Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Training" Guns

Firearms owners, trainers, and vendors can learn some hard-earned from General Aviation (GA).

Evector SportStar -- a Light Sport 2 Person Trainer
While flying an airplane is not a right (the privilege must be earned through a various series of tests and qualification assessments), there are many similarities to the problems, challenges, public perception, and overall approach to owning and operating a machine that can cause harm.

Here are a few similarities:
  • GA is populated by enthusiasts with varying levels of commitment, training, and experience.
  • GA "accidents" get wide press.
  • GA pilots are often the cause of concern (and rightly so when they do dumb things).
GA has several advocacy groups, but the most effective combine public advocacy and training and support (AOPA for pilots, NRA -- to some degree -- for gun owners).

My purely anecdotal, non-scientific estimates of the distribution of commitment to safety and proficiency (as a Flight instructor I get to fly with a wide range of pilots for training, re-training, and flight reviews):
  • 25% of pilots are committed to training, safety, and proficiency.
  • 50% meet standards and seek to improve or at least maintain proficiency.
  • 20% are barely proficient.
  • 5% are hazards.
I'd guess the distribution is similar for legal handgun owners (illegal owners are all in the "hazard" category as they have not pursued the most basic requirement of gun safety -- remaining legally unblemished).
The View from the left seat
Here's where the similarities end.

Basic Training

The majority of GA pilots learn on a simple trainer (Cessna 152/172, Cherokee 140/160/180) with basic instruments and move up as knowledge and proficiency increases. This is a function of the availability and cost for high-end aircraft (there are some who learn in a $500k Cirrus, but most do not).
The Standard Flight Trainer: Cessna 152
Does it make sense for someone who wants to learn handguns to start with a a"trainer?"

I think so.

For example, a new shooter might start with a Browning Buckmark .22 LR. The pistol is as heavy as most service pistols, has similar operation (safety, slide, magazine), and shoots inexpensive .22 LR ammo.
Browning Buckmark Camper .22 LR
The new user has plenty of time to focus on sight picture, grip, bod position, loading/ reloading, and safety fundamentals before graduating to a louder, sharper shooting duty pistol.

The BuckMark is equivalent to the Cessna 152 - operates and handles close enough to larger aircraft to inculcate good fundamentals, while being the least expensive way to burn holes in the sky. It is also relatively docile and predictable, so the novice has time to adjust and learn the correct response.

You can still crash a 152, so it is not completely safe. But flying is not inherently "safe" -- and neither are firearms. So there's enough potential danger to teach respect also.

Of course there are other .22 LR pistols, but I found the Buckmark to be the perfect compromise of quality, durability, accuracy, and price. It's an excellent platform for introducing new shooters to handguns without the distractions of recoil, loud bangs, and muzzle-end flash.

Which Gun? Part Two

In Part 1 we began to to answer the perennial question: "Which gun should I buy?"

Instead of a list of Totally Awesome Guns!, I provided a rather prosaic list of characteristics every gun buyer should evaluate prior to purchase and carry.

Let's assume you've done an objective analysis of your body type, flexibility, daily habits, workplace, exposure, practice, budget, legal knowledge, decision-making, and commitment and have determined you should purchase a handgun for concealed carry.

Great! You're the type person who should be carrying concealed and you make everyone around you safer.
NOTE: No one is paying me for this blog. I don't sell ammunition, firearms, or related gear. I have carried various pistols for self defense. If you are happy with your .22 pistol, great. If you carry a 9 mm, great. If the .45 is the only acceptable handgun, fine. My assumption is that the mission and the capabilities will vary, and the handgun should be selected that meets all the various criteria while still providing an effective deterrent (in most cases) or ender-of-badness (if it comes to that).
So now it's time to look at some more characteristics of the best concealed carry handgun for you. These include:
  • Caliber
  • Capacity
  • Size & weight / Carry-ability
There are others and we'll address those in part three of this series.

Every firearm has advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons, benefits and liabilities. The purpose of this exercise is finding the optimal combination of defensive capability and the constraints upon your ability to carry a defensive weapon.
If there were no constraints I would heartily recommend an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank. The stabilized main gun and improved ballistic computer, thermal sights, 7.62 coaxial machine gun, .50 caliber commander's machine gun, loader's MG, treads and armor make it the ultimate defensive weapon. But gas mileage is terrible (1 gallon per mile), parts and maintenance not exactly cheap, and they are not available on the civilian market.
My Former Ride

While they are excellent defensive firearms for some situations, shotguns and rifles are not an option, as the intent is to carry concealed.

