“A parable is, literally, something “cast alongside” something else. Jesus’ parables were stories that were “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. His parables were teaching aids and can be thought of as extended analogies or inspired comparisons. A common description of a parable is that it is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.[i]”
So I now share my Parable of the Pocket Pistol knowing full-well that Jesus would do a much better job, but I’m going to give it a go anyway…
Once upon a time there was a man named Bubba who feared for his safety because of all the shootings in public places. He went to his local gun shop and bought a Pocket Rocket .380 pistol that fit nicely in the palm of his hand and it was easy to carry in his thin, flimsy, floppy nylon holster. It looked like a cell phone. The next day, Bubba took his family to their favorite Burger Barn downtown. As they were being served, a man wearing a zombie mask came through the front door and began shooting people. Bubba sprang into action and reached for his Pocket Rocket. In his fear-driven excitement he could not get a good grip on the pistol and as he pulled hard the cheap nylon holster ripped and came apart, causing the pistol to hit the ground. The pistol discharged when it hit the concrete floor and the round struck the deep fryer behind the counter causing hot grease to pour out onto the floor. The grease caught fire and flames quickly ran up the walls and wooden fixtures. The panicking sheeple feared fire more than the attacker as they stampeded the front door trampling the zombie to death. Three people would recover from their gunshot wounds, the zombie died at the scene (forever!), and the fire spread into adjoining buildings and offices causing a general alarm fire that took the fire department 12 hours to contain. Ultimately the fire damaged an entire city block. The moral of the story: a subcompact pistol should not be the primary firearm for a protector!
“You don’t know what you don’t know” is a quote we hear in every firearms course we teach and there is wisdom in this truth. In today’s world where people carry a firearm for not only their own personal protection but as a means of protecting others, education regarding what you “don’t know” needs to happen before you select a pistol for protection and this includes the gear such as belts, holsters, magazines, and flashlights that go along with it.
This parable is not a traditional one; it is a compilation of many (true) stories and first-hand range experiences referenced together, with a touch of hyperbole, to illustrate an empirical fact. That fact is that too many people are carrying “pocket pistols” or subcompact model handguns believing they have the proper equipment to defend and protect life in a deadly force emergency. This is simply not true, and my coaches and I are seeing this problem across the United States in every tactical pistol class we offer. Since April 2018 we have offered a new Tactical Applications of the Pistol for Church Protectors, or “TAP” in Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Ohio. (Coming before year’s end: California, Montana, Arizona, South Dakota, and Georgia.) My experiences so far in delivering, as well as overseeing the management of these courses, is the impetus behind this article. Our view: a subcompact pistol should not be the primary firearm for a protector!
First let’s identify three main categories of pistols relating to their size, purpose, and suitability for certain types of service.
1. Full Size – a large or full-framed handgun often referred to as a “duty” or “service” firearm. This is a revolver or semiautomatic firearm that we typically see in the holster of a uniformed police officer. It features a large grip that will accommodate all the fingers of the master gripping hand as well as all of the fingers of the supporting hand over the master grip. The sights are large and well-defined and easy for the operator to see when
the pistol is brought to bear in front of their face. The magazine capacity is usually a “double stack” configuration meaning there is an offset row of two columns with capacities in the 10-20 round range. (Don’t settle for 10 round magazines in ANY full-size pistol; this isn’t New York! Get the fuller and “more gooder” capacity mags from the factory.) Pictured here is a Smith & Wesson M&P Full Size. This is an excellent choice and this pistol comes in 9mm, 40, and 45. While more difficult to conceal, it is a handful which means it is easy to gain a master grip, the controls are easy to access, and it is difficult to inadvertently get your fingers in front of the muzzle when manipulating it. The M&P line also comes with 4 interchangeable grips to better fit and suit the individual. This pistol is pictured without a slide safety where your right thumb would rest. This is the configuration I recommend for a double-action-only pistol. There is no need for an additional external safety even though some police departments such as Minneapolis specify that their semiautomatic pistol will have this feature.
