As you might’ve guessed, this is a post about handguns. I asked a very close friend and accomplished handgunner to write a piece specific to it’s own and he’s what I would consider a subject matter expert. If there’s one topic that might be worse than the “whut carbine is bestest” nonsense, it’s people squabbling over handguns. But since a handgun is going to be the most likely used firearm in close or unexpected contact, and takes a higher amount of training to master, it warrants discussion.
I would like to first say I have the distinct honor to call the man that is NCScout my best friend. Not just a friend but a brother in all but blood. I know of no other person I would be more apt to follow to hell and back (again no less) than he. So to say it is a huge compliment for him to want to publish any of my babbling is no small matter. Thank you brother.
I try my best to keep up with the Brushbeater blog as much as possible but sometimes I get behind. Most of the time we are talking about the various topics over a craft beer and good homemade food anyway. But I did catch the “So You Want A New AR, Huh?” story yesterday and as with many conversations in the past the same kind of discussion came up about handguns. I told him I’d be happy to do a similar piece on handguns so here we are. What he is with rifle and carbine I am with handgun in our fold. My background aside from military includes prior Law Enforcement, Private Security, and my fair share of IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, and other various handgun competitions. I am by no means a handgun god but I do know a thing or two of what I’m talking about. This is also an account of my experience, observation and opinion so take it as you may. This post will be about defensive and/or fighting handguns, anything else like handgun hunting is a whole different can of worms for a different time and place. Let’s jump in.
First things first, yes I love my handguns and have the ability to stretch their limits, but do I think a handgun with ever replace a main weapon like a rifle/carbine or even a pistol caliber carbine? That answer is a very resounding NO. But I do think every person’s kit is not complete without a proper handgun, even their everyday kit. I can’t recommend enough to get your concealed handgun permit (in areas where you can) and carry as much as the law allows. Always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. As a backup to a main weapon I feel it is an indispensable tool to have especially after personal experience of being in a situation where M4 could not be used and hand to hand was extremely dangerous but a sidearm would have been the Goldilocks of the situation. Alas the Army did not see fit to issue a sidearm to all of us and luckily I was able to get out of that situation unscathed. But that situation made me further solidify in my belief of a sidearm backup. [Green on Blue incident, on case anyone is wondering- BB]
To kind of follow the AR post, he speaks of not getting into a caliber war. This will not either as there are only really three calibers to focus on; 9x19mm, 40 S&W, and 45 ACP. Yes I know there are plenty of revolver cartridges that are plenty effective but unfortunately the capacity argument will beat revolvers every time with today’s available handguns. I say today’s available handguns because inevitably the argument will come up about revolvers reliability over an auto. Years ago that was a viable argument but not so much anymore. In my life I have had revolvers fail, and not just cheaper ones, we’re talking S&W and even a Colt. Also in my life there are a few manufacturers of autos that have NEVER failed me aside from ammo related stoppages. I’m not bashing on wheelguns, I’m honestly a huge fan with possibly a unhealthy obsession with pre lock S&Ws and Colt snakes, I just feel in today’s world they are outclassed as a fighting or “combat” handgun.
So we have 40 S&W. Wonderfully effective, inherent natural accuracy and higher capacity than 45 ACP in comparable frames. Something along the lines of 65 to 70% of law enforcement agencies use the 40, I did, being issued one in the Glock model 22 flavor as a Sheriff’s deputy. But that is starting to change. More and more agencies are dropping the 40 in favor of other calibers. Reason being other calibers previously thought to be ineffective are not so anymore. More about that later. Not to mention it has never standardized as an issue round to any standing military in the world. Logistically, sure you can find 40 on most shelves just about anywhere, but for how much longer? Not just LEOs are dropping 40 but I am seeing many private individuals dropping it as well. I did, with my last 40 being traded off several months ago. The problems with 40 are not just what I see to be a pending logistics problem (think 357 Sig) but also the recoil. That may sound funny but 40 is a bit snappier in recoil whereas 45 ACP and 9mm more push. That all has to do with muzzle rise and how quick one can get back on target for follow up shots. Also in my experience 40 tends to beat the weapon up a bit quicker than others, so less of a potential round count out of a given weapon. 40 is good without a doubt, still hits hard on the business end, but I feel it has run its course and is starting a slow road to die.
Next is an oldie but a goodie, 45 ACP. Not much needs to be said about the 45, most anybody knows its pros, its huge and hits like a sledgehammer at velocities as low as 450 fps. Everybody knows that one guy that always says “If it ain’t got a 4 and a 5 in the caliber I ain’t carryin it”. But the 45’s biggest advantage is also its biggest disadvantage, its sheer size. The cartridge itself not just the diameter is pretty massive and requires a huge frame to fit it in and not everybody can wrap their hands around one. Unfortunately the easiest to comfortably grip for most ends up being a single stack magazine frame, and that of course drops capacity. Logistics of it are great, it can be found pretty much anywhere. It also still sees widespread use in LE and various armed forces around the world. It’s been a reliable cartridge for over a century, always been more than accurate enough, surprisingly mild recoil for its size and you won’t be under gunned by any means but you may need to practice mag changes more than others.