Therefore we're trying to identify a small, lightweight package that provides defensive capability to civilians in normal civilians operations.

Civilians are not conducting assaults on fortified compounds, seizing objectives, or hunting terrorists.

Therefore we're constrained to handguns -- the least effective firearm that is the most concealable, portable, and rapidly deployed weapon available.
So we've already determined some constraints: portability and concealment.

So selecting the perfect gun for you isn't simple.

But it can be fun.

Click here for some consideration about "Training Guns"


NOTE: Even though I don't think it's the most important factor, I would be dismissing widely-held professional and amateur opinion. So I'll set my own thoughts aside and suggest we begin our gun search with a discussion of calibers.
Caliber (or calibre) is the approximate internal diameter of a barrel and the projectile it fires. There have been many calibers developed over the past 150 years, but the market for modern defensive handgun calibers has been reduced to a fairly small subset.

While variety and choice is excellent, and we're fortunate to live in a place that permits competition and provides such abundance, too many choices can be confusing. So while I appreciate the wide variety available, I'll stick to the common, readily-available calibers.

The handgun calibers are listed from smallest to largest in the table below:

Common Description
Pistol or Revolver?
22 LR
“Twenty-two long rifle”
Pistol and Revolver
Widely available
Small round, not acceptable as a defensive round for most self-defense advocates
380 Auto
“Three-eighty Auto”
Small round, considered the absolute smallest acceptable round by most defensive carry advocates
9mm Luger
“Nine millimeter” or “Luger” or “NATO”
The most popular handgun round on earth. Accepted as a suitable defensive round by most advocates
38 Special
“Thirty-eight special” or “Police special”
Once the primary round of police revolvers, until replaced by 9mm and other rounds with the widespread adoption of auto-pistols beginning in the 1980s.
357 Mag
“Three fifty seven magnum”
A popular police round highly regarded for high velocity and penetration
40 S&W
At one time a very popular compromise round adopted by the FBI.
10mm Auto
“Ten millimeter”
Some shortages, expensive
The smallest of the “big bore” rounds meant to fire a larger bullet at high velocity.
44 Special
“Forty-four special”
A larger revolver round with good velocity and mass.
44 Mag
“Forty-four magnum”
A larger revolver round made famous by Dirty Harry movies. It is no longer “The Most powerful handgun in the World,” but it’s still one to avoid being shot by
45 Auto
“Forty-five” or “Forty-five ACP”
The GI round, adopted by the US Army in 1911, used in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam. Probably the most loved pistol round by enthusiasts.
454 Casull
“Four fifty four Casull”
Rare, expensive
These are very large handgun rounds more suitable for hunting bear and buffalo than carrying for self defense.
460 S&W Magnum
“Four sixty Smith and Wesson magnum”
Rare, expensive
500 S&W Magnum
“Five hundred Smith and Wesson magnum”
Rare, expensive

I'll limit this discussion to the rounds highlighted in yellow above.
NOTE: If you want a more complete and detailed handgun ammunition comparison chart, this one by Genitron is very good.
Keep in mind that the purpose of a defensive round is to stop the attack, not necessarily kill, injure, or maim the attacker (though that might happen!).

Therefore the round most likely to end the attack is most effective.

If you're squeamish maybe you should pass on this article that discusses "Stopping power" in handgun rounds.

"Always" and "Perhaps"

There is no absolute anything in life so stating that "This round will always..." or "That round will never..." is silly.

All we can say with certainty is "This round will most likely in certain circumstance produce this effect." Anything else is guessing and belies a misunderstanding of all the various factors that apply to a shooting incident.

Bullets produce five terminal effects when they strike a body (animal or human):
  • Penetration: The distance traveled through clothing and tissue (human or animal skin, muscle, fat, and bone)
  • Wound Cavity: The hole left in the body after the bullet passes through
  • Temporary Cavity: The momentary expansion as the bullet’ passes through.
  • Fragmentation: The separation of the bullet into smaller fragments which depart from the wound cavity and travel in different directions than the major mass of the bullet
  • Shock: The perception of impact from a high-speed projectile on the struck portion of the body.
There is no way to accurately predict the performance of any bullet in the wide variety of conditions and targets presented in defensive situation. The best we can do is select a projectile that combines the five terminal effects to cause immediate incapacitation.