2. Compact – this is generally a design that began as a full-size gun which was trimmed or modestly reduced by shortening the barrel or slide an inch or so and shortening or trimming the grip. A full grip can still be gained by the operator, and sometimes this is facilitated by an extension or “toe” on the magazine that allows the user to grip with their pinky finger. This pistol still fills the hand
completely, but it has a smaller or thinner profile which aids the owner in carrying more discretely. This pistol may be a double or a single-stack. Pictured here is the Smith & Wesson M&P Compact. It has a shortened barrel, shortened grip, and the magazines can be purchased with or without the “toe” that gives the feel of its larger brother. I do not consider this type of compact pistol to be a “pocket rocket” if you can still involve all of the fingers of your master gripping hand to be involved. This is a good choice for an operator who has smaller hands, shorter fingers, or who feels that a full-size pistol is just too much to manage. Note this pistol does have the slide safety, the lever at the back of the slide on the left side of the frame. These safeties can do more harm than good. My T&E pistol from Smith & Wesson 10 years ago was a full size 45 and during recoil, my thumb would inadvertently activate the safety! This safety is not like traditional Colt 1911 safeties; the M&P safety has a lower-on-grip profile and the angle of inclination is less. If you maintain a proper grip on your pistol with the web of your hand high on the backstrap – which you should do – you are likely to accidentally render the pistol ON SAFE in the middle of a fight for your life! Bad mojo. Even if the compact pistol fills your hands, caliber selection is still important. Watch this video of a student who has a Kimber Compact 45 acp which is still too much to handle size and power-wise: Video: Kimber Compact recoils.
3. Subcompact – these pistols do not fill the hand and the pinky finger of the master-gripping hand has nowhere to go; it simply floats at the bottom of the magazine well. A two-handed grip feels unusual if it can be obtained at all. Manufacturers call the sights “low profile” or “snag resistant” which means they are so small you have to look first look for them and FIND THEM before you can line them up on target. Keeping with the Smith & Wesson theme, the pistol pictured here is the Bodyguard. This pistol will fit in the palm of my hand. The trigger travel is about a mile, and when I take a two-handed grip the knuckles of my supporting hand are too close to the muzzle for my liking. Also note the slide safety at the back of the slide. It is a stiff and recessed switch that is not intuitive. At least half of the students who bring this type of pistol to my CCW class are unable to activate or deactivate this switch with a proper master grip in place.
This is the Sig Sauer P238 Micro Compact. I strongly warn novice and intermediate shooters away from this pistol – and micro pistols of this type – unless you have much better than average skills and you are willing to practice often. This pistol retails above $700 and with the name “Sig” you expect quality. The quality IS there but the functionality IS NOT. The many people who have brought this pistol to class and had an exceptionally difficult time with it is one of the reasons we have banned the .380 and this type of pistol from our protector training courses. You may still bring it to a CCW class, but not to an upper-level class. Many women show up with this gun. They quickly find that the slide is too short for them to lock it to the rear even using both hands (we have to show them how to overcome this, and most have continued difficulty with it), it must be carried “cocked and locked” which is NOT a suitable carry condition for novices – particularly in a purse or off-body carry mode, and too many find their hands, fingers, and body parts drifting in front of the muzzle which is absolutely not acceptable at anytime! This pistol and those like it are a coaches’ nightmare with novices! Watch this video of a student firing the Sig P238 in 9mm. She is able to keep both hands on the grip (unlike the Kimber 45) but the trigger is uncertain, she is pulling low in anticipation of the snappy recoil, and the sights are so small she loses track of them between the first and second shots – watch the up/down and side-to-side muzzle wobble after the first shot: Video: Sig P238 recoils.
Another example of “too small.” Here is another quliaty pistol in the subcompact or micro category. This is the Colt Mustang chambered in .380 that I am holding in the palm of my hand. Again, the cartridge is acceptable but the pistol is not. The owner of this pistol came to my July CCW class after she and her husband recently suffered a burglary at their rural Missouri home. They decided to ramp up their personal preparations to include firearms training. Ruby (not her real name) had never fired a pistol before but she was an open-minded and enthusiastic learner. After our customary 30 minutes of dry technical work and pistol familiarization, we prepared for our first live drills. Even during dry fire practice, Ruby had difficulty locking the slide to the rear without getting her hands on the front 50% of the slide and near the muzzle. The slide safety was also a chore. She overcame these issues but it continued to be a struggle. Her first 20 shots from the Mustang were a foot high and a foot left on the IDPA target at 7 yards! She wore bifocals so she was tipping her head back just to find the sights, and when she found the front sight it was almost impossible to see and align with the rear sight. Look at the photo here – the rear sight is small, but the front sight is barely perceptible. As a result, Ruby was taking 10 seconds or more to fire because finding and aligning her sights was so difficult.
