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Like a Glock, Only Smaller
There's something odd about holding a slim Glock. That's like a jumbo shrimp, or a curved line.

There’s something odd about holding a slim Glock. That’s like eating a jumbo shrimp, or drawing a curved line.

Had a good day today at SHOT Show – or more technically, at Media Day at the Range, which is the pre-SHOT Show event for (what else?) media people. The event allows us to shoot some of the guns being introduced this year.

The big news, of course, was Glock’s entry into the small .380 handgun market with the new Glock 42. Regular readers of the website have probably figured out by now that I’m not a huge .380 fan, and not really a fan of tiny little guns either, so I didn’t really expect to like this gun.

To my shock, I loved the little beast.

What’s to love? Well, first up, it’s squee-ably adorable. It’s a small gun, a single stack with a very slim profile, as you can see from the pictures. But the pictures don’t do justice to the fundamental weirdness of holding a Glock that fits your hand with room to spare. It’s a little larger than some other guns in its class (think KelTec 3AT or Ruger LCP), but not drastically so. So there’s still the basic cuteness that comes with a small gun.

Even my medium-small hands had no trouble fitting the Glock 42.

Even my medium-small hands had no trouble fitting the Glock 42.

Despite its small size, the G42 offered controls I could easily use and a slide that took a surprisingly light touch. Unlike most guns in this size class, the G42 felt very solid in my hand and it seems reasonable to believe that it will run as reliably as any other Glock. If so, that will put it firmly head and shoulders above most other guns of its class.

Only had a chance to run a single magazine through it, but that was enough to say that the little gun was just plain fun to shoot. That’s not something I can usually claim with a straight face about most small guns. For me, little guns fit a very practical niche in that they allow us to carry in ways we otherwise couldn’t, and they allow us to keep a gun with us when we otherwise wouldn’t. So there’s that. But between increased recoil and vestigial controls, they’re also usually a bit uncomfortable to shoot. Not this puppy! There wasn’t any recoil to speak of and the controls were easy to use.

Did I mention it was fun to shoot?

Did I mention it was fun to shoot?

It was also surprisingly accurate. At 10 yards, I shot a very tidy fist-sized group with just a little attention to detail. The sights were exactly what you’d expect – it’s a Glock and the sights were Glock standard. The trigger, however, felt a little different from others in the Glock line up, a little crisper and a little less sproingy. Not a drastic difference, but noticeable to someone feeling out the trigger.

Although I’m still pouting that this new little gun isn’t available in a 9mm version, I’m pleased enough with the .380 that I’ve ordered one for myself already. Can’t wait to put it through its paces for realsies once it gets here.

A Glock in the hand ...

A Glock in the hand …

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It’s Not About the Gun

Concealed carry isn’t just about lugging a gun around with you. In fact, at its most basic level, it isn’t about carrying a gun at all. Carrying a gun is just something we do so that we’re able to do the thing that’s actually important to us.

Protecting yourself is the actual root of concealed carry. It’s the whole reason we do this thing. People who are not interested in protecting themselves from physical threats will not often carry a concealed firearm on an ordinary day. At its core, concealed carry is all about self defense.

This means that defensive handgun instructors who never talk to their students about how crimes happen, or about criminals and their victims, or about the legal limits of self-defense are really missing the boat. It would be like hiring a basketball coach who talked a lot about buying a basketball and taught her players how to throw free throws, but who never said a word about the rules of the game. A good basketball coach would help her players learn many skills they might need in order to play the game.

There’s a lot more to playing basketball than just having a basketball and knowing  how to land a free throw, and there’s a lot more to protecting yourself from violent crime than just having a gun and knowing how to hit a paper target.

Learning to shoot can be a hoot! But it’s not the entire game.

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The Life-Affirming Lessons of Self Defense

Especially during the holidays and as we begin the new year, when someone asks what I do for a living and I reply that I teach self-defense classes, some people recoil in apparent horror. “That’s such a downer!” one woman recently wailed at me. “What a horrible place to live. How can you stand it?”

