and likely a few days ahead, I’ve been carrying the GP100 .44Spl 5-shooter, with a .38 snub in the pocket. Dunno if the GP could be considered a ‘snub’, but it’s what’s on the belt for a while, along with a pair of speed strips. Of course, even if something bad happens, I won’t need to shoot anyway, since the caliber starts with a ‘.4’, right? Don’t bad guys still wilt and mess their drawers at the mere sight of a ‘.4-something’ gun, like I’ve heard all these years? Ace

  20. Great article as always Mike! I noticed you have laser grips on your revolver, I’ve never really tried those before (besides messing around with demos at gun shops). What are your thoughts on them?

    1. Working on an article about them, Ian. The executive summary is I never use the laser, but love the grips anyhow! More to follow.

  21. A gun is a fighting tool. Depending who and how many adversaries are involved, and their level of training and group bonding, your tool set, which should include; guns, very pointy and sharp edged weapons, H2H skills, verbals, etc., will come into play. I start my day expecting a team of rouge criminal special forces operators from Nigeria or South America to try screwing with me. And, I’m not lazy. Figure out the rest (It will NOT involve a J frame).

    1. Is a team of former special operators plausible or likely in your threat matrix? If so, good on you! If not, some of your time might be better spent on building some other skills and protecting yourself in other ways.

      Edited to add: I’m sorry – I have to call this one like it is: if you’re not wearing multi-hit hard plates, carrying a rifle, a radio, NVGs, and a half a dozen teammates, and training with them daily (or nightly as the case may be), and have a FRSS on standby, you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re prepared to take on a coordinated team of special operators.

        1. Yes. Don’t forget our three Special Forces soldiers who were killed (and two more wounded) in Nigeria in 2017. They were killed by a militia group whose training was dubious – not a FID trained/equipped special operations outfit. And the dead were actually trained, equipped Special Forces soldiers on an actual combat mission – not a Joe at home worried about picking the kids up. It’s also worthwhile to remember that the 6,700+ combat deaths and 52,000+ combat injuries in OEF/OIF almost all fell to what we would consider minimally trained, minimally equipped (but sometimes very experienced) soldiers.

    2. Wait. They wear women’s makeup (rouge)? No wonder they’re so scary. Nothing like commandos in drag to make you watch your Six carefully. ; ^ )

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