Too many people are selecting, or are having selected for them (as in the case of a well-meaning husband for his wife), a pistol that is dangerously small and fraught with inherent problems for the user, such as:
- The pistol grip is too small for all fingers to participate in a true master grip;
- The grip and slide are too small, and the mainspring is too stiff, for the user to lock the slide open using the slide stop and keeping the muzzle in a safe direction (this is terribly frustrating for novice shooters and frightening to those adjacent them on the line!);
- If a master grip is established, the supporting hand’s fingers can be dangerously close to the muzzle. (During a 2-day pistol class in May 2018, we stopped a student who was found to have a blackened left knuckle on their index finger because their support hand grip placed that finger in front of, albeit below, the muzzle of the pistol, and the muzzle blast was marking their finger!)
- The mechanical functions such as the slide stop, the slide safety, a decocking lever, etc. are so small they cannot be utilized safely by most operators (a common response is the handler turns the muzzle in an inappropriate direction as they fight the pistol);
- Some pistols do not have a slide stop at all, so the only way to lock the pistol open for inspection or maintenance is to insert an empty magazine then lock the slide back. (I strongly advise against this type of pistol, even if you inherited one);
- Loading, unloading, and reloading are difficult since the magazine well does not extend below the user’s grip, and the handler winds up using their thumb or curled index finger to push and seat the magazine instead of the palm-heel of their supporting hand driving it into battery forcefully. Many who try to seat the magazine by correctly driving it home with the palm-heel pinch their palm of the master grip between the bottom of the magazine well and the base plate of the magazine, and they get one heck of a blister or even draw blood. This creates hesitation and fear and ruins some training days;
- As mentioned earlier, sights are too small which makes this pistol a “point and shoot” device rather than a precision tool. The effective range for this type of pistol in the hands of a novice is five to ten feet, not yards…FEET, and with minimal accuracy;
- The trigger mechanisms are poor! The travel of the trigger can be so long that the user pulls their sights off to the side and/or down before discharge, and this contributes to the accuracy problems. Pressing a long-travel trigger changes their grip (“milking the grip”) and control of the firearm. (The original Ruger LCP’s were notorious for this, the second generation triggers are better, but this subcompact pistol should not be the primary firearm for a protector!
So with all of these problems, why do people carry these things? For this discussion, “pocket pistol” includes all .22, .25, .32, .380, and S&W J-frame sized .38 specials. Note that the .380 and .38 Special rounds are respectable rounds from a ballistic self-defense approach. The problem is the size or configuration of the launching devices they come from, the too-small pistols.
Well-meaning folks may not have the knowledge, experience, or context for making a proper selection considering what they may be using it for. They don’t understand how it needs to perform for them, and many don’t understand that a pistol is supposed to be fitted to a person, not the other way around. A salesman or retailer may or may not be a credible resource. “So, you want something small, light, and easy to carry…here you go…have a pocket rocket! You don’t even need a holster, you can just drop this in your pants pocket!” Some accept the feel-good response of having just acquired a gun, and they fail to fathom they have no experience performing with it under duress. Most do not truly conceptualize what happens in an armed deadly force encounter nor do they know how to prepare for one. Others do not understand the surgical precision and background awareness necessary in a public place nor are they practiced enough to pass the final exam when it comes. They are simply content with a small, lightweight pistol they can put in their pocket or purse that they have been to the range with once or twice…and it seemed to work fine. They can point-and-shoot at a 38″ by 44″ zombie silhouette and they figure “good enough.” They have not yet been tested by reality-in-their-face which may be the panhandler imposter with a “homeless and hungry…God bless” sign or a junkie going from car to car in the parking lot of Wal Mart in broad daylight. One of the most valid and safest learning experiences I can provide for you is standing next to you on the firing line and coaching you to “run your gun.” For example: load and come to a ready position, (horn indicates fire rounds), continue to focus on your sights, reset your trigger, follow your threat to the ground, check right and left, communicate what is happening and instruct others to call 911, tell the attacker not to move, index your finger OFF the trigger, engage your safety, keep your gun up, keep your head up, (horn indicates fire MORE rounds), you are jerking the trigger in anticipation, slow down, breathe, index your finger OFF the trigger, scan your environment, you have a stoppage-fix it, look UP not down… Quite simply, there is alot going on in a gunfight and you don’t want to preoccupied with minutia that occupies your right brain, and you don’t want to be fighting your gear! Fight then enemy, not your equipment! Part of learning these techniques involves more than just situational awareness, it involves learning to prioritize what is important NOW and what is important NEXT and to prepare for the arrival of the authorities and additional responders.