Her question hurt my heart, because it meant that she thinks of self-defense as a negative subject. It meant she believed that knowing ways to protect yourself from crime might drive you toward a damaging and maybe even a destructive place in your life.

That’s not how I see it.

My world is full of joy, and I find the things I do for a living both life-affirming and positive. In my world, mastering the art of using the handgun feels like a happy process, even when it takes work to climb the steep new-learning curve. The physical act of firing the gun can feel awesome. Growing in skill so that you can hit the target when you want to can make you feel like a million bucks. But the biggest joy of all? That’s the confidence that comes building a trustworthy ability to take care of yourself and the people you love.

The Beginner’s Grin

Let’s start with the first time out the gate. Did you ever see the look on a first-time shooter’s face? Most of the time, you see an amazing grin that spreads from one ear to the other, with crinkles at the eye corners and a big flash of teeth. Some people literally shout for joy with the first shot: “Whooooo! What a rush!”

Watching that look grow, having a part of making it happen… that’s a privilege beyond compare. Although I don’t often work with first-time shooters anymore, I still love to watch over newbies and help keep them safe whenever I can.

Did you know you can see also that same amazing look on the face of an experienced shooter? It’s a fact! In my classes, experienced shooters get that same grin all over again as their skills develop and they grow in confidence. Watching someone struggle to learn something new, and then nail it and react to the rush when they do – there’s just nothing like it. It’s even more cool when my advanced students use skills they’ve learned from me to turn around and  work with their own beginning students, setting up the process all over again. It’s a never-ending cycle of joy.

Talking about that new shooter’s grin, that’s even more amazing and fun when the new shooter is a child. Taking kids out to shoot – at the appropriate ages, with appropriate preparation and proper safety gear – is a rush beyond compare. Believe me, as I wrote this wonderful old article about taking my little guys to the range, I was smiling the whole time with fond nostalgia. You should have seen the look on their little faces when that first vegetable exploded!

Of course, I’m hardly the only parent who has ever discovered how much fun it is to help a youngster learn how to shoot. The beautiful truth is, you don’t have to be some eagle-eyed, highly trained ninja to enjoy an afternoon plinking safely with your kid. Anyone with a modicum of good sense and a little knowledge can do it. And there’s just not a whole lot more fun you can have with your kids than to help them learn something so exciting, so life-affirming, so positive as the shooting sports. That those skills might someday be used to protect themselves or the people they love – well, that’s just icing on the cake.

What About Crime?

This wouldn’t be an honest article if I didn’t tell you that sometimes my job involves learning about some very grim events, and of course sometimes I have to dig pretty deep into those events in order to understand them better. When a violent crime happens, it’s never a happy thing for anyone. It’s ugly and messy and frightening and depressing.

How could there be any joy in that?

There is some. But it’s a sober kind of joy, and it works like this. When I need to learn more about a frightening event, or when I have to study the details of violent crimes so that I understand how criminals approach their intended prey, I can still choose the attitude I bring to that study. I could let myself wallow in negative emotions. That would be easy to do, because events themselves can be awful and my heart always goes out to the innocent victims. But that’s not where I live. It’s not where I choose to live.

When I learn about a crime, I’m not just another gawker, staring in fascination at someone else’s pain. That would be ghoulish and awful! But because rubbernecking is not my purpose, I’m don’t find myself mired in grief or fear or any other negative emotion when I watch a crime video or listen to a 9-1-1 call. Neither do I become a soul-less monster, sucking in other people’s anguish like it’s some made-for-TV movie on a lousy cable channel. Rather, my focus always centers on how I can help good people avoid similar crimes, how I can help keep my own family safe, what lessons I can teach my children and other people I love. The question at the front of my mind is always, “What can we learn, here?”

