Category Archives: Firearms

Getting Off Axis

February 25th, 2011

Brownells is offering a really cool new product, the PT 3D Target. It is a reactive 3D target without a clear target indicator. This means you need to shoot until you have an effect on the target. It may take one shot and it may take several. One of the issues with training is getting in the habit of shooting a set number of rounds at a time. If you need to shoot a person it is important that you keep shooting until that person stops being a threat. This can be pretty difficult to simulate in training but the PT 3D target looks like it provides that kind of dynamic.

However, the video provided does not show very good training. There is a maxim, “Train how you fight because you’ll fight how you train.” You don’t need to have been in heavy Blackhawk Down style combat to see this is true. You only need to be in a mildly intense or stressful training situation to see that you don’t rise to the occasion but you sink to your level of training. Police officers have died because, just like they did in training, they did their shooting and then promptly reholstered. Now they are taught to take a careful look around and reholster “reluctantly.” I have to say that I feel pretty silly looking around for bad guys and slowly and deliberately reholstering when I know darn well there is no threat. I stopped caring about feeling silly after going through a few scenarios and being real glad I had good habits to fall back on.

There are several training mistakes in that video but I want to focus on just one. If you haven’t yet, watch the video. It’s only a minute or so. You saw that one of the big suggestions was to have the target charge the shooter. This is a very real threat. People, especially crazy people, will charge someone even if they are being shot at. Training for this situation is a VERY good idea. What is NOT a good idea is to train in the response of shuffling backwards directly in line with the threat’s charge. Moving backwards has two problems. First, you can’t see what is behind you. Since you can’t see to the rear you could trip and fall, back into something, move into a worse place then you are already, etc. Second, moving backwards is much slower than moving forwards. The threat will catch you. So to compensate for these problems we move off axis. Move to one side and let the threat fight his momentum while you fight the threat.

I understand why they did it that way. It was not safe on that range to move off axis and shoot at a charging target. It certainly was not safe to have a group of shooters doing that at once. This does not change the fact that it is bad training. When I say bad training I mean that it is creating training scars that could get the one who practiced it killed. I am not kidding at all when I say that those guys would have been better off sitting in a chair doing nothing than spending all that time moving on axis in line with a threat.

When you practice, create the habit of getting off the point where you start. Take a step to the side (be sure to practice BOTH sides) while you draw and then engage the target. It feels better to get your feet in just the right spot before you shoot but you won’t get that chance in a real life self-defense shooting.

The .22 Rimfire for Self Defense

I was listening to Tom Gresham’s GunTalk where he got a call from someone asking about using .22 rimfire guns for self defense. Naturally Tom gave the gentleman the correct information but I wanted to look a little closer at the dynamics of using this round for self defense. But first, why would someone want to use a .22 rimfire? There are several reasons. .22 pistols are often very small and light making them very attractive for concealed carry. The recoil from a .22 pistol is extremely mild. People of small stature and strength find it easier to shoot and in the hands of a skilled shooter the light recoil should make it easier to get rapid and accurate shots off. There are some guns that hold a lot of ammunition like the KelTec PMR-30 (30 rounds!). Finally, many people believe, quite correctly, that the .22 can kill.

Let’s deal with the .22′s lethality first. The .22 has killed. I remember in police academy watching the very sad video of the sheriff deputy who was shot by a dirt-bag maggot with a .22 magnum from a small revolver. I was told that the bullet ricocheted off the deputy’s upper arm bone (humerus) and entered his chest cavity just above his vest where the bullet proceeded to puncture his heart. It was a one in a million shot. I was told that if it had happened on an operating table the surgeons could not have saved him. The reason I relate all this is that while the deputy did die he continued to fight for upwards of 40 seconds. When you are shooting to protect yourself you are not shooting to kill the threat but to stop it. That is not some clever, lawsuit-safe, gutless turn of phrase. That is the way you operate if you want to live. When someone presents a threat you want it stopped NOW not dead later. The .22 does kill but it does not reliably incapacitate quickly.

Working backwards we come to the ammunition capacity. While the KelTec PMR-30 holds 30 rounds most .22 pistols have a capacity in the 10 round range. That is more than say the Ruger LCP with its 6+1 but those .380 rounds are going to do a lot more damage than the 10+ .22 rounds. Even with the PMR-30 that capacity won’t help that much. If you were able to shoot with 0.1 second splits (the time between shots) you would need 3 seconds to make use of all that ammo. And if you need the extra capacity to stop a threat, and you would, that means you will be much slower responding to multiple attackers.

Without question the .22 is an easy gun to shoot but it really doesn’t matter how comfortable it is to shoot if it won’t get the job done and as we’re beginning to see, we can’t count on the .22 to stop the threat. This brings us to a very valid point I’ve heard used in support of the .22 rimfire cartridge, “It’s all about shot placement.” Truer words were never spoken. The only reason a bullet has a positive impact on a threat is by damaging some important part of the threat’s body. I remember one of my instructors chanting, “Fast is fine but accuracy is final.” As Travis Haley pointed out in The Art of the Tactical Carbine this does not mean speed is unimportant but the bottom line is you cannot miss fast enough to stop a threat. Yet when we look at the .22 we find that even when a bullet finds it’s target it does not have a dramatic effect on it. The example of the mortally wounded deputy I cited above illustrates that. Our man there was able to bring the fight to the bad guy for well over half a minute. In a gunfight that is an eternity. And not only is the effect on the target not dramatic when you place your shots well but with the .22 you have fewer targets. The sternum is large and strong enough to deflect a .22, especially if the bullet comes at an oblique angle. The pelvic girdle is simply not a structure in your threat’s body that you will be able to destroy with a .22.

So, ending where the list started, it doesn’t matter how small, light, and easy to conceal your .22 is. The .22 is simply a very poor tool for the job we are forcing it into. However, if I was presented with the choice of going unarmed or legally carrying a .22 I would pack that .22 without a moment’s hesitation. If a threat sees his choice is between leaving me alone or getting shot he may choose to leave me alone. If he doesn’t I’ll remember the limitations of the gun and ammo I’m carrying. Shooting center mass of the body will likely be unproductive. My productive targets are likely to be mostly in the head. I will probably want to aim for the eyes and for up close the ears, the base of the skull, and like George Hill says I can use the .22 in front like “nasal spray.” However, in the end there are so many solid alternatives to the .22 that with a few very specialized exceptions I can’t see the point of using a .22 for a primary weapon.


Grip Angle

If you peruse the many gun fora out there you’re likely to encounter discussions, and often heated arguments, about grip angle. People discuss “pointability” and how the Glock or 1911 always leaves them with the barrel pointing at the sky or the ground. The time and energy some folks put into this debate can easily lead a new shooter to believe grip angle is a critical factor in selecting a handgun.

The truth is that it’s like arguing over whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons.  The winning response to that question is, “WHO CARES?”  I think the Glock grip angle has a slight ergonomic advantage over less angled designs in two areas.  The first is just my feeling that it helps me lock the gun down in my grip.  However, the second point may be mildly significant. By rotating your wrists forward on the Glock grip you are bringing the top of the gun and therefore the barrel down closer to the top bone in your forearm (the radius).  This reduces the leverage the gun’s recoil has on your wrist. Just look at your thumb joint as you rotate backwards like a Beretta 92 or forward like a Glock and you will see your thumb rise and fall relative to the radius. However, there are pro shooters dominating in competition with 1911s so the Glock’s possible advantage in grip angle can’t be too big a deal.

Something to remember is that our wrists don’t have a natural limit in their range of movement that will match a specific handgun’s grip angle. Getting a handgun or revolver to point consistently where you want is nothing more than a matter of practice.

A way that I’ve found helpful for pointing the barrel where I’m aiming is to think about pointing the metacarpal bones in my hand.

Wikipedia – Hand Bone Diagram

Staying with my example guns, if I am bringing a Glock into my line of sight I think about pointing the metacarpal bone for my pointer finger at the target and when I do the same for a Beretta I think about pointing the meta carpal bone for my pinky at the target.  I find that gets me close enough so that I’m not searching for my front sight.

The quality of a gun’s trigger, how a gun fits in your hand, and how it feels when you shoot it really matter.  Grip angle is practically irrelevant.