The Dangers of the Wrong Holster. Most of us have seen the “alarming video of the FBI agent whose gun went off” on the dancefloor of a Denver nightclub. This quote according to the talking head on Good Morning America. Lady, it did not “go off” or do anything by itself…the agent grabbed it, put his finger in the trigger guard, as he was rushing to regain control of it, he fired the pistol! Watch the video here. The agent does a handstand and then, oops, his service pistol falls out and hits the deck. Then, in a horrible hurry, he grabs for the pistol putting his finger inside the trigger guard, presses it, and shoots another patron in the leg! In a future issue we can talk about holsters, both on-the-belt and inside-the-pants, and the pros and cons of each. Whatever the case, your holster must generously cover most of your pistol and it must cover and protect the entire trigger. The envelope of the holster MUST NOT COLLAPSE or pancake on inself when you draw the pistol from it. This is to ensure that you do not have to reach across your body with your other hand and use fingers to pry the collapsed holster open so the pistol can be replaced. This generally leads to “flagging” one’s own hand in the process. The holster must be form-fitted to the particular pistol you are carrying and either have at least one retention feature so that it does not accidentally fall out, even when you are inverted on the dance floor. Many kydex (injection molded plastic” holsters and hybrids accomplish this with a friction fit or a molding that allows the pistol to “click” into place. The example shown here may be of quality leather that is very comfortable, but it is a generic sized envelope, not form fitted to a particular model, and when the pistol is removed the leather will collapse flat. I am a fan of Crossbreed Holsters from Ozark, MO. They are a friendly, Christian company who love to help you get the right gear: link to Crossbreed Holsters.
Todd, You Offend Me! Yes, I know. (Notice that I did not apologize? If you open your mind I might save your life!) I am frequently approached by folks who tell me that they can drive their subcompact pistol such as their “micro” Sig P238, or “Baby Glock” 26 as well as a full-size pistol. I say, “That is excellent, good for you, and keep up the good work!” What I also see frequently are these folks who know how these pistols operate and can shoot excellent groups when they are standing still with no duress or time limits. When the “tactical applications” for the pistol are added that require movement, problem-solving, clearing stoppages, and other movements common to prevailing in a gunfight, their experience changes. It can be a humbling experience if your ego is in the way, but it is important to learn that a subcompact pistol should not be the primary firearm for a protector! The same goes for holsters. A gentleman called in advance of a training class to argue with me about my statement in the pre-course materials regarding Fobus or Springfield XD Pistol Pak holsters (and any like them with rivets holding two holster-halves together) being strongly discouraged because the rivets fail and then the pistol falls on the ground. He said in all his years on the range he had never seen anything like this. I replied that in all MY YEARS on the range I had seen this happen several times and that was the reason I was warning people in advance!
Different Applications. There are different approaches or reasons people carry. One is the person who is carrying primarily to protect themselves and they want a gun to stop someone at bad-breath distance. Sights are not even used; they only point-and-shoot. You must understand the limitations of your tiny pocket pistol and accept those risks in exchange for the lighter weight and easier carry. It is your right and choice. But another person chooses to be a sheepdog or protector, a person who accepts the responsibility to be vigilant and watch over the flock and does so in a formal or official capacity. This is the person who, like the police officer, should not settle for anything less than a quality, name-branded firearm capable of surgical precision at 25 yards, and that pistol must fill your hands so it can be deployed and operated like the life-saving tool that it is. A full size or modestly trimmed compact pistol allows you a better opportunity to successfully:
- Maintain a master grip with sweaty or bloody hands;
- Correct stoppages or malfunctions with the a) tap-rack or b) lock-strip-work-reload sequence;
- Use the gun like a hammer to the head, face, neck, chest, or joints in CQB or when firing a round is not yet appropriate or you are under physical attack and have to resolve that problem first (distract, off-balance, redirect, stun, create space, etc.);
- Draw from and recover to the holster with one hand without looking, without your holster collapsing closed, and without your flagging yourself with your own muzzle;
- Change hands to correctly address corners and “other side” tactical problems;
- Work with a flashlight in low light.
A protector should be able to do the following things with their service pistol, and a good practice target is a 10-inch paper dinner plate. All fired rounds must strike the paper plate. Fixed distance of 21 feet and 50 rounds total. 5 points possible per shot, a perfect score is 250. 80% (200) is considered an acceptable score for a citizen carrying a pistol. 90% (225) is considered the minimum score for anyone acting as a protector.
