Shoot that Defensive Handgun
RECENTLY, THE CHOICE of defensive handgun and appropriate ammunition became a hot topic around the braai fire. One individual was adamant that his chosen big-bore handgun is the ultimate in stopping power. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion and personal preference, and I respect that. Buying a Glock or even a massive Desert Eagle because you have been dreaming of having one is all part of the joy of gun-ownership.
However, there are a few practical rules you should apply when choosing a handgun to protect yourself and your loved ones. Of course, the first rule is to have a firearm with you at all times, irrespective of type, calibre or ammunition choice, rather than be caught without one when things go wrong. A firearm is no good to you if you leave it locked in a safe just because it’s too uncomfortable to carry. In an emergency, if you need a hammer, any hammer will help you to solve the problem, and the same goes for handguns. So, whether you choose a snub-nose .38 Special or the latest highcapacity polymer pistol, be sure to have it with you, or you’re defeating the purpose.
I’ve heard many theories about revolvers and single-column magazines not holding enough ammunition for South Africa’s present crime conditions. I’m not convinced of this, but if this is really a concern, the solution is to carry more ammo, as in a speed-loader, ammo strip or extra magazine. Most pistol failures are due to feeding and ejection stoppages or magazine problems. Having a full 17-round magazine that lets you down at the worst moment is no help unless you have a spare and can do a fast mag-change under severe stress.
Thus, carrying any reliable handgun which you can comfortably control so as to consistently hit a target under stress, and carrying spare ammo in reserve, renders you safer. Confidence in your weapon and in your own ability to use it proficiently is crucial. I’d rather use a snubby loaded with low-recoiling 148gr target wad-cutters that I can shoot well, than a highcapacity wonder pistol that I can’t master.
This also holds true for ammo choice. Rather use a standard load that you can hit your target with, than a +P+ load that’s hard to control. Currently there are extremely good defence ammunition options available, examples being Hornady’s Critical Defence and Duty range, or SIG’S V-crown ammo. The Hornadys (especially Critical Duty) perform on par with the FBI’S requirements. I regard the FBI’S guidelines as sensible as they were derived from data taken from real life shootings. The FBI’S choice is not perfect, but much better than some of the opinions of those who have never been involved in shootings. I’d opt for Critical Defence ammo as it has less penetration compared to Critical Duty. Over-penetration is a serious consideration when firing under duress as you do not want to hit an innocent bystander.
Looking at average Joe’s shooting ability (I include myself here), I think we attach too much importance to bullet penetration. All this talk about bullet design and penetration amounts to nothing if you miss the target and possibly hit an innocent bystander or destroy valuable property. This brings me back to the point of knowing your own firearm and regularly practising (preferably under some form of stress such as a time limitation) to ensure you have the best possible chance of hitting whatever you are aiming at. However, that said, it is still wise to make an informed choice on ammunition, hence my inclination towards Hornady’s Critical Defence ammo.
Being proficient with your handgun will build confidence and muscle memory, which is far more important than the type or design of gun or ammunition. Although revolvers are out of vogue, they remain a good choice as they are simple and reliable handguns affording an easier learning curve to achieve safe handling and proficiency. However, recently, while I was firing a friend’s Ruger .357 revolver, the trigger got stuck during a rapid-fire exercise. We traced the problem to my not allowing the trigger to travel fully forward to re-engage the sear before attempting to fire the next shot. As I said, know your weapon intimately – this you can achieve only by using it under conditions simulating what you’ll face when the worst happens.
During Greg Ellifritz’s (then firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a USA police department) research program spanning a 10-year period he studied almost 1 800 shooting incidents to determine the calibre, type of bullet, where the bullet hit and whether or not it incapacitated the recipient. His full report was posted on his website http://www. activeresponsetraining.net in 2011. He concluded that for the .38 Special, 29% of the incidents ended in a fatality (39% one-shot-stops); 9mmp: 24% (34% one-shot-stops); .357 Magnum: 34% (44% one-shot-stops) and .45ACP: 29% (39% one-shot-stops). Using a centre-fire rifle or shotgun delivered much higher fatalities, 68% for rifles (58% one-shot-stops) and 65% for shotguns (58% oneshot-stops).
Ellifritz concluded that the percentage of people stopped with one shot to the torso or head were remarkably similar among the calibres .38, 9mm, .40 and .45 with a spread of only 8 percentage points. “No matter what gun you are shooting, you can only expect a little more than half of the people you shoot to be immediately incapacitated by your first hit.” All common defensive calibres required on average 2 rounds to incapacitate. His conclusion: calibre choice is less important than shot placement. Interestingly, only 75% of shots to the head, 41% of torso hits and 14% of shots in arms and legs led to immediate incapacitation.
Bottom line: none of the handgun calibres has magical properties and, statistically, incapacitating an attacker is not a one-shot affair; not even head shots will incapacitate aggressors every time. If you want to significantly increase the odds in your favour, the answer is a rifle or shotgun, and when you have to use a handgun, regular and intensive training.