Monday, March 3, 2008

March Event Report

This month's Utah Polite Society event could be called "Shoot your friends gun day." When I wrote up the report of our October event, when we gave everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with AK and AR rifles, I talked about familiarity with the world's most common rifles as part of a basic "firearms literacy" that every shooter should have. This month's event extended that concept to pistols. There aren't really any pistols that are quite as dominant as the AK and AR are in the rifle category, but I figure that someone who can operate Glocks, 1911s, the Beretta M92/M9, and S&W revolvers will certainly have the majority of service and self defense pistols covered.

Handgun Familiarization
To kick things off, we asked anyone who was willing to let other folks shoot their pistol to lay it on the table for others to use. I definitely didn't want anybody to feel they had to let others shoot their pistol, but it turned out that almost everyone was willing to let their fellow shooters put a few rounds through their gun. I ended up having to turn some folks away, since I figured we didn't need a bunch of different Glocks or 1911s on the table.

To the best of my recollection (I'm doing this from memory) we had the following pistols available:
Glock 21
Glock 31
S&W 686
M&P .40
USP .45 Fullsize
USP .45 Compact
XD .45 Compact
Colt 1911 Government
SIG P228
Star Firestar
Beretta 96

We asked each person to demonstrate the basic operation of their pistol (how the safety works, where the magazine release is, etc.) to the group. After all the pistols were explained, we put four targets out and let fly. Anyone could pick one of the pistols, load some ammo, and start shooting.

I fired most of the guns on the table, most of which were types I'd never shot before.

  • P3AT: This is a little tiny gun. Not only was I unable to get my pinky finger on the grip, my ring finger was slipping off when I fired it. The .380 isn't a very powerful round, but between the P3AT's light weight and tiny grip, it was hard to keep a good hold of it during recoil.
  • Makarov: Same round as the P3AT, but in a more reasonably sized package.
  • Glock 31: A lot of people seemed to like this one. I've always heard the .357 SIG was a loud round, and it was definitely louder than anything else we were shooting. It's got very different recoil characteristics than the .45s I'm used to shooting. Not necessarily more recoil, but a lot more 'snappy'.
  • S&W M&P .40: Shoots very much like a Glock, but points a bit differently. This one had the small backstrap on it, which didn't feel big enough in my hand. I'd definitely like to try one with the large backstrap sometime.
  • USP .45 Fullsize: I used a USP .45 Compact as my daily carry gun for a while, so the fullsize USP felt pretty familiar. I definitely like the bigger grip of the fullsize better than the compact though.
  • SIG P228: The long, heavy double action trigger pull on the SIG really screwed me up. I don't normally have a flinching problem, but I'm so used to the much shorter, lighter trigger pull of the Glock that I was visibly flinching with the DA pull on the SIG. The single action shooting was much better, with a nice crisp trigger action.
  • Beretta 96: Much like the SIG, I had some real problems with the DA pull on the Beretta.
  • S&W Revolver: Unlike the DA semiautos, I didn't really have any problem shooting the revolver double-action. The pull was lighter and a lot smoother than the semis. I really liked shooting this one.
  • Colt 1911 Government: I've shot 1911s before and as usual, this one was very accurate with an excellent trigger. However, the slide on this particular pistol occasionally didn't want to go all the way back into battery. There were a plethora of 1911s available, so we switched to another one for the scenario.

Everyone really seemed to have a blast shooting all the guns. I had to call and end to it and pull them away to make sure we'd have enough time for the scenarios.

Meeting Madness
It was a bit difficult coming up with scenarios where you would plausibly be shooting with someone else's pistol. These two may be a bit more of a stretch than some of the things we usually do, but I think they're at least somewhat plausible. Like an episode of Law and Order, the first scenario was "ripped from the headlines". You are attending a city council meeting. Since the city hall is a "gun free zone" and had a metal detector at the door, you left your gun in the car. Unfortunately, the metal detector prooves insufficient to deter some nutcases with a grudge against the city council and they come in shooting. A police officer sitting next to you is among the first to be hit and you have to use his weapon. You start sitting in a chair with the pistol next to you. There are a pair of barricades representing the doors to the council meeting room 3-4 yards behind you and several targets (some of which have threat indicators on them) scattered both inside and outside the room. At the start signal you have to retrieve the weapon and solve the problem.

