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Massad Ayoob

Why The Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” Still Looms Large

Mauser C96

The landmark Mauser C96 design changed things in a dimension far beyond the world of the pistol and still looms large in the mind today.

Why The Mauser C96 Still Looms Large:

  • Considered the first truly successful semi-auto pistol.
  • Operated through a short-recoil, locked-breech mechanism.
  • Awkward grip-shape gave it the nickname “broomhandle.”
  • Loaded via a stripper clip.
  • Tangent sights supposedly could be adjusted for accurate fire at hundreds of meters.
  • A detachable buttstock was available, converting the pistol into a carbine.

The C96 pistol is one of the most recognizable handguns ever made. Its integral magazine, loaded via stripper clips, sat ahead of the trigger guard, and its rather awkward grip-shape gave it the nickname “broomhandle.” The C96 was the first military semiautomatic pistol to prove itself both rugged enough and reliable enough for field use, though its substantial size and a shape not conducive to concealment would limit its appeal as a “personal gun.” Its stripper clip loading mechanism would never be as fast to reload as a semiautomatic with removable box magazines, particularly if the design encompassed the thumb button magazine release popularized by the Luger of 1902.

Many of these Mauser pistols left the factory with tangent sights that could supposedly be adjusted for accurate fire at hundreds of meters. That proved to be rather over-optimistic. However, the Mauser was a far-reaching weapon in a much more important way. It was a harbinger of things to come, of the profound changes in battle tactics and technology that would take place in the 20th century.

A brief history Of The Mauser Pistol

Completed in prototype in the year 1895, patented in 1896, and coming off the production line in 1897, this pistol would be produced by Mauser until the late 1930s. It was the first truly successful semiautomatic pistol. The design is credited to three brothers: Fidel, Friedrich, and Josef Feederle.

Pistol in wooden holster/case/shoulder stock.
Pistol in wooden holster/case/shoulder stock.

Patented with a spur-shaped hammer, the gun would be produced primarily with a ring-shaped hammer, and for a time early in its epoch with a “coned” hammer. This had extensions that tapered out to the sides, intended to give better traction to the shooter’s thumb, rather like the hammer spur attachments found on modern lever action rifles that have been mounted with telescopic sights.

Built with a short-recoil, locked breech mechanism, the C96 loads with stripper clips through the top of the mechanism’s ejection port. The rectangular bolt enclosed in its receiver or frame is locked back during this procedure. A rearward tug on the bolt then chambers the topmost cartridge. While awkward and cumbersome by today’s standards, the Mauser C96 design represented a quantum leap forward in handgun reloading speed in the late 19th century.

Its integral magazine machined into the gun forward of the trigger guard, the magazine’s housing normally extended down level with the bottom of the trigger guard. It rode higher, almost to the top edge of the trigger guard, on the rare and short-lived compact model that did not survive into the 20th century; this model held only six cartridges. Still rare, though not as much so, were the later machine pistol variations with detachable, extended magazines that reached down almost parallel with the butt of the gun.

Mauser pistol with its attachable shoulder stock.
Mauser pistol with its attachable shoulder stock.

There were long gun versions, notably the Kavallerie Karabiner (cavalry carbine, complete with a wooden fore-end that extended from the magazine to well out under the barrel). Far more popular, however, was the detachable buttstock fitted to a C96 pistol with standard length barrel. This was made of wood, of course, and was cleverly hollowed out to also be a combination holster and storage box for the pistol itself, attaching to the rear of the grip frame and turning the pistol into a light, handy, short-barreled carbine. An ad for the gun, circa 1900, promised: “The Pistol is provided with a Walnut Butt Stock instantly attachable by a sliding tennon and spring catch to the back of the Grip.(sic) When not in use as a stock this Butt serves as a Holster its interior being hollowed out to the shape of the Pistol whose Grip projects about half its length outside to facilitate quick drawing.”

Take Aim At Classic Guns:

Over a span of some 40 years, Mauser produced approximately a million of these pistols. A very significant quantity of Mauser C96 copies were produced in Spain, mostly under the Astra and Royal marques, the latter produced by Beistegui Hermanos. In China, this pistol was adopted by military and police alike, and became hugely popular when the 1919 Arms Embargo Agreement stopped the import of battle rifles into that country. A loophole left shoulder-stocked pistols exempt, and Chinese warlords bought them in vast numbers. It was this market that led to the rise of the Spanish clones, and of China’s own indigenous copies, the best generally recognized to be those from the Shanxi Arsenal and Hanyang Munitions Works.

The original caliber would be the most popular: 7.63X25mm Mauser, known at the time as simply 7.63mm Mauser. It sent a full metal jacket bullet weighing 86 grains downrange at a then-awesome velocity of 1450 feet per second, generating 402 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.

Sight gradations on rear sight denoted distance settings in meters. Yes, they were optimistic…
Sight gradations on rear sight denoted distance settings in meters. Yes, they were optimistic…

They would also be produced in significant numbers in 9mm Parabellum, and in small quantities for a proprietary cartridge called the 9mm Mauser Export. This was simply the bottlenecked 7.63mm Mauser case blown out to straight-wall dimensions to take a 9mm bullet. The People’s Republic of China would eventually manufacture a clone chambered for the 7.62X25 Tokarev round. In China, the Shanxi Arsenal made oversize Mauser C96 clones chambered for the American .45 ACP cartridge, for commonality with the Thompson submachine guns that were then extremely popular in that land. Finally, Mauser briefly tried a proprietary cartridge, designated 8.15 mm, but it never got past the experimental stage.

The experimental cartridge was part of a fascinating chapter in the history of the broomhandle Mauser. After the Treaty of Versailles, ownership of firearms in military calibers was banned by the Weimar Republic. Oddly enough, 7.63mm Mauser was not considered a prohibited caliber, but 9mm Luger was. Mausers in 9mm Parabellum had to be altered to use an approved caliber, and stamped with the legend “1920,” thus creating a collectible category of C96 pistols that became known as M1920 Reworks. Most were re-barreled to 7.63mm Mauser, and some to .30 Luger, but at least one specimen – pictured here – received the “1920” stamp but remained chambered for 9mm Parabellum. (It also retained its standard 5.5-inch barrel length, despite the fact that the rule permitted nothing longer than a 4-inch barrel, which was coincidental with the introduction of the 3.9-inch Bolo Mauser.)

One of the most famous variations of this pistol is the Schnellfeuer (fast-fire), a machine pistol with fully automatic capability. Ironically, this was a case of “imitating the imitator.” It is widely believed among firearms historians that it was the Spanish clone-makers who first came up with selective-fire copies of the C96 for the Chinese market, and that Mauser introduced their version in response, even though Mauser had earlier developed full-auto models but not put them on the market. These were the Mausers with extended and removable magazines, the release button being ergonomically placed just above and ahead of the trigger guard for easy access by the shooter’s (right) trigger finger. The selector switch also seems to have been more ergonomically placed on the Mauser Schnellfeuer than on the Spanish machine pistols.

7.63mm Mauser ammo. Its relatively high velocity caused significant “secondary fragment” wound damage when the bullet hit bone.
7.63mm Mauser ammo. Its relatively high velocity caused significant “secondary fragment” wound damage when the bullet hit bone.

Within the scope of this book, there simply isn’t room to touch on all the vast number of Mauser C96 variations within a forty-year production run of a million pistols. For a short overview, the Wikipedia entry on the Mauser C96 seems complete and correct at this writing. For a deeper perspective, the reader is referred to The Broomhandle Mauser Pistol 1896-1936 by Erickson and Pate, The Mauser Self-Loading Pistol by Belford and Dunlap, and System Mauser by Breathed and Shroeder.

Shooting the C96

I know of no shooting championship ever won with the Model 96, but that was never part of its design parameters. My old and much mourned friend, the late Dean Grennell, once wrote of his personal C96, “Neither impressively accurate nor reliable in comparison to several other auto pistols, it had a most disconcerting habit of letting off two or three (shots) together, now and then.”1 The great handgun historian Geoffrey Boothroyd would write, “To modern eyes, the Mauser pistol is rather clumsy, complicated, and by no means easy to shoot without the shoulder stock attachment.

Author’s left thumb depresses a C96’s magazine follower as right hand closes the bolt on an empty chamber…an awkward procedure by today’s standards.
Author’s left thumb depresses the pistol’s magazine follower as right hand closes the bolt on an empty chamber…an awkward procedure by today’s standards.

On the other hand, it is beautifully made to an extremely high standard, and a delightful pistol to own even if only for the pleasure of dismantling and the subsequent feeling of astonishment at the ingenuity with which it has been constructed. It was also the first pistol to incorporate a feature now considered essential, a hold-open device to ensure that the breech remains open after the last cartridge has been fired.”2

The Pistol's Pedigree

For most, the C96 is a pistol of history and of fiction. Its ungainly shape and slow-to-reload mechanism had rendered it obsolete as a service handgun long before Mauser discontinued it. Movie directors loved it for its exotic, sinister looks. Frank Sinatra wielded a shoulder-stocked version in the movie “The Naked Runner,” and George Lucas and his prop crew kitted out Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character with a broomhandle Mauser reshaped into his space gun “blaster” in the Star Wars movies. This pistol is the one which fans of Sax Rohmer novels would expect the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu to draw from beneath his silken robes.

Yet, the gun was very real. Fairbairn and Sykes, the revolutionary combat pistol trainers for the Shanghai police in the 1920s, noted that the C96 was popular with the Chinese underworld and much feared by law enforcement. Its high velocity 7.63mm bullet tended to cause hideous wounds when it struck bone and shattered it into secondary missiles coursing out of the wound path in the victim’s body.

Master self-defense instructor Tom Givens demonstrates what may be the most efficient two-handed firing hold of the shoulder-stocked Mauser pistol.
Master self-defense instructor Tom Givens demonstrates what may be the most efficient two-handed firing hold of the shoulder-stocked Mauser pistol.

In WWI, 150,000 Mauser 96s were ordered by the Imperial German Army to supplement the Luger pistol. It had become abundantly clear that, in trench warfare, a handgun was a vital tool of close-quarter survival. These guns were chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. To help assure that they wouldn’t be mistakenly loaded with the original 7.63 mm. Mauser ammunition, these particular C96s were produced with a huge, crimson-color numeral “9” on each side of the wooden grips. They would become known as “Red Nine Mausers,” and dubbed by some collectors the 1916 Prussian model. The German contract for the supplemental Mausers was a stark parallel to United States orders for heavy frame Colt and Smith & Wesson Model 1917 revolvers during the same period to augment the Colt 1911 semiautomatic pistol, which also couldn’t be manufactured in enough volume to outfit every combat soldier on the line.

Indeed, the German military used these guns through WWII. Almost 8,000 C96s, the M30 commercial grade, were reportedly furnished to the Luftwaffe and proofmarked by the Wehrmacht. These were produced from the early 1930s to no later than 1940.

The C96 saw extensive use in the Spanish Civil War, and was a favorite of Chinese warlords. China was so taken with these guns that they couldn’t get enough Mausers, giving rise to Spanish-made and eventually Chinese-made copies.

Many refer to the C96 as the “Bolo Mauser” as if this was as generic a nickname for it as “broomhandle.” Not so; the term “Bolo” was short for Bolshevik. After the Bolsheviks took over Russia, they ordered large quantities of a C96 variant produced from 1920 to 1921, which featured smaller grips and a handy 3.9-inch barrel. This was the true Bolo Mauser. However, when we think of famous people who used this gun in real life, one name stands out conspicuously above all others…Sir Winston Churchill.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the available at GunDigestStore.com.

5 Lost Secrets Of The Combat Handgun

Power stance, high hand, crush grip and front sight, smooth roll – recover these lost secrets and watch your combat handgun skill increase.
Power stance, high hand, crush grip and front sight, smooth roll – recover these lost secrets and watch your combat handgun skill increase.

Wielding a combat handgun effecitively is no mystery, simply put these five fundamentals into practice to master your self-defense sidearm.

What Are The Five Lost Secrets To The Combat Handgun:

This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, 7th Edition, now available at GunDigestStore.com.

There are secrets the Old Masters of combat handgunning knew, secrets that have been lost to most because they weren’t incorporated into this or that “doctrine.” Just because they are lost doesn’t mean they don’t still work. Let’s look at a few of them.

Combat Handgun Secret #1: The Power Stance

In true combat handgun training, as opposed to recreational shooting, you are preparing for a fight. This means you should be in a fighting stance. Balance and mobility can never be compromised in a fight. Accordingly, your primary shooting stance should be a fightghting stance.

This shooter controls the recoil in the Glock G35 with good fundamentals of Stance, Position and Grip.

When the body has to become a fighting machine, the legs and feet become its foundation. You can expect to be receiving impacts: a wound to the shoulder, a bullet slamming to a stop in your body armor, and certainly the recoil of your own powerful, rapidly fired defensive weapon. Any of these can drive you backward and off-balance if you are not stabilized to absorb them and keep fighting. The feet should be at least shoulder-width apart, and probably wider.

Whether you’re throwing a punch or extending a firearm, you’re creating outboard weight, and your body has to compensate for that by widening its foundation or you’ll lose your balance. We have long known that humans in danger tend to crouch. It’s not just a  homo sapiens thing, it’s an erect biped thing. The same behavior is observed in primates, and in bears when they’re upright on their hind legs.

In his classic book “Shoot to Live,” Fairbairn observed how men just on their way to a dangerous raid tended to crouch significantly. Decades before Fairbairn had noticed it, Dr. Walter Cannon at Harvard Medical School had predicted this. Cannon was the ?rst to attempt to medically quantify the phenomenon called “fight or flight response” as it occurs in the human. While we know now that Cannon may have been incorrect on some hypothesized details, such as the exact role that blood sugar plays in the equation, we also know that on the bottom line he was right on all counts.

