How Important is Comfort Level?

In 1969 my employer had a Chevy pickup that I drove for work. Something about it didn’t feel right to me. I’d owned and driven an older Ford truck for years and the seating was just different. In the Chevy I always felt like I was sitting too far forward and leaning over the wheel and I never could find a seat adjustment that felt right to me. Chevy owners in that time frame probably would have had the same discomfort level driving a Ford.

What’s that got to do with guns, you ask? Hold on, I’ll get there, but I want to fast-forward this auto analogy a bit. I drive a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. I love it! My wife drives a Denali SUV. She Comfort Zoneloves it. I don’t like getting in her vehicle and she doesn’t like getting in mine. We don’t particularly enjoy driving each others’ vehicles, either. Why? The seating and mirror adjustments are off, the controls are different, the accelerators require a different touch – they’re just different. But they’re both excellent vehicles and they are up to the tasks we expect them to perform.

Now to the guns. A few weeks ago I wrote about comfort while carrying a gun. Today I’m writing about comfort while shooting a gun.

In the past several weeks I’ve shot four different handguns to test their functionality with several types of ammunition, with the added goal of just staying in practice. The guns were a S&W M&P .40 ACP, a Sig Sauer P229 Legion 9mm, a .45 ACP Sig Sauer Commander-sized 1911 and a Glock 23 Gen 4. I was satisfied with how each of them handled the ammunition I fed it, which was a mix and match combination of Ruger ARX, Speer Gold Dot JHP and Fiocchi JHP. These are the rounds I primarily depend on for personal protection.

Results on the target were not much different from one gun to the next, with the exception of the Sig 1911. That particular SIG allows me to consistently put all the rounds I shoot into a small ragged hole, usually the size of a 50-cent piece from a distance of 10-12 feet. With each of the the other three I was successful in creating a tennis ball size ragged hole with some scattered rounds an inch or two outside that hole.  Any one of those handguns would be “comforting” to have in a defensive situation.

But this article is about being comfortable, not just having something that is comforting. I’m always comfortable shooting that Sig 1911. The aiming is natural and consistent. I never even think about trigger pull, it just happens as I’m squeezing the trigger and I get the results I want almost every time. The sights line up naturally without me even thinking about it.

The M&P is the same way. I’ve always felt the S&W M&P was one of the most comfortable guns to hold and shoot. I keep one by the bedside and my wife has one on her side of the bed. I like it as a carry gun, especially now that I’ve learned I can shoot .40 caliber ARX ammo comfortably. If I wasn’t such a 1911 fan, the M&P would probably be my every day carry gun.

The other two guns give me pause when I’m shooting them, especially the Glock. There’s something about the Glock sights that just doesn’t work for me, especially on follow up shots, like when you’re doing a double-tap or a timed drill. It takes me a couple of seconds, to get those sights lined up and I’m always squinting or moving my head around to get the proper sight picture.

The sights on my Sig P229 Legion are very close to the Trijicon night sights I prefer on my carry guns  but with an improvement that sets them apart. The dot on the front sight is a different color and is slightly larger than the rear sights, making it easier to pick up.

Here’s picture of the different types of sights I encountered during these shooting trips. Yes, I know the sights are not aligned for hitting the target, but this will work for illustration purposes.:

Handgun Sight Differences

The SIG 1911 has sights almost exactly like the M&P in the center. Maybe, that’s a big part of the reason I feel like I shoot these guns better, the fact that the sights are familiar to me and I like them. But I don’t think that’s the biggest reason. I do struggle with the Glock sights, and I don’t struggle with any of the others, but I think the biggest reason might be grip. The M&P line has always enjoyed a following because it fits the hand so well and something about the angle of the grip and the alignment of the bore axis makes for less “felt” recoil than many other handguns of similar size, weight and caliber. I put “felt” in quotes because recoil is somewhat subjective. There are ways you can measure the foot-pounds of pressure being exerted on the hands, I guess, but what we shooters deal with is what we feel, not necessarily what’s actually there.

Between the Glock, the Sig and the M&P, the M&P just feels better in my hand, I line the sights up quicker and when I shoot it, I feel less recoil, all of which make for a better shooting experience as long as my rounds hit the target where I expect them to.

Between the Glock and the Sig, I like the Sig better. It’s got a better feeling trigger and the sights work well for me.

Among them all, however, I still pick the 1911 as the one I am the most comfortable shooting. Do you know what that translates into? I’ll choose to shoot it more often, which means I’ll practice with it more often and I’ll get better and better with it.

That’s why comfort is important.

The Reason We Sell

I read most of every gun magazine that hits the stands. I’m a gun guy and a firearms instructor and much of the information that’s in those magazines helps me be better at what I do. That said, I can’t help but notice most of the wording on the front of the magazines, in the advertisements and in the article titles is designed to sell guns. “Rimfire fun! .22 Long Rifle Conversions”, “.45 ACP PERFECTION!”, “Sexiest XDm Ever!”, “9mm CC Shoot Out!” Makes you want one, right! Or two, or all of them!

Hi Cap .45I’m all for selling guns. I’m in the business. And like any business owner, I’ve got rent to pay, suppliers to keep happy and employees I want to take care of. I can’t do all of that without selling guns, along with the ammunition, accessories and training to go along with them. But to me, it’s not about selling merchandise as much as it is about helping people. You see, deep down in my heart of hearts I believe people should be able to defend themselves. I believe they should be able to stand up against a tyrannical government, if it becomes necessary. And I believe people in a free country should be able to responsibly own guns because they’re cool, they’re fun to shoot and frankly, just because they want them.

