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The average private citizen, and even members of the law enforcement community should consider purchasing a small compact revolver in .38 Special caliber for CCW purposes. The .38 Special was at one time in this country a standard caliber for both civilian law enforcement personnel, military police, and private citizen alike. The earlier commercial loadings for the .38 Special were more than adequate for self-defense situations for either the civilian law enforcement officer, military police officer, or the private citizen. If the contemporary owner of a modern .38 Special revolver purchases .38 Special ammunition that has been loaded to SAAMI maximum pressure levels, typically labelled as +P for higher pressure, and loads their revolver with such ammunition, he/she will possess a self-defense weapon of adequate power to stop most assailants at close self-defense ranges. Furthermore, revolvers are more often than not considered to be more reliable and easier to use in stressful situations than semi-automatic pistols.

If a person is considering being lawfully armed, and  is sold on the idea of a semi-automatic pistol, then the selection of a practically sized pistol is
of primary concern. The carrying for example of a full-sized semi-automatic pistol like an all-steel Colt 1911A1 chambered in .45 ACP, is generally considered impractical for most people. A full-sized heavy pistol like this is difficult to carry all day, and is more difficult to draw, and get into a proper shooting posture than say a Glock model 26, 27, 19, 23, or a Kahr Arms model P9, PM9, etc. On the other hand, the use of very small pocket pistols like a typical sub-compact pistol chambered for the .25 ACP, .32 ACP, etc. is also impractical. Such "mouse guns" generally do not possess adequate stopping power, and are very difficult to clear jammed ammunition and/or ammunition components from. The clearing of pistol jams is of prime consideration for the average semi-automatic pistol user. Learning how to shoot a semi-automatic pistol is one thing. But, learning how to clear jammed ammunition and/or ammunition components and getting back into the gunfight is another. The more complex a piece of machinery is, the more likely that something can go wrong.

If a
lawfully armed CCW person is adamant about carrying a semi-automatic pistol, I recommend that only the highest quality pistols available on the market today be considered. Such manufacturers as Glock, Beretta, Springfield Armory (commercial, not government), Smith and Wesson, CZ, H&K, Sig Sauer, Walther, FN, Kahr Arms, etc. be considered. Stay away from unknown brands and models. Training for a semi-automatic pistol is more involved, and requires more time. Plastic, and lightweight metal alloy framed pistols are easier to carry on one's person all day long. I personally recommend that the typical lawfully armed CCW person carry a reliable, high quality revolver on his/her person, and a high capacity pistol in their vehicle and/or home. Most assaults are quick and dynamic, and they do not allow for static, target practice style shooting skills at a gun range.

Caliber selection and bullet type is another concern for the neophyte lawfully armed CCW person. With modern bullet designs, and modern propellants there is very little difference in terminal performance between such calibers as the 9mm Luger +P, the .38 special +P, the .40 S&W, and the .45 ACP. Even the .380 Auto, aka .380 ACP, is now loaded with high performance bullets, and propellants that make it a viable self-defense round. Shot placement is more critical than anything else. Most hollow point bullets can be purchased in a bonded configuration, and will perform without worry of bullet jacket separation from the bullet core. Also, bullet styles that have a flat bullet meplat (nose) area such as a truncated cone (FMJ-TC), round nose flat point (RNFP), wadcutter (WC), semi-wadcutter (SWC), etc. can be just as effective as the most expensive hollow point bullets. Any neophyte shooter/CCW licensee should try out various handgun/ammunition combinations to see what works best for them prior to purchasing a new handgun for self-defense.

The purchaser and user of any handgun needs to understand that the size of their hands, and their individual grip strength will determine the size, and style of the actual handgun grip that is needed for them to shoot any handgun accurately and reliably, especially under stressful circumstances. An elementary understanding of hand biomechanics, hand anthropometry, and ergonomics will enable the firearm user to select the correct grip size and configuration for their own handguns. If for example a person possesses large hands, they are more likely to have difficulty in shooting a handgun with a smaller grip accurately, than if they were shooting a handgun with larger grips. Before the advent of plastic framed pistols, and heavily contoured finger grooved handgun grips, the average shooter had a fairly good selection of factory and aftermarket grips that they could utilize on their handguns.