For this scenario, we rotated through a Glock 21, a 1911, and a Beretta 96 (all plausible police duty weapons). I made sure to give each shooter an unfamiliar weapon (1911 guys got the Glock or the Beretta, etc.)

The biggest issue people had in this scenario was getting the gun into action. Some of this was just the nature of the chosen weapons, botht the 1911 and the Beretta have safeties which may have to be disengaged before firing. However, this was also somewhat deliberate. In addition to giving shooters a gun they weren't familiar with, I tried to vary the starting condition of the gun while still being realistic. For instance, I gave the first three shooters a Beretta with the safety engaged, a 1911 with the safety engaged, and a Glock with an empty chamber. Every one of them tried to fire the gun and couldn't. It took each of these shooters 5-10 seconds to figure out what they needed to do to get the gun into action. I even managed to mess up the next shooter by giving him a Beretta with the safety off (the preferred carry method: ready to fire with the DA trigger pull). After seeing the first three shooters try and fail to shoot the pistol, this shooter spent a couple of seconds exmining the gun, despite the fact that it was in ready to fire condition (you know you're doing a good job messing with people when you can get them to mess with themselves by doing nothing).

Once people got the gun into action, things went pretty smoothly. Safeties and decockers aside, gunhandling skills seem to transfer from one pistol to another pretty smoothly. We did have a fair number of no-shoot targets get hit through the barricades, though. You are responsible for everything your bullet does downrange. Be aware of your target and what is beyond it. Remember, sheetrock doesn't stop bullets!

About half the time I set up a target with both a threat indicator and a cardboard sheriff's star handing on it. As usual, we had several people hit the cop (some on a shoot through and some deliberately). It's important to think about what you're seeing and what you're doing.

Another hiccup that popped up was figuring what to do with the extra magazine. I left an extra mag lying on the chair with the pistol (two extra mags for the 1911). Some folks left the magazine sitting on the chair, which is not necessarily a bad choice given the relatively high capacity of the Beretta and the Glock. It is a bit more problematic with the low-cap 1911 though. Some shooters shoved the mag in a pocket, where digging it out could be time consuming. Others just carried the mag in their weak hand and shot one handed until they had to reload. One suggestion was to trap the base of the mag between the middle and ring fingers or ring and pinky fingers of the support hand, similar to the Graham flashlight method.

This is actually a broader problem than the (admittedly unlikely) event you'll have to shoot somebody else's gun. Many of us rely on our firearms for home defense, but most of us don't wear a gunbelt with ammo pouches to bed. What do we do with our spare mags if we have to respond to an intruder in the middle of the night? In a way, this is an even worse problem than the scenario as because at night you'd be expected to manage a flashlight as well. This is one of the reasons I like the idea of a rifle for home defense. Pick it up and you've got 30 rounds right there.

When I shot this scenario, one of the other guys decided to mess with me a bit (turnabout is fair play, after all). Rather than giving me a full gun and an extra mag, he only put three rounds in the Beretta and 9 in the spare mag. At the start signal, I grabbed the gun, got the safety off, and engaged the first target. I hit slide lock almost immediately, jammed the other mag in, and neutralized two more targets. I ran dry a second time just as I put the final round into the last target. I'd neutralized all three targets, but at the end of a scenario we expect the shooter to check behind them and get all the spectators to show their hands. Since it's kind of hard to get a potential threat to put his hands up with an empty gun, I set down the pistol and drew my knife (in a real fight I would have just dropped the pistol rather than set it down, but I don't think the Beretta owner would have appreciated that). Another option would have been to hit the slide release so that nobody could tell the gun was unloaded and bluff, but I didn't think of that at the time.

