Does your carry system match your philosophy of use?
By Aaron Swann
Whenever you choose what firearm to carry, you need to consider your philosophy of use for it. At a minimum your personal weapons system consists of you firearm, your holster, any ammunition you choose to carry outside of the gun. When choosing a firearm you need to imagine what kind of performance a given scenario might demand of you and then seriously consider whether or not your skill level and chosen weapon system are capable enough to deliver it.
Being known as the "gun guy" at my precinct I am often asked by fellow Officers about their off-duty carry options. Often, they tell me they are looking at, or have already purchased a single stack 9mm or .380. I usually ask them why don't they choose a compact double stack such as a Glock 19 or 26 instead of these more difficult carry pieces. They usually tell my that they find larger guns uncomfortable, or that they don't believe they can carry something that size without it "printing" and giving them away. I believe this has more to do with poor holster selection than with the actual size of these firearms. I always try to point them in the right direction for a holster, usually something made of quality Kydex such as a VEIL, but I sometimes encourage them to look at carrying something a bit heavier that holds more bullets.
It's no secret that many of my fellow officers find it challenging to shoot a qualifying score with their service weapon. So I often wonder why so many of them choose to carry a type of handgun that is far more difficult to shoot when they are off duty with their friends and families. I think that many officers who may find themselves pulled into action without their vest, uniform, or radio should seriously consider the increased capabilities of going with a slightly larger double stack handgun. In fact, when it comes to micro guns, our department's published weapons SOP, that is Standard Operating Procedure, states "Employees who have qualified with a .380 sub-compact handgun will not carry that handgun as their primary handgun unless they are operating in an undercover capacity where operations would be compromised by the presence of larger caliber firearms."
I had a conversation recently with a Senior Patrol Officer friend who has been involved in the training of officers at our department since I joined. I have always respected his opinion because that no mater what he's teaching, whether firearms, tactics, or law, he always goes out of his way to insure that anything he says is backed up by facts and experience, and will stand up when put to the test. Despite his skill and training with duty-sized pistols the only gun he carries off duty is a .38 snub-nose. I asked him recently what his philosophy of use was for such a small gun. His response was that he viewed the revolver as "poking the shark in the eye." It isn't necessarily going to kill the shark, but it will make it stop to think about what it's doing and maybe consider easier fish. He said, " My goal is for the shark to stop biting me. I'm not looking to dive in and go hunting for sharks." I consider this a valid point. Five shots of any caliber are likely to make a "predator" rapidly reconsider your status as "prey". This can give you a window in which to remove yourself from the area. He also said that his first layer of personal defense was to minimize his travel to sketchy areas. He doesn't travel inside Atlanta's perimeter for any purpose other than work, which reflects his adoption of the often-repeated principle, "Don't go stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things." He doesn't.
While I like my friend’s perspective I don't quite agree. Watching recent events I note that we are more and more often seeing "sharks" that hunt in packs. Robbing "crews" with multiple weapons that try to quickly overwhelm their victims. Also we are seeing a new breed of sharks that don't go away when you poke them in the eye, see everyone as prey, and like to binge feed. Active killers. A LEO in Minnesota recently had a well-publicized encounter with a wannabe active killer who was armed with a knife. He is only a wannabe because the off duty officer was armed and prepared. I don't know what the officer was armed with yet, and the video has not be released at time, but the reports indicate that the knifeman was shot, he fell down, and then he got back up and had to be shot again. This is said to have happened several times. If shooting an opponent with a handgun doesn't cause a psychological stop then realize they may have a whole lotta fight left before blood loss finally shuts them down.
My lifestyle isn't as consistent as my friends. I'm not saying it leads me stupid places with stupid people, at least not often, but I certainly don't have as strict of an outside the perimeter policy. For my weapons system I prefer my Glock-19. The Glock gives me at least fifteen rounds of 9mm hollow points plus a 19 shot reload in a VEIL Solution inside the waistband carrier. Combined with a recently acquired Surefire XC-1 weapon light this weapon system gives me an equivalent level of utility and firepower to my on duty Glock-22 with it's X-300 light. If I find myself faced with a higher threat situation, such as multiple assailants of even an active shooter (stabber?) event, I can rely on it to deliver virtually the same performance as my duty piece.