Old time firearm designers such as Jonathan Browning possessed an intuitive understanding of hand biomechanics, hand anthropometry, and ergonomics. For example, the original grip panels for the Colt 1911A1 pistol possessed decent sized palm swells, and the grip panels extended to the very edges of the grip frame. Also, the grip angle of the 1911A1 makes shooting it accurately fairly easy. The existence of palm swells on a handgun grip enable a shooter's hand(s) to be locked into one position better than if there is just a flat surface on the sides of the grip frame, such as exists on a modern day Glock plastic framed pistol from the factory. Handgun grip palm swells keep the handgun from rotating within the shooter's hand(s) while the shooter is gripping the handgun during the firing process. This is less of a concern for a person that has smaller hands. If a person with smaller hands grips a flat sided handgun such as a Glock pistol, their palms may end-up flattened-out against the sides of the grip frame on such a pistol design. With flattened palms the pistol is less likely to rotate within that person's hand than if the same handgun is being gripped by a person with larger hands, whose hands may not be flattened-out against the sides of the handgun grip.

A similar problem exists with modern day revolver grips. Most handgun manufacturers are shipping their revolvers out the door with finger grooved handgun grips, that are fairly small in size. This style grip may fit a person with small hands fairly well. However, it makes the handling and shooting of such a revolver cumbersome for a person with large hands, as the central area of the palm of the hand is not touching any surface at all during the firing process. Consequently, the revolver now has an opportunity to rotate somewhat in the hands of a person with large hands. The way to counteract a handgun rotating within the hands of a shooter without having adequate palm swells in the handgun grip is to increase the gripping force between the front strap and back strap of any handgun. The problem with this solution is that many times the gripping force necessary to achieve the same effect that palm swells provide becomes too great, and affects accuracy in a negative manner. Slip-on grips for flat sided plastic framed handguns can increase the overall size of the gripping surface, but they still cannot take the place of properly designed palm swells. Finger grooves are also not the answer because they cannot be designed to fit all sizes of hands and finger dimensions, and they can interfere with proper grip posture for accurate shooting, especially for people with larger hands.

My personal experience as a person with large hands has been that older styled semi-automatic pistols such as the Browning Hi-Power fitted with the older style Pachmayr aftermarket rubber (elastomer), full-sized handgun grips with back strap piece and palm swells, but without finger grooves, provides for the most comfortable semi-auto pistol handgun grip that I have been able to find to date. The problem is that carrying an all steel semi-automatic pistol, with a fully loaded high capacity magazine all day long has a tendency to cause me to adjust my belt and pants every hour on the hour.

Likewise, I have found that the full-sized older style Pachmayr Presentation rubber (elastomer) revolver grips, without finger grooves, but with palm swells, provides for the most comfortable double action revolver handgun grip that I have been able to find to date.

Finger grooves on a handgun grip also make it difficult to wear gloves while shooting, which many people need to do in colder northern climates during the winter months. People with larger hands that wear gloves, generally cannot fit their fingers between the molded-in finger grooves on plastic framed handguns, and aftermarket handgun grips, making shooting such a configured handgun difficult.

While handgun grips are a personal choice, handgun manufacturers, and manufacturers of aftermarket grips need to start manufacturing their products so that the various handgun models on the market today can accommodate all sizes and styles of handgun grips.

Handgun sights are something else that need to be considered carefully. A good sight picture is necessary for accurate shooting. Anyone purchasing a handgun should either purchase their handgun with highly visible night sights, or order them from an aftermarket manufacturer or supplier. Too many firearm manufacturers are shipping handguns out-the-door with cheap plastic sights, while charging premium prices for their handguns. Most shootings occur in low light conditions and night sights are an absolute necessity today for any person that is considering the use of a handgun for lawful CCW. Although, one major drawback to night sights is the fact that they have a tendency to illuminate the shooter using them in lower light conditions. A handgun used for self-defense should be designed and outfitted with fixed sights, in contrast to adjustable sights. Fixed sights can still be adjusted for windage with the use of a sight adjustment tool. However, this type of sight system cannot be adjusted for elevation.
Adjustable sights on handguns are generally used for target practice, and for hunting at a distance greater than typical self-defense situations call for. Revolvers that come with fixed, machined-in front sights, and machined-in rear sight notches can be altered by a competent gunsmith, and adapted for night sights, or a luminescent paint can simply be applied to the front sight. A few of the better known manufacturers of night sights are: Trijicon, Truglo, XS, Meprolight, and others.