When threatened with deadly danger, the erect bipedal mammal will turn and face that danger, if only to observe and quantify it before fleeing. Its torso will square with the thing that threatens it. One leg will “quarter” rearward. This is seen today in the boxer’s stance, the karate practitioner’s front stance, the Weaver stance of pistol shooters, and the “police interview stance” taught at every law enforcement academy.

The head will come forward and down, and the shoulders will seem to hunch up to protect it. The knees will flex, lowering the center of body gravity, and the hips will come back, coiling the body for sudden and strenuous movement. The feet will be at least shoulder-width apart laterally. The hands or paws will rise to somewhere between waist and face level. This, and not the exaggerated “squat” of the ancient FBI training films, is the true and instinctive “combat crouch.”

The body is balanced forward, rearward, left and right, its weight forward to both absorb and deliver impact. There is no good reason for the combat shooter not to stand like this. Indeed, there is every reason for him or her to do it.

A key element of the power stance as we teach it at Lethal Force Institute is the application of the drive leg. In the martial arts, you generate power in a punch by putting your whole body behind it. Whichever leg is to the rear is the drive leg. Beginning with the knee slightly flexed, the practitioner digs either the heel or the ball of the foot into the ground, straightening the leg. This begins a powerful turn of the hips.

The hips are the center of body gravity and the point from which body strength can most effectively be generated. The punch and extending arm go forward along with the hip. The forward leg has become the weight-bearing limb; it needs to be more sharply flexed than the rear leg because as force is delivered forward, it will be carrying well over half of the body’s weight.

Learn From The Master–Massad Ayoob:

Combat Handgun Secret #2: The High-Hand Grasp

The Turkish-made Sarsilmaz SAR 9 is a full-size polymer pistol with a modular grip and ambidextrous thumb safety.

It’s amazing how many people come out of shooting schools and police academies not knowing the most efficient way to hold a handgun.

The primary hand’s grasp, which some instructors call “Master Grip,” needs to be able to stand by itself. In a shooting match that calls for a two-handed stage, we know we’ll always be able to achieve the two-fisted grasp.

In the swirling, unpredictable movement that occurs in close-range fights, however, we can never be sure that the second hand will be able to get to its destination and reinforce the first. It might be needed to push someone out of the way, to ward off the opponent’s weapon, or simply to keep our balance.

That’s why the initial grasp of the handgun with the dominant hand must be suitable for strong control of one-handed as well as two-handed fire.The hand should be all the way up the backstrap of the grip-frame. With the auto, the web of the hand should be so high that it is not only in contact with the underside of the grip tang, but pressed against it so firmly that it seems to shore up a ripple of flesh.

On the revolver, the web of the hand should be at the highest point of the grip-frame’s backstrap. There is only one, easily fixed potential downside to a high hand grip. If the grip tang has sharp edges, as on the older versions of the 1911, this can dig painfully and even lacerate the hand. Sharp-edged slides on very small autos, like the Walther PPK, can do the same. Simply rounding off sharp edges or installing a beavertail grip safety fixes that.

Now let’s count up the many advantages of the high-hand grip. (1) It lowers the bore axis as much as possible, giving the gun less leverage with which to kick its muzzle up when recoil hits. (2) It guarantees that the frame will be held as a rigid abutment for the auto’s slide to work against. With too low a hold, the whipsaw recoil that follows moves the frame as well as the slide, dissipating some of the rearward momentum needed to complete the cycle.

The result is often a spent casing caught “stovepiped” in the ejection port, or a slide that does not return fully to battery. (3) On most handguns, this grasp allows a straight-back pull of the trigger. If the gun is grasped too low, a rearward pull on the trigger becomes a downward pull on the gun, jerking its muzzle – and the shot – low. Draw is hastened because (4) the grip tang of the auto is the easiest landmark for the web of the hand to find by feel.

Pick up a gun magazine with one or more stories on action shooting championships, and watch how the winners hold their guns. The webs of their hands will be riding high. Now you know why. The champions know what so many other shooters have missed.

Combat Handgun Secret #3: The Crush Grip


In target pistol shooting, light holds are in vogue. The bull’s-eye shooter is taught to let her pistol just rest in her fingers with no real grasp at all as she gently eases the trigger back. The IPSC shooter is taught to apply 60 percent strength with the support hand and 40 percent with the firing hand (occasionally the reverse, but 50 percent of available hand strength in any case).

Common sense tells us this will not do for a fight. For one thing, it is dexterity intensive, and dexterity is among the first things we lose in a fight-or-flight state. For another, the genuine fight you are training for always entails the risk of an opponent attempting to snatch your gun away.

We know that action beats reaction. If you’re holding your handgun lightly or with only half your strength and it is forcibly grabbed or struck, it will probably be gone from your grasp before you can react. But if you have conditioned your hand to always hold the gun with maximum strength, you have a better chance to resist the attack long enough to react, counter with a retention move, and keep control of your firearm.

A third tremendous advantage of a hard hold, one that world champion Ray Chapman always told his students, is that it’s the ultimate consistency in hold. “40 percent hand strength” is one thing in the relatively calm environment of the training range. It’s something else when you’re at a big match shooting for all the marbles, and it’s something a league beyond that when you’re fighting for your life.

One effect of fight or flight response is that as dexterity goes down, strength goes up precipitously. Even in target shooting, marksmanship coaches agree that a consistent hold is a key element of consistent shot placement. There are only two possible grasps that can be guaranteed to stay truly consistent: no pressure at all, or maximum pressure.

A fourth big advantage for the crush grip is that it prevents “milking.” When one finger moves, the other fingers want to move with it. The phenomenon is called “interlimb response.” As the trigger fingers tighten, so do the grasping fingers, as if they were milking a cow’s udder, and this jerks the shot off target, usually down and to one side. But if the fingers on the gripframe (NOT the trigger finger!) are already squeezing as hard as they can, they can’t squeeze any more when the index finger separately pulls the trigger, and milking is thus made impossible.

Finally, the hard hold better controls recoil. If you had me by the throat and were holding me against a wall, and I was struggling, would you relax your grip or hold harder? The harder you hold me against the wall, the less I can move. Similarly, the more firmly you grasp your gun, the less it will move in recoil, in terms of both overall gun movement and the stocks shifting in your hand.

Detractors of the concept call this “gorilla grip,” and warn that it interferes with delicate movement of the trigger finger and can cause small tremors. Those of us who advocate crush grip answer, “So what?” Delicate manipulation of the trigger disappears once the fight is on. The hands are going to tremble under stress anyway, and the shooter might as well get used to it up front in training. If the sights are kept in line, the gun’s muzzle won’t tremble off a target the size of a human heart.

Combat Handgun Secret #4: Front Sight

When you shoot a handgun properly, you focus on the front sight (F8-2). With traditional sights — especially combined with bad eyes — this can make the rear sight a near-oblivious blur. With the F8 sight, the front and rear sight stand out, regardless which one you focus on.

Every marksman who is accomplished with open sights remembers the day he or she experienced “the epiphany of the front sight.”

The phrase “watch your front sight” doesn’t mean just have it in your field of view. It doesn’t mean just be aware of it. It means focus on it as hard as possible, making sure it’s on target, and that it’s not moving off target as you stroke the trigger.

Pistol champions and gunfight survivors alike have learned that this is the key to center hits at high speed under pressure. As discussed in the chapter on point shooting, you don’t need the perfect sight picture of the marksmanship manual. But remember that the handgun is a remote control drill, and it must be indexed with where we want the hole to appear, or the hole will appear in the wrong place. The sights, at least the front sight in close, will be the most reliable such index.

Combat Handgun Secret #5: Smooth Roll

Shooting Stance 6

A smooth, even, uninterrupted roll of the trigger, as discussed in the last chapter, is critical if the shooter is going to break the shot without jerking it off target. Note that the last two elements, “front sight” and “smooth trigger roll,” are not listed as “to the lines of secrets four and five, prior.” This is because it’s debatable whether they are really lost secrets, and if so, who lost them.

Every competent instructor will teach the students how to use the sights and how to bring the trigger back. The problem is, these things are very easy to forget until the student develops the discipline to first think about doing them, and then finally ingrain the concepts through repetition so they are done automatically.

Power stance. High hand. Crush grip. Front sight. Smooth roll. I try to go through it in my mind like a pre-fiight checklist before I even reach for the gun. You don’t even have to think about it all at once.

As soon as you know there may be a stimulus to draw the gun, slip into a power stance. It might be a thug giving you the bad eye as you wait for a bus, or it might be that you’re on the range awaiting the “commence fire” signal. If you’re in the position to start, you don’t have to think about it any more.

Condition yourself to always begin the draw by hitting the high hand position. Once it’s there, it’s done and you don’t have to think about it any longer.

Crush grip? I tell my students to think of the eagle’s claw. When the eagle sleeps, it does not fall from its perch because its claws automatically clutch it with a death grip. If we condition ourselves to do this whenever we hold the gun, it’ll happen on its own when we need it without us having to think about it.

Editor's Note: This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, 7th Edition, now at GunDigestStore.com.

Self Defense: When A Trigger Upgrade Becomes A “Hair Trigger”

Any modification done to lighten the pull of a trigger is likely to become a "hair trigger" in court.
Any modification done to lighten the pull of a trigger is likely to become a “hair trigger” in court.

Is a trigger upgrade on your self-defense handgun worth it? Not when politically motivated prosecutors are likely to twist it into the mythical “hair trigger”.

Avoid trigger pulls lighter than factory specifications for duty guns. Jargon alert here: when I say “duty guns,” I mean firearms intended for police/military service or self-defense as opposed to target handguns. “Factory spec” means the specifications of the manufacturer of the firearm itself, not the company that made the drop-in aftermarket trigger kit.

There are two definitions of “hair trigger,” either or both of which can come up in court. One is “lighter than factory spec,” and the other is “different from common custom and practice among those who use such machines daily.” The same, really, as if there had been an industrial accident or a car crash involving machines that were alleged to have been negligently adjusted, injury or death resulting.

This can come from an unintended discharge, but what a lot of people miss in the gun world is, it can also come from a false allegation of a negligent discharge.

Why would a prosecutor allege that you fired unintentionally when you in fact deliberately used your gun to save your life? If it’s a politically motivated prosecution, it’s because an established case of self-defense is what’s known in court as a “perfect defense,” but there’s no such thing as a “justifiable accident” or “accidental self-defense.” You won’t be getting any gun experts on your jury, you’ll be getting a dozen or so people selected by the accusing side for their lack of knowledge of firearms and self-defense law and tactics. Opposing lawyers know it’s a lot easier to convince a jury of good people that you did something careless and stupid that resulted in a death or an injury, than to convince them that a nice person like them suddenly turned into a murdering monster. A so-called “hair trigger” feeds right into their false allegation of an indefensible, unintended shooting.

Roughly speaking, 4 pounds is the factory-spec pull-weight basement for single-action semi-auto pistols and 5.5 pounds for striker-fired pistols.
Roughly speaking, 4 pounds is the factory-spec pull-weight basement for single-action semi-auto pistols and 5.5 pounds for striker-fired pistols.

Why would a plaintiff’s lawyer use the same false argument in a lawsuit? Different reason. In a civil suit, they’re looking for deep pockets. They know that if they win a seven-figure judgment against most people, the money just isn’t there to collect. But they know that most of us have at least a million dollars in homeowner liability insurance and automobile liability insurance. If you shot a home invader or a burglar who came at you when you caught him in the act, the homeowner’s insurance company has the money! If you shot the carjacker or road-rage attacker in self-defense on the highway, the auto-liability insurance company has the money! But if they allege that you did it deliberately, they’ve sewn the deep pockets shut, because most if not all such policies expressly exempt the insurance companies for having to pay for what is called a willful tort, that is, your intentional act that harmed another. (See Terry Graham v. Texas Farm Bureau for an example.) Self-defense by definition is an intentional act: a false allegation of “hair trigger” gives them the element of negligence, which is what liability insurance exists for. Thus, the motive, and once again, the “hair trigger” feeds into that allegation.

Learn From The Master–Massad Ayoob:

When in doubt about “factory spec,” call the manufacturer of the gun and ask their customer service department. As to “common custom and practice,” with striker-fired guns the standard seems to be the one long established by Glock: 5.5 pounds minimum pull weight. For single-action autos or traditional double actions in single action mode, figure roughly 4 pounds as red-line minimum. With revolvers, I would strongly recommend double action only. If you have a conventional DA revolver capable of being thumb-cocked to single action, I would recommend having it modified by a gunsmith or armorer to double action only. This means removing the single-action cocking notch internally, not just grinding down the hammer spur.

Author has done multiple “cocked revolver/hair trigger” cases, in some of which the allegation was false. He recommends defensive revolvers be rendered double action only.
Author has done multiple “cocked revolver/hair trigger” cases, in some of which the allegation was false. He recommends defensive revolvers be rendered double action only.

The reason is, back when the double-action revolver was standard in law enforcement, it became almost a cottage industry among unscrupulous lawyers to falsely claim the gun had been “negligently cocked, creating a hair trigger effect.” There were, of course, cases where that actually did happen (see New York v. Frank Magliato), but there were also cases where it was falsely alleged (see Florida v. Luis Alvarez). This is why back in the service-revolver days, so many police departments (such as LAPD, NYPD, Miami, Montreal) modified their service revolvers to double action only. We would be foolish to ignore the decades of institutional history, and tragedy on both sides of the gun, that led to those policy decisions.

Note that I’m not saying never modify your gun or even its trigger in any way. Want to have a professional smooth up your trigger pull? Be my guest. I do. I’ve been an expert witness for the courts in weapons and homicide cases since 1979. I’ve done a number of “hair trigger cases.” Never once was the allegation that the trigger pull was too smooth. Every single time, the allegation was that the trigger pull was too light.

Editor's Note: This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, 7th Edition, now at GunDigestStore.com.

Concealed Carry: Point Shooting Vs Aimed Fire

There are no short cuts, aimed fire is the effective and safe technique to engage a target.

Ineffective and potentially dangerous, point shooting should be avoided at all costs and aimed fire employed in any lethal-force scenario.

