In these troubled times, the need for self-defense has become more critical than ever. Indeed, now that most states have enacted a CCW law and reciprocity between states is increasing, more and more civilians are “packing heat.”
Political unrest, economic concerns, cultural dissatisfaction and social upheaval are just a few of the reasons, but suffice it to say that those concerns are very much on everyone’s minds these days.
Nevertheless, tactical shooting myths abound, and many of them are downright dangerous. Let’s take a no-holds-barred look at them. After all, the life you save might be your own!
MYTH #1: CCW AND AMATEUR INSTRUCTORS
Most shooters who obtain their CCW permits don’t carry their training past “getting their ticket,” which, from a tactical, criminal and civil liability standpoint, puts them in a dangerous position. A CCW class merely teaches what’s needed to protect the issuing authority from liability—not the actual weapon carrier. Thus, equipped with only a rudimentary understanding of the law and almost no tactical shooting skills, the typical CCW holder then goes about his daily life oblivious of the position into which he has put himself.
Some do pursue training past the “get your ticket” level, but all too often, they inadvertently select instructors who have little or no experience in true tactical shooting. Instead, while these instructors’ teaching motives might be honorable, they’re hobbyists or competitive shooters who don’t actually realize that tactical shooting is an art and science all its own and bears virtually no resemblance to any other kind of shooting.
There is an old saying: “Life and death are serious business … too serious to be left to amateurs.”
MYTH #2: COMPETITION SHOOTING
From a truly tactical viewpoint, competitive shooting, in particular, is the most influential source of erroneous data and techniques these days, because its participants are unaware of this critical fact. But like it or not, the truth is that merely shooting at silhouette targets doesn’t make it combat shooting. Actual tactics and many state-of-the-art methods are totally ignored, prompting many who know the difference to comment that in order to win a match, one must do things guaranteed to get him killed in a real gunfight. I concur.
As a former world-class IPSC competitor, I saw it so many times that I decided to forgo further competitive participation. After all, as a leading tactical shooting instructor, it would have been hypocritical to teach true tactical shooting and continue to shoot competitively. In addition, inasmuch as the two types of shooting are nearly diametrically opposed to one another, I couldn’t do both to the best of my ability. This being the case, I chose to leave competition entirely and concentrate exclusively on tactical shooting.
MYTH #3: CONCEALED-CARRY GUN
Tactical shooters and concealed carriers are also often confused as to what kind of gun and ancillary equipment they should obtain. Many times, they select a gun solely for its diminutive size, forgetting the fact that the smaller the gun, the less efficient it is. The fact is that except for extraordinary situations, you don’t buy a gun because it’s concealable—you dress to conceal the gun.
This means that buying a “pocket pistol” actually puts you in a highly disadvantageous position. Such weapons are typically chambered for less-than-optimum cartridges such as the .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP or .380 ACP, all of which have a poor reputation as man-stoppers. Moreover, most guns of this type have sights too small to quickly acquire and align at speed … or they have no sights at all!
Compact and subcompact pistols are often chosen as alternatives, but their grip frames are short, leaving you no place to put the little finger of the firing hand (an awkward and inefficient situation, to say the least). Yet, this particular trait is often shouted from the rooftops as being more concealable.
Then, so they can properly grip the weapon, proponents of this concept add a grip extension to the gun’s magazine floorplate, giving it the same length and grip index of a full-sized gun. Unfortunately, they end up with a small gun with a long grip frame but a short sight radius, which amplifies sight alignment error exponentially, and a barrel too short to produce the bullet velocities needed for any kind of reliable JHP expansion.
The truth is that while popular these days, such guns aren’t nearly as efficient as their full-sized counterparts. I carried a 1911 Colt .45 ACP concealed for more than 40 years, and during all that time, no one ever noticed it.
The mission of the defensive handgun is to protect against an unexpected attack, which makes it a weapon of expediency. It’s intended as a reactive, purely defensive, arm that is used quickly and at close range. This means that maximum efficiency is of paramount importance—far more than just concealability. Remember: You dress to conceal the gun; you shouldn’t buy a gun just because it’s concealable.
Many feel that a Commander-sized gun is optimum—and with good reason. It’s not too big or too heavy to conceal and carry, but it is large enough to grip properly and shoot quickly without loss of accuracy. Along these lines, an alloyframed gun such as Ruger’s .45 ACP SR-1911 Model 6711 is a good example. It has good sights, is exceptionally “user friendly,” accurate and reliable. Yet, it’s flat enough and short enough to conceal easily.
MYTH #4: SINGLE-ACTION AND VINTAGE GUNS
Single-action or older guns should be viewed with caution, because their technologies and metallurgies are both often suspect. Without question, if one is a red-hot shot with his Colt Single Action Army revolver, he can shoot as quickly and accurately as anyone, but malfunction clearing and reloading are clumsy and time consuming.
Older guns should be thoroughly examined by a competent gunsmith to ensure they’re serviceable. Sometimes, such weapons are in excellent condition … but often, they are not. Remember that you’re quite literally betting your life on that gun, so it had better function reliably.
MYTH #5: GUN MODIFICATION
Because the vast majority of handgun encounters occur in low light, a good set of tritium sights is a good idea. So equipped, the tactical handgun is capable of hitting anything its operator can see and identify as a deadly threat. However, unless you have vision issues that preclude effective use of normal iron sights, you should view optical sights with caution. They’re more fragile than iron sights, and anything that utilizes batteries to function is highly vulnerable to “Murphy’s Law.” I’ve seen it dozens of times.
