Just yesterday, I had the fortunate break in my schedule to allow me to attend Andrew Branca’s, “Law of Self Defense Level One,” class at the Nashville Armory in Nashville, Tennessee. I have been familiar with Andrew’s body of work for several years now, having first read his excellent, “Law of Self Defense,” book (now in its third edition). Andrew is a legal consultant, now in his third decade of practice, with his practice limited to self-defense law consulting. This puts him in a unique niche in both the legal field, and in the, “gun industry.”
I won’t cover the specifics of Andrew’s class word-for-word, because you owe it to yourself to personally take the course, if you carry a gun for self-protection. I wrote, in 2016, about the importance of legal preparation in my essay on, “BECOMING THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER.” I felt strongly about the necessity of legal training then, and I still feel that legal knowledge among defensive firearm users is woefully inadequate. Andrew Branca is changing the industry with his accessible training curriculum, and helping to legally redefine and clarify the, “rules of engagement,” for civilian self-defense. I would recommend that you read the latest edition of Andrew’s book, which you can order directly from his site, so that you can enjoy the full benefit of the curriculum, without having to familiarize yourself with the terminology and basic framework that Andrew builds the curriculum on.
A few personal take-aways I gleaned from the course:
Cameras are EVERYWHERE. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that we (the good guys) rarely have a situation where there is too much good evidence…in fact, there is often a dearth of evidence, that leads to good guys ending up on the wrong side of the law. Conversely, there are cameras EVERYWHERE and thus you must always be on-guard, and know that every word and action you speak or do, can be called into question at a later date, if the need arises for you to defend yourself.
Avoidance is ideal, and really what you should, “shoot,” (pun intended) for. We don’t carry guns because we want to use them (at least I don’t). I carry a gun in the event of an emergency, where I have no other recourse and I MUST use the gun to save my life or the life of a family member or friend.
Most people effectively live their life with their heads in the sand…literally. People will either not see/detect obvious context clues OR simply notice them and pay no mind. Paying close attention to the totality of the scene, especially when moving through transition zones, is important to success (READ: not being a perpetual victim of crime) in today’s world.
Thinking through the legal ramifications of your actions well BEFOREHAND is extremely beneficial. Just like you (should be) thinking about your programmed, heuristic responses to violence against you or a loved one (i.e. winning the PHYSICAL FIGHT), you also need to think about your plan for LEGAL survival (i.e. winning the LEGAL FIGHT). If you don’t plan your response, you may very well survive the physical fight, and then find yourself with no, “legal leg,” to stand on.
The law is tremendously complex, and varies state to state…even the sharpest attorney that money can buy doesn’t know the entire letter of the law, verbatim! As a regular person, but a Civilian Defender, you will be held to a higher legal standard than the average, “man on the street.” Thus, it is to your benefit to commit Andrew’s algorithms he covers in, “The Law of Self Defense,” to memory, but also understand how they work in the real world, and in a dynamic, self-defense incident.
Andrew’s scenario simulator training at the end of the class teaches valuable lessons. I have used shooting simulators in my law enforcement training, armored truck guard training, and in the civilian training sectors, since 1991. The technology has advanced, but the value gained in stress inoculation is priceless and indisputable. You simply cannot replicate the stress of a self-defense incident without actually experiencing one…but you can come close. I get just as much value from seeing how others react in their simulator run, than I do in my own.
As an avid shooter, I don’t spend enough time shooting in live-fire and working in dry practice, from the low ready, or from a, “Sul,” type ready position. Not muzzling everyone on-scene is a helpful way to a) not look like a nut running around with a gun, willy-nilly b) not shoot someone who isn’t a threat c) convey professionalism both during (and also importantly) after the incident is over. As we all know, if we don’t practice it, we don’t own it, and thus we won’t use it when the time comes, so practice from the low ready and other ready positions is important. I mostly just practice from the draw out of the holster.
Attend courses with your significant other…especially if they also carry a firearm for self-protection. You SHOULD be on the, “same page,” as your spouse or significant other in more ways than just how you will respond in a self defense situation, but this could literally be the difference between life and death. Thus, it’s important to talk these situations out beforehand, so that you can anticipate how the other will act. For example, my, “line in the sand,” as 6’4″, 250 pound rugby player will be quite different from the boundaries of my 5’4″, 115 pound gal. That’s important to know, if you are on overwatch duty at an ATM kiosk, and you (or they) are attacked.
STRIVE to be the, “Reasonable and Prudent Person.” According to Andrew’s course, the, “Reasonable and Prudent Person,” should be Cautious (looks both ways before crossing the street and avoids trouble) Responsible (doesn’t leave the car running when out on errands, and ensures a high level of proficiency with their sidearm) Sober (may drink in moderation socially, never intoxicated) Slow to Anger (the guy that de-escalates conflict, rather than incite or escalate conflict).
Many folks don’t think of a legal continuing education class as a, “firearms training class,” but it should be seen as the foundation that all defensive firearms training is built upon. Without it, you are all legs and no brain. While you may reach the level of unconscious competence with your handgun, able to solve a myriad of shooting problems with a hail of gunfire, without the legal software running perpetually in your head, GUIDING your rules of engagement, you are a one-trick pony. Sure, you might get lucky and survive the physical fight AND the legal fight, but wouldn’t you rather hedge your bets closer to the winning side? I know I would. I recommend Andrew’s class without hesitation, to everyone who carries a self-defense firearm. Going about with a firearm in your holster AND Andrew’s algorithmic knowledge in your head, you are truly ARMED for both the physical fight, AND the legal fight that will follow!
To register for a course in your area, or buy a copy of Andrew’s book, go to
I know it’s been awhile since my last, “real,” essay, and I apologize. This website is about 99th on my list of priorities, and my family and my work precede its importance by several orders of magnitude. And since I don’t make a dime off of any of these works, they are printed at my leisure for your infotainment. Sorry if you’re signed up and expecting to get a daily, “blog,” post with me passively aggressively groveling about some issue in the community, or about how my pistol most recently puked in a simulated something or other. I only write when I have something important to say, OR, when one of my friends asks about something. This topic keeps popping up like an loosely nailed shingle, and also my LEO Brother Eric asked about it, so I thought it was time to dust off the draft, and get it out into the world. So thank (or blame) him!
XS sights seem to be akin to the perpetual arguments on the internet about, “9mm versus .45,” and the old one, “Revolvers versus Semi-Autos.” Meaning that it always stirs up an emotional response from the peanut gallery, with folks on either side saying, “They are the best sights for gunfighting!” While the people that are against them say, “Nobody issues them! That’s a sign!” And all other manner of argument.
Here’s how I look at it. Nobody looks at body armor and says things like, “What is the most comfortable armor to wear?” “What armor will allow me to have the most mobility and freedom to do my job (whatever that may be)?” Conversely, nobody asks the same thing about their underwear! Why? Because what you choose to wear under your clothes, while it may definitely affect your ability to move, and your comfort, nobody wants to talk about it. They should! As a rugby player, and former firefighter, I can tell you that what you wear under your uniform has an ABSOLUTE limiting capability on what you do on the field or on the fireground. But, that isn’t a, “tactical,” subject. Nobody wants to talk about it, because it’s awkward. But we are talking about lifesaving equipment, skills, and utilization. Is there any more topic that is MORE awkward?
I think that handgun sights are much the same. Are there sights that work better than others, for everyone? Nope. Are there eyeglasses that work well for everyone? No there isn’t. What about eyeglasses for people that have similar (or the same) prescription. There MIGHT be. My point is, it is difficult to deal in absolutes (you Sith, you) when we are talking about subjective experience. People confuse their logic and do (inaccurately) state their subjective opinions as FACT on a regular basis, though (Logical Fallacy: Argument from Authority). For example, SUPER INSTRUCTOR ZEUS says, “These sights are the ABSOLUTE best for gunfighting! I know…I’ve been in gunfights!” Well that’s all well and good for HIM, taking a narrow, experientially formulated opinion and offering it as proof of his argument. But it doesn’t work. What if the prospective buyer (who needs pistol sights) is color blind? What if they are near sighted? Far Sighted? ALL OF THESE variables alter that person’s experience, and make it incomparable to that of our hypothetical expert.
With that thinking in mind, I thought that I would tackle a drill that I haven’t done recently. I saw the great Ernest Langdon publishing his results on shooting the, “Hackathorn Standards,” and I thought that I would give them a go. The order of operations for the Hackathorn Standards are as follows:
10 SHOTS IN 15 SECONDS, AT 15 YARDS
10 SHOTS IN 10 SECONDS, AT 10 YARDS
10 SHOTS IN 5 SECONDS AT 5 YARDS
300 POINTS POSSIBLE, SCORED ON A B8 Bullseye Target
Seems simple enough, right? I did the drills from the low ready, since the range I was at gets nervy when there are other people on the line, and people are drawing from the holster. Thus, this drill requires the shooter to practice a number of skills, not the least of which include:
Presenting the pistol from the draw/ready position
Accurately (the bull is 1″ in diameter) place shots on the target in a time quota
Follow the front sight through the recoil cycle, and attempt to return to the reference point (bullseye… i.e. where you want to projectiles to burrow into)
Follow through with the trigger press on every shot fired
Still think it’s simple? The par times seemed quite reasonable…until you stick that gun out there into space and start pressing rounds, and then realize that Father Time is moving, even when you aren’t!
Hopefully, you didn’t just skip ahead to this section! If you did, shame on you. If you didn’t, thank you for reading the preceding screed. I used three guns for this experiment. The experimental group consisted of:
Glock 34 with Warren Sights, with the front sight painted red, like I talked about here.
Glock 34 with Big Dot Sights
I took the slide off of the frame it resides on (the excellent LONE WOLF) frame and mated the slide to a Glock 34 frame, with completely stock internals, and used the same frame for both iterations of the experimental phase of the test.
