Defensive handgun choices: Failure of hardware or failure of mindset?

Discussion in 'CHL Articles' started by SIG_Fiend, Nov 25, 2010.

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  1. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

    Feb 21, 2008
    Austin, TX
    This is sure to upset a few people which is not my intention, but I'm writing this to get everyone to think and hopefully educate a few people.

    In my profession, I hear all the time about how semi automatic handguns are so unreliable, and the revolver is all people can trust. While it is true that semi's have more potential failure points, the premise that revolvers are somehow infallible is incorrect. I have seen my fair share of revolvers fail, and in many cases these failures posed a serious safety hazard which could have proven fatal if it were in a life or death situation. I have seen a Taurus 85UL snub snap it's trigger OFF (broke in half) on the very first shot, new out of the box. I have seen Taurus, S&W, and I believe one other brand of revolver with the built in key lock safety vibrate enough under recoil that it activated the safety and locked the gun up completely. It's also not uncommon for just about any revolver to have some slight case deformation or expansion which forces some of the shells back in the cylinder, causing the cylinder to hard lock and needing a good whack on a hard surface to free it. I have seen a barrel that shot off of a perfectly good Ruger SP101 or GP100 (forget which). Bottom line, anything mechanical can fail, so don't get comfortable assuming your choice of a defensive tool never will. Become the master of that platform so that you can work through it under stress and get back in the fight.

    Pros and Cons

    So lets take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both of these platforms:

    Revolver Pros:
    -Generally simple DA/SA design
    -More "organic" shape than most semi's, possibly easier to conceal
    -Available in powerful calibers like .357 magnum
    -Smaller number of mechanical failure points

    Revolver Cons:
    -Low capacity
    -Extremely heavy DA trigger pull on many models
    -Poor sights
    -Reload process is more complicated and generally slower
    -Barrel to cylinder gap which can cause burns if not careful
    -Grip design is basically one-handed, unergonomic

    Semi auto Pros:
    -Can be high capacity
    -Can have better and easier sights
    -Can have a more ergonomic grip allowing support hand to assist effectively
    -Quicker and easier reload process
    -Generally less recoil with comparable calibers due to the action providing a dampening effect
    -Can have a nicer and easier trigger pull
    than most DA revolver pulls

    Semi auto Cons:
    -Generally more complicated mechanically
    -Greater number of failure points
    -Reciprocating slide causes safety issue for inexperienced shooters
    -Grip length can be harder to conceal

    There are likely more notable points than that, but those are some of the basics.

    The Reliability Mindtrap

    The number one complaint I hear all the time is how semi auto handguns are so unreliable. In the last 100 some odd years of handgun development, things have changed quite a bit. In the past 20-30yrs, the quality, durability, and reliability of semi auto handguns has improved drastically. With modern, more efficient, and higher quality manufacturing processes we now have run of the mill handguns that can be purchased for $400-600 that will literally last you a lifetime, and many of which can survive 100k+ rounds with proper maintenance (IE - more than 99% will ever shoot). As long as you buy from a reputable manufacturer, function test your gun, and keep up with proper/preventative maintenance you won't have to worry about quality and durability. So the next thing is reliability. Well, frankly, any mechanical object can fail. Knowing this, regardless of our defensive handgun choice, whether it be revolver or semi, we need to take this factor into account. What will you do when your revolver fails? What will you do when your semi auto fails? How will you correct each of the common failures for your particular platform? Ask yourselves these questions. Knowing that we may have to deal with a failure at some point, regardless of the tools we are using, we should avoid falling into the mindtrap of thinking that buying some specific type or brand of gun will bypass this problem. Sure, it may mitigate the issues significantly, but again Murphy is always watching.

    Mitigating Murphy's Law

    By now, you should hopefully be starting to realize that no handgun platform is infallible, and that should concern you at the least. So knowing this, what can we do? Well, the answer is move forward with this knowledge instead of ignoring it and falling into the mindset of hardware making up for it. What we need to identify is what malfunctions our chosen platform can have, and how to correct those malfunctions as quickly and effectively as possible. I won't go into malfunction drills here, as that is an in depth subject for another article. This is about mindset. We need to get that gun back in the fight ASAP, and we need an effective and robust enough technique to do so. What we need to do is identify the malfunctions our platform is capable of having, and understand why they are occurring. Once you understand the physical operation of a machine, even if it's a rudimentary understanding, you can start to intuitively work through problems much more effectively. So at that point, then we need to identify various techniques for correcting them, and then use the scientific/common sense process to determine which techniques are most effective, can be completed in the shortest amount of time, and are robust techniques which can be repeated under stress. Don't stop there. Take it one step further and ask yourself, how will I clear each of those respective malfunctions with only one hand, with only my support hand, etc? On top of that, rather than simply conforming to an established technique, strive to understand the mechanics of the technique, mechanical components and functions of the firearm and aspects to each of these malfunctions, and then modify techniques to suit you best. Everyone isn't the same, therefore everyone does things a little bit differently. Understand the how, and the why, then learn techniques and modify them as necessary to make yourself as quick, efficient and robust at implementing those techniques as possible.


    The most important thing to ask yourself when considering a defensive gun is, what tool can I use most effectively to defend my life given the physical restrictions I have? Key points to that are effectively and physical restrictions. Not everyone can conceal a full size .50AE Desert Eagle, however many of us are capable of carrying guns much larger than we assume. We can achieve this through proper selection of our carry gear. Effectiveness should not take a back seat to comfort in my opinion. What good is a "comfortable" to carry gun if it is too small to manipulate, has poor sights, has low capacity, and is impossible to shoot effectively? If it's tough to shoot now, it will be exponentially worse in a gunfight. Defending your life is the name of the game, so you need effective tools. Dealing with a little bit of discomfort so that you can have a more effective tool is a sacrifice, but ask yourself isn't your life worth it? Think LCP/J frame versus Glock 26/19. A bit larger and wider yes, but sights you can use, more surface area to grab so manipulation and recoil control is easier, and twice the capacity. In my opinion, those are relatively small sacrifices to make to have a significantly more effective defensive tool. What about capacity specifically? Well according to the FBI UCR, some ~49% of the time defensive shootings involve at least 2 attackers. I believe it was ~30% of the time there are 3 or more attackers! Are those not some fairly significant odds to be taking into account? I want as much capacity as I can get, within reason, and extra sources of ammo on me to account for this. While this doesn't necessarily mean you need to carry 50+ rounds of ammo every day, at the least you may want to consider carrying at least 1 extra magazine, an extra speed loader, etc. Carrying a J frame with 5 shots and no extra speed loader is fine, but that's taking a rather large gamble considering the odds against you and the proven fact that there are people out there that can take far more than 5 bullets to stop. We train for that 1% of the time we may ever have to defend ourselves. It may seem miniscule, but that 1% is all that matters if you are the unlucky person that gets thrown into a defensive situation. Everyone should give this some honest thought about their choices, and take every aspect into consideration. Bottom line, learn about and train for every eventuality with your chosen platform, and become the master of it.

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