Lasers are another consideration for the handgun shooter. I personally recommend against the use of lasers, unless you are an elderly person, a person with limited eyesight, or other non-debilitating health conditions, and you are limiting your shooting range to inside 10-15 feet. While Lasers do have some use in Point Shooting Techniques, they are still another piece of equipment that must be manipulated in a stressful situation. Most human beings are not capable of employing fine motor skills in stressful situations. We are dealing with the fight or flight reaction to a threat in handgun fighting situations, and we are generally only capable of employing gross motor skills. Therefore, the firearm you are carrying for self-defense should be very simple to operate. Contrary to popular Hollywood TV and movie induced beliefs, even shotguns and automatic weapons need to be aimed accurately in order to hit the intended target(s), without wounding or killing innocent bystanders. Also, people using lasers have a tendency to focus on the laser spot, instead of on what is going on around them, and on all of the actions of their assailant(s) in front of them. Lasers can also give a false sense of good marksmanship to persons using such shooting aids. Furthermore, no one should rely on a perceived intimidation factor of illuminating a laser spot on a potential assailant. Particularly when confronting an experienced violent criminal that may have been shot, and survived a previous shooting(s). Anyone that is considering carrying a handgun on a regular basis should be prepared to learn how to shoot their handgun accurately, without the use of a laser. If you cannot achieve a basic shooting proficiency skill level without a laser, you should begin to look for a different type of self-defense weapon.

High intensity tactical flashlights are another aid that the average CCW handgun user should consider using. High intensity flashlights that provide 100-1000 Lumens of light are useful for persons waking up in the dark to confront intruders, and/or for persons that are outdoors at dusk or later in the evening. A large number of shooting incidents occur in low light conditions. The intense light produced by the typical tactical light induces temporary blindness in the person(s) that the light is being directed at. People should learn to use a tactical light in low-light shooting situations, without the tactical light being attached to a handgun, before they learn to shoot a handgun with their tactical light attached to it. However, it should be noted that the use of high intensity tactical lights can induce unwanted sympathetic muscle contractions in the shooter, particularly when such lights are used separately by the weaker hand, which can lead to unintentional discharges. As with all things, practice makes perfect.

The selection of holsters, and other means of carrying your handgun discreetly need to be considered. The type of clothing that a person is wearing will largely dictate the type of handgun holster, fanny pack, etc. that a person may wish to use for lawful CCW. If you are wearing a suit jacket, a bulky sweater, etc. I recommend a standard hip holster, like a pancake holster, to carry your handgun in. If you are wearing very light casual clothing then you should consider carry your handgun either in a pocket holster or a fanny pack holster. While a handgun can also be worn in an inside the pants style holster in the front of your pants, such a CCW carry mode can also lead to an unintentional discharge into a person's private parts, femoral artery, etc., especially during a struggle with an unanticipated assailant(s) that may take you by surprise. I generally do not recommend inside the pants holsters, even if they are not worn in the front of a persons pants. If one chooses to use an inside the pants holster, I recommend that the pistol be carried with an empty chamber, and the lawfully armed CCW person train diligently on how to draw and chamber a round simultaneously. Shoulder holsters are a consideration as well, but they involve a lot more material generally than a standard pancake holster. Shoulder holsters have straps, and generally an offside piece, in addition to the holster. They can be cumbersome, and unintentional discharges can be a problem when drawing a handgun from the shoulder mounted holster during a life-threatening, stressful encounter. Again, the more complex a piece of equipment, the more that can go wrong.

You may find yourself being assaulted before you know what is happening. Most people that are not employed in high risk jobs that become victims of sudden attacks by criminals is due to the fact that these criminals have studied, and selected them as good potential victims before attacking them. Generally because these potential victims are not paying attention to their surroundings. Such people have poor situational awareness. If you find yourself in such circumstances you should be prepared to use a secondary weapon like a knife to react to a very close encounter initially, until you can create some distance between your assailant(s), and yourself. I personally believe that a small fixed blade knife is better than a folding or automatic knife in such circumstances. This backup weapon should be carried on the weak hand side, and used to make quick stabbing motions until you can create some distance between yourself and your assailant(s). Defensive tactic maneuvers, and biting, kicking, scratching, etc. are also considerations for creating space between you and your assailant(s), regardless of your gender, or anything else for that matter. Almost anything goes in a deadly force situation. You are fighting for your life! You need adequate space to draw a handgun and use it properly as a self-defense weapon. Especially, without being concerned about having it taken from you by your assailant(s), and used against you.

Handgun retention is another consideration for any lawfully armed person. Practicing handgun retention maneuvers should be a regular exercise for any lawfully armed person. Lawfully armed people should also consider carrying pepper mace or other types of less lethal weapons in addition to their handgun. The Use of Force Continuum should also be part of any weapons training program, for any lawfully armed person that will be out and about interacting with the general public.

Proper training in basic handgun handling and shooting skills, and regular practice make for a skilled and confident lawfully armed person.


David J. Lamagna - B.Sc., M.Sc., C.M.I., C.H.S