The Control Group consisted of my Smith & Wesson M&P PRO 9mm EDC, that I carry with me daily. This is the pistol that I use the most, and thus have the most proficiency with. It has Trijicon HD sights on it.
I used CCI BLAZER BRASS 115 grain FMJ in all three weapons for the tests, and OEM magazines of standard capacity (17 rounds). There were no stoppages of any kind. I used a PACT Club timer, set for the PAR times.
Sights are a personal choice (unless you are talking about plastic OEM Glock sights…nobody takes those seriously, so if you are one of those folks that absolutely HAS to use them because [INSERT REASON] at least find a metal replacement set. You can probably find ones that have the same, “interesting,” sight picture but are just made of metal. You don’t want to have the unfortunate experience of shoving your gun out in front of you on the worst day of your life only to discover that your sights have left the building without your permission. So fix that.) and what works for your neighbor or your tactical guru might not work for you. Don’t rationalize your choice with the subjective opinions of people on some web forum…gather hard data to see where you hit with them, and what YOU need to work effectively. Can you improve with practice? Of course you can. But everyone has a natural baseline that appeals to their unique optical handicap constellation, and their own physiology. What works for me, may not work for you. But instead of reading through review after review after review, test it out, see what works, and then run that. I have good results with XS Big Dots, and contrary to internet rumors you may have heard about them, I can shoot groups with them. That has more to do with trigger control than sights, but that is another essay (another S.O. to Steve, “Yeti,” Fisher). If you can, “see what you need to see,” with any sighting system, that will suffice for defensive purposes. I have experienced the front dots of Big Dot sights spontaneously leave the gun, leaving behind the black, pedestal front, “blade,” that, if needs be, can still be used to great effect. I’ve also lost the tritium vial out of Warren sights, and also out of the Trijicon HD, and I’ve seen the entire, “Orange Circle,” eject out of the Ameriglo product. So no brand is immune from issues, and if you use your equipment regularly, it will wear and eventually fail. So take that out of your selection criteria, and find something that works with YOUR eyes, and for your self-defensive application, and then, WORRY ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE!
This is probably going to ruffle some feathers…but I’ve received emails asking questions or looking for further explanation on some things that I’ve talked about, and I want to address those. The email below sums up a good number of questions/emails I have received. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you’ll notice that I very rarely stick to just one central topic in my articles. This is partially due to my quickly shifting attention focus, but also because I like to draw parallels between things that may, at first glance, seem relatively unrelated. So here we go…
Dear Dr. House,
I like your articles. However, I am a follower of Dave Ramsey, and I just refuse, nor do I have the money to spend, on a bunch of high tech gadgetry and gear to support my concealed carry lifestyle. I have a revolver, a pancake holster, a few speed loaders, and a very modest supply of carry ammo. I feel like the industry doesn’t support guys like me, and that everything I read makes me feel like I will probably get, “killed in da streets.” Any advice?
Thank you for the note. I too, am a follower of Dave Ramsey! And, I’m still working on my second baby step (the debt snowball…dental school cost me nearly half a mil!). So I get it. I don’t spend much money on equipment these days. That’s why you don’t see me doing too many gear reviews here. Occasionally I will purchase a new holster, or some other widget, but I almost always support that purchase through the sale of other holsters/gear that I no longer use. Of course, if all you have is one holster, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If it works for you, there is certainly no reason to change up your game, equipment-wise. There are certainly far worse ways to be armed than with a revolver. If you are on a tight budget, I’d work on finding open source ways to increase your MENTAL AWARENESS AND PREPAREDNESS, like I describe HERE. I know that the industry tends to make the folks that don’t have the latest and greatest guns and gear feel marginalized, and inadequate, but that’s how companies sell products. It’s not just the firearms industry…it’s just marketing that works on humans. So, bottom line, worry about something else, keep your head on a swivel, maintain your physical health and fitness, identify, know and understand the criminal threats in your area of operations, be a skillful driver, learn some emergency medical skills to include CPR, the Heimlich and AED use, and get in a good dry-practice program with your revolver. Carry a tube of pepper spray on your keychain and a med kit in your vehicle, and get on with your life!
In the above link, my friend and Supercop Greg Ellifritz talks about the details of his own handgun stopping power study. In that study, Greg concluded that the .22 (yes…THAT lowly .22) actually produced an impressive record of effectiveness in a number of incidents. Think about a few things, relative to that, for just a second:
How many police departments or military units do you know that widely issue or use .22LR’s for general issue to their troops? I’m not talking about fish or game officers that may use a .22 for special applications…I’m talking about .22’s in the duty holster of the patrolmen on the street, or the soldier in the field. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of them being used. Thus, the body of evidence relative to .22 shootings come from the civilian world. That means it is either good guys versus badguys, badguys versus good guys, or badguys versus badguys. In any of the three scenarios, police/military units are not dispatching said .22 rounds at anything…it’s a person other than the police/military.
As Claude Werner has said in the past, a shooting involving a civilian crime victim has less at stake (for the bad guy) than a shooting involving the police. Shoot it out with the police? At best you’re going to jail, and at worst you will die. With a civilian shooting (botched robbery or carjacking, for example) that bad guy can still escape and maybe live to fight/rob another day. That means that the weapon you use to defend yourself doesn’t have to be a tremendous manstopper, it just needs to have to ability to change the direction of the bad guy’s intent, and Greg’s research (and Claude’s) shows that a .22 can make that happen.
The Ruger LCP, the Beretta Jetfire, or the Ruger LCR .22 Magnum you have on your person is better than the Glock 17 you have back in your safe at home, when life goes sideways. Now, this will probably peeve a bunch of my friends in the training community off, and I fully expect that Tom Givens will kick me in the pants next time he sees me. However, statistics relative to civilian gunfights show, that in a life threatening, lethal force situation, nearly any gun will do, if you will do! Regardless of caliber. Tom Givens maintains a database of 6o PLUS civilian shootings involving his students, and within that database, not all of those shootings occurred with handguns chambered in the minimum 9mm/.38 Special that most (including Tom) instructors recommend for self defense. However, Tom’s students that were armed, WITH ANY GUN, emerged victorious from their respective scenarios. Unfortunately, Claude Werner, THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR will soon retire from livefire training. This is really unfortunate, because Claude was one of the few trainers (the only other guy I know of is Erik Utrecht from MDFI) with a curriculum specifically aimed towards the civilian user of the infamous, “Mouse Gun.” For some folks, who may be restricted by budget, limited dexterity, hand strength, or concealment issues, “less than recommended,” caliber weapons can still be a viable option!
One of the few variables you can control in a fight is what you bring with you to that fight. For me, I personally bring a full size pistol (S&W M&P 9mm/Glock 19 or 34) or at the very least a J frame (if I’m at the beach) with me wherever I go, every-darn-day. However, I am also blessed with a profession that pays well, and my services are in high-demand, so the financial end of it isn’t a concern for me. I also work for myself and have no employment regulations to abide by. I’m also healthy and I have no issue wielding a full size, full caliber pistol. However, if I didn’t have the capacity to carry a service sized 9mm, I wouldn’t feel horribly undergunned for civilian self defense and home defense with a S&W M&P .22 Compact, or Ruger/Walther analog of said pistol, and a Ruger 10/22 at home for defense of my home. Ammunition choice is important with .22’s, not so much for terminal ballistics (you can only put so much lipstick on a pig) but moreso for ignition reliability, and Claude recommends that rimfire users load match-grade .22’s for self-defense purposes. The big issue with .22’s for self defense, is that many of the pistols are of poor manufacturing quality, and don’t tend to run well. If you must rely on a small caliber pistol for self-defense, use a quality brand.
The only variables you can control relative to the projectiles you launch at your opposition are the projectile’s weight, it’s diameter, and the type of projectile (e.g. full metal jacket, hollow point, soft point, etc.). THAT’S IT. Everything else is left to chance, since bullets do weird things when they hit people. Now, that saying gets thrown around quite frequently, but those bullets still can’t defy the laws of thermodynamics, physics or science, in general. They will still behave relative to the physical constraints of our universe. Some people get their logic twisted and think that there is either a direct correlation between scientific fact, and anecdotal experience…in general the only correlation is that rarely do scientific fact and anecdotal experience collide! To expound, we all know people that will demonstrate to you, that they carry a Detonics Combat Master, 24 hours a day, INCLUDING the shower, loaded with .45 ACP hardball, since, “They all fall to hardball.” Well, .45 ACP hardball does have a record of performance worldwide, in many incursions, battles and fights, over the past century, but it also has had a fair number of failures. And, scientifically, in laboratory testing in ballistic gelatin, hardball is a consistent over penetrator (meaning it will penetrate PAST the 12-18″ that are considered ideal for human deterrence). We all ALSO know the guy that will tell you, “I carry a .22 for self defense because the mafia uses it for assassinations, and the bullets just do nasty things when they get inside of you. Like you can hit someone in the arm and the bullet will end up ricocheting all of the way into their brain! I know, my Uncle was a cop in St. Louis!” Again, projectiles can do weird things, but one thing that they cannot do is outstrip the constraints of science and grow new properties, like hyper penetration (in a lightweight/low weight projectile). It just doesn’t work like that. And, we have the laboratory, gelatin results for .22’s, and they are typically underwhelming in terms of penetration, often failing to meet the ideal penetration depth, of 12″ in tissue analog testing (ballistic gelatin). Unfortunately, these same people are often immune to logical proof, so debate with them is pointless. Thus, the seemingly perpetual motion machine of the great, “caliber debate,” that has occurred since people began launching projectiles of any kind at one another. I am a believer and practitioner of scientific skepticism, and I’ve spoken with people that claim they were abducted by aliens, and had various experiments performed on them. When you ask these people for proof, aside from their subjective, first person account, they have no proof. When you tell them that science as a whole doesn’t have definitive proof that ANY extraterrestrial life exists, they usually get angry and tell you that you simply refuse to believe, or that you work for the government. Sound familiar? This same type of, “cognitive dissonance,” (which is a psychological term to describe the feeling that a person suffers from when they attempt to simultaneously grasp two contradictory ideas) occurs in gunshops and discussion forums, daily. Too many of these folks walk around blissfully unaware of the wrong data that they spew from their mouths. And that’s a shame. Seeing aliens in the sky, Bigfoot in the woods, or bullets do magical things is a cultural phenomena…not a scientific one. Science doesn’t exist without physical evidence.
