Context, perspective and gun testing: how reality affects training and gear choice.

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Something I’ve noticed in the last year or so: as I’ve experimented with the concepts of reality-based training (RBT) in my teaching and practice, my point of view has changed. I’m not really aware of it until I’m around people who haven’t had that exposure, and then the contrast becomes stark.

The realities of how attacks actually occur and our reactions (instinctive and intuitive) affect not only how and what we train, but what we train with. My upcoming article over at the Personal Defense Network examines this idea with regard to the seemingly banal process of holster choice, and this weekend it cropped up during an informal gun test in which I participated.

I was helping out with a rifle class taught by a friend of mine, and one of the other instructors brought in one of the new uber-compact 9mm pistols that are all the rage. We all got a chance to shoot the thing, and the results were telling.

Most people’s approach to testing a new gun is to get set into a ‘proper’ range-based stance, carefully line up the sights, and make a slow, smooth shot; repeat until the magazine is empty, and declare it a wonderful gun. Everyone at this range did that.

I used to do that too, but lately I’ve been testing guns under the conditions I expect to use them — conditions that are congruent with the gun’s purpose. For a defensive gun that means shooting as if I’m being attacked.

I’d already played with the thing, so I was familiar with how it worked and how the trigger broke. In terms of the gun’s operation there were no surprises. I chambered a round and, from a high compressed or “chest ready” position, extended and pressed the trigger repeatedly and rapidly. I shot at a pace that was consistent with how I shoot an Airweight ‘J’ frame, which frequent and realistic practice has taught me would deliver the balance of speed and precision needed to put rounds on the target (the ring in an IDPA silhouette) at the distance I was standing (about 5 yards.)

The results were awful. This particular gun is so slim and flat that the grip panels do not appreciably contact the palm of the hand, and the only points of real contact – the front and backstraps – were polished and finished in a smooth gloss. The result was an alarming lack of control when shooting at a realistic pace. My first three shots landed in the target area, but the final three drifted far to the right as the gun rotated against the pressure of my hands.

I inserted a second magazine and consciously tried to counter the torque of the little monster. The results were a little better, but the extreme amount of physical force I applied to the gun brought my group down and to the left. As long as the gun was shot sedately, like on a nice friendly target range, it performed. Pushed into a more realistic shooting circumstance, it simply failed because of design flaws – the people who built it didn’t understand the context in which the gun would likely be used. They built a miniature target pistol, but they’re selling it as a fighting tool.

Are there some people who might be able to make it work under realistic conditions? Perhaps, but no one else that day even tried; the closest anyone got was to do a sequence of double-taps/controlled pairs (a shooting method which illustrates that a gun can’t actually be controlled for a realistic string of fire) and the results weren’t a whole lot better. Would more practice – familiarity – with the gun improve my results? Experience suggests this is unlikely, as the first couple of magazines/cylinders out of a new-to-me gun are almost always my best.

I’ve covered this before, and it bears repeating: any shooting you do has to be in context. Are you practicing for an IDPA match, or are you practicing for the time when you’re surprised and in true fear of your life?

What I see when I watch videos of actual shootings isn’t the carefully measured BANG…..BANG…..BANG…..BANG…..BANG…..BANG of the target range, and it usually isn’t the contrived BANGBANG…..BANGBANG…..BANGBANG of the shooting match. What I see consistently, when people are surprised and in true fear for their life, is BANGBANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. That’s because the human in full reactive survival mode wants the threat gone as quickly as possible, and knows that the only thing which will do that is rounds on target.

Whether or not he/she can control the gun in those circumstances is the variable, which is why I insist on training in context so that I know I can do so.

When training isn’t congruent with the realities of the fight, or if the equipment doesn’t work well in that context, the needed hits won’t be there. We call that ‘inefficient’ – using more of our own resources (time, energy, ammunition, space) than necessary to achieve the goal (making the bad guy go away.)

Ironically, in these very small guns a lesser cartridge, like the lowly and maligned .380ACP, may actually be the better choice if it allows the defender to shoot with a balance of speed and precision that achieves the necessary efficiency.

The only way one can know for sure is to practice and test realistically. On this day, I did and it greatly affected my opinion of the hardware. If it weren’t for the understanding of context in training, today I’d be telling you what a great little gun it is.

Just like everyone else.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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