Yes, learning anything at all about violent crime can hurt sometimes. But I rejoice that it’s a discomfort I can bear. If I weren’t strong enough enough to face the distress of hearing about such things, I wouldn’t be able to help myself or anyone else escape similar troubles. To me, the only thing worse than going through a horrible life event would be going through a horrible life event that nobody learned anything from. There’s nothing I can do to make a violent crime not have happened, but I rejoice that through my work I can help redeem some of the survivors’ pain.

More than that, when I hear about violent crime, I always find myself marveling at the strength of ordinary people, at their resourcefulness, at the things they do to survive. I love to hear stories about intended victims turning the tables on their attackers. Again – the situations are often horrible, and I wouldn’t wish trials like that on my worst enemy. But I can still feel a burst of pleasure when I hear how good people survive such things, and that’s where my focus stays.

Helplessness and Confidence

A friend of mine has long struggled with fears and phobias. She’s not a shoooter and can’t stand to have guns around her, even though politically she’s “one of us.” When she hears about a criminal event, her mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. What if it happened to her, or to her family? What could they do? How would they feel? She faces a horrifying cascade of ugly emotions, and she feels absolutely helpless in the face of those feelings. More than that, she feels helpless at the very idea of crime. She feels helpless at the thought of violence. She feels absolutely helpless in the face of trouble, so she structures her life to avoid any thought of trouble at all.

But trouble comes to everyone, sooner or later in this life. “You can’t run from trouble,” said a character in a book I read as a child. “There ain’t no place that far.” And it’s true. You’re not going to get through life unscathed. None of us will.

Does that feel like a negative thought? It doesn’t have to be. Instead of feeling discouraged or frightened by knowing how common trouble can be, we can instead take courage from knowing that others have faced violence and lived through it. It makes me stronger to know that I come from a long line of survivors, from people who suffered but who did whatever it took to live, that the people I came from all kept going. We are descended, every single one of us – you and me and that woman over there, all of us! – from a long line of strong people who didn’t curl up and die when trouble struck. They survived, and so can we. There’s power in that thought, and confidence too.

Powerlessness feels awful, but it’s not somewhere you have to live. If you don’t like feeling helpless, you can do something about that. Tell me there’s no joy in that discovery.

No Matter Who You Are…

That brings me to yet another source of constant wonder for me as a teacher, something that should bring joy to you as well. Here it is: good, ordinary people can learn better ways to protect themselves. The young mom, the single woman who travels for business, the retired couple, the middle-aged computer programmer… all of these people can come together to learn something new. With physical infirmities or in the peak of health, whatever – it doesn’t matter. Whatever your situation, there are things you can do to make your life a little safer and your loved ones a little more secure.

Self-defense doesn’t have to be a grim subject full of nasty and depressing emotions. Learning how to protect yourself from violence can be as full of meaning and relevance as you make it, as life-affirming and as positive as the outlook you yourself bring to the table.

In fact, instead of the study being a grim reminder of negative possibilities, it can become a genuinely joyful series of positive affirmations. My life is good, and worth defending! My loved ones deserve to live in peace, and by what I learn today, I can help preserve that peace for them. I can’t do everything to guarantee my own safety, but this much, I can do. I choose to carry a gun because I embrace my right to live. 1

As for me, I love helping people claim their own power, develop their own confidence, and proudly assert their absolute right not to be a victim. Helping people find and claim that place in their own lives is an awesome privilege and a joy.

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Footnotes

  1. Not all of these will resonate with every reader, and that’s okay. Each one simply provides one possible jumping-off place of many possible. What’s your own favorite joyful affirmation of the most basic human right?
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Quick Tip

Ever take a class and find yourself nursing a minor finger injury? I’ve seen this often, especially in older students who haven’t previously fired a lot of rounds in one day. Moleskin can help, but some people either don’t like the adhesive or can’t isolate the exact problem area.

So look at what I found at the drugstore! These handy little mini-ace bandages cover your finger, provide light compression, and protect your skin from sharp bits. And they’re reuseable.