Despite my preference for a double stack I too own a 5 shot .38 revolver. For me it fills exactly two roles. First it sits in my car while I'm driving, because I have calculated that I can grab it faster than I can draw from under a seat belt. Philosophy of use in the car is to blast a threat off of my window before going for the more capable Glock-19 in my belt. Second I occasionally carry it in my gym shorts. The only other use I have for it during my typical week is as my "gym shorts gun". Often I hit the grocery store after a workout with the .38 in the pocket of my shorts. I prefer having it to nothing at all, but I don't pretend it can solve as many problems as the Glock. Speaking about this with older "gun store experts" you will often find yourself reminded that ".38's have killed a lot of people." That is undoubtedly true but when my life is in danger my goal isn't to kill people. It's to make them stop. If five shots or less can accomplish this I'm happy as long as the shark quits biting me. I realize that the majority of opponents will be psychologically stopped by the realization they have been shot, and the desire to not be shot more, but I don't get to choose my adversary, and neither do you. Assuming I don't get a central nervous system hit if an opponent decides not to stop after being hit he's capable of doing exactly what he was doing before I shot him for some time before blood loss takes effect. With my revolver I'm confident in my ability to deliver those five round, but I'm also ready to flip it over and use it as a set of knuckles if they don't end the fight. I'm also ready to run. If five shots don't stop an opponent they will at least make them weaker and slower than before they got shot. As I said I am confident in this weapon system, but I am also very aware of it's limits. I think many people invest in these compact guns without fully appreciating these limits because size and concealability are the only factors they consider.
The fact is the pocket guns and snub revolvers are an expert’s weapons. To truly get the full potential out of them you have to put in the trigger time. I have trained on my .38's trigger to the point I can easily deliver center mass shots at 25 yards, and my friend wrote and taught, our departments concealed carry class to undercover officers for years. While extremely capable in certain situations, these weapons need to be carried with an understanding of their limitations, a plan for what to do after your five shots are up, and acceptance that you might still have to go hands on with an opponent after you have shot them.
A project I recently started as a firearms instructor was the development of a training program for a group of men that form a volunteer security team at a church near me. They have been armed in plain clothes for several years now; under Georgia's wonderfully progressive House Bill 60, but in light of recent events they decided to seek out training which lead them to me. As part of my preparation I asked them what guns they carried and how. I was not surprised to discover that most of their choices where sub-compact or "pocket pistols". Its not first time I have observed that many citizen carriers choose to go the single stack or "micro-gun" route. I met one of the members of this team at the range earlier this week to work on marksmanship fundamentals. He brought both his Sig P938 and Glock-19. He stated that the Sig, a recent acquisition, had become his primary carry piece because he feels more comfortable with its size, also he felt certain that he needed a gun with a manual safety. This was my first time running a Sig P938 and I have to say for a pocket gun I found it impressive. It has grown-up sized sights, a good trigger, and it ran for at least 100 rounds without a hiccup. I know that 100 rounds isn't an actual test but, sadly, most pistols in the P938's weight class can go that distance without chocking. Inevitability leading to their owners sputtering about it being in its "break in period."
After some dry fire and warm up shots I put my friend through a presentation drill from 10 yards. On the command of "Threat!" starting from the low ready I had him deliver a single center mass shot. The initial results from the Sig were not encouraging. Most of the shots were driving low right. If you just guessed that my friend is left handed - you're right. After a few rounds I had him switch to the Glock-19. The improvement was dramatic. Soon he was delivering the majority of his rounds straight to center mass. Here is the thing. In many ways the Sig isn't that much less capable than the Glock. The sights are the same size, the trigger is actually better, and the recoil isn't unpleasant. I believe he performed better with the Glock because the increased grip surface area and overall mass allowed him to feel more comfortable with each shot. In addition to jerking the trigger the primary factor that drives groups below the point of aim is the psychologically induced flinch that come when firing a gun. Shooting is an unnatural act. Remember each time you fire a gun you are telling your brain to set off a small bomb inside of a metal box sitting in the palm of you hand, and then you're asking it to hold still while it does it. Guess what? No matter how much you love guns your brain isn't crazy about this idea. So ask yourself would you rather set the bomb off in a 15oz box, or a 20oz box. As I work more with my friend I am confident that his ability with the SIG will increase as his skill and confidence develops, but while it may be a great EDC piece for himI intend to encourage him to carry the Glock when he is taking responsibility for the safety of others.
I believe that the decision of what to carry any given days needs to be given more thought. Before selecting their carry system people need to ask themselves what role they may possibly need to fulfill. Do they simply want a way to deal with average threats and turn themselves into a less desirable target, or are they willing to find or place themselves in a position of responsibility for others safety as well as their own. Yes you should research the gun you intend to buy, but first research yourself. You need to look at your life style, your responsibilities, and your capabilities. Then ask yourself "what is my philosophy of use for this weapon?” and choose accordingly.