This article appeared originally as "Get a Handle on Your Carry Gun" in the February 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated.
The Modern Technique of the Pistol teaches the Combat Triad as a major part of personal defense with a firearm. The three parts of the triad are marksmanship, gun handling and the combat mindset. Of the three, gun handling is quite often overlooked and sometimes even taken for granted.
Most of us have noticed a new student arriving at a defensive class with their gun in the factory box, holding it like there was a rattlesnake inside. They are obviously unfamiliar with this new defensive tool and aren’t sure of how to make it ready for a fight or, even worse, how to ensure it is safe. While this is the extreme example, it points out the need for training in efficient gun handling.
The first and most important aspect of gun handling is to learn how to operate the gun safely. We don’t point a gun, loaded or not, at anything that we don’t intend (or aren’t willing) to put a bullet through. This includes our own hands and body. We learn to keep our finger off of the trigger until our sights are on a target that we will shoot at if the need arises.
Beyond the safety aspect of gun handling, defensive shooters should realize that a criminal attack is a highly stressful situation. In fact, it will dump more stress into your system than just about anything else that you could imagine. There may well be yelling, shouting, and shooting as people—combatants and non-combatants—are running in all different directions. Your heart rate will be extremely high and your fine motor skills will be virtually gone. In the midst of this extreme chaos, you must function in such a way as to keep up with everything that is going on and to neutralize any threat that might exist. You simply won’t have the luxury of time to give conscious attention to making your defensive firearm work.
The effective handling of the defensive firearm, when you are under actual attack, must be entirely second nature. Successful operation of the defensive tool must be a habit. We develop those good habits by choosing a firearm wisely and then taking the time to learn how to effectively operate it. That comes from training, live fire and even dry practice. It comes from living with the gun and learning and memorizing everything about what makes it function properly.
It is important that you learn how to run all of the controls on the firearm you have chosen. You need to know how to perform a speed load and a tactical load with it. You need to know the common malfunctions that your chosen gun may be subject to and the quickest, most efficient way to clear them. Once you have learned these operating drills, you should practice them until they have become a habit. This habit should be so strong that you can perform the functions in the dark, or without looking at the pistol. Trust me, in a gunfight you will have lots of other things to look at and worry about.
All of which makes me concerned about a select group of gun enthusiasts. These are the folks who talk about carrying a different kind of defensive handgun virtually every day. They have lots of nice guns, and I can certainly understand the desire to use them all. The problem, however, arises when they decide to carry a double-action revolver one day, a striker-fired pistol the next and a single-action semi-auto the following day. In that deadly moment when everything gets real, it is doubtful they will remember which gun they have on, much less how to operate it effectively. Different operating systems are hard enough in a computer, but changing platforms is even harder when it comes to a high-pressure situation.
I have carried a 1911 pistol for the better part of 45 years. Some might get the impression that I do this because I think that the 1911 is the greatest fighting handgun every invented. Those who subscribe to this idea would be wrong. While I certainly think the 1911 is a fine fighting pistol, it is only one of several pistols I would classify as great.
The main reason that I still carry a 1911 after all of these years is because I know it forward and backward, inside and out. I can field-strip one in the dark. I have learned how to properly clean and lubricate one so malfunctions are kept to an absolute minimum. And, should a malfunction occur, I know exactly what to do about it. I can operate one properly in moments of horribly high stress. I know that because I have actually done it.
So, what it boils down to is what you carry is not nearly as important as what you can do with it. It is critical to know as much about the operation of your chosen defensive handgun as you possibly can. Especially in the beginning, a person should always be on the lookout for ways and techniques to operate that gun more efficiently. Not only that, but settle on a way to carry the defensive gun, with a particular kind of holster, and make that system part of your defensive habit, too.
Proper gun handling is all about habits, particularly good habits. Those come with living with a particular gun, becoming comfortable with that arm and learning all there is to know about operating it properly and effectively. And we’re not done there—then we practice those proper-handling techniques until they are ingrained in us and become second nature.
Should we find ourselves in the position of having to defend ourselves against a deadly attack, we can focus on the threat itself and—should it be necessary to do some shooting—we can deliver the goods without hesitation, fumbling or conscious focus on the mechanics of the particular defense gun that we carry. That’s the kind of confidence that wins fights and saves lives.