JUNE 26, 2012

Talisman or tool?

This piece is written in response to Paul Markel's opinion piece, written and posted in Shooting Wire, June 15, 2012. To refer to it, go to http://www.shootingwire.com/features/226067.
It's true that a handgun doesn't look like your Fairy Godmother's Magic Wand or a rabbit's foot. The answer to the question "Which one of these doesn't belong?" is fairly obvious. Despite that, most gunowners don't spend the amount of time training and practicing with their handguns that we of the 'cognoscenti' would like them to. Still, every year hundreds of thousands of people, who have had no training whatsoever and who seldom practice, successfully defend themselves with firearms, often small ones, from villains intending them harm. Accordingly the statement: "But you need to actually train with said gun and practice often if you expect to save your life with it one day" isn't necessarily true. In fact, there's not much real evidence to back up that kind of statement at all. The essence of the problem is that those of us who study mortal combat professionally have constructed a fusion of the worst possible law enforcement and military incidents. The resulting amalgamated adversary is an extremely formidable boogeyman who a T-1000 Terminator would have difficulty defeating. Actually finding a criminal who remotely resembles that boogeyman is quite a different matter. Many, perhaps most, criminals are capable of committing the most unspeakable acts against pliant victims. Once defensive tools come into play, the criminal's motivation tends to flag quite rapidly. Economically based criminals are in the business of victimization not fighting. As soon as a gun comes out, it's an obvious clue that the victimization has gone sour and turned into a fight. Not good from the criminal's point of view. The most common response is to point to their watch - "Oh, look at the time. Have to go now." Actual gunfire makes the souring of the process even more evident. Another platitude among the 'cognoscenti' is that small guns aren't powerful, are difficult to shoot well, and are less reliable than service pistols. So what! Pocket pistols are portable, concealable in almost all environments, and unintimidating to the user. They are convenient in a way that the best service pistol and holster combination will never be. Hence, they will be there when the service pistol isn't. By the way, without hearing protection, the difference in sound level between a .25 and a .45 is 2 dB http://www.freehearingtest.com/hia_gunfirenoise.shtml ; hardly distinguishable by the human ear. It's a fact that wearing good hearing protection all the time has caused us to forget. Is the difference in "power", reliability and functional accuracy significant? Especially when most of us admit that the term "powerful handgun" is an oxymoron at best and a dichotomy at worst. When the results of encounters between criminals and private citizens are scrutinized there's not much evidence to support that contention. I have asked the training community to provide me documented examples of incidents where a private citizen was injured after shooting an attacker with a small caliber handgun. To date, the silence has been deafening. The responses all invoke the "Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda" paradigm. To wit: she Shoulda had a bigger gun, because if he Woulda been a more determined attacker, it Coulda turned out differently. That's not a convincing argument when exposed to daylight. Citations of the exploits of fanatical overseas savages and authority hating criminals resisting the police like cornered rats are also completely non sequitur to the question. If the exploits of fanatical savages overseas were relevant, we'd never leave the house unless wearing a helmet, hard body armor, and carrying a rifle with at least a basic load of ammunition. Preferably, we'd also be accompanied by a platoon of our peers. But I don't see much of that except at fantasy camp training weekends. We certainly wouldn't be going out alone while carrying only a pathetic popgun that can be fired with one hand and a handful of spare ammo. It's an odd statement coming from someone who makes his living doing firearms training, but, as I see it, the NEED for training and pistols whose caliber begins with 4 is much overblown. And often what is taught is of questionable relevance to the needs of a mainstream person. If we in the community want to see more people get trained, we need to adopt a "less is more" philosophy and make our training relevant to the mainstream's needs and resource constraints. The training industry has only existed for 30 years or so and people have been successfully defending themselves with handguns for a lot longer than that. Maybe the talisman does work. Or maybe people are just smarter and more capable of taking care of themselves than we give them credit for. -- Claude Werner Claude Werner served in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces and Mechanized Infantry units in the US Army as both an enlisted man and an officer. He eventually became a Special Forces A-Team Commander, Intelligence Officer and Mech Infantry Company Commander. Well known in the shooting community, he was formerly the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School and has won six sanctioned IDPA Championships with snub nose revolvers. In his civilian career, he was Research Director of three commercial real estate firms and was the National Director of Real Estate Research for Deloitte & Touche LLP. He can be reached at firearms_safety@bellsouth.net