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Defensive Handgun 101, part 1
Choosing your Weapon
By Tim Siewert
To begin any article, or a class, about firearms training without first discussing safety is wantonly irresponsible in my opinion. The following four rules must be adhered to at all times when handling firearms. The life you save may be your own or of someone you care about.
Four rules for safe gun handling:
#1- Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
#2- Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction. Never point a firearm at anything unless your intention is to make said thing dead.
#3- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. When employing a semi-auto pistol, keep your trigger finger in the ejection port on the barrel. I have found that this is a good reference point. When employing a revolver, keep your trigger finger on the frame immediately beneath the cylinder; the cylinder is a good reference point.
#4- Always be sure of your target and what is behind the target. Bullets are designed to go through things.
There are no exceptions to any of these rules. 99.9% of all shooting “accidents” can be attributed to a violation of one or more of these four rules. Some people like to add other rules but typically these additions are redundant. The other 0.1% of “accidents” can be attributed to an ammunition issue. 99.8% of these issues can be attributed to bad loading practices of hand-loaded ammunition. I cover safety during the process of loading ones own ammunition in depth in my first book “Reloading: The Basics”.
In the movie “Quigley Down Under” and towards the end of that movie, Matt Quigley, played by Tom Selleck, states, “I never said I didn’t know how to use a pistol, I just prefer a rifle.” I have the same philosophy. I have considered myself a rifleman since I completed Marine Boot Camp. Even though I consider myself a rifleman first, I also know how to use a handgun.
A handgun, whether a semi-auto pistol, a revolver, or even a derringer, is primarily a defensive weapon. In the military, regardless of branch, officers are issued pistols because the thinking is that officers are not front line troops. And therefore only require a defensive weapon. This is not to say that officers do not carry rifles in combat; quite the contrary, they do carry rifles so they are not as readily identifiable as officers to the enemy; but that is a topic for another article.
There have been many books and articles written about the use of a handgun for defensive purposes. I have read several and recommend that everyone interested in the subject do the same. The purpose of this particular article is to provide a concise overview for the beginner; much like my first book “Reloading: The Basics” is intended to give the beginner a concise and complete overview for reloading of his/her own ammunition. The points that I am going to outline here are based on what I have learned from reading, the training I have had, and my personal experience. Granted, I have never been in a gun fight and I hope I never am.
#1- Find a handgun that fits your hand. This is a point that is often overlooked by many people and instructors. I believe that this is due to the practice of choosing a gun based on a person’s personal perceived preferences, which may or may not be based on others opinions or even some manufacturer’s claims, and not on what is required. Whether you choose a revolver or a semi-auto, get one that feels comfortable in your hand. Clearly everyone does not have the same size hand therefore different guns will fit different hand sizes. There are different after-market grips available for a variety of guns which make it possible to “fine tune” a gun's fit to a particular hand. These after-market grips are available from many sources that sell firearm accessories either online or at a gun shop. I personally prefer the rubber grips made by Pachmayr. A simple web search for Pachmayr should yield several sources. Today, there are also several guns that come with adjustable grip frames via different size inserts for the grip.
One of my personal favorite semi-autos is the EAA witness/ CZ-75. This family of semi-autos has a contoured grip frame that has been engineered to fit the human hand. I know that I am going to piss some people off here but I do not like Glocks. The first reason for this opinion is that I do not care for striker-fired pistols. Hypothetically, if a semi-auto pistol fails to fire when the trigger is pressed, the cause could be one of two reasons: a broken internal part or a bad round of ammunition. With a striker-fired pistol, a broken internal part could be one of several different parts: the firing pin (the striker), the striker spring, or one of the trigger/sear engagement parts. With a hammer fired pistol, a broken part can only be one part if the hammer falls when the trigger is pressed: the firing pin. In either case, performing what is referred to as an “immediate action drill” is intended to rectify the problem. With a striker-fired pistol, if the drill does not solve the problem, then there is no way of knowing what the cause is without disassembly of the pistol. Getting back to Glocks; I do not like the grip frame either, it feels “clunky” in my larger than average hand; I do not like the fact that Glocks do not have an external safety, the only safety being the ignorant knob on the trigger. This “knob” is the main contributing factor for the #1 reason for my dislike of Glocks; Glocks have atrocious triggers. A handgun, or any firearm for that matter, should have a good trigger for reasons I will go into a little later. I do not like “plastic” guns either. I am a purist where guns are concerned. I like steel. A good choice for women or people with small hands is the excellent Walther PPK/S.
The trigger, its placement and function, should be a consideration when choosing a defensive handgun. When choosing a defensive handgun, check the feel in your hand, get a proper grip on the gun, does your trigger finger fall on the trigger correctly? The trigger should release cleanly, there should be no movement (creep) of the trigger before it breaks. Also, the trigger pull should be between 3 ½ to 5 pounds for a single action pull.
The entire aforementioned dissertation about semi-autos and Glocks in particular leads me to a recommendation. If a person is considering acquiring a handgun for defensive purposes and does not plan on practicing on a regular basis, and by this I mean a minimum of once a month, then I recommend a revolver. As far as revolvers go, I like Colts and Smith&Wesson. Smiths have a more user-friendly cylinder latch but a vintage Colt Python is the Rolls Royce of revolvers. Granted the Python is a collector’s item today because they have not been made for decades. But I mention the Python as an example. A Python’s action is as slick as greased snot on glass. If you ever have the opportunity to handle one or possibly shoot a Python, you will immediately understand what I am referring to. I recommend a revolver for two reasons:
1. A revolver is simple. This should be an important consideration given the frequency of practice sessions. A double-action revolver has no safety, the action is the safety. A double-action revolver has no magazine. As long as the cylinder is loaded, the only thing necessary to engage an opponent with a double-action revolver is pressing the trigger. Double-action revolvers have a proven track record as a defensive arm a century long. A recommendation I have for small handed people is the J-frame Smith&Wesson family of revolvers. Double-action revolvers are very rugged; only after decades of hard use will an internal part on a double-action revolver break or wear out.
2. I know that there are a lot of arm-chair commandos around that say the only consideration for a defensive handgun should be the latest whiz-bang, super-tricked-out, gazillion capacity, semi-auto handgun. I, on the other hand only accept advice from real experts on any matter, gun related or otherwise. I would like to mention two men who together likely have more combined real life gun-fighting experience than anyone else. Those two men are James Cirillo and Bill Jordan.
James Cirillo was a 20+ year veteran of the NYPD stake-out squad. He was directly involved in over 100 actual shoot-outs with real desperados and lived to tell about it. The whole time Jim Cirillo was on the NYPD he carried two 2” S&W Chief’s Special revolvers (a J-frame gun); caliber .38 Special. Jim Cirillo wrote that only in a handful of times did he have to draw his second gun (a NY reload) and that in all those times the combined capacity of the two guns (12 rounds) was sufficient to neutralize the threat. Jim Cirillo also wrote that marksmanship and mind-set are far more important than what type of gun one carries, or its capacity.
Bill Jordan was a Marine and a U.S. Border Patrol veteran. Bill Jordan was directly involved in untold number of shoot-outs with banditos on the U.S.-Mexican border. Bill Jordan carried a 4” S&W model #19 .357 magnum revolver. Bill Jordan wrote that marksmanship, mind-set, and a well practiced draw are what win gun fights.
This is my advice about choosing a defensive handgun. In the next issue we will begin your training.