Helpful Graphic from the great Walther Forums site

Bullets also cause effects when they don't strike a target:
  • Shattering: the surface struck shatters and disperses fragments
  • Ricochet: the bullet changes direction when it strikes an object sufficiently dense to resist the bullet.
  • Over Penetration: the bullet flies through sheetrock, drapes, windows, or some other fragile or light material and continues past the intended target.
These are not desired and so bullets that have so much mass or density that they tend to overpenetrate or ricochet, or are so brittle they shatter into fragments are not necessarily the best choice for self-defense.

Thus an entire industry has evolved around the development and production of defensive bullets (a "bullet" is the portion of the round that actually flies towards the target).

Defensive encounter conditions are not static or predictable. A 350 pound attacker bundled up for winter in Minnesota presents a different problem than a 150 pound flip-flop and gym short wearing carjacker in Miami.

So there's no way to be certain any round listed below will stop all attackers in all conditions.

Here's a well-written essay on Handgun Stopping Power.

So The Best Bullet is...?

There is one strongly correlated indicator of success (notice the lawyer-like careful selection of words? It's intentional), and only one. 

It's not caliber, velocity, or penetration in ballistic jello.

It's shot placement.

A .22 to the bridge of the nose will be more effective than an arm-graze with a .500 S&W Magnum.

Keep that in mind as we review the most common defensive handgun rounds.

Some Common Handgun Calibers
22 LR
The ubiquitous .22 is a fine round for target practice, small game hunting, and learning how to handle a rifle. The round's lost cost, weight, recoil, and noise is why it's usually the first round fired by children and adults new to firearms.

Beretta Neos
The round is used in a small number of tiny handguns. Very few defensive carry advocates recommend the .22 as a defensive round as it is not very large and does not seem to be sufficiently forceful to stop an attacker. The concern is that a determined assailant will likely shrug off a hit from a .22 and continue the attack. 

Nevertheless there are some people who cannot carry a larger pistol or revolver for a number of reasons, and it is probably best to assume a defender armed with a Beretta Bobcat in .22 Long Rifle will be more successful than an unarmed defender.

I'm not an advocate for the .22 LR as an effective defensive round BUT I think it can be effective in certain conditions and situations. If you've done the analysis and think only a pocket .22 will work for you, that's fine -- just understand that you have a gap in coverage. Multiple, drug-crazed, and/or large/powerful attackers might ignore a .22 unless the shot is well-placed.

Recommended .22 handguns include:
  • Walther PPK/S .22
  • Smith & Wesson M&P .22
  • Beretta Neos .22
  • Ruger SR22

38 Special
This round was the standard issue for police forces across the country from the 1920s until the early 1990s. It is still the most popular revolver round and used by many as their primary defensive firearm.

Smith & Wesson 637 Airweight 
Revolvers have some advantages which enthusiasts are quick to mention. Despite having less capacity than most auto-pistols, revolver simplicity, durability, reliability, and tolerance to dirt and abuse make them a solid choice for a defensive firearm. The .38 special is a solid choice for a defensive round that combines reasonable bullet weight and speed with manageable recoil.

Recommended .38 Special handguns include:
  • Ruger (several models)
  • Smith & Wesson  (several models)
  • Taurus  (several models)

9 mm
I'll admit a bias here: All defensive handguns I own are 9 mm. A common caliber simplifies ammunition buying, helps ensure every gun in the house has ammo, everyone in the house knows how to operate the guns, and a single caliber across all guns reduces the chance of putting the wrong ammo in a weapon under stress.

Sig Sauer P229 9mm (non-rail)
We have a Browning Buckmark .2 LR for target shooting and campsite plinking. Eventually I'll add a super-cool custom 1911 to the collection.

But after owning and shooting a .40 for years it just came down to practicalities: 9 mm is cheaper to shoot and easier to find.

Now that's over, we can discuss the merits and shortcomings of the 9x19 Parabellum (or Luger.) The round has been around for a long time, and took off in the US with the widespread adoption of auto-pistols by police forces and government agencies. When the US Army dropped the long-tenured 1911 and picked up the Beretta M9 in 1985, the 9 mm became an acceptable addition to the civilian and law enforcement arsenal.

The 9 mm was the standard NATO round, and the Army adopted the same round to maintain cordial relations and logistical simplicity with our European allies. It also helped that the M9 carried more rounds in the magazine (M9 had 15 vs. 1911 7 rounds), had tamer recoil (the mass of the M9 is about equal to the 1911 but shoots a lighter projectile), was easier to field strip and clean, and had a single external safety.
Walther PPS 9mm

But the 9 mm round was criticized for lack of "stopping power." Again, this characteristic is somewhat nebulous, since "stopping power" in a military operation is different than a civilian defensive situation.

