It has been well documented that concerns related to the COVID19 pandemic have been the impetus for many people to become first-time gun owners. For those new to firearms, as well as those that have owned and used firearms for many years, I want to challenge you to take some specific steps to advance your firearm capability. Because our society and legal system affirms the use of firearms to protect and defend ourselves, our loved ones, and those that need protection, it is incumbent upon us to maximize our capability to effectively use the firearms if, God-forbid, it becomes necessary. What I am proposing is intended to address the needs of the overwhelming majority of firearm owners/users, but it is acknowledged that there will always be appropriate exceptions to address particular circumstances. Full disclosure: the author has no financial interest in any of the products or services mentioned in this piece.
My first challenge is for you to evolve your carry weapon. But let’s first narrow the discussion to handguns, since they are the most applicable class of firearms to non-military people. So, you have a handgun, perhaps several. That is a start. But if maximizing effectiveness is your goal, the handguns you have may not be optimal. Quite frankly, the majority of handguns being sold are not up to the task of reliably protecting the lives of your loved ones. They may be impossible to shoot accurately, slow to deploy, of low capacity, too large or small, too heavy to wear, have inconsistent trigger pulls, have poor sights or have any number of other deficiencies. My telling you this is a bit of “tough-love”, because you probably think the gun you have will rise to the occasion when called upon. When you bought it, you felt like it was a good choice, or your buddy or the guy behind the counter of the local gun store told you it was. Maybe it was on sale or lower priced than others. You may be a brand fan-boy, or are heavily invested in the image or emotions that a particular gun evokes. But I am here to “call your baby ugly”.
If you really are committed to being most capable of defending those most precious to you with a firearm, it really should be “duty-grade”. How do I define “duty-grade”? It is that small number of pistol brands and models that are most frequently selected and used by military and police and for which there is exhaustive demonstrated performance. Yes, we all know that military and police choices can be biased by politics and finances, but the choices made are nearly always amongst the few that are duty-grade. The most consistently selected pistols for military or law enforcement (LE) duty, and what I am adamantly recommending, are the Glock 17 and SIG P320 (M17) platforms, or variants of these. What these have in common are polymer frames, striker-fired, high capacity, proven durability, broad support and 9 mm. There are other competent striker fired 9 mm pistols that may be of similar quality, but not as commonly owned or adopted, and with less support, such as Smith & Wesson M&P, HK VP9, and the FN 509.
Now what about your beloved 1911 in 45 ACP, the SIG P226 in 9mm, the Smith & Wesson Model 19 in 357 Magnum, or your treasured Single Action Army in .45 Colt? At various points in the past, each of those were in common use and did represent the best operating principles, fabrication technology, material, and ammo performance available at that time. But time and firearms developments march forward. If our objective is to maximize our capability, we want to take full advantage of the best that is available to us now. In the future, the list of duty-grade pistols will evolve, and we should evolve along with the hardware to avoid being comparatively disadvantaged. If the prices of new duty-grade pistols are off-putting, trustworthy used and reconditioned pistols are commonly available at prices equivalent to lesser quality new pistols.
The models that I mentioned are large, full size pistols, often worn visibly hanging from a soldier’s or officer’s duty belt, but as will be explained, you’ll want to carry your pistol concealed. Each of these pistols have reduced size models that leverage the technology, quality and demonstrated performance of the larger pistols. For Glock, there are smaller sized models such as the 19, 19x, 26, 43, 43x, 45 and 48, all in 9mm. For SIG, in addition to the full sized, there are P320 versions in Compact and Carry size and P365 models.
Modern 9mm Bullet Designs
Is 9mm really adequate and the best choice? Due to improvements in bullet design, the benefits of higher round capacity, and global supply volumes, it is the most ubiquitous choice of military, police and civilians worldwide. There is just not enough difference in real-world pistol caliber performance to justify deviating from 9mm, especially if the alternative caliber results in reduced magazine capacity. A quick word on selecting “carry” ammo: use what your local, state or national law enforcement uses. There are solid ballistic and legal reasons to follow the lead of law enforcement. Law enforcement ammo nearly always meets stringent FBI minimum and maximum penetration requirements. So, I encourage you to trade in your non-duty-grade pistols, or relegate them to collection status, and obtain one of the few duty-grade pistols in 9mm for serious use. As I’ve slaughtered some sacred cows with this challenge, I look forward to reading the replies in the comment section.