Revolver Rampage
The second scenario was intended to give people a chance to use a revolver for defensive shooting (all of our regulars are semi-auto guys). In this scenario, you are traveling to a state where your CWP is not honored. While there, you and your family are visiting a mall with a friend when shooting erupts. Before rushing off to find the rest of his family, he hands you his back-up revolver and a couple of speedloaders (what a pal!). You start out behind a table representing the cashier's stand in the store. There are a pair of barricades about 5 yards away representing the entrance to the store (this particular store doesn't have a rear exit). Several targets are scattered inside and outside the store, some of which have threat indicators on them. Pick the revolver up off the table and solve the problem. We used the S&W 686 as the revolver for this scenario (a bit of a stretch for a back-up gun, but it was what we had available).

Since I was running the other scenario, I didn't get to see many shooters run this one. I did get a chance to shoot it though, and it was pretty fun. The 686 was very easy to shoot and extremely accurate (though I have to say the beautiful headshot I pulled off was probably sheer luck). As I mentioned earlier, I didn't have any of the problems with the double-action revolver as I did with the DA autopistols. Reloading was a bit of a challenge. In the excitement I hit the ejector rod a little too hard and ended up with a sall cut on my hand, but I still managed to get the thing reloaded twice. I spent the first cylinder neutralizing the two visible threats and reloaded behind concealment. In a real scenario, it probably would have been better to remain behind the table and wait, but since the target stands weren't going to come to me I got up and advanced, putting a few more rounds into the targets I'd already shot and neutralizing another one behind a barricade. I ran the gun dry doing this, so I did one more reload before turning around to do my sul scan. I think I did pretty well, considering this is only the third time I'd ever shot a revolver, but my reloads definitely needed some work. Besides the ejector rod problem and general fumbling, I shoved the speedloaders in the wrong pocket for the reload technique I was trying to use, so I had to swap the gun back to my primary had to get them out.

I did get a chance to see Harold Green shoot this scenario. Harold used to be a hardcore wheelgun guy (it was his 686 we were using) but he hasn't shot revolvers in a while and it showed. When he ran the gun dry, he reached back and grabbed a 1911 magazine and just about tried to shove it into the revolver's grip before he realized what he was doing. I mention this not to tease him (well, maybe a little bit) but to point out the importance of training. Harold Green has been training and practicing with semi-autos for years and those skills are now his default. If you think "I'll do it this way for training, but in a real gunfight I'll do it differently" you're probably going to be disappointed (and quite possibly dead). In a stressful situation (even just a training scenario like this) you're much more likely to do things the way you've trained than the way you think you should do them intellectually. Train the way you want to fight because you will fight the way you've trained.

At the same time as these events, we also ran a new shooter class for about half a dozen folks who didn't have any defensive shooting experience. I would have liked to help with this (I really enjoy teaching newbies) but unfortunately I was busy running the rest of the event. The new shooter class seemed to go pretty well. Two of the people in it were willing to go through the mall scenario (using the gun they'd practiced with, rather than the revolver). We let them take it nice and slow, with no pressure, and they did pretty good considering their level of experience. We run these classes periodically and if I can lapse into a blatant bit of self promotion: if you're in the Salt Lake area and are new to self-defense shooting and are interested in learning, or know someone who is, let us know. We'd be happy to put together a new shooter class during one of our events (no extra charge beyond the $12 match fee).

Overall, I think this month's event went really well. Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun firing other people's handguns and I think both the familiarization shoot and the scenarios were quite instructive. It seems that handgun shooting skills are very transferable, not just from one pistol to another, but from semi-autos to revolvers. On the other hand, gunhanding skills, particularly safety manipulation for semi-autos and reloading for revolvers, are definitely not transferable. Familiarity with a broad range of guns is a plus, but when the time comes to defend your life there's no substitute for a weapon that you've practiced and are intimately familiar with.


Utah's Personal Protection Laboratory