So I’m not down on the fancy, eye-grabbing magazine covers or article titles designed to create the desire or need for this firearm or that firearm. But I am down on some of the marketing techniques that suggest to people that are brand new to firearms that this is the gun they need to own, when in fact it probably isn’t.

Let me give you some examples. A recent article in a popular gun magazine  was titled “Today’s Top 12 Concealed Carry Pocket Pistols”. The intro went like this:

Want something that is powerful and portable? Compact yet capable? Omnipresent but not overwhelming? Well, there are many choices out there, with a broad selection of compact autopistols and revolvers (as well as interesting derringers and the like) in powerful and capable chamberings available.

The listing started off with the S&W Bodyguard .380 auto pistol. Okay, I will sell you one of these if you give me every indication that you know what it is and why you want it. But if you’re a first time pistol buyer, especially if you’re  woman, I am not going to sell you that gun without insisting first that you go rent one and shoot it. Even then, I’ll want you to look over some of the ballistics charts and hopefully, understand just why a .380 is such a minimal caliber for personal defense.

The other day one of our students showed up at a Handgun 101 class with a Ruger LCP.  Not a Ruger LC380, but an LCP. She wanted to learn everything about her gun because the next day she was coming to a License to Carry Class. I must confess, without singling her out, I kind of dissed her gun. Not hers specifically, but I did talk about little guns, little calibers and the shortcomings of them, pointing out that it’s not just about the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of the .380 round. I discussed recoil and how difficult it is for a small lightweight gun to absorb recoil, leaving your hands to do it. I discussed additional facts that in my humble, but somewhat educated and informed opinion, are important to know. Facts like:  the little guns like the bodyguard don’t hold much ammo, they don’t offer much to hold on to, they have a short barrel and short sight radius and in general are just not very easy to shoot accurately and effectively. And most importantly, the ammunition they shoot is not very powerful compared to just moving up one notch in caliber.

The student in my class smiled throughout my little discussion and seemed to not have her feelings hurt. The next day she passed the License to Carry Shooting qualification with her bodyguard. She passed, but not with flying colors. She asked the instructors if she could shoot again with another group, this time using one of our 9mm handguns. They pulled a SAR B6 9mm out of our loaner bag and she shot the qualification test again, this time with a much higher score.

In my mind the bottom line of this story should be that she came back to our shop and bought a SAR B6. But that’s not what happened. She’d spent hard-earned money on that Bodyguard and at least for now, that’s the one that will have to do.

Beretta Pico

Okay, here’s another article, this one from Personal Defense World. The article’s title was:  380 Pocket Pistols Under $700 That Deliver Instant Self-Defense.  The first gun on their list was a Beretta Pico. Now I love Berettas.  The M9, the PX-4 Storm — these are great pistols. The Nano, not bad, but the Pico is just too darned little.

Here is how they tout it:  “At only 11.5 ounces, the ultra-compact Beretta Pico pistol is easy to carry all day long. Chambered in .380 ACP, the Pico was designed by Beretta to be flat and snag free, so that it slips into a pocket or holster without any obvious bulges.”

No doubt it’s easy to carry, but as I’ve said to my students many times. Carrying isn’t the objective. Defending yourself is. If the only objective is to carry, we’d all carry lightweight, snag-free tiny little pocket guns. But the objective is really to have a gun that will defend you.

I’ve yet to see any of the Picos shot in my classes fire more than two or three rounds without some type of stoppage. It’s probably not the gun, but the shooter, trying to hold the gun in way that lets it function.

My purpose in this article is not to be critical of a bunch of different guns, but to make you think twice about whether or not the gun you want to carry for personal defense will actually do the job of defending you.

I bought a little .380 myself. It’s a Taurus 738 that fits in a little pouch that you can put on your belt and most people would think it’s cell phone or PDA. I shoot it occasionally, just for fun. But do I carry I carry it for self-defense? Only if I want an additional backup gun.

Shoot Like a GirlI want you to think about something. What kind and size of guns do the police carry?  What kind and size of guns to the LTC instructors you may know carry? You don’t find them carrying little guns. You don’t find them carrying small calibers. Or, if you do, I can almost guarantee you they are new to the business. Those of us who have really studied what goes on in the real world, those of us who have shot a lot of different guns, those of us who have studied real-world ballistics, rather than the fancy headlines in magazines and advertisements, are pretty careful about what guns we carry. Those of us who are instructors and who sell guns, have totally different perspective on what we recommend than does a typical gun salesman in a retail establishment.

Let me suggest to you that before you buy your next gun you seek out a veteran instructor. Let that instructor talk to you about your shooting experience, about your need for the gun, how you intend to use it. Then try to shoot one if you can. I’ve told the guys at my shop that if it’s not the right gun for you, they can only sell it to you if you have been advised of how it may or may not work for you and you are twisting their arm and throwing money at them.

We need your money, believe me, we do. But we want you to have a gun, or guns, that you like to shoot and can shoot well, and which will stop bad guys if that’s what you need. If you just need the gun to punch holes in paper or put game on the table, maybe it’s not as critical. But if there’s a chance you would have to use the gun to defend your life, we want it to be capable of doing that. Let me say that another way. If you’re a lady, I wouldn’t sell you a gun for personal defense that I wouldn’t provide for my wife for that same purpose. If you’re a girl, I’ll have to take that analogy to my daughters-in-law and my granddaughters because I don’t have a daughter, but you get my drift.