Effective shot placement is similar to real estate…it’s all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! What the modern scientific literature shows, is that a projectile delivered to the central nervous system, or the great blood vessels in the upper chest, OR the heart itself, usually are the most effective on a living, determined attacker, REGARDLESS of species. We tend to over-generalize this, and say things like, “aim for the center of mass, or the head.” I would slightly amend that and say, “From the front or rear of the attacker, or from the side of the attacker, aim for the central midline structures!” The entire, “center of mass,” concept goes out the window when someone turns sideways. We’ve all seen people whose center of mass might be two inches above their 52″ belt line. And turning sideways doesn’t mean that someone is running away from you, or turning away from you. They could simply be bladed away from you, beyond what we normally consider, unlike an aggressive paper target would be on the range. Even non-lethal hits, when delivered to the midline of a living beast, have the capability of producing a psychological stop. Plenty of people get shot in the gut or the groin, and while they may not die immediately, they will often lose interest in their present plans. Of course, we should always strive to deliver hits to the areas of the body that we KNOW are most effective, however, that isn’t always possible.
I know that there exists a certain degree of equipment snobbery in the self defense industry. Those with less than state of the art equipment CAN feel underprepared, but it is usually hollow thinking, if that person has the requisite skills required to defend themselves. I think you’ll find little overlap between the guns and gear recommendations of those that train with firearms frequently, and those that are casual shooters. The training fraternity tends to shoot their guns, thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of rounds a year. Thus, they tend to pick guns that work well in that high round count role. Can other guns serve for self-defense? SURE! Will those other guns last, if you were to subject them to a heavy practice regimen? They MIGHT. This is exactly why many students and instructors don’t recommend, “bargain,” brand pistols for serious purposes. You’d be better off to buy a used model of a known brand pistol or revolver. Same goes for long guns. COULD I rely on a Rossi Puma .357 lever gun for home defense? YES. But would I be able to practice with that carbine the way I want to, to gain the confidence necessary to have to shoot that weapon with great skill, against possibly multiple attackers, in close proximity to my loved ones? Possibly, but I don’t consider that gun to be tremendously rugged, and why push my luck if a 10/22, AR-15 or AKM will work effectively AND allow rigorous practice?
It all boils down to the user…If they have the mindset, tactics and skills in order, then the equipment is really a small, minor piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, much of this, “equipment envy,” gets carried over from the competition, military, and law enforcement worlds. In the competition world, practitioners of high skill levels CAN experience a benefit in their performance, with careful equipment selection. In fact, some types of gear are required to make that person even competitive at all. And in military and law enforcement operations, where the good guys are actively HUNTING down badguys, of course you want to have the absolute best, most state of the art gear to do that. But in civilian self-defense, the gear isn’t the limiting reagent in that reaction. It will always boil down to the superior mental awareness/mental preparedness, tactics, and skills. And unlike the military and the LEO, the civilian has the ability (and some states even require the DUTY) to avoid confrontation and escape from the clutches of human violence, whenever possible. Thus, if you ARE the CIVILIAN DEFENDER, it is to your benefit to be the best at sneaking your way OUT of any situation you may find yourself in. I don’t know about you, but I worry far more about my stealth, sneaking abilities, and not being selected as a victim, than I do about anything having to do with the fully functioning gun and ammunition in my holster and magazine carriers.
I guess I need to start coming up with better clickbait titles. I’ll probably get a bunch of, “Fantastic Four,” and CM Punk fans, and that’s totally cool. But, not at all related to what I am going to write about here. If I call this, “Offensive Driving for Rookies,” most people won’t read it. Because most American males think that they can drive like Mario Andretti, shoot like John Wick and really, that’s just not factual. If you read my article on BECOMING THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER, you will recall that I talked about the need to have enhanced driving skills. These are driving skills that go beyond the basics of what one would learn in a high school driver’s education course. No doubt, those basic skills are important, and should be mastered, but for the truly prepared individual, it helps to learn and master a bit beyond the basics. Now, I’m not recommending that everyone learn how to drive like Steve McQueen, but it helps to know a few distinct skills and tactics that can help you get out of a hairy situation.
I came up with this list after years of working in the armored truck industry, and as a fireman and emergency medical technician. In the armored truck industry, the main requirement for ultra-defensive driving was to prevent ambushes and move around city and highway traffic safely. We used to call them, “Highwaymen,” and now we call them, “carjackers,” or simply, “robbers.” But, as long as people have been putting valuables into armored boxes and moving them from place to place, there have been badguys who are determined to get their filthy hands on those valuables. So you need to have some driving game to escape those situations. Remember, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, the mission of the armored truck industry is to deliver the goods, and go home safely, after your shift ends…you know, JUST LIKE ANY OTHER CIVILIAN. Armored trucks have no duty to engage in a firefight with a bad guy, nor render mutual aid to law enforcement OR anyone else. Hollywood loves armored trucks, and 99% of what you’ve seen or heard about the armored truck industry is lore, and nothing more.
In the public safety industry, whether you are driving a police cruiser, an ambulance, or a fire engine, your need for defensive driving is underlined by the fact that despite the flashing lights all over your vehicle, and the 150 decibel siren you have screaming out from under your grille, most drivers are completely oblivious to their surroundings, and what is going on outside the cab of their respective conveyance. Whether they are tied up in a verbal domestic with another occupant, or be-bopping to their tunes, or talking on their phone or even worse, TEXTING on their phone, they simply do not see you. So, half of the peril in being a first responder is GETTING there, in one piece, so that none of your coworkers have to be in the, “rescue the rescuers,” role.
With all of that said, here are a few points and skills that I think, are important to consider for the truly prepared CIVILIAN DEFENDER. These are the tips I would give my rookies, in the ambulance and in the armored truck, to help them ensure success. After all, they are driving around with me in that truck, too. I’ll also teach my Son these tricks, in the next few years as he learns to drive.
KNOW, instinctively, the location of all four (or six) wheels of your vehicle, as easily as you know where your hands are in the dark. Webster’s Dictionary defines, “proprioception,” as: ” the reception of stimuli produced within the organism.” By this, I mean you should know, without thinking, where the four corners of your vehicle are, when you are behind the wheel, and by knowing this, also know where your wheels are. If you do, you can look at a space and judge whether or not you can fit there. I know my truck is 74 inches wide…two inches narrower than I am tall. I can look at a space and determine if I can fit there, and if I can fit, so can my truck! Go to any parking lot and look around. How many of those folks have done a crap job of parking their cars? Crooked in the space, too far to either side, extended into another space. Those folks either knowingly parked like a jerk, or they simply don’t know what they are doing. I’d wager to say that most of them simply don’t know. Another good example of this is when people attempt to back into a spot, or make a three point backing maneuver to get into/out of some space. We’ve all seen that person turn a simple two point maneuver into a seven, eight, or NINE point turn. We laugh because it’s funny, but we also laugh because it is true! If that person had any inkling of the actual dimensions of their vehicle, they’d know that they in fact had FEET around them, and weren’t in danger of hitting any obstacle. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know.
KNOW the performance capabilities of your vehicle…and DO NOT overestimate or underestimate them. How many times have you seen an obviously off-road capable vehicle (like a Toyota FJ, or a 4Runner) slide off of the side of the road, when it is snowing (or even raining) simply because the driver didn’t know what their vehicle was (or wasn’t) capable of doing? It happens in inclement weather states, all the time! Years back, in Western Washington State, my roommate and I made several hundred dollars a day just driving around in the snow, looking for motorists that had drifted off the road in the snow, and needed us to pull them out (using a Jeep and a winch). “Want to get back on the road? $20 please!” Furthermore, how many people think that they can, “dodge,” out into oncoming traffic, in a vehicle that does 0-60mph in MINUTES? That doesn’t work well either, for anyone involved. So don’t get out onto the open road until you know how much, “go,” your vehicle has, as well as how well the vehicle stops, and how tight you can turn (in the event you need to make a U turn on a street without breaking traction).
Don’t allow yourself to get, “stuck,” anywhere. At a stoplight? Make sure you have enough room to move. How much is enough? I like to be able to see the area between the tires of the vehicle in front of me, and the road underneath it. That gives me enough space to maneuver my pickup truck or my SUV laterally, if I need to get out of that area, quickly. It also prevents me from getting pinned between the vehicle in front of me, if there is one. Too many road rage incidents happen these days, and usually one of the involved parties is unwilling to engage. Hopefully, that person can simply escape the area and get mobile. The last place you want to be in a violent scenario is trapped inside of an immobile vehicle. Think of yourself as a shark…if you quit moving, you die! READ THIS recent account of one of my esteemed colleagues, and an incident he got into with a road rager!
You are behind the wheel of an extremely effective battering ram…if an attacking vehicle attempts to block your egress, BLIND THEM WITH SCIENCE! This thought process applied well to the armored truck, since they contained a tremendous amount of mass (20 tons) in a package just slightly larger (taller) than an extended length SUV. If you aim the centerline of your vehicle at a car that is attempting to block your path, aim for the axle closest to you. On impact, that vehicle will rotate about the opposite axle, and be quickly, and forcefully whipped out of your way. You can do this driving forward, or in reverse, direction doesn’t matter. If the vehicle is traveling head on, align the center of your vehicle with the outer edge of the attacker. Of course, in a truck that you have to back with mirrors alone, this is more difficult, but still not impossible. In a conventional passenger car, truck or SUV, this also works well. Also, you don’t have to be traveling tremendously fast to get good results with this. You’d be surprised what one 4000 vehicle traveling at 15mph can do to another vehicle trying to impede its progress…it can blow it right out of the way, with just a little direction and TWO TONS of science!