Smith & Wesson M&Pc
The Army's job is "close with and destroy the enemy," while the civilian concealed carrier's job is to end the attack. Assuming that half of all handgun presentations result in the assailant fleeing, it would seem "stopping power" doesn't require a heavy projectile.

In addition, the 9 mm has proven effective at stopping many people in many situations. Very few humans can shrug off a 9 mm hit without some degradation of capacity to continue to harm.

And of course shot placement matters with a 9 mm. One or two well-placed shots from a 9 mm will stop any attacker, no matter how drug-fueled or insane.

There are hundreds of 9 mm handgun makes and models, so any list will be incomplete. Here are a few (very few) recommended 9 mm handguns that I've either owned, fired, or handled:
  • Sig Sauer P229/ P239 / P224 / P238
  • Smith and Wesson M&P 9(full size and compact)
  • Smith and Wesson Shield
  • Walther PPS
  • Walther PPQ
  • H&K P30 series / USP
  • Ruger LCP

The .40 Smith & Wesson (S&W) was developed for law enforcement to replace the FBI's 10 mm Auto, which was considered a hot round with a significant recoil, limiting the agents who could successfully fire the gun accurately. The design requirements of the .40 were also the ability to fit into a medium-frame semi-automatic handgun. 

The .40 is a fine compromise round, and I carried one for years.

But the high cost of ammo and the high stress on the firearm meant it was not a good practice round. I shot less because it cost more in the short and long run.

Most manufacturers have a .40 variant of their 9 mm handguns.

Like most compromises, the .40 has the worst as well as the best of both sides. While many people appreciate the ballistics of the .40, many have left it behind and moved (as i have) to the 9 mm or to the .45 ACP round.

Which brings us to the....

The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) or .45 Auto was designed by John Browning in 1904 for use in the Colt semi-automatic pistol. The final design (which became the US Army M1911 pistol) became the benchmark by which all handguns were judged. The capacity, accuracy, durability, rate of fire, and terminal performance were all acceptable to the US Army in 1911 until the US Army decided to drop the 1911 and pick up the 9 mm NATO standard.

Since then the walls have gone up dividing between to .45 adherents and everyone else.

(It's a shame, but it's typical. We love our tribes: Harley v. every other motorcycle, Apple v. Microsoft, .30-06 v. .270, Infantry v. Armor, Steelers v. Ravens...)

I could never shoot my GI-issue 1911 well. My hands are not large and by the time I gripped the grip safety hard enough, maneuvered my thumb up to the safety and aligned my sights my hand had moved so much it was a different grip every time.

The GI issue was phased out and then the whole world (or so it seemed) started building 1911s. Not just run-o-the-mill 1911s, but really, really nice 1911s.

Sig Sauer Fastback Carry 1911 (SWEET!)

Wilson Combat Carry 1911 (SWEET!)
But this isn't about the gun, per se, but the ammo. And the .45 is a proven defensive round with many, many examples of successful engagements around the world in civilian and military applications.

We can list the bullet weights, velocity, shape -- all the various factors that make up a bullet's terminal performance, but just about anyone will agree that you can't be wrong with a .45.

So why isn't the .45 the universal round? Why even have other rounds?

It all comes down to a few factors:

  • Capacity: A larger round will consume more space (shocker) and thus fewer rounds can be stored inside the magazine which is usually inside the hand grip on most modern auto pistols.
  • Bullet Shape: Auto pistols were designed around a specific shape and dimension round. While the curve on the front of the bullet can vary the overall shape needs to remain within some fairly tight tolerances to work reliably in the loading mechanism.
  • Recoil: Force = Mass * Acceleration. The heavier the mass, the greater the force at the same speed. A bullet leaving the handgun exerts a small force over a very short period of time. This is termed "recoil" and is the reaction to the bullet firing action.

The weight of a bullet is small -- so light to be almost insignificant in the recoil equation. The majority of the felt recoil is a function of the sudden expansion of gasses that propel the round down the barrel.

If you compare the common handgun round sizes, you'll see the .45 is larger than the 9mm or .40 S&W rounds.
Therefore the perceived recoil is more in a 1911 .45 than a Browning Buckmark .22 LR (both guns weigh about the same).

Of course this an oversimplification, but many people choose not to carry the .45 due to reduced capacity, increased recoil, and more expensive ammunition ("larger" = more brass, lead, powder...). That's perfectly fine and understandable.

