Women make up half the population of the world and a great deal of criminal violence is directed toward them. Every day in the US women are subjected to rapes and other sexual assaults, carjackings, robberies, abductions, and other crimes. In recent years, more and more women have been buying guns for personal protection and more are entering the training field than ever. As a result, there is a huge need for qualified, competent training for these new female gun owners.
For over 15 years we have been conducting the annual Tactical Conference, usually held in Memphis, and it has become the premier training event of the year. This year we had 200 participants from literally all over the United States, and 35 nationally known trainers presented classroom, live fire, and hands on blocks of instruction over three full days of training.
There have always been women in attendance at the conference, but we are seeing a sharp increase over the past few years. In 2013, I believe we had 14 female participants; in 2014 that number was up to about 20; this year, there were over 30 out of a total of about 200 participants. We had a number of female trainers who presented blocks of instruction this year, including Tiffany Johnson, Lori Bigley, Eve Kulscar, Julie Thomas, and Linda Hoopes. Other female trainers in attendance included Vicki Farnam, Robyn Street, and Gail Pepin.
There were several topics presented this year of special interest to ladies. Lori Bigley put on a detailed presentation on holsters and other carry options for women. Claude Werner and Linda Hoopes gave a presentation on tactical communication for couples. Craig Douglas, and together Karl Rehn and Caleb Causey, put on live force on force scenario-based training that applied to either gender. The 2016 event will feature a number of female trainers and new blocks of instruction. Let’s encourage more women to attend and take part in this unique training and networking opportunity.
For more information on the Tactical Conference, see http://www.rangemaster.com
I’ve seen this discussion pop up for years and years and . . . well, you get the idea – for as long as there have been handguns for personal defense – the argument over what’s the ‘Best” caliber and what’s the “Best” gun has been on the lips of many an expert.
Let’s set the context of the argument first. As a defensive firearms trainer, folks that come to me for training come for that specific focus – defensive shooting. They are asking me (and all defensive fire arms trainers as well) a profoundly important question.
“What is the best handgun I can use to defend my life?” That’s a pretty weighty question. There are a lot of people who have gotten some truly poor advice – typically given through laziness, ignorance or simply the desire to “make the sale”. Let’s spend some time on this topic.
Use of your defensive handgun.
First, let’s look at why, exactly, you carry a defensive handgun. Its purpose is to defend your life, the lives of your family or folks in your charge . . . TO. DEFEND.THEIR.LIVES. ponder that thought just a bit. It’s not to make holes in paper, for entertainment on a range, for the enjoyment you get from taking challenging training, for hunting. At the instant you draw your handgun from its concealed location it is life and death. Take some time to chew on that just a bit because the intensity, the “stakes” of that moment is seldom part of the overall discussion.
Control of your defensive handgun.
In order to be effective in your defense – you must be able to control and manipulate your handgun. If you are unable to get “combat effective hits” (each “hit” does real damage to the threat’s ability to continue their attack) – your handgun is of little value. If you are unfamiliar with how your handgun works – it is of little value. If you can only control you handgun through the first round – and are then unable to manage its recoil and rapidly get back on the threat – it is of little value. If you experience a misfire, a failure to feed, a failure to eject, a double feed – and you are unable to clear these issues quickly – your handgun is of little value to you.
Bottom line – if you cannot use the tool you carry with you each and every day that you depend on defend your life, it is of little value to you. So let’s start there – with YOU – as we begin the examination of which is the BEST handgun for you to use for your personal defense and which is the BEST caliber to use.
You need to choose a handgun that “fits” you – with all your kinks, quirks, disabilities and physical characteristics – paying no attention to the caliber to begin with.
Revolver or Semi-Automatic
Running a semi-automatic handgun requires the ability to rack a slide, manipulate safeties, change magazines and clear cartridge failures “automatically”. This takes a couple of things – practice (lots of practice) and physical ability – especially hand strength and the ability to grip the handgun. Yes, there are special “techniques” a person can learn to help the processes – but under stress, with a bad guy/gal bearing down – is it wise to rely on special “techniques” to save your life? I would argue it is not. This is my decision point when recommending a semi-automatic (my preferred handgun) over a revolver – can the shooter physically manipulate the handgun easily? If they lack the physical strength and dexterity to do so – a revolver gets the call for me.
