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Handgun Training Basics

Handgun Training Basics

A nuts and bolts look at self-defense training with a handgun.

How good do you have to be with a handgun, and what type should it be to defend yourself? Tough questions. Not everyone lives in Mayberry RFD or in an urban ghetto. Not everyone has the time or money, despite their interest, to practice regularly, let alone attend "gun school." The problem with self-defense is that we don't get to determine the nature of the threat, or the level of it; the bad guys do. Sure, I've read, as most of you probably have, of the many cases where the mere display of a firearm has been used effectively for self-defense without ever having to fire a shot (at least according to various and sundry reputable sources, that is). But, of course, this is of small comfort to someone who becomes an exception.

Private and convenient practice is often an option if a non-lethal arm is used. This is a shooting position that is seldom acceptable on live-fire ranges.

Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts on "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s, might have just had it right, what with carrying an empty revolver with but one round for it in his shirt pocket. On the other hand, for those living, working or traveling in high-crime areas (fill in your locale of choice here) the more and bigger guns the better.

Regardless of circumstance, we can't begin to train without a base line, one from which we can then either stop or move on, gaining more skill. So let's get the tool to be used--the handgun--out of the way first. The handgun, regardless of action type--semiauto or revolver--must be as reliable as is mechanically possible and hold at least five rounds.

Semiautos have been the overwhelming gun of choice for the last 25 years or so, but the viewed-as-obsolete revolver continues to have much to offer. Not everyone--far from it, as a matter of fact--is into guns. A revolver is the perfect fit for the Dave Spaulding axiom "Simple is Good." The less you have to remember to do to get the gun into action, the better off you are in real-world applications.

Along with choosing the type of handgun goes choice of caliber. While bigger and more powerful should be the better choice, the reality is that any centerfire cartridge will do as long as one recognizes that as the caliber decreases, so does its thump at the receiving end of things. A .22 rimfire round is not acceptable, given any choice in the matter because this round simply does not have the level of reliability in handguns that is possessed by centerfire cartridges.

Once you get past choosing the gun and the cartridge, you must next learn to operate it reflexively, without conscious thought. Finally, you need to develop the skill to be able to place one or two hits where you want them to go out to a maximum distance of 10 feet.


The qualifier to this is that you should be able to do so using either hand and while in every conceivable body position, under any lighting conditions and regardless of the weather. It would also be very beneficial if you could learn to fire the gun with any finger and with any grip, good or bad. You may not be in any condition, due to the nature and intensity of the situation, to do any more than grab it and fire.

The distance--10 feet--isn't that far, but misses routinely happen here despite being up close and personal. Ask any top-rated Action Pistol competitor if he has missed a full-size cardboard target at this distance; the answer is always "yes" (me included, and on more than one occasion). As far as real-world work goes, folks miss each other all the time despite being muzzle-to-muzzle.

Start your practice, if permitted on your local range, at contact distance with your gun muzzle up to the target. (Cutting out the target's center helps a lot.) As you gain proficiency here, back up a few feet at a time.

Most ranges take a very dim view of shooting this close to the target, for all the right reasons. The bullet path this close may well track outside the confines of the backstop, and when your drill is viewed by those not knowledgeable or interested in defensive pistol work, they may see your actions as reckless and dangerous.

Speaking of dangerous, this close-up work can be, since much of it is one-handed and with the gun pulled back in close to your body. Don't rush things here, and make sure you don't get any of your parts in front of or alongside the gun muzzle. To put a keener edge on this, I suggest practicing with a partner who can observe and correct as necessary. And don't be in a hurry.

An excellent alternative to live fire is to use an Airsoft gun, ideally one that replicates your carry handgun. I wouldn't get too wrapped up in getting an exact copy of your defensive arm, though, as the point of these exercises is to develop the ability to use the gun reflexively, without conscious thought. Also, by using Airsoft guns, you're not limited to practicing on a live-fire range, with the accompanying travel time and range restrictions.

Now for the limits on your imagination and common sense. Obviously, it isn't too bright to wave look-alike guns around amongst the general population, such as practicing being mugged in the mall parking lot during business hours. You just might get shot by someone with a real gun.

Here I must add that if and when you do this sort of practice, you should remove any firearm and live ammunition from within reach. I know Airsoft guns won't chamber live rounds, but humor me. If there's no real gun or ammo, then no one will get shot. Doing otherwise creates a possibility that has, historically, resulted in serious or fatal injuries.

As I noted earlier, the point of your efforts is to become reflexive in using your handgun, able to get to it and use it to make good hits within 10 feet, regardless of body position and with either hand. This skill should cover about 90 percent of any real-world threats encountered by a non-sworn civilian.

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