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L. Neil Smith's
Number 467, May 11, 2008

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About Handguns
by Gary Marbut

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

As a veteran handgun and self defense instructor, I can tell you that there is no "best" handgun, except perhaps for one criteria. Somebody once asked the inventor of modern combat handgunning Jeff Cooper what the best gun is for a gunfight. He said, "That's simple. It's the one you have with you." I agree, in spades.

That is the first criteria I teach when advising people in my classes about selection of a personal firearm for self defense. And, there are some handguns that won't pass this test easily. For example, I hunt elk with a Ruger Redhawk, .44 Magnum. Now this is a great revolver that does a nice job on elk. However, if this were the handgun a small to medium-framed person depended upon for self defense, there would be too many occasions the person wouldn't have it with them. So, a handgun of a size that a person is willing to carry constantly is an important selection criteria.

Also, the purpose of a handgun is to stop an attack. Reliable stopping power requires a minimum caliber to stop human-sized predators (stopping bears and bison is a different discussion). As a guide for my students, I recommend 9mm auto or .38 Special revolver as the minimum caliber for sufficient stopping power for usual self defense. I also recommend always practicing with inexpensive ammo, but carrying premium hollow point ammo in the handgun for self defense — such as Cor-Bon, Federal HydraShok or other top end ammo. Personally, I admit a bias for .45 ACP, but that's not necessarily right for everyone.

A handgun owner should be willing to practice frequently with the firearm they carry. This means that they should invest in enough quality in a firearm that it will withstand continued use, and that the firearm be large and heavy enough that the owner can practice without getting beat up by the handgun. For example, I own a 2" snubby chambered in .44 Magnum. It's a great choice for berry-picking in bear country. However, if that were the only handgun I owned, I wouldn't practice enough with it. It's no fun to shoot.

Then, a personal protection handgun should "feel" good to the owner. This is especially true for women. Women should like the handgun they rely on, especially how it feels in their hands. This affinity will generate confidence and willingness to practice.

Especially among auto pistols, the next most important criteria, I think, is grip angle. The grip angle is the angle between the grip and the slide. Because of each person's unique anatomy, one grip angle may be more natural for one person better than another. The most common grip angles are represented generally by those of Glocks and the 1911 variants.

There is a simple test to determine which grip angle is most natural for any person. The tester should hold the unloaded pistol in a standard two-handed grip, finger out of the trigger guard, pistol at low ready, wrists snug against abdomen, muzzle pointed level, straight ahead in a safe direction. Select an aim point at about shoulder top height, six to 20 feet away, perhaps a spot on the wall two to four inches in diameter a dozen feet away. Look at this "target." Then, close your eyes and extend the pistol out until both arms are at nearly full extension, the standard isosceles shooting position. With eyes still closed, point the pistol at the target you were looking at a moment ago. Open your eyes and notice if the sight alignment is above or below the target. If the tester is holding a 1911 and the sights line up below the target, a Glock grip angle will likely be a better fit for that person. If the person is holding a Glock and the muzzle points high, the 1911 grip angle will probably be somewhat better for that person's unique anatomy. There are plenty of good handguns with each grip angle, and a person can learn to shoot either grip angle. But, learning comes more quickly if the person begins with the best grip angle for them.

After the lecture on selecting a suitable handgun for personal protection, some student will always insist that I recommend one best make and model for all around self defense. At that point I recommend a Glock Model 19, the mid-sized Glock chambered in 9mm, for the usual self defense student. With quality ammo it has adequate stopping power for nearly all self defense applications. The Glock 19 will fit most people's hands, they are simple to operate, easy to shoot, reliable, and concealable for most people.

Owning a handgun doesn't make a person a handgunner any more than owning a parachute makes one a sky diver. Once in possession of a suitable handgun, there is no substitute for quality instruction, and for practice — regular practice. I recommend a minimum of a box of ammo per month, forever. For really top-notch handgun skills a person should consume over 10 or 20 boxes per month regularly in dedicated and structured practice drills and in some flavor of tactical shooting competition (IPSC, IDPA, etc.)


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