This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, 7th Edition, now available at GunDigestStore.com.

For more than a decade, this is a topic that has been guaranteed to not only sell gun magazines, but to generate a flurry of angry letters to the editors. Gun expert Dave Arnold was the first to make a key point about it. “A lot of this argument,” Dave said, “is simply a matter of terminology.”

As one who has been in or around the center of that debate since 1990, I’ll certainly buy that! Let’s see if we can’t quantify our terms at the very beginning so we’re all working off the same sheet of music.

Two concepts need to be understood first: index and coordinates. Index is what lines up the gun with that which is to be shot. Coordinates are the things we have to accomplish to achieve index.

There are perhaps three possible indices by which we can line up our gun with the target or the threat:

Body Position Index: This would be the situation where you can’t see where the gun is aimed, so you’re using a certain body position to align the gun with the target. In the obsolete FBI crouch, the coordinates are backside low, upper body forward, gun punched forward to keep it from going too low. In the speed rock, discussed elsewhere in this book, the coordinates include leaning the upper torso all the way back to bring the forearm lateral as the gun is fired immediately upon levering upward away from the holster. In pure hip-shooting, you are relying on either long-term muscle memory developed through exhaustive practice, or by a degree of talent few of us could ever hope to possess. I would define any type of body position index as “point shooting.”

Visual Index: This is where you are indexing by seeing the gun or the gunsights superimposed on the target. If you can see the gun is on target, I consider this aimed fire. Whether you are superimposing the silhouette of the whole gun over the target, or looking over the top of it, or taking a classic sight picture, the only question remaining is whether it’s coarsely aimed fire or precisely aimed fire.

Artificial Index: This would be something like a laser sight. Let’s say you have a ballistic raid shield in one hand, and a gun in the other. It will be awkward and difficult to bend the arm into a position where you can aim through the Lexan view port using the regular sights. If you reach your gun around the side of the shield and see your red dot on target, the artificial mechanism of the projected laser dot has indexed the weapon for you, rather than you visually aligning the gun or aligning it by body position index.

Since the laser sight is by no means universal, this argument of point shooting versus aimed fire really comes down to an issue of body position index versus visual index.

Handgun Laser 7
The use of a laser site is not consider point shooting, given once you see the dot on target the device has indexed your weapon.

The middle-road position is, “practice both.” That saves controversy, but if you’re teaching cops or others with limited time who can’t waste even minutes on useless stuff because you don’t have as much time as you need to give them key life-saving skills, you can’t afford to have controversy any more. A great many police departments have either gotten away from point shooting entirely, or they have given it very short shrift. The reason is that their cops get into a lot of shootings, and they can quickly find out what works and what doesn’t. Departments that have learned to re-emphasize sighted combat fire include LAPD and NYPD, to name but a few. Both saw a significant jump in hit percentages in actual gunfights after renewing their emphasis on visually indexing the duty sidearms.

A book could be written on this topic — some have been, and more will be — but let’s cut to the chase. The bottom line is this; a lifetime of studying real-world gunfight dynamics has taught this author that true point shooting simply doesn’t work, except for a handful of extremely skilled and highly practiced shooters.

Get More Concealed Carry Info:

Problems with Point Shooting

Dennis Martin, the martial arts and small arms expert who for some time was Great Britain’s coordinator for the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, has little use for point shooting. He told me, “When the SAS had as their primary mission the eradication of enemy soldiers in combat, they taught point shooting with a high volume of gunfire. But as soon as their mission was changed to include hostage rescue, they switched from point shooting to Col. Cooper’s concept of the ‘flash sight picture.’ Now they had to shoot through narrow channels between innocent people, and it would have been irresponsible to do that without aiming their weapons.”

This is as clear an explanation of the problems with point shooting as I’ve ever seen. As an expert witness for the courts in weapons and shooting cases for more than 20 years, I realized early on that again and again, point shooting was culpable when the wrong people were hit by the good guy’s fire.

Special Agent George Zeiss and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. training for the TV series “The FBI.”
At one time, point shooting was an instructed technique in law enforcement.

One case, a man “pointed” his .38 for a warning shot and hit, crippling for life, a man he said he was trying to miss. More common are people hitting those other than the ones they’re trying to hit. I was retained on behalf of one police officer who “point-shot” at the tire of a car that was going toward a brother officer and instead hit in the head and killed a person inside the vehicle. I was retained on behalf of another who, at little more than arm’s length from a murderer trying to shoot him, resorted to the point shooting he had been taught and missed with all but one shot. The one hit, almost miraculously, nailed the bad guy in the arm and cut the radial nerve, preventing his attacker from pulling the trigger. But one of his misses struck, and horribly crippled for life, an innocent bystander — one of the potential victims the officer was trying to protect.

You don’t need too many cases like that to understand why true point shooting, firing without being able to see where the gun is oriented, can quickly pass the point of diminishing returns. Law school students are taught that the exemplar of recklessness is a “blind man with a gun.” A person who is firing a gun when they can’t see whether or not it’s on target is, in effect, a blind man with a gun. It could be eloquently argued in court that, ipso facto, firing without being able to see where the gun is aimed creates recklessness. In turn, recklessness is the key ingredient in the crime of Manslaughter and in a civil court lawsuit based on Wrongful Death or Wrongful Injury. Enough said?

Editor's Note: This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, 7th Edition, now at GunDigestStore.com.

How to Conceal Spare Ammo


A gun, holster and belt aren't enough. To be well armed, you also need spare ammo on tap and under wraps.

Autoloader Mags

The spare magazine is relatively flat and, in my experience, is best carried in a belt pouch on the side of the body opposite the holster. Vertical carry is best for concealment and fastest for access, and reloading will be more positive if each magazine is carried with the bullet noses forward. For concealed carry, I don’t see any need at all for a flapped mag pouch. It slows down access, and the extra flap of leather or nylon adds unnecessary bulk and bulge. Just make sure you have a good, friction-tight fit and you’ll have all the security you need, with maximum speed and access.

Most of us carry the mag pouch just behind the left hip if we’re right-handed, vice versa if we’re southpaws. With an open-front concealment garment, such as a vest or a sport coat or an unbuttoned sport shirt, this minimizes the likelihood of the magazine becoming visible. Too, weight on the corresponding point at the opposite side of the body seems to “balance” the weight of the holstered pistol and increase overall body comfort once you are used to the presence of the object.

This principle is one thing that made Richard Gallagher’s concept of the Original Jackass Shoulder System, the forerunner of his Galco brand, so famously popular and so widely imitated. The weight of the gun hung suspended in one armpit, with the weight of the two magazines (and perhaps also handcuffs), under the other. Another advantage, of course, was that the user’s critical gear was all on one harness that he could be quickly throw on if a danger call took him from the Condition White of total relaxation to the brighter colors of “sudden call to arms.”

A number of the people have gone with the currently popular AIWB (appendix/inside-the-waistband) carry, which places the holstered pistol on the dominant-hand side of their navel. Those who carry the pistol like this will often place the spare magazine pouch at a corresponding point on the other side of the navel. Again, it’s a matter of “balance,” and also keys in a little bit with the hands reaching to corresponding parts of the body during crisis, assuming that practice and training have drilled in the game plan well.

Buy Your SnagMag Now!

Some people carry their spare magazines in their pockets. I did so when I was very young and discovered that a generic eyeglass case with pocket clip that cost 29 cents at Woolworth’s would hold a 1911 magazine in a trouser pocket without revealing its shape (though I needed a folded-up matchbook cover or two in the bottom of it to get the magazine up high enough in the pouch that I could retrieve it). By the time I hit my twenties, though, decent, concealable magazine pouches were available and I could afford to buy them.

There are a few pocket magazine carriers available, but none are as fast to access as simply reaching under the same garment that concealed the pistol and snatching one out of a belt-mounted pouch. In ordinary clothing, a magazine will make a coat pocket or cardigan sweater pocket sag a bit. Many dedicated gun concealment vests have elastic pockets to hold magazines upright. They conceal the shape well, but they tend to sag a bit. If the elastic is tight, the garment tends to rise with the magazine you’re pulling on, and this also prevents it from coming cleanly away from the pocket in some iterations.

Glock 30 magazine rides comfortably and discreetly next to SureFire E2D light in cell phone pocket of these cargo pants.
Glock 30 magazine rides comfortably and discreetly next to SureFire E2D light in cell phone pocket of these cargo pants.

This writer wears BDU pants as default casual wear, and when carrying a mag in a pocket prefers the dedicated “magazine pocket,” also known as “cell phone pocket,” on the non-dominant hand side. With just the magazine in there, it tends to shift around a little bit. However, I discovered that if I put a compact, high-intensity flashlight with a pocket clip in the front of that pocket/pouch and the pistol magazine behind it, it conceals like a charm and the flashlight in front holds the magazine in a vertical position that does not shift appreciably. The BDU-type pants normally have a Velcro-closing pocket flap. I close down the rear portion, which hides the magazine perfectly. One end of the flashlight protrudes visibly upward, and that’s fine; it’s only a flashlight and doesn’t need to be concealed. I find that the flashlight goes unnoticed from supermarkets to banks to airports.

When concealment is the highest priority and the wearer is dressed lightly, as with an un-tucked polo shirt or t-shirt (one size larger than normal, remember, with straight drape instead of waist taper!), an inside-the-waistband magazine carrier will be just as much more concealable as an inside-the-waistband gun holster. Of course, you still have to remember that if the pants were bought to fit just you, now the waistband has to encompass just you and a holstered gun, and a spare magazine and its carrier. This means that you’ll need a larger waistband size than what you would normally wear.

An inside-the-waistband magazine pouch brings some of the same concerns as an inside-the-waistband holster and some of its own. Certain pistol magazines—early Smith & Wessons, early H&K designs, and damn near all the serious-caliber SIGs when they had sheet-metal floorplates—have sharp edges that will dig mercilessly into skin, all the more so if you’re a bit fleshy about the waist. Way back in the ’80s, when I collaborated with Ted Blocker on the LFI Concealment Rig, the original inside-the-waistband mag pouch left the whole floorplate and lower part of the magazine exposed to the reaching hand. It was very fast to reload from. However, some folks with some magazines—myself included, I admit—found sharp-edged protruding floorplates digging into us so uncomfortably we couldn’t wear the darn things. Ted revised the design to incorporate a shield between the entire magazine and the body. This greatly increased comfort, but also somewhat slowed down the speed of getting the magazine out of the pouch. That’s always going to be the tradeoff here.

Outside the waistband, the pouch tends to be more comfortable. You still want it to ride tight to the body for concealment, though. These days, my favorites of that type are the Kydex units produced by Blade-Tech in double pouches, and by Ky-Tac in single-mag pouches. For Glocks (bargain alert here!) I’ve honestly found nothing better than Glock’s own simple, super-cheap magazine pouch, which is also ambidextrous. It comes with little ladder-steps in the belt loops that can be easily cut by the owner to fit narrow or wide belts without flopping or wobbling, and to also ride high or low. I’ve won IDPA matches reloading from these pouches. They are fast, they are tight-to-the-body concealable, they are comfortable, and they are secure. Helluva deal.

How Many Spare Mags to Carry?

It depends. I’ve met cops who carry four double-stack magazines when on duty. My department issues a single-stack .45 auto, and when I’m in uniform I carry three to four spare eight-round magazines on the duty belt. On my own time, I carry two spare magazines for a single-stack pistol and at least one for a double-stack. I also normally carry a backup handgun, and on patrol I have a .223 semi-automatic rifle with multiple magazines and a shotgun with an ample supply of shells on board in the vehicle. Our military personnel in combat zones, of course, carry more—and those who don’t really believe they’ll ever need to fire their defensive firearm, carry less.

Editor's Note: This excerpt is from Massad Ayoob's Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, 2nd Edition.

5 Concealed Carry Myths Busted

When it comes to concealed carry, there are lots of statements portrayed as facts that are, in truth, myths.

What are the concealed carry myths:

When friends and family find out that you carry concealed, you become their resident guru on the topic. In that role, part of your job will be busting myths they heard, often from trusted others. Their big brother or their Uncle George might have more credibility with them than you do yet, so you’ll need more than “take my word for it” to put them straight.


Hopefully, the following will be of some help when you, the resident Advanced Concealed Carrier, impart necessary reality lessons to those new to the discipline.

Five Myths Of Concealed Carry

Sometimes, what seems like good advice at the time is proven later to be not so great. The record shows that decades ago, when more adult Americans smoked than not, popular magazines carried ads in which physicians endorsed this or that brand of cigarette. Brand A was an excellent aid to digestion after meals, one doctor said. The menthol in Brand B was soothing to a sore throat, another physician opined.

Today, of course, we know better. Oncologists who’ve treated patients suffering from throat cancer will tell you that those old claims are bunk. They sure sounded authoritative back in the day, though. Some advice on gunfight survival goes back to the same era. And some of it is just as suspect. Let’s look at a few examples.

Myth #1: A Good Shoot Is A Good Shoot

In the old days, there was some truth to this. When it was reasonably clear that a good guy had shot a bad guy, the criminal justice system ruled it to be a justifiable action and things were pretty much done with. Oh, there might have been a lawsuit here or there, but it was not common to see a huge wrongful death lawsuit levied on the shooter after a fatal use of force in legitimate defense of oneself or others.


Slowly, things changed. The gun control movement gained traction in the 1960s after the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. This time, the mainstream media went in the same direction, gathering a huge momentum that remains today.

From the nation’s major TV networks and the influential big city newspapers and national news magazines, to the groves of academe, it became popular to treat guns and the people who owned them as an embarrassing, dangerous manifestation of low-class stupidity. This also applied for ordinary people who picked up a gun in legitimate self-defense. It was as if the journalists’ style guide automatically decreed that the term “vigilante” be applied to those who saved themselves and others from being victimized.

Today, a good shoot isn’t a “good shoot” until the authorities say so and the last false allegation of a “bad shoot” has been decisively stamped out. It’s a predictable aftermath that must be prepared for, just as the gunfight must be prepared for well beforehand.