LOOK in the direction your vehicle is going. We get too reliant on mirrors, cameras and technology, and forget that the headrest on the passenger seat is there to give you something to hold onto and bolster yourself against when backing! I read once that, “MOST motor vehicle collisions are caused by people NOT looking in the direction that their vehicle is traveling!” Can you believe that? It sounds inane, but in my experience, I’ve witnessed many vehicular collisions that were realized when the person looked up from whatever they were doing, which wasn’t looking in the direction their vehicle was traveling! So simple, and yet so common.
You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost at MACH 2. As a child of a Naval Aviator, mantras like this were common in my youth. And having learned to drive from said aviator, I quickly learned, by the loud voice coming from the passenger seat, to keep my, “eye on the sky,” ahead of me…several vehicles ahead of me. If you don’t, you are relying on the guy in front of you to react to whatever threats come along the road. Broken tires, radar traps, potholes (big hazard in Tennessee…like knock your tire off the bead potholes) drunks, erratic drivers. All of these things don’t exist in a vacuum, and the easiest way to avoid them is to simply NOT be there when they pass. See them, identify them, take evasive action, look for the next threat. Of course, you aren’t traveling at MACH 2, but you get the point. Even at a modest 60 miles per hour, you are moving along at 88 feet per second! To even react to something (human reaction time is .25 seconds average from visual stimulus) at 60 miles per hour (like a collision in front of you) you have already traveled 22 feet! So conserve your mental focus, maintain your following distance, and keep your eyes on the road!
The driver DRIVES, the shotgun SHOOTS. When I was in my law enforcement degree studies, a part of the training was relative to what was called, “Officer Survival.” One of the tactics germaine to the topic was to not let anyone, “walk up,” on your patrol car, since they could essentially fill your car full of bullets, while you just sat there and took it. So, to pass that grading portion, you had to be hypervigiliant about NOT getting caught in your vehicle. And I figured out quickly that the best way to rapidly egress my vehicle on an aggressive walk up was with a pistol already in hand! Well, fast forward to my first foray into the ghettos of South Seattle, in a fully armored truck (my door doesn’t open, mind you…it’s bolted shut, in fact). I pull to a stop light, and notice that there are six youths posted up on the corner, and all of them are mean mugging me. The light is still red. They start to walk, all at once, directly for my door, and I draw my pistol, instinctively and bring it up to eye level. The light turned green and I hit the gas, blowing past the six turds, who stood there, in a cloud of black diesel smoke. I looked in the rear view mirror at my partner who said, “Mr. Sherman…you’ll find that our vehicle is quite resilient against anything a bunch of hoodlums in shorts and undershirts can conceal on their person. You just worry about driving.” I felt like a dope, holstered my pistol, and went back to worrying about driving. The reason that you and your friends yell, “SHOTGUN,” (meaning the guy that rides in the passenger seat, up front) is because in the, “old days,” when an armored truck consisted of a stage coach with an iron and wood, “strong box,” mounted somewhere in it (usually under the butts of the crew) the guy that handled the reins of the horses was called the, “driver.” The guy with the shotgun was called the, “shotgun messenger,” or just the, “shotgun.” His job was to shoot any highwaymen, or interlopers that would impede the normal progress of the coach. Same with the armored truck…same with you and your soccer Mom van…when you are moving, and still capable of moving (meaning your vehicle has not been disabled by physical damage) your best defensive and offensive weapon is your vehicle! Someone tries to pin you but you smash them out of the way and round a corner? KEEP DRIVING AND CALL 911! Let the police get there and stop the bad guys. Under most circumstances, unless your vehicle becomes irreparably immobile, does the, “driving solution,” go out the window in favor of the, “shooting solution.”
There are other skills and tactics that you can think of, and if so, share them in the comments section. These are a few that I KNOW work, because I’ve used them myself, or seen them used in my presence, OR I’ve seen the aftermath as a first responder.
First, glad you are back. I dont know what you were dealing with but hope its settled and you are able to get back to doing what you enjoy.
Second, I am still anxiously awaiting the sequel to the Is the 19 the new K frame which is the is the 26 the new J frame.
Third and my actual question. As someone who has shot revolvers a lot. What are your thoughts on a front site such as an XS? I have thought of installing one on my 60 just havent gotten around to it. I am sure it will make fast up close but wonder how it will effect my 25 yards shots.
1. Thanks man. I was recovering from heart surgery.
2. It’s in the works. The conclusion might surprise you though. There are things a J frame CAN do that a Glock 26, can’t. The same can’t be said for the G19/K frame…
3. I LIKE the XS front, the problem is that the rear notch (on the stock revolver) isn’t regulated to the front. Some folks get lucky and get a good POA/POI intersection, and others end up shooting FEET high at relatively close distances (<15 yards). It really depends on the gun. It also depends on the shooter, and which, “part,” of the dot you are using (meaning, “dot,” centered in the notch, the center of the, “dot,” or tritium vial bottomed out in the notch, etc). I know a gent that had Jim Fuller at Rifle Dynamics run a ball-end mill through the sight trough of his revolver, opening it up into a semi-lunar shape, which was regulated properly, and served him well. That was on an all stainless gun, and I don’t know if that same thing would work on an Airweight frame though, as I imagine all of that extra aluminum is necessary for safety and wear resistance.
I thought that the Smith Nightguard series was great, but, they calibrated the C&S rear to fit the height and shape of the front (XS) sight. Why they can’t make an analog of that in J frame format, is beyond me. Silly, really. I don’t think it would take a tremendous effort to figure out the dimensions on the Novak type rear sight that comes on the Smith 640 Pro, and offer it in other J frames. I’m sure it would sell among the training community…which means that Smith might sell 1000 of them. Maybe a few more. That’s just the brakes of business.
Thank you for the questions!
XS Big Dots are kind of like Donald Trump…either you love him or you hate him! There are very few fence sitters when it comes to the Big Dots. As far as my views on them, I think that they are just fine for defensive purposes. When I was a younger man, and my vision hadn’t yet been significantly affected by staring into people’s mouths for several years, I would’ve said that the Big Dots were fine, but that there were other sighting options out there that might be better for some people. However, now that I am dealing with, “approaching middle age vision,” I don’t mind Big Dots at all. Really, the issues that I have had with them are less about the sights and the sight picture itself, than the construction of the sights. I’ve had the, “dot,” itself eject from the sight set of a S&W Shields (twice) and I’ve lost the front dot on a Glock before. Of course, the gents at XS handled that perfectly, and sent me replacements, but it does create a concern for me. All three, “loss events,” occurred in practice, while I was shooting 5-8 shot strings, in between reholstering. I drew the pistol, and realized that the dot was gone, or the dot ejected early on in the string of fire. Bummer either way. I’ve met people who shoot exceedingly well with Big Dots, both young and experienced, and I’ve seen complete novice’s do really well with Big Dots in both live fire and FOF scenarios.
Sights are like shoes, underwear and yes, even politicians…what I like and prefer, might not be your cup of tea at all. In the gun industry, there is a big push to say, “THIS,” is what you need. Whether it’s sights, a holster, belts, shooting glasses, ear protection, or any myriad of other equipment pieces. But everyone is a different size and shape, and has different abilities. So no, “one thing,” is going to work for everyone, all the time. I’m not sure what drives people to want to seek that level of organization. Perhaps it is the thinking that people use similar to how they think about M4 usage for civilian home/business defense…”It is good enough for the military and my local police, so I NEED that level of equipment, too.” I get it, it’s proven (maybe) and mil-spec, but don’t forget the context; unless you ARE the military or the police, your mission is significantly different. So pick what works for you. Get sights that you can see, and shoot to the point of aim and point of impact of your chosen practice and carry loading. Then worry about something else! It’s really easy to get wrapped up and concerned about the gear, but the gear is actually the LAST thing you need to worry about (SEE HERE FOR MORE DETAILS). In 99% of cases, most gear will do, if YOU will do.
The following is a brief exchange I recently had with Chris Fry of MDTS Training (Modern Defensive Training Systems). Chris is an excellent practitioner and instructor of the multidisciplinary curriculum I talked about HERE. He is also one of the plank holders of the Paul-E-Palooza Memorial Training Conference, and a regular presenter at the RANGEMASTER Polite Society Conference.
REVOLVER SCIENCE: Do the magazine restrictions in NY affect your student’s choices in the handguns that they use for personal protection? i.e. are students more likely to choose a, “size efficient,” handgun, versus a large pistol with a neutered magazine?
MDTS: The magazine restrictions in NY are 10 round mags. The NYSafe Act passed by Cuomo in 2012 attempted to limit the mags to 7 rounds however a Western NY judge threw that part out and it went to an appellate circuit and was withheld. So, we can own and carry 10 round mags. Even during the “7 round scare” people still bought full size, compact and subcompact pistols and I saw/see a mixture of all three. Maybe 1-2 subcompact in each class but most just go about things the way they have always done.
REVOLVER SCIENCE: Do you see 5, 6, 7 or 8 shot revolvers in your classes? If yes, how do the students fair, compared to the semi-auto pistol students?
MDTS: Occasionally I see 5 shot snubs but not often. They are pretty rare. When I do see them it’s usually a women or a guy with a BUG. They do OK compared to others with a little guidance on efficient loading but are usually slower. Shooting ability varies from student to student. Some have done as well as others with full size pistols and some needed more work than what they received in a one day class.
REVOLVER SCIENCE: Do you design your pistol drills to cater to the reduced capacity magazines?