So that's a short list of common defensive rounds. The list is not exhaustive and the descriptions not encyclopedic, but if you decide to do more research, have at it! There's plenty of information out there (but not all of it is good, so tread carefully), and many people have invested decades exploring the vast world of ballistics. It's a complex but rewarding subject where equations and predictive analysis meets real world experience.

If this is enough information, great! Let's quickly discuss bullet types before moving on to the next characteristic.

(This is about buying the right gun, right?)

Bullet Types

  • Armor Piercing (AP): A bullet made from steel or tungsten alloys in a pointed shape typically covered by a thin layer of lead and or a copper or brass jacket. 
  • Flat Nose Lead (FNL): Similar to the above, with a flattened nose.
  • Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): Lead core surrounded by a full covering of brass, copper, or mild steel.
  • Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP): Lead core surrounded by a partial covering of brass, copper, or mild steel with a concave shape at the ballistic end.
  • Jacketed Soft Point (JSP): Lad core surrounded by a covering of brass, copper, or mild steel with the ballistic end of lead exposed.
  • Round Nose Lead (RNL): An unjacketed lead bullet.
  • Wadcutter (WC): Completely cylindrical, with a slight concavity in the nose. 
  • Semi Wad Cutter (SWC) identical to the WC with a smaller diameter flap pointed conical or radius nose. 
NOTE: If calibers and performance metrics are interesting and you want to know more, there are many, many good books and references. Here's a site that provides metrics on various handgun calibers: Ballsitics by the Inch


There is no right answer. If you are new to shooting or very recoil sensitive, or your hand hurts after shooting a .38 special, or you just don't want to carry a "heavy' firearm -- a .22 may be your best carry choice.

Make a choice based on the factors that make sense to you and then be aware of the limitations or gaps in coverage and plan accordingly.

If you want to carry a .22 because the gun is light and you walk alot during the day, maybe it's a different gun for home defense since you're not carrying it there. Or maybe you need to exercise and build up your stamina. Either way, choose and then be wise about what capabilities you have available.

You can't go wrong with a .45 if you're a large, reasonably fit male or female that enjoys shooting and has no recoil sensitivity. But that's not everyone, so a 9 mm or even a .38 Spcial might be the best choice.

Every round I've listed has been used effectively to stop another human being from continuing an attack. But every round also has documented cases of attackers ignoring the hits and continuing the attack.

Far more important than round size is shot placement, and you'll only hit what you're capable of hitting repeatedly in practice.

So your choice must include this question: "Can I afford to practice with this/ Will i enjoy practicing with this?

Answer those questions and you will have narrowed down the choices to a couple.

Then pick the one that's cheaper. Trust me -- you'll shoot more.


Any gun you select must offer sufficient capacity to effectively end any threat situation. That's easy to write because it isn't very specific. how many is enough?

Most gunfighters will tell you "There's no such thing as being too rich or having too much ammo!"

Cute, until you have to carry all that ammo. It's heavy! (lead, brass, packed powder...)

So again, we face a compromise, and again, the compromise results in some gaps.

For example, my Walther PPS 9 MM stores 7 rounds with the extended magazine. My Sig P229 9 mm has a 15 round capacity. More than double the capacity -- so a full load plus one spare magazine equals 30 rounds -- that's a pretty decent amount of firepower for a civilian in the threat situations I am most likely to face.

But the fully-loaded P229 is heavy. And it's slightly wider than the Walther so it's not as easy to conceal (it can be done, but it requires certain wardrobe choices).

So I often choose less capacity in exchange for better concealment.

You will have to make this same tradeoff. For many people the revolver is the perfect firearm -- simple, low maintenance, small size, fairly lightweight. But the capacity of a standard revolver is 5 to 6 rounds -- hardly "high capacity."

Thus you must consider this factor when selecting a carry gun -- enough rounds to meet the majority of situations you expect to encounter.

Size & Weight /Carry-ability

This is a very important factor in carry gun selection. It might look great in the ads, on the shelf, in the magazines, in the store display. But if its so big and heavy you don't like carrying it it's worthless.

Choose the smallest, lightest gun you can find that fits the round you've chosen. Then find a place where you can rent one or find someone who will let you shoot his. A light gun will not resist recoil and so the recoil will seem "snappier." You need to be sure you can handle the recoil for more than 10 shots, because you'll want to fire at least 50 when you take the time to visit the range and practice.