Mini ace bandages to protect sensitive fingers.

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“Women Should Always Use Revolvers”

Really – that’s what the guy said. It wasn’t my problem or my job to correct his wrong idea, so I bit my lip and moved on. But it reminded me of an online discussion I’d been recently involved in, and the topic does make good blogfodder, so here we are.

Let me start by saying this: If you really prefer a revolver and can easily run it, that’s a perfectly valid reason for you to use one and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Below, I’m talking specifically about the idea that every shooter must learn on a revolver first — or that revolvers are ideal for all women, or uniquely suited to women. It’s the one-size-fits-all approach I’m against, not against revolvers. With a few (really important) caveats, the motivation provided by using the gun a new shooter wants to learn how to shoot often trumps any specific positive or negative factors within the weapon itself.

With that out of the way, is a revolver really the “best gun for a woman”? Should all women use revolvers? I think not!

Hand Strength Issues

A high grip on the gun can reduce muzzle rise and make it easier to shoot multiple shots quickly.

A high grip on the gun can reduce muzzle rise and make it easier to shoot multiple shots quickly…

Over the past ten years, I’ve worked with thousands of women as they learned to shoot. To this day, I have literally never met a healthy adult woman 1 who could not be taught how to rack the slide on a semi-auto with less than an hour on the range — and the overwhelming majority of those women took less than 5 minutes to learn the simple technique that makes racking the slide an easy no-effort thing. Racking the slide is almost entirely a matter of technique, not strength, which means it’s something that almost anyone can easily learn how to do.

In contrast to this, I have met dozens of women who did not have the hand strength to reliably pull the trigger on a double action revolver for more than a few rounds even after repeated efforts. Being unable to pull the trigger more than a dozen times in a row does not matter for self-defense — unless it does! — but it makes regular practice nearly impossible.

... while a slightly lower grip on the gun can improve your leverage on the trigger.

… while a slightly lower grip on the gun can improve your leverage on the trigger.

The tricks you can use to make pulling a heavy revolver trigger less difficult for someone with low hand strength nearly all require you to do something contra-indicated in a self defense situation. For example, to reduce the tension on the trigger, you can cock the hammer. But that makes shooting much slower, and it’s almost impossible to safely lower the cocked hammer when you’ve had a massive adrenalin dump and your hands are shaking severely. You can use both of your index fingers on the trigger instead of one, but you may not have two hands available to use in a self-defense situation.

You can adjust where your hand rides on the gun to increase your leverage on the trigger, but that has limited effects. You can exercise to build up your hand strength (and you should!), but few people will have the dedication to do that. You can mechanically lighten the trigger pull weight, but that often comes at the expense of the gun’s reliability. Even with these mechanical adjustments, using the heavy DA trigger on a revolver remains almost entirely a matter of hand strength, not something easily addressed with a trick or technique. Not everyone can learn to do it, which means these aren’t the ideal guns for all shooters.

Recoil and Shooting Comfort

Using two fingers to pull the trigger works on the range, but in real life you may not be able to get both hands on the gun when you need it most.

Using two fingers to pull the trigger works on the range, but in real life you may not be able to get both hands on the gun when you need it most.

In addition to the factors that apply to all revolvers, there are some factors that apply specifically to the small, lightweight models most often recommended for women. Those who shoot more than one type of gun soon discover that these super small, super lightweight revolvers are actually among the most difficult and least comfortable guns to use. Slightly larger guns tend to be much more comfortable for most shooters. This means beginners who start on a slightly larger and slightly heavier gun will more likely keep shooting, and are more likely to get the practice they need in order to build reliable self-defense skills. (I wonder how many women start out with these small guns and leave the range thinking that shooting just isn’t their cup of tea, when in fact a more comfortable early experience with shooting would have helped them continue to shoot with enthusiasm!)