MDTS: No. I emphasize the fact that we are allowed to carry a limited amount of ammunition, that we don’t get to decide how many aggressors we may need to engage and that ammunition management should be done when we want, not when we need. Meaning they should continually manage their ammunition via deliberate reloading when time and opportunity provides. This is also emphasized during malfunction drills specific to the “double feed” or failure to extract in that a lot of places I’ve gone to emphasized dumping/throwing the offending mag away because, well, you’re in a pistol class and have 13 spare mags on your belt. I do my best to add a little practically to it reminding people that 1) if it’s in the home MOST are likely to have gun with one mag in it. 2) how many spare mags do you carry? Maybe one. So, clearing that failure to extract while retaining that mag is something I try to get people to consider.
Interesting thoughts! I agree with Chris’ views, having lived through that wondrous time known infamously as the, “Crime Bill of 1994,” and I did live and learn with a Glock 19 and an HK USP .45, both with 10 round magazines.
I get, “fan mail,” (I’ll call it that instead of HATE mail) where people ask me why I own a site called, “REVOLVER SCIENCE,” but often talk about how and why the semi-automatic pistol is superior to the revolver. I wonder if the first automobile manufacturers got mail asking, “WHAT WAS WRONG WITH MY HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGE? KEEP YOUR NEW FANGLED MACHINES TO YOURSELF!” Who knows? People are odd, in general, and, “gun,” people can be strange, and often oddly sentimental. I try to embrace technology, and use it to better my life. Isn’t that the point, after all?
I asked Chris at MDTS the questions you just read because I was curious, in the training communities he works in that can be considered, “behind enemy lines,” due to their persistent set of gun control laws and magazine restrictions, because if ANYWHERE an 8 shot .357 revolver would be welcomed, it would be in a place that had a magazine capacity restriction, right? But the majority of revolvers that Chris sees are the J frames (5 shots). Makes sense…since carrying an 8 shot N frame, while it may deliver the, “horsepower,” of a 10 +1 Glock 19, it requires more square footage to carry, and conceal. For home defense, the argument could be made to have one staged in a quick access safe, but in a home defense situation, what can a large frame revolver do that a shotgun cannot? ALLOW YOU TO SEARCH EFFECTIVELY AND RETRIEVE CHILDREN/THE PHYSICALLY INFIRM. Understood, but what’s easier to shoot one handed…a large frame revolver or a Glock 19? I have pretty big hands, and I’m much better with a Glock 19 one handed, than I am a large frame revolver. Most of this is rhetorical, and I say it to inspire thinking, not to quash whatever home defense system you have in place, or are thinking about putting in place.
Revolvers are SIMPLE in operation, but DIFFICULT in utilization. The long, DA trigger pull takes work to perfect. Sending that shot straight, takes precision and care. Of course, any of this can be addressed through practice, but I absolutely believe that it is easier to train a novice on a compact framed or full sized semi-automatic pistol, than it is to train the same person on a revolver. As much as I love K frame revolvers for all around use, the learning curve is steeper with the revolver, versus the semi-auto.
Some folks have hypothesized that in the immediate future, we might see more gun control efforts and even an eventual abolishment of semi-automatic weapons, full stop, by the government. In that case, regular folks like you and I would be saddled with using manually operated weapons (revolvers, lever action/bolt action rifles, and single, double and pump action shotguns) for self-defense. Nobody is really doing that right now…NOT EVEN NY! Thus, it would be a culture change, no doubt. If that DOES happen, how would it change your day to day life? Would you carry two guns (if you don’t already)? How much more time would you devote to practice to get your revolver game on-point? Again, just some things to consider. I think both you and I can deduce from the excellent points given by Chris Fry above that the capacity limitations of the machine you carry (whether pistol or revolving pistol) matter not…how YOU utilize the equipment that you have, DOES matter. For more about that, read here.
If you are in the market for superb multi-disciplinary training, give Chris Fry and MDTS a look, and tell him the Doctor sent you! You can find Chris, here:
This is a podcast interview I did recently with Paul Carlson. It’s a long interview, but I think we covered some interesting material that podcast fans will get a kick out of. Paul is a great interviewer, and he asked me a bunch of really thought provoking questions. I misspoke at one point when I referred to myocarditis…I should have said, “infective endocarditis.” Nit picky detail, and there is a good deal of overlap between the two conditions, but I’ve had myocarditis on-the-brain lately, since I’m dealing with the sequalae of myocarditis, myself. So forgive my lapse.
We cover a bunch of topics, including my life before dentistry, the need for pre planning, “defensive driving plus,” foiling carjackings, gang violence, “defining the threat,” The Tactical Professor, the OODA loop and Glycolysis, Dr. William Aprill and lion chasing, and a bunch of armored truck material. I hope you have as much enjoyment listening to it, as Paul and I had making it.
Check out Paul and Safety Solutions Academy if you live in, or travel to, Northern Ohio. Paul has a great civilian-centric curriculum, and he also features a number of traveling trainers, including my Paul-E-Palooza co-founder, Dr. William Aprill! https://safetysolutionsacademy.com/blogpodcast/
Or, if you already have a podcast player, go to, “Safety Solutions Academy,” and I am show #62.
You can call them, “Gym guns,” or, “Gi Guns,” or, “Sweatpants guns,” or, “Board shorts guns,” but we are all talking about the same thing…an abbreviated version of a full size pistol, or a purpose built compact or subcompact gun, made for ease of carry, and less for ease of use. MANY folks are relying on these guns in the limited or specialized role of low profile carry to the gym/yoga studio (although how in the hell someone does yoga with a gun on, without everyone seeing said gun, is beyond me) or running in the park or the track. Along those same lines, many members of the Civilian Defender crowd rely on an abbreviated weapon, for everyday carry, either out of convenience (hey, smaller guns ARE easier to carry!) or because they don’t want to get made by their peers, or their employer, either out of embarrassment, or because they might lose their job. We’ve all got to put food on the table, and the best way to do that is through gainful employment! Luckily, I’m self employed.
I work out, five to six days per week, in a style of workout called, “High Intensity Interval Training.” I’ll make the caveat that HIIT workouts aren’t for everyone; either you love it or you hate it. I find that it works well for both my fitness goals, AND since I’m recovering (3 months now) from heart surgery, it allows me to give my recently remodeled and rebooted heart a good amount of stimuli, to encourage healing. On Mondays, the workout consists of a 60 minute interval of jogging/running and sprinting on a treadmill, and lifting weights, specifically focusing on the arms. There are a number of different trainers, who do a number of different workouts. It is really hard to get the same workout twice, even from the same trainer. So, I went to a trainer that has a VERY difficult arm day, in hopes that I would not be able to lift my arms afterward, and be really shaky. Of course, this feeling is transient, and is gone within a few hours. But, I thought it might be interesting to shoot a series of abbreviated guns, using the TACTICAL PROFESSOR’S BASELINE PERFORMANCE DRILL, and see how I faired, with noodle arms.
I shot the drills faster than I normally do. Normally, I really stress accuracy, and that is the point of the drill, but with my arms smoked, I didn’t really feel like holding them out in front of me, as long as I normally would in a non-tensed state! Not spraying and praying, by any means, but definitely faster than laying bullets on top of other bullets. On the 3 shot and 4 shot strings, I was going for .5 splits or better, regardless of range. The other complicating factor is that all of these guns have short sight radii, meaning that the distance from the front sight to the rear sight is abbreviated, and thus a bit of a wobble that might be barely perceivable on a 4″ barreled service pistol, is QUITE apparent on the shorter barreled guns…and even worse with the shakes.
I’m sure that there will be people who will disagree with me on this, but I find that in the majority of situations that a CIVILIAN DEFENDER will find themselves in, the choice of the pistol matters not. My personal caveats are that it is chambered in a round that is effective (READ: .38 Special is my minimum) and that it is controllable (READ: I don’t like Scandium/Titanium frame J frames…partially because they are brutal to shoot, which inhibits regular practice, and also because they are ammo sensitive; you cannot use certain bullets since they will pull, with inertia, from the cases). I don’t care if you use a revolver (duh) or a pistol for personal self-defense. Nobody is raiding a fortified Nazi castle here…we are just regular Joes and JoeAnne’s trying to get back to our car with a load of groceries. Tom Givens from RANGEMASTER keeps a database of all of his students that have been involved in self-defense shootings. Of all of his students, he has had 65, to date, that have been involved in armed self-defense situations. Of those 65, three of those students were murdered, for the contents of their pockets, because they were unarmed. The other 62 were armed, and were victorious. Of those 62, whether they had a pistol or a revolver, they made it through their nightmare. So, while it would be GREAT for everyone to pack a Glock 19 or a Smith M&P, I know that isn’t a possibility for everyone due to stature, or finances, or simply aesthetics. So whatever you use, make sure you can get it out of the holster and onto the bad guy quickly, hit exactly what you are aiming at, reload it if it runs empty, and fix it if it stops running. Make it a point to achieve a high level of mastery in all of those skills, and you’ll be well prepared for the majority of situations you’ll encounter. The choice of pistol is really not as important as most people consider it to be. Don’t buy or carry crap, but think of it analogously to a car, that you may have to drive across the country. Would you buy an uncomfortable, poorly functioning, piece of crap, made of pot metal and held together with wood screws? Guns in the same vein exist, and some foolish boobs use them for self-defense. Don’t be that guy or gal.
The Smith and Wesson M&P Compact 9mm. Similar in size envelope to the Glock 26 (sorta halfway in size between a Glock 26 and a Glock 19) is this handy little machine. My significant other has one of these as her carry piece, and although I’ve had this pistol for several years, I bought it, got distracted by something, and it just sat in my safe. I changed the sights from the factory Novak with 3 painted white dots (which I have found have a tremendous propensity to fly out of the sockets of the sights, while shooting) to the Dawson Precision, “Charger,” fiber optic sights. Partially because like I said, I don’t like the ejecting dots on the Novaks, and also because I wanted to test the utility of fiber optics on a carry gun. I REALLY like the rear sight on this. If the front sight takes a dump on me, I’ll just replace it with something that is the same height and width, but made of steel.