So yet another compromise: gun size and weight is constrained at the big & heavy end by your capacity to actually carry it, and on the small & light end by your ability to effectively shoot it.

Err towards lighter and smaller. better to carry it and develop a tolerance for the recoil than leave it at home.


Coming soon: Which Gun? Part Three

  • Durability
  • Accuracy
  • Reliability
  • Aesthetics
  • Conceal-ability
  • Suitability

Friday, March 25, 2016

Which Gun? Part One

The perennial question: "Which gun should I buy?"

An Array of Choices
The enthusiasts answer is likely, "All of them."

But given fiscal realities for the rest of us, it's actually an excellent question, without a simple answer. In fact the answer may change depending on your stage of life, interests, work place, ability to practice, illness or injury.

It's also a fun question, because it spurs more thought and research. It's similar to "What car should I buy?" or "What job should I take?"

There's no way you can predict how it will end, so you have to make a decision based on the information and options available to you at the time.

That's actually worth stating again: You have to make a decision based on the information and options available to you at the time.

We'll review Options in "Which Gun? Part Two" post, where we'll explore more fun attributes such as:
  • Caliber
  • Capacity
  • Size & weight
  • Durability
  • Accuracy
  • Reliability
  • Aesthetics
  • Conceal-ability
  • Carry-ability
Before we get to the fun stuff (gun features), we should honestly examine our own characteristics before shopping for a new gun.

Sadly, too many gun enthusiasts will want to fast-forward the discussion to knockdown power, or "proven in combat," or "Recommended by Gun guru," or "Everybody knows..." the fact is a gun carried by Special Forces may not be ideal for a diminutive civilian to carry concealed on trips to CVS and Costco.

Sure, it would be great if we could carry something that would instantly freeze a threat and package him for pickup by the constable...

But whatever we carry has to be carried by a person in all sorts of situations.

Doesn't it make sense to start with the capacity of the carrier before determining the load?

Therefore, in this post we'll consider the characteristics of the carrier (you!) to consider in more detail before purchasing a handgun for concealed carry:
  • Body type 
  • Flexibility/ Athleticism 
  • Daily habits 
  • Workplace 
  • Exposure 
  • Practice 
  • Budget 
  • Legal knowledge 
  • Decision-making 
  • Commitment
NOTE: Of course these don't apply if you are interested in collection, or target shooting, or just owning well-built things. The point of this post is helping you determine which gun to purchase for concealed carry.
Body Type

Mister Rogers told us "Every body's different."

Slim, tall people have a different set of concealment options than muscular, widely built people. It's important to realistically analyze your body type and determine the best carry option for you.
Helpful image of male body types from "Parisian gentlemen" web site

Inverted Triangle, Rhomboid, and Oval body types can use an IWB or appendix carry since the shirt will likely be bloused up and out, covering any print. Most American men fall into these body types, and therefore most holsters are built for them. Demand drives supply.

These body types can carry and conceal larger framed handguns -- especially taller, larger bodies. A gun strapped to the waist (Inside or Outside The Waistband, shortened to OWB and IWB) is less likely to show (or "print") and is therefore concealed.

Rectangle and Triangle body types are a bit more challenging, as anything carried at the waist will be more obvious, accentuating the triangle shape (which is not flattering in our society) or obviously unnatural to the rectangle shape. Therefore small of the back (SOB) or low front carry is the more likely option.

It's important to realistically assess your own body type and make sure it is part of your carry and gun selection.

Flexibility/ Athleticism / Fitness

This factor is also important to assess objectively. If you're not very flexible you probably should avoid small of the back carry of a full-size 1911. If you're going to carry a handgun, you must be able to draw it from wherever you carry it. Thus your ability to quickly place your hand on the gun and rapidly extract it must be part of your assessment.

If you're more athletic and/or larger you can likely handle a larger frame gun and caliber as you will have more mass to hold and resist recoil (inertia is a function of mass). A smaller or more slightly built person will have to work harder to resist or control recoil.

Athleticism also factors into carrying. If you're out of breath walking up a flight of stairs you probably should minimize the amount of extra weight you carry. So while you may be large and able to conceal a large handgun, you may not be up to carrying the extra 40 ounces all day long.

Daily Habits

Are you a creature of habit? Do you carefully lay out your clothes before you retire for the night? Are you constantly losing your keys? Do you have a routine?

These are questions that will help you assess your ability to own and care for a gun. If you're a scatterbrain, you should work on getting some routine in your life before introducing a handgun into the equation. If you're always misplacing important things like keys, maybe firearms aren't for you.