MYTH #6: HOLSTER SELECTION
There are literally hundreds of holsters available these days, but regardless of which weapon security device it might utilize, the holster, itself, must prevent entry into the gun’s trigger guard area by the trigger finger or other foreign object and allow proper grip index of the weapon with the firing hand. Rapid weapon presentation is critical to success in many handgun fights, and if your holster prevents you from getting a proper firing grip with the weapon holstered, you’re in big trouble.
MYTH #7: JHP AND OTHER OVERLOOKED FACTORS
Ammunition selection is too often done in a cavalier fashion. Don’t assume that sexy-looking JHP will actually expand when shot into a human target. The fact is, most of them don’t. At the velocities produced by most service handguns, JHP expansion is “iffy,” at best. Moreover, it’s long been understood by those “in the know” that JHP expansion is also dependent upon what the bullet encounters during passage through the target. If the target is human, things such as bones, fat, muscle and organs—all of which vary a great deal in density—exert tremendous influence upon bullet expansion.
Muzzle flash, recoil and accuracy are also important items to consider, as is functional reliability. If that cool-looking JHP doesn’t feed properly in your gun, everything else is academic. And if the load generates too much recoil for you to control the gun during the fast shooting sequences typical of deadly encounters, it should be avoided. Stopping power is, without a doubt, critical, but if the load can’t be controlled, it doesn’t matter much.
MYTH #8: PRACTICING FROM OPEN CARRY
More often than not, concealed weapon carriers limit their practice to open carry, in the belief that they’ll somehow be able to quickly and efficiently present their gun from beneath their concealment garment. However, this belief is completely—and dangerously—untrue.
Acquiring the gun from beneath a garment requires careful, constant practice; assuming otherwise is a serious and potentially deadly mistake. The same can be said of actual shooting practice. Because low-light conditions are prevalent in tactical encounters, you shouldn’t limit your practice to daylight hours. Low-light shooting, with and without a flashlight, is serious business and also needs to be practiced regularly.
MYTH #9: TARGET ENGAGEMENT
Too many shooters believe that each and every target must be shot twice, but this, too, is a myth. If a single target is engaged, hitting the thoracic area twice is a good response. But what if multiple assailants are involved?
Shooting each one twice simply takes too long and thus increases tactical liability to unnecessarily dangerous levels. Instead, shoot each target once and quickly assess the situation. Then, if any of the targets is still functioning in a lethally aggressive manner, follow up with a cranio-ocular shot to the head. Don’t shoot him again in the thoracic cavity area, because at this point, his nervous system is almost totally shut down and doing so will have minimal effect.
Always have a “plan B.” The cranio-ocular shot is the least difficult to execute—and the most effective. Other areas, such as the pelvis, femur and knees, for instance, aren’t usually visible (which makes them harder to hit) and don’t offer the ability to produce immediate incapacitation.
MYTH #10: NOT TRAINING PROPORTIONATELY FOR THE THREAT
One thing no one argues these days is that the vast majority of handgun confrontations occur at close range. And while some believe “close range” to be 7 to 10 yards, they’re dead wrong. The average is 7 to 10 feet! This means that the event will happen fast, because time and distance always correlate. And there are many instances when the actual fight begins within arm’s reach, meaning that practice in how to deal with such situations is necessary. As an instructor, I have emphasized for decades high-speed single and multiple target engagements at arm’s length, 3, 5 and 7 meters. You should, too.
MYTH #11: “CROWDING” COVER
Use of cover is also important, yet instruction in its use is seldom offered and is usually incorrect when it is. In particular, you should stay at least 2 meters back from your cover if possible to minimize the potential for being hit by ricochets or secondary missiles resulting from incoming hits on the cover, itself. In addition, canting your weapon slightly greatly minimizes your exposure area, making you a much more difficult target.
MYTH #12: NOT TRAINING REALISTICALLY
With home invasions and burglaries on the rise, you’d also better train yourself how to respond to them. And don’t forget that the potential for a deadly encounter when in a public place, such as a restaurant, is also quite high these days, so training in how to deal with such events should be a high priority.
While great fun, shooting from a car isn’t as tactically useful as many believe. On the other hand, understanding how to properly use a car for cover is quite important. A great many myths abound on this particular subject. If not properly understood, they can be potentially deadly.
Because self-defense situations are essentially ad hoc events, always train for the unexpected, such as learning how to shoot from improvised positions. The very mission of the handgun is reactive, and its use is always in response to an unexpected attack. Therefore, being able to respond to the widest variety of conditions is a smart move.
K.I.S.S. REIGNS SUPREME
These, are some of the most dangerous myths of tactical shooting. Any one of them can get you killed, but if you’re aware of them and make the right decisions, they’re all totally avoidable.
Above all, remember to K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid. Handgun fights are fast, furious and ugly, and the stresses involved in them will debilitate your skill level as much as 50 percent— yes, 50 percent!
This means there is no time for fancy or complex techniques, because they take too long to execute, and their error potential is too high. So, do yourself a favor and avoid them like the plague. It doesn’t matter a hoot what works on pistol ranges.
What matters is what works when the chips are down and the bullets fly both ways. In this sort of environment, simplicity reigns supreme.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on the February 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.