Many of us who teach and write about personal defense have cautioned against folks switching defensive handguns on virtually a daily basis. There are a number of good reasons why this is simply not a good idea.
When a person is confronted with a criminal threat, their focus must be almost entirely on the threat and plans for dealing with it. This is not the time to be trying to remember which gun you are carrying today and exactly how it operates. The operation and deployment of the handgun must be almost a subconscious function. Some guns have safeties that are pushed down, some are pushed up, some don’t have a manual safety at all. In addition, various guns have different grip angles, which can affect our ability to bring them onto the target quickly and effectively. The business of different sights and different trigger pulls is also a factor that can affect our ability to deal with the threat in a timely manner.
Still, there are times when we decide to switch to a different carry gun. The reasons for doing so can be varied. We might be upgrading to a better-quality gun. We might be making the switch to one that we think we can shoot more effectively. And it may just be there is something new on the market that we feel is a better choice for personal defense. These and other concerns may be valid reasons for making a change. Making a change is not a bad thing if we go about it the right way.
Recently, a fellow I know pretty well decided to try out a different kind of handgun, in a different caliber. Instead of just strapping it on and going about his business, this guy decided to run himself and the new gun through a series of tests to determine if they really were compatible.
Step One: Function- and Reliability-Testing
To begin with, he spent some time on the range shooting from the bench. In these tests, he wanted to determine if the pistol was accurate and if it functioned reliably. This sort of bench work allows the shooter to not only evaluate accuracy and reliability; it also helps determine which bullet weight performs best in a particular pistol. In the midst of the bench work, one also finds out if there are any minor things that need attention or tweaking.
During this bench work, a shooter can find out which screws keep backing out and need a bit of Loctite. He or she may also find that the sights need a bit of adjustment to be dead-on. And, while making adjustments, he or she may want to get a pistolsmith to smooth up the trigger pull just a bit. All of these things make the pistol more reliable and better suited to the individual.
Step Two: Familiarization Under Pressure
Once my friend was satisfied with the accuracy and reliability of his handgun, he moved on to the second portion of his testing. His local gun club regularly scheduled steel-plate matches, and these were a good opportunity to see how well he got along with the new gun. Working against a timer for speed and accuracy gives a good indication of that compatibility. Going for a quick pistol presentation can rapidly decide whether or not the pistol actually fits the shooting hand. Any problems with grip angle and sight alignment quickly become obvious, too.
In addition, the stress of competition causes the shooter to focus more on the competition itself and not the particular handgun. In a small way, it duplicates the stress of an actual confrontation, causing the shooter to focus on the task at hand and not what is in the shooting hand.
Step Three: Defensive Training
The final step, before my friend felt confident in carrying the new handgun, was to take it to a defensive-shooting class. A shooting class tends to force shooters outside of their comfort zones. Qualified instructors can also spot things we are doing that we may not really be conscious of. We might not be aware that we are hesitating in getting our shots off because of an unfamiliar safety or trigger pull. It might not be a deal-breaker, but an instructor helps us identify things that we have to overcome in handling a new gun efficiently.
All of this may seem like the long way around for some shooters. But, my friend is now carrying his new defensive handgun with a good deal of confidence. It is confidence in the gun’s function and in his own ability to shoot it quickly and accurately.
Above all else, the defensive handgun must function reliably. That means it must not only feed, fire and eject dependably, but it must also be devoid of parts that come loose, fall off or back out. Minor problems might be correctable, while major problems might be a deal-breaker. It’s best to find these things out before we bet our lives on a particular handgun.
Subjective matters are equally important. The handgun may be adequately reliable, but it just may not suit us. This is usually illustrated by the fact that we don’t shoot it as quickly or as accurately as we do other types of handguns. It may be a good handgun, but it just doesn’t meet our needs.
So, switching to different types of defensive handguns is not a bad thing, as long as we take the time to thoroughly test the new pistol for reliability and suitability. And, at the same time, we determine if this is a handgun upon which we are willing to bet our lives when things get down and dirty. When you do your homework, you have a better chance of acing the test.
This post appeared originally on Shooting Illustrated.