Now we have 9mm; or 9×19, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, your preference of what to call it. I once talked to a guy that refused to own a 9mm because it was a “Nazi German” round, which yes is true and the popularity of 9mm rose in no small part to the Luger P08 and Walther P38. Whatever. We fought Japan too in the same war but that doesn’t make Toyota trucks any less reliable or hard to kill. The fact is it works. The argument was made for years that 9mm only punched holes with no real stopping power. If it didn’t work it wouldn’t have endured up to this point. Plenty of “good” rounds went the way of the Dodo because they weren’t effective but somehow the 9mm endured. And same with any good enduring thing it has evolved. Fast forward to today and now 9mm is the king of auto calibers. With modern expanding ammo it has been found to be plenty effective on soft tissue for stoppage, per the gold standard of ballistics testing the FBI’s ballistics lab. Hence why the FBI is looking to go back to standardizing the 9mm for its agents. Don’t believe it’s becoming king of the auto world? Take a look at the amount of LE agencies going to it or going back to it. Look how many militaries around the world still have it standardized. Go to your local range and see how much 9mm brass is lying around. I frequent a public range local to me and every time I go I go clepto on the range brass cans. For every 45 ACP case I get I get at least 50 9mms. For every 40 it’s at least 100 9mms. Logistics behind it are endless. It’s everywhere and it has gotten insanely cheap. It’s pretty fast, it’s naturally accurate, it’s low recoil and you can pack a serious amount of rounds into a pistol frame. It is here to stay, and for a long time.
So let’s look at the guns themselves. Much like the question asked to NCScout about ARs, I get asked about handguns the same way all the time. “What’s the best handgun” or “What should I get” comes more frequently than I care to count. There is no holy grail. Sorry, just ain’t going to happen. What I tell most everybody that comes to me about it is this: Go to a well-stocked gunshop or to the next local gunshow and get your hands on different ones. Find one that fits your hand and feels good. Then, if you can by any way possible, give it a test drive. If it feels good, buy one. Now with this discussion I will say there is one caveat, and that is if you are within a group it is VERY wise to get standardized across the board for ammo and mag commonality. But for an everyday carry potentially anything could go. I have my personal favorites and for good reasons; they are Glock, CZ and H&K in no particular order. The venerable 1911 still seems to be the standard for 45s. I know I will probably get blow back and hate mail for this by some but the 1911 ain’t that great anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a wonderful piece and it will always hold a place in my heart and in my safe but there is more advanced 45s out there now. I still have a Springfield Trophy Match that has seen an ungodly amount of rounds and untold number of matches, and the old girl still shoots great. But for a fighting 45 my H&K USP 45 runs circles around any of my 1911s. For me it’s been 100% reliable no matter what, honestly more accurate than I am, and the biggest thing is a standard 12 round mag vs 1911s 8 round. Those extra 4 rounds will keep you in the fight that much longer. The downside for most is that it is a BIG pistol. That doesn’t affect me so much because I have big hands and actually find the big frame comfortable. Same can be said for the Glock 21. Not everybody can fit a double stack 45 so the go to if one wants 45 is the 1911. Some will say “OK, what about the double stack 1911s, the 2011s?” They are fine if you intend on competition or maybe even carry but they have not been combat or field proven by anyone I know of like H&Ks, Glocks, Sig 220s or similar. Even in competition they can be finicky beasts, needing constant tweaking and magazine tuning. Not reliable enough for me to trust it in the field. So for me H&K gets the nod for fighting 45s. In the 9mm realm my personal favorite is the CZ 75 series, with Glock a close second. In the beginning I actually hated Glock. I didn’t want Tupperware in my holster. The grip angle was funny. The trigger was weird. Then I had to carry one as an issue weapon. After I learned a bit more about it, got more trigger time on them, they really started to grow on me (taking the Glock armorer course helped too, highly recommend it to anyone contemplating taking it). My hatred turned into a humbling respect for them. It is really hard to kill one, I’ve tried. Accurate, simple, AK of the handgun world reliable, they are a no brainer. The biggest point of Glock to me is the magazines. The compatibility amongst same size frames. It’s nice to carry a 26 with a flush fit stubby IWB and have a 17 round G17 mag as a spare for the 26. Well done Gaston. Not to mention ammo and mag commonality with how many millions of people in the US and around the world? Can’t swing a dead cat anywhere without hitting a 9mm Glock. I just still can’t see spending $3000 plus on a customized Glock when a $500 factory will do more than what the average shooter is capable of anyway. I’d dare just about anybody with a $3k Salient to go up against Dave Sevigny with a box stock G34 and see how far that 3 grand got them. My absolute favorite by far though is the CZ 75 series. The ergonomics, the natural accuracy of the design, the toughness, all of it is hard to beat. One of its biggest criticisms is the weight being all steel or steel/alloy mix. That doesn’t bother me, it still