Of course anyone can learn self-discipline. And self-discipline you will need, because there won't be a Drill Sergeant or Range safety officer following you around yelling at you if you forget to clear your weapon before cleaning.

Perhaps a handgun will force you to adopt some routines to ensure the safety of yourself and others around you. Good -- it should. But humans are notorious for adapting to danger, and soon the respect and even fear that motivated good habits wanes and sloppiness sets in.

Firearms are just like aviation in the aspect -- sloppy will be gradually adopted. You'll get away with it a few times. And then sloppiness becomes acceptable.

It happens to pilots.

They fly enough they get confident in the fuel gauges. They don't visually check the fuel levels. They stop draining the moisture from the tanks.

Nothing bad happens.

"Those Flight Instructors, always worried about stuff..."

And then it goes bad.

Real bad.

The engine sputters, the aircraft comes down, and everyone wonders, "What happened?"

The pilot was departing on a short cross-country flight to deliver the Cessna 172C for some elective maintenance.
He requested and received clearance for an intersection departure at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska.
After departure, an air traffic controller instructed the pilot to turn left and proceed on course, but he did not respond.
Controllers reported observing the plane initiating a left turn before descending and hitting terrain on the south side of the airport property, killing the pilot and seriously injuring two other people.
Post-accident examinations of the airplane revealed no mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.
However, the examinations did reveal propeller signatures consistent with the engine not producing power at the time of impact. About two gallons of what appeared to be 100LL aviation fuel was drained from the right fuel tank and about 0.5 gallon of fuel was drained from the left fuel tank at the accident site. The drained fuel was clean, and no water was present.
Given the amount of fuel removed from the airplane at the accident site and the propeller signatures consistent with a lack of power, it is likely that the loss of engine power resulted from fuel exhaustion.

Sadly, it happens to gun owners too. This story is all too common:

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- A Lakewood man said he was cleaning his gun Thursday evening when he accidentally shot and killed his wife.
Police arrived at the Beaumont Grand Apartments at about 6 p.m. after getting a call about a man accidentally shooting his wife, according to Lt. Chris Lawler with the Lakewood Police Department.
Lawler said a neighbor made the call because the husband was too upset.
When officers arrived at the complex, located in the 8500 block of 82nd Street SW, they found a 19-year-old woman dead inside the apartment.
The 20-year-old husband, who has not been identified, told police he was cleaning his rifle inside the apartment when it went off, hitting his wife.
Detectives are interviewing the husband at police headquarters.

There's a reason Drill Sergeants and range officers are so uptight about weapons discipline.

If you aren't self-disciplined, work on it until you are before buying a gun. If you are, don't become complacent. Remind yourself regularly why you practice safe gun discipline by reading news stories.

When I was flying regularly I made it a practice to review the NTSB Accident database monthly. The database contains information from 1962 and later about civil aviation accidents and selected incidents within the United States. A preliminary report is available online within a few days of an accident. Factual information is added when available, and when the investigation is completed, the preliminary report is replaced with a final description of the accident and its probable cause. It's quite sobering to read about a crash with fatalities in the same make and model aircraft you have flown.

Your workplace or situation may constrain your choices. If you work on federal property, you won't be carrying at work unless you're on duty. For the rest of us, we need to be aware and abide by state, local, and company rules and ordinances.

: Take this question seriously, as you really need to assess if your job is worth losing if you carry contrary to company policy.
Some companies have provisions for carrying as long as you sign a waiver or attend training. Asking about the policy may telegraph your intentions so do some research before asking. Read your employee handbook, or ask to see the company policies. The answer may be available without broadcasting your intentions.

If the policy forbids weapons on the work site you need to defer to the company requirements. If this offends you, look for other work.

Sure, you might be the only armed hero who thwarts the next disgruntled worker rampage. or you might be discovered with a firearm and be terminated immediately.

Which is the more likely scenario?

People who drive across state lines on a commute or for work duties have other concerns beyond the scope of this post. Get good legal advice and then adjust accordingly.

  • How often are you willing to practice? 
  • Do you have a place to practice? 
  • Do you enjoy shooting enough to make it a regular thing?
If you answered 'no' to any of those question, you need to re-assess your commitment to gun ownership and carrying.

Shooting is a perishable skill. You need to keep shooting to maintain some level of proficiency, and your proficiency might be the difference between life, jail, or death when faced with a shooting situation.