- With the pistol in your hands in a rest-ready, two-handed position, fire three rounds in 3 seconds. This should be done with the right hand supported and then the left hand supported. (Repeat both sides once for a total of 12 rounds.)
- With the pistol in your right hand only, fire three rounds in 4 seconds. Change hands and perform the same drill with the left hand only. (Repeat both sides once for a total of 12 rounds.)
- With the pistol in your hands in a forward-ready, two-handed position, fire three rounds standing followed by three rounds kneeling from the right side in 6 seconds. Switch and do this on the left side. (12 rounds total.)
- With the pistol in your hands in a forward-ready, two-handed position, fire three rounds, perform an emergency reload (drop magazine on ground), and fire 3 more rounds in 8 seconds. Switch and do this on the left side. (12 rounds total) [Safety Note: reloading on your “other side” is a drill that should be extensively practiced dry before doing it live. Novices can drift their trigger finger into the trigger guard when reaching for the magazine release button causing an unauthorized discharge. Novices may switch back to their dominant hand for the reload if they wish.]
- Beginning with the pistol drawn and in position SUL, execute a pivot (180-degree turn) and face the target. Fire 2 rounds to the head-sized target. A miss is -5 points per for each “head shot” missed after the plate is scored.
Note: practice these skills from the ready position first, and before you work from the holster. Remember that caution and skill must prevail in all drills, particularly those when you begin working from, and recovering to, the holster. Muzzle awareness and finger discipline are paramount. Start slowly and work on your form and motor skills. Don’t worry about times initially. When you are smooth and competent with the above 4 drills, work from your holster in a concealed position and add 2 seconds to each stage. Don’t become over-excited or rush your draw, and do not put your finger on the trigger until you have aligned your sights on the plate and have made the decision to fire. Rushing and becoming over-excited are the times when dangerous errors are made and people get hurt.
Training? One of the fallacies that reinforces a false belief that a person has the right tool for the job is their practice and training regimen – if they have one! In the past six months we have had students arrive for a class and take their pistol out of the factory carton for the first time. Other than in the gun store, this was the first time they had ever held this pistol and they have not yet fired it. The pistol had not been fitted for their hand and they were unfamiliar with what the controls were or how they worked. And this was not happening in our basic CCW classes, this has happened in our more advanced protector’s courses. So how about you? When was the last time you made 5 minutes to even handle your pistol? Even if you don’t shoot, you must handle your gear every day!
Some Can, but Most Cannot! There are some who are quite proficient with small pistols and who can perform the tasks and standards listed above. However, it is my experience that those folks are the minority and they have made a great effort to train often. It is also my experience that many people who are excellent marksmen or target/bullseye shooters have no experience at all performing with their pistol while under duress, while short of breath, with bloody or slippery hands, or in a chaotic environment when they must process information and make critical decisions. To be a valid and credible protector, you must:
- Be of a mindset and constitution able to control yourself while under duress;
- Possess a level of fitness that makes you more of an asset than a liability;
- Possess a quality and properly-sized pistol and be able to demonstrate a level of proficiency with it;
- Purchase quality gear (holster, mag pouches, high intensity LED flashlight, CAT tourniquet);
- Participate in a professionally-led training program that puts you and your pistol/gear through the paces and standards;
- Practice, handle, work their firearm every single day! (You may not live fire every day, but you had better handle, unload, holster and draw, simulate clearing stoppages, etc. EVERY DAY to develop and maintain critical subconscious motor skills that are perishable!)
It’s simply a fact that most folks have not had to face the specter of mortal combat. Having prevailed in an actual gunfight, or even participating in force-on-force training in a professionally-led session is not in most people’s life experiences. However, it is easy to safely induce duress by running 50 yards up to the firing line and then shooting or putting some vegetable oil on your hands to make your hands slippery. Caution: do this with a training partner and in a very controlled environment. If you drop a firearm on a public range you will likely be asked to leave!
I am encouraged by the increasing number of people who are clinging to their firearms and their bibles. Difficult and uncertain times punctuated by evil acts have pushed more good people to stand up, train, and prepare. With clear minds, cool heads, and proper planning and training we can manage this. “Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” (Psalms 144:1) I hope our discussion here has helped you to understand that a subcompact pistol should not be the primary firearm for a protector!