By Bob Campbell,
A few weeks ago a major internet retailer posted a feature article on the 12 most popular concealed carry handguns. I have no doubt the research was accurate. The dozen handguns listed were all small caliber handguns and the majority were manufactured by second and third rate makers. I would not trust my life to a single example of those enumerated.
The trend is toward sub-compact or even smaller handguns, small caliber and easy carrying. Few students in my classes are able to successfully qualify with such handguns. Single stack 9mm handguns such as the Smith & Wesson Shield and the Glock 43 are small enough and represent difficulty enough to master.
Gunowners seem to be ignoring the best choices for personal defense, and failing to properly utilize the best personal defense handguns. These are the compacts. Compact handguns are concealed carry versions of service pistols. These handguns feature full-size grips that are easier to grasp quickly and which offer a much faster draw and surer handling than the diminutive pistols. The controls of a compact handgun are identical to a service-size handgun and far less likely to be inadvertently activated. The controls of many small handguns, especially the slide lock, are often too small and prone to mishandling.
The compact handgun will feature a shorter slide, aluminum or polymer frame, and a shorter side radius but retain good shooting qualities. The Colt Commander is one of the best examples. The SIG P229 and the Glock 19 are shortened in both the slide and the handle and are among the best carry guns ever fielded. The compact pistols, especially the Glock 19, are often issued to plainclothes law enforcement personnel. The Glock 19 is also a popular uniformed carry gun. It is an efficient combination. The Glock 19 and SIG P229 are only slightly more difficult to use well than their full-size parents. In some cases, due to superior hand fit, the compacts actually turn in better results in qualification. An even smaller pistol such as the Smith & Wesson Military and Police sub compact 9mm gets good marks for handling because while it is short and light the handle makes for good control and good handling for those with small hands.
In competition, categories are created for backup guns. A good shot with a Glock 19 or Beretta 92C compact will be competitive in the service pistol class. Shooters with the subcompact Glock 43 9mm will not. You simply must not choose the smallest gun and feel you are well armed. You are in the situation of being armed with a deadly weapon but unable to defend yourself well. Many people of every build, size and physical type are carrying handguns of the compact size on a daily basis. Using proper holster technology that keeps the handgun rigidly in place and with a proper gun belt, it can be done with a proper invest-ment in time, effort and support gear.
As an example a well-designed holster such as the Cover 6 inside the waistband holster offers reasonable comfort coupled with good concealment. A Kydex inside the waist-band holster I have enjoyed excellent results with comes from Dara Holsters. Carrying a serious defensive weapon really depends upon the comfort level you are willing to accept.
The .32s and the .380 are not enough for personal defense. They cannot offer adequate penetration coupled with good expansion. The .38 Special is a reasonable baseline. The 9mm Luger is an accept-able cartridge for personal defense with good accuracy. Loadings such as the Black Hills Ammunition 124-grain JHP offer a good balance of expansion and penetration. The .40 Smith & Wesson is a good service cartridge but when shoe horned into compact handguns, is very difficult to control properly. The 9mm and .38 seem ideal for most users.
The .357 Magnum is an effective cartridge but must be used in a revolver of at least 30 ounces weight. The same goes for the .45 ACP in a semi-automatic. If you are willing to conceal the 30 ounces of shooting iron, either are good choices. Handguns chambered for these calibers in handguns of 20 to 26 ounces are a challenge to the most hardened shooter.
You must be able to use the handgun well if you are carrying the handgun to defend yourself or others. Very few shooters are prepared for anything past a very short range defensive situation. Unfortunately I think that too many count on a “one gun gun-fight”—that theirs will be the only gun involved. This isn’t often true. When the object of your fear becomes the subject of your fear you need good skills in place.
Unless you are too passive to organize for defense, you will be able to train adequately with a compact handgun given proper indoctrination such as an NRA basic handgun class followed by advanced classes. Those you face have an intimacy with violence that is difficult to untangle. They will not hesitate to inflict great suffering upon those that do not fight back. The course should begin with training on basic safety, and legal aspects of the problem are always very important to cover. The physical and mental stress of a personal defense situation cannot be overrated and must be understood as well as possible without experiencing the actual tyranny of the moment as it is called.
You should train in situational awareness and threat assessment followed by learning to fire from multiple positions and against multiple assailants. You must understand the difference between cover and concealment. You must understand the need for multiple shots. You also must understand what happens during a gunfight and train accordingly.
Most gunfights last less than a minute and many last perhaps ten seconds. If you do not get your adversary down with the first two or three shots then your battle is probably over. Most gunfights occur within ten to twenty feet. The marksmanship problem is not severe but getting the handgun into action and firing accurately under stress is a severe problem. Prior training is the single most valid determiner of survival. A combination of speed and accuracy must be achieved. Shot placement is vital. Intensive practice is demanded.
Dry fire is a cornerstone of marksmanship. With a carefully triple-checked, empty firearm practice the draw and trigger press. Practice often, until the draw and trigger press become as natural a movement as accessing and answering the cell phone. This is a high standard but moving toward mastering the draw as well as you have mastered another occasional movement—tying the shoe—is another goal.
When you are engaged in personal defense the flight or fight reflex kicks in. Sometimes flight is best, but you must be able to consciously react rather than panic. When the heart is beating like a weed eater rational thought is difficult and training takes over. You are confronting members of our protein-fed ex-con criminal class that have abandoned any hope for a rational and decent life. Their crimes continue and they are unmoved. You must have skills on hand to deal with such a callous soul. You must work to achieve this skill in extended workouts. In a true emergency your heart is beating heavily, your eyes constrict and you lose the ability to focus. At a heart rate of 145 beats per minute your ability to think clearly is compromised. Prior training is everything. Some of the training cannot be done on a static range, so dry fire is the only alternative.
Most of us have obligations such as a job and a family that tend to make managing training time difficult. While you should rotate drills and not simply repeat the ones that you are good at, there are drills that help encourage proper trigger press, sight picture, recoil control and rapid reloading.
A good drill is easily set up but requires skill to properly “ace” the course. Begin by setting up three targets at ten yards. The targets should then be spaced out three yards apart. Two should be humanoid silhouettes and a third or center target with an eight inch steel gong or paper plate. I use two magazines loaded with only five rounds each, even with a high capacity handgun. This helps to get speed loads into the drill without unnecessarily burning up the full magazine. We are not learning to hose down the target but rather to concentrate on accurate fire.
Groups on a target or multiple shots seldom solve the problem but a few accurate shots of sufficient power will do the business. Draw, fire accurately at the left hand target with four rounds. Then concentrate on getting a center hit on the smaller and most difficult target.
Reload, fire four rounds on the right hand target and then move to get a center hit with the last round. Mix the firing up to fire 1, then 4, reload, fire 4, then 1, and sometimes begin with the right hand, left hand or center target. This is a good drill with some flexibility that teaches speed, accuracy, speed loading the magazine, and traverse between targets. You have to control recoil to get good hits on the full size targets and you must slow down to get good hits on the smaller target. Keep the handgun under control and concentrate on marksmanship.