On the revolver side – a whole new array of challenges comes when a shooter is required to reload quickly. Still, for those without the strength to manipulate a semi-automatic pistol, I find they typically can utilize the cylinder release and use a speed loader. Granted – fewer rounds, it can take longer to reload – yep, I get it. But, at least they CAN reload. As for clearing malfunctions, a simple press of the trigger advances the cylinder past the failed round – much easier that a “tap, rack” drill.
When making recommendations for which handgun a person should look at – please, take time to evaluate their physical abilities first. If they can’t run the gun physically, they have a real problem should the need arise.
As in anything from jeans to a ball cap – fit is important. Handguns are no different. Long ago and far away during the qualification round for my first carry permit the fellow in the lane next to me brought a Colt .357 6” Python as his qualifying handgun. I had a Colt Woodsman .22. He was tall and slender, took his stance, pressed the trigger for his first round . . . let’s be kind and say his qualification round did not go well. The qualification officer finally gave him a .22 Mark II and the fellow qualified just fine. My point? The Python was anything but a fit for the fellow as a defensive handgun.
A firearm should fit the shooter’s hand such that they can firmly and fully grasp the grip of the gun. The full 360-degrees of the grip should be enclosed by their hands without stress or strain. Next, it should direct the recoil straight back into the arm of the shooter. This means their grip should be high on the back strap and as close to being in line with the barrel as possible. Finally, they should be able to touch the trigger with the end 1/3 of their trigger finger without stress or strain and they must be able to press the trigger straight to the rear without the first segment of the trigger finger moving left or right.
Put these things together, and you have a firearm that physically fits the shooter.
Simplicity of Use
A firefight is chaotic, terrifying and mind numbing – at least first seconds . . . and all too often that is the deciding time between life and death. I am going to assume that the typical individual that carries a handgun for personal defense DOES NOT train regularly, DOES NOT get more advanced training and does little more than hit the range a couple of times a year with a box of ammo and makes holes in paper . . . and that is all they do. For those shooters – simpler is better which leads me to handguns with safe action triggers or long trigger pulls or a revolver as opposed to those with manual safeties. Fewer things to remember equates to a better first shot response time for those folks who simply do not spend time on the range.
Once a round is fired, how quickly can the shooter get his handgun back on target to send a second round down range? That depends on their ability to manage the recoil of the handgun. If they have followed my suggestions about “fit”, the vast majority of the recoil is sent straight into their body. Add to that a proper grip and training on sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through – and an accurate first shot and a follow on second shot can be happen very quickly.
For me – caliber selection pretty much comes last. First you need to find a handgun that fits the shooter, one they can manipulate quickly and easily. Can they get combat effective hits (read a center mass pie plate sized group) on a threat? And finally, can they control the recoil well enough to insure accurate follow-up shots with multiple rounds. It is at this point that caliber begins to make an entrance for me.
The typical rule of thumb is that a shooter typically chooses a defensive round that is in a family of cartridges containing a .380, .38, .357, 9mm, .40 or .45 caliber bullet. The lowly .22 seldom makes the list and I typically would agree. However, if I have a shooter who can only manipulate and shoot a .22 cal revolver due to physical issues – I would never withhold that as a viable choice over nothing at all.
And, on the other end of the spectrum – I wouldn’t recommend a very large caliber round to a shooter who has a small frame and small hands. My typical recommendation is the largest caliber that they can manage the recoil on and get combat effective hits when stressed. That will tell the tale to me and help me make a solid recommendation to a new shooter as to what style and caliber of handgun they should purchase for their personal defense.
For a handgun to be of value for personal defense – the shooter must be able to “run the gun” and manage it when it’s fired. ALL of that goes into the mix when both selecting the gun and selecting the caliber of the gun.
It isn’t just about the caliber of the ammunition . . . it’s about the marriage of the shooter, the handgun and the ammunition that will make it a true tool for the shooter’s personal defense.
The past few years have seen an incredible increase in the number of new gun owners in the United States. According to the FBI, in 2013 alone there were 21,093,273 background checks on new gun sales. Of course, some percentage of these is people who already own guns. However, millions and millions of these were purchases by first-time gun owners. Multiple surveys have shown that the most commonly reported answer for why these new purchasers were buying a gun was “self-defense.”
All of this means that there are now tens of millions of new gun owners who want to be able to protect themselves and their families against violent crime and other threats. Many of these new gun owners have had no prior exposure to firearms other than watching television and movies. This means that there is now a huge and growing demand for what we might call “grassroots level,” or introductory, firearms training for these new gun owners. Since their stated use for buying the gun is self-defense, this initial training needs to go beyond just familiarization and basic safety training. They actually need training geared toward defensive use of the firearm, not just safety or recreational use. In addition to mechanical training and basic defensive shooting skills, these new gun owners must be made aware of both their rights and responsibilities under the law. Undertaking to defend oneself with the firearm without understanding all of the legal ramifications is a recipe for disaster. Making this sort of training available on such a wide scale is going to require a whole new generation of people qualified to give basic instruction in personal self-defense with firearms.