carries great and the little extra weight helps negate felt recoil. Top of the list is the CZ 75 SP-01. It’s even a little heavier than the standard 75 due to full length dust cover with rail but after you start shooting it all the negatives go away. The felt recoil is almost on par with say, my Browning Buckmark 22 LR. The accuracy of this thing is somewhere between a laser guided smart bomb and a James Bond harbinger of death super sophisticated ray gun. NC Scout was a witness to it dumping a mag full (19 round mags by the way, take that Glock 17) of 147 grain handloads into a group that could be covered with a quarter at 25 yards. It’ll ring a 15 inch gong at 100 yards with such frequency it gets boring. At $650 out the door it’s amazingly affordable and to date has never failed once. Obviously I can’t speak highly of it enough. All that is just an example of my findings and personal preferences. There are many others that work very well that others can shoot just fine. Sig for example is a fine company that makes a fine weapon (albeit overpriced but fine nonetheless). The recent hype over the non-German made Sigs being worse in quality has some truth to it but in my experience has been blown out of proportion. I recently had an Exeter made P226R with the newer E2 grip and it was just as good as any German made Sig. Alas, I don’t run Sig because no matter how hard I try or how many I get that I want to let my big hands leave my thumb sitting on top of the slide lever, inadvertently engaging it when it should last round lock. That is a no-go for me in the field or in defensive situations. But they still shoot great and many do like them. Other companies make fine products like Ruger, S&W and FN to name a few I just don’t run them for personal reasons. I still own/have owned many of them just regulated to range or match work. The point is, try some and find what works for you. Then train with it.
Which bring me to the next and probably the biggest point of them all, practice and training. Get out and shoot the things. 9mm is cheaper than 22 LR per round in many cases right now so that’s not an excuse. Rainy day and can’t get to the range? Sit in front of the TV and do dry fire practice to on screen “targets”. There’s no excuse to not train. It’s not always practical (or legal) to carry your fighting rifle or carbine every day, and if you are using handgun as a backup to it things have gone bad to worst fast so there is a very big chance you may need to rely on that handgun for your safety and the safety of those around you. So training with that weapon is a must. Learn to point shoot for close range targets, I teach that and it is extremely effective and fast once learned. I mentioned earlier that I have done quite a bit of competition in the past. Competition can teach you some good practices for handgun but DO NOT take it as gospel. I always found competition to be fun and it did help train me to be a bit faster but after real world experience I found it is lacking for real world scenario. The biggest way is that it can ingrain bad habits. Let’s look at IDPA. It was originally created by Bill Wilson and friends to be a defensive minded set of competition. So started with excellent intentions it has fell off a bit. My biggest gripe with IDPA is the course of fire. You never have a set course of fire in the real world. There is no rangemaster saying “you engage this target then this target then this target with X number of rounds in each etc. etc.” when you have the unfortunate circumstance of having to defend yourself in an actual shooting. So I wonder why IDPA doesn’t run its course of fire by means of say engaging the worst threat first and going down the ladder of threats from there when IDPA is supposed to be a “defensive” organization. That can set bad habits that can confuse a shooter when presented with legitimate real world threats. Maybe I’m picking nits but that is something I have always looked at and deemed a problem. I also feel that some of the strict rules can get in the way of practicality. Like if a particular holster that I like is not on the “approved for competition” list. If that’s what I like and what I use then I should be able to use it. I completely understand some not being allowed for safety reasons, like a crossdraw that could potentially flag bystanders or range officials on the draw but that is a little different. If you want to try competition then by all means do so, it is a helluva lot of fun and you get the chance to meet some truly wonderful people. I don’t compete at the moment, mainly due to life happenings, but I won’t say that I’ll never compete again. Just don’t take it as the things to do for the real world. I could probably write a book about handgun training so for sake of sanity I will keep it simple here. Bottom line is get out and use it, don’t let it become a paperweight on the nightstand or a permanent addition to the sock drawer.
I feel that I am starting to drone on about a topic that I could talk about for days so I will wrap it up. Handgun is an oft overlooked tool that should be just as important as anything else in your kit or in everyday life. No, they aren’t the end all be all but all tools have a job to do and I feel that the handgun’s job is an extremely important one. Find one that fits you. If need be acquire similar pieces to others within your fold to keep commonality. Then train. Then train some more. Do drills, do buddy drills, then train some more. Make that hawgleg become an extension of your arm. It could potentially save your bacon one day or even more important someone you care about.
Everybody be safe, watch your backs, and have a wonderful day!