Myth #2: Aim For Center Mass

This was a poor choice of words even in the old days, and that’s still true. If you think about it, the center of mass on a standing human is somewhere in his abdominal area. A bullet there may or may not prove fatal later, but it’s not very likely to instantly disable a violent man now, and the latter of course is what we need to ensure the survival of the good guys.


The way to stop a criminal from shooting at you is to deliver your bullet to a part of the body he needs in order to keep shooting at you, and to make that part of his body stop working. I’ve told my students for decades that they should have a copy of Gray’s Anatomy right next to their shooting manuals.

Read Dr. Jim Williams’ excellent book Tactical Anatomy. An ER physician with extensive experience treating gunshot wounds and intensive firearms training himself, Dr. Williams details the proper points of aim from various angles when the object of shooting is to render a homicidal criminal incapable of carrying out his murderous actions.

Myth #3: He Who Shoots First, Wins

This is untrue on multiple levels. Gunfights are not won by the guy who makes the first loud noise. They’re not even won by the first guy who gets a hit. In Springfield, Missouri, in the 19th century, Wild Bill Hickok met Dave Tutt in the town square, in what may have been the only time in the Old West that two men actually did have a “walk and draw” contest in the middle of the street. Tutt panicked and opened fire on Hickok when they were some 70 yards apart. His bullets missed. Hickok coolly stood his ground, aimed carefully and ended the fight by putting a .36-caliber round through his antagonist’s heart.

In the more famous gunfight at OK Corral, Wyatt Earp’s brother, Morgan, was shot down by a bullet that went across his shoulders and chipped one of his vertebrae, and Doc Holliday received a glancing wound to the hip from Frank McLaury’s Colt .44. A moment later, McLaury fell dead, killed instantly when Holliday shot him in the chest and the wounded Morgan Earp almost simultaneously shot him in the head.


Even severe wounds may not seriously disable a committed combatant. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many hero cops who’ve survived hellacious gunfight injuries and gone on to prevail. One is Stacy Lim of the LAPD. She was shot in the heart with a .357 Mag revolver at the opening of her encounter. She returned fire with her Beretta 9mm, killing her antagonist with four solid hits out of the four she fired. She recovered to return to full duty, and today is one of the nation’s most respected police firearms instructors.

Another is Officer Jared Reston of Jacksonville, Florida. He was shot in the face at point-blank range by a gunman armed with a .45 ACP who then fired six more bullets into Reston when he fell. Jared returned fire from the ground with his Glock .40. He killed the assailant and recovered to return to patrol and SWAT duty.

These were the good guys and gals. But the bad guys can be just as resilient, and we would all do well to remember that it took Stacy four dead-on hits to drop her opponent, and Jared had to shoot his would-be murderer seven times before the guy stopped trying to kill him.

Myth #4: If You Can’t Do It With …

“If you can’t do it with six (or five), you can’t do it at all.” There are a whole lot of people who wouldn’t have survived high-volume firefights if they only had five or six cartridges at the time. Let’s look at some of the shootouts we’ve already discussed.


Hickok did indeed kill Tutt with a single shot — but he had a second Colt in his waistband to back up the first if more shots had been required. When Holliday shot Tom McLaury at the end of the OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona, it was his third gun of the fight. Holliday had already emptied a double-barrel shotgun (killing Frank McLaury’s brother, Tom), and a Colt SAA before drawing his backup Colt Lightning revolver to shoot Frank. Fast-forward to modern times: Officer Jared Reston, severely wounded, had to unleash most of the rounds in his 16-shot Glock 22 to finish his deadly fight in Jacksonville.

It happens to armed citizens, too. I’ve lost count of the shootings I’ve reviewed over the years where the good guys ran out of ammunition. Rich Davis fired all of the six shots he had and hit all three of the armed robbers he faced while delivering pizzas, but one of them was still up and running and able to shoot and wound him twice. That night in the emergency room, it occurred to him that there had to be something better than one’s own body to stop bullets with, and he was inspired to invent the soft body armor that has since saved thousands of police lives.

I spoke at two trials, one criminal and one civil, for an attorney who had to shoot a man who pulled a gun on him in his law office. His nine-shot 9mm was at slide-lock, having delivered nine solid hits, before his opponent slumped and died. He survived both the gunfight and the trials, but it had been terribly close because he had no more ammunition at all when the gun duel ended.

There are other reasons to carry spare ammunition. With a semi-automatic pistol, as many firearms instructors will tell you, a cardinal cause of malfunctions is a magazine problem. Often, this can only be rectified by ripping the bad magazine out of the gun and replacing it with a fresh one. This naturally requires a fresh magazine to be right there on your person.

Myth #5: Choice Of Equipment Doesn’t Matter

There aren’t a whole lot of gunfight survivors who will agree on that premise. A lifetime of studying these incidents has taught me that the choice of equipment is about fourth down on the list of priorities for survival. It is preceded by mindset, tactics and skill at arms. We all agree that a hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .44 Mag, and so on.

That said, though, you will be better served with a weapon you can shoot well at high speed, and with ammunition that hits hard on the receiving end. I’m not sure who first said, “No gunfight survivor has ever said that he wished he had less powerful ammunition or fewer shots available,” but that sage pretty much nailed it.

You definitely want hollow-point loads designed to expand in diameter and penetrate to optimum depths. Some people like to kid themselves that they’re saving money by buying non-expanding “ball” ammunition at cheap, generic prices. You’re only saving money if you’re getting adequate performance for less cost. I’m not aware of a single major police department in the United States still using ball ammunition in their duty handguns, even though they would certainly be motivated to cut costs. We are seeing police departments laying off cops, and even small towns disbanding their police departments, because of budget crunches. Why are they still paying premium prices for hollow-point ammunition? Because a very long history of gunfights has shown that it works more effectively to stop armed criminals more quickly.

Hollow-points are also safer for innocent bystanders, whether cops, security professionals or armed citizens fire them. The hollow-nosed bullet’s expansion slows it down and usually leaves it lodged in the opposite side of the opponent’s body and clothing, or lying on the ground a few feet behind him, spent.

A 9mm or .45 FMJ round can go through two bystanders and into a third deep enough to leave three innocents lying dead on the ground. Before you ignore that, go to FindLaw.com and look up the definition of “deliberate indifference.” Even a soulless sociopath would realize that this could sustain a criminal charge of manslaughter, and a civil suit for wrongful death or injury, and any good person with a three-digit IQ would realize that their own loved ones are the most likely “bystanders” to be present in a home-defense shooting.

Challenging Caliber ‘Norms’

It’s become popular on the Internet to claim that there is no difference between chamberings. That the 9mm, for instance, is equal to the .40 S&W or .45 ACP, bullet type for bullet type, in terms of “stopping power.” That is an argument that simply defies logic. A 9mm-diameter bullet weighing 147 grains is the same as a 10mm-diameter .40 bullet weighing 180 grains, or an 11.25mm-diameter .45 ACP +P bullet weighing 230 grains, when they’re all going within 50 feet per second of each other? Really? History, common sense and logic say otherwise.

The 9mm-diameter bullets, well-designed and loaded to higher velocities, can certainly give the larger calibers a run for their money. The best 9mm and .357 Mag or .357 SIG loads may well outperform lower-tech .45 ACP and .45 Colt loads in terms of relevant wound volume. The issue is more complicated than it sounds, but the bottom line is that there are more effective and less effective cartridges for defense use, and they’re not all created equal.

If you have to fight for your life with a firearm, I absolutely agree with Mark Moritz that “the first rule of gunfighting is, have a gun.” I’d rather you have a .380 — or, for that matter, a .22 — than no gun at all. I realize that my dress code and my occupation may allow me to carry larger hardware than you. At the same time, convenience and economy must be balanced with the fact that you already decided you needed to be armed, and you need to have a firearm adequate to the task if you are in fact involved in a gunfight.

There are certainly good reasons to use a 9mm instead of a .45. If the shooter is distinctly better at hitting with speed with a 9mm — or feels a need for more, smaller bullets rather than fewer larger ones in the same sized gun — we’re looking at good reasons to choose the 9mm. When I travel to other countries, I usually carry a 9mm simply because the ammunition is much more readily available there than the .40, .45, .357 SIG, etc. But if you’re going to choose a smaller-caliber gun, choose it for real reasons, not delusional ones that do not pass the tests of history, logic and common sense.

Common Sense

Personal and home defense aren’t just about the gun. The gun is simply one component of a much larger whole. Home security encompasses locks, alarms and hardened perimeters. Your family needs to have a plan for emergencies, whether that emergency is a house fire or a home invasion. Communications and emergency illumination are part of the package. A Neighborhood Watch program can be priceless.

The world of the defensive firearm is rife with myths, and only some of them have been dealt with here. Anyone who keeps a firearm for home defense, or lawfully carries one in public, needs to apply his or her own common sense. We are, after all, literally talking about life and death when we assess these matters.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt of Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Volume 2.

Concealed Carry: 10 Pieces Of Gear To Avoid Like The Devil

It is imperative that a firearm be safe to carry and use, and the same is true of a concealed carry system, i.e., the holster. Check out this list of gear to avoid.

Here are the concealed carry no-nos:

If you are criminally charged or civilly sued over something involving your use of a firearm, you may find that your gun becomes a focal point of the opposing side’s case against you. Unscrupulous lawyers with a case to make are very likely to take advantage of the fact that the media and certain politicians and activists have for generations demonized firearms and the people who own them.

This trick sun visor holster has Velcro straps over back of grip, blocking effective draw of the J-frame it holds, and in practice, holster separated from visor strap without yielding the gun. Not on the author’s recommended list.
This trick sun visor holster has Velcro straps over back of grip, blocking effective draw of the J-frame it holds, and in practice, holster separated from visor strap without yielding the gun. Not on the author’s recommended list.

Some guns are more easily demonized than others. I’ve never seen it become a cornerstone issue in a case that the Colt revolver in question was a Cobra instead of the virtually identical Agent, or that the small 1911-style .45 caliber semiautomatic involved was an Auto Ordnance Pit Bull instead of a Colt Defender. What I have seen is attorneys who use that sort of thing to become a red herring that they stick up the jury’s nose to get that pack of twelve bloodhounds off the trail of the truth. Enough of those red herrings, and the jury just might lose the scent of the real issues. Thus, the more of these trivial issues that can be kept out of the case, the better off the honest defendant will be.

We’ll go into more detail on that sort of thing momentarily.

Before anything gets to court, the defendant has to survive things on the street. It is imperative that the firearm be safe to carry and use, and that the same be true of the concealed carry system, i.e., the holster. That needs to be examined as well.

Carry Gear to Avoid

I would strongly urge you to avoid the following:

Holsters which fit the gun poorly. If the gun is in too tight, the user may not be able to draw swiftly enough to win a fast-breaking life-or-death encounter. If it is too loose, the gun may fall out during fights, falls, other stressful activities, or something as simple as lying down on a couch.

Holsters that do not protectively cover the trigger guard. Why that Italicized word? There are some holsters made of thin fabric that cover the trigger guard, but do not protect it. I recently bought a $40 ankle holster my significant other thought she’d like for her new LCP-II. Trying it on with the unloaded .380, she discovered that the elastic fabric was too tight and too deep, preventing a good drawing grasp, and was so shaped that the finger “wanted to slip into the trigger guard” prematurely. That one quickly went into the reject bin. Another that didn’t make it even that far was a frilly lace concoction that resembled an Ace bandage with a gun in it, made of material so thin and sheer it was almost translucent. Trying it just on the display mannequin, she realized it could be fired while still in the holster.

Once the national standard, holsters with exposed trigger guards are now banned from many ranges for safety reasons. This is S&W Model 12 Airweight .38 in Safariland thumb-break.
Once the national standard, holsters with exposed trigger guards are now banned from many ranges for safety reasons. This is S&W Model 12 Airweight .38 in Safariland thumb-break.

Bear in mind that if you are ever in a struggle for your holstered gun, you don’t want the person attempting to disarm and shoot you to be able to do it while the gun is in your holster, its muzzle perhaps in line with some part of your own body.

Holsters with safety straps that pass over the back of the grip. It is highly likely that when you attempt to make an emergency draw under desperate circumstances, your own hand will trap the strap against the grip, thus trapping the gun in the holster.

Holsters with safety straps that go over the back of the trigger guard. This design, found primarily on revolver holsters, can have the same “trap your own gun in the holster” effect, this time with the middle finger of the drawing hand creating the trapping effect instead of the palm or web of hand.

Worn, cracked safety strap is a sign the holster is ready to be discarded from use.

Holsters which cover part of the grip. These will prevent you from getting a proper drawing grasp. The draw itself will be slowed, perhaps fatally, and when the gun does come up you will have a less than optimal firing grasp.

It gets worse. There are a handful of concealed carry holsters out there that cover the entire grip. This may be the very definition of “designers unclear on the concept.”

Holsters with safety straps narrow enough to get caught in the trigger guard. As the gun is inserted into the scabbard, the strap gets in front of the trigger. The trigger stops there. The rest of the gun keeps going. BANG!

Holsters with thin, floppy bodies. Leather worn down enough to become too pliable, or cheap fabric holsters, can fold. In the same sense that a rolled-up magazine can jab as hard as a club, the fold of leather or fabric can work its way into the trigger guard with enough rigidity to hold the trigger while the rest of the gun completes its insertion, and we have another BANG!

Velcro notwithstanding, thin and floppy fabric does not a good holster make, in author’s opinion.
Velcro notwithstanding, thin and floppy fabric does not a good holster make, in author’s opinion.

Holsters whose belt slots don’t fit the belt they ride upon. If the slots were too small, obviously you wouldn’t have gotten it onto the belt at all. If they’re too large, however, the whole holster starts moving up with the gun before it can come to a halt and allow the sidearm to clear. This can make the draw slow and awkward. Often, a holster that doesn’t fit the belt will also tend to tilt outward. This compromises concealment, and keeps the gun from being exactly where the hand is reaching for it. Poor holster-to-belt fit can also allow the holster to slip forward or back on the belt, again moving it away from the reaching hand.

