Your defensive firearm has to fit your hand, and that involves more than trigger reach.

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Or: what happened when the one I was shooting didn’t!

I’ve often told my students that a gun which doesn’t fit their hand makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to shoot accurately, particularly at speed and under the duress of an attack. I’ve also said that it’s generally easier to deal with a gun that’s too small than it is to shoot one which is too large.

That’s not entirely true, and a recent range outing showed me why.

I was spending some time teaching at Safety Solutions Academy in Cleveland a couple of months back. Paul Carlson, the chief at SSA, had brought along a brand-new Glock 42 for me to look at.

The Glock 42, as many of you probably know, is a relatively new (and extremely popular) .380ACP pistol. It’s very small, light, and has gained quite a following amongst people who need an easily concealed defensive pistol. I was anxious to finally try it for myself!

The giddiness of anticipation soon gave way to frustration on the range. The little Glock proved impossible to shoot well, at least in my hands. The shots ran all over the target, enough so that I actually checked the sights — several times — to make sure that they hadn’t worked loose!

I increased my grasp pressure with little effect. I shifted my grasp so that I was more to one side of the gun than the other; nothing worked. I still couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with the thing, and I was quite annoyed — especially since the others who tried it fared much better than I did.

A little while later I was handed a Glock 17, a gun which I do not shoot all that well because it’s very large relative to my tiny hands. Even so, I was shooting the centers out of the numbers in the middle of the targets that I couldn’t even hit with the little 42!

Why the difference? After investigating the issue, I found that as my shooting hand wrapped around the thin, blocky frame of the Model 42 my palm naturally cupped. The entire right side of the 42’s grip was left without any hand contact at all; in fact, I could insert a pencil in the gap between my palm and the side of the gun! No matter how I adjusted the gun in my hand, the gap remained.

This gap and lack of contact resulted in the gun “squirming” in my hand as my finger pressed the trigger back and as the gun recoiled. No matter how hard I grasped the gun, it moved; in fact, grabbing it harder actually seemed to make the issue worse, not better, and the aggressive texturing on the frame didn’t seem to help at all.

I’d initially thought that my small hands and the small gun would be a good fit, but that proved not to be the case. The gun “felt good” in my hand, but what I really needed was a gun that perhaps didn’t feel as subjectively good but gave me better contact and control.

Whatever gun you choose, it has to fit your hand in the truest sense of the word. Not only do you need to be able to get your finger on the trigger properly (on or adjacent to the first joint of the trigger finger) while the barrel is aligned with the bones of your forearm, your hands must make full contact with the grip. You need contact around the entire circumference of the gun’s grip area.

This is, to a great degree, independent of the size of the gun. The Glock 17 is difficult for me to shoot because I have to shift my hand around the right side of the gun to get my finger on the trigger. However, I do have full and complete contact with the gun at every point. Controlling recoil is an issue because the offset hand position causes the recoil forces to be channeled into the joint at the base of my hand, and I don’t have good kinesthetic alignment so I need to use the sights more often, but even with all that it’s a good deal easier for me to shoot than the much smaller and lighter Model 42!

If the 42 had a bit of a convex “swell” on each side of the grip, so that it filled up the gap of my cupped hand, I suspect that the problem would go away. I’ve shot many similarly sized pistols with separate grip panels which had such a swell, and fit wasn’t an issue. It’s not just the size of the grip that’s important; the shape plays a big role in fit as well.

Whether you’re looking at a new gun for yourself or you’re asked to help someone else choose a pistol, pay attention both to the size of the gun and to the shape of the grip. Make sure that your shooting hand contacts the gun all the way around, and that you can press the trigger straight back without the gun moving inside your grasp. If you find yourself re-adjusting your hand position after every shot, that’s a sign the gun doesn’t fit well.

Your defensive handgun has to be able to work in concert with your and your hands if you expect to be able to efficiently stop a violent attack. We carry them (or have them in our homes) to protect our lives and those of our loved ones, and it’s worth the effort to make sure that we can rely on our ability to use it when the unthinkable happens!

-=[ 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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