I know that someone with a science background is going to read this and flip their wig at all the variables that I threw in here. So, in that vein, no…it is not, “rigorous scientific testing.” However, it is reproducible to you, the reader. Go beat your arms to a pulp, in whatever form of exercise you prefer. Then take any accuracy intensive drill (preferably one you know how you shoot, “cold,” in a non-tensed state) and shoot it when your arms feel like limp spaghetti noodles. Compare your scores. MY TAKEAWAY from this is that sights and trigger manipulation will get you through, even if you’re not using a gun you’ve completely, “bonded,” to. Also, the acceptable, “wobble zone,” when you are in a post-exercise state, “moves,” quicker. The involuntary rattle in the limbs and hands does a pretty good job, I think, of simulating peri-incident stress. That makes the wobble zone, especially on the distant shooting strings, more difficult to manage, and really requires a sure grip, and careful manipulation of the trigger. A few readers have asked how I manipulate the trigger, and I use the, “flip and press,” method taught by Bill Rogers of the Rogers shooting school. I find that I don’t have the, “trigger freeze,” issue that some folks experience when switching from pistol to revolver and vice versa. I can also switch from DAO autos to DA/SA without a drastic transition.
But that wobble zone…shooting at distance, even only 45 feet, when your arms are burning and weak feeling, is difficult! Give it a try and post your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!
It has been nearly four years since Paul Everett Gomez died, in Seattle WA. Paul was on his way to British Columbia, to deliver his unique brand of training. Paul had two flagship courses, 1. RPM…”Robust Pistol Manipulation” that was Paul’s unique spin on ambidextrous gun handling, both shooting, loading, and fixing malfunctions, with EACH hand and one-hand-only, and 2. “Urban AK,” which was essentially, utilization of the AK at distances normally reserved for pistol and shotgun work, that is, inside of 25 yards. Paul slept on my sofa bed, the night before he departed Nashville for Seattle, and he left his carry pistol, a Glock 17, and his, “bag gun,” an underfolding AKM, in my possession. Paul stayed at my house regularly, every couple of days, and this was the custom when he flew to places he couldn’t carry at. I still have Paul’s guns, and they will be given to his children once they are old enough to have them.
I first met Paul at a Tactical Response, “Fighting Rifle,” course in about the Fall of 2006. Paul and I were the only students in a class of ten, that were using AK variants. At the time, the carbine itself cost less than $350, and a case of Wolf ammunition was $99, and sometimes you could find it for $79! Very inexpensive by today’s standards. Magazines were plentiful, and could be had for $8 to $10 each. Well, Paul and I were, at first, the odd men out, as everyone else in the class had an M4 of some sort, along with the flashlights, and red dot optics that work so well with the Stoner family of carbines and rifles. Paul and I had simple, wood stocked rifles, with simple nylon slings, and iron sights. They were about as, “stock,” as an AK could get. The weather was cold, and there was even some snow on the ground, but despite the precipitation, neither of our rifles had any malfunctions, and we both finished the class admirably. Our friendship was forged from there on out.
Over the next several years, I trained with Paul extensively. Sometimes we went to conferences, and would be in the same instruction blocks, and other times, we would just beat the stuffing out of each other in my living room, garage, or backyard. We also worked and taught together, both at the home range in Tennessee, and on the road. We formed a local training group, which used a rural range to test out various experimental training blocks, that would eventually become Paul’s flagship course, (RPM) as well as his Urban AK class. Paul and I devised an, “AK battlefield pickup,” drill that we ran students of varying skill levels through, at a tactical conference. Paul favored the AK, and I was a fan of the shotgun.
Before Paul’s death, he had been working on a book covering his method of AK utilization, for the civilian user. It was never published. Excerpts of it are here, and will illustrate what Paul thought that the AK could do for the self-defense user.
Understanding the Role of the Carbine in Self Defense
It’s been said that defensive gun training should begin with the handgun and after sufficient skill has been gained with it, training with carbines, rifles and shotguns is appropriate. The same people who make that statement generally go on to explain how poor the pistol is at stopping fights and that the only reason to carry a pistol is because it is not socially acceptable to walk around town with a rifle slung on your shoulder. I maintain that if you are not going to carry a pistol with you at all times and have it immediately available for use, if you are going to have to go and fetch a gun in times of duress, then you would be vastly better served by fetching a shoulder fired, magazine fed, semiautomatic carbine. Everything that the pistol can do the carbine can do better, except remain unseen. Even if you do carry a pistol with you at all times and you are aware of a problem brewing which you cannot avoid, you would be better served fetching that same carbine to the fight.
There exists a misconception that shoulder fired weapons are for use at great distances and, somehow, they are inappropriate for use in close range affairs. This is nonsense. Starting in the early 1980s, some trainers in the private sector began offering training in the short-range use of the rifle. Unfortunately it took events such as the so-called “Miami Massacre” on 11 April 1986 and the “North Hollywood Shootout” on 28 February 1997 and many less tragic events, to gain wide spread acceptance within the general law enforcement and training communities.
Comparing the shoulder fired, magazine fed, semiautomatic AK directly to the handheld, magazine fed, semiautomatic pistol should clarify the issues involved.
• The carbine fires a cartridge that strikes with appreciably greater authority than any defensive handgun cartridge. There is simply no comparison between the damage done by handguns cartridges and that done by, even relatively puny, rifle cartridges like the 7.62×39.
• The greater sight radius available on long arms aids in practical, real world accuracy. “Sight radius” is the distance between the front and rear sights. On pistols it is minimal. For instance, on a Glock M19 the distance between the front and rear sight is a paltry 5.75 inches. On a standard AK, the sight radius is 14.25 inches. The closer the sights are the greater the error as range increases. This means that I could have a sighting error approximately 2.5 times worse when using an AK and still hit as well as I could with a Glock at the same distance. In other words, due to the greater sight radius, we have more room for error with less disastrous effects in close range engagements with the carbine than we do with the pistol.
• Due to the greater number of interface points, or physical reference points, between shooter and gun with the carbine you can utilize your whole body to mitigate recoil and control and move the gun. When this is coupled with the longer sight radius, the ability to get hits under stress is vastly superior to the pistol.
• Standard magazine capacity for the AK is 30 rounds. Standard magazine capacity for most pistols is rarely greater than fifteen rounds and the availability of standard capacity magazines for pistols is problematic and, in some cases cost prohibitive. Thirty round magazines for most AK carbines are readily available for less than $10 apiece at the time of this writing. Having a large on-board ammunition capacity allows the operator to expend less time and energy manipulating his equipment and spend more time involved in solving and/or extracting himself from the problem.
• Lastly, the use of the carbine is largely range independent. With an appropriately zeroed weapon, you merely put your sights on what you intend to hit and work the trigger without disturbing the alignment, regardless of distance from two feet out to beyond 200 meters. You cannot do this with any other platform. Not with pistols, not with long guns chambered for pistol calibers and not with shotguns.
Understand that the defensive fight does not magically transform into something other than what it is based on how you have chosen to arm yourself (the number of bad guys doesn’t change, their intentions don’t change, whether they are wearing body armor isn’t affected by the presence of a rifle, etc.) but, also understand, you may effect great changes upon the participants based on how you have chosen to arm yourself.
Paul was literally a walking, talking database of names, dates, factoids, and seemingly miniscule details on the most arcane, odd, and strange things of anyone I have every known. Most folks remember Paul being an amazing historian and expert in just the firearms and training fields, however, he was also AS knowledgeable in general! So, in the spirit of Paul Everett Gomez, I sought out one of Century Arms’ latest creations, an American MADE Kalashnik0v variant (the Hungarian AK63D), and ran it through a series of drills, instruction blocks and bumping around on my travels, to see how it held up, and if it would function in the capacity of a self-defense weapon, or, THE URBAN AK!
One issue that many American shooters gripe about with Kalashnikov pattern rifles is the safety (AKA selector) lever. On some weapons, the safety lever will flop about, willy-nilly, and on other samples, it will be tight and nearly immovable. The AK63D’s selector lever was moved easily, and clicked into place with a very positive and palpable fee. Paul’s thoughts on safety lever manipulation were as follows:
Manipulating the Safety
The two biggest complaints with the AK platform have always been the sights and the location of the selector lever. Thankfully, we have sighting options now that we didn’t have just a short while ago, but we are stuck with the clackety-clack selector lever. The selector lever is placed in a completely inappropriate location which prohibits the user from maintaining a firing grip on the gun while being in a position to disengage the safety in a timely manner. There are several different methods of actuating the safety, as well as simply carrying the gun with the chamber empty and the safety off and racking the action prior to engagement. I would no more advocate carrying a carbine with the chamber empty than I would for carrying a pistol in that condition. If you store your AK with the chamber clear that’s well and good, but when it is put into defensive service, it needs to have a round in the chamber and the safety engaged. The method that I advocate maintains a physical reference point on the pistol grip, keeps excess movement to a minimum, and allows positive control over the weapon should that become an issue in close quarters.
As the weapon is depressed into the ready position, the gun-side hand loosens its grip allowing the fingers and wrist to rotate to make contact with then selector lever. The thumb of the gun-side hand stays around the pistol grip as much as possible. For me this means that the tip of my right thumb back to the first joint stays around the pistol grip and my second (social) finger contacts the shelf on the selector lever, with my index finger resting above and my ring finger resting below. Once contact has been made, upward pressure moves the selector lever to safe and the hand maintains its position with the fingers staged on the selector lever and the thumb hooked around the pistol grip. The gun-side hand maintains this position at all times unless it must perform a task which requires it to move elsewhere. To disengage the safety and establish a firing grip, the fingers initially move as a unit dragging downward in a tight arc. Once the safety has been disengaged, the fingers continue moving towards the pistol grip, with the exception of the trigger finger which immediately locates the trigger and begins the firing stroke. This action sequence is known as “Click-Touch”. As the selector lever disengages the safety (click) the trigger finger locates the trigger (touch) and begins to remove the slack (if you intend to fire immediately).