Belts without backbone. Any of us who teach the gun can tell you stories about crappy holsters students bring to class. It’s never a surprise to see a cheap junk gun in a cheap junk holster. What does surprise you, at least the first few times, is the top-quality gun carried in a cheap, unsuitable holster. And then you get the student who brings a fine gun and a top-quality holster on a belt made out of soft fabric, or leather so thin and pliable that you wonder whether its manufacturer managed to peel a chicken, tan its skin, and somehow make a belt out of it.

The gun, holster, and belt are symbiotic. They’re part of a system. I’d rather have a good, economy-priced handgun in a good holster on a good belt than quality in one or two of those components but not all three.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Volume 2: Beyond the Basics.

How To: Safe Re-Holstering Tips

Procedural tactics regarding the safe holstering of a handgun have changed dramatically over the years. Here are some things to know.

  • Shooters should of course keep their fingers off the trigger when holstering.
  • Another trick is to place the thumb on the hammer of hammer-fired guns.
  • If the hammer is up on a 1911-style pistol, it prevents it from falling.
  • If it is down on a double-action pistol, it prevents it from rising and then falling.
  • The author suggests looking the gun into the holster at the learning stage.
  • Later, a more experienced shooter should be able to holster without looking.

There have been some new trends in the past few years on safe holstering doctrine.

In the old days, when holsters left triggers and trigger guards exposed and it was the custom to put one’s finger on the trigger as soon as the hand hit the holstered gun, any snag in the draw could result in the practitioner shooting himself, usually in the leg. Eventually, the gun world learned to demand holsters that covered the trigger guard area to prevent that. The change was good as far as it went, but in a sense it simply redistributed the nature of the negligent discharge. Now what happened was, when the finger was carelessly left on the trigger, the gun went back into the holster and the trigger finger stopped on the edge, and the gun kept moving and – BANG! A self-inflicted gunshot wound remarkably like the one from the old holster days.

Holstering -1The mantra of “keep your booger hooker off the bang switch” turned out not to be enough. I’ve seen cops who kept their belt-mounted key ring in front of the holster where, with movement or even previous strenuous activity, a key could wind up on the edge of the holster in line with the incoming trigger during holstering. There was one famous case of an old, soft leather holster bending enough that when a man inserted his Glock into it, the fold of leather hit the center of the trigger and the pistol discharged.

One of the biggest offenders is the drawstring found on warm-up jackets, hoodies, some winter coats and similar garments. We are seeing those get fouled between trigger guard and holster every year! DRAWSTRINGS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH HOLSTERED GUNS AND UNSAFE TO WEAR WITH THEM! IF YOU CARRY A GUN, REMOVE THE DRAWSTRINGS!

It only makes sense when we are dealing with deadly weapons to put safety net after safety net in place. One that I learned early was THUMB ON HAMMER WHEN HOLSTERING. If something trips the trigger, the thumb on the hammer of a cocked 1911 or similar pistol holds that hammer back, and prevents it from firing the shot. If the hammer is down on a double-action weapon, the thumb holds it down, so it cannot rise and fall and crack off a shot. Even with an unmodified striker-fired pistol, the thumb holds the slide forward so a tight-fitting holster can’t push it out of battery, and guarantees that when the gun comes out, it is ready to fight for you.

During this same process, the trigger finger should be straight. The index finger is known colloquially as the “pointer finger,” and this helps get the gun smoothly into the holster. It also, of course, guarantees that the finger wasn’t left on the trigger during the holstering process.

As I said, I’ve been practicing and teaching this since the 1970s, and published it in 1984 in my book StressFire. No one who has followed this protocol has shot himself yet. Enough said.

Latest Re-Holstering Doctrine
Because some people have shot themselves holstering, a new mantra has emerged: Look the gun into the holster, so you can see what you are doing. Another mantra is, “You never need to holster quickly, just to draw quickly. ALWAYS holster slowly and carefully.”

By and large, that’s good advice…but “always” can be a bigger word than it looks. We need to talk.

holstering -2Full time police work only 40 hours a week not counting overtime, and there are 168 hours in a week, so every cop is off duty more than he or she is on. (As a part time cop for 43 years, I was off duty even more.) Off duty cops, or plainclothes officers, or armed citizens when they’ve had to pull a gun on the street against criminals, will be unidentifiable as Good Guys and Gals when the uniformed cops pull up. Those cops have been told “Person with a gun, there now.” The Good Guy or Gal is “Person with a gun, there now”! It behooves them to get that gun put out of sight quickly and smoothly, without taking their eyes off the person present who was so dangerous they had to pull a gun on him in the first place.

If the Bad Guy goes for a gun at that moment and you are “looking your gun into your holster,” the gun and holster may be the last thing you see before your world goes dark forever. And that doesn’t take into account the situation many cops have faced: they have the bad guy at gunpoint, the bad guy gets physical, and they decide not to shoot him but need both hands to restrain him. That gun has to be put away swiftly and surely and rather quickly, without taking the eyes off the threat.

So…this writer suggests that you look the gun into the holster ALWAYS in the learning stages, because the eyes tell the hands what to feel, and that’s the shortcut to being able to do it by feel. Don’t do it fast so much as you do it smooth, and when the proverbial “need for speed” comes, you’ll more likely be able to do it quickly by feel, even in total darkness. You DO want to be able to holster one-handed by feel. It’s an important tactical skill.

More Tips For Safe Re-holster
My colleague and friend, master instructor David Maglio, popularized the technique of clicking one’s heels together when holstering at the hip. It keeps the gun side leg out of line of the muzzle.

I like to step forward with my holster-side leg, or back with the off-side leg, for the same reason when I holster.

When holstering on the front of the body (i.e., AIWB), cantilever the upper body back at the hips, so the muzzle will at least point forward past genitalia and femoral arteries.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Volume 2: Beyond the Basics.

Concealed Carry: AIWB Carry Pros And Cons

There are plenty of proponents and detractors of AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband) carry, but who is right when it comes to this controversial method?

The different angles on AIWB:

AIWB is shooter shorthand for Appendix Inside Waistband Carry. As the name implies, the gun is holstered between body and trousers in the abdomen area, between navel and hip, on the wearer’s dominant hand side.

Spencer Keepers demonstrates one of his AIWB holsters, here holding a SIRT training copy of a Glock, at Rangemaster Tactical Conference.
Spencer Keepers demonstrates one of his AIWB holsters, here holding a SIRT training copy of a Glock, at Rangemaster Tactical Conference.

Men have carried handguns in the appendix position, often tucked inside belt or sash without holsters, for as long as they’ve had handguns. In current times, this carry has always been popular in Latin America among good guys and bad alike, and most recently it has come into fashion in North America. One of the great modern instructors, Todd Louis Green, did much to popularize AIWB. Todd was taken from us in March of 2016 after a valiant decade-long battle with cancer, and though we lost him too soon, he left a large footprint. The same is true of the late Paul Gomez, another advocate of AIWB.

AIWB Advantages

As we walk through daily life or even stand still, our hands are generally closer to our front midline than our hips, armpits, ankles or other holster locations. This can make the AIWB carry particularly fast, especially if both hands are free to accomplish the draw.

The gun is very well protected against a rear grab, unless the opponent has the wearer in a bear hug from behind. It is also very defensible from a front grab.

Many people, slender folks in particular, find the gun less likely to “print” in this position than on or behind the hip, especially when sitting or bending over.

So long as seat belts don’t interfere, AIWB offers particularly good access when seated behind a steering wheel.

Some people, depending on physical build, may find AIWB the most comfortable way to carry, particularly with a large handgun.

AIWB Disadvantages

Since AIWB presumes a closed-front upper garment for concealment, a truly fast draw requires both hands – the support hand to rip the hem of the garment upward, and the firing hand to access the pistol.

Carrying a gun with its “business end” pointed at genitalia or juncture of thigh and lower abdomen gives some people the absolute creeps.

If the gun does discharge in an AIWB, results range from castration to death. The femoral artery is often in the line of fire.

For more information on concealed carry holsters check out:

While comfortable for some, others may experience the opposite effect. Gun length and personal preference as to waistband level will be critical in determining whether or not the holstered gun digs painfully into thigh or crotch.

Practice opportunities are somewhat restricted. AIWB carry is forbidden by some police departments, and has been banned by some top private instructors, such as Marty Hayes and Larry Vickers. AIWB is not allowed in IDPA, the “concealed carry sport,” at this writing, nor in PPC matches.

An Opposing View On AIWB

Marty Hayes, Director of the well-known firearms training school The Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc., has some serious concerns about the safety of the practice of carrying firearms in this manner, and in fact has banned the practice at his training school. Hayes, a law school graduate, is well educated in the laws regarding civil liability, and believes that instructors who allow the practice are flirting with danger.

From his law studies, he understands that for a plaintiff to collect damages in a lawsuit for negligence, they must prove that the defendant was negligent, and because of that negligence the plaintiff was injured. He believes that firearms instructors need to conduct their training courses in a reasonable manner, using tried and true gun handling techniques that have passed the muster of time in regards to safety.

“There are decades of gun handling protocols from the 50s and beyond that have proven that wearing the gun on the side of the hip (3-4 o’clock) position is the safest way for an armed American to carry a sidearm,” says Hayes. For over 30 years, he and his staff have taught the tried and true strong-side hip draw stroke which does not involve people pointing the gun at or near their private parts.

AIWB critic Marty Hayes, left, gives it a try with 1911 at a class with AIWB advocate Spencer Keepers, right. Both men are open-minded and can “disagree without being disagreeable.”
AIWB critic Marty Hayes, left, gives it a try with 1911 at a class with AIWB advocate Spencer Keepers, right. Both men are open-minded and can “disagree without being disagreeable.”

He believes that AIWB carry is outside the common standards and practices for professional firearms instruction and, in the event a student is severely injured or killed because of a bullet to the testicles or femoral artery, that the instructor will have a difficult time defending having allowed the practice, if he is sued.

Hayes at one point allowed the practice at The Firearms Academy of Seattle, and when he saw the popularity of the technique rising, he undertook a diligent study. After his observations, he concluded that while on a square range, with students lined up like tin soldiers all in a straight line, and allowing for people to carefully and slowly holster the gun, it can be done in relative safety. But, as his courses involve stressful exercises as a training method for armed citizens to learn how to handle armed encounters, he believes that when students start moving off the line of attack while they draw, that the muzzle invariably ends up pointing at vital parts of the human body, which violates one of the basic tenets of gun safety: Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to shoot.

He is also convinced that the bullet is not the only danger. He carries a 10mm single action Commander as a carry gun, and cannot imagine the pain and burned flesh that would occur if that gun discharged while stuck inside his pants pointed at his testicles. Even if the bullet missed all vital parts, the muzzle flash would do sufficient damage to possibly incapacitate him. For these reasons, he publically has made his position well known and advocates for the practice to go away.

Advice From a Master of AIWB

Among AIWB enthusiasts, Spencer Keepers is a name to contend with. A master maker of such holsters (http://keepersconcealment.com/), he’s also a master of teaching their use. Todd Louis Green made him a believer, and Spencer has kicked some major boo-tay drawing from AIWB in competition.

He reminisces, “I realized Todd could get to his gun easier than I could. I noted Craig (“Southnarc”) Douglas carried AIWB. I prefer to carry a Glock 35 (5.3” barrel) and the first thing I realized was that I was going to have to raise my waistband. Pretty soon, I bought some Kydex and a Dremel tool.”

Spencer gives an excellent class on getting the most out of AIWB carry, and does so every year at Tom Givens’ excellent Rangemaster Tactical Conference. I made a point of showing up for it in 2017 at the DARC training facility in Little Rock, Akansas.

He began by saying, “AIWB ain’t for everybody. Holster cant and ride height are incredibly important to making it work.”

Left: One of Spencer Keepers’ AIWB holsters, this one for left-handed carry of a Glock. Note sweat guard and Keepers’ distinctive wedge, which helps tilt muzzle away from vulnerable areas. Center: From this side, the secure clip to hold the southpaw holster in place. Right: Seen here in silhouette.
Left: One of Spencer Keepers’ AIWB holsters, this one for left-handed carry of a Glock. Note sweat guard and Keepers’ distinctive wedge, which helps tilt muzzle away from vulnerable areas. Center: From this side, the secure clip to hold the southpaw holster in place. Right: Seen here in silhouette.

His next statement was counterintuitive, but made huge sense when he explained it. “For AIWB, longer is better, until it’s too long. Most appendix carry holster options are open ended with sharp, uncomfortable edges down by the muzzle. These can dig into the body.” The “longer is better for concealment” rationale? It’s because the forward part of the gun’s contact with lower abdomen pushes the butt end of the gun tighter against the upper abdomen.

Keepers continued, “You want some adjustability. A straight drop can work well for AIWB, but for most people, a slight rearward cant is ideal. Each person has to find the angle and position that works the best for their particular body.”

He adds, “Very short holsters tend to roll the gun butt out forward in a very obvious way. That’s particularly true if you have any belly at all. You want the appendix carry holster to fit between the ‘important parts’ and the crease in the leg. That’s one reason the FBI cant doesn’t work with AIWB.

“On our own holsters, we extend the muzzle end about an inch. We roll the material over and close the muzzle. That eliminates a sharp discomfort point. The rolled muzzle also acts as a heat shield when the gun warms up during intensive training,” Keepers concludes.

The belt, as always, is as important as the holster. “I like an infinitely adjustable belt,” says Keepers, explaining, “Hole spacing in regular leather belts is about every three-quarters of an inch. Hydration factors can cause swelling and contraction of our waistline throughout the day. I like the Wilderness three-stitch Frequent Flier. The more flexible the belt, the better.”