Wildly sending rounds downrange may result in innocent bystanders being hit while the actual threat avoids being stopped.

A good shot can place the rounds where they need to go to effectively terminate the threat as quickly as possible.

A poor shot endangers himself and anyone in the vicinity.

So commit to practice, training, and skill improvement.

No one is born with shooting proficiency. It is a learned skill that must be practiced and improved.

If you're willing to commit to practice, you may be a candidate for handgun ownership and carry.

If you're not willing or able to practice, re-assess your commitment and wait until you are in a place when practice is available and part of a regular routine.


Before you shop you should work out a realistic budget for the gun, a holster, practice ammunition, and range fees.

There is a point of diminishing returns in the price paid over reliability -- for example, a $500 gun might be four times more reliable than a $100 gun, but only 3% less reliable than a $1500 gun.

The market is filled with $500 guns because it's the lowest price a manufacturer can offer while being competitive in a very tight market.

Walther PPS 9mm

SIG P229 DA/SA 9mm
It's false economy to buy a gun because it's cheap. You will probably not carry it, fire it, or rely on it, which results in not carrying it.

Legal Knowledge
Seek out competent professional legal advice before carrying a handgun. Every firearm owner should know how to safely store, carry, and operate a firearm, but some states place additional requirements on gun owners.

It's critical that you know when you can and cannot present a handgun, what constitutes a threat, and what to do immediately after you discharge your weapon in a defensive situation.

Your research should start at the NRA's Gun Laws page. Then consider Armed Citizens Network that publishes an excellent guide: What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law

Here are several books worth reading:

Can you act decisively? Can you process information quickly? Are you able to make a judgement and then act on it? Do stressful situations cause you to freeze or cause your mind to go blank?

These are honest questions you need to ask yourself to determine if you have the decision-making skills required to safely carry a handgun for defense.

You must be able to quickly assess a threat's ability and opportunity to cause harm, and you must be convinced that the threat placed you (or someone you are defending) in jeopardy.

If you cannot or will not do this quickly, do not carry a defensive firearm -- it's likely you will either present your firearm in situations where it cannot be defendable in court, or you will be too late to actually influence the outcome of a threatening encounter.

This skill is not innate for most people. Usually some training is required to learn to act decisively in a high stress situation. Firefighters, law enforcement, military, pilots, controllers, emergency medical providers, lifeguards, and a few other professions inculcate decive action in spite of mixed or even conflicting data.
If you haven't received this sort of training it is best to seek it out so you can:

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too..."


The last trait we need to consider is commitment to presenting and firing the gun at another person if the circumstances warrant such a grave action.

Many people claim that if they're angry or upset enough they would have "no problem pulling the trigger is some guy attacked my kids..."

The problem with this reasoning is that is presumes such a situation will allow for emotional response while reality is that most people can't process what's going on until after the situation has passed. Many people describe feeling "like I was watching a movie..." in a high stress or life-threatening situation.

You must rehearse your actions and reactions before they occur in order to buy back the initiative. It's axiomatic that you will be behind the aggressor in a defensive situation. Thus your reactions have to 'catch up" to the aggressor's initiative. This cannot be done on the spot -- you must rehearse your actions in order to react quickly enough.

You must also be completely committed to killing another human being if it comes to that. Half-way commitment will result in a delay which means the difference between life and death for you or those you are defending.

This DOES NOT mean you are "preparing to kill." rather, it means you are prepared to act decisively should the need arise.

In aviation this delay between the event and the response has caused many fatalities. The pilot is flying, everything is fine, when the engine sputters or the bird hits the windscreen. In many cases the delay between event and correct reaction as the pilot processes questions ("What just happened!? Is this happening to me?! What is that?!”) is the difference between recovery or fatality.

The options are very clear:
Therefore you must objectively assess your commitment to decisive and deadly action if the circumstances warrant, and you must rehearse those conditions and your actions beforehand.

If you can not be decisive --and make the right choice in that decision-- you are not ready to carry a handgun. Work on your decision-making and add to your knowledge and skill so you can act decisively and correctly,
If you are decisive, review and add to your knowledge and skill so you can act decisively and correctly.

In Which Gun? Part 2 we’ll examine:
  • Caliber
  • Capacity
  • Size & weight
  • Durability
  • Accuracy
  • Reliability
  • Aesthetics
  • Conceal-ability
  • Carry-ability

The Assertion that Firearms are designed to kill

A common "talking point" circulating in the "gun control" debate is: "Firearms are designed to kill." I have s...