The second challenge is that you stay armed. When and where permitted by law and regulation, and certainly within your home and on your property, you should commit to having your duty-grade pistol on your person during all waking hours. The reason for this is simple: situations that may necessitate the use of your pistol can arise instantaneously. I’ll share a recent personal story to illustrate: I was outside, walking around on our small ranch one afternoon, when the three dogs alerted me to a car driving up our long driveway. I approached the beat-up sedan containing four sketchy-looking young adult males. They asked the illogical question: “Do you have any chickens for sale?” Considering there was no reason for such a question, seemed to be an obvious ruse. I believe they had ill intentions, perhaps hoping no one was home. So, I was instantly confronted by a greater number of potential adversaries, and there was zero opportunity for me to get armed quickly had they chosen to attack me. I either was prepared at that moment, or I wasn’t.
For military and police, it is unnecessary to conceal a sidearm, and to the contrary, displaying a weapon is a passive projection of power or deterrence. For “civilians”, there are many disadvantages of having your pistol visible, so concealed carry is the order of the day. Key enablers to safely, comfortably and confidently wearing your pistol are pistol size, holster choice, belt quality, and pants waist size. While large pistols are easier to control during firing, and have larger magazine capacity, they are heavier and more difficult to conceal, so you may want to choose a smaller sized version of a duty-grade pistol.
Characteristics of a high-quality holster are that the trigger is well covered, shape is retained when the pistol withdrawn, is unaffected by moisture and it is comfortable (especially important for Inside the Waist Band (IWB) position). With so many styles available, it can be challenging to know which holster to select. So please note any holsters that you’ve found to be particularly well suited in the comment section below. Is being armed at all times a new phenomenon? Apparently not, as it seems the disciples of Christ Jesus were “packing” swords at the Last Supper (Luke 22:38)! As I am typing this, I am wearing a Glock 43x in a comfortable n8tactical IWB holster. Should I need a firearm to protect my family or myself at any time today, I am ready without hesitation.
The third challenge is to train frequently. Owning a duty-grade pistol, and having it on you, positions you well to protect your interests, but there is an additional need. You must have the skills to competently deploy the quality pistol you are carrying. Only competent training can make you competent. Along with the increase in the number of states that issue concealed carry licenses or better yet, recognize constitutional carry, the firearms training industry has grown over the last few years. Never has there ever been more or better firearms training available to common citizens, and this type of training should be supported and exploited.
There are many great training options, and I’ll call out one in particular, based on its longstanding reputation and my personal experience, and that is Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona. Receiving world class training at places such as Gunsite requires a significant commitment of time and money, but it does provide good value, and I’ve observed that Gunsite graduates consistently demonstrate solid gun handling fundamentals. So do your own research and find pistol training that meets your specific needs. I believe receiving professional training at least annually is necessary to maintain basic competence.
A second form of training is dry firing, at home, on your own. Much information can be found about how to safely execute dry firing practice, and I suggest that formal dry firing practice should be conducted weekly. The last form of training I’ll mention is with your household members, at your home or area of operation, and without using any real loaded guns. The concept is to rehearse responses to probable threat scenarios. For example, step through and practice what it would look like if everyone was in bed, and someone breached one of the exterior doors. What is your response? How would you secure a firearm? How would you move through the house? What cover or concealment is available? How would you gather and protect family members without putting them in any danger? Would you retreat, slip into a safe room, or confront intruders? What might you expect from alarms, dogs or security cameras? What are definite no-shoot directions? Iterative dry runs of these scenarios will allow you the opportunity to fine tune your response. Integrate the use of lights (and darkness) into the scenarios: household lights, hand held lights, and weapon mounted lights as applicable. Training is available for such exercises, but the process must be applied to the particulars of your specific situation.
Of the three challenges, the first challenge to evolve your weapon is the easiest, albeit potentially the most emotional. All you have to do is suspend any biases and spend some money. The sooner you resolve any weapon deficiencies, the faster you can address the challenges of carrying and training. The second challenge of always carrying your pistol costs no more than the price of a holster, but does require a personal commitment and acceptance of the discomfort of daily carry. Bear in mind that carrying a pistol is supposed to be comforting, not comfortable. Training and experience will help make carrying a pistol feel less unnatural.
The third challenge of training frequently requires planning and investment of both your time and money. If you will step up and meet these three challenges, your ability to effectively protect yourself and love ones will most definitely improve.