Keepers is aware of the fine line between enough protection to shield wearer from gun and vice versa, and the need for the drawing hand to instantly take a full grasp. “You definitely want a full firing grip on the gun,” he says, “but we also put a horn on the holster to protect the shooter’s skin and clothing from the (sometimes sharp-edged) sights. Our design is now widely copied.”

First: Spencer Keepers demonstrates his recommended AIWB draw. Support hand firmly grasps hem of concealing garment… Second: …and jerks it high to guarantee a clear path for the drawing hand… Third: …which takes a firm grasp with everything BUT the STRAIGHT trigger finger that stays outside the clothing… Fourth: …and clears gun immediately upward, pointing toward the threat. Note that support hand is still holding garment up to guarantee snag-free draw, and is now positioned… Fifth: …to move forward from safely behind the gun muzzle en route to achieving two-hand grasp. Note that muzzle is up at angle where shooter can see front sight as soon as possible… Sixth …and a very strong two-hand grasp is rapidly achieved.
First: Spencer Keepers demonstrates his recommended AIWB draw. Support hand firmly grasps hem of concealing garment… Second: …and jerks it high to guarantee a clear path for the drawing hand… Third: …which takes a firm grasp with everything BUT the STRAIGHT trigger finger that stays outside the clothing… Fourth: …and clears gun immediately upward, pointing toward the threat. Note that support hand is still holding garment up to guarantee snag-free draw, and is now positioned… Fifth: …to move forward from safely behind the gun muzzle en route to achieving two-hand grasp. Note that muzzle is up at angle where shooter can see front sight as soon as possible… Sixth …and a very strong two-hand grasp is rapidly achieved.

A signature feature on Keepers Concealment AIWB holsters is a foam wedge on the lower part of the scabbard facing the wearer. It performs three purposes. One is to simply enhance comfort, with a cushioning effect. But the other is for safety: the wedge levers the gun muzzle out a little bit away from the body, to mitigate the dangers of an unintended discharge striking genitalia or femoral artery. Finally, the wedge acts as an added heat shield.

Many shooters today want to carry their pistols with white light units attached. I know one rock-hard, wiry 5’6” fella who daily conceals a full-size Glock 17 AIWB, complete with attached light, and hides it perfectly. “We do make holsters for those,” says Keepers, but I have to admit I’m not a big light guy. They make a much bigger footprint in a limited space.”

Keepers’ students approach the final stage of draw to firing position from AIWB.
Keepers’ students approach the final stage of draw to firing position from AIWB.

Spencer teaches a thumb on the back of the hammer or slide for the same reason I do with any sort of holstering, explained elsewhere in this book. And he teaches rocking the shoulders back and thrusting the pelvis forward during reholstering, to angle the gun muzzle away from body parts you particularly don’t want to “muzzle.”

While a couple of things – mainly comfort factors and long-time habituation – have kept me from staying with AIWB every time I’ve tried it, it’s entirely possible that it will work better for you. Understand, though, that it requires diligent focus on safety. You would be wise to take competent training in AIWB before practicing it, and I can’t think of any instructor better to start with than Spencer Keepers.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Volume 2: Beyond the Basics.

Best Concealed Carry Optics: Red Dot, Green Dot Or Iron Sights?

A groundbreaking study compared red dot sights with conventional iron sights, green-dot laser sights, and slide-mounted red-dot sights with and without backup iron sights (BUIS) on the pistols. Which sights are best for concealed carry?

What the study showed on concealed carry optics:

  • The study found optics weren't significantly better than iron sights at 5 to 10 yards.
  • However, at longer ranges, there is a 10- to 20-percent improvement with an optic.
  • Time was the biggest factor in muting the effectiveness of optics and lasers.
  • When visible, shooters spent added time on placing a shot exactly with a laser sight.
  • Trying to find the dot is the biggest hurdle to an optic achieving a fast, aimed shot.
  • Rehn finds iron backup sights a must if shooters turn to either aiming solution.

Advanced practice in any discipline has to take into account the latest trends. Concealed carry is no exception. One recent trend is in carry optics.

Shooter in foreground is doing very well with carry optics.
Shooter in foreground is doing very well with carry optics.

Red dot electronic sights captured the appreciation of bullseye target shooters as soon as they came out. Brian Enos at Bianchi Cup in 1984 and Jerry Barnhart by 1990 in IPSC, the International Practical Shooting Confederation, pioneered their huge popularity in speed shooting and practical shooting competition. As with computers and telephones, the technology eventually became sufficiently miniaturized that it could fit on a concealed carry pistol, and “carry optics” were born. We are seeing more and more of them at classes, most often in the hands of tech-oriented millennials and geezers like me with fading eyesight. What do they bring to the table?

To answer that question specifically for this book I turned to a colleague who, to my knowledge, has done more scientific study on this topic than anyone else on the planet. Karl Rehn is a master instructor and owner of KR Training in the Austin, Texas, area. I was one of the many who took part in his ground-breaking comparison of carry optics with other sighting systems. You can hear him discuss it in more depth on the ProArms Podcast at proarmspodcast.com.

Matthew Schinzing came in top shot at his MAG-40 class in South Dakota with concealable red dot on his 9mm Glock, a combination he uses for daily carry.
Matthew Schinzing came in top shot at his MAG-40 class in South Dakota with a concealable red dot on his 9mm Glock, a combination he uses for daily carry.

Karl’s study encompassed 118 shooters over a year and a half to examine the red dot sight’s practicality vis-à-vis conventional iron sights, laser sights projecting a bright green dot onto the target downrange, and slide-mounted carry optics type red dot sights with and without backup iron sights (BUIS) on the pistols. The study was supported by university grant funding.

Karl explains, “My background is engineering and tech, 23 years evaluating security systems. I look at gear through that lens. When something new comes out, how can we measure whether it’s better?”

Says Karl, “A lot of the data we had before involved United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA, the American arm of IPSC) competition in the 1990s, and red dots on military rifles. The big difference is these were all frame-mounted sights, not slide-mounted guns, and those guns’ sights didn’t move every time firearm cycled. Also, both dot and tube were typically larger on those. Carry optics are different, smaller. A lot of people think carry optics will be the same as what’s found on an ‘open gun’ in pistol competition or on a rifle. They’re not.”

Bill Quirk was a city detective working a task force with U.S. Marshal’s Service when he showed me his daily carry. That’s a Trijicon RMR on his Glock 17, which is otherwise highly customized with department approval, and riding in a concealable Safariland holster designed expressly for carry optic-equipped pistols.
Bill Quirk was a city detective working a task force with the U.S. Marshal’s Service when he showed me his daily carry. That’s a Trijicon RMR on his Glock 17, which is otherwise highly customized with department approval, and riding in a concealable Safariland holster designed expressly for carry of optic-equipped pistols.

Rehn is proud of the impartiality of his test. “We had no equipment donated by vendors. Another study was done in Northeast funded by Trijicon. They didn’t have every shooter shoot all the guns. We had every shooter in our test shoot all four guns on exactly the same test. We randomized the order of guns so there would be no bias; 25% shot each gun first. We did multiple trials with each shooter to level out the data. It took about 15 minutes per shooter. We had total novices to IPSC grandmasters and career trainers, a broad spectrum that allowed us to break out different categories.”

Rehn continues, “Our tests didn’t show the carry optics to be significantly better; many people struggled to find the dot. Some of the things that would have made red dot look better, we didn’t test, such as long range. We teach primarily defensive pistol; on a carry gun any accessory must not degrade skills from 3-10 yards, with the first shot probably the most important one. We did one shot at 5 yards and one at 10, all one-shot drills from low ready. Difficulty of getting first shot on target was a focus. We’re talking about life-safety equipment.”

He added, “We used M&P COREs. The carry optics were Trijicon RMRs, with and without tall backup sights. We had several of these in different configurations, one of which was with the Streamlight light/laser unit under the barrel. All guns were the same as far as barrel, trigger, etc. Each shooter had 1.5 seconds to make their shots. Most with iron sights were able to do that regardless of skill level. We did it two-hand and also dominant hand only. We did three trials per test type, recording raw time and points, on IDPA targets, and scored like IPSC: five points for a center hit, then three points for the next zone out, then one point for the outer zone as in USPSA Production division. We didn’t study low light or shot-to-shot recovery or multiple targets or long range; there’s plenty of room there for further study.”

Karl Rehn demonstrates one of the several S&W M&P CORE pistols used in his research, this one mounting Trijicon RMR and suppressor-height BUIS.
Karl Rehn demonstrates one of the several S&W M&P CORE pistols used in his research, this one mounting Trijicon RMR and suppressor-height BUIS.

Recalls Karl, “Roy Stedman, a Grandmaster shooter and R&D engineer, looked at the Steel Challenge years ago, which was noteworthy because shooters fire iron sight and red dot on similar courses and stages. There, longer range targets and basically one shot per target, he saw a 10-20% improvement with frame-mounted red dots. It shows for sure they do allow for improved shooting. That data does exist.”

How It Works

Karl explains, “The number one problem people had was that when you have irons you’re adapting to what you see as gun comes up to target. You see sights and top of gun and target and adapt as gun is coming up. With the green projection laser, if you can find the laser on anything it’s very natural with target focus to drive the laser dot to the spot you want to hit. With slide mounted red dots, what happens is when you bring gun up you see no dot, there is no indicator to tell you where the dot is. You move gun and head to find it. It takes time. Many of the pioneers in this, like David Bowie, the gunsmith who worked on this many years ago, started putting BUIS (backup iron sights) on pistols. Getting irons on target lets you see the dot. Most who have worked with these advocate tall, suppressor-height irons.”

He continued, “Last summer I committed myself to earning Grandmaster in Carry Optics in USPSA. From May to August 2016 I shot nothing but Carry Optics. I made Grandmaster. What I learned was that for the most part I looked for the backup irons and found them essential. I consider BUIS mandatory.”

MAG staff instructor Ray Millican, retired Sergeant-Major from Special Forces, demonstrates rapid fire control with S&W M&P CORE and carry optics.
MAG staff instructor Ray Millican, retired Sergeant-Major from Special Forces, demonstrates rapid fire control with S&W M&P CORE and carry optics.

Karl said that perhaps the biggest thing that came out of the study was that so many shooters ran out of time trying to find the dot without iron sights. He says adamantly, “Any skill you can’t do ten times out of ten on demand, you don’t own and can’t count on under stress. Some shooters claim, ‘If I can’t see the dot, I’ll just tube it,’ that is, line up the window with brown of target. I measured that deflection. With an RMR with just the window in the center of an IDPA target without the dot visible, at best at 5 yards your field of view through the window is 8”. We found the window four times bigger than width of rear sight notch. So, here’s the deal: if you bring your carry optic up and can’t see the dot, it is physically impossible to put a shot in the A-zone unless you’re pointing high right and jerk low left. Beyond 2 or 3 yards, tubing won’t work. You have no way of knowing how far the sight is misaligned if you can’t see the dot.”

Breakdown Of Results

The Rehn study had 118 participants, from 19 to 76 years old, male and female. He broke the participants into four categories of experience: (1) Novice, with no significant training or experience; (2) Had passed Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) shooting test at 90% or better; (3) Anyone with anything beyond CHL level, which according to a separate body of Karl’s research encompasses about 1% of those with carry permits; and (4) Instructors/high level shooters/those with at least 40 hours of training/B-class or higher competition shooters.

Karl Rehn is a leader in research on effectiveness of carry optics on handguns.
Karl Rehn is a leader in research on effectiveness of carry optics on handguns.

Karl defined an acceptable outcome as how many got at least a 5 to 3 point hit. 94% did so with iron sights. With green laser it was 90%. Hybrid (with both RMR and BUIS) were 84% and 76%, respectively. The test saw a lot of people run out of time, or fire an unaimed shot when they knew time was almost gone, when working with the carry optic as their only index.
One-hand versus two? “One-handed didn’t really change the time for the first shot more than a few percentage points,” Karl determined.

He added, “One thing we ended up doing, we took iron sight scores as the participants’ basic skill indicator. We moved some based on iron sight score to better sort them by skill level.” He was able to determine different effects at different skill levels. Novices with irons averaged around 80%, with laser 70% plus, and less with red dots. Instructors did better with the slide-mounted red dot than with green laser or hybrid. Intermediate, post-CHL shot about as well with laser and hybrid with red dot. More experienced shooters struggled with the laser because they’re used to looking at sights, not for laser dot on target.

Rehn frankly noted, “A weakness of the test was that no one did a 200-round familiarization with the dot. Last summer, USPSA had Production and Carry Optics National Championships, many competitors using the same gun for both. This provided a fair amount of data since many stages were exactly the same. There were no dramatic changes in hit factors. Even at top shooter level, we didn’t see the 10-20% improvement we saw with frame mounted optics. At best, scores were 5-10% higher with carry optics. Don’t expect miracles. At best you’ll get 10%, in reality probably less than that.”

This Glock 17 has been customized with Lone Wolf frame and other components, and Trijicon optic and its owner shoots it very well under pressure in her qualification run.
This Glock 17 has been customized with Lone Wolf frame and other components, and Trijicon optic and its owner shoots it very well under pressure in her qualification run.

It seems logical that older shooters with older eyes would benefit most from carry optics, but Rehn’s study puts this hypothesis in question. He observed, “We did not really see a significant improvement in that regard. We didn’t see older shooters any better or worse than younger. If you can’t focus at close distance, green laser works quite well, as good or better than trying to focus on slide mounted dot or irons. My advice to older shooters is to try the less expensive green laser first, which also still leaves your regular iron sights usable. I really think green lasers may be under-rated.”

It should be noted that Rehn had nothing personal to prove with this study. “As someone with zero fiscal interest in selling any sights or training specific to any type of optic, I tried to look at it with less bias than some, who make money from the proliferation of carry optics,” he says. “ Lasers are carried by far more people than carry optics, which I for one think should be allowed in competitions where they are currently banned.”