Due to the positioning of the gun-hand thumb, it is very intuitive to help secure the gun by grasping the pistol grip tightly to aid in retention. With many of the other methods taught for actuating the safety, the gun-side hand is merely resting on the selector without assisting in controlling the gun at all. Should a disarm attempt be made against someone holding an AK in that fashion, the gun literally peels away from them. Maintaining a firm grasp of the magazine and having the gun-side thumb indexed to grasp the pistol grip goes a long way toward insuring your control of the gun.
In keeping with the Gomez Doctrine, I decided to put the carbine to paper, in a test that would demonstrate many of the operating characteristics that Paul believed make the AK a superior weapon for the civilian defender to use, in lieu of a pistol, at, “probable,” engagement distances. That is, particularly 5-10 yards (household distances) and a maximum of 25 yards (upper limits of the majority of civilian self-defense shootings). To do this, I used one of my (NOW) favorite benchmark tests, THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR’S, “BASELINE PERFORMANCE,” drill. I slightly modified it for the rifle, starting at the Gomez, “Low Ready,” and shooting the drills at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards. I used a 30 round Bulgarian Waffle Magazine, and a 20 round Hungarian magazine for the drill. As I said, I started from the, “Low Ready Position,” that Gomez talked about, here:
Deployment from Ready Positions
The default ready position for use with the Kalashnikov, or any other carbine, is known as the Low Ready Position. It is important to understand that low ready is a flexible position. It is not a fixed point, such as “the support side arm must rest against the ribcage and the muzzle must be held at a 45-degree angle” but rather any point along a given arc that accomplishes the necessary goal at that time. Low ready can be with the gun muzzle depressed just below the eye-target line and it can also be with the muzzle pointing six inches forward of your toes. I feel quite strongly that good guys don’t point guns at other good guys, so for me, my default low ready position directs the muzzle at such an angle that it is pointing towards the ground in front of whomever I am interacting with. The exact angle changes based on distance and environmental factors, but this position allows me to observe the scene while obstructing as little of it as possible, not violate any of the universal gunhandling rules and still present and aggressive image.
To familiarize yourself with the low ready position, begin with the gun on point, in the offhand position. From the offhand position, depress the muzzle. Realize that only the shoulders and the upper portion of the stock are moving. As the muzzle moves downward, the butt stock will begin to move away from your chest. As long as the lower portion of the stock, called the toe, remains in place and both hands maintain their original positions on the gun, you are in an acceptable low ready. The toe of the stock maintaining contact with your chest serves as a physical reference point which, along with the cheekbone, allows you to rapidly return the gun to the offhand position and engage the threats as need be.
Anytime that the weapon is not on point, aimed in on a target, or malfunctioning, it should be on safe. Practicing moving the selector lever from safe to fire as the AK is brought from ready to point and as it is brought from point to ready you should practice the reverse. It does absolutely no good to quickly get your gun on target only to discover that it won’t go bang and it’s rather embarrassing.
For additional study, I’ve included Paul’s thoughts on the, “extreme low ready.”
Muzzle Depressed Centerline Ready
Muzzle depressed centerline ready can be thought of as an extreme low ready. However, it possesses some unique attributes which must be addressed separately. The purpose of the muzzle depressed centerline position is to allow unrestricted movement in 360 degrees. If you were to attempt to turn completely around with your carbine in a more traditional low ready position, the cone that would be swept by the muzzle would be unacceptable in many situations. It would also require an inordinate amount of attention to continuously adjust the muzzle to avoid non-threats in the environment. With the muzzle depressed centerline ready, the gun can be “parked” with the muzzle straight down between your feet. To place the AK into muzzle depressed centerline ready, dismount the gun from the offhand position into low ready. As the edge of the magazine contacts your centerline around waist level, rotate the gun towards your non-gun side so that the ejection port is facing forward and your grip is maintained on the magazine which is now facing towards your gun-side. The gun-side hand releases from the pistol grip, except for the thumb and stages on the selector lever, as described previously. To return to the offhand position from here, simply rotate the gun inboard which returns it to low ready and continue back to the offhand position.
The stock sights are made to please the collector and military purist crowd, and they simply are tough to use! There is almost no light visible on either side of the front sight, in the stock configuration. I did paint the front sight with red nail polish, after shooting outdoors in the bright sun, to help pick it up, quickly. I will also take a dental diamond bur to the rear sight and hog it out into a, “U-notch,” not unlike the Warren Tactical Sights on my pistol. If you don’t have access to dental rotary tools, you could use a dremel, and I know other folks that have done the same thing manually, with a chainsaw file. This seemingly simple and basic modification makes a simple rifle even better. Hit it with a Q tip full of cold blue to cut down on the glare, and you are ready.
Paul and I used to argue at length, over sasparillas (me) and Shock Tops (him) about the viability of the AK as a home/shop defense weapon for the (what I am now calling) CIVILIAN DEFENDER. I was a dogged fan of the shotgun for home defense, and he was an AK proponent, although we both practiced with each weapon type. At the time, the Corbon DPX for the 7.62×39 had been widely released, and Paul was a fan of it for anti-personnel use. We talked about the danger of pellet accountability, but I think a great deal of that would have been remedied by the Federal Flite Control buckshot loading. One thing I learned from Paul (of many) was to thoroughly think through a problem…no matter how small, and study the component parts, to figure out what the best direction to find the answer was. I think that Paul would LOVE the Century Arms American Made AK’s. Even though he would probably prefer a stamped receiver, instead of the milled, due to the weight savings, he would agree that the AK63D is a rugged, accurate, well-handling machine, with just a couple of tweaks (to the grip and the sights), would serve well in the role of the, “Urban AK.”
The world lost a Great Father, a Good Friend, a Wise Instructor, and a Brilliant Polymath in May 2012. Paul lived to seek out knowledge, and he was very much a believer in the idea that if you wanted to master a subject, you should teach it! Paul loved attending multidisciplinary tactical conferences, like the RANGEMASTER Polite Society Conference, as well as other regional and topical conferences. In that vein, in the day following the discovery of Paul’s death, I began a monetary trust to support Paul’s three children, so that they would always be able to educationally prosper, and not go without the things that their Dad would have provided for them. With HUGE support from Craig Douglas, Paul Sharp, Chris Fry, Cecil Burch, Tom and Lynne Givens, Claude Werner, Rob Pincus, Larry Lindenman, Chuck Haggard, Caleb Causey and the entire TPI (Total Protection Interactive) community, Dr. William Aprill and I organized the first PAUL-E-PALOOZA MEMORIAL TRAINING CONFERENCE in 2012. It was a huge educational and philanthropical success. We had the second PEP in 2014, and the third in 2015. Every year, we gather more interesting instructors AND great corporate sponsors (in keeping with the mood of the conference, our only educational requirement of the instructors is that the material has to be part of the multidisciplinary spectrum, and the weirder, or more arcane, the better. KEEP PEP WEIRD). The NEXT PAUL-E-PALOOZA MEMORIAL TRAINING CONFERENCE will be in August of 2017. I will post details as soon as they become available. ALL of the funds that are generated by the tuition fees go into the Paul E. Gomez Children’s Trust, and so far, we have raised over $100,000 for Paul’s kids. We have paid for Paul’s eldest daughter, Gabriella, to attend LSU, and we have paid for the other kids’ Boy Scout Camps, medical expenses, and so many other things that their Dad would’ve handled, if he was still alive. It’s something that I plan on continuing as long as I am able to! If you have attended the past PEP’s, THANK YOU for doing so, and if you want to attend the PEP’s of the future, stay tuned here, for updates on the specifics of the next conference.
If you spend any amount of time shooting revolvers you’ve no doubt discovered that revolvers can be , uh, fickle. Some days, they work with the perfection and regularity of a Swiss watch, and other days, they are like the Fiat of guns. This can be really frustrating! There are times where I want to throw the offending wheelgun into the nearest body of water, and simply press-on with life, using a semi-automatic pistol.
In my estimation, a revolver is very similar to the car you had in high school. It was your, “first,” love. You either bought or were given that car and you were responsible for its care. When you think back, you kind of miss that car. Even though it probably wasn’t the most state-of-the-art vehicle on the road, or didn’t have the most comfortable seats or the greatest sound system, you loved it anyway, despite its flaws. And you look back at it, wistfully. Revolvers, for many people, hold the same amount of nostalgia.
I’m talking about people like me here, but my first handgun was a revolver. My first formal instruction was with a revolver, and my first several years as a professional armored truck crewman found me armed with a revolver. So I know the beast well. Times have changed, and although I still carry a wheelgun as a back up gun on my ankle, I still put in more time on other revolvers, aside from the BUG. With weekly practice and training, I find myself sometimes thinking, “There has got to be a better way.” Unfortunately, I haven’t found an ankle rig that conceals a pistol, as well as a revolver, so until that happens, my 640 is glued to me.
To combat the issues I experience regularly shooting revolvers, I’ve become accustomed to carrying several tools that make them, “run,” more efficiently, and allow me to clear common stoppages that inhibit proper functioning. To think about this fundamentally, remember that to load and unload a revolver, you essentially have to disassemble it partway, swing the guts out one side, eject the spent cases, and then recharge the chambers, put the gun back together, and get back to it shooting. Seems simple enough! But, as with anything mechanical, the parts don’t always line up straight. Literally.
Here are a few things that will help you keep your revolver running, in optimal shape. Since you are probably relying on a revolver for self-defense (maybe only in a back up gun role) then you understand why it’s important that it works, correctly. These are a few issues I have encountered that can ruin your day, and how you can better prevent them.
CHECK YOUR SIDEPLATE SCREWS. It isn’t often that the side plate comes loose, however the screw that is farthest forward on your side plate (crane screw) CAN work its way loose with normal use. If it unscrews itself completely, the next time you open the revolver, the cylinder will fall out onto the ground! That’s not a good thing, so make sure that the screws on your side plate are snug.
