Preparation is an important part of being ready to fight, and training is part and parcel of preparation. Information is critical for preparation, and arguing over stupid stuff doesn’t help! What stuff, you ask? Those subjects that pop up every so often that serve no purpose other than to confuse people. Most are silly, but “experts” argue them continually, even if they inhibit preparation and training. For many, the need to be right overrides everything, and these people will argue forever, regardless of whether anything is being accomplished.
What I’m going to do here is take a look at a couple of these controversies in hopes that we can begin to understand that such bickering solves nothing. In doing so, those who are looking for a path to preparation can move forward. Critical thought will get most people past these silly debates, but some will still want to argue in an effort to raise their profile.
Handgun Stopping Power
I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of handgun stopping power, and it proved to be a mistake. I thought I could collect shooting data from across the country, and then come to a definitive conclusion. After all, part of a thesis is to defend a research conclusion. But how do you do that when nothing seems to come together?
The agencies I contacted were good at supplying data, and I still collect shooting data to this day. However, for every good result I collect, I also get a failure, making it hard to come to a conclusion.
There are two types of incapacitation: physical and psychological. Psychological incapacitation is impossible to measure, as some people will stop with a round through the finger. Others will fight through multiple 5.56 rounds to the chest. Physical incapacitation is usually explained as violating vital organs, which can certainly kill, but they don’t necessarily stop instantly. So where does this leave us?
In the laboratory we look at wound patterns in ballistic gelatin—an apples to apples comparison of potential wounding effectiveness. But gelatin isn’t human tissue. Humans aren’t a consistent, homogenous substance. Let’s disregard this and look at wound volume for each caliber. You’ll see that wound volume of the best .45 is 15–20% larger than the best 9 mm. Thus, it’s safe to say that a bigger bullet is a better bullet.
Now for the bad news. That 15–20% is not enough to make up for poor shot placement, so we still have to hit something important for our handgun round to be deemed effective. We must also take into account the probability of a missed shot. The best hollow point round available will be useless if it impacts the wall next to our attacker. Hits are critical. If a miss happens, we must be able to get back on target quickly for a fast follow-up shot.
The truth: We should select the
largest caliber handgun that we can control under-rapid fire, given the level of training and practice time we have available under the weather conditions and environment we’re likely to face. Once you’ve determined this, practice until you’re confident in your skill.
Isosceles vs. Weaver
What we are arguing here? The Weaver stance, as currently taught, is more square to the target than before. Most realize that, in a fight, you’ll face your attacker, so the strongly bladed position is gone. Because we all know recoil is best controlled by leaning the upper body into the gun, all that’s being argued is whether the support arm should be bent. Doing so pulls the shooting arm back into the body like a rifle stock. The Isosceles, on the other hand, pushes the gun forward like stabbing with a spear. Both control the recoil and are good enough for fighting distances, so who cares? Many people, actually, but is it important? Some argue that, in actual combat, shooters will naturally straighten their arms, but I’ve seen plenty of dash-cam gunfights in which officers have a bent support arm. So what’s the big deal?
The truth: You’ll do in a fight what you’ve trained yourself to do, provided you’ve had more than just minimal training. Past studies have shown that minimally trained police officers (40 hours in the basic academy and one to three qualifications a year with no practice in between) will square to the target, thrust their pistol forward and smash the trigger with their index finger.
What about practiced shooters? I’ve trained thousands of basic police recruits and some shoot better with the Weaver, others the Isosceles. I let them discover what works best for them. The only thing I insist is that they lock their shooting arm. Why? It’s consistent with what they’ll do when shooting with one hand, which happens more often than many realize and certainly lets the air out of the argument regarding the support arm. We must prepare officers to fight, not just shoot, because they probably won’t have the optimal shooting platform.
It’s a proven fact that the fingers don’t possess the same level of dexterity in combat as they do when not stressed, but how “dumb” do they become? This seems to depend on what a given instructor wants his doctrine to include. I attended a school where the instructor told us we needed to grasp the slide on our pistols and manually cycle it to load, as we wouldn’t have the digital dexterity to use the slide stop lever in a fight. I can understand the argument. However, during a carbine course I attended, this same instructor told the class to reload their AR-15s by inserting the magazine, rolling the thumb up and hitting the bolt-release lever. I saw this as a discrepancy and, when I asked, I was told that, “The size of the slide release on a pistol varies, but the bolt release on an AR will always be the same.”
I then inquired about the dexterity needed to press a trigger, hit the magazine-
release button and insert a magazine into a pistol. I was told, “Proper training will prepare you to accomplish these tasks without conscious thought.” Does this make sense to you? You can hit a magazine release button without conscious thought, but not a slide release lever?
I showed him that the slide release on my pistol was substantial. (The size of the lever is certainly a factor. For example, the stock slide lock lever on a Glock would be hard to manipulate.) He responded, “You can’t be assured that you will be using your gun. You might have to pick up a gun in the middle of a fight.” But isn’t it far more likely that I’ll start and finish my fight with the gun I have on me or in my hand? “You never know,” he said, which is true, but is it likely? Should we spend our valuable training time on possible or likely?
During a recent conversation with a well-known instructor, I was told “Just because something is faster doesn’t mean it’s more efficient.” Efficiency seems to be one of the new buzzwords in firearms training, but the meaning seems to change from school to school. The word efficient is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the least amount of time, effort and energy expended to accomplish the desired goal. To me, this means if something is faster and still accomplishes the task, then it’s more efficient.
On this occasion, I was taking a pistol class and was clearing malfunctions by turning the pistol sideways into my left hand (inverting the ejection port down so gravity would help clear the chamber). This allows me to grasp the slide with the heel of my hand, thumb, index and middle fingers, which I believe are stronger than the ring and pinky fingers. The instructor stopped me, told me I was doing it wrong and that I should reach up and over the slide and “power stroke” it to the rear, hitting myself in the chest to ensure complete slide motion. I have no heartburn with this technique, if you like it. But I don’t find it to be efficient. I believe my method is stronger, and it works with pistols of any size.
When using small guns, if you work the slide in the hand-over method, your hand covers the ejection port, creating a stoppage or you’ll have a minimal ring/pinky finger grip on the slide. Thus, turning the gun inboard works with guns of all sizes, making it more consistent and efficient.
Remember: It’s more important for a shooter to complete a given task with ease than it is for them to get all wrapped up in how it’s accomplished. Not all shooters have the same level of strength and skill, and we need to take that into account.
Doctrine, not dogma, should be the rule of thumb in the combative application of firearms. Train someone to prevail by giving them technique options and finding what works best for their physiology instead of trying to prove who’s right.