Related to this, whenever you take a revolver and compare it to a semi-auto within a similar size and weight class, you’ll find that the semi-auto almost invariably provides less perceived recoil to strike with the same energy effect on target. That’s because with most semi-autos, the motion of the slide does absorb some of the rearward energy as the shot fires. That absorbed energy gives the shooter a slightly more comfortable experience — again making it easier to shoot and more likely that the shooter will practice enough.

With all of these factors in mind, my experience has been that it’s much more difficult to teach a new shooter to shoot well with a revolver than it is to teach a new shooter how to run a semi-auto and shoot well with it. There are specific skill sets unique to each type of weapon, but the most significant challenges with a semi-auto nearly all fall within the “easy to fix with the right technique” category, while those with the revolver seem to be inherent to the weapon.

What Can We Learn?

With all that said, let me add one more really (really!) important thing: Women are just as capable of learning how to shoot as men are. Women can just as easily learn how to manipulate a weapon and are just as able to learn how to run the gun in ways useful for self defense. We aren’t uniquely fragile or uniquely stupid! We’re human beings with human limitations, and with a human ability to grow and learn.

Regular exercise can improve your hand strength. Who knew?

Regular exercise can improve your hand strength. Who knew?

Sometimes, I meet men who have a preference for teaching women on revolvers based on … well, on a really unfortunate way of looking at women. To these guys, I have to say that if your preference for teaching with a specific weapon type is built around low expectations for your student — “It’s okay, honey, you won’t have to learn anything…” — that’s probably not going to lead to good results in the long run. You will get your best results going in with the expectation that of course this healthy adult person will be able to learn anything about the gun that she wants to learn.

Again and to be clear: I am not against revolvers. I am against the one size fits all approach to teaching new shooters or to recommending guns for women. If you love revolvers and shoot them well, more power to you! If you want to learn to shoot with a revolver, I hope you have a wonderful experience that serves you well. Your energy and enthusiasm will almost certainly see you over any rough spots you might hit along the way, and that’s a good thing.

No matter which gun type you choose, whether it’s a revolver or a semi-auto, there are a few things that you will have to learn that someone who chose the other type of gun doesn’t need to know anything about. There’s still no such thing as a gun that runs all by itself, shoots accurately without a skilled hand behind it, or cleans itself. That’s the bad news. The good news is, all of these skills are learnable skills. They aren’t black magic and they aren’t inaccessible to half the human race!

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Footnotes

  1. Please note the word “healthy.” People dealing with long-term hand or arm injuries, or with arthritis and other related connective tissue disorders, often have an uphill struggle to find a gun they can trust and use well. Sometimes this includes having limitations so severe that they can find no reliable technique for operating a slide.
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At the Mall

Had fun yesterday. A group of us got together at an urban mall for a small class in awareness and avoidance with Rory Miller, author of Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected and a half-dozen other excellent books about self defense and related skills. As far as class reviews go, this one’s tough to write so you’ll have to forgive me if any of it sounds fuzzy. It’s a hard write-up because the class covered a huge amount of territory in a short time, and – as is frighteningly common with lessons from Rory – the material it covered mostly reminded us of stuff we should already have known. Rory’s strength as a teacher is sliding ideas into your brain so deftly that when they arrive, you think they’ve always been there. That’s a subtle gift.

Meanwhile, there were lots of “d’oh!!” moments for me and everyone else.

Want an example? Not long after we got the group together, Rory showed us his cell phone. He’d snapped a picture of the map as he walked into the mall, and thus would always be able to find an alternative way out of the mall should he need one. D’oh! 1

One of the assignments was simply: “Find a fire extinguisher.” Do you know, even though I’m really good at checking for exits and remaining aware of ways to leave an area, I’d literally never before looked for a fire extinguisher in a public space? D’oh!

Standing in the parking garage, we discussed how to spot someone loitering near the cars and looking for potential victims – for mugging, carjacking, kidnap, whatever. It took Rory about two seconds to point out that cars are made entirely of reflective surfaces. It’s really really hard for someone to sneak up behind you, or to hide behind a support pillar in a garage, without you spotting them if you make a habit of using those surfaces to look around you. D’oh!