CHECK UNDER AND IN FRONT OF THE EJECTOR STAR. Unburnt powder getting stuck in the ejection machinery of your revolver is a show stopper. It can prevent the cylinder from opening, or even lock the ejector rod in place. Either of these stoppages can be prevented by thoroughly keeping that space and those parts free of unburnt powder. A note on that…I LOVE shooting wadcutters. Depending on the brand, you may have a good deal of unburnt powder that literally falls out of the fired cases, sometimes in what seems like ridiculous amounts. Be mindful of that, and keep that star spotless! (The MASS of unburnt powder can also happen with ammo other than wadcutters, too. It really varies with the brand, and even the lot of the specific ammunition.
CHECK THE CHAMBERS OF THE CYLINDER FOR UNBURNT POWDER OR A DEBRIS RING. If you have a .357 Magnum revolver (or a .44 Magnum, .454 or any other revolver caliber that is capable of firing cartridges of the same diameter, but have shorter case lengths) then a ring of debris can form around the inside of the chamber, preventing insertion of the longer (Magnum) round(s). Also, unburnt powder (as mentioned in #2 above) can simply get caught in the chamber, preventing easy insertion and extraction of other ammunition. In dental school, we were always taught, “Don’t blow on it, Doc,” meaning that we should try and break the natural human habit to want to blow air onto something we are trying to take dust off of (and yes…there are dentists who blow on someone’s denture, then hand it back to the patient, for their approval. GROSS.) but in this case, I’d say blowing out the chambers is a good thing! You may or may not have a brush with you that can do the same thing. Hence, the purpose of this article in the first place.
BUILD UP ON THE FORCING CONE THE FRONT OF THE CYLINDER AND THE TOP STRAP. Your revolver is a precision instrument. It was designed to operate in a certain set of parameters. However, with use, that window of operable parameters widens. Not to the point that the gun will no longer function, but it can stop functioning as well. When you shoot lead bullets, the soft lead, and the lube that often accompanies lead projectiles, can become very hot, and shear off of the main projectile in small, molten fragments, and those fragments can fuse to the forcing cone. If this build-up of crud gets thick enough, it will inhibit the free rotation of the cylinder face, which makes your double action trigger pull increase significantly. If the buildup gets to be enough, it will gum up the rotation of the cylinder and make the gun inoperable.
HEAT. As metal heats up, it expands. Heat a revolver up enough, and it will expand significantly. When I shoot revolvers in classes, especially in classes that are designed around semi-automatic pistols, they can get hot fast. So, I like to bring a pair of revolvers, so that when one gets really hot, I can let it cool down, while the other one gets hot. And correspondingly, the hotter the ammo (meaning rounds loaded to higher velocities) the hotter the gun will get quicker. Again, like in #3 above, the trigger pull will start to drag, due to the impedance of the cylinder face on the forcing cone.
AMMO ISSUES. One of the often quoted, “advantages,” of revolvers over semi-automatic pistols is the point of, “less ammunition sensitive,” which is, in my opinion, a misnomer and not quite accurate. For example, while a semi-automatic pistol may not eject a round completely, due to a light powder load, a revolver may not chamber a round completely, due to a manufacturing defect like a bur on the case mouth, OR allow the cylinder to close due to a high primer. So, it’s important to inspect your ammo, to make sure that it will actually work, when you need it to. In this same category, I would include the use of moonclips as a possible hindrance to good function in your wheelgun. If the clips are slightly bent or deformed, they can prevent proper seating of the round in the chamber, and tie up the revolver.
STRAIN SCREW COMING LOOSE. Some S&W revolvers have a screw at the front strap of the grip frame, that place tension on the revolver’s mainspring. That screw is a certain length for a reason, and needs to be screwed into the grip frame to its depth limit. These screws CAN back out, and lessen the tension on the mainspring, compromising the ignition reliability of your revolver. Some grips cover the strain screw enough to prevent it from backing out, but in the, “stock,” configuration, that screw is open to the elements, and free to do as it pleases. Be mindful of that screw, and if you see it marching out, put it back to its fully seated depth.
There are other issues that can happen with a revolver, but these are the common ones that I encounter in my own practice and life with revolvers. Of course, some of these are S&W specific, but I honestly don’t have enough time with malfunctions in the Ruger and Colt guns to complain much about them. The GP100’s and Service Sixes I own have literally been utterly reliable (but that’s another article entirely). However, they don’t have the feel of a good Smith K frame. Not knocking them, but there is just a palpable difference in the feel and handiness of the two makes of revolvers.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REVOLVER MALFUNCTIONS AND FINDING SUCCESS IN SELF-DEFENSE WHEELGUNNING
If you rely on a revolver for defense, you need to have a plan for what you are going to do once you run that cylinder through. Statistically, you should have enough ammunition in the gun to handle what you will be faced with, but statistics don’t always adhere to reality. If you do run the gun empty, OR have a showstopping malfunction, you will need a plan. The best plan, if the fight is still on, is to go to a second gun. If possible, it’s always good to have the capacity to escape from the immediate area. Run through these scenarios in your mind’s eye, so that when you need them, you won’t have to spend valuable time trying to come up with an option…have the option ready. As much as I love my revolvers, I really don’t want to have to stick somebody, eyeball to eyeball, with a Spyderco, because my revolver is empty or because the mechanism took a huge dump on me. I DO carry speed strips or speedloaders to reload with, but the chances of actually getting to reload, in the civilian context, are slim. However again, the statistics can only grant so much predictive power…nobody has a crystal ball and can tell the future. So have a plan, and have an alternate plan, in case your primary plan fails, but also have a contingency plan, in case your alternate plan fails, and lastly, have an emergency plan in case ALL of the other plans fail. A revolver as a primary (or even BUG) doesn’t require MORE planning to use than a semiauto, it just takes SOME planning.
ETA: One of my mentors, the great Tom Givens, posted this on pistol-forum.com and it is too good not to share:
The old crap about revolvers being more reliable than autos arises from the ammunition that was available when autos first appeared in military and police service, circa 1900. Ammunition of that day had unstable primers that deteriorated quickly when exposed to gun oils, solvent vapors, and just ordinary exposure to weather while carrying the loaded gun and ammo on the belt. The primers of that day contained mercuric salts, which gather moisture from the air and cause corrosion. These “corrosive primers” made cleaning the gun the same day it was fired an absolute necessity. If the gun was not cleaned immediately the mercuric salt deposits in the barrel would gather moisture and cause rust overnight. Unfortunately, these mercuric salts in the primer gather moisture when ammunition is worn on the belt and often failed fire when needed. This is no longer an issue as these mercuric primers have not been used in the US since World War II. Modern primers contain lead styphnate, not mercuric compounds. Modern primers are far less susceptible to oils, solvents, and the weather. However, when auto pistols first became common the mercuric ammunition was all it was available and misfires were common. If a revolver misfires the user simply pulls the trigger again and a fresh round comes up for another try. If a cartridge in a semiautomatic pistol misfires the user must perform an immediate action drill to get the gun back in operation. With modern ammunition a properly maintained semiautomatic pistol is about as reliable as machine can be.
The revolver’s basic design makes it far more fragile, and far more susceptible to serious malfunctions that take too long to fix in a fight. If you will think about it, a revolver has five or six individual chambers, each of which has to line up precisely with the pistol barrel upon firing. A misalignment by just a few thousandths of an inch results in bullet shaving off the forcing cone, or the primer misaligned with the firing pin causing misfires. In order to time the action so that each chamber locks in place exactly in alignment with the barrel each time the trigger is pulled the action of the revolver has to be precisely timed and balanced. The inside of a double action revolver somewhat resembles the workings of a wind-up watch. Small delicate parts, small springs, and so forth require perfect fitting and no wear in order to maintain these extremely tight tolerances. Here are some of the basic malfunctions that occur with the double action revolver and what you might be able to do to fix in the field.
Failure to fire – you pull the trigger, nothing. With support hand palm, strike cylinder on left side to be sure it is closed fully. Pull trigger again. If no bang, transition to back up gun. This can because by a high primer jammed against the recoil shield, or a jumped bullet lodged against the forcing cone. In in either of these cases, your only viable option is a backup gun.
Failure to fire – you pull the trigger, get “click”. Immediately pull the trigger again. If it clicks twice it is empty, the ammo is dead, or the firing pin is broken. Speed load or transition to a backup gun. If you reload and it goes click, the firing pin is probably broken. If you’re still alive transition to your back up gun.
Cylinder won’t open – ejector rod may be backed out; high primer may be stuck; bullet may have jumped, ejector rod may be bent. Primer metal may have flowed into the firing pin hole in the frame, locking everything up. This is most common with Magnum ammunition. Transition to your backup gun.
Cylinder won’t turn – you pull the trigger but it won’t move and cylinder won’t turn. Crap under the extractor star has bound up the action. See first entry. Or, ejector rod is bent, or eject rod has come unscrewed. Transition to your backup gun. Titanium guns and lead bullets don’t mix – they recoil so sharply that bullets tend to jump forward under recoil and tie up the action. Transition to your backup gun.
Cylinder will not accept new ammo on reload – Dumb ass! You failed to eject the spent cases vigorously with the gun vertical and the spent case(s) got under the extractor rod. Transition to your backup gun. Later, if you survive, hold the extractor open and pry out the case.
Failure to fire – the Taurus or Smith & Wesson goofy internal lock has engaged spontaneously. Transition to your backup gun!
Failure to fire – the strain screw in the front strap of the grip has backed out due to the vibrations of recoil. If this screw backs up a couple of turns the firing pin strike will be too light to ignite cartridges. Periodically check this screw and make sure it is tight. Also, check your firing pin frequently if you have a hammer mounted firing pin as opposed to a frame mounted firing pin. The firing pins mounted on the hammer are subject to breakage.
As you can see, there are a number of mechanical reasons why your revolver may fail, and unfortunately, most of them require time and tools to fix. In a fight you will have neither.