What these new gun owners need is an opportunity to locally attend quality training in a one day format at an affordable cost for the average new gun owner. This is precisely what the new Second Amendment Firearms Training & Education Association (SAFTEA) is all about. The SAFTEA courses are geared specifically toward the defensive use of the firearm. The training, then, is tailored specifically to that purpose and the instructors have been thoroughly trained in both the mechanical aspects of shooting as well as the legal and tactical realities of using firearms in self-defense. The SAFTEA training curriculum includes entry-level offerings followed by secondary courses that build on the foundation laid previously. By offering these in low-cost one-day format, students can attend one course and acquire the basic skills for proper manipulation and safe use of their firearm, along with some introduction to mental conditioning, legal issues, and other non-shooting aspects of self-defense. Later, they can return for the second level course and learn new skills built upon the solid foundation gained earlier. This also allows the student to spread the cost of his training and ammunition over a period of time. After taking the first class at a minimal investment, the student can attend the second level when they have the time and money to do so. This multi-level training will be available for handgun, shotgun, carbine, and a women-only version of the handgun courses. There is a separate instructor training program for instructors who want to be part of this grassroots training initiative.
I am proud to be involved with the SAFTEA to help develop these training programs. I see this as a very worthwhile and important project and one that will only grow in importance as millions of new gun owners are added to the rolls.
Many of us carry a small handgun as a second, or back-up gun (BUG), in addition to our larger, primary pistol. There are a number of solid reasons for this practice.
First, I teach all over the US, and everywhere I go I see good quality, well maintained handguns break during classes. By “break” I do not mean malfunction. I mean a part in the gun literally fails, putting the gun out of action. If it happens in classes, it may happen in a fight. If your primary gun becomes non-functional, a second gun could be a literal life saver. Second, you can give the back-up gun to a trained but unarmed companion. Third, in a struggle a BUG may be more accessible than your primary gun.
There are a number of ways to carry this secondary handgun, and over the years I have settled on ankle carry for mine. Here are my reasons for this decision.
Pocket carry just has too many limitations. It is damn near impossible to draw a gun from a pocket holster while seated, whether in a car or at a desk or table. We spend way too much time seated, especially in the car, for this carry mode. In a tangled hand to hand fight, pocket carry would be difficult to draw from. It is also very difficult to get a gun out of a right front pocket with the left hand, and vice versa.
Some people simply wear the back-up gun on the belt, on the support side, with the primary gun on the dominant hand side. My belt already has enough stuff on it, so I don’t care much for this mode, either.
Carrying a handgun in a well designed ankle holster solves many of these issues. The ankle gun is actually quite easy to access while seated. While driving, a gun on the inside of the left ankle (right handed person) is quite easily accessed by the right hand. Even on my back on the ground, I can get to my ankle gun with either hand if necessary. A well made ankle rig is comfortable and discrete.
There are several very well designed and well made choices among ankle holsters. Over the years I have tried several, and have settled on some that are very comfortable, adequately secure, protect the pistol from the elements, and allow rapid acquisition. My favorites include the ankle holsters from Alessi, Ken Null, DeSantis, and Galco.
If I had to rank them in order of preference, the Alessi and Null rigs would be tied for first place. Both use Velcro fasteners to secure the holster to your lower calf. Both use precise molding to secure the handgun quite well, while allowing a very quick presentation. Both have a compressed felt backer on the holster, to protect your leg .
My next choice is the DeSantis rig. This is an elastic rig that closes with Velcro. In the revolver version, an ingenious bit of leather sits behind the trigger guard to keep the gun in place until you grasp it and pull firmly. This is a very comfortable and fast ankle set-up. The Galco version has a thumb-break security snap and very lightweight construction. Both the DeSantis and Galco holsters have a sheepskin pad behind the holster to cushion your leg.
Ankle carry works best with handguns that weigh around one pound, or very little more. The Airweight Smith & Wessons and the Colt Cobra or Agent are perfect for this role. Wear the thing for three or four weeks and you’ll hardly notice it is there from that point on. You may never need that back-up gun, but if you do, you’ll need it very badly.