Dropped on the table while you're eating, the reflective surface on mirrored sunglasses help you easily see what's going on around you.

Dropped on a restaurant table, reflective surfaces on mirrored sunglasses help you easily see what’s going on around you.

When we sat down as a group in the food court area, Rory steered us to a table in the open, not a corner booth. Then he asked us why he’d done that. Several theories came up, but the kicker was this: as a group, we could easily see in every direction without any effort at all. There’s no need to wedge yourself into a corner and limit your ways to leave, when you can instead choose to sit where you can see all around you and have more routes to get away should it become necessary. D’oh.

Lots more there. Those were all little things, small aha! moments dropped into the day, huge value in small chunks. During the day, we discussed the basic strategies for dealing with catastrophic bad events such as mass shootings or mall bombings. In many cases, deliberately choosing to shepherd others to safety while remaining prepared to defend yourself and others — rather than running directly to the sound of gunfire — might be your best option, improving both your personal survival odds and the overall situation in some very specific ways. I hope Rory chooses to write about that sometime soon, if he hasn’t already.

In the mall, we learned how to use our peripheral vision to see farther behind us. We also played a few awareness games (including one that Rory called ‘tag for grownups’), learned to use all of our senses to remain aware of the world around us, and made up stories about the people we saw which helped us become more aware of details the subconscious might see that the conscious mind might not recognize. That was all tremendous fun, and led straight into a discussion about training from a place of love or joy rather than from fear or other negative emotion (that’s huge, and something tremendously important to me on many levels). We also talked about how to manage our own risk factors in public, including the risk factors we can’t eliminate.

Lots more happened that I’m still processing. But in the meanwhile: if anyone ever offers you a chance to take a class or seminar from Rory Miller at Chiron Training, don’t pass it up.

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Footnotes

  1. And yes — that’s where today’s Facebook tip came from. Thanks, Rory!
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8 Ways to Spot a Bad Self Defense Product

Yay! Finally got my newest article up today! It’s titled, “8 Ways to Spot a Bad Self Defense Product Before It Kills You.”

Long title, long article. Slaughters a few sacred cows and lets slip a few industry secrets.

Want to know another secret? What sparked this article was the pile of brochures that have been arriving in my mailbox in preparation for SHOT Show. One of the new ‘latest and greatest’ offerings looks to me like a horrendously bad idea — something that I could tell by a glance at the advertisement even without getting my hands on the product itself.

Here’s the clue on that one: If the carry device is intended to mimic another piece of emergency rescue equipment, it’s probably a bad idea. When you need a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit, your gun just isn’t the right tool for that job and you sure don’t want to be grabbing it by mistake.

Go read the new article and let me know what you think of it here. What other red flags would you suggest?

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Busy Week

Wow, what a busy week it’s been! And getting busier too, what with Thanksgiving tomorrow. Want to know what I’ve been working on?

  • The Trigger Awareness Exercise series still isn’t finished. Coming up: Doctrinal Differences, Reset, Two Shot Drills, and Speeding It Up. Possibly more after that. I’m planning to throw the whole series into an illustrated e-book when it’s finally finished. Should make a nice little package.
  • A long post about how the way we look affects our self defense choices and plans. It’s been in the works for a long while, I know — but it’s an important one in a lot of different ways. Maybe I need to stop getting mired in long wall of text posts that take so much time to write, but sometimes it’s the only way to tie things together properly.
  • An equally long article about spotting the red flags for bad equipment and gear! Very excited about that one, which is almost done, but I’m not putting it up until it’s well-polished. Why? Because when you have to slaughter a sacred cow, the least you can do is to treat the meat with respect.  ;)
  • And finally, a quickie post about how to use an inside-the-waistband holster. Does it bother anyone else that so few holsters come with basic instructions?

Stay tuned.

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