Bottom Line

Some of Karl Rehn’s conclusions from the eighteen-month study? “At 5 to 10 yards iron sights are still better for most people. The green laser is a very close second. If you’re going with carry optics, put backup irons on the pistol. Baseline your performance with similar drills yourself. Use drills that are hard for you to max at 100% to better measure relative improvement. You have to answer the question, ‘Do I actually shoot this better?,’ based on rational analysis and logic. If it works better for you, use it; if it doesn’t, don’t.”

Karl Rehn does not personally carry optical-sighted guns. He does like the Veridian light/green laser combo for carry. He shot the entire 2016 Rangemaster event using green laser exclusively, and came in 7th out of over 200 serious shooters despite a time-consuming malfunction. “John Hoelschen has done a great deal of work with carry optics in low light in force on force,” Rehn comments, “and he likes the ability to look through the tube and watch people’s hands. He carries a gun with a red dot on it and shoots it very well.”

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Volume 2: Beyond the Basics.

Concealed Carry And Traveling Armed

Given the lack of national reciprocity, armed citizens must be aware of other states' concealed carry laws if they travel. Ignorance to other states' firearms laws when traveling armed can set you on a course for serious trouble.

What you need to know about traveling with a concealed carry handgun:

  • Each state has different gun laws pertaining to concealed carry.
  • Some may not recognize your state's CCW permit.
  • Handgunlaw.us is a great, up-to-date resource for individual state gun laws.
  • It's unwise to trust printed resources on concealed carry law.
  • This is because laws are often changed with little or no public notice.

It is imperative that the lawfully armed citizen know the laws of the given jurisdiction. Let’s say that you are a resident of New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state. If while carrying a gun you cross the southern border into Massachusetts, which does not have carry permit reciprocity with any other state at this writing, you will be committing a felony the moment you cross the state line. However, if you have obtained the difficult-but-not-impossible-to-acquire Massachusetts non-resident carry permit, you will be fine.

Concealed Carry and Traveling Armed

And if you instead drive west into neighboring Vermont, you will also be fine because for longer than anyone reading this has been alive, the Green Mountain state has allowed any law-abiding citizen regardless of their state of residence to carry without a permit, and merely forbidden anyone to do so if they have been convicted of a felony or adjudicated mentally incompetent. Indeed, for many decades Vermont was the ONLY state that allowed permitless carry, which some prefer to call Constitutional carry, though it has now been joined in that by several other states.

“We don’t have to like reality. We do have to face it.” ~ Jim Fleming

But if you continue your journey through Vermont and cross that state’s border with New York, things change. New York offers neither any reciprocity with any state, nor any option for a non-resident to be permitted to carry a gun. First offense illegal concealed carry is a serious felony there, with mandatory prison time.

It’s a classic example of what lawyers call malum prohibitum, which means in essence “it’s bad because we passed a law against it.” This stands in contrast to malum in se, which translates to evil in and of itself: “we passed a law against it because it’s bad.” Much gun law follows this pattern. As famed defense attorney and firearms instructor Jim Fleming likes to say, “We don’t have to like reality. We do have to face it.”

At this writing, the best resource by far on the topic of gun laws is the website handgunlaw.us. It is unwise to trust anything in print on the topic, because the reciprocity agreements between state Attorneys General change regularly, often without widespread public announcement.

Concealed Carry and Traveling Armed

For example, the state of Nevada for many years recognized the home-state carry permits of Florida residents. However, when Florida for administrative reasons extended the longevity of their carry permits, Nevada authorities decided that was a longer period than they liked and ended their reciprocity with Florida. This was not widely announced, and visitors from the Sunshine State who routinely visited Las Vegas every year and carried their guns where legal there did not realize that doing as they had always done had now criminalized them. When Nevada subsequently chose to recognize Florida again, that wasn’t widely publicized either.

Handgunlaw.us maintains constant contact with all the states’ AG’s offices (and with gun owners’ civil rights groups in the various states) and thus stays current with things. It is strongly recommended that the armed citizen do a here-and-now check at handgunlaw.us before crossing state lines. For a smartphone app in the same vein, consider Legal Heat.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Straight Talk on Armed Defense.

Self-Defense: Should You Open Carry Or Go Concealed?

Concealed vs. Open Carry: Do we have a right to alarm innocent people?

Is open carry a wise self-defense choice?

  • We have the right, but is it wise to carry in a way that may alarm other citizens?
  • With open carry you can become a target of thieves, bullies and show-offs.
  • It opens us to false accusations of negligent gun use — the firearm can clearly be seen.
  • The author feels concealed carry offers surprise and thwarts potential “gun-grabs.”

The concealed handgun can’t be used to protect yourself and others if it is not readily accessible. If it is not discreetly concealed, well…it is no longer concealed.

Open carry is a hot-button issue in both the gun culture and the eye of the public. In some weather, this can add comfort to the carrier, since cover garments can be unduly hot. There is also an intimidation effect on potential criminals, and there is documented evidence of that.

Open carry holster on belt

However, that which intimidates bad guys will inevitably intimidate good guys, too. We live in a society where, for generations, media and politicians have relentlessly demonized guns and people who own them. Because people unidentifiable as law enforcement carrying guns in public are an aberration of the norm, it follows that some bystanders will perceive “aberrant person with power to kill me and others.”

Do we have a right to cause that alarm to others? We do not know if one of those passers-by, or fellow diners in the restaurant where we are open carrying, may in the past have been victimized by a criminal armed with a gun. We should be able to understand how we strangers with visible guns in their presence may alarm them.

6 Concealed Carry Insurance Options To Protect Your Six (2019)

It puts us in the position of a smoker in the presence of someone who has a severe allergy to tobacco smoke. Yes, we have a right to smoke, but not a right to trigger someone’s allergy. Yes, we have a right to bear arms, but do we have a right to alarm innocent people needlessly when we know, or should know, that might happen?

There are other concerns with open carry. One is that the exposed handgun becomes an inviting target for thieves, bullies, and show-offs. More than one good person innocently carrying a holstered gun has been disarmed by someone who had no right to touch them, sometimes with tragic results.

Concealed carry gun being drawn

Finally, any experienced cop can tell you that, sometimes, bad people make false complaints to the police about good people. If that person has spotted your small, gray semi-automatic pistol in your exposed holster, he can maliciously and falsely call police and tell the officers that you threatened him and pointed your gun at him, an act of felony aggravated assault which can bring many years of incarceration. Because he will be able to correctly describe your gun due to your openly carrying it, his false accusation gains credibility. That could all have been avoided by simply carrying concealed.

This is why most in the gun culture recommend discreet, concealed carry. The concealed carrier has the element of surprise against the bad guys, and is much less likely to suffer an attempted “gun-grab.”

And the concealed carrier will not offend, alienate and antagonize innocent people.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Straight Talk on Armed Defense.

Gun Review: The SIG Sauer P290RS

A double-action-only variation of the original P290, the SIG P290RS offers shooters a reliable and compact pistol, with the peace of mind of re-strike capabilities.

  • The SIG P290RS was released in 2012, a double-action only variant of the original P290, produced to meet users' demands for re-strike capabilities.
  • There are four other major redesign points on the P290RS from the original: an added beavertail, rounded slide-lock lever, trimmed down magazine release button and a lengthened lip on the magazine.
  • The trigger pull is consistent on the P290RS, breaking at a predictable 9 pounds each time; however, being DAO, it is an extremely long trigger pull.
  • The P290RS proved reliable in the author's testing, though due to its extremely small size, it does take time to grow accustomed to shooting the handgun.

A year after its introduction, SIG’s smallest 9mm gets some meaningful design changes.

The guns I call “slim-nines,” 9mm carry pistols made thin and ultra-compact, are a hot item today. SIG’s entry is the P290. I first saw it in the fall of 2010 at the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) conference. It was introduced in January 2011 at the SHOT Show.

SIG P290RS with ammo on a bench.

Some concerns showed up in its first year in the field. There were reports of occasional misfires. Because a lot of buyers were fans of traditional double-action SIG Sauer pistols, they didn’t appreciate the fact that, like so many striker-fired autos, these new guns wouldn’t let you just pull the trigger again if you got a misfire, one SIG exec later informed me. The folks at SIG Sauer in Exeter, N.H., came up with a few other tweaks that could be wrought on the P290, too.

As a result, the redesigned P290RS was introduced right at a year after the original P290, at the 2012 SHOT Show. It’s not another option, it’s a total replacement of the older gun.

Key Features
The trigger mechanism is the defining new feature — but not the only one — on the P290 RS. The suffix in its designation stands for Re-Strike. SIG Sauer’s product manager at the Exeter plant, Tim Butler, tells me that the change involved a redesign of trigger bar, sear, and hammer. The result is a long, conventional double-action-only trigger stroke. The trigger goes much farther back before sear release than on the first iteration, but has proportionally less backlash.

Raise Your Sig Sauer IQ

The obvious advantage is that it gives an immediate second “shot” at a recalcitrant primer in the event of a misfire. Some don’t see this as a big deal, because they follow the doctrine that a bad round that’s failed them once doesn’t get a second chance, and their preferred response to a “click” instead of a “bang” is a fast “tap-rack-assess the situation in front of you.”

SIG P290 Deluxe Finish

An absolutely undeniable advantage of the P290RS over its predecessor, however, is that it’s much more friendly for dry fire. Instead of having to interrupt your trigger pulling practice by breaking your hold and retracting the slide between dry “shots,” the P290RS owner can roll the trigger continuously.

There have been four other changes. Apparently some folks had hands beefy enough that the web of their palm could ride up and get pinched by the bottom of the external hammer during the slide cycle. (That never happened to this writer with the P290, but this writer doesn’t have the world’s biggest hands, either.) In any case, a subtle, rounded beavertail has been added at the rear of the grip tang. For smaller-handed shooters, it won’t hurt anything; for those with meatier paws, it could be a deal-sealer for this little 9mm.

The lower rear edge on the slide-lock lever of the earlier P290 had a rather sharp corner, and I can see where that would have been a problem for those who shoot with straight thumbs. That corner has been very nicely rounded. Good for you, SIG! There’s another manufacturer of powerful subcompact pistols which has long ignored a similar well-founded criticism.

On the first variation, the magazine release button stood up “loud and proud.” The good news was, when you were doing a speed reload, that big button was easy to hit. The bad news was, when you weren’t trying to dump the mag, it was still easy to hit. There were reports of some buyers carrying it inside their waistband, along with a personal “spare tire,” whose excess flesh accidentally popped the magazines. For the P290RS, the mag release button was trimmed down some in hopes of curing that problem.

SIG P290RS Extended Magazine Grip

Finally, for some users, the super-small profile that was the P290’s raison d’etre proved to be too small. Those consumers felt they couldn’t get enough hand on the gun when shooting. A lengthened lip on the P290RS magazine created enough additional frontal length for both middle finger and ring finger to gain a secure purchase. (For those who want minimum butt size in every dimension, the P290RS comes with a flush-bottom floorplate that can be installed on the new magazine which, like the old, holds six rounds. Older mags will work in the new version of the P290, and vice versa.)

Moreover, the P290RS comes with an additional eight-round magazine featuring a grip extension. The thing was a test of strength insofar as getting the eighth round in, but it worked fine, and didn’t bind upon insertion, even with the slide closed.

The slide stop on the first P290 had a sharp edge at the lower rear. It is rounded on the P290RS.

Trigger pull
P290s in their first generation had a trigger pull somewhere between 9 pounds and off-the-chart, the latter referring to the fact that the most popular pull gauge hits its limit at about 12 pounds. The test P290RS when tested on a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge from Brownells averaged 9.23 pounds of pull weight, when leaving the slide forward throughout and just pulling the gauge on the trigger. However, when cocking the slide to duplicate live fire cycling between each test trigger pull, the average weight went up to 9.60 pounds of average pull.

Strangely enough, over the years it has become common to test short-barrel handguns at short ranges — 5, 7, 10, or 15 yards — instead of at the 25-yard line, which is where fighting handgun accuracy has been judged ever since this old man came on the scene. Not yet having “gotten the memo” that people with short-barrel hand guns will be “given a handicap” in a gunfight across a parking lot, this writer continues to test short barrel and longer-barrel defensive handguns alike at the traditional distance of 25 yards.

SIG P290RS Accuracy Test with Hornady Ammunition

Working hand-held off a Matrix rest on a concrete bench at a measured 75 feet, I tried out the P290RS with the three most popular bullet weights in 9mm Luger/9mm Parabellum/9×19. (You know the cartridge has been around for a while when there are at least three different designations for the same darn thing.) I used my standard protocol: measuring each five-shot group center to center between the farthest hits, and then taking a second measurement of the best three hits. A test done for American Handgunner a decade ago, with me and Charles Petty, confirmed that the “best three” measurement under these circumstances would come remarkably close to what the same gun and cartridge would do from a properly adjusted Ransom machine rest. It’s a useful tool, because most folks don’t have access to a machine rest, but most of them can test their hardware from a solid bench rest, to compare their results with what the gun writer might be getting.

147-grain subsonic 9mm rounds became trendy in the late 1980s. Winchester developed the concept with their original OSM (Olin Super Match), created at the behest of Special Forces personnel who wanted super-accurate 9mm rounds that could center an enemy sentry’s head from a suppressed MP5 submachine gun. The exemplar of the concept for this test was the inexpensive Remington-UMC 147-grain full metal jacket round, which this writer has seen win many a pistol match. From the SIG Sauer P290RS, it put five shots into 4.25 inches from 25 yards. It must be noted that four of those five shots were in 2.45 inches, and the significant “best three” shots created a tight group of 1.10 inches. (Measurements were to the nearest 0.05 inch.)

For most of the epoch of the 9mm Luger cartridge, the 124-grain bullet was the heaviest load available. For this test, our 124-grain exemplar was the Hornady XTP load, using a deep-penetrating jacketed hollow point projectile. The five shots went into 4.35 inches, and the best three of those formed a 2.80-inch group.

