The Gear Dilemma

There’s nothing wrong with owning the latest and greatest products, but your skill level is the real game-changer.

posted on June 12, 2022

I learned this lesson many years ago as a young, brand-new police officer. Trying to learn enough to stay alive in the law enforcement business, Bill Jordan became my hero. Now, for those of you who are new to the game, Bill Jordan was a career Border Patrolman, a World War II combat Marine and just about the fastest person I had ever seen with a sixgun. Jordan helped design the Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver—back then the company called it the “Combat Magnum.” He traveled the country putting on shooting exhibitions, first for the Border Patrol and later for the NRA. He was documented as drawing and hitting a target in .27 second.

So, naturally, paycheck in hand, I set out and bought me a 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 19. With what money I had left, I bought a Jordan duty rig from Don Hume Leather Company. Then, I got a set of Jordan revolver stocks from Herrett’s.

And, then I practiced. And I practiced some more. In fact, after all these years I am still practicing. Well, I still ain’t no Bill Jordan.

Nowadays, I see a lot of comments on the gun forums and social media that suggest if you don’t have the latest, greatest gear, you just need to go ahead and plan your funeral. Some of those folks would have you believe that you are lost if you rely on an old 1911 and you are absolutely hopeless if you are still packing a double-action revolver.

Here at Shooting Illustrated, one of our jobs is to make you aware of the new guns, ammo and gear that become available. That should not be construed to mean that you have to have it or you can’t survive without it. We also spend a lot of ink suggesting ways to become proficient with whatever gear you happen to have. 

When we talk about personal defense, it’s not about what you have, it’s all about what you can do with it. The goal of the defensive shooter should be to become skillful in handling the defensive firearm. That includes the presentation, speed loading, tac loading and dealing with whatever malfunctions might be common to the gun being used. 

In the same vein, we work to continually improve our marksmanship. A quick draw and center hit, working on multiple targets, drawing and shooting from awkward positions, etc. are all things focused more on developing skills than on particular gear. In short, the “latest and greatest” gear cannot make up for poor gun handling and bad marksmanship. It’s not what you carry, it’s what you can do with it.

By the same token, fancy gear will not make up for poor tactics. Gun handling and marksmanship are one thing; being able to win a fight with the firearm is a whole different endeavor.

I was once involved in one of those exciting adventures where guns got drawn. One of our group was, without a doubt, the best shot among us. He had good gear and sure knew how to use it; a fact that he regularly proved on the pistol range. However, when the trouble started, he was the only one who didn’t draw his gun, didn’t take cover and didn’t engage in any way. In fact, he just stood there, flat footed and vapor locked. Fortunately, the situation was resolved without any of the good guys being injured.

Being able to spot trouble as early as possible, identifying cover and exits and having a plan for dealing with the situation are all more important than what we are carrying. Those who are serious about personal defense are continually studying the criminal mind, reading up on actual shootings and gaining information from those who have survived violent criminal attacks. It is one thing to know how to shoot; it is another thing entirely to know when to shoot. And, it is even more important to know how to survive without having to shoot.

So, please don’t think that I am down on all the new stuff. Most of it is really good, often provides marked improvements over older gear and I enjoy testing and evaluating it as much as anyone else. Good gear will enhance one’s ability, but it won’t make up for the lack of ability. One might be well advised to take some of the money that would be spent on new gear—just some of it, mind you—and spend it instead on a good training school. So, no, I’m not the next Bill Jordan, but I’m still trying. After all these years, goodness knows, I’m still trying. And you should be, too.


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