In 2015, I wrote a blog post that addressed some thoughts I was having about what type of pistol best fit my life. I was processing exactly what I needed a pistol to do for me, in my life, for my situation. That post was my way of getting through the inertia of over ten years of Glock 19s and heavy indoctrination into having to find the perfect, easy to shoot fast, competition/carry trigger. Shortly after that post, I believed my own idea and started investing in and learning (and attempting to master) Double Action and Traditional Double Action pistols in various size envelopes. This post will highlight my mental map that led me to where I am today.
I find myself going full circle on a lot of things in my life. I could write a post about this, but I’ll give a relevant example here. I started my firearms training under instructors that were trying to build a strong foundation of self-defense in a two day class. As a result of the scope of those classes, there isn’t much time to talk about, much less use, shot timers and discuss progressive improvement in shooting skills or competition. So I left those early classes with too much confidence and not knowing what I didn’t know regarding time pressure.
Then I fell into circles who were skilled competitors and instructors who taught me that time matters and being faster than the other guy wins fights. So I mocked the no-timer-guys and was on a mission to go fast(er). I got really wrapped up in the timer and achieving what I now view as “meaningless degrees of precision” in score and time. It is really easy to get wrapped up in the timer once you discover it.
Now, after thinking about this a lot for the last few years, and listening to people who have been thinking about this for entire careers, I am somewhere in the middle. Speed matters, to a point and at certain times. (Meaningful) Precision is my primary performance goal with enough speed to ride the edge of assessment of my shooting. This fact leaves a lot of room for DA guns in my life.
Training time is another factor. Dry fire is free. I can practice the most important shooting skills for free at home. I can learn a new trigger style at home for free. The Pareto principle applies. For me to squeak out a .02 second split time improvement below say .25 seconds would take an inordinate amount of time and money. It also might be counterproductive to self defense, as I mention below. As a multi-disciplinary practitioner, that time is better spent getting my 80/20 under the bar, on the mats, or meal prepping. You have to dive deep enough into each facet of this thing, but not too deep or you’ll neglect something else. But that might be another post.
What does a defensive gun need to do?
Since we have to live with and around our guns a whole lot more than we have to shoot them, some weight should be given to ‘margin of safety’ in our pistol’s function. Those little mechanical assists that cover for us when we have a lapse in concentration or are otherwise overwhelmed my the situation unfolding before us. It’s worth considering that the most dangerous thing we do with our guns, statistically speaking, is administrative handling. Specifically holstering. Keep in mind that 98-100% (by time) of our interactions with a gun will be administrative.
In order of importance, a self defense gun should facilitate:
1- Not shooting ourselves
2- Not shooting people we don’t want to shoot
3-Shooting what we want to shoot
Then I took to heart Darryl Bolke’s requirements of a handgun that only ask for, “Sights I can see, a trigger I can manage, in a reliable package.” This isn’t a big ask and leaves a lot of options available, including DA guns and revolvers.
…But your split times are slower!
Then I learned about assessment speed (and reaction times via Bill Rogers) and how it’s possible to “out-drive your headlights” and shoot faster than you can process the impact of your shots on your target. I learned that LAPD SWAT trains to .5 second splits to allow good hits and proper assessment. This made me less anxious about moving away from striker guns and towards double action guns.
Since I can’t think and react faster than about .25 seconds (and nor can you), why should I seek a defensive gun that I can shoot faster just for faster’s sake. It didn’t make sense for me. Detractors say, “If you can shoot .17 splits, then shooting .3 second splits becomes easier”. This of course is true. Moving the ultimate ceiling of your speed higher will make all slower cadences easier. To paraphrase Darryl Bolke again, once you can shoot .25 splits at self-defense ranges on a grapefruit sized target reliably, you have all the speed you “need”. I’m content to trust his experience and not worry about finding a gun that allows me .19 second splits and trade away a ‘safer’ trigger.
…But you’re NoT AS aCcUrAtE
Consider The Most Important Shot in defensive shooting. This, of course, is the draw to first shot. After this, things get much more hectic. So I strove to build and hone my draw and first shot on my DA guns. I learned to Fear Not The Double Action Shot, as Ernest Langdon explained. Just knowing that people can be highly competitive and winning with DA/SA guns showed me that if I would make the transition I could become competent with some practice. So that’s not a concern.
Tactical Implications and fudge factor
At about the same time, I was thinking about Zen and the Art of Not Shooting. Prior to this time, I was almost always practicing my draw to a shot. Then I realized that most defensive gun uses are non-shooting events. So it might be worth having another neural pathway set that ends in a strong low ready and an indexed finger, ready to issue commands. This lesson was driven home by my training with Claude Werner, as well as Shivworks AMIS course. A double action gun allows us a margin of safety here if our finger gets confused during the presentation.
This post is already long enough so I’ll wrap here. If anyone is interested, I’ll do another post to list of the guns I’ve tried and experimented with over the last few years. I have pretty much settled on my favorites for different applications, and I can also outline why I sold the ones I did. It’s been a revolving door, but I’m happy where I am.
I think the TL;DR of this whole post is: It’s not just about the shooting, and those things are more important anyway.