SIG P290RS Accuracy Test

When this writer was a young puppy cop, if you wanted a hollow point 9mm round, it was going to weigh 115 grains. Our test load in that bullet weight was the Federal Classic, coded by its manufacturer as “9BP,” which over the decades proved itself to be one of the most accurate loads ever produced in its caliber. It re-proved that in this test, with a five-shot group measuring 4.05 inches. Four of those shots were a mere two and a quarter inches apart, and the “best three hits” measurement was “the best of the test,” 65/100ths of one inch center to center. That is simply amazing performance from a short barrel pocket pistol with a heavy trigger pull at, remember, 25 yards, not 25 feet.

For a very long time now, “conventional gun wisdom” has held that a 4-inch group at 25 yards was “acceptable combat accuracy” from a full-size 9mm service pistol. The P290RS, an itty bitty pocket pistol, came achingly close to that: 4.15 inches with 147 grain, 4.35 inches with 124 grain, and 4.05 inches with 115 grain averages under four and a quarter inches. By that standard, we have in the SIG P290RS a pocket-size 9mm that needs to make no apologies at all in terms of accuracy. This was, after all, a small, light gun with a long trigger pull much heavier than the gun’s own weight. I have no doubt that its intrinsic accuracy is much greater than what I was able to wring out of it in five-shot groups.

Shooting and carrying the P290RS
I wore the little SIG 9mm for a while on my non-dominant-side hip as a backup, in the useful new Remora holster. Comfort was exquisite: no sharp edges anywhere.

Because of the long trigger pull and concomitantly long trigger return, I wasn’t able to get the speed in rapid fire that I’d expect from some other fire control mechanisms. Recoil had a bit of a snap for 9mm Parabellum, but nothing I could call uncomfortable. The shape of the P290RS causes it to point low for me, but that’s subjective: dry handling in the gun shop will quickly show whether it’ll be a problem for you, before you put your money on the counter.

SIG P290RS compared against the SIG P239

This little pistol passed through a lot of hands among my test group. Only one shooter had a problem: A man with very long fingers found his middle finger (and particularly his thumb, in the thumb-down grasp he prefers) rode the magazine release and three times caused the mag to drop when he didn’t want it to. The long, heavy trigger pull didn’t make a lot of friends, but the little SIG’s comfortable size and rounded edges were both unanimously appreciated. Several also liked the fact that by putting their thumb on its flat hammer, they could holster the P290RS without fear of an unintended discharge if a drawstring from a warm-up jacket or something like that got fouled in the trigger area.

Throughout the whole test, there were only two malfunctions. One was a 12 o’clock misfeed with a 147-grain load, quickly rectified with a tug on the slide. The other was a misfire (on a Federal round, of all things, famous for sensitive primers). As per the “RS” design, I just pulled the trigger again, and the shot went downrange. Both malfs occurred early in the first 50 shots during “break-in.” There were no further mechanical malfunctions.

All in all, despite a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $758, this handy little 20.5-ounce seven-shooter is a definite contender in the currently hot niche of subcompact 9mm carry pistols.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt form The Gun Digest Book of SIG-Sauer.

Raise Your Sig Sauer IQ:

Concealed Carry: Force of Numbers in Self-Defense

There are times, under the principle of disparity of force, that deadly force can be used against unarmed assailants. One of the prime examples is when facing multiple attackers.

  • It's been long recognized that when faced with two or more criminals, their tactical advantage is so great the victim is likely to be killed or sustain grave bodily harm.
  • Michigan v. Ossian Sweet is one such example, where a jury found Dr. Sweet not guilty after killing a member of an angry mob that looked to do grave harm.
  • Still, even today, it can take a full-blown trial for the truth to come out when a victim defends themselves against multiple unarmed attackers.

The law has long since recognized that when two or more criminals attack a lone victim, their physical and tactical advantage is so great their single victim is likely to suffer death or grave bodily harm if the attack is not stopped immediately. (And, of course, the innocent victim has no prudent reason to believe that the attack will be stopped before that point by his or her violent assailants.)

Time is your friend. So get ready, not necessarily fast. Deadly Force

A classic case in this vein was Michigan versus Ossian Sweet, in 1925. Dr. Sweet was a black physician in Michigan, in a time when segregation was law in the South, and “practice if not law” even in the North. He and his wife Gladys purchased a home in a Detroit neighborhood that was “all-white.” Hellish racial animosity ensued, and rose to the level of deadly threat. On the day in question, Dr. Sweet had been so alarmed he had bought guns for the friends and relatives who came to his home to protect him. Hostile crowds formed, at first held back by local police. When the mob began to storm the house, first throwing rocks through the windows, the defenders inside opened fire. One white man was killed, and another wounded.

Murder charges resulted. Legendary attorney Clarence Darrow took the case for the defense. In the chain of trials that followed, all of the defenders were ultimately exonerated, either by verdicts of not guilty or by prosecutorial dismissal of charges.

Not long after this trial, the classic legal text Warren on Homicide appeared, in 1938. This was the authoritative text destined to become known as “The Bible of Homicide Law” among lawyers and judges. The author(s) made it clear that when an individual faced a mob bent on doing violence to him or his compatriots, each member of that mob shared the culpability of the entire organism of the mob…and, therefore, was equally and individually fair game for the defensive violence suffered at the hands of the lawful defender(s).

One would have thought that would have decided the issue…and one would be wrong. It has long been a societal norm in the entertainment media, from books to “moving pictures” to the entertainment and even news media of today that “only a cowardly murderer would shoot/stab/kill” an “unarmed man.” We live in a society where media memes have so overpowered collective logic, and even long-established law and case law precedent, that it takes a full-blown trial for the truth to come out, and for law and justice to prevail.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Deadly Force.

Concealed Carry: Non-Permissive Environments

Going armed, in some case, means restricting your movement. “No-Gun Zones,” or “non-permissive environments,” have to be on your radar or you can land in a heap of legal trouble.

  • Carrying a gun requires a life adjustment, not only in acclimating to the firearm being on your person, but also in understanding where it's legally allowed to be carried.
  • In most places, carrying in non-permissive environments is a misdemeanor, but one that can cost a concealed carry permit and result in jail time.
  • It is tempting to flout these laws because the gun is concealed, but this runs headlong into property owners' rights and will not end well for the law breaker.

To get an idea what it will feel like carrying a gun in public for the first time, think back to when you were a child and got your first wallet or purse. For a week or more, you probably felt like a large wallet or purse with a small child attached. “If I lose this, boy am I gonna be in trouble! What if someone takes it from me? Hey, this ain’t comfortable or convenient!”

But, after that week or so, you acclimated. Eventually, it became a part of you. A “new norm.” The final adaptation was when you realized that when you were out and about without it, you were acutely aware of its absence. You knew that something was missing that you just might need if things didn’t go as planned and hoped.

Carrying the gun is very much like that.

non-permissive environments carry

Unlike a wallet or purse, there will be places where you can’t carry it. This will depend not only on current state law, but sometimes on city ordinances as well. In jurisdiction A, a “No Guns” sign may have the power of law, and carrying the weapon there can result in arrest and a heavy conviction. In jurisdiction B, the law may say that if your gun is spotted and you are asked to leave, you have only to peacefully depart and the matter ends there…but if you don’t leave, you are subject to arrest for Trespass After Warning.

Carrying in different levels, if you will, of “Gun Free Zones” may carry different penalties, even in the same city and state. For example, Charles Cotton, a Texas attorney famous for his knowledge of gun laws there, points out that ignoring a “no guns” sign in the Lone Star state is a relatively minor class C misdemeanor, but refusing to leave such premises when asked jumps up to a Class A misdemeanor, which can bring up to a year in jail and a four- or five-year loss of license to carry.

Some say, “It’s only a misdemeanor.” Those who work in the criminal justice system realize that “only” a misdemeanor is “only” up to a year in jail, and a gun-related crime on your record.

non-permissive environments - 1

People who carry regularly use the term “NPE” which stands for “non-permissive environment.” This is the situation where it is particularly important for the firearm to go undetected, or the carrier may suffer unpleasant consequences. As noted above, those consequences may involve serious legal penalties. Or, it may simply be that where you work, the company policy is “no guns.”

Let’s look at that particular situation a bit more closely. There are some who will say, “Concealed means concealed. If no one sees it, there’s nothing to worry about.” And there are those who’ll say, “My right to live supersedes my boss’s right to forbid guns in his workplace. I can always get another job, but I can’t get another life.”

All those sentiments are understandable…as far as they go. But there are other considerations, too. One is the simple matter of property owners’ rights versus the right to keep and bear arms. Consider, though, that when one is fired for illegally carrying a gun, that will probably be mentioned by the now former employer whenever contacted for a reference by a prospective future employer. “He only obeys the rules he likes” is not the sort of glowing recommendation that is likely to secure a new position.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Deadly Force — Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense.

Ten Commandments for Concealed Carry

These are the must-follow rules of concealed carry.

I’m not Moses, let alone God, but the following 10 bits of advice are written in stone nonetheless. Not by God, but by the vastly powerful mechanisms of logic, law and reality.

concealed carry
Understand your right to self-defense with Deadly Force.

Commandment I: If You Choose to Carry, Always Carry As Much As Is Possible
Hollywood actors get to see the script beforehand, and nothing is fired at them but blanks. You don’t have either luxury. Criminals attack people in times and places where they don’t think the victims will be prepared for them. It’s what they do.

The only way to be prepared to ward off such predators is to always be prepared: i.e., to be routinely armed and constantly ready to respond to deadly threats against you and those who count on you for protection. It’s not about convenience. It’s literally about life and death.

Commandment II: Don’t Carry A Gun If You Aren’t Prepared To Use It
The gun is not a magic talisman that wards off evil. It is a special-purpose emergency rescue tool: no more, no less. History shows us that – for police, and for armed citizens alike – the mere drawing of the gun ends the great majority of criminal threats, with the offender either surrendering or running away.

However, you must always remember that criminals constitute an armed subculture themselves, living in an underworld awash with stolen, illegal weapons. They don’t fear the gun; they fear the resolutely armed man or woman pointing that gun at them. And, being predators, they are expert judges of what is prey, and what is a creature more dangerous to them than they are to what they thought a moment ago was their prey.

Thus, the great irony: The person who is prepared to kill if they must to stop a murderous transgression by a human predator is the person who is least likely to have to do so.

Commandment III: Don’t Let The Gun Make You Reckless
Lightweight pseudo-psychologists will tell you that “the trigger will pull the finger” and your possession of your gun will make you want to kill someone. Rubbish. The gun is no more of an evil talisman that turns kindly Dr. Jekyll into evil Mr. Hyde than it is a good talisman that drives off evil. Those of us who have spent decades immersed in the twin cultures of American law enforcement and the responsibly armed citizenry know that the truth is exactly the opposite.

A good person doesn’t see the gun as a supercharger for aggression, but as brakes that control that natural human emotion. The law itself holds the armed individual to a “higher standard of care,” requiring that they do all that is possible to avoid using deadly force until it becomes clearly necessary. Prepare and act accordingly.
There's no way around it, if you're going to concealed carry you must do so legally.
Commandment IV: Carry Legally
If you live someplace where there is no provision to carry a gun to protect yourself and your loved ones, don’t let pusillanimous politicians turn you into a convicted felon. Move! It’s a quality of life issue. Rhetorical theory that sounds like “I interpret the law this way, because I believe the law should be this way” – which ignores laws that aren’t that way – can sacrifice your freedom, your status as a gun-owning free American and your ability to provide for your family.

If you live where a CCW permit is available, get the damn permit. If you don’t, move to someplace that does. Yes, it IS that simple. And if you are traveling, check sources such as www.handgunlaw.us to make sure that you are legal to carry in the given jurisdiction.

Don’t let the legal system make you a felon for living up to your responsibilities to protect yourself and those who count on you. If you carry, make sure you carry legally.

Commandment V: Know What You’re Doing
Gunfights are won by those who shoot fastest and straightest, and are usually measured in seconds. Legal aftermaths last for years, and emotional aftermaths, for lifetimes. Get educated in depth in the management of all three stages of the encounter beforehand.

Commandment VI: Concealed Means Concealed
If your local license requires concealed carry, keep the gun truly concealed. The revealing of a concealed handgun is seen in many quarters as a threat, which can result in charges of criminal threatening, brandishing and more. A malevolent person who wants to falsely accuse you of threatening them with a gun will have their wrongful accusation bolstered if the police find you with a gun where they said it was. Yes, that happens.

Some jurisdictions allow “open carry.” I support the right to open carry, in the proper time and place, but have found over the decades that there are relatively few ideal times or places where the practice won’t unnecessarily and predictably frighten someone the carrier had no reason to scare.

A must for concealed carry is knowing your firearms and your gear.

Commandment VII: Maximize Your Firearms Familiarity
If you ever need that gun, it will happen so quickly and terribly that you’ll have to be swift and sure. If you don’t, you’ll still be handling a deadly weapon in the presence of people you love. Making gun manipulation second nature – safety as well as draw-fire-hit – is thus doubly important.

Commandment VIII: Understand The Fine Points
Don’t just read the headlines or editorials, read the fine print. Actually study the laws of your jurisdiction. What’s legal in one place won’t be legal in another. Cities may have prohibitions that states don’t. Remember the principle, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Commandment IX: Carry an Adequate Firearm
A Vespa motor scooter is a motor vehicle, but it’s a poor excuse for a family car. A .22 or .25 is a firearm, but it’s a poor excuse for defense.

Carry a gun loaded with ammunition that has a track record of quickly stopping lethal assaults. Hint: If your chosen caliber is not used by police or military, it’s probably not powerful enough for its intended purpose.

Commandment X: Use Common Sense
Common sense – encompassing ethics and logic and law alike – must be your constant guide and companion when you carry a gun. Not idealism, not rhetoric. When you carry a gun, you literally carry the power of life and death. It is a power that belongs only in the hands of responsible people who care about consequences, and who are respectful of life and limb and human safety, that of others as well as their own.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Deadly Force — Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense.